Confessions of a Book Lover: The Early Days

As a self-proclaimed book lover, I pride myself on my love of reading and all things book related. When I was very young, my parents introduced me to interactive, picture, and digital books (I still have my LeapPad to this day). While I admittedly can’t remember an exact instance or moment when, transfixed by the jumble of words and illustrations in front of me, it became clear that this activity would become a lifelong hobby, I do know that I always felt strangely entranced by magical tales of beautiful princesses, handsome princes, and faraway lands.

I was constantly reading these picture books but, at the age of 5, I realized I wasn’t fully satisfied. While picture books painted vivid pictures of distant kingdoms and lifelong friendships, I wasn’t fully convinced that this was an accurate representation of the world; there had to be something more.

That evening, for the first time, I picked up a copy of The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which was 154 pages long. Seated on the couch, with my mother on one side of me and my father on the other, I began to read it aloud. Throughout the story there was a constant clash between good and evil, right and wrong. Along with reading and discovering this book came a newfound feeling of independence and confidence in my ability to read. I started to look for more and more chapter books to spend my afternoons reading, digesting, and absorbing.

The transition, though, was not easy. To go from reading 15 to 20 page books to reading one that is 154 pages in length (depending on the copy you buy, of course) was a big leap for me and daunting at first. Will I even be able to understand it?

How long will it take me to read? What if nobody else is reading chapter books now? These were all questions that ran circles in my mind as I was making my decision. Eventually I talked it out with my parents and realized that the decision to read chapter books would only make me a more informed and better educated, individual—and who doesn’t want that! At that point, my classmates at school were also starting to explore more challenging books; some were even reading chapter books like me. This did make me feel more comfortable making, what I thought at the time was, a drastic leap.

Although challenging ourselves to read more complex, lengthy books is important, children do not transition from picture books to chapter books, never to return. We live in an age of visuals; picture books teach visual literacy like no other teaching tool and every child should always have picture books on the go. Picture books should be read from birth to adulthood, and nowadays publishers cater for this with a plethora of picture book choices for all ages and stages. I started out by reading The Wizard of Oz, but there are so many wonderful options to choose from to make your chapter book debut, and with this in mind I have compiled a brief list of some great books to check out:

The Wind in the Willows (Easy Reader Classics)

by Kenneth Grahame

Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and, of course, Toad of Toad Hall: these characters have captivated young minds for over a century. Kenneth Grahame’s classic cast of animal friends enjoy life on the river, hit the road in Toad’s brand-new cart, get lost in the dark, and have adventures in the Wild Wood. These enchanting and humorous tales provide timeless enjoyment for all ages.

Paddington Novel Series (Love from Paddington)

by Michael Bond

Told through Paddington’s letters to his aunt Lucy back in Peru, this novel written by Michael Bond offers Paddington’s own special view on some of his most famous adventures. From stowing away on a ship to working as a barber, Paddington shares his charming, and hilarious, take on the world.

Charlotte’s Web

by E.B White

This beloved book by E. B. White is a classic of children’s literature that is just about perfect. Charlotte’s spider web tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter. E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

There Are No Answers in the Back of the Book for Life’s Tough Questions

As you journey through your school years, you will be faced with a number of different problems that you will be told you need to provide an answer for: math homework, history tests, where to go to high school, where to apply for university, and almost definitely what do you want to do when you’re older? Unlike with math problems, there is no formula that you can use to make decisions in regards to your life’s path. As someone who’s been through it, I’d like to say that not having a formula isn’t always a bad thing.

School can be a stressful experience in itself; it requires you to balance your academics with your social life and your extra-curricular activities. As you get older, you might start to experience some added pressure from your parents, your teachers, or even your peers to have a confident response for the question, “what’s next?”

The truth is, you won’t always know and you don’t always have to; it’s perfectly okay to go with the flow.  In grade eight, you will have the opportunity to apply to a specific high school, or to your feeder school. The feeder school will automatically accept you, whereas any other schools you apply to may require a specific set of requirements for your admission, such as academic scores or high achievement in a sport or the arts. Everyone has their own reasons for applying outside of their feeder school, but it is important to remember that all hope is not lost if you don’t end up at the high school you thought you would. In Canada, we are very fortunate to have access to a strong public education system, and for the most part, your education is what you make it. Two people could have an identical education, but it is your responsibility to apply yourself in a way that is most productive for your goals. If you commit yourself to learning the material, you will be prepared for post-secondary. It’s important to remember that not getting into the school you thought you would shouldn’t change your dreams; it will only change the course you take to achieve them. There are many possible paths and outcomes that you won’t be able to predict, no matter how hard you try.

When I was in grade 12 and the time to apply for university rolled around, I was farther from knowing what I wanted to do than I had ever been. For at least two years leading up to the application deadline, I was sure I would go to the University of Ottawa. I was strong in French in high school and thought that since I did well in it, I should continue to study it in a bilingual city. I visited the campus and found out that Ottawa was not for me. Even though French was my best subject and it might have been in my “best interest” to follow this path, I didn’t like the campus and I wasn’t in love with the city like I expected. Learning this set me back to square one. I visited guidance counselors and took aptitude tests to try to figure out what program suited me best, but in the end, I didn’t apply for any of them.

Instead, I took a look at what I actually enjoyed, not only in school, but also what I liked to do in my free time. At the suggestion of one of my teachers, I concluded that critical media studies might be something I was interested in, even though I had never heard of such a program before.

Not having a solid idea of what I wanted to do in terms of study–or for work once school was over—gave me the opportunity to explore a variety of options when I started my first year of university. I learned that I didn’t like film classes in the way that I thought I would and that I really liked political science. Your first and even second years of university are an opportunity to explore what you actually enjoy learning about. I think it is important to look at it this way because in my experience, you need to be open to the possibility that your life plans will change. For this reason, I want to reassure you that not having a plan at all is okay too. For me, I started university in a program I applied for because someone suggested it to me, not because it was my strongest subject or because I thought it would lead to a job.

I then spent four years figuring out what I wanted to learn, instead of struggling with concepts I didn’t enjoy; instead of asking myself, “what job do I want after I finish my degree,” I was asking, “what do I want to do after completing my degree.”

What I found was that I loved learning and being in the university environment, so instead of applying for jobs in my fourth year, I began applying for graduate school. Was a Master’s degree a part of my plan when I was choosing where to go to high school in grade eight? Absolutely not. It wasn’t even on my radar in grade 12 when I was applying for university. In all honesty, it may have seemed like a last minute decision, but in the end it worked out anyway. I now work in the charitable sector doing work that I enjoy, with skills that I didn’t even know I would have when this journey started. If you don’t know what skills you’ll have in the future, how can you be expected to have a plan for it before you’re even 18!

You have more time to plan your life than you think and there’s no need to rush into the “real world.” Some people take more time discovering themselves and their interests than others, so don’t feel like you’re in a bad place just because your friend already has her major picked out. Instead, enjoy your time in school – it really will be over before you know it!

My Journey as a Writer

Growing up, I loved reading books and magazines, writing in my journal, and English was my favourite class; however, it never occurred to me that writing could be my career. I thought the only way to become a writer was to come up with the next Harry Potter and become an overnight success.

Since then, I’ve realized writing is everywhere. From tweets to advertising to websites to articles to blogs, words are an essential part of our day-to-day life. Across industries, there is a demand for writers.

I had my first taste of copywriting when I was working my way through university at a local restaurant. My boss asked for my help with social media, so I began posting on Facebook and Twitter about our menu offerings, events, and specials. Within a year, I doubled our Facebook following and gained valuable experience in community management and copywriting. I dabbled in journalism at the school newspaper, submitted poems to the university’s annual publication, and wrote press releases for the campus reading series events.

After graduating from university, I went on to work at an advertising agency where I wrote websites, commercials, and brochures for clients in real estate, finance, hospitality, and more. Today, I work at a fashion company where I write ads, social media posts, and scripts for video and radio. It’s a lot of fun!

Despite what some might say, there are many career opportunities in creative fields such as art, design, and writing. Look around: the books on your shelf, the name of your hand lotion, the voiceover in your favourite video game, and the dialogue in movies are all made possible by writers.

Don’t get discouraged. As a professional writer, I’m learning every day. I sometimes still have to look up spelling and grammar, and I welcome feedback from others. You don’t have to be perfect.

If you get writer’s block, try flipping through a magazine or book. Take notes on your favourite words, themes, and ideas. Expand on those with related words, connecting themes, and bigger ideas. Mix and match them to see where they lead.

The deadline to enter Kids Write 4 Kids is on March 31st, 2018 and it’s a great opportunity to get creative and practice your writing. I encourage all youth with an appreciation for language and storytelling to enter and show off your skills.

My Experience in a Classroom Book Club

Becoming a book club member, whether at your school or in a local group within your community, provides opportunities to listen to others, meet new people, and explore new things. In my freshman English class, I was involved in a small book club assignment. The class was divided into four groups of approximately six people.

As a member of one of these groups, I was able to observe some of the great things that one can experience and learn when involved in an activity such as this.

1. Listening to Others

Since the core purpose of an exercise such as a book club is to get people to think about and share their own interpretations and questions regarding the book they are reading, you are bound to hear the perspectives and opinions of others in your group. This in turn expands your worldview, exposing you to ideas you may never have considered before and brings you closer to those involved—more on that later. The basis for our discussions when we congregated for book club stemmed from things we’d discovered while fulfilling the duties of the “roles” we’d been assigned, and which we rotated at each meeting. One particular role, which really got my creative juices flowing, was Discussion Director.

As the name suggests, whoever happened to be the Discussion Director would think of questions (usually 10) relevant to the book and the specific chapter being read. When I assumed the role of the Discussion Director, I posed these questions to everyone, and directed the general ebb and flow of the conversation.

This led to a lively discussion where my peers would bounce ideas, theories, and even more questions off of each other. Feeling oddly satisfied that I had stimulated my peers enough to have them actually shouting animatedly at each other over the table about what a character’s intentions really were, I’d even contribute a few ideas of my own and then proceed to the next question. If you can get people talking with one another, there is no limit to the ideas you can discover!

2. Getting to Know the People around You

Chances are that the book club you have joined (or are considering joining) is in your school or community, so wouldn’t it follow that these are people you would be seeing on a day-to-day basis? If so, wouldn’t you like to get to know them better? If the answer is yes, then book club is the activity for you! As a freshman in high school, I sometimes felt like a small fish in a huge pond. It’s in moments like that where you feel that the more people you know and can call friends, the more at home and comfortable you are. However, there will always be people that you wouldn’t naturally be drawn to or would consider being friends with. Personally, I had good friends in my English class, but there were some people I had never even talked to before. Luckily, some of these people ended up being in my book club group.

It was an amazing experience, getting to know them in non-traditional way. Instead of discussion about background, family, life goals, and hardships, I got to know them through the ideas and opinions they put forth in discussion. I found this to be the most intimate way to get to know someone and the most rewarding.

3. Exploring Different Genres

Being randomly assigned books, as many book clubs do, is a great way to branch out and read novels in genres you might never have considered reading before! Personally, I’m more drawn to classics and heavier books, such as Vanity Fair or Great Expectations. I have never been picky about the books that I read, however, so I’m always open to new things (this summer, for example, my aunt introduced me to science fiction, and it was great fun—looking forward to reading Ender’s Game soon!).  For my particular book club group, we read a book called Unwind, which falls into the genre of dystopian fiction. This is not a genre I would naturally pick off a shelf.

Consequently, I was exposed to new writing and new ideas. Plus, dystopian fiction really gets you thinking a lot about what ifs in regard to the systems of government we have in place, the way social rank is determined, the ways that we entertain ourselves, etc. In this way, I explored a new genre and had fun doing it!

4. Broadening your Vocabulary

Expanding your vocabulary, as well as your knowledge of figurative language, is yet another unique advantage of participating in a book club. This will help you to express thoughts, opinions, and ideas more clearly (in conversation or on paper) and strengthen your communication skills—who doesn’t want that!

In our book club, we had the role of Literary Luminary to thank. As the name suggests, the Literary Luminary picks specific, strange, or singular words from the book, researches their meaning, and shares it with the group.

Another part of the role is discovering different ways that the author of your chosen book uses figurative language within the text (things like metaphors, similes, and hyperbole), why they do it, and what effect it produces. It’s quite fascinating.

5. Make Better Connections with the World around You

Being able to make meaningful links between the books you read and your everyday life gives what you read more significance, and—at least I found—it becomes more enjoyable. When a substantial connection is made between your life and what you are reading, the book stops being a random made-up story that someone just came up with and starts to seem like a more thoughtful, meaningfully worded and depicted story. Believe it or not, there is another book club role for this!

The person assigned to this role is the Connector. They are responsible for trying to find as many links as possible between what the group is reading and things occurring in our world today (for example: stereotypes, government policies, controversial topics, and even our own lives).

They then relate their findings to the group for discussion; some people may agree, some may disagree. Either way, there is always lots to talk about with this one.

Hopefully, with a small dose of my experience, you have learned a bit about what book club involvement is like and why it’s so great!