Thursday, December 23, 2010

On this Frosty Morning - An Action Rhyme and Song for Winter

I've always been a fan of Chirp magazine. Even before I began writing stories and poems for it. Even before my pal Patricia Storms became the Chirp Diva, drawing the cartoon after Chirp-creator Bob Kain retired.

But I really really love the Jan/Feb 2011 issue. It's all about winter fun, and it includes my action rhyme based on the old classic, "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush."

The great folks at Chirp took a video of the young model used to create the illustrations in the magazine as he acted out the words and motions of the song. You can watch this video right here, right now. It only takes two secs, and be prepared to get your giggle of the day. BTW you'll love the rest of the Chirp website too  - it includes great activities like how to make a cute igloo out of marshmallows!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Holiday Message for the Troops - from Porcupine and Friends

The talented (and very cute!) illustrator of A Porcupine in a Tree, Werner Zimmermann, recently got together with a group of students at a public school near Kitchener, Ontario. They recorded this wonderful musical message to be sent to the Canadian troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Watching it made me laugh, but it also brought tears to my eyes. I hope you enjoy it too.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Peek inside Porcupine's Tree

Ever wonder how an illustrator begins the process of creating the art for a picture book? In his blog, Werner Zimmermann shares his process by showing off some of his earliest sketches from our book,  A Porcupine in a Pine Tree.

No need for me to recap here - just follow this link to see Quilliam (the porcupine, of course), the squirrels, moose, loons, dogs and puffins as they come to life in Werner's sketchbook.

Awesome. Just awesome.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Best Books for 2011 from the Canadian Toy Testing Council

The Canadian Toy Testing Council just came out with their annual report. It's chock fill of great stuff for kids  of all ages.

Most interesting to those of us who love children's books is the list of best books for kids. Lo and behold, my own What's the Big Idea? made the list!

My pal Patricia Storms' wonderful picture book, The Pirate and Penguin, also made the list!

For the complete list of selected books, and for a list of the children's choices for best toys, check out the Canadian Toy Testing Council's website.

My favorite? Gee, it's a word game!

Here's the description, from the Canadian Toy Testing Council:

"The entire family can enjoy this 3-D word-building game that

encourages spelling, dexterity, and understanding balance and physics.

The game comes with 26 chunky letter pieces that stack together to

build a teetering tower of words. The clear instructions explain that the

goal of the game is to get to 20 points, but watch out – the wrong move

could cause gravity to kick in and make the entire Konexi collapse! This

is a learning game that does not feel like a learning game; children

revisit it often to challenge their friends, siblings, and parents."
What's not to like, I say? Words, science, laughter?  I hope to find this game in my "stocking" this year.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to Help Kids Learn - and Love - Science

A few months ago, I was interviewed by Parentdish columnist Carrie Snyder. She wanted to know how she, as a self-confessed science-phobic, "artsy-craftsy" kind of mom, could help her kids become more science-y.

So I dished, offering my own opinions formed over years of writing science-related activity books, and as a parent myself. The interview is now available to read on line. It's full of useful info, and pretty damn funny to boot. :)

I'm reprinting some of my pithiest comments for your immediate reading pleasure here. However, I urge you to go to the Parentdish site to read the entire interview, and to check out Parentdish's awesome menu of parenting advice, insights, and cool ideas.

Carrie: Can any kid be a scientist?

Helaine: Most kids are curious about everything, and are therefore natural scientists. The attitude that is a 100% guaranteed way to turn kids off is that there is a "right" or a "wrong" answer, or that there are "right" ways to do things. Besides, it's just plain wrong. Scientists usually learn the most from screwing up - there's a reason the process is called "trial and error." Alexander Graham Bell, for example, invented the telephone when he got the whole darn contraption put together backwards.

Carrie: So, how do we feed rather than stifle our kids' curiosity?

Helaine: Science, and learning of all sorts, is about making mistakes. Those who are most willing to make mistakes are the ones who will wind up learning the most and coming up with the best new ideas. So, to encourage this, let kids mess around as much as possible without too much supervision.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens 2010 Announced

One of the perks of being a member of the Canadian Children's Book Centre is that you automatically get copies of the wonderful CCBC magazine. Each issue (4 a year)  provides wonderful reviews of the best of the best in Canadian kid lit, as well as interesting news stories, and profiles of some of Canada's most exciting authors.

Best of all is the issue that contains the Best Books lists and reviews for the year. It comes out in November to coincide with the TD Book Awards and the launch of the holiday shopping season. (Get yours today!)

This year, when I opened my issue, I was thrilled and honored to discover not one, not two, but THREE of my books were included for 2010!

The Insecto-Files appears in the Science and Technology section, along with What's the Big Idea?

I had hoped (with crossedy-fingers) that at least one of these two books would be included this year, so I was more than happy to find them both listed. But happy doesn't describe how I felt when I noted the third included title. It knocked my socks off, especially since it was given a coveted starred review!

What was this mystery selection?

You'll find it at the back of the mag, in the sports section:
Now don't get me wrong - My surprise wasn't because I don't think Skateboarding Science deserves the mention. Of course it does!!!! My surprise comes from the fact that this book was part of a sports science series I did for Crabtree Press. It's sold primarily through the school library market, so it's not particularly high profile.

Altogether, reading my issue of the Best Books list made my day. I know reading the mag will make yours too, because there are literally dozens of fabulous books described in it, books that will be "just right" for that special someone on your shopping list. Or, ahem, for you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Another BIG night on the Kidlit Party Calendar

It's that time of year again, full of fun and frolic for all of us kidlitters. We get out of our basement offices, shed our yoga pants, and go out for a night on the town. Or two. Or ten.

I was barely recovered from Tuesday night's extravagantly wonderful TD Children's Book Award Gala, but I forced myself to go out to dinner with my #Torkidlit peeps, Mahtab Narsimhan, Bev Katz Rosenbaum, Claudia Osmond and Jo Shwartz. The occasion was warming up for Marsha Skrypuch's presentation at the CANSCAIP meeting.

Unbeknownst to Marsha, she was going to be given the Canscaip "pin" for service to the organization - the highest honor we've got. Naturally I wanted to be there to give a hearty round of applause to this great lady who has done so much for writers and readers everywhere.

Marsha (at right, holding pin) with author and CANSCAIP goddess Gillian Chan

An added bonus for me was I FINALLY got to meet Werner Zimmermann, the artiste extraordinaire behind A Porcupine in a Pine Tree, my current Christmas book with Scholastic. What a thrill this was!

We cooked up some fun plans to video school choirs singing our version of the familiar Christmas carol, and talked sequel!

I'm so excited. I LOOOOVVVVEEE the porcupine, and want to see him in many, many MANY new books. We have already discovered that the book is going back for a second rush reprint as it's selling out right across the country - a quick peek at the rankings on Book Manager put A Porcupine in a Pine Tree at #35 on the National Bestseller List - for kids AND adult books combined!

It's lovely to know that I'm not the only one out there with a crush on cutiepie Porky. And on Werner.

Gala Awards Night!

Tuesday evening was a biggy in Toronto - two major awards ceremonies were held, celebrating the best in Canadian literature. More than $90,000 in prizes was handed out. Anyone who is anyone in the world of books  put away their birkenstocks and slipped into fancy party shoes for the bestest bash of the season.

That bash was NOT in honor of the Giller Award, the prize most people across our fair land know about.

The best party was the one held by The Canadian Children's Book Centre and TD Bank, sponsors of the TD Book Awards for Children's Books.

I've got nothing against the Giller, mind you. In fact, I'd be delighted to win one some day - wouldn't that be a hoot! But it does kind of irk me that the media pretty well ignores the children's book prizes. Again. And Again. And Again. No matter what they are, when they are, or what fab outfits we are wearing.

That's me on the left with kidliterati Patricia Storms, Helene Boudreau, Marina Cohen and Deborah Kerbel. Aren't we all gorgeous???

Maybe I'm thick. But why are children's books so consistently overlooked? Were we not all children once, inspired to become the people we are by books we read in our own day?

Quite frankly, I think kid's books are MORE important than ones written for adults. Most of the books we read as adults give us nothing more than passing pleasure; a rare few will inspire us or open new doors for us. How many will literally change your life from here on in?

Yet every single child's book does all of those things. They bring pleasure to readers, both new ones and experienced ones, through shared experience and closeness with a beloved family member (being read to remains one of life's greatest joys) and through moments of cozy escape. Every single book a child picks up opens new doors for her - to far away worlds, or the microscopic one at her feet; to imaginary Shangrilas, or the gritty reality of life here and now. And every single book a child reads has the potential to change his life, to spin him in new directions that will orient his chosen path long into the future.

In fact, I would dare say that it doesn't even matter what book a child reads, because the act of reading itself is life-changing.

So I know, I'm stomping on the soapbox, shaking up the soap flakes. This little rant won't make much difference to whether or not the CBC provides splashy coverage for the TD Book Awards next year. Or does a major five-part special on the awesome Forest of Reading awards program that shakes up kids' lives here in Ontario every Spring.

But I can tell you this - those media folks missed one helluva party.

PS if you want to see who won all the $$$, the TD Book Award list is here and the Giller Prize bumpf is here. Apparently you can only find the Giller Prize winner on Kobo since they are O/S, so may I suggest you hurry up and go buy Art Slade's fabulous Hunchback Assignments instead? It's terrif.

AND - if you want to come to the party next year, you're invited! Just join the Canadian Children's Book Centre. Your membership gets you the hottest ticket in town. So please join, and start shopping for party clothes today!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I TOLD You School Libraries Were Underfunded....

A nice fat article in today's National Post says it all. "School Councils Forced to Focus on Fundraising."

And they're not just fundraising for decorations for the school prom. They're fundraising for basic school supplies. Textbooks. Library books.

In fact, according to the survey conducted by People for Education, more than half of Ontario's school councils use their fundraising dollars to buy books for the school library.

Why? For obvious reasons - the Ministry of Education is not adequately funding schools and school libraries. It hasn't been for years. And parent councils are left to pick up the slack. A secret tax on parents.

There are major equity issues here. We've all known it for years - if you live in a "better" neighbourhood, parents will fundraise extensively to fill the gap left by the Ministry underfunding. At my own kids' former elementary school, for example (they've now moved on, agewise), our parent council regularly raised $50K+ a year. That money was used to buy computers, rebuild our playground, fund school trips, and pay for on-going music programs, art programs and after-school programs.

That option  - raising $50K a year - is simply not available for schools in lower-income neighbourhoods. We've essentially created a two-tier system within our public schools, due to private financing withing the public sphere.That's a disgrace.

This situation burns my butt on so many levels. One, as a tax-payer, it distresses me greatly that my taxes are not being used properly. I know there was waste in the schools - in fact, as an entrepeneur who used to make my living selling school supplies, I have a first-hand grasp on exactly how much money had been wasted in the past. But still...there's something in between gross waste and bare bones. And yes, there still is waste going on too, but give me five seconds with the red pencil and I'll get rid of it for you, thank you very much. I bet most teachers and principals can tell you where the waste lies too, and do the same magic trick if they were given the chance.

Secondly, as a parent, it drove me nuts that I had to pay this additional tax - to the school council -on top of my regular taxes  in order to get basic services for my kids. And it IS a tax, that you will pay if you have the money. And let's not forget the tax on teachers themselves, who pay for many of their classroom supplies out of their own pocket. According to a study done by The National School Supply and Equipment Association, a trade group for businesses selling into the school market, teachers spend about $1000 a year of their own money to purchase school supplies. We're not talking cute desk accessories that are personal in nature either; we're talking books, pencils, art supplies, bulletin board decor, scales, math manipulatives and the like. When I sold school supplies to teachers, this was true right across Canada; I was frequently paid with personal cheques, and told "I won't be reimbursed for this."

Third, and perhaps most important, a public school system is for ALL our kids. Kids in lower income areas deserve the same quality education as kids in better off areas, and a public school system exists to make sure they get it. I'm no Pollyanna, I know that on the ground, things won't ever be totally equal. That's just not possible. But equality - equity - should be closer than it is now. We should at least be making the effort to ensure kids in less affluent areas have access to basic educational needs - school supplies, books, music, gym, art. There's no real future for them, or for us as a nation, if they don't.

For me, the biggest gap, and the one with the most longterm effects, is the funding of the school library. In a high-functioning school, the library is the heart of the building. It keeps the rest of the place going, by supporting every single curriculum topic. A library is the physical embodiment of literacy at work. If you don't have a functioning library, you cannot have a fully literate environment. If you think you can, you are shortchanging yourself, and the kids in your care. So while people yap about how they care about instilling literacy skills in the next generation, if the school libraries are languishing, you can be assured that it's just talk.

The Post story focuses on Ontario. But the situation described, that parent councils are making up the shortfalls in education spending in key areas like libraries, is by no means exclusive to Ontario. I see the same situation ad nauseum when I tour schools in every province and territory in Canada. I've seen it in the US too.

It's time to stop lying to ourselves. If we, as a society, care about literacy, we must recommit to funding school libraries at an appropriate level.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Silver Birch 2011 Shortlist Announced

Today is one of the biggest days on the Canadian kidlit calendar - the day the Ontario Library Association formally announces its shortlists for the Forest of Reading program.

I'm thrilled to see that my own book, What's the Big Idea? has been nominated in the non-fiction category for the Silver Birch!

Here is the complete shortlist for the Silver Birch, fiction and non-fiction nominees:

The Awards ceremony, which is held in May, is always such a great event. This year, alas, I'm going to have to miss it, since I'll be touring for the Hackmatack Award Program that same week. When it rains, it pours eh? I've already had a lovely chat with my OLA rep, though, about skyping in a visit on the big day, just so I can get my little Silver Birch fix!

A hearty congrats to all the nominees, in all the Forest of Reading categories!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hayley Wickenheiser was told "Girls Can't Play Hockey." Er, False.

Apropos to my earlier post, in which I was told by a young boy that we gals somehow can't whallop a puck because we have ovaries (ok, I'm paraphrasing...), Hayley Wickenheiser's new book Gold Medal Diary sure puts that piece of nonsense to rest. Wickenheiser's fun "as told to" piece in the National Post today recounts the time as a kid when she was told this very same thing - and was cut from her AAA midget team. But bad luck turned to good, when she wound up, instead, on the National Team. The rest, as they say, is history.

I hope that I'll get to meet Wickenheiser sometime as we do the hockey book author circuit. Hmmmm - maybe I'll just send her a copy of my book with the bits about her highlighted. I bet she'd like that. Heck, I would!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What? Girls Can't Play Hockey?

So claimed the ten-year-old boy who attended my presentation last week at the Mississauga Literary Festival.

You can bet I set him straight - and fast - with a quick crash into the boards (of knowledge, that is - maybe I can say he was given a crash course in feminism!) Alas, my newest book, The Hilarious History of Hockey, was not yet out, or I could have shown him how we gals have been on the first line of hockey since the game began. 

The book is out now, and I'm expecting to be quite popular for a while with all the young street hockey players on my street.

For those who, like my chum in Mississauga ,don't think girls belong on the ice, here are some facts from The Hilarious History of Hockey:

  • The first woman's hockey team was founded in 1889 by Isobel Stanley, daughter of the guy who donated the Stanley Cup to the sport.
  • Between 1930 and 1940, the winning-est team in Canadian hockey was the Preston Rivulettes - a women's team.They won or tied 348 out of 350 games played!
  • Albertine Lapensee, who played for the all-women's team, the Cornwall Victorias, during World War I, was nicknamed "The Miracle Maid"  - she once scored 15 points in one game!
  • Hailey Wickenheiser was named one of the "25 Toughest Athletes" by Sports Illustrated and one of the "Top 100 Most Influential People in Hockey" by The Hockey News. She was such an amazing hockey player she was invited to participate in the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers' rookie camps two years in a row!
  • On December 13, 1993, Manon Rheaume made history when she played in goal in a regular season game against the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles. It was the first time a woman had ever played in a men's professional hockey game! She played for a little less than six minutes and let in just one goal on six shots. The following year, with more experience under her belt, she won her first pro game! She played three games that season with the Nashville Knights and finished with a 3–0–0 record.
  • The Canadian Women's Hockey team is a powerhouse - and the reigning champions. They took home gold in 2002, 2006 and 2010, and everyone knows the Canadian National Mens Team is afraid to play against them!


Image courtesy of the Canadian Olympic Committee for more information, go to

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Library Is Born

Back in June, when my friend Nancy suggested I get a book drive together with books from Canadian kids' authors for an impoverished inner city school in LA, I sipped my white wine, nodded enthusiastically, and said, "Sure! What a great idea!"  I had no idea what I was getting myself into with that nod.

The next day, I posted a note on the CANSCAIP forum and here on this blog, and on facebook, asking for books.

In they poured. More than 1500 books from across the country, representing over 100 individual donors and 6 Canadian publishers.

Now I was stuck. How would I get all these books to California? Nancy Runstedler, an awesome school librarian stepped in and twisted some arms, getting us a bargain basement freight rate from Erb Transport.

Then several other individuals stepped up and donated air miles to allow 4 Canadian authors to fly down to LA to be on hand for the event.

Miracles pulled out of thin air, all of it. But the most amazing miracle of all was what happened this past weekend at Bunche School in Carson, California. The school had been selected by our partner on the ground in LA, Access Books, based on its extreme need.

Saturday morning. October 2, 2010. We arrived at the school to find the cafeteria flooded with boxes of books.
There were more than 5000 books - donated by the Canadian contingent, but also collected by Access Books' on the ground efforts. Step two was to open the boxes and sort the books by category. What a thrill it was to find our own donations in the giant piles!

Some of the books we found weren't Canadian, but could have been...

The title of this one is "The Flying Hockey Stick!"

We got a group picture going before the hard work of sorting began.

That's me at the top left. The handsome guy in the middle is Rob Weston, author of Zorgamazoo and the just-pubbed Dust City, with his fiancee Machiko at the front left.Behind Rob, sticking her head up, is Sandra Tsing-Loh, who made the vital connections between the Canadian crowd and Access Books which made this whole thing happen. (Thanks Sandra!) To Sandra's left is New Brunswicker Wendy Kitts, a freelance journo whose nonfic about Sable Island will be out next year from Nimbus Books. In front of Wendy, in red, is Kari-Lynn Winters, author of Jefffrey and the Sloth and On My Walk, both from Tradewind Books. And last but not least, in black, is Montrealer Jill Murray, author of Rhythm and Blues, from Doubleday Canada.

Sorting of the books was done by about 70 volunteers, including authors, kids, parents, and staff of Bunche School.

The books had to be sorted into several rough categories - library-worthy (ie hardcover), classroom sets by grade, YA for another school, and older or torn books that could be taken home by the kids and the community members.

Then each book had to be stamped, and a pocket needed to be affixed along with a matching card. Bar codes were added in two places, one of which was protected with a second clear sticker.

THEN, we had to add the catalogue code to the books spine,and cover that with another clear sticker. Only then were the books ready to head to the library.

Meanwhile, other volunteers were hard at work painting and preparing the library for its new acquisitions.

This tree mural was designed by Rob and Machiko and graced the wall of the junior grade library

Another mural, in the primary grade library, featured an illustration from Kari-Lynn's book On My Walk.
That's Kari, waving the flag :) and putting the finishing touches on the mural.
A third fab mural is in an outdoor corridor.

 That's Jacqui, a professor at UC Irvine, adding her academic touch to the Books car.

We worked hard. But by 2PM, we could see the fruits of our labours! Three new murals, 5000 new books sorted and shelved, and lots of happy faces, especially on the kids who were taking home armloads of book as their thank you gift for helping.

I'm hoping we will be hearing from Bunche School's kids in the next few weeks, the wonderful principal has told me she'll be forwarding on thank you notes from the kids once they've had a chance to experience their new-and-improved library.

Best of all, I'm looking forward to all the future spin-off projects this little Air Lift has spawned, and will spawn in the future.

What project will YOU take part in?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Magic of School Book Clubs

As a kid, one of my favorite days in each month was when the Scholastic Book flyer would be handed out in school. How I pored over those flimsy sheets of cheap newsprint! Ach, how I coveted.

I coveted every single book in every single flyer. But life being what it is, I was forced to choose - 1 book, maybe 2, each month. How tough that choice was!

Even better than the day the flyer came around was the day the book order arrived - with my long anticipated choices within!

I still remember some of those books. Magic Elizabeth  was one I treasured, and read over and over and over again. I know the cover was tattered  but not torn, because I still have that book on my "favorite kidlit" shelf!

I think my favorite of all time, however, was the one I bought just before Halloween: The Haunted House and Other Spooky Poems and Tales.
It was grade 4  - or fourth grade as we called it in America. I read this book from cover to cover. I memorized the poem "The Haunted House" by Vic Crume so I could freak out my friends during recess. I acted out "The Cradle that Rocked Itself" with my stuffies. I had nightmares over Ann McGovern's "The Velvet Ribbon," but took to wearing my own velvet ribbon around my neck for at least a few weeks - very Goth, I was, back in 1970!

All of these fond memories came back to me with renewed vigor this past week when I learned that my own scary Halloween book, The Haunted House that Jack Built, appeared in the September edition of Scholastic's Seesaw book club flyer, both in English and French. The book also can be purchased with a read-along audio disk, which I recorded over the summer - apparently I have a "professional caliber witch's cackle." The CD includes the text, spooky sound effects and turn-the-page cues so pre-readers can still enjoy the book on their own.

How the worm turns. Here I am, creating books to scare and delight kids who purchase it from the Scholastic Book Club program, just as I was once scared, delighted, and inspired by a book I bought long ago from the same wonderful program. I don't know about you, but that gives me shivers....

Thanks, Scholastic, for putting books in the hands of kids who might otherwise not get the chance to purchase a book of their own choice. And thanks, too, Scholastic, for publishing my books and putting them in your new club flyers!

Post Script: My books will be appearing in several Scholastic Book club flyers during the coming school year. Here's the schedule, if you want to get a super great price on these fun titles!

Haunted House that Jack Built: Seesaw September, Club de Lecture September  - French Edition

A Porcupine in a Pine Tree: Holiday Gift November; Seesaw December, Club de Lecture December  - French Edition

Hilarious History of Hockey: Club de Lecture December - French Edition; Arrow January - English Edition.

The Quiz Book for Boys: Arrow January

The Quiz Book for Girls: Arrow January

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cross Cultural Extravaganza to Support Literacy in Afghanistan

Fighting Illiteracy in Afghanistan is No Laughing Matter to Torontonians

Or Is It?

Centuries-Old Folk Hero Stars in Benefit Multicultural Laugh-Fest to Provide Books for Needy Afghan Children

TORONTO (Oct. 1, 2010) -- Mulla Nasrudin, the centuries-old star of countless jokes in Afghanistan and other countries throughout Central Asia and the Middle East, will be the guest of honor at a zany cross-cultural extravaganza in Toronto to benefit needy children in Afghanistan. Afghans so love the Mulla's wacky wit that they claim him as their native son. But so do many other Middle Eastern, Central Asian and other cultures.

Actually, nobody really knows who Nasrudin was or if he ever existed. But that's not stopping the Institute for Cross-Cultural Exchange (ICE) from celebrating his birthday on Nov. 13, 2010 from 7:30 to 10:30 pm at Emmanuel Howard Park United Church 214 Wright Ave., Toronto. Canada's finest musicians, jokesters, dancers and storytellers will perform at this madcap multinational mirth fest featuring Georgian, Afghan, Arabic, and Jewish cultures.

The program will feature:

Drew the Dramatic Fool
George Sawa . Suzanne Meyers Sawa
Rhythm of the Nile Dance Co. and Artistic Director Nada El Masriya
Shalva Makharashvili . Andrea Kuzmich . Reid Robins of Zari
Eric Stein . Ray Dillard
Dan Yashinsky . Aubrey Davis . Sandra Carpenter-Davis
Anyone wishing to tell a Mulla tale!

Tickets $25 Family $45
Order Online: By Phone: 416-537-2006 Or Email:

Can't attend? Why not give the gift of literacy? For under $1 you can provide a book for an Afghan child.  Visit:

For more information:

For Press Release:

For more about Nasrudin:

Follow the Mulla on Facebook &

ICE ( is an all-volunteer Canadian charity that addresses family literacy and promotes
understanding between cultures. So far, it has donated over 46,000 books to seventy Canadian non-profit literacy groups serving needy children Canada-wide. This year ICE is beginning a new initiative in Afghanistan, where literacy rates are among the lowest in the world. Its aim is to provide as many Afghan children as possible with their very own books. For at least 95% of them, these will certainly be the first books they own -- and may well be tales that their grandparents recognize from their own childhood. We hope that repatriating these stories in book form will be a comforting bridge to literacy and a legacy for young Afghans and their future.

Proceeds from the Toronto fundraiser will provide beautifully illustrated Dari-Pashto versions of traditional oral tales from Afghanistan and Central Asia, collected and adapted for children by Afghan author Idries Shah ( These delightful multi-functional "Teaching Stories" stimulate insight, flexibility and other higher-order thinking skills. They help children and adults alike better understand themselves and their world. Similarly Nasrudin's outrageous multi-dimensional tales have provoked laughter and thought in young and old throughout the East for centuries ( On November 13, Torontonians will have a rare opportunity to share the same jokes and help some needy Afghan children learn to read.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Book Cart Parade? What Better Way to Celebrate Books and Literacy?

Today I had the great honor to present at the 3rd annual Mississauga Literary Festival. It was a great event, overflowing with families enjoying the displays, the entertainment (which included authors such as Jennifer Maruno, Nicholas Boving and Judy Fong Bates) and a parade.

Since the event was sponsored by the Mississauga Library System, the parade was not your ordinary celebs-waving-from-convertibles parade. Instead, it featured that ubiquitous and beloved shelvers' vehicle: The library cart.

And who could have imagined what fun could be had with that humble four-wheeled metal workhouse?

I apologize for the quality of the pictures - I was being jostled on all sides by eager fans! But I hope these images will inspire librarians eveerywhere to get creative too.

These costumed "pushers" brought their carts around the centre to the general amusement of the crowd.

This one's decorated with 1000 cranes...
Every branch in the Missisauga Library System entered a cart in the parade. I don't know if there was a prize for the best effort, but it would have been hard to choose...
More "pushers" - these of the book variety....
This cart was decorated by a youth group of Manga fans!

If this Alice in Wonderland themed cart appears blurry, it's only because it was already disappearing down a rabbit hole...and into a good book!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Update on the Air Lift: News Release




L.A.-based non-profit serving SoCal’s most impoverished school libraries partners with Canadian children’s author, Helaine Becker, to put books on Bunche Elementary’s empty shelves

Los Angeles – As part of their ongoing commitment to strengthen inner-city school libraries throughout Los Angeles and beyond, Access Books has joined forces with a team of Canadian authors to help Ralph Bunche Elementary (16223 Haskins Lane, Carson, CA 90746-1092) on October 2, 2010 at 9 a.m. One of 25 elementary schools in the Compton Unified School District (CUSD), Bunche is in desperate need of books for its 450 students.

Access Books, “Air Lift to L.A.” and a team of volunteers from Bunche will spend October 2nd revitalizing the library by painting murals and cataloging brand new books. In addition to the books, Access Books will provide a reading rug, rocking chair and sofa to create a warm and inviting environment for students. Five authors from Canada will be on hand for the event and to give fun and exciting presentations to the students.

The participating authors are:

Rob Weston, author of Silver Birch award winner Zorgamazoo

Kari-Lynn Winters, author of Chocolate Lily award-winner Jeffrey and the Sloth

Jill Murray, YA author of Rhythm and Blues and Break on Through

Wendy Kitts, Freelance Writer, Book Reviewer, and author of a soon-to-be published picture book from Nimbus Press

Helaine Becker, author of more than 40 books for children including Silver Birch award winners Boredom Blasters and Secret Agent Y.O.U.
Sadly, only 48 percent of Bunche’s students are scoring “proficient” or “advanced” in English & Language Arts on the California Standards Test. Research has shown that the best predictor of how well a child will learn to read is the number of books to which he or she has access, but 61 percent of economically disadvantaged children don’t have age-appropriate books at home. The students of Bunche Elementary fit this profile: 90 percent live at or below the poverty line. According to a 2009 report from the Jumpstart Foundation, communities ranking high in achievement tests share a common denominator: an abundance of books in their libraries.

California's Department of Education recommends 28 library books per student, according to the February 2010 draft of its School Library Standards. Bunche, however, has a mere three books per student. Therefore, Access Books has set a goal: Collect at least 5,000 books for Bunche’s library and classrooms. Many of these will be brand new, popular fiction titles – books that have been carefully selected to get students excited about reading.

Access Books’ partner for this endeavor, “Air Lift to L.A.,” grew wings after Canadian children’s author Helaine Becker visited a Long Beach elementary school and saw the empty shelves. Shocked and saddened, she rallied her Canadian colleagues and started a book drive. “The conditions [in Los Angeles] are on par with the worst of the Third World countries,” she writes on the “Air Lift to L.A.” Facebook page. “Actually, they are worse, because in much of the Third World, people are doing their best to raise their standards, while in Los Angeles, conditions have deteriorated abysmally in the last ten years.”

Bunche has just moved its campus library into a new, larger space to afford room for growth, but unfortunately, many of the shelves are bare. The library assistant nicknamed the library “The Dream Shop,” but with so few books, its dreams have yet to be realized.

California ranks last in the nation in funding for school libraries, spending less than one dollar per child. Although the 2011 federal budget proposal includes a $400 billion investment in education, there’s no mention of federal funds specifically geared toward school libraries. According to Sandra Barnett, head of the American School Library Association, “the budget is proposing to take away the last access to literacy for these kids in high-poverty areas.” The American School Library research data clearly shows that students with access to school libraries and good books score higher in state reading scores and are more interested in reading.

“I think the big issue is that we really need to make reading part of school and make reading fun and interesting,” said Rebecca Constantino, P.h.D., the founder and executive director of Access Books. “And that starts with having a good library.”

About ACCESS BOOKS: Access Books provides quality, high-interest books to Southern California's most impoverished school libraries. Since 1999, they have donated more than a million books to school and community libraries in the greater Los Angeles area. Access Books has been featured in USA Today, the L.A. Times, the New York Times and School Library Journal among many other media outlets. Access Books’ founder, Rebecca Constantino, is a recipient of Oprah’s “Use Your Life” award. She has published over 100 articles and a book in the areas of literacy development, equity in education, urban school and cultural perspectives of language acquisition.

Give a Child a Book, She’ll be Happy

Give a Child a Library, She’ll be Literate

P.O. Box 64951, Los Angeles, CA 90064



Monday, August 23, 2010


This post is for Canadian parents, school administrators and teachers. The info in it is adapted from the Forest of Reading website.

Having been privileged to be part of that amazing program three separate times, I can vouch wholeheartedly for the fabulosity of the Forest of Reading, and the huge, positive impression it makes on the kids who are enrolled. 

With you-know-what just around the corner, this is the perfect time to look ahead and make sure a program is available in your local school and public library. It's easy to set up. Do it now!

What? You don't live in Ontario? Never Fear. You can find similar information for the Children's Choice Book Award in your home province online (see links at the bottom of this post). The info here is pretty representative of how all the programs work.
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Is your child part of the wonderful Forest of Reading program?

If not, it's time to get your child involved.
If they are between Kindergarten and Grade 12, they will want to take part in Canada’s largest recreational reading program! Every school board in Ontario runs these programs, so your child’s school should be involved! If your teacher-librarian, technician or library staff, are not running this program, you need to ask: what can we do to help make this happen?

Students read nominated books to be eligible to vote, and as a parent, you can ensure their success. They must read a minimum of five of the nominated titles on a list to be eligible to vote in the spring. Books are selected each year by committees of Ontario Library Association volunteers that are made up of teacher-librarians and public librarians.

The Forest of Reading® programs were established in 1994 with the Silver Birch® Awards Program. These programs were created to encourage Ontario children to read more, to learn more about Canadian authors/illustrators and to develop powers of discrimination. Above all, the Forest of Reading® programs allow young readers to choose the winners by voting for their favourite books. The program now offers 7 programs and it is growing each year, both in scope and participants.

These awards present an opportunity to honour and encourage imaginative Canadian authors/illustrators who create works with high appeal to the different age groups: Kindergarten to Grade 2, Grades 3 to 6, Grades 7 and 8 and high school students. There are no politics. Authors win by writing books that young readers like¬–pure and simple.

Here's how to get the best from the Forest of Reading program for your child:

  • Make sure your child is in a Forest of Reading® group.

  • Make sure your school or public library has a group in which your young person can participate.

  • Take copies of the Forest of Reading® flyer to show principals, teachers, teacher-librarians, librarians and library staff who may not be familiar with this innovative program.

  • Purchase books for your child’s group. For most schools and libraries, the biggest obstacle to running the programs is finding the funds to purchase the copies necessary to keep excited readers reading. If the books aren't available, you risk frustration and loss of interest, or limiting the number of children who will be able to participate. Libraries will welcome your willingness to fund even one book. Make your support go further by asking librarians to order the books for you; they get a discount.

  • Let other parents know they can help, too. Other parents will want to help as well, but if they do not know about the program, or know there is a need, they will not be able to help. Talk to your home and school group, your principal or your chief librarian.

  • Encourage your child to read, read, read! 
Young people get very excited about this program. Over 200,000 students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 read the Forest of Reading® books in 2010. They take considerable ownership of the program, and they gain even more if the adults around them are cheering them on. It is purely recreational - not tied to the curriculum - and is meant for them to learn to love to read recreationally. You can build interest by reading some of the books aloud or getting your young person to tell you about them.

  • BE A SUPPORTER OF THE FOREST OF READING® , the Ontario Library Association, and your school's library/media centre/information centre!

More information on the programs can be found at:

Canada's Children's Choice Awards:

Atlantic Canada - The Hackmatack Award
British Columbia - The Red Cedar Award
Manitoba  - Manitoba Children's Choice Award
Alberta - Rocky Mountain Book Award
Saskatchewan - The Willow Awards

Because: Science!