In 1994, the Ontario Library Association (OLA) founded the Forest of Reading programme as a way to promote literacy in Ontario and celebrate Canadian literature with the help of public and in-school librarians. Today, it’s Canada’s largest annual literary festival for young readers, and offers eight programmes – all named after trees – for kids and adults alike.
Every May, students are invited to vote for their favourite Canadian title. Winners are announced in multiple age groups during the Festival of Trees. With the programme’s 24th instalment fast approaching (May 15-18, 2018), we spoke with children’s author Wesley King, who not only won the Silver Birch Award for his book OCDaniel but also participated in the Forest of Reading programme when he was a child. We asked King what it was like to win an award for something so closely tied to his childhood:
WK: Winning the Silver Birch Award was a wonderful experience for a couple reasons. For one, it was an extremely personal story and a topic that I was passionate about sharing. The reaction from students around the province, and in particular their empathy toward the characters and its extension to their peers, was heart-warming. I was deeply touched when it won. And the second was my long-time involvement in the programme!
When my first novel, The Vindico, won the Red Maple in 2013, I was to my knowledge the first person to both vote and win in the Forest of Reading program. This time was even more meaningful as it was the Silver Birch Award that I participated in and was up against Kenneth [Oppel], who was one of the first authors I voted for!
The Festival of Trees award ceremony is an electrifying experience. The excitement of the students (ranging from ages 4 to 18), as they cheer for their favourite authors on the edge of Lake Ontario is quite magical. We wanted to know more about King’s experience as a child participating in the program and whether he remembered the authors or books he read at the time:
WK: I was a student in Whitby, which was one of the founding communities of the programme. I still remember its introduction and some of the titles were Silverwing and Camp X which are even more notable now as I have had the chance to meet and chat several times with both Kenneth and Eric Walters, two institutions of Canadian kids’ lit.
I would have to go back and check the books out again (sometimes I forget what happened yesterday), but great lists have always been a staple of this program. It’s a tradition I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of.
Of course, we couldn’t end the conversation with an author without getting some recommendations. What should young people be reading?
WK: That’s a tough one as there are so many great choices. I’ll give three.
One that many current students may not be familiar with is My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. It was one of my favourites growing up. Another for HP fans would be Knights of the Borrowed Dark by the talented Irish author Dave Rudden, and lastly, for some great Canadian fiction, check out The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by the awesome Heather T. Smith, who has just released another one, Ebb and Flow, that is right at the top of my to-read pile!
Toronto’s Festival of Trees will take place at the Harbourfront Centre from May 15 to May 17, 2018.