Sarah Ellis promotes children, literacy

Sarah Ellis has some serious street credit in the world of children’s writers. She has the ability to jump  between writing picture books and writing young adult novels. Explaining why she wrote many young novels focusing around pre teen girls, she simply states, “They are my people. 12 year old girls are my people.”

Everything from feet that won’t behave properly to child labour, Sarah Ellis has covered in her fourteen books. The renowned Canadian author came to Capilano on Thursday, January 28, as part of the Kinder Text series. In between reading excerpts from her work, she took the time to talk about censorship in children’s books, as well as the future of print novels, picture books, and writing in general.

Difficult subject matter was something Ellis was quick to give advice about: “Katherine Paterson [told me], ‘you are not your character’s mother’. I try not to censor myself at the beginning of a subject. Every subject is fair game. [I wonder] what’s the way in? What’s the window for a kid? Just be bold, there are lots of gatekeepers along the way.” 

One of the biggest issues discussed by Ellis was the future of children’s literature. A 2004 Statistics Canada survey stated that children between the ages of two and eleven are watching up to 14.1 hours a week of television. In the six years that have lapsed since, and with a greater emphasis of computer use in both the classroom and home, it is safe to assume that children are spending significantly more time in front of the tube and the computer.

Ellis estimated that children on average spend around “seven hours of their day” in front of one screen or another, countering the questions about whether this would negatively affect picture book print with saying,  “They [children] aren’t going to lose their need for narrative.”

“I don’t think the picture book is going to leave anytime soon,” she stated, remaining hopeful that parents teaching their children the importance of reading will likely continue to use these sorts of tools in the process.

“You must have a strong, strong story for a picture book... [they are like] a theatrical performance, more so than any other literature. In a sense you are writing a script for someone to perform.” The concept of a script within a picture book, the ability to act out the story and make it more interactive may be one of the reasons that Ellis has hope for the future of picture books.

With the increasing amount of kids television shows turning books into television shows, such as the popular Franklin the Turtle or Clifford the Big Red Dog, it is also questionable as to whether having a strong story will be enough to keep the stories between brightly coloured pages. 

Treehouse TV, a Canadian television channel geared specifically for children between the ages of two and seven, plays a huge role in children’s lives these days. Shows like “The Big Comfy Couch” feature Lunette the clown who ‘reads’ stories to kids, eliminating the need for a parent to be actively involved in the imagination growing process of developing minds.

Literacy BC, as well as ABC Canada, have posted many different studies finding that the more involved parents are with their children's development of literacy from an early age, the more likely the child is to develop the skills necessary to succeed within their schooling.

If Ellis is correct in her assumption that children are spending up to seven hours a day in front of the computer or television, the future of the picture book isn’t a troubling notion -- it is the future of our children's literacy that we should be concerned about.

For more information on literacy rates and what it means for children and adults, visit www.literacy.ca . For more information on Sarah Ellis or any of her books, visit www.sarahellis.ca.

// Nicole Mucci,

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com