11 minute read

Andrea Spalding (1944-) Biography

Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1944, in Manchester, England; emigrated to Canada, 1967; Education: Teacher Training College, Derbyshire, England. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, cooking, "creative knitting."


Writer, 1979—. Has also worked as a teacher, storyteller, actress, musician, editor, heritage consultant, and bed-and-breakfast operator. Member, with husband David Spalding, of the folk duo Brandywine.


Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers (CANSCAIP), Children's Writers and Illustrators of British Columbia (CWILL), Federation of B.C. Writers.

Honors Awards

Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism Teleplay Award, and ACTRA Award finalist, both 1979, both for screenplay One Way Ticket; Best of the West Award, for docudrama Our Nearest Neighbour; Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize finalist, West Coast Book Society, Violet Downey Book Award finalist, Canada Chapter of the International Order of the Daughters of the Empire, and Silver Birch Award finalist, all for Finders Keepers; The Most Beautiful Kite in the World, Finders Keepers, and A World of Stories were listed as "Our Choice" selections by the Canadian Children's Book Centre.



The Most Beautiful Kite in the World, illustrated by Georgia Graham, Red Deer College Press, 1988, reissue illustrated by Leslie Watts, Fitzhenry & Whiteside (Canada), 2003.

(Compiler and reteller) A World of Stories, illustrated by Gillian Campbell, Red Deer College Press, 1989, revised edition, Beach Holme Publishers (Vancouver, BC, Canada), 1999.

A Special Gift (picture book), British Columbia Forest Service, 1995.

Finders Keepers (juvenile novel), Beach Holme Publishers (Vancouver, BC, Canada), 1995.

Sarah May and the New Red Dress, illustrated by Janet Wilson, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 1998.

An Island of My Own (young adult novel), Beach Holme Publishers (Vancouver, BC, Canada), 1998.

Phoebe and the Gypsy, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 1999.

Me and Mr. Mah, illustrated by Janet Wilson, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 1999.

The Keeper and the Crows, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 2000.

It's Raining, It's Pouring, illustrated by Leslie Elizabeth Watts, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 2001.

Solomon's Tree, illustrated by Janet Wilson, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 2002.

The White Horse Talisman, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 2002.

Dance of the Stones, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 2003.


(With Peggy Holmes) Never a Dull Moment, Collins, 1984.

(With David Spalding) The Whistlers, Jasper National Park, Environment Canada, Parks, 1986.

(With Georgina Montgomery) The Pender Palate: Tastes and Flavours from Our Favorite Island, illustrated by Hugh Montgomery, Loon Books, 1992.

(With David Spalding) The Flavours of Victoria, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 1994.

(With David Spalding, Georgina Montgomery, and Lawrence Pitt) Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia (Altitude Superguide), Altitude Publishing Canada (Canmore, Alberta, Canada), 1995.

(With David Spalding and Lawrence Pitt) B.C. Ferries and the Canadian West Coast, Altitude Publishing Canada (Canmore, Alberta, Canada), 1996.

(With David Spalding) The Silver Boulder, Whitecap Books (North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2000.

Also author of several hundred radio and television docudramas for adults and children, including One Way Ticket, Through Western Eyes, Storytime, A Family of Stories, and Our Nearest Neighbour. Author of stories and articles that have appeared in the Edmonton Bullet and the Edmonton Journal. As a member, with her husband David Spalding, of the folk duo Brandywine, she has produced two audio cassettes: Breakfast with Brandywine, 1980, and The Most Beautiful Kite in the World, 1988.


Andrea Spalding's love of words shines through in her work. In a promotional interview for Red Deer College Press, Spalding said, "I hear and identify with the music of spoken words, and I try to keep that music in the written words." In Writing Stories, Making Pictures, the Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC) noted that Spalding "spreads this passion to children and adults through her storytelling and reading."

Spalding was born in Manchester, England. As a child, her favorite book was Palgraves Golden Treasury, given to her when she was four. Although she couldn't understand all the poems, she loved the sound of the words her father read aloud to her every night. To this day, she told CCBC, she can recall the smell of the book's leather cover, the feel of the thin, silky paper, and the sound of her father's voice.

Spalding told SATA that her parents believed passionately in giving their children an appreciation of the arts, and the family went to concerts, recitals, and the theater whenever they could afford it. At school, Spalding specialized in drama and art, though she also studied guitar and piano. Graduating with a degree in education, she began teaching kindergarten and elementary school, and became involved in English folk music. She met her husband, David, a folk singer and musicologist, in a folk club, and in 1967 the couple pulled up stakes and moved to Canada.

To honor Canada's centennial year, 1967, the federal government had opened a string of new museums across the country and needed experienced museum professionals to run them. Spalding's husband was offered the post of head curator of natural history at the Provincial Museum of Alberta. Spalding vividly recalls meeting staunch nationalist Judy LaMarsh at the museum's grand opening, and being swept up by the spirit of the centennial celebrations.

Living in a new country, and pregnant with her first child, Spalding wanted to feel "rooted," and she began delving into Canadian history. She talked first to the elderly and to the people of the First Nations. Spalding heard lots of stories—and made lots of friends. She realized that history is filtered through the senses and emotions of the people relating it, and that Canada was really much more than one hundred years old at the time.

Although Spalding's interest in folk music continued, she had come to realize that the music she knew in England was not necessarily relevant to Canadians. As a result, she and her husband began researching Canadian folk music—and formed the folk duo Brandywine, named after the Brandywine River in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. In their performances, the pair have played many different folk instruments, including autoharps, penny whistles, dulcimers, and guitars. In 1980, Brandywine produced its first recording, Breakfast with Brandywine.

In addition to her career with Brandywine, Spalding started using songs to teach Canadian social studies in schools. Wherever she went, people listened to her music, then shared their stories with her. As her collection of stories grew, she often told them to her three young daughters as they traveled the long distances between schools. Spalding's husband encouraged her to record the stories in writing, but she did not immediately act on his advice.

In 1979, however, Spalding wrote One Way Ticket, a screenplay about an English child who immigrates to Canada and, after landing in Montreal, is put on what was called a "colonist car"—railway cars, with beds and cooking stoves, in which immigrants were transported west. The screenplay won the Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism Teleplay Award, and was nominated for an ACTRA Award. After this, Spalding told SATA, her phone never stopped ringing, and she was offered one contract after another. She went on to write several hundred television and radio docudramas for adults and children, many of which won or were nominated for awards.

In 1984, Spalding published her first book, Never a Dull Moment, a biography of the well-known Canadian broadcaster Peggy Holmes. Four years later came her first book for children. The idea for The Most Beautiful Kite in the World came to Spalding as she was watching her children fly kites—and was reminded of her own childhood kite-flying experiences. To accompany the book, Brandywine produced an audio cassette that was nominated for an Alberta Recording Industry Award. The story, reprinted in 2003, revolves around Jenny's wish for a beautiful kite she sees in a local store. Disappointed at first with the homemade kite she receives for her birthday, Jenny learns to love her personal kite as she and her father gather material to give it balance so that it will fly. School Library Journal correspondent Rita Soltan described the book as "gentle and perceptive."

For Spalding's second book for children, a collection of retellings called A World of Stories, the author traveled around Alberta for two years gathering materials. In the course of this odyssey, Spalding found that people from more than ninety cultural groups called the province home. Completing the research proved both fascinating and time-consuming for Spalding. She visited hundreds of homes and, as she pointed out in a promotional interview, "You can't just walk in and demand a story. You have to talk, eat a lot, have a cup of tea. People tell stories when they're comfortable, when they trust you." In the book's foreword, Spalding calls her collection "living stories—living in the sense that they were collected by listening with a tape recorder to Albertans who tell stories the old way, speaking from memory and recounting tales they have heard from parents, grandparents, friends or elders."

Spalding published her first novel for young adults in 1995. Finders Keepers is the story of Danny and Joshua, two boys in the Fort MacLeod area of Alberta, who find an arrowhead. The book was well received and widely honored. A Canadian Content critic noted, "Andrea Spalding has done a wonderful job of creating characters that are believable and who tackle life's problems in a constructive manner." In the Calgary Herald, reviewer Joan Craven wrote that Finders Keepers is a "well-written story that kept me reading well past my bedtime."

In 1990, Spalding moved with her husband to Pender Island, off the coast of British Columbia and opened a bed and breakfast inn. Spalding told the Canadian Children's Book Centre that now, rather than being inspired by a sea of prairie grain, she is inspired by the ocean. She often takes her laptop computer down to the beach, and works with her feet "gently massaged by the waves." By means of the bed and breakfast, Spalding told SATA, she meets lots of interesting people who have all sorts of wonderful stories to tell.

From among those stories Spalding is creating a wealth of new picture books for younger audiences. In Sarah May and the New Red Dress, a grandmother recalls how badly she wanted a store-bought red dress as a girl. Instead she has to settle for a dull blue homemade frock—until she confides her disappointment to the West Wind and it sends a storm to leech the blue dye out of the fabric. In Me and Mr. Mah, Ian has been uprooted from his beloved farm and now lives in the city. A budding friendship with his Chinese next-door neighbor brings both the solace of home as they share special keepsakes. According to GraceAnne A. DeCandido in Booklist, the story "deals with the ideas of separation and loss in a gentle but understandable way that children will immediately grasp." It's Raining, It's Pouring introduces a plucky young girl who decides, during a dreadful thunderstorm, to go and wake up the "old man snoring" in the clouds. She climbs a ladder into the sky, discovers that the old man has a bad cold, and returns to him with comfort items. In his gratitude, he sends the bad weather packing. Kathy Broderick in Booklist admired the heroine of It's Raining, It's Pouring as a "caring, independent person firmly in control of her day."

For older readers Spalding has ventured into fantasy. The Keeper and the Crows offers a modern take on the myth of Pandora's Box. When Misha visits his aunt

A little girl, intrigued by the idea of Old Man Weather, heads outs during a thunderous storm to find him. (From It's Raining, It's Pouring, written by Andrea Spalding and illustrated by Leslie Elizabeth Watts.)

Dora, he discovers that she possesses a key to a special, ancient box. Every morning she must unlock the box and allow a little bit of hope to escape into the world. Unfortunately, a band of greedy crows has stolen the other key to the box, in an attempt to unleash whatever else might be lurking in its depths. Misha takes it upon himself to wrest the key from the crows, and an adventure ensues. In Booklist, Karen Hull concluded that readers would find the evil crows "frightening" and Misha's eventual triumph over them "heartening." Spalding has also commenced a quartet of fantasy novels set in England with the title The White Horse Talisman. Visiting her English cousins, Chantel finds a talisman and communicates with the Wise Ones, who help her to work "horse magic." This classic good-versus-evil series is inspired by ancient English horse legends.

With several more works forthcoming, Spalding told SATA: "Nothing can stop me now." She didn't always feel that way, however. As a child she couldn't spell, and at school her teachers frequently told her she was stupid. Spalding says that she still can't spell—but now she can rely on her computer to help her. Her husband also double-checks all her work. Her advice to young authors? "If you have a head full of stories, don't let anything or anybody stop you from fulfilling your dreams."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Greenwood, Barbara, editor, The CANSCAIP Companion: A Biographical Record of Canadian Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers, second edition, Pembroke Publishers, 1994.

Spalding, Andrea, Writing Stories, Making Pictures, Canadian Children's Book Centre, 1994, pp. 278-279.


Booklist, February 1, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Sarah May and the New Red Dress, p. 983; March 15, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Me and Mr. Mah, p. 1390; November 15, 2000, Karen Hull, review of The Keeper and the Crows, p. 643; October 1, 2001, Kathy Broderick, review of It's Raining, It's Pouring, p. 327; April 15, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of The White Horse Talisman, p. 1418.

Calgary Herald, November 30, 1995, Joan Craven, review of Finders Keepers.

Canadian Content, spring, 1996, review of Finders Keepers.

Publishers Weekly, February 8, 1999, review of Sarah May and the New Red Dress, p. 213.

School Library Journal, July, 1999, Maryann H. Owen, review of Sarah May and the New Red Dress, p. 80; March, 2000, Diane S. Marton, review of Me and Mr. Mah, p. 214; April, 2001, Beth Wright, review of The Keeper and the Crows, p. 122; September, 2001, Gay Lynn, review of It's Raining, It's Pouring, p. 206; November, 2002, Cheri Estes, review of The White Horse Talisman, p. 176; February, 2003, Sally R. Dow, review of Solomon's Tree, p. 122; August, 2003, Rita Soltan, review of The Most Beautiful Kite in the World, p. 143.


Andrea Spalding Home Page, http://www.andreaspalding.com/ (December 17, 2003).


"Introducing Andrea Spalding," promotional profile, Red Deer College Press, 1989.*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Nate Smith Biography - Fought His Way into the Union to Theodosius II Biography