“Forest of Reading” Breakfast 2013… and some reviews from kids!

 

Last week, I got to eat breakfast with a room full of people celebrating the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading Program (the program that nominated Margaret and the Moth Tree for the Silver Birch Express Award!).

It was a treat to meet the librarians and to chat with some fellow nominees. And listening to the speeches about the program, it really got me thinking about what it’s like for teachers and librarians nowadays, helping to raise a generation of young readers. This is a group of people who work a lot of unpaid overtime to bring literacy to kids, whose programs often lack the funding they need, and who are always trying to reach struggling, disengaged kids.

So when a literacy program comes along that’s as popular and effective as Forest of Reading is, it makes you want to get to your feet and cheer.

As I wrote about when nominations were announced, Forest of Reading is an annual youth reading challenge, in which ten books are selected for each age category by a group of librarians. Kids read the nominated books, then they get to decide which title takes home the prize at the end of the school year, and attend a super exciting awards ceremony where they get all worked up cheering for their favourites. Usually kids will take part within their schools, with the support of their teachers, or sometimes they’ll take part through a parent-run book club.

Something I’ve heard so many times — and something I can’t wait to witness firsthand — is that kids just love this program. It gets them excited about starting the next book on the list, and it gets them to form opinions and start discussions about what they like to read.

It’s a pretty inspiring thing, especially when it comes to reluctant boy readers. I heard someone at my table say, “Usually, it’s only the girls whose hands you have to pry a book out of when reading time is over. But after taking part in Forest of Reading, it was the boys in the class who wouldn’t let go of their books.”

Let the reading games begin!

Being nominated for one of these awards is a wonderful boost for any author, but especially for a new author. It’s obviously really encouraging to know that a committee of librarians thought your book worthy enough to nominate it. But beyond that, being a Forest of Reading title means that your book gets brought into schools in a way that it otherwise wouldn’t. It means that more teachers know about it, more students read it, and (my personal favourite part)… we get to hear kids’ thoughts on our book!

The students have started posting their reactions on the Forest of Reading online community… here are some delightful bits of conversation from the Margaret and the Moth Tree forum. 🙂

 

“I think this book was awesome because it showed a lot of caring and it also showed how a little girls life could become spectacular, in just a little time!”

“I think that this book is a great book because it shows how teamwork works.”

“This is so cool it is about a girl who goes to an orphanage. WOW! You should read it because Margaret saves the day!”

“I didn’t like this book because it was sad that miss switch was so mean.”

“This one’s plot is terrific and some parts are funny.”

“I love this book because it is funny and it is great for all ages.”

“I like this book because it has a good ending and it makes a lot of sense so you guys should read it.”

“Such a great book! i loved how every chapter started with a saying or a lesson. And there couldn’t have been a better ending!”

“Wow, this book was both funny and terrifying at the same time (how would you like to dangle on a window sill on a blistery day). We learned that you shouldn’t judge someone by the way they look or a book by its cover. Ms. Switch is such a lovely lady………..”

“I think this is a great book because it tells you that at the loneliest times you can still make friends and make the situation better.”

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Teachers who change you

 

I have a couple first-time teacher friends who’ll be meeting their students for the first time tomorrow (Good luck Rebecca! Good luck Bronwen!), and apart from making me feel very old, it takes me back to memories of some of my own favourite teachers.

Today I’m thinking about a grade one teacher who gave a warm, comforting feeling to every child she met, and who I always think of when I see a Ukrainian Easter egg.

A grade seven teacher who had a classroom library of her personal books that we could sign out (I remember staying up with a flashlight to finish And Then There Were None in absolute terror), who encouraged us to give book reports in character (“I am Princess Eilonwy, daughter of Angharad, daughter of Regat of the Royal House of Llyr!”), who had us write journal entries back and forth with her, who took us into the river valley for writing time, and who let us have candle-lit reading sessions.

A drama teacher who didn’t seem to look at us and see a bunch of twelve-year-olds, but trusted we could handle Shakespeare and plays about juvenile detention centres.

And a grade nine teacher whose classroom seemed to brim over with culture and art and… humanism. She lived and breathed Guy de Maupassant and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and got down on the ground and kissed the soil on the annual school trip to France. She taught us about the myth of Sisyphus, and walked across the tops of our desks to demonstrate the meaning of “the absurd.” We knew her for three years but we could tell she preferred us as older students, because we could better appreciate what she was exposing us to.

I was lucky enough to go to university and be shaped by wonderful, wonderful teachers there too, but there’s something about those early ones especially, I think, that changes the course of who you are.