Yesterday, I traveled to Stratford-Upon-Avon and had the chance to visit William Shakespeare’s birthplace and several of the properties where he lived over the course of his life. It was a stupendous day. As I strolled through the yards where the Bard of Avon once himself wandered, I remembered all of his stories that I have come to love and appreciate over the years. I grew up admiring Walter Crane’s Flowers from Shakespeare’s Garden and much of high school was spent pouring over Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and the Tempest along with his sonnets. In university, I now realize that it is thanks to my teachers who introduced me to all of these stories that my love of stories has persisted. In the gallery of the Stratford museum, a quotation from the end of The Tempest greets visitors. It is taken from an exchange between Alonso and Prospero and reads simply: “I long to hear the story of your life”.
From a very young age, we learn about stories. We learn to listen to them and we learn to tell them ourselves. We seek to understand them and we learn to write our own. From a very young age, knowing about stories – writing and reading them – can change a child’s life.
In 2017, the Community Learning team at Trafford College in the Greater Manchester area invited local Trafford primary schools to participate in a Creative Writing project. Over the course of four weeks, parents got the opportunity to participate in a creative story-writing workshop alongside their children. They learned about how to get started, how to develop characters and how to create plot. The goal was to impart parents with the creative tools to continue supporting their children writing for pleasure at home. I spoke with Sarah Roiditis, an English tutor at the college and a member of the functional skills team who told me more about the initiative.
The project is called Trafford Tales and was created to help parents support children with their learning. As Sarah said, it not only “helped parents improve their own writing” but also “gave parents the opportunity to write their own story with the help of their child”. After the workshop concluded, children became published authors. With the tangible Tales, they got the chance to see their names printed and shared – who knows whether that precious proud moment could be the impetus for much more writing to come. Parents had the happiness of experiencing the rewards of the project in a more subtle way. Through the Trafford Tales, they had the chance to share a writing experience with their children in school and create a special time and memory with them.
Maybe, through workshops such as these, we realize that we have the power to shape our stories. Maybe, we also realize that stories have the power to shape us. Parents have a marvelous influence in introducing their children to a love of stories. Effectively, parents who participate in workshops that encourage writing for children are raising readers.
The Montreal Gazette published an article called, “Getting the word out about children's literature in Montreal” by Bernie Goedhart last November. In it, Goedhart speaks with Robert Paterson, a member on the board of the Knowlton Literary Festival Association, who emphasizes the importance of reading to the very young. Below is an excerpt from the article:
“Children need to hear a lot of words by the age of two,” he said, noting that it’s crucial to the acquisition of language and vocabulary. “The wonderful thing about being read to as an infant is that you’re bathing that child in words. Parents are holding the babies in their arms and that touch is important — the touch, the words, and the culture of reading for pleasure.”
Reading to children and introducing them to stories from a young age contributes greatly to stimulating their imagination and encouraging their natural creativity. Children and Parents reading and writing together can be even more beneficial. A decade ago, Literacy in Action and the Yamaska Literacy Council released a booklet entitled Learning with your Child. In it, they describe the multi-faceted role that parents have in raising readers. You can view it here.
Eventually, children learn to read themselves and are imparted with the tools they need to write their own stories. And somehow, there isn’t a word to describe how valuable that is. However, it can be gleaned in the way we write the story of our lives. Earlier in The Tempest, Prospero famously says, “We are such stuff/As dreams are made on; and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep”. The more we read, the more we expose ourselves to different life stories. More often times than not, these stories expand our world view and help us realize the power we have as storied individuals. As we celebrate Shakespeare's birthday this week, let us remember his immortal words: We are such stuff as dreams are made on. And so the story goes.
Support the Trafford Tales initiative and order your book copy here.
Insights into Manchester Part 6: Radio Lollipop and the Power of Play at Manchester's Children's Hospital
Covered in drawings and playful colors, I wondered what lay behind the door marked Radio Lollipop. I had walked into the Manchester Children’s Hospital earlier that morning to visit a friend volunteering in one of the hospital wards. In my explorations, I had come across the door and upon further exploration and curious questions to hospital staff, I was told to come back that evening to find out what lay behind it.
At 7:15pm that evening, I made my way back to the hospital. The hallways were considerably less crowded. I listened to all that could be heard: faint footsteps of lingering visitors and a distant vacuum noise cleaning the remnants of a long day. I rounded the corner and suddenly, the door was no longer closed.
With happy expressions, a group of people in red t-shirts filed out of the Radio Lollipop room carrying balloons. Watching them felt energizing. I approached John, one gentleman in the group and he told me about Radio Lollipop. A volunteer for the past 22 years, he told me all about this incredible organization that encourages play through radio. Radio Lollipop brings together “volunteers providing care, comfort, play and entertainment for children and young people in hospital”. And I was lucky to catch up with him because volunteers of the organization are only in after hours. Below is part of my conversation with John.
Gabrielle: What differences do you feel the presence of Radio Lollipop has made in the Manchester children’s hospital?
Mr. Rogers once said, ”Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” One of Radio Lollipop’s signature taglines is Serious Fun. Play and the positive impact it can have on the morale and creativity of children is something to be taken seriously. Another beautiful aspect of play for children is that it can be one of the best forms of therapy. Through play, a child can find security and stability. Experience has shown that a happy, motivated child can respond faster to treatment. Radio Lollipop initiatives “help normalize a young person’s day, support their psychological well being, and reduce the emotional challenges of a hospital stay” all through play and entertainment activities run by passionate volunteers.
When I’m listening to something I really connect with on the radio, I feel momentarily as though the people on air are speaking directly to me, even thinking of me, and responding to my ideas. That feeling of intimacy never loses its novelty. Every patient in Manchester’s Children’s Hospital has a radio next to their bed. At any moment, they can tune in, experience that same feeling of connectedness and know that they are not alone. Radio Lollipop is now in more than 30 hospitals in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US, and South Africa – working after hours and broadcasting the power of play on air 24/7.
A service such as Radio Lollipop in Canada would be brilliant. Children possess an innate sense of curiosity that deserves to be encouraged and stimulated in all circumstances, especially in illness. The pursuit of curiosity leads to creativity and children deserve the freedom to pursue their ideas with their unabashed curiosity. In his article “Enhancing Creativity”, Raymond Nickerson describes the characteristic of “childlike naïveté” that is common among great scientists – including Albert Einstein. As Nickerson recounts, the famous logician Bertrand Russell once praised Einstein because he did not take familiar things for granted. In an interaction between Russell and Einstein, Russell noted Einstein’s expression of “surprised thankfulness” that four equal rods can make a square. It is dazzling to imagine Einstein marvelling over the components of a square because it is something that seems so commonplace. However, it is just the faith in those moments of surprised thankfulness that lead to the persistence and realization of creativity.
The innate playful curiosity that children keep and protect in their earliest years is often taken for granted. However, Radio Lollipop is a guardian for children and their parents in hospitals across the world, providing them with the tools to pursue their interests and desire for play regardless of the circumstances. Having worked with over 5 million sick children with over 100 000 hours of volunteer time every year, Radio Lollipop continues serving patients with an open door – encouraging children everywhere to play on.
For more information on Radio Lollipop, visit their website
Nickerson, Raymond S. “Enhancing Creativity.” Handbook of Creativity, edited by Robert J. Sternberg, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998, pp. 392–430.
Happy International Women’s Day from across the pond in Manchester.
I’ve stopped for a coffee on the main road and watch as city-going people walk by. The sun is out today and everyone who passes is accompanied by a shadow following at their feet. I think of the shadows that accompany me today.
More than a hundred years ago, Emmeline Pankhurst walked these Mancunian streets. Born in Moss Side in Manchester, she was one of the most important and influential figures in the history of women’s suffrage. Described by TIME as “The Agitator”, Pankhurst “shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back”. She was a founding member of the Women’s Social and Political Union. With her as its figurehead, in the face of increased government repression and violence, the suffragette movement deployed several controversial tactics, including arson, violent protest and hunger strikes. Although many people disagreed with her, today her work is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women’s suffrage in Britain.
Emmeline Pankhurst may not be the sum total of the suffragette movement but all of her voiced ideas, words and deeds played key roles in the social and political reform that came afterward. She recognized that she was a part of a whole, bigger picture but had a deep conviction that she had the power to make an impact. Each person belongs to a bigger picture but behind each person, another picture can be uncovered. In her autobiography Suffragette: My Own Story, Pankhurst discusses her relationship with her husband, Richard Pankhurst, a barrister who was known for supporting women's rights to vote. She writes:
To have the unwavering support of someone you love is powerful and so lucky. To stay believing in something unashamedly in the face of critics and disbelievers is miraculous. To fight for equality in your life time and to empower those around you to follow is meaningful in a way that surpasses words. These feelings are not unique to Emmeline Pankhurst’s life or even to those of British women – they are universal truths.
This year marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act that gave 8.5 million more women the right to vote in the UK. It is so hard to imagine the feeling of being given something we so often take for granted today. When I put myself in that time, I’m always stumped by a question: Would I have been one of those courageous women? I’d certainly like to think so but still, I don’t know.
However, I do know that some day, people will be writing articles about the time we live in now. They’ll be talking about what women are currently living through around the world with the #MeToo and Times Up movements and they’ll be talking about the persisting lack of education access equality in developing countries. They will also be talking about what we did to fix things. They’ll still be talking about Emmeline Pankhurst and they’ll be talking about all those people who weren’t necessarily the sum totals of their movements but who dedicated their lives to making a difference. I certainly still have a chance to be one of those people.
Today, as I leave my spot on the side of the road, the sun illuminates the shadows and the stories of the women who came before me. It’s our turn to give our projects our all now and I think of that line from Mary Oliver's poem “The Summer Day”…“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Read the Guardian’s piece on the centenary here
On New Years Day in 1900, a library opened its doors in Manchester. It was a gift to the Mancunians that had been over ten years in the making. Housing over 70 000 books and about 100 manuscripts in the beginning, it was a wife’s tribute to her husband and the beginning of a love story – a love story about books.
Over the course of more than 100 years, the John Rylands Library has become a centerpiece in this vibrant city. In 1834, Manchester was the commercial heart of the cotton industry, propelling it to become the world’s first modern industrialized city. John Rylands (1801-1888) was a driving force in this movement and when he passed away, his wife Enriqueta Rylands (1843-1908) had a vision to establish a major library for Manchester in his honor. She wanted to share the treasures of this library collection with the widest possible audience. She invested time and much of her fortune into building the institution and chose the grand Neo-Gothic architectural style to create an instant cultural heritage for Manchester to rival that of the ancient university cities. It all started with her vision.
One of the most special gifts to give someone is a book you love. And truly, giving someone you love a library is special on another level. Enriqueta’s creation of the John Rylands library was a giant gift that to this day, we can have the pleasure of enjoying every day of the week for free. There are stories told about special people and their lives, there are often monuments erected in their honor…What does it mean to have a library carry on your legacy? Within the library is contained boundless precious resources that encourage our imagination and the pursuit of knowledge more than 100 years after its establishment. A legacy that has inspired generations to pursue learning in the library is powerful and speaks volumes even today.
Even today, the John Rylands library still stands as a pillar of Mancunian city life. Having opened in 1900, its structure survived both World Wars and was eventually purchased by the University of Manchester. It has seen a century’s worth of curious visitors from all walks of life and its walls have lived to tell a million tales. After all these years, it is the people who have worked at the library who have kept it so strong. Fundamentally, if so many continue to invest their time to preserve books and this storied structure, it must be for love. The sheer wonder one feels when walking through the grand walls of the library is unlike any other feeling. The desire to protect this treasure for generations to come is only fueled by a fundamental love of books, reading and libraries. Some may say it’s merely nostalgic but really, it is so much more. This library represents a collective life.
In his essay, “What is an Author?” Michel Foucault discusses the idea of an author’s “work”.
“Even when an individual has been accepted as an author, we must still ask whether everything that he wrote, said, or left behind is part of his work. The problem is both theoretical and technical. When undertaking the publication of Nietzsche's works, for example, where should one stop? Surely everything must be published, but what is "everything"? …What if, within a workbook filled with aphorisms, one finds a reference, the notation of a meeting or of an address, or a laundry list: is it a work, or not? Why not? And so on, ad infinitum. How can one define a work amid the millions of traces left by someone after his death?”
When we consider our life’s work, we can think about it in terms of the differences we’ve made in our communities, maybe in the books that have inspired us, the conversations that we have always remembered or the people we have loved. What is our “everything”? If we aim to encompass the Foucauldian “everything” maybe our life can’t be contained in one work but rather, a series of works contained in a library of our own.
Today is World Book Day in the UK. On this day, let us open the doors of local libraries and let us remember all the love and life times they contain.
As the sun streamed through the windowpanes, the people below were painted in the light of the Shakespearian stained glass. With the Bard of Avon at the mediating centre, each part of the giant artwork stood out depicting his famous characters and their unforgettable stories. Illuminated, those who enter the Central Library of Manchester bask in their coloured light.
Storied stained glass is only one piece of Manchester’s Central Library. On Thursday morning, I met with Ian Hopkinson, the library’s service development specialist. We began our conversation in the library entrance referred to as Shakespeare Hall.
As spaces, libraries have been strongly branded in the past. Most of what we do is need-driven. Thus, people tend not to think of visiting libraries unless they need a specific book. But now, libraries are evolving to offer so much more than what we know we need. They are expanding to anticipate our needs and spark further curiosity, revealing to us what we didn’t know we needed.
The library went through major renovations in 2014. The desire to increase accessibility and outreach were at the centre of these changes. Since then, the library has become “a genuinely public space” where everyone is welcome. Whether it is to find shelter from the Mancunian rain for a moment or to spend hours pouring over Carol Ann Duffy poems or anything in between…the library is the ideal space. Before 2014, the library had one main entrance, now it has five. As soon as you enter, you are greeted by an open space. Where there used to be rows of archival stacks now stands the interactive Archives+ feature showcasing local stories with digital maps and informative tidbits of foundational Mancunian history. Right next to it is the Library Café where I had a mocha before meeting Ian. It’s a completely open space where you can feel free to meet your friends to chill or linger for a solitary meditative mocha like me. That’s only the first floor.
“Meet me on the library steps” is how many young people in Manchester propose a romantic date. As Ian described, there is something un-miss-able about the library’s giant pillars and coliseum-like spherical form. It’s assertive, maybe a good way to woo a lover but potentially daunting as well. Ian told me that the main focus nowadays is motivating people to go further than the library steps and convincing them that crossing the threshold offers a wealth of resources and possibilities that they might be missing.
If you travel up to the second floor, you will find a special collections exhibition space, a music library and at the centre, the Wolfson reading room. To mark the centenary of the end of World War One, the library’s exhibition space is showcasing poignant paintings that happen to pay tribute to the Newfoundland Regiment. A must see. Walking out of this space leads into the music library where sheet scores, music books and even instruments are on hand. Thus, the music library doubles as an intimate public performance space while simultaneously being a serene space for connoisseurs and rookie seekers alike to delve deeper into music research. The hall of the music library surrounds the Wolfson Reading Room. Essentially, the whole library is built around this room. It is a completely quiet place to be shared with others as they work. The ceiling is high vaulted and the light pours in through a circular window way above our heads. When inside, you work alongside others but still, it truly feels like a room of one’s own.
The third floor is the business library. This is the space you would visit not only to read up on business schemes or how to’s but also where you would go to get connected. This library holds workshops and organizes class sessions with working professionals in the area to give you access to key insights covering everything from rebooting your career to starting your own business. This library is a prime networking tool.
We took the elevators to visit one final floor downstairs. As we zoomed down, the glass walls of the elevator encased the entirety of all that we had seen. Every floor holds a different space to accommodate a different need. As Ian told me, one goal of the Central Library is to create varied environments all within the same space. It’s a tall order. However, diversity in spaces draws crowds of diverse people. Everyone will find something for themselves at the Central Library. And hopefully, they will find more than they are looking for. Ian talked about serendipity. Planning library spaces and providing resources within those spaces is actually a poetic practice. If you create a space that is enticing and rich enough to encourage people to explore, you could be setting them up for a perfect serendipitous moment. At any instant we could fall in love with new local poets, or recall childhood memories hearing a sweet piano ditty in the music library. At any instant, you could find a study partner in the reading rooms or stumble upon family history that you never knew. With careful planning, patience, silence, music and maybe – a touch of serendipity, the Central library becomes the ideal space for an amazing moment.
UNESCO has declared, “Reading for pleasure is the single most important thing that will make a child successful in life.” With opportunities to join librarians for story time, rhyming and songs, library-going children under five are being raised as readers. The moral of Burnett’s Secret Garden is that with nurturing care, everything can grow. The presence of this mini library within the Central Library affirms trust in children and insures hope for their futures. Encouraging their sense of childhood wonder in its full bloom.
With its archives, spacious café, gallery space, reading rooms, music library and wealth of resources, Manchester’s Central Library is a vibrant store of information. It is where people meet and it is where interests are piqued. It is a steady hand in the community and ultimately, it is the place where ideas come to light.
The incredible part about this space is that it is a resource hub. Often, there are places that inspire us because of how they look and then there are places that inspire us because they provide us with the tools to be inspired. This is both. The Learning Commons here runs workshops through its My Learning Essentials program that tackle everything from academic referencing to time management to “successful searching”. Their team also runs a program called DigiLab that allows students and staff to “explore tomorrow’s technology” by trying your hand at the newest software and tech gear along with learning how to code.
The power of an open space and a place to explore one’s potential through tech and workshops is palpable. One of the greatest learning essentials is having a place to be and think freely. Peering through the clear glass windows of the commons onto the bustling Mancunian streets, one can’t help but feel hopeful for the future.
When the learning commons was built in 2012, 30 student artists and poets were welcomed to decorate the walls with inspiration for future students. One poem by Meaghan J. Couture stands out. Here is an excerpt:
As the moon illuminates the sky and dances with the stars,
In buildings such as the Learning Commons, students are provided with an open space where they can seek new ideas and work to find inspiration. Manchester’s promise of tomorrow is in these inner workings. Connected with this idea of utilizing space in Manchester, the artist Naho Matsuda has found a way to generate poetry out of the traffic and events that take place in Mancunian city spaces every day.
Matsuda recently designed a computer program that generates poetry from information about Manchester. The computers are situated around the city and select random bits of information on local topics such as weather, healthcare, schools, how many babies are born, cats, dogs and dance halls to create “impractical poetry”. All of this is made accessible online through the project website, everythingeverytime.net. Thus, the act of exploring spaces to their fullest potential becomes poetry in motion. The idea of finding this poetry in everyday epiphanies and daily life is so normal but yet, remarkable. Poetry is written in the places where we can circulate and share ideas and stories of our lives and studies freely. Look closer. You can’t miss it.
Listen to the CBC Podcast coverage about Matsuda's work here (at 41:05 mins)
It starts with rain.
I arrived in Manchester two weeks ago to embark on a six month long exchange program. My field of study is English Literature. My name is Gabrielle and I am drawn to reading poetry. My favourite poets are the Romantics John Keats and William Wordsworth. This past summer, I realized that my fondness for what I study stems from my fundamental love of stories and storytelling. From my perspective, being exposed to new material constantly through my classes and being given the tools to appreciate those works gave me the advantage of knowing reading for pleasure. I realized that I wished the same for everyone around me.
Literacy is more than knowing how to read and write. Literacy means understanding the world around you and being able to interact with it to your fullest capacity. As stated on the Literacy Quebec website, “A society that invests in literacy is more socially inclusive, safer and creates more vibrant communities.”
UNESCO declared Manchester a City of Literature in 2017. This city built the UK’s first public lending library and is home to countless literary festivals. It raises standards by creating platforms and allocating resources to diverse groups of artists, writers, publishers and translators. Additionally, by promoting domestic and foreign literature, Manchester welcomes countless diverse readers.
Manchester is a city of contrasts. It rains most days but upon arrival, I felt the warmth and kind attention that Mancunians are most known for. Those who I had barely met were greeting me with, “Hello, love”. The people make this city. Most of all, they make it feel like a home. They are the ones who will take the time to ask about your story and where you’re from. They cherish stories. And in some way, I believe this prizing of stories is what makes Manchester so characteristically and unequivocally a City of Literature. Listening to the stories of others allows us to expand our perspective and to some capacity, empathize with realities that aren’t our own. The stories recorded in literature hold the same power. Stories spark curiosity in us that sparks questions that spark answers that spark more questions…and so on. Stories propel us forward. Thus, in a city with such a rich history as Manchester, writing and reading become conscious acts of preservation for tomorrow. Reading and writing – literacy, is the present and the future.
My project during my time here is to share with you the ways Manchester uniquely encourages literacy as a City of Literature. On their website they outline their goal to create “a viable literary ecology for the future” through the creation of innovative, accessible reading and writing spaces across the city. I hope to explore these spaces in depth and record my findings. I hope to share as many ways that Manchester continues to push the envelope as I can.
Meanwhile, I will remember that it all starts with rain. And by rain, I mean Lemn Sissay’s poem “Rain” painted on the side of a café building on Oxford Road. With each letter falling droplet by droplet, I remember the first time I looked up and read it. I cocked my head to the side and found it bizarre. I wasn’t used to it. I lingered longer then letters slowly fell into place. It started to make sense. And for the first time in a while, I began to appreciate the rain. The triumphant rain that falls in Manchester.
When the rain falls they talk of Manchester but when the triumphant rain falls we think of rainbows it’s the mancunian way
International Literacy Day - The Network for Literacy calls on Minister Proulx to consult the relevant stakeholders before publicly announcing a new literacy strategy
Montreal, September 8, 2017 - On this International Literacy Day, the Network for Literacy welcomes the decision of Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports, Mr. Sébastien Proulx, to adopt a strategy for literacy and calls for a consultation with key members before publically presenting this strategy. The challenges and issues in the field, and the improvement of competency in literacy, numeracy and digital literacy remain an important need in Quebec. For this reason, Minister Proulx’s commitment to educational success, announced last June in his new policy, is a major development. The relevant stakeholders should be involved from the first discussion.
The necessity of a strategy in literacy is evident. There is a significant group of Quebec adults who have proven difficulties in writing, numeracy and in the use of communication and information technology. In fact, the creation of the Network for Literacy is the result of a sense of urgency shared by the 20 member organizations, about the situation of low literacy in the province, and the social, political, economic and cultural ramifications.
It is also essential that this future strategy for literacy provide the necessary financial resources required for its success, and for the support of the groups involved in programs helping adults with low literacy, and training in essential skills. This should be a governmental strategy, with the backing of all relevant ministers.
The Network for Literacy encourages Minister Proulx to continue in his efforts, knowing that the Network would like to contribute in the adoption of this future strategy. The Network invites the Minister to consult the platform adopted by its members, which illustrates their collaborative vision of success.
To consult the Network for Literacy’s platform: http://lutteanalphabetisme.ca/luttons-ensemble/
The Network for Literacy is comprised of 20 organizations who represent all factions of society. It works with the mission of mobilizing society and encouraging government to adopt a national strategy for literacy.
Members Organizations of the Network for Literacy:
Hey! Does your organization or space have a book corner? Do you know what a book corner is? Well literacy Quebec can help you and your organization get started on a book corner. A book corner is a comfortable space, doesn’t have to be big, where people can indulge in some quiet reading time, or they can exchange their latest book for a new one.
Literacy Quebec is happy to provide you and your organization with free books, and a book shelf or cabinet, if needed. In our increasingly digital and automated world it is becoming harder for people to maintain and enjoy the pleasure of reading a good hard copy of a book. There is no greater pleasure than the feeling of a good novel in your hands, turning the pages and devouring the story. It is important to find a good book to inspire the love of reading and spark creativity. Please get in contact with us on Facebook, E-mail, or phone.