Introducing children to complicated topics like war can be challenging, especially for younger kids in kindergarten and primary grades. This is why educators often use picture books as a tool to teach students in the classroom. If you’re interested in books that cover diverse subjects, you will find a thorough list through the Forest of Reading, Canada’s largest recreational reading program. This is why our in-person and online tutors at Teachers on Call recommend it. In celebration of the current lineup, we’re featuring nominated authors in our Hooked on Books series with interviews by our president, Joanne Sallay. This blog features Bahram Rahman, who personally understands the importance of educating children about sensitive topics with the help of picture books. Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, he grew up during the civil war and came to Canada as a refugee in 2012. Now Bahram is a senior policy advisor at the Ministry of Health in Ontario and a children’s book author. Read on to learn more about Bahram, and his nominated title, A Sky-Blue Bench!
What is the Forest of Reading program?
Many parents are looking for inspiration to get kids to read for fun. A great option is the Forest of Reading, a children’s choice award program, where student readers get to vote to select the winners. The books chosen are all Canadian, so it is a true celebration of titles featuring books, publishers, authors and illustrators from across the country. There are 10 reading award programs in total, including nine categories for students of all ages and one specifically for adults. 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). This year there are digital award ceremonies for the Blue Spruce Award, Yellow Cedar Award and Le prix Peuplier.
How is Teachers on Call celebrating the Forest of Reading this year?
The Forest of Reading 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, is featuring interviews with nominated authors and illustrators throughout Canada. Fun fact, her children participate annually as both readers and student voters.
Did you catch our last Hooked on Books with Wesley King, originally from Ajax, Ontario? Not to worry if you missed it, click here. For our most recent feature, read on for our interview with Bahram Rahman from Toronto, Ontario and his nominated title, A Sky-Blue Bench!
Hooked on Books with Bahram Rahman
Summary of Feature Book, A Sky-Blue Bench, in Bahram’s words:
The book tells the story of Aria, an Afghan girl who is going back to school after recovering from an injury. She has a helper-leg. And despite the difficulties she is faced with Aria is determined find a solution for her problems using the limited resources she has access to.
Parts of this story come from my experience growing up in Afghanistan during the civil war of 1993. During that time, our school's wooden furniture was used as firewood by refugees sheltering there. When we returned to school, we had to build our own benches. So, I really hope that when children read A Sky-Blue Bench, they find parts of her life they can relate to – while also building empathy for the unique parts of her situation.
With this book, I also wanted to find a way to build awareness about the impact of landmines and other unexploded ordinances (UXO) on civilians, and more specifically on children, in areas experiencing war or conflict. So much more work needs to be done to help those affected by these deadly devices.
Our Author, Bahram Rahman, from Toronto, Ontario shares favourite reading and writing nook!
It really depends on what I am writing. I love my local library, but one place that is my escape, where I can always clear my thoughts, is the Evergreen Brickworks (550 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4W 3X8) and the connecting ravines located in midtown Toronto. It’s beautiful and peaceful there. I go there often, especially when I have writer's block or a wonderful book to read. Walking in the ravines and observing nature, the trees, and the pond filled with fish, turtles and waterlilies in the summer always works for me - also, the café that serves one of the best cups of americano in Toronto helps.
An Interview with Bahram Rahman
Check out Bahram’s answers to our questions below!
What inspired you to write this story?
I am inspired by the everyday stories of children in Afghanistan in the context of war and immigration. The hope and resiliency these children show in the face of so much hardship motivate me to write in general. A Sky-Blue Bench naturally followed the same path.
Congratulations on your Blue Spruce Award nomination. What does the Forest of Reading program mean to you personally?
It feels wonderful to be nominated for the Blue Spruce Award. I am grateful to share this experience with many talented authors and creators. What is special about this program are the connections and community created between Canadian authors, students, schools, and libraries through the shared experience of discovering new books. I really appreciate any program that aims to develop a love of reading in children.
How can teachers and educators use your book in the classroom?
Pajama Press has developed a great teaching guide for this book that I highly recommend. The guide includes strategies and activities for different age groups, so teachers can tailor the activities to meet their class needs.
Having guided readings of A Sky-Blue Bench could be very helpful too, so students can discuss their own experiences and emotions, as well as the experiences of the characters in the book. In this way, I hope students develop greater empathy and connection with Aria and other children with similar stories.
What message do you hope readers take away from your picture book?
Through my stories, I want to show that there are more similarities between children all around the world than differences. No matter where people grow up, and even if there is war around them, children still play, laugh, cry, and dream. Real life continues despite the horrible images that are shown on the news.
How do you recommend parents approach the topic of landmines and their impact?
Talking to children about the impact of landmines can be challenging. It can involve discussing sensitive topics such as war, conflict, and human suffering.
I think it is critical to be honest about the suffering caused by landmines to many people, including many children, in war torn countries. Parents and teachers need to decide how to approach this topic in an age-appropriate manner without downplaying the serious consequences.
For me, it was so important to show Aria as someone who couldn’t and wouldn’t be defined solely based on her disability or the context that she lives in. Something that I think should be part of discussing the themes of this book.
What’s next for you?
I am very excited about my new book, also published by Pajama Press, which is coming out this October. The title is If You See a Bluebird. I am teaming up again with Gabrielle Grimard, who did my first picture book, The Library Bus. The story in this book is very personal to me and deals with my feelings about home and belonging. I can't wait for everyone to read it.
We hope you enjoy our interview with Bahram Rahman. For more Hooked on Books spotlights with Forest of Reading authors and illustrators, check out the Teachers on Call blog!
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