Welcome, Sheila! Now, tell me about your most recent work. What inspired the premise? What about your story is topical right now?
On A Higher Hill: A Christmas Journey was published in 2021 for three-to-seven year olds. I chose the pen name of S.E. Tee, based on my name Sheila E. Tucker. My plans for writing a series of children's books began quite recently and, in a way, accidentally. I'm a Literature Section member of Toronto's Heliconian Club for Women in the Arts and Letters, and in November of 2017, the Drama Section Head asked if I'd compose a Christmas poem to read out during the annual December dinner held in the Club. It is a tradition to invite various members of all the sections to perform onstage during the dinner. (Our several sections are music, visual arts, drama, literature, dance, and humanities.) My poem "On A Higher Hill" was well received. However, I then put it aside and forgot about it.
A couple of years later I came across the poem again, re-read it and realized it could make a good book for young children if I made the first-person protagonist into a child. It had all the elements: adventure, becoming lost and found, meeting Santa, being taken on the sleigh up and past the Star of Bethlehem and down to a small village with a stable, inside which the child sees the manger and baby Jesus—before waking up in bed on Christmas morning. It had all been a dream.
Having been a graphic designer in an international company before retiring in 2012, I realized I could illustrate the book myself, using InDesign. I added puzzles at the back, as well as educational pages about the story of Christmas and about the tradition of Santa Claus, including his being based on a real person: Saint Nicholas of Myra. I also added a "letter" page at the front, for the giver to hand-write a note. This will make the book a treasured possession in later years—loving words written by a mom or grandfather or aunt, for instance.
What do you hope young readers, and perhaps even parents take away from your story?
Young children have always enjoyed poetic adventures and rhyming words. With my book, I hope they will enjoy hearing the poem read out to them by their families. They can learn to recite it themselves: the flow of the words, the rhyme and the beat are easy to memorize. Children relate to characters in their books, and the protagonist of On A Higher Hill: A Christmas Journey is deliberately androgynous, thus could be a girl or a boy. Any child can identify with the main character.
Parents and grandparents will like the fact that this little book will fit into a Christmas stocking. It is 5 x 7 inches: a slim book in full colour and only $10 plus shipping. Those living in Canada can order from me, for shipping would be cheaper at only $1.50 for up to three books. Otherwise, Barnes & Noble and Amazon carry it. I can be contacted at email@example.com or else via my FB page.
This Christmas book makes for an excellent little additional gift for any child. It is easy for tiny hands to hold. As well, parents will appreciate the teaching pages. These are a good way to learn about Christmas—both the biblical story and the Christian acts of giving and kindness.
What are your favourite scenes, and why?
One of my favourite scenes is when the main character, who is lost in the woods, hears the chiming of bells and sees Santa in his sleigh in the forest—the look of happy surprise and the feeling of safety and goodness. As well, the images of being flown through a glowing red sky in the sleigh, with the star above. Another favourite scene is the image of the child's hand reaching out to touch baby Jesus' hand. We don't see the baby, just the manger and the hands. The special moment will be conjured up in the young reader's mind, of what the protagonist is seeing.