Post Tagged with: "events"

Every Canadian in grade one gets a free book in October

Barbara Reid, Alan Convery (TD), Jo Ellen Bogart, Charlotte Teeple (Exec, Dir. CCBC); image: Joyce Grant
Barbara Reid, Alan Convery (TD), Jo Ellen Bogart, Charlotte Teeple (Exec, Dir. CCBC); image: Joyce Grant

This month, every grade-one child in Canada will receive a free book.

That’s every grade-one child, including those home-schooled, or in any school in the country, private or public.

What’s the catch? There is no catch. This has been going on every year for the past 11 years. A pile of books arrives for the grade ones (and twos, if it’s a split class). That’s more than half a million books—the biggest print run in Canada.

It’s a joint project with TD Bank Group and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC). TD picks up the $1-million-plus tab for most of the program.

And it’s always such a great book. This year, it’s Gifts (Cadeaux, translated into French), by Jo Ellen Bogart and plasticine artist Barbara Reid.

Gifts is a book that kids will read over and over again—with an adult or by themselves. It’s great for shared reading because it’s full of lyrical phrases. It’s also great for kids to discover and re-discover because the words and the images have lots of things hidden in them to be found.

Gifts tells the story of a grandmother who travels to different countries over the course of a number of years. She asks her granddaughter, “What would you have me bring?” with the granddaughter asking for impossible souvenirs like, “a rainbow to wear as a ring” from Hawaii and “an iceberg on a string” from the Arctic.Gifts (cover)

Grandma is incredibly inventive as she comes up with solutions for each request.

The book follows the pair as they both grow older, eventually ending with the girl now a fully-grown adult with a daughter of her own.

There are lots of reasons to get teary-eyed, here. (Not that I am. My contacts are just a bit scratchy.) First, there’s the wonderful, multi-layered story. Then there are the colourful, detailed plasticine images. Then there’s the 500,000 free books. And then there’s this story:

The CCBC and TD get tons of fan letters after they distribute the books each year. One in particular stands out in the memory of TD rep’s Alan Convery.

They’d just distributed the bGifts, excerptooks, a little before the Christmas season a couple of years ago. Convery got a letter from a principal in the Northwest Territories, thanking him. She said that for most of the children, this would be the first book that they would own. And then she added that this would also be the only Christmas gift many of the children would receive that year, since the families in that particular community were having trouble making ends meet.

(The CCBC later shipped the community another supply of different children’s books.)

It’s so important for kids to own their own books. It empowers them. It lets them feel entitled to use books. And statistics show very clearly that there is a link between kids who have their own books and those who go on to higher education.


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Happy Family Literacy Day, Canada!

Today is Family Literacy Day.

Bookmark, from’s a great day to… click on “15-minute ideas” or “Games” or “Crafts” in our tags and find a wonderful activity you can do with your kids that will help to get them reading.

At our school, a parent contacted the local library, which is having a bookmark-making contest. They gave us blank bookmarks and forms for all the kids at our school so they can enter the library contest. Fun!

More about FLD here.

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Munsch’s next book

Robert Munsch

Photos courtesy of Scholastic Canada.

Remember the Scholastic poll we told you about awhile ago?

The one where kids could vote for one of three plots–in effect, choosing what Robert Munsch’s next book will be?
Well, more than 170,000 kids voted and their verdict is in!

Munsch’s next book will be set in Rigolet, Labrador. It will be about Cheryl, who fishes with her dad. Except the fish keep trying to catch Cheryl. And the pair come back with something pretty special (and it’s not a fish).

You can keep checking the Scholastic website here for updates on how the book is coming, as well as some behind-the-scenes stuff on the making of the book. There’s also a picture of Robert Munsch in Rigolet with his son and the girl on whom the book is based. Fun!

Thanks to Nikole at Scholastic who helped me out with this shot of RM.
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Mother-Son book club

My friend Joulie is a supermom.

That needs to be said right off the bat. There is no way to live up to the things that Joulie does with her kids. And for the kids at the school. And for the neighbourhood kids.

Luckily, I don’t have to be as good as Joulie – I can just wait until she organizes something, and jump right in. (And now thanks to this post you can, too.)

Her latest venture is a mother-son book club. It’s a fantastic way to get kids reading. It’s also a boy-celebration of books and of reading.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a mother-son book club. The book clubs I’ve been to have been calm, thoughtful, philosophical affairs (with wine). This was not that kind of book club.

About a dozen boys and their moms (and one dad) gathered in a room in our local library. Each boy was given a T-shirt with a Star Wars character on it with the caption, “Reading is strong in this one.” Their first task was to colour the shirt with fabric markers.
I love this shot of Joulie as she tries to say something over the
din of boys drawing, and eating, and laughing – in short,
celebrating books in a way that only boys can!
At the same time, a boy was asked to come to the front and talk about his favourite book. My son gave a heartfelt speech about Rick Riordan’s “The Red Pyramid.”

After that came the trivia questions about Diary of A Wimpy Kid. “What was the main character’s father’s name?” Hands go up. “Frank!” Correct.
Fun, fun, fun.
Then, each boy and each mom made a shrinkey-dink name tag, which Joulie (of course supermom has a shrinkey-dink machine, it’s one of the many things we love about her) will shrink down for next month’s club meeting.

While we drew our name tags, another boy presented his book and more trivia questions were read out. We kept going that way until each boy had presented. The list of books presented was varied and interesting: How to Train Your Dragon; Hamish X and the Cheese Pirates; The Hardy Boys; and Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, among others.

While the presentations were being made, some kids were listening attentively. Some were eating cupcakes. Some were drawing. Some were wandering around, listening but moving. That’s boys! A boy book club is not going to be about perfect silence, waiting turns, putting hands up. No, a boy book club is about doing, and calling out, and giggling, and moving around, and challenging each other. And that’s perfectly fine.

Our boy book club had everything that boys like – including poop jokes, and stories that end with “and then he died,” and swords and questions and laughter and physicality.

It was by far the noisiest book club meeting I’ve ever been to. And probably the most fun.

After the presentations and name tags and cupcakes and t-shirts, Joulie handed each child and each parent an 8×10 envelope. She instructed us to write the beginning of a story on one side of the envelope. Why an envelope? Why not? Next month we’ll use wood to write on, she said, or cloth or whatever else is an interesting medium for writing.

After everyone had started their story, Joulie shuffled them and everyone took someone else’s home. Our “homework assignment” is to continue the person’s story on the other side of the envelope.

Then each child submitted the title of a book they would like us all to read for next month. We chose one by random draw: The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book I. Next month we’ll all have read the book and Max’s mom will be the one to come up with the trivia questions and to bring the snacks. Joulie’s going to supply another craft, because she’s amazing at it.

The first meeting of our mother-son (and one father-son) book club was a noisy, lively, celebratory, exciting… success! We all gave Joulie a passionate round of applause and a big hug.

This book club is going to be the start of something big for our kids.

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  • March 17, 2010 at 5:48 pm
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What rock star had people at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, Ontario lined up two-deep, for blocks?

Robert Munsch, children’s literature rock star!

Robert Munsch did two shows today at the Living Arts Centre, and in-between he signed books and had his picture taken with star-struck youngsters (and their star-struck parents).

It was truly impressive. People waited an hour and a half in line, with impatient toddlers, no less, to meet one of the biggest stars of the kidlit world.

Worth it?

Worth it!

Thank you to Andreas Kyprianou at LAC for helping me to get these great shots.

Mr. Munsch is turning 65 this year, and he’s keeping up a pace that would shame a 20-year-old. Not only did he perform two shows today, but he signed hundreds and hundreds of books in-between and after the shows. Humble and proud of our fellow Canadian, we are. Humble and proud.
Here’s his website.

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Bubblegum writing

  • February 24, 2010 at 11:50 am
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Another tip from Lori Jamison, speaking at the recent Reading for the Love of It conference.

When she’s trying to get young children to sound out words, she calls it “bubblegum writing.”

She tells them to pretend the word they want to write–let’s say, “camping”–is a piece of bubblegum.

With one hand, you s-t-r-e-t-c-h the bubble gum from your mouth out into the air.

You’re stretching the word.

With the other hand, you write down each letter as you say it. Like this:


The child writes: k m p n

It’s not “book writing” yet, of course, but they’ve learned how to manipulate a word to figure out the sounds within it. And that’s a pretty great start!

A related tip – every day she teaches one new word, spelled properly. And then she says, “now, whenever we want to write that word, that’s how we’ll write it.” She always starts with “I” because it’s easy and it’s about the child. So in a very short time, a child will be able to write:

“I wnt kmpn.” Not bad.

Sorry about this photo. Lip gloss – not good. But it was all I could find. As with all of my blog photos, one must use one’s imagination!
Wanna hear something cool? Two days ago, CBC radio picked my account of teaching literacy to a young adult, to win a small prize. The bigger prize was that Rita Celli read my article on the air. Thanks, CBC!
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Early writers – adding detail

  • February 21, 2010 at 7:51 pm
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Yes, Lori Jamison’s workshop was packed.

And for good reason. Here’s another excellent tip she shared.

When her kindergarteners were starting to write sentences (towards the end of JK or in SK), they would write this way: “I like my cat.”

And that would be it. I’m finished, teacher!

How to encourage them to add detail? To add another sentence or two?

Jamison would go around the room, reading the kids’ sentences, and give each child a dot sticker on the back of their hand.

If you had a dot on the back of your hand, that meant to add another sentence. The period was the dot.

As she was handing out the stickers, she would say something like this: “I like my cat. That’s very good. Do you think you could add another detail about your cat?” The child would nod. And she would put a dot on the back of the child’s hand. (“Here’s a detail dot.”)

The child would write: “I like my cat. He is funny.”

For some students, Jamison would apply two dots to the back of their hand. Two dots! Two details. Go, kid, go.

She says she has never had a child refuse a dot. In fact, children come up to her asking for more dots. That’s pretty good – kids asking to write more.

As kids are given dots, it’s a good idea to offer a prompt that helps them come up with the next sentence. Like “How did that make you feel?” or “What do you like about it?”

The kids’ sentences weren’t always “book English” – in other words, written perfectly, the way you’d see sentences in a book. Sometimes they were pictures with scribbles. And sometimes they were jumbled letters meant to represent words. Doesn’t matter – it’s all part of the continuum of learning to write. They’re all forms of “sentences” to which the kids can add more “sentences” and greater detail. Those kids still get dots, and the dots help them progress along that continuum. And it’s fun.

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Plastic plate as whiteboard

  • February 18, 2010 at 10:52 am
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Here’s another great idea from Lori Jamison’s workshop.

A cheap, plastic plate can be used as a mini-whiteboard for kids.

They’re durable, easy to store and inexpensive.
And best of all, dry erase marker wipes right off!
Kids can practise their writing on them, wipe off what they’ve done, and then practise again.
Jamison suggests you give each child a little glove (raid the lost-and-found, she says), which they can use to wipe their mini-whiteboard clean.
She packages a plate, marker and glove in a Ziploc bag for each child.
One caution – she says that not all plastic plates are erasable. And she says you should never, ever bring a marker to a store, poke a hole in the packaging, and try the plate before you buy it. No, no.
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Lessons from a kindergarten teacher

  • February 16, 2010 at 7:32 pm
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This is a kindergarten teacher – and a teacher of teachers.

Lori Jamison introduced a roomful of kindergarten teachers at the recent Reading for the Love of it conference to a handful of “mini-lessons” to get kids reading.

Her first point was, “what do we want kindergarteners to know about literacy?” Here’s what she thinks are the most important take-aways.

1) The concepts of print – which is the front/back of the book? How does a book work?
2) The conventions and structures of spoken language.
3) Why do we read/write?
4) Motivation – helping children see themselves as readers and writers.

This last point, she said, is the most important one.

I’ll be posting more information from her very interesting session. In the meantime, here’s one of the many great suggestions she had for teaching beginning readers and writers: Have them use the letters in their name to write.

She pointed out that the first letters children learn and use are the ones in their name. They’re most comfortable with those letters, and they have a context for them. So concentrate on using those letters to help them spell new words.

It’s a simple idea, but wonderfully helpful.

About the only thing I didn’t love about Jamison’s speech was that she made us all do a “hello to your neighbour” song – with high-fives and thigh bumps – at the beginning of her speech. As I was scowling, wondering how I could avoid doing it without making a scene, it brought home to me that I am far too cynical to ever be a kindergarten teacher. Fair enough.

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Family Literacy Day – Jan. 27

  • January 27, 2010 at 5:28 am
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Today is Family Literacy Day.

This is the day!

It’s the day you and your kid:

1) Read together.

2) Talk about your favourite book.

3) Listen to a book on tape.

4) Write each other a letter, which you drop in the mail for each other. Surprise!

5) Vote for your favourite children’s books here.

6) Go to the library.

7) Create a storybook about your child. (Here’s how.)

8) Cook something together – your child reads the recipe as you go along.

9) Read together.

Happy Family Literacy Day.
I hope you enjoy celebrating it with your family.

We will celebrate by continuing to read The Mysterious Benedict Society (the second book) together, just before my son… falls…. asleep… to dream mysterious dreams.
The picture – no, it’s not me and my son but I just love it. They’re so into reading together! Ooooh, Family Literacy Day. It’s such a cosy celebration.
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