Larry Verstraete

Larry Verstraete

Winnipeg, MB

Life or Death: Surviving the Impossible ( Scholastic Canada, 2014)

Surviving the Hindenburg (Sleeping Bear Press, 2012)


Non-fiction, Picture books


Larry Verstraete grew up in a busy household in St. Boniface, a suburb of Winnipeg, Manitoba. At nine years old, there were subtle signs that he might want to be a writer some day. While thumbing through a toy catalogue just before Christmas, he found the perfect gift - a small printing press. Although he begged to have it, the printing press wasn’t under the tree on Christmas morning. Disappointed, he asked for it again the following year. That next Christmas, there it was, just as he dreamt it would be.

The summer after, Larry and a friend started an ambitious publishing project, aiming to become, as he puts it, ‘rich and famous’ with the printing press. Their goal was to publish and sell a newsletter filled with stories gathered around the neighbourhood. For a week, the two would-be reporters spied on their neighbours, filling notepads with facts and observations. But when they began the task of setting the stories into type on the printing press, the project floundered. The work was too boring, too tedious, and the dreams of fame and wealth were abandoned in favour of more enjoyable summer pastimes like swimming and biking.

In high school, science took over as a major interest. Larry attended the University of Manitoba, obtained degrees in science and education, and became a teacher. His writing career began as an off-shoot of his teaching one when he chanced upon a magazine ad for a correspondence writing course while waiting for a haircut in a barbershop. Larry enrolled in the course, and began waking up early each morning to work on assignments, a habit he still maintains today.

While doing research about lightning for one assignment, Larry stumbled upon a story about Benjamin Franklin and a weird experiment the famous American had conducted before his flying-a-kite-in-a-thunderstorm experience. Inspired by the Franklin story, Larry began to look for other equally odd stories in science where accidents, mistakes and minor disasters played a part in discoveries or inventions. Eventually, the material became the basis of his first published book, The Serendipity Effect, which later was republished under the title, Accidental Discoveries. Since then Larry has published other non-fiction books for young people, all built around a core of high-interest, true stories.

Larry lives in Winnipeg with his wife, a short distance away from the place where he grew up. Woodworking, stained glass, reading, hiking and biking are favourite pastimes. He and his wife are devoted travellers, and each trip offers fresh opportunities to discover new writing material. Several of his books stem directly from personal experiences gained on such travels. Becoming lost on a mountain hike in Colorado, for example, sparked the idea for Survivors:True Death-Defying Escapes, and visiting the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona – the place where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto – eventually became C is for Compare in his book S is for Scientists: A Discovery Alphabet.

Bringing stranger-than-fiction facts and stories to life keeps Larry writing. He hopes it keeps kids reading, too.

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For Larry Verstraete, the most exciting stories are those that are true, but hard to believe. Oddball, nail-biting true stories are the cornerstone of Larry’s presentation, and he knows he’s hit the jackpot when eyes widen and he fields questions like “Did that really happen?”. “How do you know for sure?” and “Where can I read more about that?”

Larry’s goal is to leave the audience as excited about non-fiction as he is. He begins by sharing high-interest stories from his books that capture the attention of the audience while also demonstrating the range of topics and forms available to the non-fiction writer. He shares his own personal story, taking the audience through a brief, but lively tour of his writing roots. Afterwards it’s on to other stories, activities or challenges that involve students in the fun of digging for facts and writing narrative non-fiction, followed by a short media presentation that shows how a non-fiction book comes together, and finally, time for questions and maybe, just maybe, another story. Students leave wiser in the ways of research and writing, and convinced that for adventure, intrigue, and awesome information, non-fiction rules.

The stories Larry selects and the focus he gives the session vary by grade level, but he will gladly customize his presentation to meet individual requests.

K to Grade 2 - 45 minutes

For this group, Larry dips into Lost Treasures: True Stories of Discovery, G is for Golden Boy: A Manitoba Alphabet and S is for Scientists: A Discovery Alphabet. Stories of treasure hunts, unusual discoveries and supersized creatures are at the heart of the session. Youngsters learn how non-fiction writers dig for facts, and then weave the details into captivating material.

Grades 3-6 – 60 minutes

Using stories from Life or Death: Surviving the Impossible, At the Edge: Daring Acts in Desperate Times and Surviving the Hindenburg, Larry frames this session for middle (and almost middle) graders around narrow escapes and nerve-wracking decisions. Students are introduced to narrative non-fiction, and find out how non-fiction writers unearth facts from different sources, verify them, and use those facts to tell a riveting story.

Grades 7-9 – 60 minutes

Just what does it take to tell a rollercoaster ride of a story? Against a backdrop of true adventure stories from Life or Death: Surviving the Impossible, Case Files: 40 Murders and Mysteries Solved by Science, and Surviving the Hindenburg, students learn about narrative non-fiction, basic story elements, and how to shape stories to keep readers hanging on to the end.

Presentation type: Reading

Recommended levels: Junior kindergarten, Senior kindergarten, Primary (1-3), Junior (4-6), Intermediate (7-8)

Fees: $250