As school starts up again every January, I always look forward to the recommendation list in my public library ebook section for the Forest of Reading program, an annual initiative in Ontario to get kids reading from a wide variety of levelled books (picture to high school chapter reads). There are so many new local authors I have had the chance to be exposed to from this program and I have yet to find a student that couldn’t find something that interested them either from the list of fiction or non-fiction books.
Much can be written about the positives and negatives of student incentivization to read more, but in this case I feel that the Forest of Reading and other programs in Canada and around the world strike the perfect balance of getting students excited about competing with others for reading the most books as well as getting the chance to interview with teachers about their completed selections. In our region, students get to accompany their classmates in the school board to a celebration at the local sports arena to hear from some of the authors in person as well as see arts presentations and hear the final winner in each category for Favourite Book. The connection to seeing people talk about their inspiration motivated students to think about what ideas they could have that could one day be in a book, or how they could persist in not giving up in a variety of career fields.
One of my favourite aspects about the Forest of Reading is that it promotes equity in how the books are distributed. If you can’t get a copy from the local library in print or digitally, school libraries receive funds to distribute multiple copies of some of the books to students where teachers can have them read independently or as a class so they don’t miss out. Every year, I see that some authors have had another one of their books selected sometimes in the same series which shows their ability to connect with the committees and students. Forest of Reading is also great at promoting diverse reads where even tough subject matter is communicated in a way that students can understand and relate to.
When I taught in a school with middle school grades as well as early elementary years, I always wanted to ensure that students were able to tell me something they learned or thought about after reading the book, even if it wasn’t one they would recommend personally. In addition to ensuring students weren’t looking up crib notes as much, it gave me insight into how students felt about characters and what sparked their interests. It also gave me insight into what other sorts of recommendations we could make to have them continue their reading journeys.
Given the state of the world these past few years, literacy is always something that we can encourage with our students to open doors as well as become involved with, as a family. The Forest of Reading name is perfect in inspiring the image of children starting a lifelong journey into a world of possibilities, and reminding teachers to continue to read in their spare time as well.