Hackmatack and Silver Birch events this spring were fun. It’s gratifying to see hundreds of kids excited about reading. But the event surrounding the awarding of this year’s Golden Oak was downright inspiring. What makes the Golden Oak different from other “tree” awards is that the readers who vote to determine the winning book are adult literacy students.
The first “golden” moment was listening to the keynote speaker, Lesra Martin. When he was 16 and living in a Brooklyn ghetto, he learned that he was functionally illiterate. Nine years later, he’d completed an Honours BA in anthropology at UofT. He went on to earn a law degree at Dalhousie and is now a practicing lawyer in BC.
If Lesra Martin was an inspiration to me, with his message of the importance of persistence in the face of obstacles to achieve what’s important to you, you can imagine how inspiring he must have been for the adult literacy learners in the audience. Do check out his website to find out more about his journey, what book was inspired by it (and what movie was inspired by that book) – and to read his humorous and heart-warming appearance on Oprah.
Another golden moment came – after adult literacy learners had presented the books they’d read, along with information about their book’s authors – with the announcement of the winning book. A young man named Chris had presented it during the awards ceremony leading up to the announcement. He didn’t speak directly into the mike at first and had to suffer through the experience of having people call out to him, “We can’t hear you.” “Speak up!” The look on Chris’s face when “his” book was declared the winner . . . well, I doubt he could have been been more pleased if he’d written the book himself. And neither could I.
A final golden moment came at the very end of the afternoon, when Juliet Momodu, who had presented my book during the awards ceremony, came to chat with me and we ended up sharing many wonderful hugs. She told me how much she loved Highway of Heroes and that three years ago she couldn’t have read it. She is clearly thrilled with her recently acquired ability and I wish her many hours and years of finding further pleasures in the books she’ll choose to read.