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Hockey fans come in all types, and, let's not forget, different ages. My son, Quinn, who is now 11 years old, has been reading since he was three, and the Toronto Star sports pages were a big part of his learning curve, as were a plethora of sports books aimed at kids. It got to the point where we tried to separate the books in his overcrowded room by subject: hockey, baseball, basketball, football, Star Wars, comic book-related ... but what do you do with the books in his bed that he is in the process of reading?
To encourage and direct his voracious reading, my wife and I have steered him into doing some book reviews on YouTube, which feeds his love of making videos and gathering subscribers to his channel, while also reading, planning and executing a shoot and then editing and posting the video.
So this go-round, you will find conversations with three authors who write a lot for children, followed by a video review that Quinn has done up. Rest assured, Quinn came up with questions that I used in the stories too.
AMAZING HOCKEY STORIES: CONNOR MCDAVID
The personal connection to a prominent hockey figure will not be obvious to the reluctant readers who are the target audience for the new book, Amazing Hockey Stories: Connor McDavid by Lorna Schultz Nicholson. But she cannot say that her marriage to Edmonton Oilers Chief Executive Officer and Vice-Chairman, Bob Nicholson, didn't help smooth the process along.
“I can't deny that. I'd like to say to say no, but that's not true,” admitted Schultz Nicholson on the phone from Edmonton. “I knew Connor so that was a real huge plus prior to going in, because with me there's no reason for me to write any book along these lines without having it authorized. I mean, there's a lot of unauthorized books on Connor, but I wanted to write an authorized book on Connor, and I wanted the support from Connor and I wanted the support from his mother, and they were wonderful and they were very, very gracious.”
To the uneducated, it might seem to be nepotism at its best, but once you see the resume of Schultz Nicholson, that theory goes right out the window faster than McDavid gets from blue line to blue line. With a background in television and radio, she had a lot of experience interviewing people. Then she married Bob Nicholson, who was then running Hockey Canada. They have three children together—Mandi, Marijean and Grant—and as they were growing, Schultz Nicholson made the decision to begin writing. Brewing a pot of coffee at 7 p.m., she'd stay up as late as she could working on projects while her kids slept. Now they are all grown, Schultz Nicholson has plenty more time to write.
And write she has, approaching 40 books, including the Puckster series for Hockey Canada; a trio of Red Maple Award nominees, the One-2-One Series, aimed at teens (Bent not Broken: Madeline & Justin, Fragile Bones: Harrison and Anna, Born With: Erika and Gianni); and two on Olympic glory: Fighting for Gold: The Story of Canada's Sledge Hockey Paralympic Gold from the 2006 Olympics and Winning Gold: Canada's incredible 2002 Olympic Victory in Women's Hockey. The Podium Sports Academy books for young adults look at the pressures on developing athletes. Her books aimed at middle grades have gotten a ton of attention, even if the titles are a bit generic: Interference, Roughing, Against the Boards, Cross-Check!, Northern Star, Too Many Men, Holding, Delaying the Game. No less than Wayne Gretzky offers up praise on her website, http://lornaschultznicholson.com: “Lorna’s books are a great read for kids and their parents. They really help teach the importance of having good values both in hockey and in life.”
Her hockey credentials are valid too. “I think it's a fabulous sport. It's fast, it's Canadian, it's watchable,” she said, detailing the travel team she was on growing up in St. Catharines, Ontario, when she was 12 and 13. “I loved it before I met my husband.”
Schultz Nicholson's love for writing to a younger audience is pretty obvious. What is the appeal? “I think it's their response. I'm a really, really big believer in reading and literacy, and I think the earlier you begin to get kids to read and excited about the reading, the further that will carry with them in their life. Writing for children is beautiful, it's a wonderful career. Children take it and they're so gratified right away and they let you know right away, and they're not so cynical. But they'll be honest, 'I like that I didn't like it.' And you're like, 'Okay?'”
She'll hit the road for school visits and runs a writing workshop with the Oilers' ICE School (In Class Education).
Does writing for a younger audience get the respect it deserves? “That's a big question, and sometimes I think that it does and sometimes I think it doesn't. I do YA [young adult] as well, and YA has entered into it a little bit, but has helped maybe give it a little bit more respect. I don't think that it does get the respect that it deserves, but we're working on it, children's authors are working on it. We're quite a tight group and Canada has some amazing, amazing children's authors. We're very fortunate in this country with the children's authors that we have. We're working on that, we're working on the respect.”
Picture book authors get it worse, she said, recalling people saying, “Oh, that must be easy to do, it's only five words.” She disagrees. Picture books are not easy, and it's the same with her latest on Connor McDavid. “Writing these reluctant readers is not exactly easy either, although it may look easy and the sentences are very simplified, but sometimes you're working on chopping your sentences in two in your edits. You're going, 'Okay, this is too long, I need to change this, I need to re-work this.' So there's a whole other process that goes into it when you write a reluctant reader.”
Which brings us back to Amazing Hockey Stories: Connor McDavid. It should find a home under many Christmas trees, and will invade millions of households in the Scholastic book flyers that head home with kids at schools across Canada. With its mix of text, photos, and comic book panels to detail McDavid's life, it's a smooth-skating read.
There have been other books on the young superstar, but this one has the blessing of the family, from the participation of Connor and his parents, to the use of personal McDavid family photos. McDavid's agent, Jeff Jackson, was the original point-man, and conference calls took place to get everyone on board.
The advance reading copy went to all parties too for final approval. “His mom was probably better than Connor on that level, especially with the early stuff,” said Schultz Nicholson. “I really wanted their support, and at the very end, I did want them to say, 'Yes, this is a good book; we're very happy with this.' And I wanted Connor portrayed in the best way possible.”
Up next is the second book in the series, Amazing Hockey Stories: Hayley Wickenheiser. The text is written for that one, and the artwork is being worked on, while the photos are being collected. Schultz Nicholson was thrilled to work on it, following up on earlier books she has written about women's hockey in Canada, including Pink Power: The First Women's Hockey World Champions. “I think what's happened is there's been a bit of a push-back from libraries and from schools that perhaps companies like Scholastic aren't—or maybe aren't—getting enough female athletes out there.” Schultz Nicholson's short list had Wickenheiser, Cassie Campbell, and Marie Poulin.
She is also hard at work on an Edmonton Oilers 40th anniversary book. (Well, 40th anniversary in the NHL.) “I took that project on just because I have availability to the players and to the management, just to so many people, so I was able to do a lot of really solid interviews for that,” Schultz Nicholson said.
The book she will NOT be doing is an autobiography with her husband Bob Nicholson. The question draws a big laugh. “Not written by me, that's for sure. No, I'll leave that one to somebody else,” she said, as discussion ensued about why he was deserving of a book after his decades in key positions in the hockey world. “I will say that somebody will one day write a book on him, and I'd be more than happy to be interviewed, but I'm not sure I would be the one to write that book!”
REVIEW OF AMAZING HOCKEY STORIES: CONNOR MCDAVID BY QUINN OLIVER (GREG'S 11-YEAR-OLD SON)
HOCKEY THEN TO WOW!
When Sam Page first joined Sports Illustrated Kids (SI Kids) four years ago, he remembers the advice he got, only somewhat in jest: “Just add an exclamation point to the end of the sentence and you're writing for kids.” Given that his new book, Hockey Then to WOW! proudly sports an exclamation point, he appears to have learned his lessons well.
He gets joy writing for a younger audience, especially sports fans, “because you can be more unabashedly enthusiastic and I don't think that's a bad thing or even insincere, because certainly I am enthusiastic about these subjects,” he explained from the SI Kids office in New York City.
Every time a child picks up something to read, be it a book, a magazine, a comic, or a newspaper, they are making a conscious decision, believes Page. “The nice thing about writing for kids is they get the value of print better than the adults because they're trying to get away from the screens. It's nice for them to read on the printed page.”
Page gives the question about writing for kids some thought. Aside from leaving out the “darker side of sports” he doesn't think he writes too differently than he would otherwise. “You don't want to use words that there's no way that they've ever heard of them, and just try to drown the kid in your vocabulary. But luckily I don't know many big words, so that's never a problem,” he joked, further thinking about it. “I try not to write down to kids, because I think kids are smarter than sometimes people give them credit for. My thought is just to write clearly and to write in a way that's explanatory but not condescending. Because kids want to learn but they're very smart in general, and especially the kind of kid that would read a sports magazine is probably a pretty precocious reader already, so I try to give them credit. And if there's a word in there that they have to look up, that's the better because part of writing for kids is encouraging literacy, so you want to write a little bit up to their reading level if possible.”
Growing up in Tennessee, Page was a sports fan and, much to the delight of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his Sun Belt dreams, he was a hockey fan in a non-traditional market. “I was pretty young when they got the Predators, so we had season tickets from the beginning and that's how I got into it.”
After studying journalism at New York University, he worked at SI.com for a year before landing at SI Kids. Now, Page is the resident hockey guru at SI Kids and he's the reason that the far-reaching magazine had PK Subban in a Predators jersey on the cover. “He's a real hero for kids in so many ways,” said Page of Subban.
Page is one of the many who lament the lack of hockey coverage in the United States. “I think hockey fans love to complain about the attention hockey gets in the United States and I totally understand it because I'm a hockey fan first and foremost and an American. I dealt with those frustrations growing up,” he said. “It's the fourth-most popular sport in the United States probably, but the passion of the fan base is huge for what it is, so I try to impress that on my co-workers and they're super-receptive with letting me get away with doing more hockey stuff. I think we've done more hockey covers in my how-ever-many, four years here than we did in the four years before, so be the change you want to see in the world. I think we've got more hockey stuff than we've ever had.”
That all leads to Hockey Then to WOW! There are other books in the series, Baseball: Then to WOW!
and Football: Then to WOW! While Page's name is not on the cover—“it's just the nature of the thing”—he is responsible for the content and is credited inside.
Page is officially one of two associate editors at SI Kids, a part of a small staff, and he does writing and editing, brainstorming ideas for the magazine and even taking on a mentoring role with a couple of young writers, usually aged 10-13, who help keep the “kid” in SI Kids.
So fitting in time to work on the book came here and there, especially after the monthly magazine went to press.
Since the template already existed for the Then to WOW! series, Page had to modify to have it fit hockey. There are four sections—The Basics (rules, skates, pucks, sticks, sweaters, masks, goalie equipment, arenas, origins of players); The Players (playmakers, snipers, goalies, two-way forwards, offensive defensemen, fighters, characters); Face Off! (coaches and strategy, international hockey, records), women's hockey, champions and Stanley Cup); and Fan Fun (Beards! Fashion! Games! Cards!) in the heavily-illustrated 80-page book crammed full of text and visuals, like timelines, pie charts and cartoons.
“At the back of the book we had the Fan Fun section, and that was just me wracking my brain for things that were unique to hockey because hockey fans are certainly unlike any others, and have traditions that are funny and I thought kids would appreciate,” said Page. The examples aren't hard to come by, from hats tossed for a third goal to an octopi hitting the ice in Detroit.
Page relishes the things that he learned, from how important a two-way forward, like Marty Pavelich of the Detroit Red Wings, was to the team. “I didn't fully comprehend how important these guys were, but they're every bit as important to those classic teams as the more famous guys,” he said.
Similarly, the early day of women playing hockey were an eye-opener. “That stuff is especially fascinating because, you talk about those early women, like Bobbie Rosenfeld, where they weren't really allowed to play hockey in so many words, so they had to excel at track and field, and it's kind of a melancholy what if? about how good they truly could have been if they had the support that the women's national teams have today.”
In the end, Page knows that a book like Hockey Then to WOW! is only as good as its artwork, the photos in particular. And, thanks to the team at SI Kids and its parent magazine, it's a definitely “Wow!”
“Our photo editors are great and they worked really hard on this book, probably had more to do with this book than I did when you look at the size of the pictures compared to the amount of the words,” admitted Page. “I was talking to them throughout the process and annoying them with very specific requests. I definitely wanted the 'Green Men' specifically, but then after that, then to take that example of the fan fashion spread, I left it up to them to find what they could and they came up with great stuff.”
REVIEW OF HOCKEY THEN TO WOW! BY QUINN OLIVER (GREG'S 11-YEAR-OLD SON)
ZWEIG ADDS SIX-PACK TO HIS COLLECTION
Prolific author Eric Zweig has had an interesting year, with nine books coming out with his name on the cover, as well as the usual NHL Official Guide & Record Book that he works on with Dan Diamond & Assoc. (which might be the final time there is a print version). It seems like a lot, but the projects don't always overlap—or at least he hopes not.
There was an updating to The Big Book of Hockey for Kids, and new books: MVP Superstars 2017, The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, and the near the end of the year, Crabtree Publishing put out a half-dozen books on the Original Six NHL franchises, in both hardcover and paperback.
To understand the challenges, Zweig talked about workflow. “Generally speaking, I’m not great at juggling projects. I tend to work on one thing until it’s done. So, I suppose that helps. The Leafs book was already well into editing when the Original Six books were being written, so it was fairly easy to keep things separate,” he said. “There was some overlap with the Leafs book and the updated version of The Big Book of Hockey for Kids for Scholastic Canada. And, honestly, it’s amazing how often I’ll come across a story for a kids book that will help with the adult books, or vice versa.”
An example is the correction that was made to a decades-old error in the coaching record for Godfrey Matheson in Chicago that was made this summer in the NHL Official Guide & Record Book. While researching the Original Six book on the Blackhawks / Black Hawks, Zweig came across the error, and since the coaching record in the Guide is Zweig's responsibility, he made the fix. For more on that, see his website (link to http://ericzweig.com/2017/08/17/good-godfrey).
With books aimed at adults and kids, Zweig is in a unique position to consider the merits of both. “In the most crass sense, the biggest reward is that the kids books tend to sell better,” he confessed. “But, honestly, the best part of writing for children is the chance to get invited into schools to talk with the kids. I’ve had plenty of great conversations about my books with adults, but you don’t get the same enthusiasm that you get from a boy or a girl who enjoys your book. Writing is generally a very solitary experience, and as I often say, I don’t get any applause when I log off my computer at the end of the day, but you never leave a classroom visit without a pretty rousing cheer!”
He doesn't think writing for kids is all that different than adults. “My wife, who used to write science books for children, and I often joke about having someone 'Hey, Kids!' up our work. That does happen a little bit, where an editor will suggest more 'active' phrases. But, generally, I try not to talk down to the kids. I honestly don’t do a lot of things differently when I’m writing for children.”
The Original Six books, for Toronto, Montreal, Detroit, Boston, Chicago and New York, were planned by Crabtree to coincide with the NHL’s 100th anniversary—“it’s not like we had any discussion about which teams seemed like the best choices,” quipped Zweig. “They had already devised the lengthy list of subjects they wanted covered, so I just had to pick and choose from that which seemed likely to provide the best stories. Scholastic, too, always has a pretty specific idea about the books they’d like me to do ... but I’m given a pretty free hand at coming up with the individual stories.”
Each team brought its own challenges, he said. “Obviously, some Original Six teams have had a longer history of success than others, but all have their own origins story, and enough big stars to talk about. The hardest part, really, was to tell so many similar stories in six different books and make them all sound different. I think I did a pretty good job with that, and I had a great editor who helped a lot.”
In a 31-team NHL (with a 32nd being talked about regularly), does the Original Six matter to today's young hockey fan? Zweig hopes so, but isn't sure. “I have my doubts that the Original Six matters in a direct way to kids today. If they live in an Original Six city and they’re in a family of hockey fans, they may have heard some good stories from parents or grandparents. Still, Crabtree wasn’t about to rush out 31 NHL team books, so the so-called Original Six seems a good place to start. There are a lot more Leafs and Canadiens fans all across Canada then there are fans of the other Canadian teams in those cities. And, since they do sell in the States too, I’m sure they could have had success in a city like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, and maybe even in a place like Nashville right now, but Boston, Detroit, New York, and Chicago seem like the best places to start. Hopefully, the books will sell well and I’ll get to do some other teams. Though they’re not directly focused on a specific team as this new series for Crabtree, the books I’ve done for Scholastic Canada all include a lot of hockey history, and honestly, the children really seem to enjoy a lot of the old stories.”
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