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Author celebrates literacy with qathet region school visits

Isabelle Southcott will read to children during Family Literacy Week to encourage reading and writing

Having dedicated her career to literacy, Isabelle Southcott will be reading her book Toller Tales: Jigs and Zunga Take a Trip, throughout the community as part of Family Literacy Week this month.

Southcott, publisher of qathet Living magazine, took some time in 2022 in addition to her day job to write her self-published book, which details her two Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers, Jigs, who is three, and Zunga, who is one year old, and an imaginary trip they take. Southcott will be reading the dogs’ story to local school children, as well as for children at Powell River Public Library.

Family Literacy Week takes place from January 22 to 29 and Southcott, Jigs and Zunga are going to visit all the elementary schools in School District 47, plus Assumption School. They will also be participating in story time at the library on January 25.

“The library is doing a doggie-themed story time,” said Southcott.

In terms of the book readings at schools, they will be for the lower grades, from kindergarten to grade three, although at Westview Elementary, Southcott has been invited to speak to grade seven students because they want to learn about writing, and how to take an idea and turn it into a story. Southcott will outline the steps she took and talk about the writing process in general.

When interacting with the students, Southcott said she will be doing more than reading Toller Tales: Jigs and Zunga Take a Trip.

“I’ll take Jigs and Zunga and I’ll talk about the breed and tollers,” said Southcott. “I’ll find out how many students have pets of their own. Most children, if they have their own pets, they have stories of their own they can share. Even the young ones in kindergarten can tell you what their cat or their dog or their hamster did.

“I’ll read the story and take the dogs, both of which have passed their canine good neighbour test, which is a Canadian Kennel Club-approved series of tests.”

Southcott said for Family Literacy Week, she approached the school district to do the readings.

“I thought it would be so fun and it’s an opportunity for me to give back,” said Southcott. “I thought it would be a great fit. To have a story come to life with the animals that inspired it makes it a living project and makes it a little bit different than some other projects. It adds a different dimension, and children and pets go together like peanut butter and jam.”

Southcott said it will be great if this program results in inspiring some budding young writers.

“I go back to my own experience, and I have a poem I wrote when I was in grade two; it was about my puppy and my mother saved the poem,” said Southcott. “It’s really fun because I look back and even then, I loved animals. We had three cats and two duck tollers, a rabbit, white mice, four aquariums of fish and a horse when I turned 16.

“I’ve always had lots of animals and I’ve always enjoyed writing. This book was a natural. It’s fun that even as a young child, I was combining the two and it has continued for a lifetime.”

Lifelong love

Southcott said she is looking forward to the readings. Promotion of literacy goes to her heart, having spent a lifetime writing and reading, she added.

“I love reading; I trade books with my sister and my friends,” said Southcott. “As a writer, I greatly appreciate the work that goes into the publication of these books. Just doing my little passion project, Jigs and Zunga Take a Trip, it’s amazing how you reflect on every single word and every single illustration. You ask if this is the right word and if it feels right.

“I’m really happy with the book and it was such a great learning experience. I’m sure there will be another in the Toller Tales series at some point. I’m already kicking around some ideas.”

Southcott said the book started as a little poem. She took it to work and asked her staff what they thought.

“They said ‘that’s really fun, you should make it into a book,’” said Southcott. “I hadn’t even considered that. I was going to put a picture with it and put it on my dogs’ Facebook page. When the seed was planted, I thought maybe I could turn it into a book, so that’s how it took off.”

The writing of the book occurred on and off over the course of a month, according to Southcott.

“I had an idea and it started to grow,” she explained. “Then, there were lots of revisions and changes.”

It’s a rhyming story, which made the process a little more challenging.

“It is kind of like a puzzle,” added Southcott. “It made it a little more complicated but I liked the challenge.”

The process started in April 2022 and the books arrived at the end of November.

The art was created by Graham Harrop, who is a Vancouver Sun cartoonist.

“He was so much fun to work with and he did everything he could to make sure I was happy,” said Southcott. “The book was about having fun, following my heart and giving back to the community, and having something to give to kids.”