Question & Answer with Raptors 905 Reading Challenge Students

Written by Grace Mahas
What is the Raptors 905 Reading Challenge?

The Raptors 905 Reading Challenge is a reading program that gives books to kids. It is celebrating its fifth year. The program started with DeMar DeRozan who partnered with First Book Canada to support 10 schools to read 10 books over the course of 10 weeks! It is now being supported by the Compugen Green4Good Program, Bank of Montreal, and Raptors 905. This year’s Reading Challenge provided 20 schools with seven books for each student — that’s over 3,000 books to over 500 students! This initiative provides students with a unique opportunity to develop their reading and writing skills, as each week the students are required to read and finish a book and write a short book review.

This year’s Raptors 905 Reading Challenge has had some amazing moments and it’s only in its third week! Lorna Schultz Nicholson author of Amazing Hockey Stories: Hayley Wickenheiser had virtual visits with classes about their thoughts on the book. We interviewed Arnott Public School about their virtual author visit and here’s what they had to say!

How did the Skype visit with Lorna Schultz Nicholson go?

Ms. Harris: “To hook up Skype, my heart was pounding, and I was very nervous and excited all at the same time, but it went smashing. We had a few teachers in here taking pictures for me and they put it on their Twitter account and Lorna commented on the Twitter account and then so did Hayley!”

Nyomi S.: “It was really exciting and surprising because she lived all the way in Edmonton which is really far and it’s good that at least we got everything connected to her from so far.”

What did you think about Lorna’s personality?

Gautam G: “She was really inspiring and energetic.”

Steve B.: “She told us to follow our dreams.”

Keira T.: “[She was] enthusiastic and friendly.”

Nyomi S.: “She was outgoing.”

Willow W.: “She seemed really happy.”

Ms. Harris: “She always had a smile on her face and made really good connections with her personal self on why she chooses to do what she’s doing. She made connections to her kids, which, for me because I have kids, was nice.”

Sunny S.: “We got to learn that she had other books.”

Students, can you give your thoughts about the book Amazing Hockey Stories: Hayley Wickenheiser?

Ms. Harris: “We really connected with Amazing Hockey Stories: Hayley Wickenheiser.”

Sophia T.: “I thought it was really interesting because it had lots of facts about [Hayley’s] life and her playing hockey.”

Cain B.: “I liked it because the author wrote about a girl hockey player and there’s not many girl hockey players that are written about.”

Sakina S.: “I thought it was really inspiring because even after everyone was putting her down, she kept lifting herself up.”

Willow W.: “I like this book because the author wrote about one of her friends.”

Ms. Harris: “Yes, Lorna showed us personal pictures of Hayley and her kids. [Lorna] got to interview her mom and her coach.”

Gautam G.: “Ireally liked how when other people were putting her down, her parents helped her out, like how at 7 years old she started off on a public ice rink and then she went international, and how her parents never backed down and always supported her.”

Willow W.: “I like how Hayley followed her dream.”

Ms. Harris: “Yeah, I think that’s one of the main points. It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter where you live, but that you’re able to follow your dreams no matter what your dreams are. Everyone‘s [dreams] are going to be different, but from her story, we saw Hayley followed hers and it was very challenging.”

Then the students asked Grace and Calyssa from First Book Canada some questions about the Raptors 905 Reading Challenge and First Book Canada.

Ms. Harris: “How did you pick the books for this Reading Challenge? They really liked the books so far.” 

Calyssa: “I worked with one of our colleagues, Rebeca, and she’s responsible for securing our entire book inventory for our programs and initiatives such as the Reading Challenge. We put out an ask to all of our publishing partners letting them know about the Reading Challenge and asking them to suggest some books for us. The books had to be Canadian in focus; so, either a Canadian author, or take place in Canada, or have Canadians themes because we really wanted to showcase all the different books that we have in Canada.

So, after having all of that experience and getting the feedback from all of the students from last year, I went back to Rebeca and said that we need to secure books based on this feedback. We found a mix of fiction and non-fiction and graphic novels that were similar in age and length, and a variety of topics (because it’s really cool to read a bunch of different things!) and that’s how we decided how to pick the books.

We picked a lot of them because they were newer books and we wanted to make sure you guys hadn’t already read them, that they were going to be new to you and new to us so we could go through this whole journey with you guys and with all of your reviews.”

Vidhansh L.:“Where did you get the books?”    

Grace: “We contacted publishers including HarperCollins Canada, Scholastic Canada, and Groundwood Books and they gave us a special rate to purchase the books. Bank of Montreal, through Compugen’s Green4Good program, provided financial support for us to buy the books that you get to keep and bring home to your families. Compugen has also donated a refurbished computer for each of the 20 participating schools. And the Raptors 905 have donated tickets, supported by the Bank of Montreal, as well as space for the Reading Celebration Day!

Calyssa: Compugen has this program called Green4Good, and they get computers from large organizations, usually banks like Bank of Montreal, and they repurpose them, since banks have computers that have a lot of sensitive information on them. So, Compugen takes all those computers and they wipe them and make them good for somebody to use. [Compugen] takes all of the money they receive to repurpose these computers and they use it to support programs like this Reading Challenge.”

Steve B.:“How do you get guys get money for this Challenge?”

Calyssa:“In general, First Book Canada receives funding from various corporations, foundations and organizations to help run our programs including this one. It’s a great question to ask how non-profits get funding, and if you’re really interested in learning some more about it, you can go to our website and view all of our financial statements. You’ll be able to pull up a document that says this is how much money came in, this is how much money went out. And you can see a little bit more about how non-profits work.”

Cain B.:“Why did you choose seven books?”

Calyssa: “In previous years, we’ve done 10 books in 10 weeks and we got a lot of feedback that that was a long time, that it was too many weeks, so we scaled it back. We thought seven books in seven weeks was good as it gives you enough time to start building a habit – since you need at least 30 days to build a habit.”

Willow W.:“Why did you want to give us the books?”

Grace:“We run the Raptors 905 Reading Challenge to be able to give you all your own personal libraries at home so that you can read by yourselves and with your family. We want to make sure every kid has access to wonderful books that they can keep and enjoy. So, we hope you all love to read and that this habit stays with you because reading improves your mind and leads to endless possibilities.”

Keira T.:“Were all the books new?”

Grace:“Yes, all the books given to you were brand new.”

Bryanna P.:“What age group are you guys looking for?”

Grace: “For the Reading Challenge, it’s only grade 5 classes and there’s 19 other classes participating, so in total that’s 525 students! In general, we strive to help kids aged 18 years old and under with a few exceptions.”

Brooklynn L.:“How many books do you guys have?”

Grace: “I would say in our office we have 200 books at least! We work with publishers to distribute over 1 million books each year to build home libraries. We also have a program called The First Book Canada Marketplace, and that’s where people like your teacher and other community organizers can access thousands of different titles. They can buy books to help other kids at a discounted price of at least 50% off. There’s a bunch of other really cool stuff on the Marketplace like school supplies, winter jackets, care packages, and eBooks.”

Nyomi S.:“Why did you choose this job?”

Grace: “I’m a Communications and Events Intern for First Book Canada, and I really wanted to help kids like you guys get books, so you can start building your own home libraries in order to have a passion for reading. I always loved reading as a kid, so I wanted to be able to share that joy with other kids.”

Sunny S.: “How long have you had your job for?”

Grace: “I’ve been working here since September 2018, but First Book Canada has been around since 2009 and will be celebrating our 10 year anniversary this fall.”

Brooklynn L.:“What age do you have to be to volunteer with First Book Canada?”

Grace: “We have volunteers who are in high school, so as long as you’re 16 years old, you can volunteer with us. With some of our book distributions, we have people of all ages volunteer and help teachers and other community organizers pick out books to bring to kids. We recommend you have a parent join you if you want to volunteer and you’re under 18 years old.”

First Book Canada would like to thank Ms. Harris and her class for letting us interview them. We’d also like to thank Lorna Schultz Nicholson for her amazing Skype interviews. We can’t wait to see what else the Raptors 905 Reading Challenge brings! Follow the hashtag #905ReadingChallenge to see the reading journey, and don’t forget, you can start your own Reading Challenge at any time: just pick out your books and make a goal!