COLUMN: Take a walk on the wild side

Library columnist Anne DeGrace on a new Nelson library program for youth.

I’ve had Lou Reed’s iconic song “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” stuck in my head all day. That’s because it’s the theme of this year’s Summer Reading Club for kids here at the Library. It’s not really about the song that launched Reed’s solo career; this year’s SRC is all about our wild & woolly neighbours—the critter variety, not the rock and rollers.

Our SRC coordinators, Claire Maslak and Kyoko Conne, are hard at work brainstorming activities for 6 to 12-year olds. The program begins July 4.

“Nature and wildlife are so appropriate for this area,” says Kyoko, who lists pottery leaf printing, forest fire awareness (with a field trip to the fire hall) and visits from naturalists and biologists in their schedule-in-progress. Claire, equally enthusiastic, adds “edible plants!” to this list, so kids can add lamb’s quarter and wild ginger to their menus. It’s ever-evolving, and it sounds like so much fun.

SRC students always bring their own passions to the program, and I love seeing what they come up with. Claire is studying French translation and physics at McGill University; Kyoko is just finishing her BA in English literature at Thompson Rivers. As with any Summer Reading Club, activities are a hybrid of reading (kids are encouraged to keep reading logs, earning kudos and even prizes) and activities including crafts, field trips, and special guests.

Claire and Kyoko were my special guests on the Nelson Library’s radio show Check This Out, which runs the fourth Monday of each month at 8:30 a.m. on Kootenay Co-op Radio, 93.5 FM. We talked about their experiences as kids growing up in Nelson and going to the summer reading club—the firehall visit had a big impact—and their excitement about actually getting to coordinate it. And we talked about this year’s SRC artist Darlene Gait.

I remembered Darlene’s name right away. The award-winning B.C. illustrator and fine artist, a member of the Esquimalt First Nation, is passionate about nature, evident in her lovely illustrations in the picture books Secret of the Dance, Catching Spring, and especially in Who’s in Maxine’s Tree? written by Diane Leger.

I remembered Darlene right away because of Who’s in Maxine’s Tree? The picture book made the list of “challenged” books that is put together annually for Freedom to Read Week, which asks us to consider censorship. Some years ago an official of the woodworkers’ trade union asked for the removal of the book from elementary school libraries in Sechelt, B.C. He said the book promoted an anti-logging viewpoint.

The school board rejected his request. But it points to the right for all of us to read, discover, and question for ourselves—not be told what is or isn’t good for us. It can be a sticky topic: certainly, books that portray racial and other stereotypes can be hurtful.

Most often books such as these simply fall out of print as society evolves, while the more enduring classics such as, say, Huckleberry Finn (challenged for use of the n-word) can be great discussion-starters. The story of Huck and his friends remains important literature as well as great fodder for child-adult chats about what was acceptable then, and now.

Which is where encouraging children to read comes in. If we are encouraged to read widely, embrace learning, discuss new ideas and share experiences from an early age, we’ll be equipped for whatever the wild and woolly world throws at us. So we really can “take a walk on the wild side,” embrace our inner bears, and soar like the eagles.

And the ground squirrels go: doop-de-doop, doop, doop-de-doop.

Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week.