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Helping children tell their story of pandemic life

In this Following Up feature, we touch base with the co-founders of the Children's Reading Room as it prepares to launch a new initiative

A new chapter will soon begin for the Children's Reading Room of Guelph.

The free literacy initiative is set to launch a new program with the Canadian Children's Literacy Foundation (CCLF) to develop storytelling skills in children up to 12 -years-old. Called Lost & Found: Pandemic Stories of Discovery as Told by Kids in Canada, it will offer a series of free workshops for children to learn about story-making, and how to identify, shape and share their own pandemic narratives.

Two sets of workshops will be held next month – Dec. 2 and Dec. 9 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., or Dec. 3 and Dec. 10 from 10 a.m. until noon. Parents and caretakers interested in registering their child in the program can call or email the Children's Reading Room.

"It's about getting their perspective on how the pandemic was for them," said Lisa Veber, one of the co-founders of the Children's Reading Room, about the new program.

Fellow co-founder Joanna Szulc said the coolest thing about the program is the CCLF is looking to collect these pandemic stories as part of a project supported by the Canadian Heritage department of the federal government.

"It would be like a time capsule," said Szulc, adding the stories will only be collected with permission from parents and children.

Veber adds a local author named Sandra Wilson is teaming up with the Children's Reading Room to help run the program. Veber said Wilson is one of many local authors who has donated their books to the Children's Reading Room, and uses children's art and words to create stories.

"She's perfect for the project because of this reason," said Veber.

Inspired by The Children’s Book Bank in Toronto,  the local effort launched in May with the goal of providing children with easy access to books in an inclusive, welcoming space. All the books are donated to the program.

"Kids get a chance to establish a relationship with a book," Szulc said about the goal of the program. "We know having books at home is a determinant for health."

Szulc and Veber said a lot has happened since the program launched earlier this year, including adding an after-school aspect on Thursday evenings. The reading room also runs the Children's Reading Room (CRR) Book Nooks, small, physical book shelves that provide free children's books for families to keep in different locations across Guelph.

Currently, book nooks can be found at Immigration Services Guelph, Kortright Hills Neighbourhood Group, Northside Hills Neighbourhood Group, Riverside Community Centre and the Unitarian Congregation of Church.

"We've found creative ways to get books into people's homes," said Szulc, adding the idea came as COVID-19 continues to be a factor for some families staying home. 

"When folks do come to visit us and see the space, they love it."

Book donations to the Children's Reading Room are also on the rise. Veber said they received 800 new books during the summer and collected an average of 500 books a month. The books come from community organizations and individuals.

"We've been doing good lately, we haven't had to request any in a while," said Veber, adding children and adults who visit the reading room can also take one book home with them.

As the program grows, both hope to see more families come visit the Children's Reading Room and create more community partnerships. Veber mentions if families can't find a certain book in their donated collection, they recommend checking out the library.

"We do want to create that relationship with the library, we have the same goals," said Veber. "I like to think we create library users who go to use the library."