David Bouchard delivers – literacy message weds success to reading

“An acclaimed author of children’s books, David Bouchard is also a champion of literacy. This former teacher and school principal has written more than 50 books in English and in French. 
Many of them combine poetry, prose and visual arts, and explore topics such as the environment, history and the traditions and cultures ofCanada’s Aboriginal communities.

Also a storyteller and sought after public speaker, he has travelled across the country to promote the importance and joy of reading and writing. In his presentations to children, parents and teachers, he addresses his own struggles with dyslexia. 
Proud of his Métis heritage, he is a former president of the 
Métis Nation of Greater Victoria and continues to serve as a community leader.”
~ taken from the investiture ceremony of the Order of Canada.

Metis children’s author wows a crowd at Northern Lights Pavilion

By Terrance Gavan – Arts

He wears the ceremonial sash of  his people. The Metis sash shares time as a belt, a hoodie and a wood carrier; and he doffs it as he begins his presentation to kids, parents and teachers at the Northern Lights Pavilion in Haliburton.

Author, teacher, former principal and father… David Bouchard seems seamlessly built for this stage.

He treads on the old wood boards in the Performing Arts Pavilion.

He gestures, he prods and he pushes his message to the crowd. The words infectious and sobering.

Bochard tells the kids, parents and the teachers in the audience that he is Metis. Aboriginal. Mixed heritage.

His francophone accent is unmistakable when he tells his stories of discovery. He is a children’s author preaching to the converted here tonight. And they lap it up. Because Bouchard is saying something that the parents and kids in the audience know instinctively. Reading is good for the soul and reading, unlike a lot of things on this cobbled road called life, will never let you down. “It takes a story, it takes a hero… it takes a book.” That’s what it takes to capture a child’s imagination.

“Give them that,” says Bouchard. And they will read forever.

David Bouchard says he had no idea of his heritage growing up and he tells a story of his first children’s book, written before he knew that he belonged to First Nations.

And it is riveting.

The kids listen to the parsed cavities of the verse. David Bouchard is telling a tale of discovery. The story is compelling, because it is a metaphor that is unmistakably entrenched in folklore.

When he is done.

He looks out toward the crowd and he says: “I wrote that before I knew that I was Metis.”

Wow. You would have to hear him read it; to realize just how truly amazing it is that those lilting trills, depicting a voyage of discovery, were written by a white guy.

And make no mistake. The man who dances on the boards of the Northern Lights on a warm Tuesday night grew up white as Wonder bread.

He found his heritage only later in life and having found it?

He shares it.

His books have been translated to languages that are fast losing relevancy among the first classes in Canada.

The Cree, the Inuit, the First Nations and his Metis brothers and sisters are losing touch with their roots.

The stories are still passed, he says, but they are being passed by elders who can no longer tell their stories in their original tongues. Young natives no longer converse in Cree or Inuit or Saulteaux.

His own stories derive from his eclectic travels across Canada and the world.

David is a former teacher; a renaissance man.

At one point he pulls out one of those huge Galaxy “tablet phones” from a leather wallet that is strapped to his belt. It is a humongous phone and it is, like Bouchard, a hybrid. Part phone and part tablet. A tech expert on Gizmodo.com calls it “an abomination.”

David Bouchard likes this new gadget, and it blends metaphorically with his own intrinsic grasp of his Metis heritage. Part this and part that. And it just never seems to fit. Except perhaps in a leather native pouch worn under the Metis sash.

The bastardized phone also comes with a story. A lot of Bouchard’s insights come with back stories.

“I bought this on the 401 from a guy who advertised it on Kijiji,” says Bouchard. “It’s a funny story. I told the guy that if it fits in my pouch I’d buy it.”

It fit, but it’s still “an abomination.”

So why did he buy it? And why the hell did he drive to a rendezvous with a guy he’s never met? A guy who demanded cash?

“I got a deal,” laughs Bouchard. he can also read books on it. On the plane.

Then, as if on cue. It rings.

He answers it. On stage. And he tells the caller that he’s midway through his presentation.

It’s his wife and his daughter calling. They are inVictoria, his home. He is on the road a lot these days.

And the phone call comes with another story.

About a young boy who did not find reading until later on in life.

Bouchard is dyslexic. And if you are a teacher and a speaker whose life is now based on selling and talking and reading books?
Dyslexia is clearly a huge obstacle.

After the phone call he tells the parents and the teachers that he is not going to make the same mistake with his daughter that most parents make today.

“I was in Paris at a book show and I saw a family come in with a young kid and they placed him down in a chair and placed a DVD player in front of him,” says Bouchard. Sayonara engagement. This kid was at a book show and he was watching a movie. Parse that sucker, laughs Bouchard.

“When I get done here I am going back to my hotel room and I am going to get on the phone and read to my daughter,” says Bouchard. “I read to her every day. Every day.”

And then he stares up into the crowd and he asks all of those kids what they’re reading.

The answers come fast. And furiously,

“Hunger Games,” says one young girl.

“Good book,” says Bouchard. “How many parents and teachers out there have read Hunger Games?”

He ignores the hands.

“You have to read what your kids are reading,” says Bouchard, hands punching the air.

“And read with your kids, every day.”

The last part of the talk is dominated by the kids.

It becomes a dance.

Kids naming books and Bouchard commenting on the author, or the story.

He has read almost all of the books the kids have read.

And, funnily enough, he knows most of the authors personally.

“It takes a hero.”

Bouchard says that’s all it takes to kickstart a child to reading.

“Find something they want to read… comic books, children’s books, graphic novels… and then let them read.”

A simple message?

Perhaps.

The basic point says Bouchard?

Literacy is intrinsically tied to success in the education paradigm.

“That’s hard to ignore,” says Bouchard.

And so too is the message.

Read.

Dammit read.

gav is reading? Hunger Games on Audible.com. He can be reached at gav@pardontheeruption.com.  On twitter he is Terrance Gavan