Let the holiday shopping begin! If you’re like me, you’re starting to make your lists, check them twice, and you’re noticing that everyone’s been both naughty and nice. No matter what, everyone deserves that perfect gift…and in my book, books are always an excellent choice: they expand the mind and you can always squeeze another one on the shelf (okay, or on that pile of books that has overflowed onto the floor and is now serving as a nice plant stand…)
Anyway, I recently picked up Kurt Browning’s children’s book, A is for Axel: An Ice Skating Alphabet at Skater’s Landing for my nephew. It was published by Sleeping Bear Press a few years ago. What’s great about this book is that it’s interesting and informative for children of many ages (and also adults.) The illustrations, by Melanie Rose, are beautiful and the text takes readers through the alphabet from Axel to Zamboni. For every letter, there are corresponding poems, such as:
C is for Coaches, who teach you so much. They’ll give your skating their personal touch. From singles to doubles then triples you grow, with coaches beside you sharing all they know.
And: An amazing thing about skating is the ability to Glide. Just get up some good speed, and then enjoy the ride. But if you want to try it, you should take this advice. Take off your guards or you will hit the ice.
In addition to the pictures and the poems, each letter includes a more sophisticated explanation of the topic for experienced readers. These paragraphs include some technical information and historical tidbits.
I was curious what prompted Kurt Browning to become the author of a children’s book. He is a four-time World Champion, four-time Canadian National Champion, three-time Olympian and has had a prolific professional career since then. What I’ve always admired about Browning is that, in addition to his expert jumping (he was the first person to land a quad in competition), his footwork and skating quality are fantastic. Besides, he has lots of charisma: his performances are fun and his personality always shines through. So I am of course thrilled that he took the time to answer the following questions about A is for Axel for Current Skate of Mind…
Jocelyn Jane Cox: How did this project come about?
Kurt Browning: I picked up the phone one day and on the other end of the line was an offer to write this style of book about skating. I loved the idea and like writing and poems, especially silly and fun ones, and so I jumped (pun intended) at the chance. How they got the idea to ask me to write it, I am not sure.
J.J.C.: Will there be a follow-up?
K.B.: I have had some thoughts in the past and have some notes written down somewhere, but I have seen versions of my idea since and so I don’t know if I will pursue it. Maybe I will write a private one for my second son? There will be a follow up book about dance and I am helping my wife Sonia with it. Sonia is a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada. Working together on this project has been a good experience for us. It has been fun having a common goal.
J.J.C.: What was the writing process like?
K.B.: I loved the process! I had a big time frame to work with and I almost only worked on it while on the road so this book was written in hotel rooms or parks or the hotel lobby. Actually, some of it was written in Spain while on vacation. With so much time, I had the option of leaving it alone and coming back to it weeks later and this meant seeing it from a different angle. A few times, I changed the whole thinking behind a letter. Sleeping Bear Press told me to think of it as a puzzle and to put the pieces together and I liked this way of thinking. The poems always came first and this was both the most fun and the hardest part of the process. I asked my fellow skaters for help, but nine times out of ten all they came up with was silly stuff or worse. Steven Cousins did help me with what the letter Q should be…for some reason, I had not come up with “the quad” yet!?
J.J.C.: One of the things I like about the book is the depiction of a lot of male skaters. Do you have any advice for boys and young men who are just taking up the sport or starting to get more involved in it?
K.B.: I tell young men in skating that if they have the guts to stand in center ice alone and move to music while trying to jump and spin while everyone is watching, then, boy, everything else in life just got a little bit easier.
J.J.C.: What do your children think of the book?
K.B.: My oldest boy had already learned his alphabet and so he did not really use the book in that way. I expect him to take a different interest in it when he starts reading more on his own. Of course, he likes his page. Melanie Rose was sweet enough to include him on the L page (laces).
J.J.C.: What projects (on or off ice) are you currently working on?
K.B.: I have some secret stuff waiting to spring out there in the world…you will have to wait.
Thanks so much to Kurt for this.
Put this book on your list for the little (and not so little) skaters, and even non-skaters in your life. Order it at Powell’s, here:
And if you have already picked up “A is for Axel,” leave your thoughts by clicking on comment below…