Helping kids learn about complex topics is not an easy feat. This is why teachers often use children’s books to introduce students to different themes and ideas that prompt conversation in the classroom. If looking for books with characters that represent diverse backgrounds, you will find a curated list through Canada’s Forest of Reading Program. This is why the Teachers on Call in-person and online tutoring team love this recreational reading program. In celebration of current titles, we’re featuring nominated authors in our Hooked on Books series with interviews by our president, Joanne Sallay. This blog spotlights a prominent Canadian with a gift for storytelling to broach mental, behavioural and neurodevelopmental disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Read on to learn about Newfoundland-based New York Times bestselling and award-winning author, Wesley King, and his latest nominated title, Butt Sandwich & Tree!
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 involving books, publishers, authors and illustrators from coast to coast. 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). Digital ceremonies and experiences will also be offered this year!
How is Teachers on Call celebrating the Forest of Reading this year?
This children’s choice award 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 throughout Canada. Fun fact, her children participate annually in this literacy program and Joanne is attending this year’s Silver Birch Award ceremonies along with their school.
Did you catch our last Hooked on Books with Red Maple Award nominee, Teresa Toten, from Toronto, Ontario? Not to worry if you missed it, click here. For our most recent feature, read on for our interview with Wesley King (originally from Ajax, Ontario) and his nominated title, Butt Sandwich & Tree!
Hooked on Books with Wesley King
Book: Butt Sandwich & Tree
Written by: Wesley King
Published by: Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster
Category: Silver Birch Fiction Award
For ages: Grade 5 – 6, Fiction
Summary of Feature Book and Inspiration for Title, Butt Sandwich & Tree, in Wesley’s words:
When my brother was first diagnosed, my brothers and I were very taken aback. We were referring to it as, well, something like butt sandwich for years, hence the eventual play on words, while Tree was a fairly obvious nickname for an overly tall kid such as myself. Using it as the title wasn’t my idea; I had just included the names in the first few pages as a self-deprecating nickname, and the publisher decided it would make a great title. I was hesitant at first, but it certainly is memorable. My little brother was my first reader and enthusiastically endorsed the story.
Our Author, Wesley King, shares his favourite reading and writing nook in Newfoundland!
I have an office space overlooking the ocean, and this week has been filled with whales…they’ve come into the bay and now breach outside my window. There are lots of good parts about Newfoundland, but whales outside your window overrules all the rest.
An Interview with Wesley King
Check out Wesley’s answers to our questions below!
What inspired you to write this story?
This story is based on my own experiences growing up with a brother with autism spectrum disorder (or Asperger’s Syndrome, as it was diagnosed at the time). I wanted to write a story that celebrated my brother while also involving a fast-paced, whodunnit mystery to keep readers hooked.
Congratulations on your previous Forest of Reading Awards, and your current nomination for Butt Sandwich & Tree. What does the Forest of Reading program mean to you personally?
The Forest of Reading has always been extremely important to me. My very first novel, The Vindico, won the Red Maple Award back in 2013, and I was on stage with authors who I had voted for many years earlier: Kenneth Oppel and Eric Walters. I think Ken was deeply disturbed that I had voted for him as a fifth grader. As one of the first participants in the program and an author who has now won three of them, it’s one of my favorite events of the literary year.
You have written over a dozen novels for young readers. Do you have a favourite?
I don’t have a favorite, but I have certain ones I suggest first. The personal stories like OCDaniel and Butt Sandwich & Tree hold a lot of meaning and promote messages I’m passionate about sharing, so I often suggest those. But magic and basketball fans love the Wizenard series, a lot of young survival adventure readers have taken to A World Below, and ironically that very first book, The Vindico, continues to be a popular pick. All that is to say, I’m just grateful that young readers enjoy the stories.
What message do you hope readers take away from your novel?
I hope they’ll get a better insight into the range of autism spectrum disorder, and how funny, brilliant, and self-deprecating Green is (and through him, my brother). I’m always pushing the message developmental or mental health issues don’t define who we are…they’re just part of our story.
You write about many important mental health issues in your books. How do you recommend parents approach these topics with their children?
I’m glad you asked this, because I always hope readers go to their parents or caregivers when they read my stories to ask questions, share experiences, and discuss their own issues. I have received so many beautiful letters about readers who found the courage to speak to their parents after reading one of these books and found the help they needed. That’s what I always set out to do, but I want to make sure these books aren’t treated as scientific texts or as descriptions of what all mental health challenges feel like. Instead, they’re just a view into a very personal experience and a springboard for further discussion. But not talking about mental health is what made life so difficult for me growing up with OCD, and I always encourage active discussion.
What’s next for you?
On a related note, I have a middle grade novel coming out next year set in Newfoundland! It’s another mystery featuring a neurodiverse character, and it’s steeped in Newfoundland language and lore. Get ready for those read-a-louds…you’re going to have a Newfoundland accent by the end of the book, b’y’s.
We hope you enjoy our interview with Wesley King. For more Hooked on Books spotlights with Forest of Reading authors and illustrators, check out the Teachers on Call blog!
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