Mary Labatt - Author
Mary Labatt is an award-winning editor and a writer. A graduate of York University, Mary has published many educational briefs, position papers and articles on reading, the effects of poverty on learning, drug awareness, language arts, violence, the needs of adolescents and special education. Mary was the founding editor of the FWTAO Newsletter, a magazine for women teachers, that she edited for 14 years. She is also the author of a history of women teachers in Ontario, called Always a Journey. Mary has been honored for her contribution to education with the prestigious Greer award and has been made a Fellow of the Ontario Teachers' Federation.
In addition to freelance editing, Mary teaches a week-long course every summer on how to write for children. Now that her family is older, Mary devotes the rest of her time to writing for children and raising dogs. She breeds and raises champion rough collies and Welsh Springer Spaniels, which were imported from Wales. People who read Mary's children's books will readily see that she loves dogs, so it is natural that she and her family live on a farm and raise dogs. In the picture Mary is shown with two of her collie mothers, Annabel and Chloe. Mary has said she is never happier than when little fat puppies are running all over the yard.
Mary's Sam books were based on a real dog. Sam was Mary's very eccentric, very nosy Old English Sheepdog. Sam used to stare to get her own way and she was insatiably curious. Mary took the idea and created Sam, the dog detective. If you haven't read the Sam novels, you can meet Sam, the dog detective, in a new series of graphic novels called the Sam and Friends mysteries.
Mary lives on farm in Clear Creek, Ontario, with her husband, Larry, three dogs and two of their three children. Their other daughter just got married, so there will be room now for another dog!
Where do you live now?
I live in Port Rowan, Ontario, a village near Long Point. Long Point is a fascinating area with wetlands and bird sanctuaries.
When did you start writing?
I started writing in high school when I began to win prizes for my work. I thought I'd like to be a writer but then I thought I needed a real job. I became a teacher and later I became a magazine editor.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
A young creator should just start to write. Don't wait. Just think of a story and write it. We often think there will be a better time for it, but that better time never comes. We have to just write. The same goes for a young illustrator --- just get drawing. Don't wait.
What's your favorite book?
My favorite book is The Wind in the Willows. I've never read a book I enjoy more.
Do you have any pets?
Squeaks the hamster and two goldfish named Goldie and Sporty (these all belong to my daughter Elizabeth). The family pet is Maggie, a collie we brought from England with us.
What's your favorite food?
My favorite food is spaghetti.
What are your hobbies?
I love gardening!
How did you become involved with children's books?
I got involved with children's books when I began to read aloud to my students. I loved the stories and read to them a lot.
What's your favorite movie?
My favorite movie is still Cinderella. I love the way all the bad people get what they deserve.
What's the thing you like most about creating kids' books?
The thing I like most about creating kids' books is the way my characters make me laugh. When I am writing, I sometimes laugh right out loud because they have said something so funny. The best thing about it is that sometimes they surprise me.
Where do you work?
I work in a corner of my sunroom that is set up like an office. I look out over Long Point Bay and enjoy a lovely view while I work.
How do you research or create your stories?
I just go to the encyclopedia when I need research. I create my stories out of my head.
Where do you get your ideas?
I think I get my ideas from my own childhood. I love to remember the things we thought were funny or scary or fascinating. I also get a lot of ideas from my sheepdog named Sam, who was a real character. I have based the Sam books on her. She absolutely hated dog food.
What's your greatest childhood memory?
My favorite childhood memory is being curled up in my dad's big wing chair with a good book. I used to take a bag of chocolate chip cookies with me to help me read.
What's your favorite animal?
My favorite animal is a sheepdog. They are quite wonderful, a little crazy, but loads of fun.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was little I wanted to be a doctor, but then I discovered you had to like science so I decided that couldn't possible be for me. I became a teacher instead.
What's the weirdest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I've been a teacher, an editor and a writer. I guess those are not very interesting. When I was in high school my worst job was babysitting four little boys who locked me up in the garage!
What's your next project?
I can't tell you my next project because I am thinking of another series and I don't want anybody to steal my idea.
Do you have any special secrets or insights about any of your books or characters?
My special secret about Sam is that I think dogs really are like that. I see them watching us, and I am convinced they have running stream of thoughts going through their heads. We can't hear them, that's the problem. But Jennie can hear Sam --- she has that one-in-a-million gift. Lucky Jennie and lucky Sam. At last Sam can share all the stuff that is going on in her head.