ERIN LINN MCMULLAN
Special to the Westerly
Through Kateri O’Leary’s poignant late-night conversation with her pet mouse, Murphy, author Shirley Martin introduces that eternal identity question: how do I fit in while remaining true to myself?
Martin launched her new middle grade book (ages 8-12), Kateri O’Leary and the Computer Mouse, on leap day, February 29, at Ucluelet Community Centre. Her heroine’s struggle to fit into her new school at Haven Harbour, while dealing with Clive the bully, is complicated by a mistake made by her distracted mother.
Martin read an excerpt to the full house capturing Kateri’s embarrassment as she realizes, slouched down in her chair at the computer lab with Murphy tucked away in her pocket, that it is not “bring your pet day”. Instead all her classmates produce the computer mice Mr. Gigabyte asked parents to buy due to budget cuts. Murphy’s dramatic reveal, as he leaps atop a monitor then escapes sets the plot in motion, proving both blessing and curse.
Chasing the mouse is an apt metaphor for Martin’s more-pantster-than-plotter writing process following inspiration “by the seat of her pants”.
The story is infused with Martin’s characteristic humour and Kateri, with her own youthful wild red hair and freckles, in the time-honoured tradition of spunky heroines like Anne of Green Gables or Nancy Drew. While the author amplified the childhood teasing she once experienced, fortunately, she never dealt with Clive’s more aggressive brand of bullying anyone who is different.
Martin, whose career has been in child and youth work, hopes children will be reminded they don’t have to carry the burden themselves. Kateri not only connects with Ms. Karma, the school counsellor but also a diverse new community from the elderly woman next door to her fellow students: “one of her new friends has a dad from Jamaica, another one has two dads, one character is being raised by a single mom.”
As the new girl, Kateri soon learns she is just Clive’s latest target and begins to develop empathy for the deep wound his unacceptable behaviour stems from. When the tables are turned, she even defends him. Over his protests, “I don’t need you to rescue me, Carrots,” she quips, “I will if I want to, Clive Culpepper. You’re not the boss of me.”
The next installment in Kateri’s series has been sent off to the illustrator Martin collaborates with, Helena Crevel, in Paris, France.
Martin has begun brainstorming Kateri’s future adventures with her grandchildren, Ariel, 12 and Darwin, 10. Darwin, who recently won a school district prize for his own writing, found Kateri’s story “inspirational because it made him think of different ways to react if he is teased.”
The author’s target audience has evolved with her grandchildren.
Her earlier children’s books are A is for Amphitrite and Through Grandma and Granddad’s Binoculars. Martin also writes with a focus on local history as a contributing columnist and in an upcoming book on Ucluelet’s history, which interweaves her own experience growing up in the area. For more information visit: shirleymartinwrites.com.
READ MORE: A Ucluelet-Tofino love story
READ MORE: Tofino author remembers Detroit riot