I must confess that I received this happy news with very mixed feelings. When she phoned me a few weeks ago with the announcement, it was all I could do to conceal my indignation. Suuuurre, this is marvelous news for her. That’s all fine and dandy. But it’s disappointing news for me, me, me! Shouldn’t that be the important thing? Won’t someone think of the authors?
[Music. Author weeps bitter tears.]
In complete earnestness, I just can’t tell you how important a good editor is in the life of a writer. It sounds like a kind of cliché, but there it is. Believe it! Every writer reading this does. A good editor is life, sanity, insurance—victory from the jaws of defeat. A good editor is everything.
Val is very good. She’s exactly what a writer needs in an editor—tough, clever, skillful and kind. She tells hard truths. She pulls no punches. And she’s been in my corner for every round of the fight.
I genuinely had hoped we might get the chance to do one more book. We talked about further projects, but the timing just wasn’t right. I shall have to live with the considerable consolation of having worked with a great of Canadian kids nonfiction at the pinnacle of her career. It’s been an immense honour. Truly.
Valerie Wyatt’s career spans several decades. She worked, for example, at the nature-focussed OWL magazine in the 1970s—at the time that I was a young subscriber! I was especially tickled and oddly starstruck to hear that she worked on OWL’s Winter Fun book. How I adored that book as a boy! I haven’t seen a copy in 30 years, yet I can remember it in well-loved detail.
With that feeling of childhood joy in mind, I reached out to another OWL alumnus who worked there during Val’s tenure. Legendary Canadian science popularizer and former Daily Planet television host Jay Ingram recalls this period with fondness:
“It was a huge privilege to work at OWL magazine when Val, Sylvia Funston and many others did. They all taught me pretty much everything I know about writing for kids, an exercise that some incorrectly assume is easier than writing for adults. It was just one of those situations where a dynamic group of people happened to end up in the same place at the same time.”
I can relate, one jillion percent. My time here at Skeptic magazine is made magical by the people and shared sense of purpose. And I can only echo Jay’s thoughts about writing for kids. Having now written science material for several ages, from educated adults (Abominable Science!) to pre-teens to kindergartners, I can tell you that the task gets harder, not easier, every time you go take another step younger in age. Much harder. The jump from Junior Skeptic’s advanced 12-year old focus to Evolution‘s intended 8–13 was jarring, and writing paleofiction for readers 4–7 (Tales of Prehistoric Life) was a considerable challenge. Valerie Wyatt’s keen ear, experience, and precision were essential in making those projects work.
But she isn’t “just” a distinguished senior editor. Here, via Kids Can Press, are a few of Val’s more recent honors as a celebrated book author:
2012—Red Cedar Book Award Winner
2011—Hackmatack Award Winner
2011—Silver Birch Award, Ontario Library Association Winner
2010—Best Books for Kids & Teens, Canadian Children’s Book Centre Winner
2010—Information Book Award, Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada Winner
2006—Red Cedar Book Award Short-Listed
2002—Information Book Award, Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada Commended
2002—Our Choice – Starred Selection, Canadian Children’s Book Centre Winner
2002—Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize, West Coast Book Prize Society Short-Listed
2001—Our Choice – Starred Selection, Canadian Children’s Book Centre Winner
1994—Notable Canadian Non-Fiction for Children, Canadian Library Association Winner
1994—Silver Birch Award, Ontario Library Association Short-Listed
2007—Science in Society Book Award, Canadian Science Writers’ Association Short-Listed
2005—Red Cedar Book Award Short-Listed
2010—Red Cedar Award, BC Young Reader’s Choice Short-Listed
2009—Best Books for Kids and Teens, Canadian Children’s Book Centre Winner
2009—Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award Short-Listed
When she wasn’t busy winning All Of The Prizes, Valerie Wyatt made possible a critical milestone in my career. After long months knocking on doors closed against the “controversial” topic of my Junior Skeptic-based evolution primer for young readers, it was Valerie who threw open the doors for the book at Kids Can Press. It’s been a fruitful and happy relationship ever since, for which I can only thank her again for her guidance, patience, and skill.
And with that I will leave you—except for this one last, critically important thing. When I started this post and asked Val for a headshot for this undisclosed purpose, she sent one with this comment:
“I have my suspicions,” she said, “that you are going to Photoshop it onto the head of a dinosaur. If so, could I pick T. rex, please?”
Yes, Val. Yes, you can.