Like so many youngsters, Georgia Grebenc loves Robert Munsch stories, and has her favourites.
Her new favourite is about a little girl named Georgia, who looks just like her.
The local four-year-old has become a character in Munsch’s latest book, Sounds Like Christmas, which was released Tuesday.
Georgia’s mother, Jennifer, says her daughter looks at the pictures in the book and knows the little girl is her, but really doesn’t understand the significance of being the main character in a book by one of the most famous Canadian childrens’ authors.
“Georgia is beyond excited to be featured in this new book and cannot wait to share it with all her new friends at St. Michael School,” says Jennifer.
“She’s happy to see herself in the book, but she doesn’t understand that book will be read by millions of other kids.”
The other main character in the book is three-year-old Lincoln Grebenc, Georgia’s cousin, who lives in Ottawa.
The story of how two cousins who live hundreds of miles apart came to be in a Robert Munsch story is an interesting one, although not that unusual to those who know how the writer chooses his characters.
Munsch came to Canada in 1975 to work at the preschool at the University of Guelph. He has lived there ever since. During that time, he would turn up at libraries and schools and tell stories to kids, developing a reputation as a great storyteller. He would make up his stories in front of the children and refine them through repeated tellings, and eventually began writing them down.
Jennifer Grebenc’s mother, Sharon Bruder, met him while she too was working at the university, and when he started publishing his stories, she began helping him out with administrative duties.
More than 30 years ago she went to work for him full-time as his administrative assistant. Now, she says, she looks after everything from book-keeping to fan mail for him.
“It’s been an interesting and fulfilling time,” says Bruder.
“He’s been great to work for. I don’t know too many people who love their job the way I love my job. I keep telling him as long as I can keep coming to work, I’ll be there.”
She has suffered some health issues recently, but Munsch has also had his share of health problems, and she couldn’t ask for a more understanding employer, she says.
Bruder says she started asking him when he was going to use her kids in one of his books years ago, when her kids were young.
That never happened, but she’s as excited and proud as could be to have her two beautiful grandchildren featured in one of his stories.
To suit the stories, he’s had to make them a little older — Georgia is a seven-year-old in Sounds like Christmas — but the resemblance in the drawing to the little girl from NOTL is unmistakable.
His stories don’t have recurring characters. He bases each character in each new book on the children to whom he first told the story.
Bruder says when Munsch began telling his stories to groups of kids, he would pick out a child in the audience to talk to, and get their name. When he got around to writing the story, he would use that name for his main character, and dedicate the book to them.
When the book is published, he tries to find that child — often an adult now — to let them know they are in one of his books. She has helped him track down kids from as far away as Alberta.
He has 65 books published, and about 100 stories he’s still working on, says Bruder. “Due to his health, he no longer goes out and tells stories, but spends his time working on the ones he made up over the years.”
His other new book, Bear for Breakfast, is a story inspired by a boy named Donovan, a first-grader in La Loche, Saskatchewan, a Chippewan community in northern Saskatchewan. When Munsch visited in 1990 and asked what the kids liked to eat, Donovan said that he liked to eat bear.
The exceptions with the naming of characters, says Bruder, are the four books he wrote and named after his own four kids, and this Christmas book, with Georgia and Lincoln.
Jennifer and her sister Stephanie grew up on Munsch books, and have met him many times over the years. He became like family, Jennifer says — her mother would look after his house when he was away.
So of course she began reading his books to Georgia, who would have said until recently that her favourite is Mud Puddle.
Bruder finds an interesting twist to the dedication of the book, which is “For Georgia Grace Grebenc, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario; Lincoln Joseph Grebenc, Ottawa, Ontario; and Sharon Bruder, Guelph, Ontario.”
What might confuse readers, says Bruder, is that the two Grebencs, who are featured in the same book, live miles away from each other.
She and her husband are also featured in the story — Georgia and Lincoln are at their grandparents’ house, trimming their Christmas tree.
Georgia’s father, Andrew, grew up in NOTL, and his cousin Alex, Lincoln’s father, in Ottawa.
Stephanie and Jennifer Grebenc are from Guelph, but Jennifer moved to NOTL and married Andrew, and when Alex came for a visit, met Stephanie, who was at Brock University at the time.
“Two sisters married two cousins,” explains Bruder.
The joke in the family is that Georgia now has a little sister, and Lincoln has a little brother.
“He’s just going to have to write another book about a little girl and boy so they can be in it,” says Jennifer.