Gwynn Scheltema talks to Andrea Adair-Tippins
What is I READ CANADIAN DAY and how did it come about?
While driving to a school visit in one of the western provinces, children’s author Eric Walters had an idea. What if children were encouraged to read Canadian books—starting with just 15 minutes on just one day? A day he called “I Read Canadian Day.” He got on the phone and started calling people, organized a meeting between different organizations to discuss how they could support what they all believed in – Canadian books.
What sort of activities happened on that day?
Hundreds of libraries, schools and independent book stores across Canada participated! People were asked on February 19 to read a Canadian author or illustrator for just 15 minutes with the idea that if they haven’t read Canadian this would expose readers to some great reads.
To encourage this, authors attended events, special story times were held with Canadian themes and guest readers, and scavenger hunts to find Canadian books were held at libraries.
Also at our library, we extended our “I Read Canadian” promotions to get teens and adults involved. We handed out buttons to people who checked out a Canadian book. We peppered our information desks with maple leaves recording our patrons’ favourite Canadian authors.
We took photos of our local Canadian authors “reading Canadian” and promoted locally.
Blue Heron Books, a local independent book store had a reading corner set up where community members could sit for 15 minutes to read.
What was a highlight for you?
I loved that everywhere people were talking about Canadian books!
According to Eric Walters, Canadian book sales have declined by 50 percent in the past decade. Fifty percent? That’s terrible. Not just because we aren’t supporting authors, but we aren’t reading books that reflect our culture, our language, and our beliefs.
This doesn’t mean books by authors in other countries aren’t good and don’t deserve to be read, but shouldn’t we want to see ourselves in the stories we read? Shouldn’t our children? We live in a country that is diverse, compassionate, tolerant and welcoming. We need to read and hear the stories that reflect us. We need to read stories that call us to task when we fall down.
Our stories are unique and valid and valuable, and I am so lucky to work in a place where I stumble on new writers daily, luckier still I get to champion those writers. Having a day where everyone from libraries to booksellers to actors to the Prime Minister promoted Canadian books was a lot of fun.
What’s next? Will this be an annual event?
I understand that it will be an annual event. I know my library is planning to participate again, on an even bigger scale, next year. And seeing how successful the event was this year, I’m sure organizers will come up with bigger ideas for next year.
How can readers and writers get involved?
In addition to promoting Canadian work, organizers want to make sure access to Canadian books is possible for children everywhere, including communities where funds are limited. So one component of I Read Canadian Day involved monetary donations. Donations can be made through the I Read Canadian website to help make that possible.
And in the meanwhile, keep reading Canadian! We don’t need a special day to do that all year around. Librarians are only too happy to help you find Canadian authors
Last Word from Gwynn
If you want online help finding Canadian authors, try my favourite: 49thshelf.com
As we said in out post What’s on the 49th Shelf, this website is the largest collection of Canadian books on the Internet. They are also likely the most fully realized collaborative website in the world celebrating one nation’s books and authors.