Move along, Shakespeare: N.S. publishers want more local books in classrooms

In Nova Scotia, books are bought and distributed through the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau, an outdated system that requires the majority of resources come from an approved list. A consultant has recommended giving teachers more control.

Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association calling for accredited bookstore system similar to Quebec

English teacher and novelist Michael Cosgrove says reading local writers gets students more engaged, so he supports a new campaign by Atlantic publishers to revamp the process that determines which books make it onto school reading lists. (Submitted by Michael Cosgrove)

After 17 years of teaching English, Michael Cosgrove is always looking for variety in his classroom's books. 

The Dartmouth High School teacher has students read the classics, but they're just as likely to study the work of Nova Scotia authors like Budge Wilson or Don Aker.

Cosgrove says reading local writers gets students more engaged, so he supports a new campaign by Atlantic publishers to revamp the process that determines which books make it onto school reading lists.

In this province, books are bought and distributed through the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau, a system that requires the majority of books to come from a provincially approved list. In her recent report, consultant Avis Glaze recommended giving teachers more control to buy the books they want. 

"You might see some better choices, more freedom, more excitement to teach something," said Cosgrove, who's also a member of the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions.

'Very old-fashioned system'

The Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association has jumped on Glaze's recommendation and is proposing an accredited bookstore system similar to Quebec's.

This system would require more provincial funds be spent in local bookstores on books other than textbooks, with less reliance on the book bureau, which purchases books in bulk from publishers and resells them to teachers and principals. 

Michael Cosgrove is among 14 members of the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

In order to make it into the classroom, books must pass a test that proves they're age-appropriate and fit within the curriculum. They're also evaluated by a committee for potential bias or inappropriate content. 

While the approval times can vary, it often means there's a backlog of books waiting to get into classrooms. 

This system is "very, very old fashioned," according to Jim Lorimer, owner of Formac Publishing. He wants the process streamlined, but added that books would still need to get approval to end up in the classroom.

The co-owner of Lexicon Books in Lunenburg says an accredited bookstore system would help independent bookstores grow. (Madeleine Kendall/Lexicon Books)

"The irony is that the books are there," said Lorimer. "It isn't that the books don't exist. It's this getting them from the writers and publishers into the classroom, that's exactly what we're talking about."

Even if Nova Scotia books are approved, Lorimer said many teachers don't know where to find them. Without guidance about where to spend the money, "what can and does happen in other provinces is the teachers are inclined to spend their money on Amazon because it's easy to shop there," he said. 

In addition to schools buying from bookstores, the association also wants a new website to make it easier for teachers to find local writers, and $1 million set aside annually for them to buy local books.

Education Department receptive

Alice Burdick, who co-owns Lexicon Books in Lunenburg, said an accredited bookstore system would not only help independent stores like hers, it would also encourage growth in small communities. 

"There probably would be more opening, and it would just keep us healthier and able to focus on some longevity," she said.

Lexicon specifically markets to teachers by offering a discount and having a school section on its website, but Burdick says teachers still make up a small portion of their customer base.

Bookstore owner Alice Burdick says teachers make up a small portion of their customer base. (CBC)

Sue Taylor-Foley, executive director of education innovation programs and services with the Department of Education, said she's "very receptive to listening to the ideas."

She said she knows there are problems with the "clunky" book bureau system, one of which is an unfriendly website that makes searching for titles difficult. 

"[The accredited bookstore system will] certainly be one of the considerations that we have, but as we're just beginning the work on the Glaze recommendation, I couldn't say whether or not at this point in time where we will go with that," Taylor-Foley said. 

'A kid needs one book'

She said a new plan for buying school books could be in place by June when the next round of orders is placed. 

Cosgrove says the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions hasn't discussed the need for more local books, but he hopes they do soon.

He's not only taught the work of local writers, he's had some of them visit his classroom and talk to students. 

"When they can sort of identify landmarks, scenery, seasons, a lifestyle, a culture, I think it pulls them in more," he said. "A kid needs one book that they like to become a reader for life."