A gateway to reading

‘Not all kids love to read, but all kids love to laugh’

By Ameeta Vohra

Photos by Steve Smith/VisionFire

Laughter filled the air at the Halifax Central Library this spring, and it was long overdue.

Initially slated for 2020, the two-day Funny Pages Book Festival was held April 22 and 23, with hundreds of kids enjoying author presentations, comedy workshops and book-signings.

Festival organizer Vicki Grant says the idea for the event came to her while attending a book-related event in Ontario. She realized that while many books are wonderful, some are too serious. Plus, children often face reading challenges such as dyslexia, or they simply don’t have the opportunity to read much at home and therefore can’t read at their grade level.

“I had this idea that not all kids love to read, but all kids love to laugh,” says Grant, who is also the author of a number of award-winning novels for kids and teens. 

“I thought there really should be a festival about funny books because they will appeal to the really good readers, plus those who maybe aren’t readers at all. A funny book could be the gateway to reading for them.”

The event was a huge success, with participating authors such as Angela Misri, Richard Scrimger, Wade Albert White, Odette Barr, Natasha Dean, Kate Beaton, Sheree Fitch, James Leck and Steve Vernon. 

“Our goal was for teachers and students to have a great time at the festival and leave thinking, ‘I want to read more books,’” says Grant. “The other thing we wanted to do was promote Canadian authors. We have a lot of fabulous authors who write very funny books. We wanted this festival to be a place where they could showcase their talents and reach a wider audience.”

Getting children to read and engage with books can be hard. Grant says parents can approach it by ensuring the book topic is relevant, yet interesting, and eliminating obstacles to reading.

“Twenty, 30, 40 years ago, if you had a kid who was a reluctant or a struggling reader, they would be given a book that was at their reading level, but not their interest level,” says Grant. “That could be humiliating for the kids. Now, I think there’s an understanding that kids learn to read at different times and are reading at different levels. It’s important to focus the reading material on their age level and interests. If you’re a struggling reader and given a book full of paragraph-long sentences, big words that you’ve never heard before and long chapters, it makes reading seem harder than it has to be.”

Our goal was for teachers and students to have a great time at the festival and leave thinking, ‘I want to read more books.’”

– Vicki Grant

Heather Doepner, the Central Library’s programming and community engagement lead, encourages parents to experiment with various books.

“Try a little nonfiction, something super easy,” says Doepner. “Also, try to have a little time set aside each day to read together. Many families do it at bedtime, but any time of day when you want to slow down for a few minutes is great. That works especially well for little kids, and it builds a good reading habit for the family to keep reading together through the years.”

With older children, Doepner suggests parents bring them to the library so they can pick out books they are interested in, as the library has an extensive collection in all topics. She also recommends they pick up a few magazines, as they might spark some interest with older kids and teens.

“That’s something I do in my own family; I have a little stack of magazines on the breakfast table,” she says. “Sometimes they reach over and grab something. Or, if I comment on it, then they might pick it up. In the summer, I borrow novels and leave them propped up on the steps going upstairs to the bedroom.”

Now that government has ended COVID-19 restrictions, Doepner says the library is ramping up programming. The branch hopes it will engage more young readers to enjoy books of all kinds.

“We encourage people to get to know what the Halifax Public Libraries offers for kids, and come to visit, play and try out a program,” she says. “It’s a great way to get involved in reading for the summer. We have nice things to play with when families visit, and lots of new books.” 

Funny Book Recommendations

Pickles vs. the Zombies, Trip of the Dead and ValHamster by Angela Misri

Zomboy, Irresistible, and Into the Ravine
by Richard Scrimger

The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes, The Adventurer’s Guide to Dragons (and Why They Keep Biting Me), and The Adventurer’s Guide to Treasure (and How to Steal It) by Wade Albert White

Follow the Goose Butt, Camelia Airheart, Follow the Goose Butt to Nova Scotia, and Take Off to Tantramar by Odette Barr

Lark Holds the Key, Across the Floor, and In the Key of Nira Ghani by Natasha Deen

The Princess and the Pony, King Baby
by Kate Beaton

Sing in the Spring, If You Could Wear My Sneakers, and Toes in My Nose by Sheree Fitch

Where the Ghosts Are: A Guide to Nova Scotia’s Spookiest Places, Maritime Monsters: A Field Guide, Sinking Deeper: Or, My Questionable (Possibly Heroic) Decision to Invent a Sea Monster, by Steve Vernon

Read-Along Books

The library has a new book format called Read-Along Book with Audio Player with two brand names, Wonderbook and Fox Books.  

“The cool thing about this kind of book is that it has a player built into the book’s cover,” says Heather Doepner of the Halifax Central Library. “It has a little MP3 player glued in there; it never comes out. The library charges the book once
in a while, but it plays a 100 times before it
needs recharging.”

She says it is becoming popular because it offers children of all ages some independence. If a child is a pre-reader or struggling, they can be independent and choose a story without having to wait for someone to pick it out and read to them.

Summer Reading Club 

The popular Summer Reading Club will return to the Halifax Public Libraries at the end of June. Parents can visit one of the library branches to sign up their children for this free club. When registered, kids make a goal of how many points they’d like to accumulate through the summer. There are several ways to earn points, including visiting or attending a library program, reading a book, reading to someone else or having someone read to them. Even going to a museum or writing a story will earn points. There’s an option for every reader and pre-reader. 

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