The Road to Reading: Montserrat 2015/16

To kick off the Second Annual Rainforest of Reading Festival on Friday, November 27, 2015, all grade3,4 and 5 students - 175 kids in total - were marshalled outside the Montserrat Cultural Centre. They marched in costume holding flags and simple props to represent their favourite books. Joyce Grant and Jan Dolby creators of "Gabby" were in attendance when Student Ambassador Marlaina White announced that they had won the Rainforest of Reading Award. Governor of Montserrat, Her Excellency, Elizabeth Carriere, OBE. Ms. Carriere addressed volunteers, parents, teachers and students at the festival. Her Excellency shared memories of falling in love with fiction as a child growing up in British Columbia. As former director of UK Aid in Bangladesh, Rwanda and South Sudan, Ms. Carriere linked literacy to human rights with great passion.

The Road to Reading: Montserrat 2014

On November 21, 2014 at the Cultural Centre in Little Bay, every Grade 3 and 4 student assembled for the first Rainforest of Reading Festival. The sun shone and teachers smiled to see readers celebrating and chanting for their favourite book. The day of exuberance to celebrate literacy was lead by the Hon. Delmaude Ryan, the Deputy Premier, who admitted to the crowd that she is a "bookaholic." Author Kari-Lynn Winters ("Gift Days") engaged groups with a specially-created dramatic workshop. Glenn Francis, Zelma Tuitt White and the staff of the Ministry of Education wrote the book on how to run a successful event. Thank-you. The Reader's Choice Award went to "Crazy About Soccer" (Non-fiction) and "Bee Yourself" (Fiction). The seed has been planted. We're looking forward to next year and a crop of 12 more new books!

News: Montserrat joins the Rainforest of Reading Festival for 2014

In February 2014, Richard Clewes paid a visit to the small island state of Montserrat and proposed to Premier Reuben Meade that his country join the Festival. With a population of slightly less than 5,000, Montserrat is the least-populous member of the OECS. About 900 students attend primary, secondary or post-secondary schools.

Following a presentation to the Ministry of Education, including teachers and principals, Richard received an endorsement of the festival from Minister of Education, Colin Riley and Director of Education, Glenn Francis. A steering committee has been established and the festival date set. In November, Grade 3 and Grade 4 students will participate in their first-ever “Rainforest of Reading” Festival. The celebration will take place at the Montserrat Cultural Centre on Tuesday, November 18 when it is hoped several Canadian authors, including Kari-Lynn Winters (“Gift Days”), will attend.

Why the Rainforest of Reading matters

Montserrat is still known for its tranquil atmosphere and natural beauty – despite devastating volcanic eruptions in 1997 that forced the evacuation of two-thirds of the island’s 15,000 citizens. The volcano destroyed over half the island including the harbor, the airport and Plymouth, the former capital of Montserrat.

Today, following the construction of a new capital city and airport, development continues. Residents of this UK Crown Colony keenly appreciate the connection between literacy and community success. While the government works hard to sustain economic vitality, life goes on. The future is best seen in the faces of primary school students. They’re excited, as all kids are, by learning. The festival is an opportunity to be connected to other kids in the region and promotes the idea that to build the future it’s helpful to have a vigorous imagination.

Literacy in words and pictures

During his tour of the island, Richard was introduced to local artist, Shan Murrell. Shan’s enthusiasm for the festival resulted in her commitment to create a unique cover for the island’s own “Rainforest of Reading” passport. The key visual element is the country’s national bird, the Montserrat Oriole. Following the impact of the ’97 volcano, the bird has been critically-endangered – an appropriate metaphor for perseverance in this remote part of the developing world.

At a separate reception generously hosted by Gracelyn Cassell, Head of The University of the West Indies Open Campus Montserrat, it was announced that OneWorld Schoolhouse Foundation will be producing a hardcover book to commemorate its inaugural Rainforest of Reading festival in Montserrat. The manuscript will be based on poems and observations about the bird, written by primary school students. Photos from the UK National Archive as well as illustrations by Shan Murrell will accompany the text. The book will be launched at the festival.

Members of the Steering Committee and their comments

“Fantastic! Fully support.”

Glenn Francis, Director of Education

“Great idea. I welcome it.”

Inez Allen, Principal, Brades Primary School

“Worth trying, actually worth doing.”

Rosamund Meade, Lighthouse Community Academy

“Excellent! St. Augustine will be on board.”

Claudia Skerritt, Principal, St. Augustine School

“Happy to be able to collaborate towards a literary festival that gets full involvement of schools and students.”

Gracelyn Cassell, Head, UWI Open Campus Montserrat

“A wonderful gesture!”

Edith Duberry, Principal, Look Out Primary School