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.
- Golden Oak™ Awards (adults learning to read, ESL, fiction)
- Evergreen™ Award (adults of any age, fiction, non-fiction)
So, my days.
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.
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 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!