March 7, 2017

Bill Ptacek, CEO, Calgary Public Library, shares his sHelfie:

“I think a library is so powerful. It builds community. It helps people have more success through all that occurs through reading; whether that’s people searching for jobs, building their knowledge in higher education, or children reading and finding the magic in stories. At the Calgary Public Library we celebrate the amazing power of reading and strive for a more literate community.”

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

“As a youngster, this was the book that got me most interested in reading. I didn’t do well in grade two and three and really had a turnaround with this book. Growing up on the south side of Chicago, these stories took me somewhere quite different—and, I really liked how Sherlock Holmes ‘deduced’! A great read.”

The Dreadful Lemon Sky by John D. MacDonald (or any by him)

“Back in the 1980s my wife (she’s a librarian too) and I moved from Chicago to Idaho Falls – it was quite a change; you couldn’t get much further away! We had our first child, a daughter who was developmentally disabled and it was a very difficult time for us. We started reading mysteries together and discussing them (we had no cable and no family nearby) . . . and these truly helped save our lives.”

Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons

“This is one of the very first books Oprah recommended through her book club; it’s a story of strong women growing up in tough circumstances. This had a real impact on me and my wife. We’d gone on to have two more daughters so helping young women grow and develop well was important to us. I gave it to my middle daughter to read when she was in middle school and the teacher was horrified . . . but we felt it was an important experience for her to explore strong women, ability and perseverance!”

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

“This book shares instructions on writing and life. It was recommended to me by a friend when I was battling cancer and speaks to how handling one thing at a time, working through something chunk-by-chunk – and not trying to deal with everything at once – is a successful strategy. This book helped me through my challenging health period; I believe its message can resonate in many situations, for many people. It’s very good. The Calgary Public Library has copies, of course.”

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

“This book is set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s. Jefferson, a young black man, is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot out in which three men are killed; the only survivor, he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. This powerful story shows how he is able to deal with ‘being wronged’. Nancy Pearl, the renowned US librarian and tremendous book promoter chose this novel as her ‘reading in community’ pick in Seattle when she encouraged thousands to read along together.”

Backpack Mockup

March 1, 2017

Literacy Backpacks

Literacy backpacks contain books and related activities for children and their caregivers to read and do together. They are often prepared by teachers and loaned out to families to bring literacy into the home and build home/school, parent/teacher partnerships. Numerous school districts in Alberta have had backpack programs, including ones in Canmore, Red Deer, and Vermillion; but parents and playgroups can build them too!

Literacy backpacks are often assembled around a particular theme. This may take the form of a topic such as dinosaurs, an author, a genre, an age group or audience, or a big question.

A typical literacy backpack contains one or more books, a letter to parents explaining how to use the backpack, directions and materials for games and activities, and a checklist to ensure that everything is returned properly. For example, a literacy backpack on insects might contain a poster on different kinds of insects, a copy of The Hungry Caterpillar, a magnifying glass or insect jar, and a small sketch book.

Research shows that literacy backpacks have numerous benefits—for everyone involved:

  • Schools help make reading fun, interesting, and accessible outside of school.
  • Teachers engage and build relationships with parents and reinforce classroom teaching with learning at home.
  • Parents and caregivers are more involved, have an opportunity to model reading, and grow more confident in their abilities as their children’s first and best teachers. Family involvement is a key factor in developing children’s reading skills.
  • Students benefit by receiving additional reading support at home, making connections between text and real world activities, and developing an enthusiasm for reading.
  • Literacy Backpacks can reach families that do not typically participate in school-based events.
  • One backpack sent home as an example can inspire children and their families to create their own.

Remember that literacy development begins from birth, so even if you care for a child that isn’t in school yet, you can create your own pack of books, artifacts, games, and activities to enjoy and learn together!

If you work at an Alberta Reads school, ask your Literacy Coach for your copy of What’s in Your Backpack?—Calgary Reads’ newest Literacy-in-a-Box modulefor a complete toolkit on building your own literacy backpacks. If you’re interested in running the module, we will send you a box of books and 25 new drawstring backpacks you can use to create your own literacy backpacks.

Research & Resources

Literacy Backpacks in Teacher Education by Robin Bright, University of Lethbridge

Home Literacy Bags Promote Family Involvement by Ann C. Barbour

-Liz’s Early Learning Spot blog contains tips for making “awesomely effective” literacy bags

-Reading Rockets has a large selection of themed reading adventure packs.


February 16, 2017

The Joy of Reading Aloud this Family Day and Every Day!

“The act of reading is, in some ways, the most invisible of arts. We can’t see others’ minds at work; their engagement with words can be mysterious to the outside eye. But when we read aloud to one another, we bring the joy and connection of reading to the surface; we illuminate its power.”                                                                                                                                                                    – Pam Allyn, creator of World Read Aloud Day

Read Aloud picture - blog

At Calgary Reads reading aloud is one of our favourite ways to create community and the joy of reading. Something magical happens when we spend time with people, young and old, sharing words, stories and memories that can stick with us for a lifetime.

Today, February 16th, is World Read Aloud Day and it is a global, grassroots movement committed to the “profound resonance of the read aloud and the connections that are made when reader, text and listener connect.” I hope you will take time to listen to Scholastic’s full podcast on the impact of reading aloud on our own and on children’s learning lives.

Check out Calgary Reads’ Read Aloud Shared Reading/Stone Soup resource for tips on holding your own Read Aloud this upcoming Family Day weekend with friends and family! Remember to use the hashtag #WRAD17 to share your own read aloud experiences—poems, jokes, magical fiction, love stories—with everyone!