What an adventure being part of the Rainforest of Reading was!
Sonya White, Richard Clewes and Marlaina White (the main people behind the OneWorld Schoolhouse Foundation and the creators of the Rainforest of Reading), Sylvia Gavin (owner of Ecojot) and designer Carolyn Gavin, filmmaker Mike Enns, fellow author Kari-Lynn Winters and myself travelled to Grenada and St. Lucia for one week to attend two amazing festival days in celebration of reading and literacy.
First Stop Grenada
We arrived late in the evening at our accommodation in Grenada to a concert of tree frogs and fruit bats swirling around hibiscus trees. The air was warm and humid. A strong breeze was shaking trees and bushes, as October marks the end of the hurricane season in the Caribbean. After a night of trying to get used to the sounds of the tropics, the next day unexpectedly ended-up being an organize-nearly-everything-last-minute for Richard and Sonya. Despite some real challenges in regards to the event location and transportation of children, etc they worked their magic with the help of their Grenadian connections to get everything organized for the first event on the following day.
When I entered the location on the morning of the event, I couldn’t believe that such an organizational masterpiece was even possible: The place looked great! Colourful signage and posters brightened-up the space from every wall. There was a big room with chairs indoors and plenty of space for activities outdoors.
More than 400 grade 3 students came to the event in Grenada. All of them were wearing their school uniforms. They arrived cramped into minivans and busses to participate in workshops, crafts, literacy-based games and to meet us authors. It was great to see kids so excited to meet us and to have us sign their passports (each child received a passport-booklet with questions and little tasks to help them give feedback on the 12 books they were reading and judging as part of the Forest of Reading)! What great motivation they were to us visitors to keep doing what we are doing!
The day rushed by, as there were so many of the kids’ questions to answer, characters to draw, stories to be read, hugs to give and passports to sign. I really enjoyed having quality time with some of the children and even was able to dress-up 4 young helpers in costumes of Jack the Bear, Nosy Fox, Brainy Owl and Grumpy Squirrel.
Jamal, the boy playing Jack left me no choice other than chosing him for the job when he called out loud:
I want to be Jack the Bear!
At the end of the day we were all feeling high from all the love for and excitement about reading. The event was a great success! Congrats to Dominique Demers’Today Maybe (illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard), the student’s favourite in Grenada!
Second Stop St. Lucia
After saying Bye to Kari and Mike (who had to leave us to pursuit other commitments back home in Canada) we flew over to St. Lucia. We were greeted by a very strong rain shower followed by beautiful sunshine. Our accommodation was situated right in the jungle, where Silvia, Carolyn and I spend the next day relaxing, while Sonya and Richard were setting up for the event in Castris. This event should top the event in Grenada in size and volume. The event location was a sports stadium with two big roofed stands.
Over 2000 children came! The police blocked a main street and the kids formed a parade of readers. The parade was led by the Police Marching Band and the children entered the stadium carrying flags and wearing masquerade featuring the 12 nominated books. Many people in the streets saw the kids and the media, wondering what amazing event is happening in Castris that day.
After listening to speeches of honoraries like Governor General Dame Pearlette Louisy, the kids enjoyed, games, crafts and readings! There were 10 different stations with activities and big groups of children would rotate from one station to the next.
I was amazed with how much interest everything offered was received. About 100 kids at a time were listening to me read from my book without making a sound and were eager to get an autograph in their passport afterwards. Nearly each and everyone had read the nominated books and made notes on the stories and drawn little sketches in their passports. They all had noted a question for me.
The most popular question was:
Have you ever seen a bear?
Luckily I was able to answer with a Yes. When I told them that I actually know a the bear who loves to come into the backyard and eat from the garbage can, they weren’t quite sure, if they can believe me.
At the very end, when most kids were in their buses on the way home, the sky opened up and it rained heavily. To me it was like the grand finale of an exiting event in Castris! Congrats to Kerry Sather’s Be Yourself (illustrated by David Mark), the student’s favourite in St Lucia!
This trip was a lifetime experience. 4 days after returning to Vancouver, I am still digesting.