By Matthew Mills
Jan. 26 marked Family Literacy Day, and dozens of youngsters and their parents crowded into the auditorium of the Brant Sports Complex in Paris, Ont., for a chance to hear award-winning author Jo Ellen Bogart and award winning author and illustrator Barbara Reid.
The event was made possible through the efforts of The Family Literacy Committee of Brant, which began as a grassroots organization 11 years ago.
“Our biggest mandate is to help encourage family reading, not only just with children but families together,” said Sharon Brooks, committee member and executive director of Kids Can Fly. “All of the activities that we do are geared at raising awareness of the importance of reading and making opportunities available to encourage families to read together.”
A report authored by TD Canada Trust, Literacy Matters: A Call to Action, said almost 40 per cent of Canadian youth don’t have “suitable literacy skills.” But ABC Life Literacy Canada said putting aside just 20 minutes a day to read a book, play a game, follow a recipe or sing a song can make a difference.
The Family Literacy Committee of Brant is a group of dedicated volunteers who believe in promoting literacy. Each year, they apply for funding from a variety of sources to bring an author and sometimes, as was the case this year, an illustrator to the community. Committee members include representatives from the public and Catholic school boards, the city and county libraries, Lansdowne Children’s Centre, Strong Start to Reading as well as retired teachers and principals.
“I think it is really inspiring for children to meet the real authors and sometimes the illustrators too,” said Brooks. “I think it makes it real for them. It makes it exciting. It lasts more than just looking at the book and is a real wonderful life experience.”
Each family who attended the event was given a free copy of this year’s selected book, Gifts, which was written by Bogart and illustrated by Reid.
“There is a lot of research around the importance of children having books in the home,” said Brooks. “The ownership of having their own special books that they can go back to and read again and again forms a relationship between the child and books.”
Months before Family Literacy Day, the committee spent hours looking for the perfect book to bring to children in the community.
“As a committee we have a set of guidelines for choosing the book each year,” said Leslie Downie, co-chair of the committee. “First and foremost it has to be a Canadian book. It has to be in print and it has to be affordable for our general budget.”
Gifts was selected because the author lives in Guelph, Ont., and the illustrator lives in Toronto.
Children participated in a variety of activities following the author’s presentation, including creating their own pictures from coloured Plasticine, the technique used by Reid to illustrate her many books.
“We look at what the book might bring in terms of excitement and what activities we can develop from the book,” said Brooks. “This year’s book was particularly exciting because the book itself promotes reading and also showcases the art of Barbara Reid.”
In the weeks leading up to the event, members of the committee read the book to children in their classrooms, leaving copies of the book for the class and for each school library.
“We purchase 600 copies of the book so every family and every school can have a copy,” said Downie. “The day after Family Literacy Day, we take the author to several schools where they have the chance to meet the children and talk about their books. This is always very exciting for the children and their teachers.”
This year, the author and illustrator visited Paris Central School, St. Theresa’s Catholic School, Holy Cross School and St. Pius X Catholic Elementary School.
Families who couldn’t attend Family Literacy Day events on Jan. 26 will still have an opportunity to get a free copy of the book. The committee will host another event to promote family literacy at The Children’s Safety Village of Brant April 25 at 1 p.m.