Tag Archives: Children’s Literature

Selecting nominees for the Forest of Reading : getting involved one book at a time

30 Oct

Forest of reading Being on the selection committee of a literary prize is something that has always interested me. Perhaps what appealed to me was the power trip of having my opinion count for so much (pretentious? Yes, I know). The best way to remove pretension from book awards is having them be truly chosen by readers of a larger audience. The Ontario Library Association has an excellent example of a readers’ choice Book Award for young people called “the Forest of Reading”.  The Forest of Reading is broken down into different categories (the names of different tress) in terms of reading level and features Canadian authors.

Last February when I was attending the OLA’s SuperConference, I kept running into Céline Marcoux-Hamade, the head of French Services at the Toronto Public Library (probably my dream job!). She was impressed with my involvement in the conference (I think her words were that I was young and energetic) and so she invited me to join the selection committee for the French categories of the Forest of Reading. The French books are read by French Immersion and Francophone children alike and there is Le Prix Peuplier (Picture books), le Prix Tamarac Express (easy novels) and le Prix Tamarac (novels). Our job on the selection committee was to read during the spring all of the recently published books submitted by publishers (over a hundred titles) and then collectively determine which books would become the final ten nominated finalists for each category. It is now in the fall and winter that children all over the province will read the 10 nominated titles in order to vote on their favourite title. Province-wide, the votes are tallied up and the winner is determined in the spring.

I was ecstatic at the prospect of reading so many new children’s literature titles. When I opened the first delivery of books, I was like a child at Christmas but as the months went on and the boxes kept coming, the books piled up and I definitely started questioning my commitment. At one point I had to rebel for a month and read only adult fiction. The committee members were spread across the province and it helped a lot that we were sharing our opinions on a forum on the OLA website. I was reassured when others shared my opinions on certain titles and surprised when others praised books that I thought were mediocre or dismissed titles that I had really enjoyed.  Through the whole process we were very focused on “What will the kids like?”. We were after all selecting books that would be read throughout the province by kids from kindergarten to grade 6. It was important that I read the books through the eyes of a child. Since I continue to love children’s literature and I work with kids every day, I thought that this would not be that challenging but sometimes I really needed to keep my adult expectations in check. In the end the 10 titles for the three French categories were selected and although I must admit that I do not agree 100% with some of the nominated titles (I think some “better” books got left off the lists) that is the result of working collaboratively with a committee.

Charlotte Partout I am excited to introduce these titles to the kids in my two libraries and to see all of my hard reading pay off when they get passionate about the book that should win and hopefully in the process they will become aware of Canadian authors who they can continue to read after the contest is over. I am already organizing a school visit for Mireille Messier, one of my favourite children’s authors, who visited my library in New Brunswick and whose book Partout Charlotte is nominated for the Prix Peuplier!

I strongly encourage those passionate about promoting reading to get involved in a selection committee like the Forest of Reading. I recently went to a presentation presenting “new titles” and I found that I had already read them all!  For once in my life, I’m ahead of the curve!

Hanging with a children’s author!

4 Nov

Tuesday my libPictures of Mireille Messierrary hosted a visit by the fantastic children’s author Mireille Messier. I am still on such a high from this awesome event. Here’s why…

The event itself was a huge success as it was attended by fifty-four grade 4 students from a local elementary school. Both Mireille and I were thrilled that the school opted to allow the students to walk approximately 15 minutes to the library instead of having them take the bus despite the chilly temperature. As a result the students arrived at the library bright-eyed and alert; they were consequently on their best behaviour and I believe that at one point or another during the presentation they all raised their hands to participate.

As a presenter, Mireille Messier was incredible. Her background in theatre studies and radio shone through as she engaged the members of her audience with her highly energetic and interactive presentation. Her main topic of discussion was “Where do authors get their great ideas?”.  In general, the students offered extremely creative and surprisingly mature answers when asked what might provide the inspiration for stories. One tiny boy boldly stated that authors could receive inspiration from landscapes. How insightful, it was very cute! Another fantastic exercise that Mireille did with the students was to show them all the same picture and then have them describe what they thought the corresponding story would be. The objective was to demonstrate that although we can be inspired by the same source, each individual has unique ideas. So AKA don’t copy other people’s ideas!

In addition to having a great turnout and being able to offer a fantastic and high quality library event, the coolest part of the author visit was hanging out with Mireille herself. It was planned by my regional office that I would pick up Mireille at the airport when she arrived in New Brunswick as she was kicking off her multi-library Communication Jeunesse tour at my library. I was also supposed to accompany her for lunch on Tuesday right before the presentation. I admit that I was slightly nervous about the prospect of entertaining someone I’d never met. What if she turned out to be a timid author who chose to write books because she was too shy to speak? (I’ve met a few of these types before). Boy was I worried for nothing! Mireille is the most friendly, warm, and interesting person! It was an absolute pleasure to spend so much time with her prior to her library visit. We discussed our love of Halloween, different educational systems, our families, and of course books! In fact, at lunch time we were discussing a certain topic and Mireille’s eyes got wide and she explained “That’s a great idea for a book!”. She then proceeded for the next few minutes to write furiously in her notebook so not to forget the idea. I guess I haven’t hung out with a lot of authors before but that was the first time that has ever happened to me. It was a bit startling but also very exciting. Mireille’s books are highly in demand by publishers since she is the only Franco-Ontarian author who writes elementary-age level books in French. Therefore I have no doubt that this idea born in a restaurant in Tracadie-Sheila will one day be published in a book. What a fun feeling it is to be included in the creative process of an author!

It’s on days like these that I truly appreciate how lucky I am to be a librarian!

Response to article “How to Raise Boys that Read”

26 Sep

The following blog post is my response to the article How to Raise Boys who Read by Thomas Spence published in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section. In this article, Spence comments on the tendency of publishers to promote “gross-out” books in an effort to get boys to read more. He argues against this current trend to “meet boys where they are” stating that these books do not support a valuable education of manners and taste and that ultimately “if you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn’t go very far”.

Anyone who knows me is well aware of my huge passion for Children’s Literature. Before returning to McGill’s School of Information Studies, I was the educational representative for the only English bookstore in eastern Quebec and was often invited to give presentations to teachers on how to integrate literature into the ESL classroom. It was my job to know all the new titles from different publishing companies and anticipate which books would be

a) able to capture a student’s interest

b) appropriate for a wide range of different ESL reading levels

Through my meetings with teachers across the province of Quebec, I encountered all sorts of opinions on what kids should be reading. The challenge of getting certain kids to read book is doubled when that book is written in the child’s second language. Most educators were of the opinion that if a student could read a particular book in English then he/she should be reading that book. Popular titles were Captain Underpants, Garfield comics and the high interest/low reading level Stone Arch books from Capstone Publishing.

Once I even had a high school teacher ask me to recommend a book for hersecondary 3 (grade 10) class that had sex in it. This teacher told me that the year before for individual reading one girl’s book with a sex scene chapter had been passed around because everyone was so curious to read that particular chapter. She thought if they were interested in reading about sex, then that would be what she would give them. I recommended Noughts and Crosses by Marjorie Blackman, an extremely well-written story of passion using the typical literary motif of star-crossed lovers. In this case, I guess I was sharing Thomas Spence’s perspective in that I was careful not to recommend just any book with a sex scene. I felt Noughts and Crosses would contribute to the students’ education because in addition to having the hot and steamy forbidden sex it also touches on interesting themes for high school students such as loyalty, racism, and terrorism.

Now that I am the director of a public library, I am truly happy to see young people checking out whatever books will make them happy. One series of comics that is extremely popular at my library is Kidpaddle, the latest title in this collection is “Le retour de la momie qui pue  qui tue” (The Return of the mummy who stinks and kills), definitely the type of book that Spence would categorize as a “gross-out book” but the other day a boy around 10 years old came into the library and was so incredibly excited when I showed him that there was a new Kidpaddle book. His face lit up into a huge smile and he exclaimed to his mom “I haven’t read this one yet, I want to borrow this book!” The boy’s excitement to read this comic was the most wonderful reaction to a book I’d ever seen. It completely made my day!

So in conclusion, I’m still on the fence about Thomas Spence’s article. I understand and respect his opinion but at the same time, I really do not think that reading always has to be about learning. I am not convinced that boys would be better off if they were all reading Treasure Island as he suggests. I am an advocate of reading and books and so I will continue to be happy to provide boys with whatever reading they might want.