Etta Kaner - Author
Etta Kaner writes for both children and educators. While the majority of her children's books are nonfiction, some of her more recent books are a combination of fiction and nonfiction. Many of them have been translated into other languages. A number of her books have won awards, namely the Silver Birch Award, the ASPCA Henry Bergh Children's Book Award, the Animal Behavior Society's Outstanding Children's Book Award, the Scientific American Young Readers Book Award and the Science in Society Book Award.
While her earlier books were inspired by her two daughters, many of her later books were inspired by the elementary school students whom she taught.
Etta loves to interview experts in fields with which she is unfamiliar, either in person or by phone. She finds that most people are very cooperative and love to talk about their area of interest and expertise. During these interviews, she often accumulates more information than she needs for her book. When making a decision as to what to include in the book, she uses the "wow" test. She tries to choose information that will make her readers say "wow" when they read it.
Writing books also allows Etta to create the many groaners that she likes to make up but which are not always appreciated by her family!
When she's not writing or teaching, Etta loves to spend time with her family (her husband and two grown daughters), garden, read humorous or historical fiction books, dance, explore new places, go to live theater and cook for company (but not all at the same time!). She does all of these activities in Toronto, Canada.
Where do you live now?
What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
Since most of my books are non-fiction and about topics that I know very little about, I need to do a lot of research. I love to talk to experts in various fields and love to find out about things I don't know.
How did you get involved with children's books?
My first two books were inspired by my daughter when she was five years old.
Do you have any pets?
Not now. We used to have a rabbit, and I have some funny stories about it. We also used to have fish and a hamster.
What is your favorite food?
I like most foods, but one of my favorites is wild blueberries from northern Ontario. I've been buying them from the same stand in Muskoka on Highway 169 since I was a kid. The stand has been owned by five generations. I buy two eleven-quart baskets and freeze them --- the blueberries, not the baskets.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy gardening, reading and dancing.
When did you start writing?
For the purposes of publication, I started when I was 40.
What was your training or schooling?
I went to elementary and high school in Toronto. I did my Honors Bachelor of Arts at the University of Toronto and my Masters at the University of Wisconsin.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
I find that good writers are voracious readers. So, my advice to young creators is to read a lot. Reading increases your vocabulary and exposes you to many styles of writing.
What is your favorite book?
I don't have one favorite book. In terms of adult books, my favorite are historical fiction and humor. In terms of children's books, I have lots of favorite authors, including many classics, as well as modern Canadian ones.
Where do you work?
I work with the Peel Board of Education in Mississauga as an elementary school teacher.
How do you research or create your stories?
I do my research by reading books or by interviewing professionals in person, if I require a lot of information, or over the phone, if it's just a little bit.
Where do you get your ideas?
Sometimes from the newspaper, sometimes from talking to people and often from seeing what kinds of books are needed by the students at my school but not available.
What's your greatest childhood memory?
I loved spending the summers in Muskoka where we would rent a cottage. I guess that's why I still have a fondness for the rocks, trees and lakes of that part of the country. As we drove up Highway 11, I used to look for the first outcropping of rock on the side of the highway, signaling the beginning of Muskoka, and I still do that today.
What is your favorite animal?
I don't have a favorite. I find all animals fascinating, especially since I've been doing the research for the Animal Behavior series.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was in high school, I wanted to be either a foreign correspondent or an interpreter for the United Nations.
What is the weirdest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I guess it's the one I'm doing now --- teaching. Every day is a new challenge. Things are never the same. That's the way it is when you work with young people.
Do you have any special secrets or insights about one of your books or characters?
I have a story about some information that I got for Sound Science. When I wanted some information about train whistles, I phoned a train engineer. Even though I introduced myself and explained what I was doing, he wouldn't believe me. In fact, he thought I was pulling his leg and became quite angry. When I finally convinced him that I was telling the truth, he faxed me pages and pages of info about train whistles, and he told me about his experiences in northern Ontario with the moose and how they thought the train whistle was a moose love call. They would run onto the tracks and get killed. That's why they changed the pitch of the whistle. This serendipitous information made a terrific sidebar in my book and a good story to tell during workshops.