Today I’m interviewing Canadian author Bonnie Way. Bonnie is a stay-at-home mom with five children aged 12 to 2. She’s a homeschool graduate who is now homeschooling her oldest four children. After growing up Lutheran, Bonnie converted to the Catholic Church in university and now loves learning more about the saints and the teachings of the Church. She and her husband have been married for 13 years and currently make their home in Vancouver, BC. When Bonnie is not writing, she can be found reading a book, biking or hiking with her family, or baking something in the kitchen.
As well as books, she also writes a blog called The Koala Mom which aims to cultivate family togetherness for modern moms. She shares stories of daily motherhood, homeschooling, family travel, and family entertainment to encourage moms to keep their kids as close as koalas. She has a B.A. in English (2006) and a B.A. in Writing (2014) as well as over a dozen years of blogging experience.
-What inspired you to become an author?
I’ve wanted to write books since I was a kid. As a teen, I spent my spare time writing fantasy novels. Then I got busy as a mom and didn’t have as much time to write. The actual impetus for becoming a published author this year was a need I saw.
Along with some homeschool friends, I was teaching my kids about our Canadian history from a Catholic viewpoint. We were basically coming up with our own curriculum, modelled on an American history curriculum we’d used and love for several years. I went looking for resources for kids about the Canadian saints and found… not much. There are a few books about St. Kateri Tekakwitha (a very popular saint) and St. Andre Bessette (a more recent saint), and other than that, not much.
So I started writing and created the resource that I wanted for my kids. North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book was finished in October 2019 (for their feast day!) and teaches kids 7- 12 about eight Jesuit missionaries to New France in the 1600s. In January, I started my second book, Canadian Saints Kids Activity Book, about the other 6 Canadian saints (including St. Kateri and St. Andre). I just finished writing it on St. Kateri’s feast day and it will be available at the end of this month.
-What is your favorite genre and why?
Right now, my favourite genre is nonfiction. I’m really enjoying writing saint stories for kids. As a homeschool mom, my writing time happens while my kids are either busy doing their school or playing happily. I can write nonfiction while listening with one ear to their play, and drop what I’m doing to go help them if necessary. Someday, I’d love to get back to my fantasy novels, but they require a much greater degree of concentration to get into the story and characters, so it won’t happen while I’ve got my kids running around the house.
-How do you develop characters?
For my nonfiction books, I spend a lot of time researching. I did a history minor during my first university degree and I still love doing the research. I start by pulling all the books on the topic out of our library, and usually end up buying a few books when I can’t find what I want at the library.
Then I dig around online for as much as I can find out there. I’ve found some surprising things online, actually. Quite a few of the Jesuit Relations (like a newspaper or journal that the Jesuits sent home from the missionaries) are available online now.
As I read, I think about the saint I’m writing about and start taking notes to create their bio and an image of what they would be like.
-Which character from one of your books means the most to you and why?
My favourite saint so far is probably St. Noel Chabanel in North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book. He’s one of the lesser-known martyrs. I wrote his bio and then took a break from writing during a personal crisis. My husband was offered a job on the other side of the country, which would have let us move into my dream home.
Then he was offered a different job here, which he decided to take, and all my dreams crashed. After spending a month dealing with the death of that dream, I returned to edit my book and suddenly what I’d written about St. Noel was like a flashing billboard at me.
St. Noel, like the other Jesuit missionaries, felt called to come to New France and overcame various obstacles (including family members who didn’t want him to leave France) to get here. And once here, he hated it. Actually, he more than hated it – he loathed it here.
He couldn’t stand the habits of the Huron people whom he was supposed to be teaching. The food disgusted him and he was terrified of being captured and tortured by the Iroquois like so many other Catholics (both priests and converts) had been. He couldn’t even learn the language (despite his giftedness as a speaker and poet in French).
He fell into this huge depression, wondering if he’d somehow missed his calling. Maybe he should just give up and go back to France. Maybe he’d misheard God somehow. Then he had this turnaround point. He made a vow that no matter what, he’d stay in New France as a missionary. He’d be a “bloodless martyr” to his own nature.
After making that vow, his circumstances didn’t change, but he lost his fear of the Iroquois and even overcame his depression. He wasn’t captured and tortured, as the other martyrs were. We actually don’t really know what happened to him; he disappeared while traveling from one mission to another, so he may have been killed by an angry Iroquois or he may have just gotten lost and starved.
Anyway, his story spoke to me in the midst of my own personal crisis. That was over a year ago now and in many ways I still feel trapped as I did then. I try to remind myself that, for now, this is where God wants us to be, and to look on the positive things that we have here, and to be a “bloodless martyr” to my own wishes as St. Noel was.
-What age group are your books best suited for?
I’m a homeschool mom with kids ages 12 to 2, so that’s kind of the age range for my books. (Okay, the 2-year-old isn’t as interested.) I appreciate materials that I can use with all my kids and find that they respond best when they are all learning together.
Most of the activities are geared to kids who can read and write (so ages 7+) but my 4-year-old really likes the colouring pages and mazes. I hope the books can be a fun family activity for other Catholic families, whether or not they are homeschoolers.
-Do you have a specific routine/habits for writing?
I usually start the kids on their schoolwork after we finish breakfast. Then I made myself a coffee and sit down at the computer to look at my email, blogging commitments, and what’s up next for my book project.
Usually I can work in ten or fifteen minutes spurts, in between getting them snacks, answering homeschooling questions, reminding them to do school, getting the two-year-old off the table, etc. In the afternoon, I might have more writing time as they finish school and move onto reading, playing outside, or other activities. Sometimes I can fit in several hours of work on a Saturday.
-What can we expect from you in 2020/2021?
Canadian Saints Kids Activity Book will be available in early May on Amazon. I’m planning to start another kids book that will be available at the end of the year and just need to decide which idea to tackle next – I have several ideas for kids saint activity books! You can follow me on Instagram at @kidssaintbook to see saint quotes and inspiration and news about future books.
Bonnie Way – Book List
North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book (2019)
Canadian Martyrs Kids Activity Book (coming May 2020)
Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood (an anthology to inspire moms) – More info at: https://thekoalamom.com/love-rebel-reclaiming-motherhood/
Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby: Tips to Help You Through all Four Trimesters (with Anna Eastland, coming summer 2020) – More info at: https://thekoalamom.com/beginners-guide-growing-baby/