Some half a million five- and six-year-olds across the country have an opportunity this school year to boost their literacy skills, thanks to the Grade One Book Giveaway. Unless your child attends a school in the Saanich School District, that is.
The book giveaway, a project spearheaded by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre and sponsored by TD Bank, has for the past 12 years provided a free book to every Grade 1 student in Canada.
The Saanich School District is declining the book donation this year. It is one of only two school districts in the country that isn’t accepting the donation.
“Every now and then we get a school board that objects because there’s a logo on the front of the book,” said Charlotte Teeple, executive director of the CCBC.
TD, through its community giving division, donates to have the books printed and distributed nationally. As part of the deal, their logo is printed at the bottom of the front cover.
“This has nothing to do with the bank’s marketing department – they’re not trying to sell mortgages on the backs of six year olds,” Teeple said.
Wayne Hunter, chair of the Saanich board of education, says the issue is around the district’s sponsorship policies, not an aversion to free books.
“Up until this time we have a policy that we don’t take money or distribute anything that has a corporate logo or that type of thing on it,” he said.
Despite the good intentions surrounding literacy, Hunter says it’s not the board’s job to pick and choose which policies to adhere to and which to ignore. If the policy is to change to accommodate the donation of free books, it needs to go through proper channels.
“A number of board members feel that there are (policies) that we really need to look at again and make a further decision on,” he said. “But these discussions are going to happen individually. Whenever a policy is adjusted or we’re asking about a policy, we go out to the district for input.”
The district is currently doing just that with a different corporate sponsorship-related policy principle that doesn’t allow for donations from tobacco of alcohol sellers. This has prevented the board from accepting dry grad funding collected through B.C. Liquor Stores but not through the sale of alcohol.
Nancy MacDonald, SD63 CEO and superintendent, says to the best of her knowledge Saanich hasn’t accepted the book for the past 12 years, but said that somehow some Book Giveaway books have made it in schools in past years.
She said while the district won’t facilitate the book acquisition process, she suggested the CCPC could make the book available directly to parents.
Janine Roy, district principal of learning initiatives with the Greater Victoria School District, says SD61 is a proud supporter of the Book Giveaway.
“We’re happy to support it because we know that reading at home has a significant impact on student reading success,” she said. “The more we have children enjoying great literature, the better.”
She say SD61 does not take issue with the logo on the cover, adding that the district is “grateful” that TD Bank provides these books to students, along with the CBCC.
Shar Levine, a B.C.-based member of the CBCC board of directors, spoke to the Saanich school board trustees earlier this school year in an attempt to convince them to change their minds about the book donation. She said the CBCC typically doesn’t have contact with school boards or provincial Ministries of Education – depending on which organization distributes the books in a province or territory – other than when the books are delivered.
She suggested the Saanich School District could use a sticker or a black felt to cover the logo.
The York Region District School Board is the other district in Canada that is denying the donation this year because of a similar policy.
“I do understand school boards have to be careful about companies wanting to bring this and that into the school, but really and truly, to have a child not get a wonderful book simply because of a small logo on the front is very disappointing,” Teeple said.
“It’s the Book Centre’s mission to bring great Canadian books to Canadian children; to inspire a love of books and passion in children. For some kids this is the first book they’ll own, for other it’ll be a book that turns them into readers or hopefully starts them on that path.”
This year’s book, Boy Soup, is written by Loris Lesynski and illustrated by Michael Martchenko (who frequently worked with Robert Munsch). Boy Soup is the story of a giant who catches a cold and learns from his home medical guide that the best remedy is a bowl of Boy Soup.
For more information on the CCBC, visit bookcentre.ca.