For the first time, the Saskatchewan Young Readers' Choice Willow Awards Gala was held in a small town. Saltcoats School proudly hosted the eighth annual Willow Awards on Friday, April 30th.
"It was an amazing experience for all kids to feel they were really a part of it all," said grade one teacher and gala organizer, Marilyn Herron. "Every one of their votes counted."
The Willow Awards are given to Canadian children's authors as voted most popular by Saskatchewan students. The gala has always been held in major centres, but this year Saltcoats won the proposal to host.
"They had never had a school in the southeast part of Saskatchewan sponsor it," said Herron. "It had mostly been in large schools."
Students participated by reading books in their age category. There were a total of 30 books nominated for three age groups.
Everyone in Saltcoats school - over 120 students - read the required number of books to vote.
This year, over 11,000 children in the province voted in the Willow Awards. The winners were announced by students at Saltcoats School.
The gala featured drama performances by students and a few foot-stompin' songs by guest fiddler, Scott Cornelius of Roblin.
"We have an awesome drama group in our town, so we used a few people from our drama group," said Herron. Saltcoats Mayor Walter Farquharson acted in a skit with his two granddaughters, depicting scenes from the nominated book Rosie and Buttercup. Other classes presented a welcome song, a choral reading of Mechanimals and a skit from the book Dear Jo.
Throughout the well-rehearsed program, students announced award nominees and recipients.
"Everything in the program was done by the kids. That gave them ownership and a real pride that they could put on an amazing show," said Herron.
The gala itself was an exciting event, but before the show even started students and teachers had a chance to learn from their guest writers.
"[The students] got to meet three authors and got to do workshops with two of them - Chris Tougas and Christina Kilbourne."
Kilbourne worked with the older students on writing and talked about her book, based on the theme of internet safety. Younger students spent the morning with Tougas, a writer and illustrator, who used his sense of humour to teach them how to turn a line into a picture.
"They were just captivated by his art."
The opportunity to host the Willow Awards was not only exciting for Saltcoats School, it solidified their year-long emphasis on reading.
"We have a literary initiative in our school this year to get kids excited about reading," explained Herron. And as Lieutenant-Governor, The Honourable Dr. Gordon Barnhart said in his opening remarks, "good readers are good students."
The whole gymnasium erupted in applause each time a 2010 Willow Award winner was announced.
The Shining Willow Award (kindergarten to grade three) went to Chris Tougas for Mechanimals.
The Diamond Willow Award (grades four to six) was awarded to Gordon Korman for Swindle.
Unfortunately, Korman was unable to receive his award in person.
The Snow Willow Award (grades seven to nine) went to Christina Kilbourne for Dear Jo.