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Wednesday, 14 May 2014 14:11

Swift Current school hosts provincial children’s book awards

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Saskatchewan Young Reader's Choice President Ruth Garnett (at right) presents a set of 30 books to All Saints Catholic School principal Lenzena Zanidean during the 2014 SaskEnergy Willow Awards gala at the Lyric Theatre in Swift Current, May 7. Saskatchewan Young Reader's Choice President Ruth Garnett (at right) presents a set of 30 books to All Saints Catholic School principal Lenzena Zanidean during the 2014 SaskEnergy Willow Awards gala at the Lyric Theatre in Swift Current, May 7.

The winners of the 2013 Saskatchewan Young Readers’ Choice Willow Awards were announced at a literary event in Swift Current on May 7.


The SaskEnergy Willow Awards gala was hosted by St. Patrick Elementary School during an afternoon event at the Lyric Theatre that was attended by students from the public and Catholic elementary and middle schools in the city.
Acclaimed Canadian poet Lorna Crozier, who grew up in Swift Current, was the keynote speaker.
She said it is a responsibility and pleasure of everyone to keep their stories alive and to remember the good that stories can do. Stories do not just entertain and give pleasure, but they also remind people where they come from, who they are and what they want to be.
“I’m so thrilled that you’re all readers,” she told students. “There’s nothing better in the world that you can be.There’s nothing else that you can take with you from the time you’re learning how to read until you’re my age and even older, nothing that will give you more pleasure and make you part of the great human community.”
While growing up she never realized that writing can be a vocation because she never knew any writers. She thought all writers came from London, Paris or San Francisco, that they were all male and that they were all dead for a long time.
“One of the great things that’s happening with awards like this is that people your age are much smarter than I was about all that,” she said. “You’re getting to see that writers might be your next door neighbour, writers might look like your grandmother, writers might look like your older sister.”
A number of speakers at the event emphasized the importance of reading. Deputy Mayor Ryan Plewis said literacy provides a solid foundation for all children.
SaskEnergy representative Leslie Gosselin, who also grew up in Swift Current, said she was an eager reader since a young age.
“I think reading is really a door that can open the whole world to you,” she mentioned.
Holy Trinity Catholic School Division Superintendent Geri Hall illustrated the enduring value of children’s books during her presentation.
She spoke about the books she read as an emergent reader and mentioned a number of book titles that were first published in the 1960s. These books are still available in school libraries and they were familiar to students in the audience.
“My point is, stories are meant to live for a very long time,” she said.
“They’re meant to be shared with your friends and they’re meant to be shared with multiple generations. Good stories will. So may the stories that are shared through the 2014 Willow Awards nominated books last for a long time.”
The Willow Awards encourage reading by providing Saskatchewan students with an opportunity to vote for their favourite authors in three award categories. A highlight during the gala was the announcement of the winners from the 2013 nominations.
The Snow Willow Award (Grade 7-9 readers) was presented to Vancouver author Susin Nielsen for Reluctant journal of Henry K. Larsen.
The book, which deals with bullying and the tragedy of losing a loved one through suicide, previously won the Governor General’s Literature Award in 2012 and the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award in 2013.
Nielsen said the Willow Award is important to her because the winning entries are selected by readers.
“That means more to me than anything, the fact that I’m connecting with my readers,” she mentioned.
The Diamond Willow Award (Grade 4-6 readers) was won by Jonathan Auxier for Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes. This magical adventure tells the story of a 10-year-old blind orphan who steals a box containing three pairs of magical eyes.
Auxier grew up in Canada, but currently lives in Los Angeles. A video of his acceptance speech was played to the audience. He spoke about how important it is for artists and writers to take time every day to let their minds wander and to ask themselves “what if?”
The Shining Willow Award for young readers was presented to Toronto author Martin Springett for Kate and Pippin: An unlikely love story.
It is the real-life story of an abandoned baby fawn, Pippin, who is rescued by Martin’s sister Isobel and introduced to her Great Dane, Kate. The two animals developed a friendship that has endured even after Pippin’s return to the wild.
The response from people around the world to the story of Kate and Pippin was a huge surprise to them. Martin spoke about his sister’s animal connection.
“She’s had this connection ever since she’s a tiny kid,” he mentioned. “Her connection with animals is the reason really why this story happened. It’s her story and I came along and helped to get the book out there.”
According to Saskatchewan Young Reader’s Choice President Ruth Garnett the Willow Awards help to promote reading among young people.
“We had over 13,000 students vote this year,” she told the Prairie Post. “I would say five times that many read and just didn’t get around to voting. ... I don’t think we’ll ever lose the book and I don’t think we’ll ever lose kids reading and once they experience a book that they love they’ll be readers forever.”
It also makes a real difference to Canadian children’s book authors to be nominated for a Willow Award because school and public libraries across the province will purchase copies.
“It probably translates to I would say between 1,000 and 2,000 more books being sold than might have otherwise,” she said. “So a nomination is a really big thing. A win, I think, is bigger still exponentially.”
Holy Trinity Catholic School Division staff members Stephen Anderson and Michele Vallee were the local co-ordinators of the event. According to Anderson they wanted to host the awards gala in Swift Current as a means to promote reading.
“I wanted kids to have the experience of being up close and personal with living, breathing authors who had been successful in their careers,” he said. “So it’s about kids reading, it’s about getting them excited and about putting on a pretty classy event that demonstrates that books are still the best form of entertainment.”
That enthusiasm for reading was evident before the awards gala when Nielsen and Springett visited two local schools for readings with students from different city schools and Auxier also interacted with students through Skype.
“I think that was probably more special than this because it was a chance for students to really talk to the authors that they appreciated,” Anderson said.
A video of the entire gala event and the 2014 award nominees are available on the Willow Awards website at: www.willowawards.ca.

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