When Derek O’Brien, the CAO for the Town of St. Stephen, told me last summer that he wanted to start a literacy festival in St. Stephen and he wanted It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! to be the inaugural book, I was floored.
It seemed a full-circle moment for me.
I cannot recall a time in my life when reading wasn’t central to my well-being. Begging for one more story, thrilled when I could read by myself so I could read whenever I wanted to, I was the fortunate child who was taken to the library once a week to get a fresh stack of wonder.
What I discovered early on was that so long as I had a book, I was never alone, not even when I felt lonely.
Throughout my first career, I prioritized early childhood literacy and investments in libraries, knowing what a huge difference both make to a child’s development.
To be part of a festival designed solely to promote the love of reading in the community, particularly for kids, was like being invited to a reader’s paradise.
So two weeks ago I decamped to St. Stephen and had the great gift of spending two and half days with the amazing kids who attend St. Stephen Elementary School, Milltown Elementary School, and Lawrence Station Elementary School.
I went from class to class, chatting and talking to them not only about Pig Face, but about the importance of reading, the mechanics of writing (and rewriting), and how their stories are as valuable as any one else’s.
I admired their projects, their enthusiasm for the book, their enthusiasm for reading, their curiousity.
I admired their teachers, who were kind and enthusiastic.
I admire the community spirit I met at every turn.
I spent time at the Public Library with some wonderful book club kids (and wished there had been one when I was a child!)
On the night of the book launch, 100 people showed up. Many of them were kids and their parents. Others were community leaders, including the Mayor, who had already been in the schools encouraging the kids to read the book and reading it themselves.
I chatted with old and new friends, and I loved that we could chat about books!
I ate student-made Ralph’s Brownies. I wrote stories with kindergarten kids.
And I donated a whole bunch of new books to each of the school libraries I visited, because they never get enough new books.
The thrill of donating new books written by writer friends was amazing.
At the end of Storyfest, I returned home knowing three truths:
- our teachers are as fine and caring and inspirational as they have ever been
- that there is a book for everyone; all it takes is a gentle nudge (I had one boy come to the launch with his dad, who told me that his son was so inspired that he wanted him to meet me and how he couldn’t believe how keen his son was to read!)
- That St. Stephen is more magical than I could have ever put on paper.
I’m not sure who next year’s Storyfest author will be, but I know this: they will be very lucky, and the Town of St. Stephen will be waiting for them!