Kate and I have shamefully neglected this blog, but that doesn't mean we haven't been reading! This year, I again offered to take her out of school to attend the Festival of Trees event in Toronto if she were to read 10 books from one or more of the Silver Birch lists. The Silver Birch reading lists are part of the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading programs. Every year, the OLA selects 10 book nominees in each of a number of categories. The Silver Birch program, which includes fiction, non-fiction and "express" (easier reading) categories, is meant for readers in Grades 3 to 6. You can check out all the lists here. Students all over Ontario participate by reading the books from a particular list and then voting for their favourites. The winners are then announced at the Festival of Trees.
Kate ended up reading all 10 from the fiction list and 5 of the non-fiction books, and so we were on our way to the festival. The trip this year was even better, as we were joined by Kate's good friend Sarah and her mother Ruth, both members of our parent-child book club. Kate and Sarah are big fans of Eric Walter, and here are pictures of them showing off his books and with the man himself. We have to thank Sarah for introducing us to Eric Walter by proposing We All Fall Down as one of our book-club selections. That book and its sequel, United We Stand, are both excellent stories based on the events of September 11, 2001.
The festival itself is a wonderfully fun event if you can tolerate the crowds. The organizers estimate that they get over 8000 visitors to the two-day event. There are workshops run by authors and illustrators, book-signing tables, a variety of children's activities and a marketplace with all the nominated books. Workshops can fill up quickly, and there are huge lines for signatures of the most popular authors. If you go, the trick is to pick a few activities most important to you and line up early! Normally, kids attend as part of school groups, but I'd discovered that individuals are welcome to attend on their own. Because we live some distance from Toronto, our local schools don't usually send kids to this event.
The award ceremonies are a key part of the festival, and for these, you must purchase tickets as seating is limited. All other activities are free. Last year, we attended the Silver Birch non-fiction awards, but this year, I managed to get tickets for the fiction awards ceremony, which is always the first to sell out. At the ceremony, the authors arrived on the stage, one at a time, to tremendous applause, cheers, hoots and whistles from their fans. Here, the authors get the rock-star treatment that they truly deserve. Who would have thought that book-loving kids would be such an enthusiastic, rowdy bunch?? Each author is then introduced by a student. Most of the students are very articulate, and I enjoyed their introductions as much as I did the authors' speeches.
This year, Kevin Sylvester won the Silver Birch fiction award, and as his name was announced, young fans cheered loudly and waved copies of his book, Neil Flambe and the Marco Polo Murders, over their heads. Kate actually voted for The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade, but she also loves the Neil Flambe series. We met Kevin Sylvester at a literary event last year, and his talk was both interesting and funny. As there was a smaller crowd then, Kate and Sarah were fortunate enough to chat with him and get their books signed. On the day of the festival, though, he was very much in demand!
We had great fun at the festival and we plan to go back. Next year, we'll hopefully be attending the Red Maple awards ceremony, as Kate will be going on to the next level. I'm sure she'll enjoy that list as much as the Silver Birch selections she has read over the past few years.