Picture book offers new perspective


IMAGE ARTWORK BY ELLIE ARSCOTT COURTESY GROUNDWOOD BOOKS

Hudson resident and author Sara O’Leary has just released her third book this year, a children’s story titled Night Walk in which the insomniac protagonist goes on a walk with her dad to explore the magical quality of her neighbourhood at nighttime.

Hudson resident and author Sara O’Leary has had a busy 2020. September 29 will mark the release of her third new book this year but she doesn’t credit any COVID-induced flurry of activity or Dickensian work schedule for that.

“It’s really just luck and timing,” says O’Leary, “I didn’t plan it this way.”

Night Walk, her latest release, is a children’s book aimed primarily at the age 3 to 7 set that explores the almost magical quality of seeing the familiar in a different light. What makes it appealing for readers of all ages is how it brings a new perspective through the eyes of a child discovering a hidden world – the world of activity she didn’t realize was happening in her own neighbourhood at night.

We’ll go for a walk

The story opens with a young girl who can’t sleep. Rather than admonishing her to settle down or plying her with warm milk, her father decides to take her on a little nighttime stroll. Seeing things in a new light, she discovers a lot about different kinds of families that she didn’t know before, and sees aspects of people’s lives that she hadn’t considered. It makes for a sweet reminder that people usually have more going on in in their lives than what we see at first glance.

“Was it always like this when I was asleep in my bed at night?” wonders the young protagonist, “So many people everywhere!”

The book blends a sense of discovery with an equal measure of comfort and reassurance as the little girl reinforces her notion of what home and belonging mean to her. “It’s got a quiet, meditative quality,” says Kirsten Brassard, publicist at Groundwood Books. “It’s also been described as a bit ‘Peeping-Tommish’,” (in a good way) for how it shows the girl getting to know the more intimate side of her urban backyard by looking through lit windows at night.

PHOTO BY LAUREN SOLOY

Hudsonite Sara O’Leary captures a child’s wondrous point of view as her book’s main character explores her neighbourhood at night for the first time revealing a whole new world.

Long-distance connection

Though she’s moved around a fair bit, O’Leary settled in Hudson with her family about eight years ago and has found in it her own neighbourhood to call home. While the story was written here, the dream-like illustrations were brought to life by artist Ellie Arscott from over 500 kilometres away in the east end of Toronto.

“I’ve worked with about seven different illustrators over the years, and it always comes out as a surprise,” said O’Leary. “Unlike writing a novel, with children’s books it’s a little more like working in theatre, where you abdicate some responsibility and control for the final product.” In this case, the final product meant that her concept and story met the flavour of Toronto’s vibrant Leslieville neighbourhood.

O’Leary is thrilled with the result. Her touching story and Arscott’s artwork mesh beautifully in a children’s book that leaves a lasting impression.

“Ellie and Sara even have some fun activities at the back of the book,” says Brassard. “There’s a page for colouring, a project to do building cut-outs, and a ‘map your own neighbourhood’ activity that kids will love.”

Diversity in writing

O’Leary’s other children’s works include Maud and Grand-Maud, a story about a girl visiting her grandmother, and A Family Is a Family Is a Family, another Groundwood book that whimsically explores the different configurations of diverse people that can come together and make up a family.

On top of writing children’s books, O’Leary has seen the release this year of her full-length novel The Ghost in the House, which is described as, “…a glimmering and darkly comedic novel that explores both the domestic and the existential, delving into the dark heart of marriage and the meaning of a life.”

Says O’Leary with a chuckle, “The funny thing about writing a novel when you’re a published children’s author is just how many people seem genuinely surprised that you could do it.”

Coming soon

O’Leary, who also teaches writing for children at Concordia University, is looking forward to this latest launch. “It’ll be largely done online with the current climate” she says, though she may be convinced to make some in-person visits to local schools. Night Walk will be available directly from Groundwood Books’ parent Anansi Press at houseofanansi.com, as well as through independent bookstores and the usual online retailers.

See more illustrations on our Facebook page.

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