Herb Shoveller — Author

Herb Shoveller headshot


Ryan and Jimmy, 2006


Herb Shoveller was born in Sudbury, Ontario, and grew up in Lively, a small community west of the city.

After primary and secondary school studies in Sudbury, he spent a year traveling in Europe, the Middle East and Africa before entering the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. There he did an Honours Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and then a Masters degree in Journalism.

After working in agricultural, arts and business news at various publications, he joined The London Free Press daily newspaper at which, in a total of 20 years there, he worked in every news department in a number of different roles. In the midst of those 20 years, he and his family moved to Hong Kong for two years where Joanne, Herb’s wife, helped launch the Asian campus of the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School.

The timing to do this book coincided with his family’s move from London, Ontario, to Guelph, where Joanne moved to become a vice-president at the University of Guelph. Herb left his newspaper job at The London Free Press, where he was business editor, to freelance. Meanwhile, there had been several overtures to Susan and Mark Hreljac, Ryan’s parents, to do a book on Ryan and the wells projects, along with the subsequent addition of Jimmy to their family.

Mark is Herb’s nephew, so Herb and his family have been following Ryan’s story from the outset and knew it intimately. Further, Herb’s wife Joanne was a founding board member of the Ryan’s Well Foundation and wrote its original business plan. Mark and Sue made it clear that if a book were to be done, Herb would be the writer. Luckily, events converged to make it possible for him to do the book.

Q & A

Sudbury, Ontario.

Sept. 7, 1953.

Where do you live now?
Guelph, Ontario.

When did you start writing?
I started most seriously in university.

What is your favorite book?
I have a couple of biographies of Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister during the Second World War. They're my favorites.

What is your favorite animal?
Dogs, I'd say.

Do you have any pets?
Yes, a dog, Shek O, named after one of our favorite places, in this case a village in Hong Kong.

What is your favorite food?
Almost anything Italian, but Asian is a close second.

Do you have any hobbies?
Sports, including golf, tennis and hockey.

What was your training or schooling?
I studied philosophy at university, then journalism at university.

How did you get involved with children’s books?
I was lucky in the case of Ryan and Jimmy because I am related to them and their parents wanted me to be the author. Before that, most of my writing was journalism.

Do you have any tips for young creators?
One tip I would offer is that you should always write down ideas, even if you think they won't work. Sometimes it doesn't take much to turn them into a good story or part of a story. And the worst thing you have to do is erase them.

What is your favorite movie?
Life is Beautiful, with Roberto Benigni.

What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
In this case, I was able to tell a true story that I think is really interesting to read, but can also make young readers realize that they can make a difference in the world.

Where do you work?
Right now, I work from home, doing writing and editing.

How do you research or create your stories?
All of my stories have been non-fiction, so I have spent a lot of time interviewing people, including Ryan and Jimmy. After that, when I have the basics, I do research in books, magazines and even videos to find out more background for the stories.

What’s your greatest childhood memory?
My dad died when I was just 14, which is sad, but we spent a lot of time together working at our camp, playing cribbage, talking and watching television. When I think back, all my time with him was special.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A Toronto Maple Leaf, but I never listened to my mom and practiced my skating.

What is the weirdest or most interesting job you've ever had?
Nothing weird. I'd say all the time I worked at the daily newspaper, The London Free Press. You meet interesting people, you get to write, and you are part of creating something completely new every day — a newspaper!

Do you have any special secrets or insights about one of your books or characters?
The characters of the two books I have done are real, so I can point to real things. Neither Ryan, as a child and now young person, nor Lincoln Alexander, a grownup, were prepared to accept they couldn't do something. They always believed in the possible, and as a result they have made a difference in the world. That is a message for everyone and in many ways I think kids can do it best.


Ryan and Jimmy

2008 - Silver Birch Award, Ontario Library Association, Short-listed
2007 - Alberta Children’s Rocky Mountain Book Award, Short-listed
2007 - Information Book Award, Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada, Short-listed
2007 - Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, CBC, Short-listed
2007 - Carol D. Reiser Award, Metro Atlanta Corporate Volunteer Council, Winner
2007 - Notable Books for a Global Society, International Reading Association, Winner
2007 - International Book Award, The Society of School Librarians International, Winner
2007 - Skipping Stones Honor Award, Skipping Stones Magazine, Winner
2007 - Diamond Willow Award, Saskatchewan Young Readers' Choice, Short-listed
2007 - Norma Fleck Award, Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Short-listed
2006 - Book of the Year Award, ForeWord Magazine, Short-listed
2006 - Parents' Choice Recommended, Winner
2006 - Disney Adventures Book Award, Winner