Reading Council To Host Dear Jo Author

FULTON, NY – The Oswego Reading Council will host award-winning author Christina Kilbourne at the Tavern on the Lock, 24 S. First St., Fulton, on June 7 from 4:30 – 7 p.m.

Christina’s novel, Dear Jo: The story of losing Leah … and searching for hope, was nominated for this year’s New York Reading Association’s Charlotte Award, in the young adult category.

Her writing has garnered awards in Canada and here in New York.

It has won the Red Cedar Award, garnering the most votes among BC readers in grades 4—7.

Dear Jo: The story of losing Leah ... and searching for hope
Dear Jo: The story of losing Leah ... and searching for hope

It’s a hat trick for Dear Jo, which recently won the 2009 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award and the 2009 Snow Willow Award (Saskatchewan Young Readers’ Choice).

The novel was also an Ontario Library Association “Best Bets” Selection and a starred selection in the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s “Best Books for Kids & Teens” list.

Dear Jo is a critically acclaimed novel about a girl whose best friend is abducted by an online predator.

The highly relevant topic, combined with a gripping fictional narrative, makes this a must-read for tweens, teens, educators, and parents, according to Stephanie Hindley, director of sales & marketing for Lobster Press, Ltd.

Christina grew up in a resort area of Ontario (Canada) called Muskoka. She went to the University of Western Ontario for her undergraduate degree and to the University of Windsor for a Masters in Creative Writing and English Literature.

“I currently live about an hour northeast of Toronto (Zephyr, Ontario), with my husband, two elementary school-aged children, two dogs, two rabbits and one cat,” she told Oswego County

She works days for a non-profit environmental organization whose mandate it is to protect water (Conservation Ontario).

“There I work on various marketing and communications projects. One of my main roles is to promote the 260 conservation areas in Ontario that are owned and operated by our 36-member Conservation Authorities,” she explained. “I have been interested in writing from the time I could string sentences together but didn’t actually pursue it until I did my Master’s degree.”

She wrote the first draft of Dear Jo at a novel writing marathon to raise money for adult literacy.

“The event was three days long and I knew going into it that I wouldn’t have enough time to write an adult length book. So I decided to write a book for a younger audience,” she said.

She was allowed to take into the marathon one page of notes and she did a lot of planning to create a manageable plot.

At that same time, a young girl went missing in Toronto, near where Christina lives.

“Her name was Holly Jones and she was found a few days later. She had been raped and murdered. As a new mother, the whole case hit very close to home,” she recalls. “I was so distressed. I knew I had to deal with it through my writing. That is when Max’s name and voice came to me. Several of her journal entries echoed through my head. So I combined my distress over Holly with Max’s voice and wrote an early draft of Dear Jo.”

Because friends are so important to young people, Christina said she realized it would be interesting to write from the point of view of the best friend of a young person who goes missing.

“I hadn’t seen or read a book from that point of view before and using a journal format was a perfect fit,” she said. “It was during my research and editing of the book, after the marathon, that I focused the book on internet predators. The more I read about the issues facing on-line youth and the cases involving internet predators, the more I knew I had to make it a central theme of the book.”

Christina said she couldn’t be happier about the recent recognition for a book that was originally published in 2007.

“The special thing about readers’ choice awards is that it’s like getting a thumbs up from the adult readership who choose the books for the programs and on top of that, a stamp of approval from the audience it was meant to reach – young people,” she said. “Having won three of these awards in the past year leaves me feeling grateful, validated, privileged and amazed. There’s a new emotion every time I think about it.”

It’s hard to pinpoint how much research time she puts into a book because she often looks things up as she goes along.

Also, most of the books she writes are about topics she normally follows in the news and such, “which makes me more aware of things like missing kids cases, than perhaps another person might be,” she noted.

However, for Dear Jo, she did “a lot of research.”

“I did a lot of research to start and as the process went on, I had to do more research to keep up on the technology I was writing about,” she said.

“First I had to do a lot of research into what it’s like to be a 12-year-old girl. As much as I thought I remembered being that age, my niece, who was 12 at the time, made me realize I was a bit out of touch,” she explained. “I was up on 2- and 4-year-olds, which is how old my kids were at the time I began writing Dear Jo, but 12-year-olds were a mystery.”

To get up-to-date, she interviewed her niece and her friends about what they liked to do for fun, what music they liked to listen to, what they watched on TV and what they did on-line.

She also spent some time listening to them talk and interact and it opened Christina’s eyes to their world, their challenges and what was important to them.

She had to do a lot of research into sites such as Habbo Hotel, chat rooms and instant messaging – things she hadn’t done on-line herself.

“I also researched cases of internet predators luring children so I could accurately represent the ‘grooming’ process,” she added.

Kids are important to her and so issues facing them are important to her as well, she pointed out,

“Internet safety is a real concern, not just the making of a good plot for a book,” she said. “Today’s kids are in the unique situation of being the first generation of internet kids. I want to see them using the internet productively and safely.”

She is also the author of They Called Me Red (Lobster Press, 2008).

Her other books include young adult fiction – Where Lives Take Root, adult literary fiction -Day of the Dog-tooth Violets and its sequel, The Roads of Go Home Lake (published by BookLand Press).

Christina Kilbourne
Christina Kilbourne

“I write because I love to write. It gives me an enormous amount of self satisfaction, especially when I get the first bound book in my hands,” she said. “Everything in me compels me to write, to try and show another angle to the world and to life that someone else may not have seen themselves.”

“I always hope what I write will be well-received and because I have a great imagination, I often imagine success beyond what I should probably expect,” she said. “But, I have been extremely happy with the way Dear Jo has been received by adults and kids. For me though it is probably the younger readers who are more satisfying to reach.”

Visit her online at

“Other than Dear Jo, our top titles include The Hockey Card (surprise, surprise), When Pigs Fly, and the “Grim Hill” series,” Stephanie said. “We also have a new hit with Green Careers: You Can Make Money AND Save the Planet. This book just pubbed a few weeks ago and we’re already nearly sold out! Timing was great on this one, between the struggling economy and the environment constantly being in the news. I give my editors an A+.”

For more information about Christina’s visit and presentation, call Wynnette Dohse 343-6097 or email [email protected] or Lisa Buske at [email protected]