Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award Goes Virtual with First-ever Festival of Reading
The Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award is growing in new ways this year.
Since the award was first established 22 years ago, Hackmatack has introduced readers aged 9-12 to a variety of local literary talent.
Children form clubs each year—typically through their schools or libraries—and choose from a short list of 40 books.
“There’s 10 of each: English fiction, English nonfiction, French fiction and French nonfiction,” says Hackmatack coordinator Stacey Cornelius. “They get together and read the books, they discuss the books, they do some projects or things like that around the books. Then they vote on their favourites, and we announce the award winners in May.”
Over the last two decades, Hackmatack has grown to include a more diverse selection of books and regular author tours. This year, in response to COVID-19 protocols, Hackmatack is going virtual.
“It’s our first time, so I’m a little bit nervous because with the third wave [of COVID-19] people have gotten very tired,” Cornelius says. “There were risks this year because we were not sure how things were going to unfold with the pandemic.
“We found a silver lining in all this,” she continues. “I heard from one club leader who said that their school is within walking distance of the library but because of the size of the room in the library only a certain number of students could go. All four classes were able to attend the virtual visit and all four staff.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the program, you’re not alone. While popular within the school and library systems, Cornelius says Hackmatack has been a “well kept secret” from the public. This year, the team at Hackmatack is hosting its first-ever virtual Festival of Reading in tandem with the awards to combat this issue.
“We want more people to know about it,” she says. “Not every school or library has the resources to form a reading club, so we wanted to let people know they have the option. Not everyone has the infrastructure to be part of a club, so we wanted to make sure that we’re touring all over. We also want to make sure that the general public knows about these amazing Canadian children’s authors.”
The three-day festival takes place on May 28-30 and includes workshops in world building and pitching to a publisher, among others.
One key element of the festival is its Future Voices Showcase, which introduces attendees to up-and-coming BIPOC creators such as North Preston-based singer-songwriter Keonté Beales, interdisciplinary artist Letitia Fraser, Métis writer Daniel Henriquez and more.
“[It] grew out of frustration with the lack of diversity in our shortlists,” Cornelius says. “We really want to see more BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+ stories in the mix, and we just weren’t seeing them. What our collection committee chair said is that…there tends to be a good number of books for younger readers and, of course, there’s a decent number of books for young adults. But there seems to be a gap in the 9-12 age range.
“We [knew] publishers were working on catching up, but we wondered what we could do in the meantime. We decided we would go looking for some artists ourselves and see if we could introduce some people who are just starting our or aren’t as well known to our audience.”
The festival will host a panel of established BIPOC authors and creators—aptly titled Future Voices Mentors—to share stories and provide advice for the up-and-coming creators. The panel includes Egyptian-born illustrator Hatem Aly, award-winning Mi’kmaq poet Rebecca Thomas and award-winning author and spoken word poet Andre Fenton.
Fenton says he’s thrilled to be involved.
“I’m really excited to be sharing a panel with Hatem Aly and Rebecca Thomas as part of the Hackmatack Festival,” he says. “Mentorship is always an important aspect while working in a community, and I’m proud to be part of this wonderful lineup of artists, writers and organizers.”
With the event just around the corner, Cornelius hopes attendees leave feeling more connected with Atlantic Canada’s vibrant literary scene.
“I hope [people] just deepen their appreciation. I know a lot of parents have discovered—or maybe rediscovered—how important reading is. I think reading has been a saving grace for a lot of people during the pandemic. It’s a way to escape, but it is also a way to discover new places and new stories. I hope that it just helps deepen the rich experience of reading.”