The photo you'll see on the left is a picture that Simon & Schuster Publications received permission to share on their Facebook page. The ecstatic student in the shot is from my school. He and his parents have signed several media release permission forms granting sharing privileges, and I've double-checked with his father that I'm allowed to share it here. Let me tell you a bit about how Hamrish ended up on stage with one of his favourite authors, and the power (aka the pleasure and the purpose) of this particular reading event.
Different schools determine whom to bring on this trip in a variety of ways. (While at the Red Maple event, I spoke with Karen and Ellen, two outstanding teacher-librarians in the Toronto District School Board - their testimonies about the impact of the Festival of Trees on their students brought me to tears. They were inspiring ... but I digress.) At my school, students must read and obtain at least five signatures in their Silver Birch or Red Maple passports to qualify to attend the festival. I try to offer many ways of gaining these signatures; for instance, this year, students could chat with other teachers or with me via individual chats or group chats in person, via email, or via Skype. Hamrish and his friends eagerly collected signatures for the books they had read. They borrowed them from the public library and the school library. They discovered the joy of e-book copies. Despite the many options for reading confirmation, Hamrish insisted on a face-to-face chat about the Kevin Sylvester-authored book Neil Flambe and the Crusader's Curse because he loved it so much that he wanted to have an extensive conversation about the novel.
In addition to the thrill of attending the Festival of Trees and meeting these authors, the Ontario Library Association also offers students the unique opportunity to apply to be sign carriers or presenters on stage for the actual award ceremony. Many of my students took the initiative to submit their names for consideration and several were chosen for the honour of sharing the stage. Hamrish was picked to introduce Kevin Sylvester (and Mike Deas). He was so excited! The selected students and I worked in the library on creating enthusiastic one-minute speeches and they didn't let the crowds of hundreds of fellow students deter them from doing a great job. In fact, this is what Kevin Sylvester tweeted after the event:
Hamrish ROCKED! RT @mzmollytl: U should've seen the face of the student told he'd be making the speech 2 intro Neil Flambe's author-beaming!
— Kevin Sylvester(@kevinarts) May 18, 2013
Hamrish was a mini-celebrity for the rest of the festival. Strangers approached him and his dad to compliment him on his entertaining speech - AND he got to spend time with an author he admires greatly.
This is just one positive story about the Festival of Trees. I could tell you more:
- about the girl who wrote her author (of her own volition) to see if she wanted to offer input on her speech's content,
- or the ESL students who gladly gave up their recess times so they could read some of the nominated titles with me so that they could qualify to go,
- or tales from past years (of a reluctant reader who loved reading the Silver Birch nominees so much that he was featured in a documentary ... or of a student who, in the middle of a very difficult time in his life, said that the only bright spot was going to the Festival of Trees ... or of students that, when meeting a renowned author at school, hurried to show him a video of them being interviewed by the CBC about the Forest of Reading ...).
There are many anecdotal pieces of evidence that the Festival of Trees is very enjoyable and helps to promote recreational reading of Canadian children's literature. What I'm interested in doing (and have been investigating, with the assistance of several key people) is collecting data beyond these feel-good stories to see the specific appeal of readers choice programs and celebrations like the Festival of Trees and how they make a difference and create/support readers. This will take a long time to research (so far, three years and counting), but if it can substantiate the experiences that I (and other teacher-librarians like Karen and Ellen) have seen and heard, it will be worthwhile.
P.S. Kevin Sylvester mentioned a fellow author's comment that the Festival of Trees is actually a Festival of Hope - this is a great analogy. Check out Kevin's website, as well as all the other nominees. So much credit needs to go to the approachable, friendly, patient, and enthusiastic authors and illustrators that took the time to attend the Festival of Trees and meet their fans. It wouldn't be the same without them.