Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Special Feature: Toronto Public Library's Jennifer Schmitt & the TD Summer Reading Club

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Jennifer Schmitt

If you're a library junkie or book lover, you might covet Jennifer Schmitt's job. One of the (many!) functions of Jennifer's position as the Senior Department Head in the Children and Youth Advocate’s Department at Toronto Public Library is running the TD Summer Reading Club. The program encourage summer reading for children across the city.

Today Jennifer speaks to Open Book about how to spark young readers' love of books, how reading can be found in surprising places and midnight pie with authors.

Open Book:

Tell us about the TD Summer Reading Club, how it operates and how it came to be.

Jennifer Schmitt:

The TD Summer Reading Club (TD SRC) is an inclusive, bilingual program that aims to engage all children in the joy of reading during the summer months. Kids who register for the TD SRC at their local library receive a free passport and pre-reading activity book (0-5) or magazine (6-12), and are encouraged to earn nine collectible stickers by reading books over the summer. They are also invited to participate in fun programs organized at their local library and share their love of reading with children across the country through the TD SRC website.

The TD SRC also strives to champion Canadian writers through the creation of our booklists, and illustrators, whom we hire to design the artwork for each year’s theme. Our theme in 2013 is Go!, where through a combination of books and real-life exploration kids can journey to places, ideas, tastes, sounds, stories, and characters never experienced before. The illustrator for 2013 is Toronto’s own Matt James — be sure to check out the cool video interview Matt did for us here.

In 1996 TD Bank Group became the sponsor for the summer reading program developed by staff at Toronto Public Library. In 2000, libraries outside of the Toronto system joined the program, and by 2002 80% of Ontario libraries were participating. The TD SRC went completely bilingual in 2003, and through a partnership with Library and Archives Canada the program spread across the country through 2004 and 2005. Currently 11 provinces and territories participate.


What are some of the unique benefits of this program?


We really aim to make the program accessible and flexible. It’s free, portable and can fit into any summer plans. The introduction of the pre-reading activity book in 2012 means the whole family can now participate together!

Our expertise in childhood literacy is incorporated into all of the program materials. Research shows that the more kids read, the more successful they will be in school and in life. The TD SRC makes reading fun, and we hope it will instill a lifelong joy of reading in kids who participate.


Do you feel like young readers' attitudes towards books are changing?


The traditional printed book format still plays a significant role in kids’ lives, but they read in so many other ways too — e-books, apps, video games, websites, etc. If kids aren’t devouring books constantly they might not identify as readers, when in fact it’s likely that they’re regularly engaging with text in all kinds of other ways. It’s very important for us as library professionals to remember that, and to foster a rich reading environment in any way we can.


What are some of the ways the Toronto Public Library engages young readers?


I think one of our major strengths is that we promote self-directed reading. When children come to the library they’re free to wander the shelves and choose anything that looks good. Of course we’re glad to provide guidance, but there’s no mandatory reading at the library. That freedom is very appealing to kids.

We also offer a wide variety of free programs at branches all across the city. From karaoke to Maker Clubs, from puppet shows to Shakespeare for Kids, you name it and we’ve probably done it!

The TD SRC website is interactive in that it offers children the opportunity to contribute jokes, and book reviews, and to see what other kids are reading. The joke page is particularly popular; this summer we’ve had over a thousand jokes submitted so far. Here’s a favourite.


Tell us about your career path and how you came to your current position.


Once I’d completed my bachelor’s degree in English, I moved from Kitchener to Toronto, rather uncertain about what I wanted to do. After having had quite enough of waitressing and bartending, I landed a part time job shelving books as a Page at the Parkdale Branch of the Toronto Public Library in 2001, and suddenly my path became clear! I eventually enrolled in library school at U of T, where I completed a Master of Information Studies degree. In my 12 years at TPL I’ve held a number of positions at a variety of branches, and currently work in the Children and Youth Advocate’s Department at the Toronto Reference Library.


Who are some of your favourite Canadian authors? And where in Toronto might you like to take a favourite author?


Coordinating a kids’ summer reading program means a lot of time spent around kids’ books! My favourite children’s author at the moment is Jon Klassen. I’m big fan of children’s books that appeal equally to adults, and Klassen’s irreverent sense of humour definitely fills the bill. I fell in love with Alayna Munce’s When I Was Young and in My Prime when it came out, and I’m very excited that my dear pal is hard at work on her second novel. I find lately that I read a lot more magazines and newspapers than I do books, and I quite enjoy Shawn Micallef’s columns for the Toronto Star.

I’m very fond of the atmosphere found in old diners (especially ones open 24 hours), so I’d drag them all to the Vesta Lunch in the middle of the night for pie and coffee.


What's next for you?


Well, our team is already hard at work on the 2014 program, but I’m looking forward to my August vacation when we’ll head down to Indiana to visit some dear friends.

Jennifer Schmitt is the Senior Department Head in the Children and Youth Advocate’s Department at Toronto Public Library. She is responsible for overseeing the creative development of the program materials for TD Summer Reading Club, and for the coordination of the program as a whole. Jennifer has worked for TPL for 12 years, and has spent much of that time working with children. She has been known to entertain little ones with puppetry and with her ukulele, and is dismayed that to date she has been unable to find a way to do both at the same time.

For more information about TD Summer Reading Club please visit the Toronto Public Library website.

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