Festival of Trees 2014 review

Wednesday May 14th and Thursday May 15th were the days of the 2014 Toronto Festival of Trees, the two day awards ceremony for the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program, in which children vote for their favourite Canadian books. I attended the 2013 Festival of Trees as a volunteer, and I had such an amazing time and I was so impressed by the program that when the call for volunteer committee members went out last fall, I answered (possibly too loudly, since I ended up on three different committees!). For the 2013-2014 year I was on the Silver Birch Express Steering Committee, which means that I contacted some of the nominated authors and illustrators to inform of them of their nomination (which was great because they were all so pleased and excited to be nominated), and then acted as a liaison, asking about which of the festivals they would like to attend, if they would like to attend the OLA Super Conference last January and the Forest of Reading breakfast, and communicated the details about attending the Toronto Festival.

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The festival events were fairly similar to last year–there were several games where you could win books or candy, Jenga blocks, a juggler on stilts, Isabella Hoops with her hula hoops, the graffiti trees where you could write notes about your favourite book or author, the story wall where you could write the next sentence in the story, the tattoo station, the book trade tent, author and illustrators doing signings and workshops, the White Hots tent where you could buy any of the nominated books, and of course the award ceremonies themselves. Lots to do!

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Wednesday was the day for the Blue Spruce, Red Maple, and White Pine awards, so I was a general volunteer. I spent the day mainly bouncing around the games and the graffiti trees, wherever I was needed. The game where you throw a frisbee around a piece of candy on a table? Not that easy. Though there was a frisbee team at the end of the day who really, really tried to do it.

After the Festival was a reception for the authors, illustrators, committee members, volunteers, and various publishers and representatives of local book festivals. I talked to some very interesting and friendly people, and I was able to get Susin Neilsen to sign my copy of The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen.

Thursday was the day for the Silver Birch Express award, as well as Silver Birch Fiction, Silver Birch Non Fiction, Le Prix Tamarac, Le Prix Tamarac Express, and Le Prix Peuplier awards. In the morning I assisted Philippa Dowding and Jennifer Lanthier with their workshop. Philippa spoke about her book The Gargoyle at the Gates, and Jennifer spoke about hers, The Stamp Collector. Philippa talked about the origins of gargoyles, and what inspired her to write about them, and then performed her song the Gargoyle Shuffle. Jennifer read The Stamp Collector, and then together they did a Q&A. There was a big turnout and the kids seemed really interested.

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After that we had to get ready for the Silver Birch Express award, since it was the last one of the Festival. Each of the nominated authors had a pair of students acting as their sign carriers and presenters on stage, and the kids wrote their own speeches to introduce each author, which they had to say in front of a couple thousand of their fellow students. All of the kids who volunteered to do this did an amazing job, and it was obvious how much effort they each put into introducing their favourite authors.

Toronto-20140515-00744The audience was screaming like it was rock stars on stage, they were so excited, but only one book could win, and it was The Secret of the Village Fool, written by Rebecca Upjohn and illustrated by Renne Benoit. I was actually Rebecca and Renne’s liaison for the Silver Birch Express, and I was thrilled when they won–they’re both lovely and talented people, although all of the nominated authors are. (For the record, that’s Renne on the left and Rebecca on the right in both pictures.)

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It was a terrific if exhausting two days (8,000 kids attended the Toronto Festival over the two days), and it’s so wonderful to see how excited the kids were to meet their favourite authors and ask them questions and tell them what they thought about their books. I wish my school had participated back when I was in elementary school, but it would have just been getting started, since this year was the 20th anniversary of the program. I’m so pleased to have been a part of it this year, and I’m looking forward to next year since I’m on two of the selection committees for 2014-15 (though I’m not saying which ones!). Let’s see who wins next year’s award!

For the record, the 2014 Forest of Reading winners are:

Blue Spruce: Oddrey by Dave Whamond

Silver Birch Express: The Secret of the Village Fool by Rebecca Upjohn and illustrated by Renne Benoit

Silver Birch Fiction: Record Breaker by Robin Stevenson

Silver Birch Non FictionOne Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way by Marcha Forchuk Skrypuch

Red Maple Fiction: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Neilsen

White Pine Fiction: Live to Tell by Lisa Harrington

White Pine Non Fiction: The Secret of the Blue Trunk by Lise Dion and translated by Liedewij Hawke

Le Prix Tamarac: Une Fille a l’ecole des gars by Maryse Peyskens

Le Prix Tamarac Express: Attention, j’arrive! (BiBop) by Raymond Parent

Le Prix Peuplier: Une mouche, un chat et une patate by Celine Malepart

 

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OLA Festival of Trees 2013 review

*UPDATE*: Pictures of the Festival are finally up here and here.

So last week I volunteered at the Ontario Library Association’s Festival of Trees in Toronto, and I had a blast!

The Festival of Trees is a two-day event to celebrate the Forest of Reading program, which aims:

  • To encourage the children, young people and adults of Ontario to enjoy reading
  • To develop recognition for Canadian authors and Canadian books
  • To contribute to the financial stability of the Canadian publishing industry
  • To provide teacher-librarians, librarians, library staff and parent volunteers with a meaningful tool for improving literacy in schools and libraries
  • To respond to community interest and needs

(from About the Forest)

The program is divided into different categories:

For School-Aged Readers

  • Blue Spruce™Awards (primary – Grade 2 picture books)
  • Silver Birch® Awards (Grades 3-6 fiction, non-fiction)
  • Silver Birch Express™ Awards (Grades 3-4 fiction, non-fiction)
  • Red Maple™ Awards (Grades 7-8 fiction, non-fiction every other year)
  • White Pine™ Awards (high school fiction, non-fiction every other year)
  • Le Prix Peuplier (picture books, less text, simpler subject matters, beautiful picture books perfect for read alouds)
  • Le Prix Tamarac (chapter books from 100 to 250 pages, smaller text with little or no illustrations, more complicated verb tenses and vocabulary)
  • Le Prix Tamarac Express (shorter chapter books maximum 100 pages or more mature picture books, larger text with pictures, simpler vocabulary and verb tenses)

For each program, readers are encouraged to read all or a selection of the books, and then vote on their favourite. For the school-aged programs the readers must read a minimum of 5 books to be eligible to vote.

For Adults

  •  Golden Oak™ Awards (adults learning to read, ESL, fiction)
  • Evergreen™ Award (adults of any age, fiction, non-fiction)

(ibid)

So, my days.

Wednesday

We had to be there waytoobloodyearly (defined as before noon, but more specifically about 8 am) for the volunteer orientation. Toronto rush-hour traffic and construction season, oy. I’ve never been to the Harbourfront Centre before, but it was a nice venue. It was raining when I arrived, but someone bribed the weather gods and it stopped right when we were supposed to open, so both of the days the weather was just beautiful–sunny, not too hot, and not too windy even though we were right on the water.

There was a lot of different activities going on–author and illustrator signings, all kids of workshops, games, the various awards ceremonies, a hula hoop tent, a book trading zone, a book store, booths from OWL magazine and the Toronto Zoo, the Story Wall where students could create a story together, each person writing the next line, the Graffiti Trees where students could write comments on Post-Its for the authors, a craft tent, face painting, a clown making balloon animals, a paddle boat ride…

Wednesday morning I was assigned to the tattoo station (yes, they were temporary tattoos), and I was really glad that there wasn’t much wind–I didn’t want to go running after the papers!  Then in the afternoon I was on the ring toss game. The kids had to throw a frisbee onto a pylon–it was actually pretty hard, especially with the wind off the lake! If they managed to get one on, they won a free book, so the game was pretty popular.

OLA Festival of Trees May 15, 2013

Yes, I wore that tattoo on my face all day long, including when I walked around Toronto and when I went to the theatre later.

(Then I saw the new Star Trek movie Into Darkness with some friends, which despite starting late and the IMAX not working, was terrific, but not the point of this post. Still, new Trek, geeker joy! And with added lovely Benedict Cumberbatch goodness!)

Thursday

Thursday was busy, since we were short-handed, and had even more people. There were 6,000 tickets sold for the 2 days–2,000 people attended Wednesday, and 4,000 people attended Thursday. Fortunately the kids were all really well-behaved, enthusiastic about everything and ready to have fun (and not be in school for a day)!

We started with another volunteer meeting, since several people were new to the event–I don’t think that many people were able to volunteer both days. Then I was on bus duty, making sure that the school buses dropped the kids off in the right place and directing everyone to the right door to get in. There was a ton of construction right in front of the Harbourfront Centre, as well as the Centre’s maintenance people with vehicles and big recycling bins and so on right at the entrance, but even though the kids were excited they were pretty good about listening when we told them to hold up and wait for the road to be clear.

Then I went back to the ring toss, which was even busier than the day before. I was asked at the last minute to go to the hula hoop station because they needed someone to help supervise the area–make sure the kids stayed on the grass and didn’t wander into the walking paths with the hoops, make sure they didn’t stand on the hoops and break them, no throwing the hoops, watch out for other people, that kind of thing. Luckily I didn’t actually have to teach them to use the hula hoops–I’m terrible at it! Instead there was a girl, Isabella Hoops, who taught them all kinds of neat tricks.

For the afternoon I was asked to be the workshop volunteer for Evan Munday, the author of the nominated book The Dead Kid Detective Agency. (You can find his blog post about the Festival and the workshop here.) I introduced him to the audience, counted the attendees, made sure he had everything he needed to present, and watched the workshop to make sure it went smoothly (and to see what happened).

He set up a mystery using characters from his book, and the kids had to ask questions and figure out who the culprit was from among the suspects. It was all I could do to keep my hand down and let the kids ask the questions. (Ok, I did raise it once, when he was asking them what are the parts of a mystery story–with the age range attending, no one knew what a red herring was). It was a great workshop, everyone had a lot of fun guessing whodunnit, and Evan Munday was a lively and interesting presenter. It was the last event of the day, so he agreed to stick around for a few minutes afterwards and sign books. Then we had to clean everything up quickly and let the Centre people have their building back, and we were free.

It was a wonderful experience, and I’m so glad I went and volunteered. I wish it had been around when I was in public school! Honestly, the sole problem that I had was that there was so much going on and I was so busy working that I wasn’t able to see much. I did walk around on my breaks and look at things, but I missed all of the awards presentations. I would like to say congratulations to all of the winners and nominees, and thank you to everyone who attended–the kids loved meeting them and getting their books signed and the chance to ask questions and participate in the workshops. And a big thank you to all of the organizers and volunteers–I’ve worked a lot of events, and this one went incredibly smoothly. I didn’t notice any serious problems, even though we were short-staffed on Thursday. Everyone jumped right in and did whatever needed doing.

I’m definitely going to keep an eye out to help with next year’s festival.

PS. I will add links to pictures from the festival as soon as they pop up on the Forest of Reading website.

PPS. LOOK WHAT I FOUND ON THE GRAFFITI WALL! AND THERE WAS A BLONDE IN A UNION JACK RUNNING AROUND THE NEXT DAY!