Move over, snacks. This vending machine serves up books to Indigenous kids

·2 min read

To eight-year-old Kaida-Lynn, books are more than just words and pictures on paper.

"You can imagine" when reading them, the youngster said.

"You can bring it to life. You can make your own books. You can make movies about books. There's lots of stuff you can do," she added.

That's why the London girl said she's excited to start using a new book vending machine unveiled Tuesday at N'Amerind Friendship Centre, where she participates in the Akwe:Go program for children ages seven to 12.

The vending machine, designed to offer accessible and "culturally relevant" material to Indigenous children and youth, is part of a national literacy project launched by Start2Finish, a Canadian charity that promotes the health and well-being of children through fitness and education.

"What we wanted to do is make sure that we had culturally relevant literature that would allow (children) to see their identity, not only for their families, reconnection to the land, but also to identify themselves," said Brian Warren, founder and executive director of Start2Finish.

Sponsored by TD Bank and in partnership with First Book Canada, the Indigenous Literacy Enhancement Project will distribute 8,000 books each year over the next three years, with hope of expanding to more schools and Indigenous-led organizations after that.

London is one of four cities in Canada to receive the vending machines, through which children can access a range of books by Indigenous authors. The other three are in Ottawa, Toronto and Calgary.

Painted orange with the words "Every Child Matters," the machine accepts a specific kind of coin with a picture of a book worm on one side and a label that reads I Love Books on the other.

At N'Amerind, Akwe:Go co-ordinator Sheree Plain plans to use the vending machine to start a book club and encourage kids to think critically.

"We're going to be starting an actual book club, where they will do some critical thinking around the books that they're reading," Plain said. "They'll have a stamp card for things they'll be learning in each book."

In addition to learning more about their traditions and culture, Plain said children will have an opportunity through the project to focus on "reconciliation and an understanding of our history.

"When I was a child, this wasn't an opportunity for us, so it's nice to see that we are able to create that for our children now," she said.

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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