GES students visit with award-winning Victoria author and illustrator, Chris Tougas

Jane Reddington

Sounder Staff

Tuesday, May 17 2016

The Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) and Gabriola Elementary School (GES) have been working together to bring some great talent to the school, with three authors visiting the school recently and talking to classes in conjunction with the Vancouver Island Book Festival. 

The PAC funded two of the authors and GES funded the third with its Aboriginal account.

Chris Tougas stands before two classes of children, coming off a visit to Saskatoon where he was part of the “Literature for Life Conference.” 

In Saskatoon he talked to 32 schools in two days at the university facility, and yet he still has enthusiasm and excitement left for many more talks with children. 

“The most rewarding part is this,” he says between classes coming in and out of the library. “I’m really in my bliss when I get an idea. Then I work hard, and the work is a solitary process. I come here and get feedback and see how much they’re enjoying the books and it’s very self-affirming. I feel I’m doing something right.”

Tougas, 46, had a career with Disney in the late 1990s, as a character artist and then transitioned into selling ideas to Hollywood Studios. In 2000, he moved to Victoria and has since published 11 books, six board books for the youngest readers, and five picture books that include titles like his most recent series, Dojo Daycare, and its sequels which are being turned into a television series by Raincoast Entertainment in Vancouver. 

“These ninjas are helpers, not hurters,” he says. One can see how his talent could translate to any medium.

Art Supplies and Mechanimals are his other picture book titles. Every page of Mechanicals is a work of art so creatively inspired the pages could be framed and hung on the wall.

Mechanimals was my favourite book,” Tougas answers when prompted by a student. “When I sat down I didn’t know how to write a book, but I put it together and when I did I was so proud. It was my happiest day ever, to overcome my fear.”

Tougas presents to each group a little differently and varies his material and the titles he talks about. But one thread is common - conveying his love of drawing and illustrating. He spends most of the second presentation showing the children how to draw and it is clearly a love that goes back to his own childhood. 

“We used to live in California, near Disneyland. My parents would drop us off there every day.” Tougas has been drawing since he could pick up a pencil and is at once a writer, illustrator and teacher. He also has a flare for poetry and spins a basketball like he’s a Globe Trotter. The children love that part, as he illustrates how faces are drawn in animation and where facial features are placed within a circle. 

Jane Reddington photo

He asks children to participate and they come up, one by one, and act out and show an emotion they’ve been prompted for.

“I look in the mirror when I’m trying to draw a new emotion,” he says. “I check which muscles in my face get pushed and pulled so I can do the hard lines [that make a character look more evil or angry].” With just a few strokes of his Jiffy marker, Tougas shows the children how easy and fun drawing can be. Some of the boys are on the edge of their seats.

“I love being with the kids. It’s not just about sharing books. I love sharing drawing and inspiring children to a career in illustration, using pictures to convey emotions.”

He says he writes a lot of light verse poetry, particularly using word play, similar to Shel Silverstein. Tougas always seems to have a poem in his pocket and can recite books he’s written.

Bringing authors to Gabriola this very special week is about more than promoting reading and books. The children see how being an artist can be a viable career and how much fun it can be. The students leave with a very clear message that they can make books like Chris Tougas, books that convey a positive message. 

“I don’t want them to know they’re learning something,” he says, ready for the next group of children that might just grow up to write books and win awards like Tougas.