Category Archives: Literacy Causes

With each social media milestone, a continued commitment to literacy causes

I’ve mused in previous blog posts about the importance of literacy. From those musings, coupled with wise advice and support from book and publishing friends and acquaintances in real life and online, I’ve made a commitment to supporting literacy initiatives and programs … every time I hit a followership milestone on Twitter.

This time, I’ve made my donation as follows:

copian-logo
For 25 years, non-profit organization Copian (previously known as the National Adult Literacy Database) built Canada’s largest and most comprehensive digital collection of Literacy and Essential Skills tools and resources. This database/collection was a vital resource to numerous grassroots literacy organizations, libraries and individuals, not only providing materials but also comprehensive online training.

Earlier this summer, the Government of Canada withdrew vital funding, forcing the closure of Copian. The following coverage and reactions capture the dismay, confusion and disappointment:

Mainstay of Canada’s literacy movement topples: Goar
Literacy workers distraught as Ottawa eliminates their national database and resource centre.
by Carol Goar
Toronto Star
July 3, 2014

Q Essay: Literacy isn’t just a job skill
Q with Jian Ghomeshi
July 10, 2014

As Jian Ghomeshi points out in his audio essay: “Reading, writing, being able to find your way around your world safely and intelligently, all seem like the kinds of things anyone in Canada would support.”

The government says it no longer wants to spend money on “administration and countless research papers,” and instead want to prioritize literacy for the purpose of obtaining employment.

But literacy, notes Jian, does more than make you employable – it enriches your life.

Update: On September 24, 2014, Copian announced that they have been able to restore a streamlined version of their online library. While the content is not maintained as regularly as before, Copian hopes this will tide over everyone depending on this information until the organization can devise an ongoing sustainable business model.

As I’ve mentioned previously on this subject, much more important than numbers of followers or influence scores or whatever is that we are in this social milieu reading and writing and talking … about books and literature and print and digital formats and reading devices, and on to bookstores and libraries and the vital reading and writing experiences in all their forms. I value those who follow me and converse with me, those that I follow and learn from, and those that I come across even fleetingly in this vibrant tweeting, retweeting, chattering, enthusiastic and engaged environment. It’s not the numbers of them (although that there are an endless potential for book friends out there continues to take my breath away), but the quality of the discourse and the spirit, dealing with fundamental issues, not to mention myriad delights.

Numbers are just numbers. But then again, we can use those numbers in creative ways to challenge ourselves to remember, to recognize, to give back. Through this exercise, I’ve learned about other organizations and institutions supporting literacy, literary causes and books that I’d like to recognize in future, so I’m going to set a goal to do just that whenever I hit one of those “number” milestones. I challenge other book tweeters and bloggers to do the same.

World Read Aloud Day – March 6, 2013

World Read Aloud Day

March 6, 2013, is World Read Aloud Day, an awareness day advocating for literacy as a human right. The event is championed by LitWorld, a non-profit literacy organization fostering resilience, hope, and joy through the power of story. Since 2010, the organization has been encouraging people worldwide to celebrate by reading aloud, giving away a book, or taking action in any way you can to “Read It Forward” on behalf of the 793 million people who cannot yet read or write.

As LitWorld describes it, World Read Aloud Day creates a community of people who are advocating for every child’s right to learn to read and technology that will make them lifelong readers. Read It Forward creates a ripple effect that resonates around the world with the power of story and shared words.

LitWorld invites everyone to visit them online to join the Read It Forward movement. They offer free downloadable activity kits full of ideas for children, teens, families, educators, and professionals. You can also follow LitWorld on Facebook and Twitter.

Countless articles and studies tout the many benefits of reading aloud – of teachers, parents and caregivers reading to children, children to adults, children to each other, aspiring writers of any age reading aloud to themselves. Less documented, perhaps, but equally enjoyable and potent, is adults celebrating the joys of reading with each other. Here among my book blog reviews, I’ve noted that most satisfying practice as enhancing and even markedly improving upon the reading experience with some books, including:

At our house, we’re enjoying this as our read aloud book du jour:

Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock, by Jesse Jarnow

All pretty varied subjects and subject matter, but what they share and what makes them all great are passionate narrators telling lively, vibrant stories with arresting characters (in these cases, all real life) … which makes it a rewarding experience to bring them to life with your own voice and to share them with others.

However you choose to observe World Read Aloud Day, do it with gusto!

Another milestone, a continued commitment to literacy and literary causes

I’ve mused in previous blog posts about the importance of literacy. From those musings, coupled with wise advice and support from book and publishing friends and acquaintances in real life and online, I’ve made a commitment to supporting literacy initiatives and programs … every time I hit a followership milestone on Twitter.

This time, I’ll confess I’ve strayed a bit from literacy causes to literary causes. Inspired by the recent Al Purdy Show, I’ve made my donation as follows:

Al Purdy A-Frame

In 1957, Al and Eurithe Purdy bought the property on “the south shore of Roblin Lake, a mile or so from the village of Ameliasburgh, in Prince Edward County… (the) lot bordered the lake shoreline, a teacup of water nearly two miles long. Dimensions of the lot were 100 feet wide by 265 long.” This became the home where Al Purdy wrote many of his most stirring and influential works. Even while the storied A-frame cottage was being built, it also became a meeting place — for poets, for poetry lovers, for those aspiring to be poets, and for those who wrote and supported Canadian literature in other forms. Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Tom Marshall, George Bowering, Earle Birney, Lynn Crosbie, Steven Heighton, Patrick Lane, Margaret Laurence, Jack McClelland … the CanLit who’s who is too immense to exhaustively list.

Now, in addition to upgrading and preserving this deservedly historical site, supporters envision a Writer-in-Residence Program:

“The residency program for the A-frame was designed by poets David Helwig, Steven Heighton, Karen Solie and Rob Budde. The poets were selected to include a broad poetic sensibility, geographical reach, breadth of experience with residency programs, knowledge of Purdy’s work and personal experience of the property. Both David and Steven were long time friends of the Purdys and spent many decades visiting Roblin Lake.

“To begin, the residency will operate for 8 months, from April 1 to November 30. Later the winter months may be added. The A-frame will provide time and a place to work that is attractive and of historic significance. Writers can apply for a term of one to three months. The residency will be open to all writers, but preference will be given to poetry and poetry projects. The jury will also consider proposals for a one month project in critical writing about Canadian poetry each year and will be open to unusual and creative ideas for residencies.”

Learn more at the Al Purdy A-Frame Association page.

As I’ve mentioned previously on this subject, much more important than numbers of followers or influence scores or whatever is that we are in this social milieu reading and writing and talking … about books and literature and print and digital formats and reading devices, and on to bookstores and libraries and the vital reading and writing experiences in all their forms. I value those who follow me and converse with me, those that I follow and learn from, and those that I come across even fleetingly in this vibrant tweeting, retweeting, chattering, enthusiastic and engaged environment. It’s not the numbers of them (although that there is endless potential for book friends out there continues to take my breath away), but the quality of the discourse and the spirit, dealing with fundamental issues, not to mention myriad delights.

Numbers are just numbers. But then again, we can use those numbers in creative ways to challenge ourselves to remember, to recognize, to give back. Through this exercise, I’ve learned about other organizations and institutions supporting literacy, literary causes and books that I’d like to recognize in future, so I’m going to set a goal to do just that whenever I hit one of those “number” milestones. I challenge other book tweeters and bloggers to do the same.

Canada Reads gets its mojo back

Canada Reads

I admit I went into Canada Reads 2013 with a certain degree of trepidation and even fatigue this year. I’ve followed it with enthusiasm since its inception in 2002, typically tuning in to the debates having read at least some if not all of the books. I’ve always delighted in the unabashedly nerdy and quintessentially Canadian celebration of books and reading as the focal point of an ongoing radio/television/interwebs series/event. This was captured perfectly by a tweet from the Canada Reads 2013 moderator after things wrapped up on Valentine’s Day:

@jianghomeshi From an American friend: “only in Canada would you have a reality show about reading books.” Yep. And proudly so. 🙂

But after 2012, I don’t think I was alone in feeling a little disenchanted by the whole enterprise. The multi-tiered selection process (which, admittedly, I contributed my two cents’ worth to …) seemed interminable. As in 2011, the selection process also had a whiff of social media boosterism shading into overt lobbying that was uncomfortable at times. Along with that, there was increasing questioning of what exactly constituted the “Can” in the CanLit the program was supposed to bolster. (Terry Fallis wrote about it here.) And then the 2012 debates themselves tipped pretty shamelessly into the theatrical. This was perhaps unwittingly exacerbated by the subject matter that year being works of non-fiction, affording at least one vociferous panelist the excuse to level personal attacks against authors who were ostensibly one and the same with the real-life characters in their books. It wasn’t about the books for much of the debates – it was gratuitous showmanship writ large, and it left readers ill at ease and other writers and commentators often furious (for example: With Canada Reads, the CBC is bottom-feeding on culture by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer in The Globe and Mail.)

For CanLit lovers, hope always springs eternal though, so I was cautiously prepared to try to engage again in 2013. I decided that I would take part in the discussions that focused on the books. CBC Books provided ample opportunities to do just that via hosted Twitter chats and other events and activities. I followed other readers’ reviews and articles and had myself a grand time just thinking about the merits of the books, and the dedication and creativity of the authors. I also decided I would leave it at that if the debates kicked off with any hints that it was going to go off the rails again. I said my piece here about how pleased I was with the strengths of all of the finalist books – any of them was a justifiable and defensible winner – and I went into it on February 11th with great optimism. I was not disappointed. In fact, I was hugely impressed.

While all of the 2013 books were strong, the Canada Reads outcome is alchemy of book and defender, with a dash or two of strategy and voting kismet. Much as the theatrics overtook the actual book debates last year, I don’t begrudge the show some drama … well, because it is a show. But this year, the drama that emerged was in service to the books, products of the passion, intellect and wiles of a group of gracious, collegial but still lively defenders. (OK, Ron MacLean could’ve toned down the puns just a bit …)

One theatrical element in the Canada Reads formula is the moment when everyone gasps, when the book that is seemingly most beloved gets taken down by some vagary in the voting or by some hinted at behind-the-scenes dealing gone awry. This rendition of Canada Reads was no different, but the seemingly unexpected early departure of Indian Horse actually transpired very organically, transparently and germanely. Panelist Charlotte Gray took laser aim at the book’s relative shortcomings – not at the author or the worthy themes of the book, but at the book’s flaws in written execution. So, the surprise wasn’t really a surprise, nor does it mean disaster and obscurity for the “voted off” book. Indian Horse has and will continue to do just fine, as will all of the books. Neither does it mean that the voting format should be reconsidered. The suggestion that the moderator should cast a deciding vote in ties subverts the role of the moderator … who wears his bookish heart on his sleeve just a little bit as it is.

The culmination of Canada Reads 2013 was genuinely suspenseful and satisfying. Two well-matched and articulate defenders (actor/screenwriter Jay Baruchel and comedian Trent McClellan) championed books (Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan and February by Lisa Moore) with connections to time and place that are particularly poignant in this cold month of February. Their closing comments were some of the best of a crop of quotable quotes by all of the panelists this year.

Canada Reads will have to grapple again next year with a theme or construct that will captivate readers and will ultimately scale to something relevant for new prospective readers across Canada. It’s going to be difficult for the show to top the charm, chemistry and acumen of this year’s panelists. But again, I’m not alone in knowing I’ll be looking with renewed interest at the next rendition of Canada Reads, and the next intriguing set of book and defender match-ups.

For a second year, an added enjoyable dimension to Canada Reads has been the challenge that Julie Wilson (aka BookMadam) and I concocted. At the time of the reveal of the five finalists, we wrote down our predictions of the order in which we thought the books would be voted off. Both of us chose a literacy cause to champion, and when the winning book was announced, whoever least accurately predicted the outcome had to make a donation to the cause of choice of she who more accurately predicted the outcome. (We ended up tying, so both charities benefited.)

This year I teamed up with Allegra Young (@ayoungvoice). Behold our predictions:

So, my predictions weren’t bad but hello! Ms Young completed nailed the entire sequence in which the books were voted off until February emerged victorious. As a result, I’m happily making a donation to Allegra’s charitable choice, Children’s Book Bank.

Joining us for the Canada Reads challenge this year were Carrie Macmillan (@Cmacmizzle) and Jeanne Duperreault (@jaduperreault). They report that their predictions were tied: they both got the placing of February, Indian Horse and The Age of Hope correct, but switched Two Solitudes and Away. So, they’re both going to donate to their respective causes – STELLAA (Stella’s Training, Education, Literacy, Learning and Academic Assistance) and First Book Canada.

It’s safe to say there were a lot of Canada Reads winners this year.

Another milestone, a continuing literacy commitment

I’ve mused previously about the importance of literacy. From those musings, coupled with kind advice and support from book and publishing friends and acquaintances in real life and online, I’ve made a commitment to supporting literacy initiatives and programs … every time I hit a followership milestone on Twitter. This time, I’ve made my donation to the following organization:

First Book Canada

First Book provides access to new books for children in need. To date, First Book has distributed more than 85 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada.

The first steps for First Book/Le Premier Livre came in 2006 when First Book President, Kyle Zimmer, and members of First Book’s senior team traveled to Toronto and met with leaders from private, government, and social sectors to discuss First Book/Le Premier Livre. The team met with many of the major Canadian children’s publishers as well as Canadian affiliates of our US publishing partners. The Honourable James K. Bartleman, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario; John O’Leary, President of Frontier College; and Tim Pinnington, EVP TD Bank Financial Group and First Book Board member, hosted receptions which offered the opportunity to meet with key leaders and stakeholders from foundations, library organizations, and education/outreach programs serving children from low-income families across Canada.

Learn more about the organization at: www.firstbookcanada.org and www.firstbook.org/.

As I’ve mentioned previously on this subject, much more important than numbers of followers or influence scores or whatever is that we are in this social milieu reading and writing and talking … about books and literature and print and digital formats and reading devices, and on to bookstores and libraries and the vital reading experience in all its forms. I value those who follow me and converse with me, those that I follow and learn from, and those that I come across even fleetingly in this vibrant tweeting, retweeting, chattering, enthusiastic and engaged environment. It’s not the numbers of them (although that there are an endless potential for book friends out there is astonishing), but the quality of the discourse and the spirit, dealing with fundamental issues, not to mention myriad delights.

Numbers are just numbers. But then again, we can use those numbers in creative ways to challenge ourselves to remember, to recognize, to give back. Through this exercise, I’ve learned about other organizations and institutions supporting literacy and books that I’d like to recognize in future, so I’m going to set a goal to do just that whenever I hit one of those “number” milestones. I challenge other book tweeters and bloggers to do the same.

A book tweeting milestone, a literacy commitment and a challenge

I recently mused on the importance of literacy, and asked for input and insights from the Twitter booklovers community on organizations promoting literacy. With that valuable feedback, I committed to expressing my gratitude for my own literacy and this community by aiming to make a donation to a literacy organization once my own Twitter presence arrived at and exceeded 1,000 followers. That has happened (woo hoo and thanks!), and I’ve made my donation, as follows:

Children's Book Bank

The Children’s Book Bank is a charitable organization designed to support children’s literacy by providing free books and literacy support to children in lower income neighbourhoods. Based in Toronto, the organization offers a range of gently used and new books secured through donation, school and community book drives. Staffed by volunteers and working within the community, The Children’s Book Bank focuses on the literacy needs of children aged 2-12 and works to support and develop each child’s interest in and success with reading. In addition to providing books, The Children’s Book Bank offers literacy support and programming. Learn more at www.childrensbookbank.com.

Much more important than numbers of followers or Klout scores or whatever is that we are in this social milieu reading and writing and talking … about books and literature and print and digital formats and bookstores and libraries and the vital reading experience in all its forms. I value those who follow me, those that I follow and those that I come across in this vibrant tweeting, retweeting, chattering, enthusiastic and engaged environment … not the number of them, but the quality of the discourse and the spirit, dealing with vital and fundamental issues, not to mention delights.

Numbers are just numbers. But then again, we can use those numbers in creative ways to challenge ourselves to remember, to recognize, to give back. Through this exercise, I’ve learned about other organizations and institutions supporting literacy and books that I’d like to recognize in future, so I’m going to set a goal to do just that whenever I hit one of those “number” milestones. I challenge other book tweeters and bloggers to do the same.

Thinking about literacy … and asking for your insights

Family Literacy Day

When you have it, do you just kind of take literacy for granted?

It’s second nature for those of blogging and tweeting and conversing about books to be engaged with words, and to understand them on many levels, from the instructional to the soul deepening. We plough through books and magazines and articles and blogs. With heedless joy, we update our read and to-be-read lists. We even blithely misuse or misunderstand words at times, but that comes from a foundation of at least being able to comprehend them. From there, we can study and correct and learn from them. It all comes as naturally as breathing, doesn’t it?

The many joys of reading, not to mention essential survival skills, are simply not possible without basic literacy.

This past January 27th has been designated Family Literacy Day for about the past 12 years. We can and should venerate and celebrate literacy and wish it for others every day. But I suspect we need to do more than wish it. We who are fortunate to have it need to help others who don’t have it.

To be honest, I guess I’m naive or not really versed in how someone gets to a certain point in their life minus the ability to understand street signs, newspaper headlines, warning labels on product packaging or equipment, nutritional information on food, restaurant menus … not to mention books and their many delights. (In another context – a vivid defence of the value of libraries – author Philip Pullman referred to books stirringly as “… the expression of the human spirit, vessels of delight or of consolation or enlightenment.” Oh, that some of our fellow citizens are missing that …)

I’m not sure I’ve expressed my gratitude as well or as precisely as I’d like to, but the fact that I can at all and at least some of you reading these words will understand … well, that’s testament again to the power of literacy to bridge gaps, extend one’s thoughts, establish communication, make connections.

When I reach an upcoming milestone in the Twitter book community, I want to further express my gratitude by giving to a literacy organization. That is, when I reach and exceed 1,000 followers, that is something of a modest symbol to me of the richly literate environment I’ve enjoyed, learned from and thrived in, thanks to so many of you reading this. Where I would ask for your insights, fellow booklovers, is in suggesting to me how best a donation can be channelled to help someone else enjoy what we enjoy. In the comments or in your tweets, please suggest any organizations or initiatives you think are effective in this area. If possible, I’d like to contribute locally, so something in Toronto, Ontario or Canada would be of particular interest.

Thanks for listening … and reading.