One of the best programs run by the Ontario Library Association is the Forest of Reading. Every year, the OLA chooses ten books for each school division(e.g Primary, Junior, Intermediate) to read. Then, once the kids have read all or most of the ten, they can vote for their favourites. When all of the votes have been collected, the winners are announced at The Festival of Trees in Toronto.
There are 9 different Forest of Reading programs: The Blue Spruce Award, The Sliver Birch Express Award, The Silver Birch Fiction Award, The Yellow Cedar Award, The Red Maple Award, The White Pine Award, Le Prix Peuplier, Le Prix Meleze, and Le Prix Tamarac.
In this three-part series, I’ll be reviewing a couple of books from the Forest of Reading programs I have the most experience with: The Blue Spruce Award, The Silver Birch Award, and The Red Maple Award. This first post is all about Blue Spruce Award books.
Blue Spruce books(selected for Jk-Grade 2) are usually picture books, with easy-to-understand stories and lots of pictures. But despite the intended age range, these books are great for everyone. My library teacher would read the Blue Spruce books to every class in my school when I was younger, and we always enjoyed them, even when we considered ourselves to be too old to read them. We enjoyed them because the stories were cute, and they covered a wide variety of topics and ideas. Silly ones like “I Dare You Not To Yawn” made us laugh, while educational ones like “Shark Lady” taught us new things. These three following books are some of the ones that stood out to me the most.
Splinters by Kevin Sylvester:
This book puts a hockey-themed twist on the classic fairytale “Cinderella”.
Cindy Winters loves to play hockey, but can’t afford to play in a league. When she finally scrapes together enough money, she’s put on a team with the Blister sisters and their mom, Coach Blister. The sisters tease her and trip her on the ice, and Coach Blister benches her and makes her clean the sisters’ equipment. However, Cindy’s fairy goaltender isn’t going to let her miss her big shot at making the all-star team.
I liked this book because it took the story of Cinderella in an entirely different direction. It was also nice to see “Cinderella” become captain of the all-star team at the end instead of falling in love with royalty. Finally, this book is hilarious! But it’s not hard to believe, considering that it was written by incredible comedy writer Kevin Sylvester! He came to my school one year to promote his books, and we were laughing practically the entire time. It’s cool to see how he translated his comedic side into a picture book.
Small Saul by Ashley Spires:
Small Saul is about a boy who loves the sea. When he can’t join the navy, he goes to Pirate College instead, but it’s clear that he’s very different from the rest of his classmates. Saul would rather be kind and help people than fight and steal treasure. However, a pirate crew welcomes him onto their ship, and they learn to appreciate Saul for who he is, despite his differences.
When my sister came home with Small Saul as the 2015 TD Grade One Book Giveaway(The TD Bank gives a free book to every Grade 1 student to help promote a love of reading), I was thrilled. I’d already fallen in love with this story because of the amazing illustrations and the simple message it spread: be yourself. I also really liked the character of Small Saul. He wasn’t like the rest of his crew, but he was still nice to them, and even forgave them for throwing him overboard. And although he tried to change himself to prove his worth as a pirate, he quickly realized that who he was mattered more than impressing someone.
The Man With The Violin by Kathy Stinson and Dusan Petricic:
One day, a famous violinist named Joshua Bell took his violin to a subway station to conduct an experiment. He wanted to see if anyone would recognize him, or if they’d even stop and listen. While a few people did stop, and some gave him money, he was mostly ignored. This for a guy who’s played for packed audiences around the world and has a net worth of $15 million. The book gives a description of the event from the perspective of a child.
I enjoyed The Man With The Violin because it proves that we all need to take a few moments to slow down, and appreciate the things that surround us. For the adults at the subway station that day, the music was just background noise. But for the child, the music was enchanting, and he took notice of the man creating it, whereas the adults didn’t really care to look. The child reacted differently because his life wasn’t revolving as quickly. He didn’t have to get to work, or worry about paying off a student loan. He was just enjoying a walk with his parent. I think it’s beautiful how such a small book can convey such a big message.
Even though only ten books are selected each year for the Blue Spruce Award program, every picture book deserves the nomination. But if I had to pick from all of my favourite picture books, this post would never end! These three books represent just a fraction of all of the other truly amazing picture books out there.
Oh, and don’t forget to read the Silver Birch Fiction and Red Maple instalments of this blog series! They’ll be coming soon, directly to your screen.