Children's novel set in Harrison, circa 1950
Most of the books Becky Citra has written are set in the pastoral backdrop of B.C.'s Cariboo region. The children's author lives and writes in Bridge Lake, where she also taught elementary school for 18 years.
But for her 20th novel, Finding Grace, Citra stepped out of that hinterland and firmly into another — Harrison Hot Springs, circa 1950s. She steeped herself in the history of that small town, visiting the Agassiz-Harrison Museum regularly. Citra quickly befriended Bev Kennedy, who has at least one thing in common with Hope, the lead character in Finding Grace.
"Bev grew up in Harrison in the time frame of the novel," Citra said. The museum also gave her access to old photographs and newspapers from that era.
But Citra wasn't a complete stranger to Harrison before setting out to write Finding Grace.
"I also had a bit of a connection to Harrison Hot Springs," she said. "When I was I used to go and stay at the resort. I have very fond memories of Harrison. It was sort of our annual family holiday."
Because the novel has a theme of healing, she wanted to place the character in an area with a history of healing — and the hot springs was a perfect fit.
She didn't want to give away too many plot points during a recent interview. But she does say that 10-year-old Hope writes letters to her imaginary friend Grace as a way of coping with a difficult time in her life. Her mother is going through depression, her grandmother has died, she is struggling with friendships at school and her family is struggling with money.
As a retired teacher, Citra is well aware of the deep concerns many children face growing up. While teaching was a career she loved, her favourite moments in the classroom were the ones spent reading to her students. It was during one of those reading times that she wondered if she could possibly write a children's book.
She did, and that book was accepted to the first publisher she sent it to, a rarity for new authors. That publisher also just happened to be Scholastic Canada. It was enough motivation to keep going. Eventually, she made the decision to retire from teaching and focus entirely on writing.
Her most previous novel, If Only (Orca Book Publishers), is currently on the shortlist for the BC Book Prize. That prize will be given out during a prestigious gala in Vancouver on May 3.
But this week, she's back in Harrison and Agassiz, speaking at local elementary schools and at the Agassiz Harrison Museum. Students at Kent, Harrison, Chehalis and Agassiz Christian elementary schools will have a chance to meet her. She'll be holding her book launch at the museum on Sat., Apr. 5 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., with a chance to win one of her novels.