Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

On Writing, with Nan Forler

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Nan Forler

Nan Forler is the author of Winterberries and Apple Blossoms: Reflections and Flavours of a Mennonite Life (Tundra Books), which not only tells the story of a young girl finding her place in a traditional culture, but also offers genuine Mennonite recipes for readers to try at home. The book is illustrated with paintings by Peter Etril Snyder.

Nan Forler talks with Open Book about outsider characters, the book she will always remember and the delicate task of capturing a faith group as private as Old Order Mennonites.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book.

Nan Forler:

Winterberries and Apple Blossoms: Reflections and Flavors of a Mennonite Life tells the story of Naomi, a young Old Order Mennonite girl, coming of age within the confines of her culture and faith. This story celebrates Naomi’s simple way of life through poetry vignettes of big moments and small happenings. Each month of the year is presented with a poem, a painting and a seasonal recipe, illuminating Naomi’s quiet life and giving us a glimpse into her private world. The recipes are designed to be used by both adults and children. This book is for anyone who appreciates a return to a wholesome way of life.


What was the most challenging part of writing this book?


Perhaps the most challenging thing about writing Winterberries and Apple Blossoms was the fact that Old Order Mennonites live in a very private world and avoid contact with outsiders. I was fortunate to have grown up in Elmira, Ontario, surrounded by Mennonite culture, so the experiences and observations felt very natural to me. I also had a great deal of help from my friends’ mothers and aunts who were raised in the Old Order Church. Some Mennonite friends of our family were very generous in taking the time to read over the manuscript to ensure that it was respectful and true to their faith and culture.


With what character (or characters) in your book do you most identify?


I feel as though I know and understand Naomi, a character with whom many children will also identify. Naomi lives her life following her family’s culture and expectations, and cannot help but notice the more worldly life others are living. This is the experience of so many children, particularly new Canadians, who sometimes feel apart from others and struggle with living in an isolated unit within the larger society. Growing up, there always seems to be someone whose parents are more permissive, whose life seems more exciting. Naomi’s rebellion is very subtle — wishing for a bright, flowered fabric or wanting to ride a bicycle, as the boys are allowed to do. She is gradually coming to an acceptance of the life her faith expects of her.

Naomi also wants to be an adult, but feels anxious when the opportunity to prove herself is handed to her. She is finding the balance between the longing for adulthood and the pull of childhood that so many young people experience.


For what age group are you most drawn to writing?


As a primary teacher and a mother, I have always adored picture books. When I started writing, they were the natural vehicle for my thoughts. Like poetry, a picture book thrives on economy of language. Each story is distilled down to its essence. A picture book explores huge ideas with succinct, and often rich, text.


What recurring themes do you notice turning up in your writing?


My favourite themes seem to relate to the outsider. I like exploring our reactions to the outsider as well, such as standing up for the underdog, and reaching out to those who are weak or voiceless. I believe children are naturally caring and compassionate and we can guide them to develop empathy and to follow their best instincts through reading about the lives of others.


What book did you read as a child or young adult that has stayed with you into adulthood?


I loved Anne of Green Gables, and just as they say that books you read as a child form who you are, Anne of Green Gables left a lasting impression on who I became. I still love to write about quirky kids with inner strength.


Who are some people who have deeply influenced (fellow writers or not) your writing life?


Writer, Kathy Stinson and her partner, editor, Peter Carver have been my instructors and mentors for many years. I share this mentorship with countless other kid-lit authors in Canada. Not only have they been enormously supportive, but they also taught me the valuable skill of self-editing. I can hear their voices questioning anything not consistent or true, as they know that kids deserve the highest quality work.

My husband and my kids are so creative and I am constantly inspired by them. My family called me a writer long before my words were ever in print.


What are you working on now?


I am working on three manuscripts that share a common theme. They all deal with kids on the fringe, who do not really fit in because of language, culture or disability. They are about rising above our difficulties and embracing our differences.

Born in Elmira, Ontario, Nan Forler has degrees in both music and education, and she has taught junior kindergarten through to grade eight for over twenty years. She has studied music in Vienna and Italy, traveled through England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and driven coast-to-coast through North America. As a mother and teacher, she encourages her students and her own children to speak out against injustice, both in the schoolyard and in the global community and this is reflected in her first book, Bird Child. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario.

For more information about Winterberries and Apple Blossoms please visit the Tundra website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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