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.

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.

Life As an 8th Grader and What I Learned From It

When grade 8 came, we were thrilled and excited as it was our final year before high school. At the same time, our teachers, guidance counselors, and our parents began to pressure us. It was also around this time when the pressure of deciding on our “ultimate destination” – that what we chose to study in high school would inform what we did for the rest of our lives.

There were schools that came to promote their specialized programs. I remember when a representative from my home school (a school designated for you based on your address) came to promote their outstanding math, science, and technology program. Another representative from a different high school came and promoted the same type of program. My middle school’s guidance counselor promoted other programs (e.g., arts, French immersion, etc.) whose representatives weren’t able to come. There were also people who came to promote the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), Cooperative Education, and Dual Credit programs.

Then, everyone around me began to change. People who were interested or who were pressured by parents to apply to programs became competitive. They strived to get high marks. They joined many clubs and other extra-curricular activities. They filled out applications, made portfolios, practiced their talents in performing arts, took entrance exams, and prepared for interviews, if there were any.

I, too, did the same. After considering my strengths and weaknesses in my school subjects and the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) path, I decided that I wanted to get in to a math, science, and technology program. I became fierce and focused on that one goal. I visited high schools.

I filled out applications and took entrance exams for my home school’s program and my current school’s program. I didn’t get into my first choice, which was my home school’s program, and cried. I thought of myself as weak and stupid at that time, but then, I got into my current high school’s program, which returned my confidence.

In January, guidance counselors and teachers began to bother us more to pick the type of courses we would take in grade nine before the end of the month. There were three types of courses: applied, academic, and locally developed. But for me and my class, the choices were between grade 9 academic and applied courses. Parents urged us to pick academic grade 9 courses, the way to university; because they told us it’s the “right path.” “Applied is for the dumb” became the norm, so almost everyone picked academic courses. But I and others that were in specific programs had little-to-no choice, as majority of our courses were mandatory.

Finally, we graduated and moved on to high school.

Fast forward to today. I’m now in my last year of high school, deciding which university to attend and what program I should choose, as well as aspiring to be a published author. Right now, I’m working hard to keep my math mark high enough for university applications and interning for Ripple Foundation as part of my school’s co-operative education.

I’ve graduated from my school’s math, science, and technology program last year, successfully completing all the enriched math and science courses from grade 9 to 11. I’ve written short stories, poems, a first draft of my first novel, this blog, and I’m about to begin writing my second novel. Since graduating grade 8, I’ve accomplished a lot of things.

Did I arrive at my “ultimate destination?” No. In fact, between grades 9 and 11, I’ve realized that there is no such thing. At points in our lives, we will change our paths and they will lead us to destinations. My path went from STEM to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), and my destination right now is to be a writer.

Did I like the program or did I regret it? There were times when I didn’t like it, but I did not regret applying to it and attending. It taught me to handle pressure and which habits I should fix. It gave me opportunities, like trips to Microsoft and workshops like Think About Math!

Also, looking back, I find it insane and ridiculous to consider people “dumb” if they were put into grade 9 applied courses and “smart” if they were put in grade 9 academic courses. As I moved forward in high school, I realized how close-minded we were. I learned that in life, it isn’t about who is smart or not, or what makes you smart. It’s about if you will find something that will satisfy you and make you happy.

Sure you will have those marks in the 50s and 60s; sure you took those boring high school courses; but later on, those will be traces of ash. No one will care about it or they’ll forget about it.

My advice to eighth graders? Be open to opportunities and change and don’t fall to pressure; life doesn’t end at grade 8.

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!

Writing, Typing, and Brain Processes

There are constant discussions about writing tools and writing styles – by pen or by keyboard, cursive or print – and how they affect literacy and learning. The discussions range from the importance of continuing to teach cursive writing in schools – does it help with learning or is it just for tradition – to an even more pertinent question of whether we should continue to treat writing by hand as an important skill at all. With these discussions, I have found that each medium is pit against the other as polar opposites; you can either have this or that. Either we keep cursive writing in the curriculum or we take it out entirely. Either writing by hand is important or typing is the way.

Scouring the internet to get a balanced viewpoint of the advantages of hand writing and typing, I came across a lot of articles that defined typing based off of the advantages and disadvantages of writing by hand. But, to me, a disservice is done by not exploring typing in its own terms rather than as a “how it differs from handwriting” kind of definition.

In my opinion, typing is not writing by hand, it’s typing. It has a rhythm; one that allows you to flow through a piece of writing coursing through your mind or pummel through a report that needs to be done. It’s convenient and fast but it’s also allow you to be more creative because you can get more on paper, or should I say, onto the screen.

With writing by hand, you feel what you write. As quite a few articles pointed out, writing by hand forces you to slow down. It works with the muscles in your brain, creating a muscle memory that can help you remember and learn and be more involved with whatever you are writing. (Cursive writing fans will be pleased to know that joining letters together helps children recognize groups of letters as words, minus the fancy curls which are not as important.)

So maybe the solution is not to choose one over the other but to understand how each works for us and employ it that way. In a classroom where students can enhance the learning process as they take notes or where we, as parents, teachers or influencers in their lives, want them to dig deeper, maybe they can be encouraged to write by hand. If the students have an avalanche of words in mind that have to be ousted immediately, then perhaps let them take the waterfall that is typing and run. All we have to do is guide them to know which is which.

So maybe the question we should be asking whether our students are being given enough tools that will help them express themselves in written form. What are your thoughts? Are they?

 

Why The Library is an Important Resource for the Whole Family

In today’s age of instant gratification and Internet accessibility, a valuable resource is often overlooked: the public library. While the Internet is an undeniably wonderful tool, and yes, going to the library will require leaving your house, there is a certain magic to exploring rows and rows of paper-bound information “in the flesh.” Below are some of the many reasons why libraries are so important and how you can make them a part of your family’s life.

Libraries Have Books

Quite obviously, libraries have books. While this is common knowledge, many of us have likely not taken the time to consider the significance of having such a wide range of books available for free use. Libraries contain everything from fiction to non-fiction, classics to undiscovered hidden gems. As a result, these books can provide everything from entertainment, teaching a new skill, and information on just about every topic under the sun.

Libraries Provide Opportunities for Learning

The vast range of books at the library provides near-endless opportunity for learning. Be it an informative non-fiction book, a biography of an important historical or public figure, or a fictional story with an important message, there is a wealth of knowledge available at the library. This knowledge can be helpful for kids’ schoolwork, can assist us in becoming more aware of our surrounding world, or can guide us in the learning of a new skill. Does your child have a research project to complete? Take them to the library to find some original and fascinating information that will set their assignment apart. Are you or one of your family members looking for a new hobby? Peruse the how-to section of the library for some inspiration. Further, not only does the library provide concrete information, it can also facilitate the teaching of real life lessons. Learning to take care of, keep track of, and return on time their library books will teach children responsibility, accountability, and how to share.

Libraries Offer Entertainment

Books are often seen as a purely intellectual pursuit, and while reading is undoubtedly good for the brain, books can be wildly entertaining as well. The vast range of books available at public libraries means that there will be something there to engage everyone. You could even start a family book club, which is a great way to connect and reflect on what you are reading. Additionally, many libraries also have DVDs, so you could also select a few titles to have a family movie night. When you’re tired of flipping through seemingly endless and seldom interesting television channels, head to the library for some fresh and exciting entertainment.

Libraries Provide a Quiet Space

Today’s society is a fast-paced one and it can be difficult to find space to take a moment for yourself. Libraries provide the solution to this dilemma. They are quiet, calm spaces, accessible to anyone who needs them. They can be a great place to study, read, write, or work, and the serene environment will help to improve focus and productivity. Take the whole family to the library to work on homework, quietly foster personal creativity, or simply escape from life’s stresses for a few hours.

Libraries Connect Communities

Libraries can be a central part of the community they inhabit and provide a number of opportunities to get involved. Many libraries host various workshops and events, which are often led by or feature local talent. Getting involved in these events can be a great way to both learn from and give back to your community. Libraries can also provide various ongoing work and volunteer opportunities, which is a great chance for your older children to gain real world employment experience. Supporting and getting involved with your local library will help to make you and your family an integral part of the community fabric and could open you up to great new experiences.

The aforementioned reasons are only a few of many as to why libraries are still precious in today’s societies. There are endless ways that you and your families can make use of this resource and allow libraries to enrich your lives. Feel free to share below why you think libraries are important and what they mean to you and your families!

The Impact of Creative Writing on Child Development

The winter holidays are here and there is so much to look forward to: snow, presents, skating, a Christmas tree and creative writing! While it might seem that creative writing does not quite fit, there are so many benefits to including it into your holiday plans!

Research shows that there are many. A study carried out at the University of Sydney, Australia, shows that the development of creativity is fostered by five elements: imagination, collaboration, intuitiveness, discipline, and persistence, and creative writing happens to target all of them. The study points out that regular engagement in creative writing leads to significant improvement in writing quality, enhanced organization of ideas, greater ability for self-reflection, as well as increased confidence when working in teams. ( https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2015/10/20/creative-writing-boosts-kids-confidence-and-creativity.html)

“In many schools storytelling and creative writing are not prioritised as much as they should be… These interim findings suggest that providing time for the creative writing process is imperative in every classroom. Strong creative thinking and learning skills are critical to students’ social and emotional well being, academic achievement and lifelong learning,” said Professor Ewing, the lead researcher of the study.

According to another research study conducted in Turkey, writing helps kids make sense of information while aiding in the development of important language aspects such as grammar, vocabulary, phonology, and discourse. (Lawwill, 1999; cited in Demir, 2013).

“It [creative writing] requires learners to manipulate the language in interesting and demanding ways in attempting to express uniquely personal meanings. In doing so, they necessarily engage with the language at a deeper level of processing than with most expository texts (Craik & Lockhart 1972). (http://ac.els-cdn.com/S1877042815008678/1-s2.0-S1877042815008678-main.pdf?_tid=07020a46-bf22-11e6-8a4e-00000aacb35d&acdnat=1481406534_74966573a4176b02bf317121233de5d6)

So maybe the best gift for kids and youth this Christmas is actually our 12 Day Creative Writing Challenge! Find out more on our blog and let us know how creative writing has impacted you, your kids, or your students.