Hooked on Books with Forest of Reading Nominee Teresa Toten

By Joanne Sallay

Posted in English Tutoring, Featured, Hooked On Books, Local, Parent Education Resources, Tips & Advice

Hooked on Books with Forest of Reading Nominee Teresa Toten

Encouraging students to read for fun is a shared goal between parents, teachers, and librarians. Yet, it’s not uncommon for young readers to be reluctant to get started on their own. The Teachers on Call tutoring service believes in promoting reading for pleasure, as there are countless academic and social benefits for students to read frequently and for fun. This includes helping students succeed academically in school in a variety of subjects (including math and science), as well as cultivating a lifelong love of learning. This is why our Hooked on Books series was started. Through our blog, we introduce the latest books for children (and the adults who love them) 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 award program and festival. In celebration, Teachers on Call will be featuring interviews with Forest of Reading nominees with questions from our very own president, Joanne Sallay. In this feature, we learn about Toronto, Ontario’s Teresa Toten and her nominated title, Eight Days, so read on!

What is the Forest of Reading program?

The Forest of Reading is known as Canada’s largest recreational children’s choice reading award program where the students 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 adult readers. It all culminates in 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). 

How is Teachers on Call celebrating the Forest of Reading this year?

This recreational reading program attracts more than 250,000 readers who participate through their schools, local libraries or at home. This literary group 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 from coast to coast. Fun fact, her children participate annually in this literacy program at school and Joanne loves to attend the Forest of Reading Festival with them and their classmates!

Did you catch our last Hooked on Books with Silver Birch Express Award nominee, Kallie George, from British Columbia? Not to worry if you missed it, click here. For our most recent feature, read on for our interview with Teresa Toten and her nominated title, Eight Days!

Hooked on Books with Teresa Toten

Book: Eight Days

Written by: Teresa Toten

Published by: Scholastic Canada

Category: Red Maple Award – fiction

For ages: Grade 7 – 8

Synopsis of Feature Book, Eight Days, in Teresa’s words:

Sami Stanic lives with her alcoholic and resentful of change grandfather, Carl. Sami has just learned that her mother has died in Chicago. Devastating? For sure. Especially since Sami thought that her mother had died ten years ago! Off Sami and Carl go to Chicago along with Sami’s hilarious and ancient neighbour, Aggie, who insists on tagging along. With them, Sami hunts down the truth and mystery of her troubled family while they endeavour to bring her mother’s body “back home.” There are dark things in this book. Alcoholism, opioid addiction, both of which happen to perfectly NICE families. The grandfather is bitter about how the White Towers of his youth have changed—how Tim Hortons has been replaced by the Falafel Hut. But across all cultures, we come to understand pain, remorse, love and healing. Across all cultures, we embrace FAMILY. Sami, who is so desperately looking to belong somewhere-- finds family and belonging in the place, the White Towers that she left Eight Days earlier. I hope Sami breaks your heart AND makes you smile.

Our Author, Teresa Toten, from Toronto, Ontario shares her favourite reading and writing nook!

My “writing room” is on the second floor in my house and it overlooks the street. I watch eagerly as the seasons change, racoons, squirrels and the occasional fox lope across the street, Cardinals tease me and Blue Jays scold me.  It’s a small room. Made smaller by far too many books on the shelves and I confess on the floor. I watch people and children shuffle along the sidewalk with their dogs and backpacks and . . . sometimes . . . someone walks a certain way while zipping up their jacket, hunching their shoulders and they end up in a book!

An Interview with Teresa Toten

Check out Teresa’s answers to our questions below!

What inspired you to write about this journey?

It started with an image I couldn’t get rid of which turned into the very first chapter. A girl rocking back and forth on the arm of a pull-out couch. Her grandfather sobbing in the kitchen. Who were they? What was happening? Where are they? The last question was easy. I’d been returning to my old stomping grounds of Thorncliffe Park (a neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario; boundaries recognized as the Don River on the south side; Leaside Bridge, Millwood Road, and Laird Drive on the west side; the West Don River on the east side; and Eglinton Avenue East on the north side) for various reasons and it hit me. That’s where they were, in those white towers, in that community! It felt powerfully right. The “who” and “why” took quite a bit longer to tease out page by page.

Congratulations on your Red Maple Award nomination. What does the Forest of Reading program mean to you personally?

Thank you! I’ve been honoured to be part of the Tree awards from their very beginning. Being acknowledged at the very start of my career by the Forest was instrumental in giving me the courage to continue (especially after having the opportunity to meet wild enthusiastic fans). The Trees fortify a writer worrying about whether anyone “out there” is listening, caring or reading our words. It was a genuine thrill over twenty years ago, the years in between, and if anything, it’s even more thrilling now.

How can teachers and educators use your book in the classroom?

Kindness and Curiosity. I would love for students to explore the culture of a classmate of which they know little to nothing about. List what’s different in their household—what’s the same? How about a potluck celebration with all the ingredients listed? How are religious practices different in their household compared to yours? What is a favourite phrase that your classmate may use? What does it mean? Encourage exploration with a gentle and kind curiosity.

What message do you hope readers take away from your novel?

“It will get better.” Whatever it is, in your life, at the moment, in your past, in your family . . . it will get better. Open your heart to the people around you. Reach out for help and to help. It will make you stronger and your life richer in every way. Walk with kindness and curiosity.

How do you recommend parents approach the topics presented in Eight Days?

The hard bits in the book are indeed hard, but I know from writing and going to schools for almost thirty years that almost every family has had to deal with mental health issues, addictions issues, alcoholism or some combination thereof.  Kids know this even if it’s hidden. Talking about this with your child is far, far, less toxic than keeping it a secret. It’s the secrets in families that are damaging. I feel very strongly about this.  Eight Days might be a door to open these discussions. And let’s do talk about both the rich majesty and occasionally confusing difficulty of our children living in a truly diverse and multi-cultural world! 

What’s next for you?

It’s a mystery. No, really. The next book will be a mystery!

We hope you enjoy our interview with Teresa Toten. For more Hooked on Books spotlights with Forest of Reading authors and illustrators, check out the Teachers on Call blog!

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