Monday, February 23, 2009

Luring Children to Books

I was recently asked to compose a piece of promotional work titled Meet the Author. The instructions were to keep it short and chatty. This is what I came up with.

In Shelley Hrdlitschka’s childhood home, the children had a choice ~ pitch in with the housework or read a book. Shelley, of course, chose the latter and became an avid reader early in life. (She still tends to read when she should be doing housework, it’s a learned behaviour.) She rediscovered her love for children’s literature when she began teaching school in the 80’s and went on to write books while on a parenting leave. Now that she has her own children, she encourages them to do the housework so that she can continue to read books. Needless to say, she lives in a rather untidy house.

That may be rather tongue-in-cheek, but there is an element of truth to it. Why do some children become avid readers, while others don't? Last Friday my friend Diane Tullson and I presented at a Literary Conference for teachers. Part of our presentation was on reaching 'reluctant readers'. I began by reciting this quote by Orville Prescott. "Few children learn to love books for themselves. Someone has to lure them into the wonderful world of the written word: someone has to show them the way."

This is so true. Teacher's, librarians, parents, booksellers, aunts, uncles, friends, writers... we have to keep luring children in... showing them the magic of stories. And we have to provide time to read, as my mother did in her own funny way. I'm delighted to see that high schools are going back to providing school-wide silent reading time.

The picture is of a young friend who, I'm told, discovered books after reading my novel, Dancing Naked. Here she sits on a BC ferry reading Gotcha! I believe there is a magic book for every child, one that will turn them on to reading. We just have to help each child find that book.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Free Hugs!

My dear friend (DF) and I were sitting in the restaurant of the Sylvia Hotel having lunch on Valentine's Day. We had a window table which looked out over English Bay. It was fascinating to watch the pedestrian traffic on the seawall, people of all ages out enjoying what felt like a glorious spring day.

Part way through lunch I noticed a group of about a dozen young people gathered on the grassy strip which runs alongside the seawall. They were each carrying colourful posters with "FREE HUGS" written on them. As strangers approached them on the seawall, the 'huggers' rushed up to them with their arms outstretched, hoping to find enthusiastic 'huggees'.

DF and I had a wonderful time watching the reactions of the people passing by. I decided that this had to be a Unitarian Youth Group who'd decided to celebrate Valentine's Day by giving out hugs. (I once worked with a Unitarian Youth Group and this was exactly the kind of activity they might do.) DF thought it could be a Psych 101 class conducting an experiment and if we looked closely we'd spot other young people sitting on park benches, taking notes on the reaction of strangers to the huggers.

The reactions were fascinating. Many people saw the crowd of poster-carrying youth in advance and gave them a wide berth. Others were caught by surprise and found themselves in an unexpected embrace. Many seized the moment for what it was, a way of spreading good-will, and enthusiatically embraced the huggers. Everyone watching the event, including DF and myself, felt happy just viewing the fun. I think that was the whole point.

It wasn't until later that I realized that this 'free hug' activity wasn't new. I remember seeing a youtube video of a man named Juann Mann (One Man) in Sydney who started the phenomena.

Unfortunately, the huggers had moved on by the time DF and I had finished our lunches, or I would have been out there receiving my free hug, too.
To all you hugging youth ~
Warm Hugs!! from me.

Monday, February 2, 2009

My love affair...

... with the librarians and teacher-librarians in Ontario is hot hot hot. (Ha! Got you with that title, didn't I Leslie!)

But seriously, I just love the way those librarians in Ontario support my work. Over the years four of my books have been nominated for the Ontario-based White Pine Award (a reader's choice award) and Dancing Naked actually won it the first year it was awarded . Gotcha! has been nominated for it this year, 2009, and Sun Signs and Kat's Fall each had their years, too. Kat's Fall was an honour book, or runner-up in its year. Today I found out that Gotcha! is one of the YA fiction selections on the Ontario Library Association’s (OLA) 2008 Best Bets Lists for Children and for Young Adults (top 10 Canadian books of the year in various categories). What's not to love about those wonderful librarians? They have such good taste in books. :)

My love affair with the organizers of the Surrey International Writer's Festival is hot too. This past fall I was the recipient of the 2008 Surrey Board of Trade Special Achievement Award, which honours a writer who has made a significant achievement in their writing career during the past year. I felt truly honoured to be recognized for this award.

When I think back to my early days of writing, all I ever wanted was to get a book published. Once I did have a published book, the stakes went up. I wanted to write a book worthy of being nominated for an award. Once that happened, I wanted to write a book worthy of actually winning an award, or being put on a notable list such as the one Gotcha! has just been added to. That said, I have been a juror for numerous book awards myself, and I know first hand how subjective the final decision can be. Simply receiving an award nomination is a huge honour. In most cases, any one of the nominated books is award-worthy.

Author Orville Prescott wrote: "Few children learn to love books for themselves. Someone has to lure them into the wonderful world of the written word: someone has to show them the way." I want to publicly thank librarians and teacher-librarians everywhere for being the ones to 'lure children to books', for showing them the way (especially the librarians in Ontario!). Without them, writers of children's books would be without work.