Esterhazy school wins Willow Awards Launch

PJ Gillen School will host the SaskEnergy Willow Awards Gala on May 24

May 7, 2024, 8:57 am
Ashley Bochek

Students reading Canadian author’s nominated books

P.J Gillen School in Esterhazy has been awarded the Willow Award Launch and the opportunity to host the SaskEnergy Willow Awards Gala.

The Willow Awards is a Saskatchewan award program for schools to read and vote on nominated Canadian authors’ books. The award program celebrates Canadian authors and promotes literacy in schools.

Library technician Suzannah Duff speaks about the school’s accomplishment in winning the Willow Awards Launch and being selected to host the SaskEnergy Willow Awards Gala.

The interview follows:

How did you hear about the Willow Awards and this opportunity?
The Willow Awards is a Province-wide book award program that is run by the Willow Awards Board. Schools and public libraries are usually emailed the information and mailed out the nominations every year. There was a deadline to submit our proposal so we went ahead an gave it a shot this year.

What did you have to do to enter? What was the proposal?
We had two different proposals. We had a launch proposal, where we discussed some of the ideas that we had to launch the Willow Awards in our school this year. Students had the chance to vote for their favourite Canadian-based book for the awards out of the nominated books.

We tried to come up with creative way to launch that to them this year to get them excited. Typically, the launch is a way to get students excited about the Willow Awards and the nominees each year. We submitted the idea of doing a willow sprouts wall. So, the theme we did was of willow trees and how they are known for their flexibility, resilience, and for their ability to sprout trees from their branches. We wanted to do that theme with our students to promote literacy. The idea we had behind it was that we are kind of like willow sprouts as well as our students, meaning that the more they read the more flexible and resilient they become and the more they grow. So, every time we read a book we are like planting a new willow tree and we are growing every time we read a new book. That was our launch submission and because the Willow Awards board enjoyed that submission and the creativity behind it, they granted us the full set of thirty books. So, we won all thirty nominated books. Also, part of the willow sprouts wall was that every time a class or kids read one of the Willow nominated books, it was entered on our wall kind of like a wall of fame for reading these books.

The second part of this was the ability to submit a proposal to host the SaskEnergy Willow Awards Gala. The gala is an event like the academy awards, but for books. Essentially, the Willow Awards Board sends out authors and there are sponsors for these authors to come out. The students put together a bunch of student-led artwork and they present these awards to the authors who have been voted for by kids across the province for their books. It is a neat experience for the students being able to award real authors and to be part of something so big. In our proposal we had called it, Under the Willow Tree. We wanted a similar theme to what we had with the Willow Sprouts. The big thing for us is that we are a small school and we wanted to show that our students—although we are a small school and from a small town—are able to be a part of big things. So, that is something that our students are really excited about—seeing that even though they live in a small town they can put their names into something and they can succeed.

How long was the contest?
The nominations are out for about a year, the authors and their books. So, you get a period of time, like we had to make the submission in November. We have been reading the nominated books for months now. The vote took place in March.

How did it make the students and the whole school feel winning both the Awards and Gala?
Everyone has been really excited. It has been a bit of a whirlwind in some ways, but the kids have been amazed the fact that they are going to get the chance to meet some real authors and the fact these authors are coming to their little town that maybe people don’t know about on a map. That has been fun for them.

I think they also really enjoyed talking about the books. These are all very quality books written by Canadian authors and they have all enjoyed discussing the themes and talking about the things they have learned.

We have talked a lot about flexibility and resilience and how those themes that are growing in people play into the themes in the books. So, every time we read a book we have been talking about what we have learned and how we are growing from this experience. I think all of these authors of the nominated books this year have done a wonderful job with highlighting important issues and making reading fun for the kids.

What is the Gala about? Is it to get authors out to schools or students to meet Canadian authors?
We have the author visits that will be taking place in the morning of the event on May 24. The SaskEnergy Willow Awards Gala is part of that, and an award ceremony.

The award ceremony will be students who are talking about the three different categories of books and we actually have some high school students taking part in this as well. All the students will be performing to musical numbers and poetry. They will also be presenting these awards, the winners of the nominated books voted for by students across the province will be announced at the gala.

What is the overall purpose for your school to participate in this program?
In our school, it was to take part of a democratic process for kids. Teaching them how to participate in something that is bigger than them.

Also, to get them excited about literature. We want our students to be able to connect to what they are reading. Part of that is knowing that you are connected with other readers. The fact that our students knew that other students were voting across the province and that it wasn’t just them made them feel important. The fact that we won the launch and the fact we are also lucky enough to host the gala, I think really showed them how big literature can get and how important reading is. It got them excited and being excited about reading is what we want to do in schools and what we want to overall achieve in libraries.