About 20 years ago, while teaching social studies at Coquitlam’s Dr. Charles Best secondary, David Starr lamented about the history books in the school curriculum.
He wanted to write a non-fictional publication that would get his students interested and excited about what they were learning, and make it relevant to today’s culture.
Starr sat on the idea for a decade.
But when he became an administrator at Byrne Creek Community School in Burnaby, Starr was asked by several refugee families to document their stories about escaping Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and other places.
After all, they said, he had a good ear and skilled hand, having already won a Province newspaper competition for writing.
The British native pitched a draft to the Canadian publishing house Lorimer, describing how schools can play a positive role in refugees’ lives. From Bombs to Books came out in 2011, with proceeds supporting the charity Canada Scores Vancouver.
From there, Starr’s future as a scribe took off.
Next came The Nor’Wester and its sequel The King’s Shilling, out of the Vancouver-based Ronsale Press, plus three books geared for “reluctant learners” in grades 3 to 7, via Lorimer again: Golden Game, Golden Goal and Empty Net.
In June, the award-winning author unveiled another book through Ronsale Press titled Like Joyful Tears — his first historical novel for adults.
Aug. 31, from 1 to 3 p.m., he’ll sign copies and read from his new book at Chapters at Pinetree Village (2991 Lougheed Hwy., Coquitlam).
The fictional story goes back to his days in Burnaby when he helped refugees.
Inspired by the tales of two cousins from South Sudan who were forced to leave their home during the civil war in 1984, Starr imagined a character named Abena Walker who leaves Vancouver to rediscover her roots in Africa.
At a refugee camp in Kenya, she tries to help two children immigrate to Canada.
“Like Joyful Tears is an eloquent and honest account of sisterhood in the face of horrific pain and loss,” wrote Adhel Arop, a South Sudanese poet and filmmaker who is a daughter of one of cousins that Starr based the story on.
Now in his second year as principal at Terry Fox secondary in Port Coquitlam, Starr said he’s donating part of his royalties from the book sales to the cousins — Rose David and Amel Maduit — as well as Canada Scores and the Obakki Foundation, a Vancouver charity created by Treana Peake to provide clean water and other basic infrastructure to African communities.
The father of four credits his wife, Sharon, a vice-principal at Port Moody secondary, for being his sound board and editing his copy. Already, he’s got the third edition cued up in his Nor’Wester series, expected to be released in 2021.
Writing, he said, “is a hobby but I do get a lot of satisfaction out of it. I feel like I’m making a contribution.”