VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Public Library (VPL) recently launched The Reading Tree, a children’s picture book aimed at promoting literacy – produced almost entirely by public library employees.
Children’s Librarian Els Kushner, Early Years Assistant Manager Christie Menzo, and Kerrisdale Branch Head Andrea Brown, all CUPE 391 members, were the key threesome responsible for The Reading Tree. Joining them on the production side were fellow CUPE 391 members Stephanie Hurst and Maria Hernandez from the library’s marketing and communications team.
“Our chief librarian and one of our trustees heard about a publication that the Toronto Public Library had put together called the “Let’s Get Ready for Reading Guide” and approached staff to discuss a vision for a VPL-produced early literacy resource book for Vancouver families, and that is how this project got started,” says Brown.
Kushner, a talented writer and published children’s book author, was the perfect fit to write the story.
According to Kushner this project was a dream gig, giving her the chance to expand on her experience writing picture books, during her day job.
“I’ve done a fair bit of work with the Every Child Ready to Read model as a children’s librarian—teaching workshops to parents, and working on the brochures we use with families and caregivers –so the early literacy subject matter was of particular interest to me. I was also really intrigued by the challenge of writing a book that had an underlying purpose, without making it feel didactic,” says Kushner.
Brown handled a lot of the coordination work for this project from its early phases liaising with the VPL project team, and communicating with the illustrator Dianna Bonder. Menzo took over coordination in late 2016 towards the end of the creation phase and has focused on the book’s launch and post-launch distribution strategies.
“My role has really been to leverage our current community partnerships and relationships, and to explore new community connections, so that our children’s librarian team can help get the book into the hands of families that need it the most,” notes Menzo. “This has included visiting BC Children’s Hospital, speech-language pathologist committee meetings, and other spaces where we can work with the community, connect with families who have young children, and offer a free copy of The Reading Tree to support early literacy in Vancouver.”
The Reading Tree not only features a dynamic story with beautiful illustrations but it also includes a section that focuses on key literacy messages with tips and ideas for parents and caregivers about fun, easy, and low-barrier activities they can do at home to help build literacy skills.
The tips at the back highlight ways parents can support “singing, playing, talking, writing, and reading” at home. This section has also been translated into eight key languages (Arabic, French, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Punjabi, Filipino, Vietnamese and Spanish) so it is as inclusive as possible.
The response to the book has been incredibly positive and all of the project team members have seen the positive impacts it is having in Vancouver families lives. Brown says that almost three months after the book launch they still have families coming in almost every day to pick up a copy of the book.
Kushner has also seen tremendously positive response to the book through her work involving community visits to neighbourhood houses and other community resource centres in Strathcona and the Downtown Eastside.
“Because of this community focus and the neighbourhood I work in, I’ve had the chance to share the book with a number of families facing multiple challenges. Their response to the book has been especially gratifying. The parents I meet often have stories about their parenting abilities being doubted or challenged; sometimes they’ve lost custody of their children and are struggling to get them back. It feels really good to be able to say, by implication: the library views you as a parent, and sees your strengths; here’s a tool to help build on those strengths and support your relationship with your children.”
Brown acknowledges that this project couldn’t have happened without the amazing team who worked on this project during the brainstorming, creation, writing, editing, production, distribution and promotional stages.
The Reading Tree is available for Vancouver families with young children at Vancouver Public Library branches for no charge.