Inspiring a love of reading is a common goal shared by families and teachers alike. Yet, this is not always an easy task. The Teachers on Call team believes in promoting reading for fun, as there are known academic and social benefits for young people to read regularly and voluntarily. Educational advantages include performing strongly in school, building vocabulary and language skills, as well as enhancing worldviews. This is why our Hooked on Books series was born, where we introduce the latest books by Canadian authors and illustrators. Not surprisingly, our in-person and online tutors (who are also certified teachers) love the Forest of Reading, a children’s choice literacy award program. In celebration, Teachers on Call is featuring interviews with Forest of Reading nominees with questions from our president, Joanne Sallay. In our debut Forest of Reading spotlight, learn about Waterloo, Ontario’s Nan Forler and her nominated picture book, Rodney Was a Turtle.
What is the Forest of Reading program?
The Forest of Reading is known as Canada’s largest recreational reading initiative and is a children’s choice award program where the readers select the winners. The books chosen are all Canadian, so it is a true celebration to Read the North involving books, publishers, authors and illustrators throughout the country. There are 10 reading award programs in total, including nine categories for students of all ages and one specifically for adults. Parents, this is a great way to be a reading role model. It all leads up to the Forest of Reading Festival, known as the “rock concert” for reading in mid-May at the Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West, Toronto, Ontario, M5J 2G8), a cultural hub downtown on the waterfront.
How is Teachers on Call celebrating the Forest of Reading this year?
More than 250,000 readers are involved annually through their schools, local libraries or at home. This includes elementary, middle and high-school teachers and students from the Teachers on Call community. In celebration of the 100 nominated titles in 2023, Teachers on Call’s president, Joanne Sallay, will be featuring interviews with Forest of Reading authors and illustrators across Canada. Fun fact, her children participate annually in this literacy program though their school and will be voting for their favourite books. They may even throw in some of their own questions along the way. Read on to learn about a title from a Forest of Reading nominee!
Hooked on Books with Nan Forler
Book: Rodney Was a Tortoise
Written by: Nan Forler and Illustrated by Yong Ling Kang
Published by: Tundra Books
Category: Blue Spruce Award – picture books
For ages: JK – Grade 2
Synopsis of Feature Book, Rodney Was a Tortoise, in Nan’s words:
Rodney Was a Tortoise is the story of a girl named Bernadette who has a very old tortoise named Rodney. She loves playing games and dress-up with Rodney and reads to him every night before bed. He is a real old pal. When Rodney dies, Bernadette feels so sad but no one at school seems to understand. Amar recognizes and acknowledges Bernadette’s sadness and the two become friends. It’s a story of connection and kindness and how to reach out to a friend going through a difficult time.
Our Author, Nan Forler, from Waterloo, Ontario shares her favourite reading and writing nook!
I love the noise of a coffee shop when I write and there are so many great ones in Kitchener-Waterloo! I think my favourite is Smile Tiger. It is right beside the train station (100 Ahrens St W, Kitchener, Ontario N2H 4C3 ) and there are always lots of people coming in and out, so it’s great for people-watching. I actually wrote the beginnings of Rodney Was a Tortoise in Smile Tiger. It’s such a bright and sunny spot with a cool vibe that inspires creativity.
An Interview with Nan Forler
Check out Nan’s answers to our questions below!
What inspired you to write about loss and grief for young children?
To be honest, I didn’t set out to write a book about loss and grief. When I write, the bigger ideas I am working through in my life seem to find their way into my stories. I had been in a bad car accident a few years earlier and because I couldn’t do many of the things I used to do, I was grieving my life – the way that many people grieved during the pandemic. There were so many people who were supportive and kind to me during that time. I wanted to write about reaching out and showing kindness to someone who is feeling sad, and that is what Amar did for Bernadette in the story.
Congratulations on your Blue Spruce Award nomination. What does the Forest of Reading program mean to you personally?
I taught Kindergarten and Primary for most of my years as a teacher, and the Forest of Reading was such a joyful celebration of picture books in our class each year. I am such a Forest of Reading fan girl, so being nominated for the Blue Spruce was extra special. I remember the excitement in my class when Elly Mackay wrote back to one of my students who had created a diorama inspired by her Blue Spruce book and yesterday, I was sent a picture from a student who had created a diorama based on one of Yong Ling Kang’s beautiful illustrations for Rodney. It was a full circle moment!
With an education background as a teacher, what inspired you to start writing children’s books?
I always loved writing, but when I became a teacher, I discovered the beauty of the picture book. I began to see the power a book can have in bringing joy, creating empathy, and helping children to understand very deep concepts. In many ways, picture books are like poetry in the way that an idea is distilled down and each word is carefully chosen. Children are also so open to stories going off in fantastic directions and there is so much creativity in that.
What message do you hope readers take away from your picture book?
I think the message in this book is a message that runs through many of my stories: kindness, noticing, reaching out and connecting to someone else. The message doesn’t only apply to someone dealing with loss. I hope it inspires kids to notice and reach out to those who are going through a difficult time.
How do you recommend parents approach the topic of death with their children?
From my own experience as a teacher and a parent, I found that talking to kids about death long before they actually experience the death of a pet or a loved one, gives children vocabulary and understanding to work through it when it happens. Picture books are a wonderful way to start a discussion on difficult topics with children.
What’s next for you?
I always have a few stories that I am working on at the same time. Right now, I am working on a non-fiction picture book, a picture book biography, and some poetry. I am represented by my wonderful agent, Hilary McMahon and she has my newest manuscript that is in the process of being edited and sent out to publishers. I love doing author visits in schools and I have been especially busy with those during the Forest of Reading. If you are interested in having me come to your school or library, you can get in touch on the contact page of my website at nanforler.com.
We hope you enjoy our interview with Nan Forler. For more Hooked on Books spotlights with Forest of Reading authors and illustrators, check out the Teachers on Call blog!
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