Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Introducing Charis Cotter

Charis Cotter is the author of KIDS WHO RULE: The Remarkable Lives of Five Child Monarchs, published by Annick Press. She's also in the LIVEbrary On Demand program, which means you can invite her to your school or library for an Online Classroom Visit. And we've just released a LIVEbrary Lesson Plan to go with Charis's visit. The plan is designed for World History students at the middle school and junior high school level. Check it out when you have a chance. In the meantime, here's a little background on Charis Cotter.

Charis has always loved books and reading. Her favorite present as a child was a dusty box of second-hand Bobbsey Twins books her mother found at a rummage sale. She grew up in Cabbagetown and Parkdale in downtown Toronto, and she lived for the summers when she would go to camp and live in a tent. She enjoyed singing by the campfire and acting in plays at camp and at her local library.

Her family lived in a small house that was overflowing with children, dogs, cats, grandmothers, and parents. At one point, eleven people lived there! Charis liked making up stories in her head and daydreaming. She would crawl into a cupboard in the basement and sit among blankets and winter coats, eating crackers and reading her Bobbsey Twins books. She also had a stash of Trixie Belden books and lots of fairy tales. When Charis was nine, she discovered J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, which became her favorite book for life.

Charis wrote plays and produced them at school and at camp. She also wrote stories and poems. Her mother, who taught creative writing, helped Charis learn to write well. Charis studied English at university because it allowed her to read a lot of books. Then she went to acting school in Toronto and England. She worked in theater in Toronto for a few years; her favorite role was as the killer on a murder mystery train that went across Canada.

To earn a living in between acting jobs, Charis worked in a variety of places, including a bookstore, a film company, a vegetarian restaurant, a flea market, and a kindergarten. In her most ladylike job, she wrote invitations by hand for the Ontario Lieutenant-Governor's Office.

When Charis had her daughter, Zoe, she changed careers and started doing freelance editing and writing. This gave her the opportunity to read a lot more books on fascinating subjects: astronomy, canoes, gardening, cooking, human evolution, and history. She soon found herself writing about history, and she got hooked on the past. She wrote a book about Toronto in the 1920s and 1930s, illustrated with photographs from that time. Toronto Between the Wars: Life in the City 1919-1939 won the Heritage Toronto Award of Excellence in 2005.

Today, Charis works at home in downtown Toronto, writing books in a room with beautiful trees painted on the walls. She lives with her 14-year-old daughter Zoe and two imperious cats. Zoe has been a great inspiration for Charis. When Zoe was one, she got her first library card and the two of them would read piles of books every day. Now Zoe helps Charis get ideas for books, and helps keep her in touch with what children like to read.

Charis and Zoe both love reading about kings and queens, and that's how Charis came up with the idea for KIDS WHO RULE. Charis thinks the most important thing for aspiring writers to do is spend a lot of time daydreaming. Reading lots of books is a good idea too, but nothing beats letting your imagination wander.

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