Everyone who attended Joanne Harris’ literacy award ceremony at the Learning Centre in Nelson this week got to go home with a free book — whether it was a Salman Rushdie novel or an illustrated children’s book called How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?
“I first met Joanne when I registered to participate in a mother and child Mother Goose program [at the Nelson library] with my six-month-old daughter,” Nicole Purvis of the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy said. “Joanne ran this program in Nelson for 17 or 18 years.”
“A song can seem like a small thing, but Joanne knows a secret and she shared it with me: a song is a chance for parents to have fun, to pass along valuable language skills to their babies, to physically bond and enhance brain development, to play face to face and pass on culture.”
But why just talk about it? Instead Purvis invited parents to gather on the carpet and demonstrate what they’ve learned.
“Sing, sing, sing with me, sing out loud and clear, to tell the children everywhere that Mother Goose is here!” they sang, before moving on to “Zoom, zoom, zoom, we’re going to the moon! If you want to go on a trip, climb aboard my rocket ship!”
Chief librarian June Stockdale told everyone Harris was a founding member of Project Literacy West Kootenay, and “brought that love of reading and learning and early literacy skills to generations of kids.”
Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy’s Joan Exley seconded the sentiment.
“I don’t usually get emotional in front of a crowd, but I find myself quite overwhelmed,” she said. “The legacy Joanne leaves is just too big to capture in pictures or words.
“She pulled me into the world of literacy. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Joanne and her great big heart. She founded a lot of the stuff that happens now. She wrote the very first literacy plan for Nelson. A lot of what we’re doing now is built on the foundation Joanne built.”
Exley figures Harris, who has just retired from the Nelson library after 30 years, will still be around.
“She’ll come back,” she joked. “She just won’t get paid for it!”
Harris was moved by the award.
“I am amazed that I’m the recipient of this award. I just wanted to say when I look back on past connections I realize how important this work has been to me.”
Her journey began in 1982, when she volunteered at the Nakusp library. She’s found the work intensely fulfilling. To sum up her feelings, Harris shared an excerpt of the poem “The Reading Mother” by Strickland Gillian.
“You may have tangible worth untold; caskets of jewels and coffers of gold; Richer than I you can never be — I had a Mother who read to me.”