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Write On Ottawa: Can a tarantula dance the Tarantella?

By Susan Belle Ferguson on October 3, 2015

Are kids’ books just for kids? Nah! C’mon, all of us have at least one kids’ book that we secretly love to read and give as a gift. And after this review there’s a chance that Tonia’s Spider by Kim Esdaile Gordon might become your favourite.

An educator since 2002, Kim is currently the Learning Support Teacher at Katimavik Elementary School here in Ottawa. Kim’s book shows children how to use lucid dreaming to help them fall back asleep and deal with nightmares. What’s lucid dreaming you ask? It’s when you’re aware that you’re dreaming.

In Kim’s story, little Tonia has a terrifying recurring nightmare of a giant spider entering through her bedroom window. Frightened to fall asleep, Tonia is soothed by her mother who reminds her that spiders aren’t big like the one she saw in her window. She tells Tonia that when things seem too strange to be real, she must be dreaming and should see what kind of fun she can have by taking control of her dream. So the next time Tonia sees the giant spider in her dream, she does just that, conducting the spider to sing opera, dance, eat fruit and spin a web to the stars.

Kim writes with a pleasing rhythm and clever language, enticing children to learn new, fascinating words, including “mesmerize”, “gossamer” and “Tarantella” (an Italian dance!), just to name a few. Turns out this is in keeping with a technique she used in her teaching days in which she would challenge kids to learn new words by first writing them on the board and then, while reading a story aloud to the class, engaging kids to show me a quiet thumbs-up when they’ve heard one of the words.

Photo of author Kim Esdaile GordonThe illustrations by Matthew King are delightful to children and adults. The spider evolves from frightful to lovable. For fun, some illustrations include personal touches. For example, the wall of family photos reflects those of Kim, her husband Kevin, and each of their six children.

As a competitive figure skater Kim worked with sports psychologist John Partington to use mental imagery techniques to improve athletic performance. Later, while at Carleton University, she studied lucid dreaming with the late Professor Alan Moffitt. It was during this time she knew she wanted to eventually write a book to help children learn to use lucid dreaming as a way to build resiliency and coping skills.

To develop the ability to lucid dream, “The trick,” she suggests, “is to practice asking yourself if this real or if it’s a dream.” This is so that you become aware of being in a dream state. She also says you’re more likely to be able to lucid dream if you keep a dream journal.

My chat with Kim got me thinking about all kinds of dreams I used to have when I was younger, including flying, which she enlightened me to be “astral flying”. If I can learn to lucid dream, maybe I could also learn to choose my destination for an astral flight? Who knows?!

Tonia’s Spider is available online at Chapters and from Friesen Press. The proceeds from the sale of Kim’s book go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

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