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All stories relating to literacy


The Big Read

Three years after its launch, New York City’s the Big Read (itself a spawn of “What If All of Seattle Read the Same Book,” launched 10 years ago) has spawned smaller, community-based undertakings, with thousands of readers enjoying everything from literary classics like The Grapes of Wrath to modern bestsellers like The Joy Luck Club to slightly less widely read (but still well-known) gems like Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl, which was “inspired by the real-life murder of a Jewish baby in a Nazi concentration camp,” according to its author in The New York Times.

Canada has similar programs, such as One Book, One Community, but anything, anywhere, that gets a dozen (or more) people reading – and to enjoy what they’re reading – is a good thing.

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Literacy organization eyes Guinness World Record

Family Literacy Day isn’t officially until next Tuesday, but to help draw attention to the cause, the literacy organization ABC CANADA is boldly attempting to set a new Guinness World Record. Beginning at 2 p.m. today and running for the next 24 hours, people from across the country have been reading aloud from Robert Munsch’s Munschworks 2 (published by Annick Press) with the aim of toppling the current record for “Most Children Reading with an Adult, Multiple Locations.” From the release:

To date, over 900 events, with an estimated 158,000 participants at locations across the country, have been registered online in the attempt to break the current U.S. record of 78,791 adults and children reading together.

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Canadian kids’ authors on long longlist for rich Swedish prize

Two Canadian storytellers and one Nova Scotia literacy group are in the running for the world’s richest children’s literary prize. Ottawa kids’ novelist Brian Doyle, Quebec author and illustrator Marie-Louise Gay, and Read to Me!, a family literacy program, have all been nominated for the 2009 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, worth about $800,000 (or 5-million Swedish crowns).

It’s still too early for the Canadian candidates to get their hopes up, however, as there are 150 other nominees on the list. The winner, whose work “upholds the highest artistic quality and evokes the deeply humanistic spirit that Astrid Lindgren treasured,” will be announced in March, with an awards gala in May. Past winners include Philip Pullman, Maurice Sendak, and Sonya Hartnett.

The international prize was founded in 2002 after the death of Lindgren, creator of Pippi Longstocking.

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Engel’s Benny Cooperman gets a new look

Author Howard Engel’s novels starring private investigator Benny Cooperman have been given an updated look and will be revisiting bookstore shelves, Robert Fulford reports in the National Post.

Penguin has re-launched the first 11 Cooperman books in paperback with a lively new design and a number emblazoned on the spine of each volume, so that obsessive Cooperman fans can shelve them in order of their creation, from No. 1, The Suicide Murders (1980), to No. 11, Memory Book (2005). This is an exceptional publishing event, something the French might do while promoting someone for a shot at the Nobel. Nobody has done it before, on this scale, for a Canadian.

Engel himself suffered great tragedy – a stroke left him unable to read and struggling with memory problems, as happens to his main character in Memory Book.

By now Engel’s own story has been well told. In 2001, he had a stroke in his sleep and awoke to discover he couldn’t read anything, even The Globe and Mail. He had a rare condition: Aside from the loss of literacy, his memory was damaged, but he could still write and talk. Ever since he’s been re-learning to read while maintaining his literary career. It seemed natural to give Benny his own disabilities, though Benny had to acquire them through violence because no PI, even Benny, has anything so boring as a stroke.

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Bookmarks: learning to read at the Bush Library, borrowing people instead of books, and picking the right beer for the book

Some book-related links:

  • Bush Library to be base for literacy and education, says Laura Bush* (The Dallas Morning News)
  • A library where you can borrow people instead of books (
  • We’ve picked the right wine for a book, but what about the right beer? (Omnivoracious)
  • Are comic books good for you? (Popmatters)
  • Bonus Tween Content: Miley Cyrus to write memoir (Stuff)

* she then said: “What? What’s so funny?”

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Support for Quill Awards Program suspended

The Quill Awards, launched in 2005 to celebrate the best book in U.S. publishing, has lost the support of one of its corporate co-founders, Reed Business Information (which owns Publishers Weekly).

The Canadian Press reports:

Reed Business Information gave no reason for the decision and a company statement did not make it clear whether the awards had been placed on hiatus or ended permanently. A spokeswoman for Reed, which operates such publications as Variety and Publishers Weekly, declined to give any further details.

The Reed announcement, posted on the website of Publishers Weekly, said the plan was to “suspend” backing of the Quills, but also referred to the “dissolution” of the awards. Money raised for the Quills Literacy Foundation will be distributed to two non-profit organizations – First Book and Literacy Partners.

The award ceremony was a black-tie affair that has featured Jon Stewart and Donald Trump as presenters, and had been broadcast on NBC stations. The Quills Literacy Foundation, chaired by former Variety publisher Gerry Byrne, raises money to support U.S. literacy.


What the world needs now: more reading

All around the world, it seems, people need to step up their reading habits:

To cultivate a love of reading among Russian city dwellers, a Reading Moscow Train painted with portraits of characters and excerpts from classical literature will start running in May. Train carriages will also carry booklets featuring the latest books and magazines.

To foster a culture of reading in Ghana, one media consultant is urging the government to make reading a compulsory subject in school and wants every district to have a library and community book club. Accra newspaper Public Agenda reports that the consultant considers a lack of reading culture in Ghana to be a stumbling block for the country’s future.

And a recent study in the U.S. concluded that America’s literacy is in decline and that this will have “severe consequences for American society.” The report by the National Endowment for the Arts suggests people who read on a regular basis have better health, are politically engaged, and earn more money.

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The Scotiabank Giller Light bash

CanLit fans and publishing types who are not attending the Scotiabank Giller Prize ceremony will have two other opportunities to get together, eat, drink, and merrily debate which book should win. The Scotiabank Giller Light bash – the ceremony’s younger and less formally dressed sister – will again be thrown in both Toronto and Winnipeg this year.

Attendees can watch the official ceremony on the big screen. The event in Winnipeg is put on by McNally Robinson Booksellers at the Grant Park store and includes a dinner. In Toronto, singer Kyle Riabko will be entertaining at Steam Whistle Brewing’s Roundhouse. Proceeds from the $25 tickets go to support the cross-country literacy programs of Frontier College.

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Hope for school libraries (in Ontario, anyway)

Heather Reisman can take a bow today. The Indigo CEO appears to have shamed Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty into promising a major funding boost for the province’s cash-starved school library system.

As The Globe and Mail reports, Reisman has commissioned a short documentary on the crisis in school libraries, and after a press screening of the film this week, McGuinty appeared at a Toronto Indigo store and promised $120-million for Ontario school systems: $80-million to buy books, and $40-million to hire new librarians. The Globe story also notes that Indigo will be supplying the books at cost.

No word on where the documentary might be seen online, but according to the story,

The documentary, which profiles Ms. Reisman’s foundation and the trials of two Ontario schools that applied for grants, includes shots of battered books with broken spines and children forced to share aging texts.

There are interviews with students and children’s author Robert Munsch and tearful scenes with school principals describing the need for more and newer reading materials for their students.

Globe columnist Margaret Wente also writes about the issue in today’s paper. And here are some related stories from the Q&Q archives.

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Read the writing on my back

The Dylan Thomas T-shirt designRather than provide free advertising by wearing clothing from corporations that can easily afford to buy marketing campaigns, why not encourage literacy by wearing what you read?

The website Literary Rags produces literary themed t-shirts from the works of dramatists, poets, novelists, and philosophers. Each shirt has a portrait of the artist (though not necessarily as a young man) on the front and a quotation printed on the back. Arthur Miller, Anton Chekhov, Emily Dickinson, Matsuo Basho, William S. Burroughs, Toni Morrison, David Hume, and Søren Kierkegaard are only a few of the writers who get the T-shirt treatment. The intro page for the site also includes audio readings of Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Langston Hughes, and Dylan Thomas.

An Edmonton poetry house, Rubicon Press, is also using clothing to support their poets. To learn how, check out Q&Q’s Special Report on the Prairies in our March issue – in stores now.

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Book Pictures

Do you have great photos from a recent book event in Canada that you'd like to share with us? Submit them to the Quill & Quire Flickr pool and they'll show up here.

Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

Fans wait in line to have their copies of Empress of the Night signed by Eva Stachniak

Fans wait in line to have their copies of Empress of the Night signed by Eva Stachniak

Lesley Strutt, Dean Steadman, Amanda Earl, Alastair Larwill and Frances Boyle

Frances Boyle, Dean Steadman, Lesley Strutt and Alastair Larwill

Amanda Earl

Jewel of the Thames launch

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