Summer Reading with Eric Walters

by Kirsti Granholm 

Eric Walters is one of Canada’s most celebrated children’s book authors. With over 100 titles published throughout his career and with major international success, we had to talk with him about his latest initiative.

In May, Eric announced that he was partnering with Orca Book Publishers, CANSCAIP, Canadian School Libraries and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) to create a summer reading/lending program for students all across the country.

Through this program, students were able to bring books home for the summer from their respective schools. The mission was to keep students reading all summer long and promote literacy amongst Canadian youth.

All lost or damaged books would be generously replaced by Orca Book Publishers at a 50-75% discount to the school, bringing new Canadian titles to the participating schools.

The program was a success, with schools participating all across the country —  everyone involved with the program was both shocked and thrilled! Check out what Eric had to say about the 2019 summer reading/lending program.

The summer reading/lending program was truly a wonderful idea! How did you come up with this concept?

The idea of a summer reading/lending programs has been utilized by many schools. It’s designed to combat the ‘summer slide’ in literacy rates. I was part of a pilot program with the Toronto District School Board many years ago and saw how this was positively adopted by students, staff and schools.

In mid-May you posted a tweet about your idea to fire up a summer reading/lending program. How did the engagement from that tweet affect your decision to tackle this project?

It all started with a tweet that I sent out on May 16: “As summer approaches consider a summer lending program.  Let students borrow 10 books over the summer. So much better to have the books in their hands instead of sitting on shelves. I’ve seen this with a return rate that is amazing! Keep them reading!”

The response was instant and intense. Teachers, teacher-librarians and librarians all retweeted, favoured or commented on the tweet. Such a positive response made me think about how I could convince other schools to become part of a summer reading/lending program.

Three things evolved:

  1. I offered any school that would get involved a package of signed bookmarks and posters.
  2. I contacted CANSCAIP, Canadian Children’s Book Centre and Canadian School Library Association — and wrote an article in their journal.
  3. I contacted Orca Book Publishers and they agreed to offer an extra special discount on their catalogue to schools that participated.

I have heard that more schools than anticipated reached out to you about the program. How many schools were initially interested in this program? And how many partook in the program?

I was originally hoping for between 15 and 20 schools. In the end, we had 185 schools in 7 provinces. I signed and sent out close to 6,000 bookmarks and 600 posters. While we won’t know the totals until we look at all the data in the fall, it is estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 books are now in the hands of students rather than sitting on library shelves this summer.

Your experienced background as a children’s book author made you the perfect candidate to spearhead this project. If you were to run this project again in the future, what would you do differently?

In September we will be gathering both quantitative and qualitative information from the schools that were involved. This input will allow us to shape and evolve the program to be more effective and open to more schools — hopefully, many more will want to take part.

What was it like working alongside Orca Book Publishers, Canadian School Libraries, CANSCAIP and the CCBC on a project of this scale?

Working in partnership is the route that allowed this program to be publicized, shaped and become so successful, so quickly. It was a wonderful example of the power that can happen when organizations and individuals work together.

What were the results of the summer reading program? Were a majority of the books returned as you had hoped?

We will be doing a complete analysis of the data in September including numbers of books loaned and returned, and qualitative comments about how the program was seen as working. In previous programs, the return rates have ranged from between 96 and 100% of books returned in September.

Why do you believe it’s important to have initiatives like summer lending/reading programs?

Students who are not exposed to books experience a decrease in literacy levels over the summer months. This is particularly true with those who have less exposure to books in both their homes and communities. Children who are less advantaged tend to be most affected by the ‘slide’. Through programs that allow them exposure to more books, they have the opportunity to not only reverse the slide but gain throughout the summer.

I am sure this initiative inspired other authors to want to promote summer reading in youth. What can authors, illustrators and creators do to get involved with this program in later years?

I’ve already made an offer through CANSCAIP to have writers and illustrators throughout the summer become involved in providing signed bookmarks and posters in an expanded version.

Orca Book Publishers has graciously agreed to not only repeat their offer to schools but to provide funds to mail out posters and bookmarks to schools that want to become involved in an expanded version.

Thank you, Eric, for the enlightening interview. We really appreciate all the work you have done this summer to ensure young Canadian’s all across the country have access to books. Congratulations goes out to everyone who organized the summer reading/lending program, including Eric, CANSCAIP, Orca Book Publishers and the CCBC!

Learn more about this program here.

Project Partners

CANSCAIP CCBC Canadian School Libraries

Project Sponsor

Orca Book Publishers

Eric Walters is the best-selling Canadian author of over 100 books for children and young people. He is a former elementary teacher, social worker, and proud recipient of the Order of Canada. Each year he presents to over 100,000 students across North America, talking about his passion for literature and literacy. Please visit Eric’s website for information about his books, his charitable foundation, and school visits.