June 1, 2017

For Calgary’s Police Chief, reading is a law of nature

“I enjoy reading because it allows me to explore stories I have yet to experience. It’s a way for me to connect with people I may not otherwise meet, cultures I might not otherwise know, and points of view I might not otherwise see. It brings people of all backgrounds together.” Roger Chaffin, Chief Constable, Calgary Police Service

These books are important to me:

The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL by Eric Greitens

“This book may look like a typical American sensationalizing of military life, but is anything but. The author takes the reader through a perspective on what it truly means to be a humanitarian, but from a perspective of the goals of humanitarians being met through a balance of courage and compassion. His early experience as a humanitarian showed him some of the truly heart wrenching struggles in the world, but he soon realized that the goals of a  humanitarian can often be frustrated by the fact that sometimes these victimized communities need someone with the means and the courage to stand up for them and protect them as well. The author then set about a course of action which led him ultimately to become a Navy Seal, where he set about to bring a balance of both worlds. A must read for those people who are serving the public in the form of policing or military: ‘without courage, compassion falters, and that without compassion, courage has no direction.’ Eric Greitens.”

 SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin 

“I actually bought this book expecting a more traditional look at the life of a Navy Seal, but was quite surprised to discover that this was not the purpose of this offering. This book spends the first portions really diving into the experience of those attempting to join the Navy Seals through Hell Week, and Basic Underwater Demolition School (BUDS), and then starts to explore the nature of the human condition of those that push their physical and mental limits to the extremes that those in special force seem to do. What I found fascinating in this book was following a catastrophic injury to the author (which occurred during battle in Mogadishu) was how the book turned to explore the author’s very troubled journey to define the real meaning to his life (including his personal battles with PTSD) and his ultimate answers to redefine himself.”

Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, by Jim Stockdale

This book is actually a series of articles, speeches and essays from the author ret. Vice Admiral James Stockdale. What I found truly fascinating is the exploration of the thoughts of a man, shot down over North Vietnam (during the Vietnam War) and his subsequent brutal and isolated incarceration for seven years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. It was uniquely fascinating how the author connected his learnings from a classical philosophy education at Stanford University, to his fundamental realizations about how to survive physically, emotionally and morally through such horrific conditions. His work often cites his thoughts on the writings of philosophers such as Epictetus, and what it meant to his ultimate grasp of his moral and ethical compass while imprisoned in Vietnam. His writings led to some timeless understandings of what is now known as the Stockdale Paradox, which is best described as when faced with difficult circumstances: ‘You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties . . . AND at the same time . . . You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be’. A set of concepts that led him to survive all, derived from his interpretation of his classical education.

This is a somewhat difficult read as the articles are disconnected from each other and often dive into the thoughts of various philosophers; but, by the time I was done reading I found myself quite taken by the how this author converted his education into guiding principles of a moral and ethical life.”

Creating Public Value: Strategic Management in Government by Mark H. Moore

“I came across this book as part of an executive development program I attended at the University of Boston. The author (among other academic accomplishments) is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The book explores one of the most difficult concepts for those who lead government organizations: how to create real and definable value in government offerings to the public. I still refer to his thoughts many years later in my work and career at the Calgary Police Service, particularly as it relates to finding true value in the relationship between innovative thinking, political support and the capacity to deliver in a world where you simply have to deliver efficiencies in flight. 

 A must read for anyone serving in public organizations.” Think! Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye by Michael R. LeGault

“This book is an interesting juxtaposition to Malcolm Gladwell’s offering ‘Blink’.  In my own career I have struggled at times with senior decision-makers who often ignore the complexities of critical thinking in favor of going with gut instincts. The real dilemma for me was in how critical thinking was often disregarded and sometimes belittled by the emotion of subjective thinking. The author explored these phenomena in America in what he called the decline of critical thinking, which was leading to an intellectual crisis, and further linked this to the decline of government institutions as well as private sector businesses.

 Overall I liked the message that the author presented in that instincts and subjective thinking remain important for government leaders, but not at the exclusion of academia, intellectual discourse, and evidence based thinking.”


Spread the Words

May 31, 2017

Spread the Words

On Thursday, May 11th, more than 700 people filled the Calgary Curling Club for Spread the Words, Calgary Read’s annual volunteer appreciation event.  This fun, music-filled evening was a great way to say thanks to the many cherished people who are involved with Calgary Reads – and it was also a great way to kick off the 15th annual Big Book Sale!

Spread the Words Photo Album




May 2, 2017

Poverty and Early Literacy

Most of us can’t imagine a home without any books—certainly not in Canada. And if we did, we might assume it’s because the residents of that home don’t care about reading. As it turns out, there are many myths that abound about book ownership.

Myths and reality about book ownership

Myth #1: Most households have plenty of books, or at least can afford to.

Reality: Research from the U.S. and Calgary Reads’ own Reading Place schools tells us this is not the case. More than 50% of Canadian households don’t spend any money on books and 61% of households in the U.S. contain no books at all.

Myth #2: Families without books lack interest in reading.

Reality: “When poor people, even those at low literacy levels, have a little extra money, they will buy inexpensive books. But some families have so little disposable income, they can’t afford any books.” – Susan B. Newman, University of Michigan

Myth #3: Children can find good books at school or at the library.

Reality: While this is true, most school and classroom libraries are underfunded and unable to meet demand. According to Indigo Books & Music, “the school book budget for one child in the 1970s must stretch to cover nine children today.” Many families also don’t live near a library branch.

Myth #4: Calgary is a wealthy city.

Reality: Not everyone is wealthy. In Calgary, nearly 1 in 7, or 13.8%, of children live in low-income households. There are nearly 300 homeless children in Calgary and Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids provides lunch to 3,200 school children every day.

Data released from Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report 2017 tells us that households with an income over $100,000 average 127 books, while those with an income below $35,000 average 69 books.

Childhood poverty has negative impacts on literacy

Children who grow up in poverty are at greater risk of struggling with reading for a variety of reasons. They are more likely to:

  • Grow up in homes without books or print (newspapers, magazines, etc.) and may have difficulty in visiting a public library because of time, language or transportation barriers
  • Live in poorer neighbourhoods that have fewer libraries and bookstores (and a smaller selection of quality books in each bookstore). In the most extreme example reported in one study, a wealthy community had 16,000 children’s titles for sale compared to just 55 in a poorer community in the same city
  • Have parents or caregivers with low-literacy skills who are less able to support their children’s reading by reading aloud to them, modelling reading, or valuing reading themselves
  • Experience less talking and encouragement at home, leading to a word gap up to 32 million fewer words heard by age 4 than their middle-class peers.

Books combat poverty

Because education is one of the best cures for poverty, one of the easiest ways to improve early literacy is also a tool for fighting poverty. The “mere presence” of books improves academic outcomes for children and as few as 20 books in the home has a significant impact, with the benefits increasing as more books are added. Children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home.

Increasing book ownership is a key strategy for Calgary Reads. In the past two years the Calgary Reads Book Bank has distributed more than 14,000 children’s books to over 2,100 families that are clients of the Calgary Food Bank, many of whom own books for the first time. We also have programs that donate books to children through their schools and to babies and infants through public health nurses. Schools, Little Free Library stewards, and community agencies are invited to our Big Book Sale Unsold Event to pick up books. Through these measures and corporate and community book drives, and building awareness about the issue, we are helping to shift the book imbalance in Calgary.

“In low-income families, time as well as money are scarce, and books may be considered a costly luxury.”  -The Urban Child Institute

 Research & Resources

A Book in Every Home, and Then Some: The New York Times

Lost for Words: Poor Literacy, the Hidden Issue in Child Poverty

Who Buys Books and Magazines in Canada?