September 26, 2017

Terry Lynn Johnson

Bonds between human and animals, author and readers

In two new books from middle grade adventure writer Terry Lynn Johnson, survival is key. Johnson is not only the author of Ice Dogs, the Survivor Diaries series, Falcon Wild and Sled Dog School, but she is also a former backcountry canoe ranger, sled dog team owner and a Conservation Officer for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

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In two new books from middle grade adventure writer Terry Lynn Johnson, survival is key.

In Sled Dog School (ages 7 to 10), 11-year-old Matt has to survive math class. Mr. Moffatt assigned an extra credit assignment that requires him to start his own business, so Matt decides to start “Matt’s Sled Dog School,” where he can teach others his passion for dog-sledding and gain the extra credit he needs for math class. While running a business is difficult, Matt finds that he is capable.

In Falcon Wild (ages 10 and up), Karma has to survive the Montana backcountry. In a quick turn of events, the 13-year-old finds herself stranded in the wilderness with a runaway boy named Cooper and her family’s rescued falcon, Stark. Karma may be young, but she has spent her whole life interacting with birds of prey and going on educational wilderness trips. She’s ready for nearly all the challenges that come her way.

These stories are relatable, exciting and empowering to young readers. Karma is a fiercely intelligent and independent young girl, and Matt learns a lot about himself and true friendship.

Terry Lynn Johnson with sled dogs

Author Terry Lynn Johnson with sled dogs  

Johnson is not only the author of Ice Dogs, the Survivor Diaries series, Falcon Wild and Sled Dog School, but she is also a former backcountry canoe ranger, sled dog team owner and a Conservation Officer for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

What is the most important thing children can learn from the outdoors?
In my opinion, learning to look after yourself in the outdoors gives you self-confidence. It teaches you that you can rely on yourself. Accomplishing something hard outdoors, such as portaging a canoe, gives you resilience—the character trait that helps you succeed in all things.

Your books include themes that perfectly target the middle grade perspective: family dynamics, school, making friends. How do you stay in tune with children of that age?
I do a lot of reading—especially books for that age group. It helps me remember my own childhood. Also I watched my stepdaughters grow up through the middle grade years. I quietly drove them around and listened to all their friends in the backseat discussing the latest dramas in school. All writers watch and listen and absorb.

Action moves fast in your books, especially when Karma and Cooper (in Falcon Wild) are lost and alone. As someone that spends a lot of time in the wild, does it really move that fast in a survival situation?
At times, things can happen within a moment. Especially in survival situations, the difference between living and dying can depend on quick reactions. Assessing a situation and determining the best course of action is essential. The need for plan B tends to progress quickly, so you should be ready.

There are moments throughout your books when you address technology: Karma’s 45-minute allotment of internet time each day or Matt’s family being off the grid. What do you hope to share about technology usage with children?
During various times in my life, I’ve lived as Matt’s family does with outhouses and propane lights. And as a kid, I had off-grid neighbors who were the inspiration for Matt’s family. The neighbors were a bit kooky and boisterous—so different from my own family. They fascinated me. When I began writing Sled Dog School, those real-life characters shoved their way onto the page. I thought it would be fun to explore that lifestyle in this story, and share it with modern readers. For Falcon Wild, it was technology—a fickle GPS—that got them into trouble. I didn’t mean for that to be a message, but perhaps that says something about the author!

You’ve been a musher and have spent lots of time in the wilderness, but what is your experience with falcons (if any)? Why did you decide to write Falcon Wild?
I’ve always been fascinated with birds of prey, starting from when I was 12 and read Hawkmistress! by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I was going to be a falconer when I grew up! But I ended up with 18 sled dogs rather than a bird. I mention this because of the similarities between the two. The bond between human and animal is the focal thing in both falconry and dogsledding. Mushers, like falconers, spend inordinate amounts of their time, energy, money and resources to be able to continue their passion. I knew this going in to the book, but when I was researching for Falcon Wild, my fascination only grew, along with my respect for the men and women who dedicate their lives to falconry. I interviewed several falconers, visited several more and even flew some falcons. Then I had falconers read earlier drafts of the manuscript. I’m so grateful for all the time they gave me. I believe falconry is a bit of a mystery to the mainstream, and there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding it—as there are with dogsledding. It was important to me to try to portray it accurately.

Matt and Karma are very young but so skilled at their crafts. Do you know of a falconer or musher who is as young as them?
There are loads of mushers who start out young. I’ve met many in my years at races and dogsledding events. Apprentice falconers have to be 14, but if you’ve grown up around birds, it would be a natural skill to have. In society today it can seem as though young people are getting away from the outdoors, but there are many out there learning, mastering and feeling a zest for life that only exposure to these real experiences can provide.

If you were stranded in the wilderness, what are three things you’d want with you?
The most important things are shelter, fire and water. I’d want tools—equipment to build shelter, fire-making tools and the ability to get clean drinking water.

What’s something about sled dogs that young readers would find most surprising?
The most common misconception is that all the dogs on a team are the same. That can’t be further from the truth. If you take a class of students and ask them about their pet dogs, some of them would have dogs that bark at visitors, some would have dogs that lick visitors to death; some dogs like to sleep, others need something to do at all times. All dogs have their own personalities, even on a sled dog team. They’re all individuals with their own unique character traits, and the goal and joy and challenge for a musher is to get the most from each member of the team. You have to really know your dogs to make sure they’re having a good time and getting what they need.

Your first book, Ice Dogs, published only three years ago and was a big success. How long has writing been a passion for you?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in middle school because I’ve loved books and reading for as long as I can remember. But I didn’t start writing seriously until 2009 when I took an online course and began writing for magazines.

What’s next?
I have a few projects on the go. One is about a junior game warden with a detector dog!

Get the Books

Sled Dog School

Sled Dog School

By Terry Lynn Johnson
HMH
ISBN 9780544873315
Falcon Wild

Falcon Wild

By Terry Lynn Johnson
Charlesbridge
ISBN 9781580897884

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