It is not news to the 7,000 –odd people who attended Telling Tales–the Children’s’ literacy festival held at Westfield in September— but many in the Bay area may be surprised to know that Hamilton has become home to Canada’s largest literary festival. Telling Tales was the brainchild of Susan Jasper who enjoyed a lengthy career in publishing with companies like McClelland and Stewart. There, she headed up a children’s’ book division and dreamed of one day staging a children’s’ literacy festival.

“ I knew such a festival would have to be held outside Toronto so it would stand out,” Susan recalled. Eventually leaving publishing she returned to Hamilton. When her son started volunteering at Westfield Heritage Village Susan realized that the site would be perfect for her literacy event. After rounding up sponsors and partners Susan launched the first Telling Tales event in 2009 and it was an immediate success—attracting more than 3,000 participants in its first year. Susan credits Rotary, which has long supported literacy projects with helping get the festival started.

The one-day event features multiple stages operating simultaneously with children’s’ writers reading and acting out their books, there is music, pantomime, book sales and all manner of creative events aimed at promoting interest in reading. An interesting feature of Telling Tales is that it reaches out to families in some of Hamilton’s more challenged neighbourhoods. The Hamilton Board of Education provides busing to the event. “It’s a nice mix of people–approximately 25 percent of our participants come from high-priority neighbourhoods,” said Susan, “another 25 percent from out of town and the rest from all across Hamilton. It’s a wonderful opportunity for parental engagement with their kids.” She added that the buses are quiet on the way back from the festival because the kids are reading the free books they obtained at the festival.

The Telling Tales Festival is supported by community partners including: TD Bank Group, Muse Marketing, Cogeco, Ontario Arts Council, 20 local Rotary Clubs of Hamilton, Burlington, Dundas and Waterdown, Leggat Auto Group, CHML Children’s Fund, Bermingham Foundation, Penguin Random House Canada, Scholastic Canada, and the United Way of Burlington and Greater Hamilton.

As the festival has grown and attracted more high profile support it has been able to fulfil another of its objectives—support to other literacy programs. “It’s incredibly satisfying to be able to give $12,000 back to literacy projects within our community,” says Susan “These organizations are important literacy resources in the Hamilton community and each have played an active role in building and supporting our festival.” The recipients of this year’s literacy funding are:

* Early Literacy Hamilton’s “Read to your Baby” program: $5,200

* Rotary Summer Literacy Program: $5,000

* Hamilton Literacy Council: $1,800

Next year’s Telling Tales Festival—the 8th annual—will take place Sunday September 18th.

Providing a fresh perspective for Hamilton and Burlington

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