About Joan Irvine

I was born in Wiarton, Ontario, Canada on June 22, 1951. I presently live near Wiarton, in an old church with my husband Steve. We have two grown children, Seth and Elly.

When I was eight years old and growing up in the small town of Lion’s Head, Ontario, I was an avid reader. My mother couldn’t keep up with my needs for reading material and finally in desperation joined a children’s book club. Each month she ordered between 25 to 30 books and I read them all. Soon I felt like a lending library, as many children started to borrow my books. It is not surprising that I now write books for children.

As a young girl, I loved drawing, colouring, cutting and pasting. My brother and I were known for our drawing and also for our large crayon collection. For several years, the two of us would walk weekly to a retired art teacher named Mrs Oswald for art lessons. We would pull out our watercolours and paint the birds at her birdfeeder or the blue waters of Georgian Bay.

My father encouraged a love of nature and creativity. He had many hobbies such as hiking, cooking, flying, kite-making and painting. Often, weekends would involve long hikes with talks about fossils and snakes. His love of the Bruce Peninsula probably inspired later books on nature.

My parents were a team of doctors and probably thought that I would be a doctor as well. However, I had a strong interest in English literature, art, children and teaching. After receiving a university degree, I attended the Montessori Institute in Toronto. At this time, I met my husband Steven who was studying pottery. The two of us moved to the Wiarton area and fixed up an old church as a home. I taught at the Owen Sound Montessori School for two years and there I started to write some small handmade books for beginning readers. During the next few years, the beautiful nature of the Bruce Peninsula became my focus. I started writing articles for a local newspaper about the wild geese, flowers and maple syrup in our area. Soon, I had so much material that I decided to publish a book. My very first book was called “Garnet the Goose Explores the Bruce”. It was filled with information about geology, fossils, animals, snakes and plants.

Soon, I found that I was hooked on writing and researching. I self-published two more nature books and sold them all over the Bruce Peninsula. One day, I received a telephone call from my local Member of Parliament. He asked me if I would join others for a Young Achiever’s Dinner with the Queen who was visiting Ottawa in 1982. Because of my books, he wanted me to represent Bruce County. It was very exciting to meet the Queen, Prince Philip and the Prime Minister of Canada.

Soon after this time, I had a short career in cartooning. I self-published a book of cartoons and drew cartoons for the local newspaper. While I was drawing, I started to play with paper. A pop-up book that I bought called “Robot” by Jan Pienkowski inspired me. I loved the drawings that seemed to pop right out of the pages.

After doing a lot of research into pop-up books and cards, I became known in my area as a pop-up expert. Schools invited me in to do two-week pop-up workshops funded by the Ontario Arts Council. After doing fourteen projects in schools, I felt that there was a need for a good book on pop-ups. I put together some ideas and sent them to Kids Can Press. They encouraged me to go ahead with a book.

The Pop-up Books

I was very fortunate to have Barbara Reid do the illustrations for the book How to Make Pop-ups. The book seemed to come out at just the right time in 1987 and sold very well. Before long, it was in the United States, Australia, Great Britain and Holland. The book is also currently available in Danish and Japanese.

When How to Make Pop-ups came out, I went back to school and received my degree in Education. I started teaching in an elementary school in Grey County. Although I loved teaching I found that I still wanted to write. Therefore, I started to teach half-time and write half-time.

During the summer of 1988, I had a children’s summer club at my home. Most of the projects involved boxes and drama. Out of this experience and further research into boxes, I developed the book called Make it with Boxes. Our entire home inside and out was filled with boxes. My children Seth and Elly took an active part in trying out ideas for the book. My husband Steven was very patient during this period of time, as half of his pottery studio was filled with box projects. Living with the author of craft books can be very messy.

Shortly after writing the box book, I wrote How to Make Super Pop-ups. This book was exciting to create, as I had to think of pop-ups that were more difficult, big or different. Linda Hendry did a superb job illustrating this book and the book Make it with Boxes.

 Travelling

My book writing has led to many travel adventures. In 1991, the book Make it with Boxes won a Federation of Ontario Teachers’ Award and I used the money from this award to fund a trip to Japan. There I visited over fifteen schools doing pop-up lessons with Japanese children. Several months later, in February 1992, I was invited to do pop-up workshops in Baffin Island. I flew five hours from Iqaluit to Pond Inlet on Baffin Island and arrived to a minus 45 C degree temperature.

In 1992, I started to research the book How to Make Holiday Pop-up Cards. The research was a tremendous amount of work but it was fascinating! I gathered information about different cultures from the library, families in my area, telephone calls, and trips to Toronto, Ontario. In Toronto, I had many adventures. I knocked on the doors of a Sikh temple, Macedonian Place and the Islamic Society of North America. People were very happy to talk to me and were helpful with ideas for possible pop-ups. The pop-ups in this book range from easy to difficult. The dragon for the Chinese New Year card is the toughest. It is a challenge for those who have made a lot of pop-ups!

Recent Events

In 1995, the book How to Make Holiday Pop-up Cards won a Writers’ Award from the Federation of Women Teachers Association in Ontario. In 1997, the same book was shortlisted for the Red Cedar Book Awards in British Columbia, Canada.Since writing that book, I have continued to explore the world of paper and pop-ups.

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