Photo from DiDi LeMay
For former ESL teacher and superintendent DiDi LeMay, writing has long been a passion, and only recently became a profession. Instead of taking a crack at the great Canadian novel, LeMay has dedicated her talent to writing for children — a challenging and rewarding task.
LeMay was born in Orillia, Ont., and spent her formative years in Peterborough, Ont. Tragedy struck at the tender age of six, when her mother was the victim of a drunk driving accident. Fortunately, she said, her father met another woman who “became my second mother; she was a wonderful, wonderful woman.” She credits her step-mother as being the one who “helped me with my creativity.”
In her mid-teens, LeMay moved to Holland with her family, knowing approximately four words of Dutch: “yes, no, grandma and grandpa.” But when faced with a challenge, she stepped up to the plate and taught herself to speak the language using a Doctor Dolittle book as a guide. “I’d read [it] so many times in English [that] I could memorize it. So when I read it in Dutch, I knew exactly what was said in English, and at the end of this I could understand and speak Dutch properly.”
Though LeMay had been writing small stories and creating characters for years, she didn’t decide to be a writer until learning that Canadian legend Stephen Leacock had lived in the town where she’d been born. “Of course for me that was a sign!” she exclaimed, and later added that from that point on, “I designated myself as ‘the writer’ in the family.”
LeMay, who returned to Canada in her late twenties, said she started thinking about writing a book when she was in her late teens, but, “I couldn’t think of anything…to write about. I had this idea [for] a short story, and it was…about a girl in the forest meeting the animals, [but] that was as far as I got.”
When she started to consider the impact of humans on the earth, and became actively involved with helping the environment (a cause that is still incredibly close to her heart), LeMay was able to find the real focus of that story.
“That same story that I wanted to write turned out to be very important,” she said, “Because I wanted to then start [talking] about the environment.”
It wasn’t until four or five years ago that LeMay began considering herself a writer. Though life had gotten in the way, as it often does, of her pursuing her dreams, she said, “I decided ‘That’s it! It’s time for me to be a writer!’”
LeMay self-published her first children’s book, A Winter Solstice Celebration, in 2008, and it was the same story that she’d spent years dreaming up — a little girl who goes into the woods to meet the animals — but with an underlying message about taking care of the planet we live on, and not abusing the finite resources we have available. Her second book, Freddy’s French Fries Fiasco, which takes a look at the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, was published in 2009.
“I like to stay with environmental issues [and] social issues, because I feel that…we have to be reminded of some things that are in our society. We have to question things, and not just coast along.”
Focusing on big issues such as the environmental crisis and childhood obesity naturally calls into question why LeMay chooses to write for children, instead of a more mature audience. “It just happened!” she said, with a hearty, good-natured laugh.
After a moment for thought, she added, “It’s such a cliche, but they are the future, and if they’re able to see and question [big issues] now, they’ll actually see the value of certain things [later in life.]”
For someone so dedicated to affecting change, that kind of spark is a step in the right direction.
For more information on DiDi LeMay, check out her website.
(This article was originally written for Women’s Post.)