Prairie Books NOW Interview - Jacqueline Guest

Reviewed by: Linda Alberta

Jacqueline Guest's novels for young readers range from historical novels to high-interest tales for reluctant YA readers to action-packed sports stories. On December 30, 2016, she was named a Member of the Order of Canada for her contributions to youth literacy and diversity in children's literature. Her newest book, Death by Dinosaur, is the first in a new young adult series, Sam Stellar Mysteries. 

"It's an old-fashioned mystery," she says. "There is no sex, drugs, or rock and roll. I didn't want to use the shock factor, but I do want readers to be intrigued. I want to keep them guessing. So I kept it like a Nancy Drew - from the days when the great mystery was what kept you reading." 

Death by Dinosaur tells the story of 14-year-old Samantha Stellar, aspiring spy and CSIS wannabe, and her cousin Paige, who work together at the Royal Tyrrell Museum with the Summer Studies and Work Experience Program. Sam holds back her real purpose, which is to uncover the culprit stealing fossils from major museums in Canada. She suspects the Royal Tyrrell is next in line to be hit. After a security guard is killed with a fossilized dinosaur horn, the story develops into a whodunit page-turner.

Anyone who has ever scrambled up an Alberta sun-scorched hoodoo will be keen to revisit the Drumheller region. And the Royal Tyrrell Museum is the area's jewel in the crown. Incorporating this distinctive landscape into a book's setting is a great way to get kids to read.

"To make a novel interesting to children you have to bring it to life, and having an interesting setting is part of it. You want to take kids to an amazing world they know nothing about," says Guest. 

"To make it intriguing, I like to visit the place I'm writing about. If you drive around the streets of Drumheller there are models of dinosaurs, painted in amazing colours. The whole town is in on it and it's a lot of fun. What kid wouldn't like that?"

While readers enjoy a good read, what Guest enjoyed most about her book was the character development. She says she really enjoyed getting to know her young sleuth.

"Sam is smart and feisty, and she does get into trouble. But when push comes to shove she does the right thing. I hope my daughters would be like that. And when they read Sam, I hope they see some of themselves reflected in the story," says Guest.

That's also her hope for readers. She wants readers to be encouraged and to be proud of themselves and to think, "You know what? I can do that too." She adds that being a spy would be a pretty cool job for any kid.

About writing for 25 years in her log cabin at the foot of the Rockies, Guest says, "It's every day, all day. You have to have passion for it. It is almost a calling."

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