Retired teacher still reaching out to youth

Literature: Foothills author targets children in recent publications

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014 06:00 am

MD of Foothills resident Evelyn Chouinard self-published two children's books - A Diamond is a… and
MD of Foothills resident Evelyn Chouinard self-published two children's books - A Diamond is a… and
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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A former elementary school teacher is continuing to enhance children’s minds 14 years after her retirement.

MD of Foothills resident Evelyn Chouinard is expecting the release of her chapter book A Diamond is a… and rhyming children’s book Mr. Alligator later this month – the first books she’s ever had published.

“I have just always loved children’s literature,” she said. “I’ve wanted to write a book for 40 years.”

The Aldersyde-area resident taught elementary school children across Saskatchewan and Alberta for 44 years. She taught elementary school in Macklin, Sask. before teaching at a boarding school for the deaf in Saskatoon.

Chouinard’s self-published book A Diamond is a… is geared for children in Grades 3 to 5. It’s a story about a young girl named Penny who finds an ancient diamond engagement ring in a shoebox full of old costume jewelry she bought at a garage sale.

Chouinard said she found the book easier to write than she thought, and wrote it in a way to keep children intrigued at the end of each chapter.

“You can easily slip your feet into Penny’s sneakers and walk a mile in her shoes,” she said. “That’s the kind of writing I like to do. I know children so I know what kinds of things they like.”

Chouinard’s first foray into the world of books was 10 years ago when she wrote the picture-book Mr. Alligator when she took a writing course through the Institute of Children’s Literature.

A frequent visitor to Texas in the winter, Chouinard saw numerous alligators and always wondered why they look like they’re grinning. Her book not only portrays the grinning alligator, but what type of things they like to eat.

Like all of the other books Chouinard wrote while taking writing courses over the years, she put Mr. Alligator aside. It was her daughter who convinced her to have it published.

“There’s a bunch of books in my drawer over the years from courses I’ve taken,” she said. “Once I get an idea of what I want to write I can’t get it out of my head. I lie in bed at night and write three chapters in my head.”

Although Chouinard tried finding a publisher for her books, she had no success.

“I was doing a lot of reading and I discovered more and more people were doing self-publishing,” she said. “I thought maybe that’s the route for me to go.”

With her books expected to arrive later this month, Chouinard said she plans to do the marketing herself with hopes to make more money and she said selling her books at a chain store could only net her around a dollar per book.

Chouinard also took the independent route to find an illustrator for her books rather than hiring one through Vancouver’s self-publishing and printing company Friesen Press, which printed her books.

It wasn’t long before she discovered Okotoks artist Elisa Friesen through word of mouth.

Although Friesen illustrated a book in 1997, it was never published. Her more recent years have been spent making small films for YouTube with her husband.

“She caught me at a good time,” she said of Chouinard’s request. “I happened to have some time off.”

When tasked to illustrate for Mr. Alligator, the portrait artist took on a more comical approach. For instance, one of the drawings depicts 10 little girls crammed inside an alligator’s mouth.

“I’m fond of the illustrations for that book,” she said. “They’re pretty comical.”

For A Diamond is a…, Friesen said the images are more realistic. She created a black-and-white drawing for each of the book’s 10 chapters.

“It’s a lot more challenging because you’re looking at what the author has written and you’re trying to envision what the author would like the character to look like,” she said. “The main character is nine or 10 and I kept making her look too old. It’s getting that balance — the rounded face, but not a little kid.”

Friesen said she enjoyed the constant feedback she received from Chouinard throughout the illustration process.

“It’s like having somebody hold your hand,” she said. “I will definitely work with Evelyn again. She is a delight to work with.”

With two books published, Chouinard has no plans to stop there. When winter arrives Chouinard will get busy on her next project — a children’s mystery book.

“It’s self-satisfying, self fulfilling,” she said of writing. “This is purely entertainment.”

Chouinard ordered 350 copies each of Mr. Alligator and A Diamond is a… and plans to sell the books at the Summer Saturdays Street Festival in Okotoks on Aug. 30.

She also plans to approach stores in Okotoks and Calgary with hopes to sell more.

Chouinard’s books can also be purchased at the Okotoks Art Gallery and online at www.friesenpress.com/bookstore


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