25th Trillium Award

Thunder Bay and Ottawa Prepare to Celebrate the OLA's Festival of Trees

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by Erin Knight

If you think today's youth can only be inspired by the likes of Justin Bieber, then you've never been at the Ontario Library Association's Festival of Trees? awards ceremony. Some 4,500 children, parents and teachers erupt with screams and applause every time the winning book in each category is announced. The Festival of Trees?, which is the culmination of the OLA's annual Forest of ReadingĀ® program, takes place all this week. It's a reading event like no other — the audience of cheering young readers have voted for the winning authors themselves.

The Festival of Trees? has previously been held exclusively in Toronto, with over 9,000 students from the GTA and neighbouring regions attending. For years, communities in other parts of the province have been asking to host the festival. Logistically (and financially) this hasn't been possible in the past. However, inspired by the success of IFOA Ontario and thanks to a grant from the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund (OCAF), the Festival is going "on the road" for the first time, holding events this week in both Thunder Bay and Ottawa.

Both of these cities have passionate reading communities that have enthusiastically welcomed the Festival. The Thunder Bay Festival of Trees?, which takes place this Friday, May 18th, sold out of their 11,000 available tickets in less that two weeks. "We've never had anything like this" said Meredith Tutching, OLA coordinator, in an interview with Open Book. "The entire city is behind it. We feel like rock stars." Donations for Festival events have been flooding in. A local nursery has even donated one thousand blue spruce sapling trees for children to take home as mementos of this special occasion.

Bringing the Festival to Ottawa will only increase the enthusiasm that already exists for reading programs aimed at high school students. The Red Maple? award (for fiction directed at students in Grades 7 and 8) is the most popular award because students can recognize authors they were introduced to in earlier grades. There's nothing like meeting authors like Robert Paul Westen, Deborah Ellis or Eric Walters to bring the world of books to life. As Meredith explains, "The minute kids meet them, they're hooked." Non-fiction writers, whose books have become increasingly popular with all ages in recent years, will be celebrated for the very first time with the White Pine? Award.

Students aren't the only ones who attend these lively awards ceremonies. Festival events are open to the public, and many families attend together. Parents can register their children so that their young ones will also be eligible to vote on the winners.

For many Canadian authors, the Forest of ReadingĀ® awards are the only ones that matter. This may explain why the Festival has over a 90 percent acceptance rate on their author invitations, even though the OLA isn't able to pay reading fees or expenses. These writers know that the very best judges of their books are the children who inspired them to write in the first place.

The OLA hopes to continue the Festival's road tour in future years — so if you and your family live outside of the GTA, you may not have to wait too much longer for the biggest celebration of reading and literacy to arrive in your own backyard.

For more information about the Forest of ReadingĀ® and the Festival of Trees?, please visit the OLA website.


Erin Knight is Open Book: Ontario's Contributing Editor. Chaser, a collection of poems on tuberculosis and manic economy, has just been published with House of Anansi Press.

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