“This book belongs to...” reads the label inside the cover of the new print run of Gifts, written by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated by Barbara Reid, and this year, grade one students all across Canada will have the pleasure of completing the sentence with their own names. Gifts is being distributed as part of the TD Grade One Giveaway, now in its 11th year, which has previously featured books by Canadian authors as beloved as Paulette Bourgeois, Sharon Jennings, Dennis Lee, and Marie-Louise Gay.
This year’s pick certainly lives up to the legacy. Gifts is Jo Ellen Bogart’s story-in-bouncing-verse of an adventurous grandmother who travels the world, bringing her granddaughter the most remarkable, intangible souvenirs: a lion’s roar from Africa, a sunrise from Mexico, “a rainbow to wear as a ring” from Hawaii, the song of a sitar in India, and “a memory from Beijing.” The story is enriched by Barbara Reid’s plasticine illustrations, which solve the puzzles that Bogart’s story poses: the memory is a dragon-decked teapot, the rainbow is printed on an inner-tube, the sunrise is a picture, and the lion’s roar is delivered by Grandma who has gotten down playfully on her hands and knees.
How the 2011 Grade One Giveaway came to be chosen was an exercise in synchronicity. Charlotte Teeple, Executive Director of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (which coordinates the TD-sponsored program) had had her eye on Gifts for awhile, and was delighted to discover that folks at Scholastic Canada had been thinking the same thing. When the recommendation was passed on to Alan Convery, National Manager of Community Relations at TD, he didn’t even have to think about it, because he’d been reading Gifts to his own kids for years.
Gifts was first published in 1994, and both author and illustrator are delighted that their work is receiving a new life. Bogart notes that Gifts is her favourite of all her books, and that reconnecting with it has been particularly sweet because she’s a grandmother herself now, which gives the book a whole new level of meaning. Reid recalls the intensive research that went into the creation of the illustrations—no small task in the pre-internet days—and remembers hours spent at the Guelph Public Library trying to discern exactly what a baobab tree would look like when its seeds were for the taking, and what kind of flower attracts a hummingbird in Mexico. (Bonus trivia: the library at the end of the book is Toronto’s Yorkville Public Library, and the baby in the same picture is based on Reid’s own daughter, who’s all grown up now.)
This month Gifts will be distributed to 500,000 Canadian children, grade one students coast-to-coast-to-coast, whether public, private or home-schooled. The program is administered to all children regardless of financial need, though it’s essential to note that some of these children will be receiving books of their own for the very first time. It’s essential also that grade-one is a pivotal time for literacy, when parents are still reading to their children but the children are gaining the skills and confidence to read on their own. The TD Grade One Giveaway books are selected precisely for their usefulness during this transitional period.
Meanwhile, Bogart and Reid are undertaking a national tour in connection with the program, visiting schools and libraries in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, London, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax. Bogart remarks that she’s looking forward to the trip, and notes that the experience of travel can be as valuable for the creators as for the readers who come out to see them. “The more I see,” she says, “the better I write.”
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