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.
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!
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.
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.
The 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.)
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 Fiction: Record Breaker by Robin Stevenson
Silver Birch Non Fiction: One 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
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