You can be anything you want to be: author

Inspired by Anne of Green Gables writer's connection with local church, Jennings creates new young heroine

As a child growing up in the 1960s, Sharon Jennings was told that if she wanted to work, she could become a teacher or a nurse, and if she wanted to have a child, she would have to quit her job.

“There wasn’t a lot of encouragement to be different,” she said. “There was the status quo, everyone knew their place.”

Now, as an award-winning author and mother, Jennings wants children to know that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up.

In her new children’s novel, Home Free, Jennings has sewn pieces of her own life to create the story of Lee, an 11-year-old growing up in the ’60s.

Lee yearns to become a writer and, because of her love for Anne of Green Gables, dreams of becoming an orphan – that is, until a red-headed orphan moves in next door and Lee’s father dies.

Herself a fan of the famed novel series, Jennings, like Lee, made the pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island to discover the home of Canada’s most beloved orphan.

She was intrigued by red-headed Anne’s fictitious life, and curious about the concept of living without a birth parent and moving someplace new.

Jennings was fascinated to learn that, back in the 1940s, Anne of Green Gables author L.M. Montgomery attended service at Jennings’ church, Victoria Royce Presbyterian in the Junction, which is now destined to be converted into condos.

“Here I was, in love with this author and her book, and I found out she had actually sat in my church,” Jennings said.

She included that childhood anecdote to her novel.

“It has a very local flavour to it,” she said. “I grew up in this neighbourhood.”

And she’s kept those ties. Her best friend to this day is the girl who moved into the house next door to her as a teen. That relationship has also been documented in her novel.

Home Free was nominated recently for a Governor General’s Literacy Award in the best children’s literature – text category.

More than 200 books were submitted for the award and Jennings’ novel made the top five short-listed books.

Jennings didn’t win an award when they were announced Nov. 17, but said just being nominated was an honour.

“I really love the story I wrote,” she said. “I just felt really good about it and to get acknowledged was just over-the-top wonderful.”

Jennings’ work has won previous Governor General’s awards. Her illustrated series Jerimiah and Mrs. Ming, with drawings by Mireille Levert, received the award for best illustrated children’s book.

In a way, Jennings did end up becoming a teacher. She’s spent the last six years teaching a children’s writing course at Ryerson University.

She has also contributed to more than 40 books in the Franklin the Turtle series.

Jennings will be reading an excerpt from Home Free on Sunday, Nov. 29 at McNally Robinson Booksellers at the Shops at Don Mills.

About this article:

By: Alex Keshen
Posted: Nov 24 2009 10:52 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto