Resources for Teachers
- Ship-to-Shore: Grade 1-2
- Penelope: Grade 2-4
- Charlie Wilcox: Grade 5-6
- Whispers from the Ghettos: Grade 6-7
- Thunder over Kandahar: Grade 7-9 & 10-12
- War Brothers
- Esther: Grade 8-12
Sharon McKay has been an author for over 20 years and has written 12 Y/A fiction books and 14 non-fiction books. Twice nominated for the Governor General Literary Award, and winner of the Arthur Ellis, The Bilson and IODE, she is the first children’s author to be honoured with the title of CFAP-vet (War Artist) a Canadian government program directed toward the development of military art.
Not only is she a successful writer, but Sharon and her husband David, are also the inventor of sidewalk chalk, which was first sold along with her book, Chalk Around the Block. “Sorry, didn’t make a penny off of it!” LOL.
The Whispers series (Whispers from the Ghettos, Whispers From the Camps and Whispers in Hiding) was the result of nineteen years as a volunteer with the Christian Jewish Dialogue. "I feel very privileged to have worked alongside Holocaust Survivors for so many years. That privilege was magnified a thousand times when the opportunity came along to record many of these stories with Kathy Kacer."
Sharon’s latest book, Thunder Over Kandahar, is a moving story of two girls’ desperate flight through Taliban territory.
"I always write outside my comfort zone. War Brothers, the story of child soldiers in Uganda, was written in Gulu, Uganda. Research for the Whispers series was done in Europe and Israel. Thunder Over Kandahar was written in part in Kandahar, Afghanistan. One Night in Jerusalem, to be published in 2011, was researched in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
“I do go to dangerous places in the world. I will find the stories and bring them home. Going forward – that is my mission. Just wait until you find out what comes next!!!”
TORONTO - Children's author Sharon McKay writes her stories in a log house in a forest. A giant poodle named Phoebe and a little dog with a patch over his eye named Beau is at her side.
Sharon is not only a young adult author but a War Artist. She is the first author to participate in Canada's war artists program, (CFAP) which was put in place after the First World War. It was brought back during the Second World War, was reintroduced from 1968 to 1995 and, after a brief break, was reinstituted in 2001. Painters, photographers, sculptors, sketchers and filmmakers have all gone into war zones and documented the Canadian military experience there. The Group of Seven's A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer and Fred Varley were all war artists in the First World War. Renowned painter Alex Colville was a war artist while serving with the Canadian Army in the Second World War. More recent artists have included Althea Thauberger, Gertrude Kearns and William MacDonnell.
The globe-trotting writer has just returned from the West Bank in Israel. One Night in Jerusalem will be published by Annick in 2011.
In 2009 Sharon spent weeks in Afghanistan, courtesy of Canada's war artists program, to research the Y/A novel Thunder Over Kandahar. In 2008 Sharon wrote War Brother in Gulu, Uganda.
“Israel was amazing, the West Bank hugely informative, Africa magical. But it was Afghanistan that changed the ball game,” says Sharon who is the mother of two boys aged 20 and 27 and the grandmother of a four -year-old boy. "I went out on foot patrol. I rode in a Griffin helicopter and in a troop plane. I was in tanks and LAV’s, amazing."
In the now defunct Camp Mirage she witnessed a "ramp ceremony" of a slain Canadian soldier being carried in a coffin to a plane for the flight home to Canada.
Sharon also visited Afghanistan schools where she talked to the children. In Afghanistan, it was her age that fascinated them (they guessed she was 40, she is 56.) Sharon's ice-breaker with the kids is to tell them they can ask her anything. She asks questions, too.
And sometimes she'll stumble into a faux pas. For instance, her question, "Who wants to get married?" caused her translator in Afghanistan to suddenly stop mid-sentence, and the query was left unasked. After all, she was told, "Everyone wants to get married."
When asked why she writes about war for children, Sharon responds, "We are living our history. However one feels about the war in Afghanistan, it is important that students understand how we got involved and what is going on. I can provide that context. What I cannot do, and will not do, is give an opinion. Those of us who remember Viet Nam also remember how drafted soldiers were treated by the public. We have learned a few things. We can support the soldier even if we do not support the mission.” She adds, "If you are going to be a real citizen in the world, you've got to know about it."
Her books are geared to different age groups -- "Charlie Wilcox" is directed at students in Grade 5 and up, and "War Brothers" for senior elementary and high-school kids. She has also written books about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism -- "Esther" tells the story of the first Jew to live in an early North-American colony of New France.
“The Whispers series is based on true stories from the Holocaust. It gave me the opportunity to do in-dept research. I also became an on-line student at Vad Vashem, the Holocaust Centre, in Israel,” says Sharon. “Here’s a treasured quote from one of her teachers, ‘This essay is so good it could be published.’ Says Sharon, “I laughed myself silly!”
“It’s a privilege to spend time in the classroom. My goal is not to teach, teachers teach. My goal is intrigue, entice and laugh out loud. My topics are hard - the Holocaust, child soldiers, the war in Afghanistan and going forward, the conflict in Israel and Palestine. And still – we have fun. Amazing really.”
Sharon McKay, December 2010.
Note: Times are flexible.
The content is as listed below although the presentations are tailored to the needs of the classroom/school.
Notes: Students do not have to read the book in advance.
I will visit a kindergarten and grade one class during breaks if I am at the school all day. Typically I spend fifteen minutes with this age group. Focus: fun.
Again, if I am booked into a school for the day I host a brown-bag lunch for would-be-writers over the nutrition break. Topic: A template to becoming a professional writer. There is no extra charge.
Parents, teachers and media are welcome throughout the visit.
With consultation, and understanding the parameters, I will bring in a Holocaust Survivor to workshops based on the Whispers series.
The book Thunder Over Kandahar takes place in Afghanistan. Famia Haidary, a consultant on the book and from Afghanistan, will talk about daily life in her birth country as well as introduce the burka which is available for students to try on.
I will respond to e-mails and letters from students after a visit.
Venues: Classroom, Library, Gym and Theatre
Book-in-progress. Ship-to-Shore. Half of a yet to be published book is read while the second half is told. Discuss the differences between written and oral story-telling. Students may also contribute to changes in the story.
Focus: Story telling & story reading.
“It is no small feat that in a mere 65 pages, McKay is able to breathe life into 1917 Halifax, recapture the horror of that tragic morning, and make the reader care what happens to Penny and her family.” CM Magazine
The Boy-Girl Challenge. “Would a boy read a book dubbed Our Canadian Girl? Let’s vote.” Reading from Penelope, Our Canadian Girl series, Reference to Canadian history, WW1, Nova Scotia.
Focus: Judging a book by its cover.
"An absolutely great book. It is one of the best adventurer stories to come out of Newfoundland, and it will become a classic."—The Telegram, St. John's
Grade 5 -6
This talk may include grades 7 & 8 and since Charlie Wilcox is also taught at the university level, the material can be extended to the high-school audience.
Readings from Charlie Wilcox and Charlie Wilcox’s Great War. (WW1) Charlie Wilcox.
Focus on literacy and history and how the role of the Newfoundland Regiment in WW1 changed Canadian history forever.
Teacher’s Guide available.
OLA NOMINATION 2010
We made seven trips back and forth to the synagogue that day. Those books were my education, my entertainment, and my friends. Those books became a part of me. The Nazis could take what Papa called our ‘trinkets,’ but they could not take away what was most important to us- the knowledge that books gave us. And they could not take away the love and pride I felt for my parents. Never.
“Just when you thought there was not much more compelling information about the Holocaust, there comes this book; a series of short vignettes detailing children’s and young adult’s experience during that brief period of time between the assignment of a ghetto and actual deportation to one of the concentration camps. …The attraction of this collection is its breadth of geographic and national contexts. These youths were from different countries and different backgrounds. The one unifying factor is that they were singled out for being Jewish; nothing else.” Resource Links, February 2009
“Kacer and McKay are gifted writers who have enabled the creation of a stunning and vital work. Each story in Whispers from the Ghettos is profound. The writing is compelling and brilliantly crafted, the characters are deep and their voices visceral, the stories shattering and stirring at the same time. By putting names and faces to these many acts of resistance, each of the stories in “Whispers” is uniquely affecting. The stories are made accessible to youth and in doing so fulfill a great need to connect the generations and transmit the testimonies.”
_Highly Recommended. Danya David is a graduate of UBC's Master of Arts in Children's Literature program._______________
CMagazine . . . . Volume XV Number 17. . . .April 17, 2009.
—Linda Silver, reviewer, editor, author & retired librarian
“An inspiring and authentic presentation of the lives of Holocaust survivors … These engrossing personal stories are touching, heart-breaking and ultimately full of hope and renewal... An emotionally and highly engaging read from two master authors.”
—Jury’s comments, Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction
With a Holocaust Survivor whenever possible.
Whispers from the Camps, Whispers from the Ghettos, Whispers from Hiding, a three book series co-authored with Kathy Kacer. Thirty-six stories are presented in different formats (first and third person stories, play, poetry,) for a diverse reading group. All the Survivors are alive, many living in the GTA and some speak to school groups.
Focus: literacy, history, anti-Semitism.
Note: I am a graduate of the on-line Holocaust Education program designed for teachers, Vad Vashem, Israel. My presentation is very gentle and best suited to students new to the topic, specifically new Canadians.
Please see below,
Whispers from the Ghettos
Whispers from the Camps
Whispers from Hiding
60 min. or one period.
“…fast-paced action and appealing characters…bring young readers face to face with the realities of modern Afghanistan, both the dark and the light.”—Quill & Quire, December 2010
"Only with security can artists, poets and writers flourish. Without our artists and storytellers, we have no history and without history our future is unmoored – we drift. It is art, never war, that carries culture forward.” Father talking to his daughter in Thunder Over Kandahar
Grade 7- 9 & 10-12
The in-class presentation is with Famia Haidary, a consultant on the book who is from Afghanistan. Famia discusses daily life in Kabul and demonstrates the burka which is available to try on.
Thunder Over Kandahar – the story of Tamanna and Yasmine, two friends who make a fateful decision to run across the mountains. Presentation includes a talk on the Canadian War Artist Program. Aware of the diversity of the audience, and the likelihood of children of military personal in the room, absolutely no political statements are made.
Focus: empowerment, world affairs, culture.
60 min. or one period.
Nominated for the * Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book Award * Red Maple Award * IODE Violet Downey Book Award * Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award * Rocky Mountain Book Award * Saskatchewan Snow Willow Award. Selected for the 2009 White Ravens catalogue * Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Book for Teens
War Brothers, based on the lives of child soldiers in northern Uganda under the control of arch-nut bar Joseph Kony. Two short movies are included in the presentation. This is an upbeat talk.
Focus: empowerment, world affairs, ground warfare.
Note: A more sophisticated presentation is available for students studying world affairs in grades 10-12. SEE ALSO
60 min. or one period.
Nominated for the White Pine, CLA, and the Governor General’s Award. Sydney Taylor list for, ‘best in Jewish fiction’ in NYC.
“The novel provides valuable general information about life in 18th century Europe and, in particular, about the lives of Jews and women. The small ghettoes within which Jews were confined were overcrowded and created horrible living conditions. Onerous taxes were imposed on them simply because of their religion. Laws restricted their movements, and they could be the object of physical attack at any moment. Many Jews converted to Roman Catholicism either by force or to escape relentless persecution that resulted in expulsions or death at the hands of the Inquisition. It is the detail of Esther's struggle to survive that makes compelling reading.” CM
Grade 8 – 12
Esther, the true story of the first Jew to live in New France during a time when Jews, Protestants and anyone not of the Catholic faith was banned. This presentation includes a mix of Canadian, French and Jewish history circa l750-1800.
60 min. or one class period.