Irene N. Watts

Irene Watts was born in Berlin, Germany, where she spent the first seven years of her life. Hitler came to power during this time, and Jews were being persecuted.

On a December morning in 1938, Irene waited with hundreds of other children to board the train that would take them to England. Her mother had made her wear three pairs of underwear. Irene removed her long, itchy woolen stockings, as soon as the train left the station. She had no idea of the significance of the Kindertransport, which eventually rescued 10,000 children like her in the months prior to WWII.

She carried a small suitcase, leaving behind family, toys and a beloved puppet theater that she had received from her grandfather, but in her head she carried the stories her father had told her. Now she made up new ones. She had packed her favorite book—Erich Kastner’s Emil and the Detectives.

When WWII began, Irene joined thousands of other children sent to the safety of the English countryside. Irene’s school was evacuated to a small mining town in South Wales, Lanelly. There she learned to eat strange foods, acquired the rudiments of Welsh, and found refuge in the local library where she discovered such treasures as Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, the stories of Enid Blyton, for which there was always a waiting list, and the adventures of that naughty boy William by Richmal Crompton. Best of all, was Arthur Ransome’s series, Swallows and Amazons, which told stories about two groups of children who had glorious adventures during their school holidays. The stories revolved around outdoor activities, especially sailing.

Irene’s English teacher encouraged her to write her own stories, and her love of theatre began by acting in school plays. Many years later, she understood the truth of Frank McCourt’s words: “Stock your mind … You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.”

After completing degrees in English literature and Modern History at Cardiff University, getting married and having four children, Irene became an elementary school teacher, training as a drama specialist.

In 1968, when her children were 12, 10, 9, and 7, the family moved to Canada. They settled in Alberta, where Irene directed plays. They moved again in 1977, this time to Vancouver, B.C. which became a base for her freelance work across the country in theater in education.

Irene began by writing plays, but enjoys the challenge of writing in a variety of genres, finding new ways to interpret the story and characters. Her novel, No Moon (Tundra, 2010), was a finalist for the ALA Book of the Year and was named one of the ten best YA historical novels by Booklist Magazine. Irene is a life member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada and has written numerous plays for young people.

Traveling to the places where the story happens, is her favorite part of research. Most recently she traveled to Czechoslovakia for her forthcoming book about the legend of the Golem of Prague.

Munsch at Play: Eight Stage Adaptations for Young Performers (2010) began when Irene was teaching drama to a group of young performers, ages 9–14, at Neptune Theatre in Halifax, N.S. Together they dramatized their favorite Robert Munsch stories. With Annick’s permission, the group performed in libraries around the city. Munsch at Play Act 2: Eight More Stage Adaptations (2011) offers eight more stage adaptations of well-loved Munsch stories.

Irene makes her home in Vancouver B.C., near the water and the mountains.

Annick Press books
by Irene N. Watts