ST. ANTHONY, N.L.
A story about a goofy Newfoundland dog captured the imagination of young readers at White Hills Academy Thursday morning.
On Dec. 13 author Thom Barker visited the St. Anthony school for readings of his children’s book Lady Macbeth Afraid of the Stairs.
The book is about a dog, named Lady Macbeth, who, as the title suggests, has a peculiar fear of the stairs in her home.
Barker read the story with students from Kindergarten to Grade 3.
After gathering in the school library, the children were enthralled with the story of how Lady Macbeth learned to overcome her fear.
Lady Macbeth Afraid of the Stairs, written and published in 2017, is Barker’s first children’s book.
The title dog is based on Barker’s own real-life pet, a four-year-old Newfoundland dog of the same name.
The author currently resides in St. Anthony, after moving there this summer.
The Northern Pen interviewed Barker about the book and the experience of reading to the children.
The Northern Pen (NP): What inspired you to write this book?
Thom Barker: It’s funny because Lady Macbeth really is afraid of everything. So, I’d be walking with her in the country and she’d start barking at something. I’d go over to investigate it and it’d be an old tin can or a tire or something. So, just with the rhythm of the walking, I started getting that cadence of the story in my head, “Lady Macbeth is afraid of the stairs, not all stairs…” Over a period of a couple weeks, I pretty well wrote the whole story in my head. Then I went home and typed it up one day.
A part of it is having grandkids of my own now. I hadn’t really thought of writing children’s books before. But just the cadence of doing the walking and thinking about my own grandkids. It sort of came together that way.
NP: What message does the story convey to children?
Barker: I think fear is something everybody experiences in their lives. I think it’s often important to face your fears. The fictional Lady Macbeth really ends up facing her fear of the stairs and all the things she imagines are down there in that deep, dark passage.
I think, to some degree, it promotes critical thinking, because her fear is imagined. It’s not a fear of something tangible, it’s a fear of something she has made up in her own head. I think it’s important for everybody to question things that you don’t necessarily have any evidence for. It’s important to seek evidence for these things that you fear.
NP: In the story, how does Lady Macbeth overcome her fear?
Barker: She starts to wonder, basically, whether or not those things really exist down there. Eventually, when daddy isn’t around to tell her not to go down the stairs, she just takes the plunge and goes down and investigates.
NP: What age group is this written for?
Barker: It’s good for kids anywhere from two to eight or nine. I’ve had people message me saying that their two-year-old loves the story. And all of the kids right up to Grade 3 seemed to really get into it. And, of course, I had a blast with them. I don’t see reading with kids as a static thing, I see it as a participatory thing. And all those kids from age five to age eight or nine really get into the participatory (aspect).
That comes all the way back from reading to my own kids and seeing how they interacted with books. So, while I’m going through it, I’m asking them questions and making little side comments and stuff like that. Kids really, really get into that.
And it’s amazing how bright they are. I asked a question, “Why Lady Macbeth would think those other things she was afraid of were down the stairs?” And this little girl, in Grade 1, came right out and said, well because she was afraid of those stairs and she was afraid of those other things, she basically associated the two things and came up with this fantasy about them.
It’s amazing that at that age that kids are already developing those critical thinking skills to make those associations.
It’s really gratifying that they get it, right down to three or four-years-old they get the story. I try not to write down to people too much. I didn’t want to talk down to the kids. So, you worry that it might be too sophisticated for them or there might be language they don’t understand. But I don’t think you should underestimate how smart kids are.
NP: Do you intend to write another children’s book?
Barker: Actually, I have two other Lady Macbeth stories pretty much ready to go. I’m going to try to get a traditional publisher interested in them. I self-published the first one for a variety of reasons, but I find it really difficult doing the marketing. So that’s something I think a traditional publisher could really help with. And we’ve had a good enough reaction to this story – great reviews, modest sales, and Lady Macbeth is a great character – so I’m hoping on the strength on the first book, plus the manuscript for the sequels, I’ll be able to get a traditional publisher involved.
NP: Are both stories completed?
Barker: One is pretty much complete, it probably needs some editing. That one is called Lady Macbeth Takes a Bath. And Lady Macbeth Finds a Dinosaur Bone is getting there. I’ve got both stories complete in my mind, but writing is 10 per cent writing and 90 per cent editing.
NP: Where can readers on the Great Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador publish a copy of Lady Macbeth Afraid of the Stairs?
Barker: It’s in Hedderson’s Store and Dark Tickle in St. Lunaire-Griquet and at the Grenfell Handicrafts Store in St. Anthony. It’s in the craft shop in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Mainly our sales are online. It’s on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indigo, all of the online sellers. And if people see me one the street, I always have a box of them in my car.