Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Marla Stewart Konrad

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On Writing, with Marla Stewart Konrad

In her latest books I Like to Play and Grand (Tundra Books), Marla Stewart Konrad explores the lives of children around the world, coupling simple text with exquisite photography. In collaboration with World Vision, these photo essays were created to show children from dozens of countries as they play, dance and form profound connections with older generations.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your books, I Like to Play and Grand.

Marla Stewart Konrad:

I Like to Play and Grand are the third and fourth books in the World Vision Early Readers series. The books are photo essays that focus on the lives of children from dozens of countries. The text is simple and the photographs, taken by many of my World Vision colleagues, are spectacular.

I Like to Play is a celebration of the imagination and resourcefulness of children from all over the world, and their capacity to play and find fun in any situation. There are photographs of children playing with simple, homemade toys, children dancing together, and even photos of children playing together in refugee camps. They really speak to me of the universal capacity of children to play and embrace life no matter what the circumstances.

Grand celebrates the special bond between children and their grandparents. The cover photo is a beautiful image of a little girl, with her tiny hand holding the gnarled and wrinkled hand of her grandmother. To me, the book shows the innocence and trust of children and the loving and wise protection of the older generation.


I Like to Play and Grand were created in collaboration with World Vision Canada. How did the collaboration come about?


All of us wear many hats – in our work, our communities, and with our families and friends. These books came about when I started to draw some links between my work life and my role as a mom. I have worked for World Vision Canada for many years in communications roles, but it wasn’t until I became a mom and began looking for children’s books that demonstrated life in other cultures that I saw the link between my two roles.

I wanted to read my children books that presented other cultures in positive and affirming ways. While there are some books out there that do that, I couldn’t find very many. It occurred to me that World Vision had a gold mine of photographs that really fit the bill, and I began to envision photo-filled early readers with simple text. I began working with Tundra Books on the project and the outcome is four lovely books that celebrate the diversity of life and cultures all around the world.

What’s especially exciting for me is that all the royalties from the books are being invested in children through World Vision projects.


I Like to Play documents the many ways that children play around the world. What were a few of the most surprising things you learned of?


I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise, but what struck me through the photos was the fact that children don’t need expensive toys or complicated games to have fun. They can take a few sticks, a bit of paper and string and create a kite, a car, or a boat. A friend of mine has a homemade soccer ball she brought home from Kenya that’s made of bright green grocery bags wound together and tied up with string. Kids are incredibly resourceful when it comes to playing.

The other thing that shines through in the photographs is the joy of friendship: if children have a friend, anywhere can be a place for play.


Grand is a visual essay about the relationship between children and grandparents. What were some of the notable cultural differences and similarities in these relationships that you saw from country to country?


One of the differences is the critical role that grandparents play in some cultures. In our culture, grandparents are often around only for special occasions. In other cultures, grandparents are engaged from day one of a child’s life, and the family may all live together in one home.

As well, grandparents and children work together. There are images in the book of grandparents and children gardening together, cooking together, doing the laundry together by hand, or working with animals together.

The biggest similarity is the special bond between grandparents and their grandchildren that is the same the world over. Many of the photos show the protection, love and pride of grandparents for their grandchildren, and their reliance on one another.


Tell us about a recent Canadian cultural experience that has influenced your work.


I did a school visit to read my books a few months ago in a Toronto grade one classroom where each of the children came from a different country. Most hadn’t even been born in Canada. It was awe-inspiring to see these children form friendships across cultural, religious and ethnic divides. For them, the differences just didn’t matter.

Seeing that innocent acceptance and trust in one another was very touching. I was inspired to continue to find ways in my writing to remind children that underneath all our differences, we are all very much alike.


What is your next project?


I’m hopeful that there might be one or two more books in the World Vision Early Readers series, so that’s a project I will be thinking about soon.

I have begun work on a Young Adult novel – a genre I never expected to write in, but the ideas continue to take shape in my mind, so I feel compelled to get them down and see where the story takes me.

Another children’s picture book which I wrote, Just Like You (Zonderkidz, 2010), has just been released.

I have several other picture books and early readers nearly finished, so I will be looking for publishers for those soon.

MARLA STEWART KONRAD is a speechwriter and communications professional. Her career has taken her to Hong Kong, where she lived for two years, and to numerous countries in Asian and Africa. She is keenly interested in global issues and has a special concern for the well being of children. She works with World Vision Canada and lives near Toronto with her family.

For more information about I Like to Play and Grand, please visit the Tundra Books website.

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

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