Reading is more than just a pastime for children, it’s a doorway to a lifetime of opportunity, says Ontario-born author Vikki VanSickle.
“Once you can read, you can do pretty much anything,” she said.
“You can discover new worlds, discover what it is you’re interested in, and that might lead to a future career or future passion. If you have the language to sort of seek in the world, then you can do whatever you want.”
VanSickle, author of children’s books “Words That Start With B” and “Love is a Four-Letter Word,” was in Prince Albert on Wednesday as part of the TD Canadian Children’s Book Week, speaking to a group of young readers about her experiences as a writer.
“What they do is they take authors, illustrators and storytellers, and send them to a province or territory that is not their own,” she said.
“So it’s a really great opportunity for those who may not have the means or reason to travel somewhere else. They get to explore the provinces, and meet with students they don’t normally get a chance to see, and get to do school visits, which is sort of our bread and butter, so it’s a really excellent opportunity.”
VanSickle said she takes every opportunity she can get to speak with the youth who read her books.
“My favourite part is the questions you can get, because you can make a lot of assumptions about what kids are getting from your book, or what they want from your presentation, but until they ask you something, you don’t really know, and they really keep you on your toes,” she said.
“Kids are very welcoming, but also very honest critics. If they don’t like something, they’ll tell you right away, so you have to learn to deal with that, but I appreciate that honesty, and I’m interested in their world, and providing them with books that they find interesting, or entertaining at the least.”
The innate curiosity of young minds not yet jaded by the clichéd, stereotype-driven media world is what inspires VanSickle to write for children.
“For me, my favourite reading period in life was that time between nine and 12, when every story is new, everything is interesting,” she said.
“You can spend hours in a book, and everything is surprising, and I remember that feeling, and so if I can sort of give that feeling to other children, that’s the greatest gift, so that’s sort of why I write the age level that I do.”
VanSickle talked about the important role that reading can play in a child’s intellectual and emotional development.
“For kids, the first chance they’re really able to make their own decisions is when they go to the library and they can pick a book … you sort of are able to operate on your own, independently, and show choice, and the idea of picking something for yourself is very powerful,” she said.
“You also learn about situations you might not be in. A lot of kids like to read about disasters, or really big things that sometimes parents can be really surprised at … but books are a really safe way for people to explore questions, or if they are curious about something, they can do that in a way that is slightly removed, so it’s not mentally disturbing to them, but also allows them to work through their own issues.
“I think having all kinds of books in different genres and different levels is important. If kids are not ready for a book, they will put it down. If it’s too much for them, they don’t want to give themselves nightmares, they don’t want to give themselves mental turmoil, they’ll often put the book down if they’re not ready for it, so I trust a kid’s ability to know what they can handle.”