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Former SD43 teacher debuts chapter book

Coquitlam writer to sign copies of Sophie Trophy at the City Centre library branch on April 6
Eileen Holland, a former teacher at Ranch Park elementary in Coquitlam, at the City Centre branch of the Coquitlam Public Library.

Eileen Holland remembers teaching at Ranch Park elementary in Coquitlam when two girls alerted her to a spider dangling over her head.

It was a good-sized arachnid, she recalls — an insect the Coquitlam resident doesn’t have a lot of love for despite being raised around forests on Vancouver Island.

Two years later, Holland would write a fictionalized version of that spider tale — for kids ages seven to nine — with its main protagonist based on a combination of eight students at Ranch Park elementary as well as herself.

Now, 15 years on, Holland is finally seeing her work in print. And its release came last Thursday on a special day: National Save a Spider Day.

During an interview at the City Centre branch of the Coquitlam Public Library last week, where Holland will sign copies of Sophie Trophy on Saturday, April 6, the newly minted author shared two stories about her book’s debut.

The plot itself focuses on Sophie, a bright Grade 3 student who is creative but, like other children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), tends to worry a lot.

Sophie is repetitive, which sometimes gets her into trouble. “I wanted her to have a learning disability so that other kids could recognize themselves. It was important for me that they find a character they could connect with.”

Sophie’s adventures begin when a friend’s spider escapes from its jar. Having a big heart, she seeks to help find it but her quest often goes astray.

Holland said she, too, had an overactive imagination while growing up in Victoria and sought refuge in nature.

As a child, she forged trails in Goldstream Provincial Park and learned about human-animal relationships from Freeman “Skipper” King, one of the area’s most beloved naturalists. “They way he described things brought tears to my eyes,” Holland said. “He gave me such a gift.”

For Sophie’s friends, Holland also gave them distinctive characteristics: Enoli is from Sri Lanka while Braydon has weight issues.

Still, Holland — who has penned a historic document chronicling the Nelson Public Library (1986 to 2013) and was the assistant western Canadian editor for The Landowner Magazine — said when it came time to publishing Sophie Trophy, she ran into hurdles. It made the shortlist at a New York imprint and also came close with other publishing companies. She even changed the format from being a novel to a chapter book, complete with illustrations by Brooke Kerrigan.

By August 2016 — just before it was due to launch — the warehouse of her 48-year-old publisher, Sono Nis, burned down. Devastated, Holland waited for word from its owner, Diane Moriss, about what to do next.

Last year, Holland found out her book contract — along with those from authors of other unpublished children’s titles — had been purchased by Crwth Press, a small independent company in B.C. owned by Melanie Jeffs.

Holland said she’s thrilled with the outcome and is especially pleased with the copy font, which is designed for people with dyslexia to make reading easier (each letter is uniquely shaped, with the ‘b’s not closed). “I feel like my persistence has finally paid off,” Holland said, adding, “I really felt it was important to have this story out there.”

• Eileen Holland will sign copies of Sophie Trophy on April 6 at 2 p.m. at the Coquitlam Public Library (1169 Pinetree Way). It can be bought at Chapters, Western Sky Books, and