Canada Reads

Canadian actor Malia Baker says her Canada Reads novel Scarborough is the book all Canadians can connect with

The Canadian actor and activist is championing Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez on Canada Reads 2022. The great book debate takes place March 28-31.

Malia Baker is championing Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez on Canada Reads  2022

Malia Baker is championing Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez. (CBC)

Canadian actor and activist Malia Baker, known for her role as the smart and sensitive Mary Anne Spier on the Netflix series The Baby-Sitters Club, plans to draw on her love of reading and relatable characters to champion the novel Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez on Canada Reads 2022.

At only 15, the Vancouver-based Baker is already on the rise as one of the leads on the Emmy Awards-nominated The Baby-Sitters Club, adapted from the beloved 1990s book series by Ann M. Martin.

Baker notes that her passion for books and music — and inspiration from other young activists such as Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai — has helped fuel her advocacy, including working with the United Nations' Girl Up campaign and mentoring organizations Uniquely You, She's the First and Zahara's Dream.

Baker is defending Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez on Canada Reads from March 28-31. The debates will be hosted by Ali Hassan and will be broadcast on CBC Radio One, CBC TV, CBC Gem and on CBC Books

Baker spoke to host Sabrina Marandola on CBC Radio's Let's Go in Montreal.

Actor and activist Malia Baker talks to Sabrina Marandola about Canada Reads 2022.

Tell me why you wanted to join Canada Reads.

I've been a fan of Canada Reads for as long as I can remember — my family and I grew up with it. So it's always been deep in my heart. And so it feels like this kind of destined, 'meant to be' type of situation. I'm a huge book nerd, so just being able to represent things that I actually am passionate to use my voice about is something of a true blessing.

I'm not surprised to hear you're a book lover, because right now you play Mary Anne in The Baby-Sitters Club  — we all know the books, right? Did you start off reading those books?

Oh, yeah — my mom raised me on the phrases that she would take from the books. And of course, I got curious and I found out about the books and I fell in love with them right away.

Has reading always been a part of your life?

A hundred percent — I feel like it's kind of that shift between reality where you're able to close the book and in the real world, you can't really do that. So it sparks creativity and imagination, and I can't imagine what my life would have been like without it.

Well, now at 15 years old, you have your school duties, and now you're taking on Canada Reads. And I can only assume this involves reading the book, taking notes, getting familiar with it. Did this feel like a homework assignment?

Honestly, once it's something that you enjoy, I don't think it feels like a homework assignment! It's much better than my finals for chemistry, I gotta say. [Laughs]

Let's talk a little bit about this book you're defending, Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez — what's it about?

This book is about three kids from these three families that overcome this extreme amount of poverty and troubles and triumphs, and they're resilient through it all.

Is there one of the characters that you related to the most?

Honestly, I feel like that's one of the greatest parts about this book — there are so many different perspectives that you're able to at least draw onto one of the characters and have that sense of relatability. And if you're not, then the author's done such a great job of describing them that you still feel connected to them, even if their lived experiences aren't even the same.

This book is about three kids from these three families that overcome this extreme amount of poverty and troubles and triumphs, and they're resilient through it all.

What are some of the arguments that you're going to have as to why this book should be the one that Canada reads?

Like I said earlier, honestly, I think it's about perspective. The theme of this Canada Reads is finding one book that connects us all, and I feel like this book does that perfectly. It brings justice to that theme 100 per cent. It lets you draw into these characters in a real and authentic way and lets you see the humanity behind each person. And I think a collective human experience is what we're really needing right now.

You got to meet the author of the book that you are championing, Catherine Hernandez. What was that experience like?

I had a phone conversation with her today and I did yesterday as well, and it was a full fangirl experience! You know, you read about her, you read her words, and it feels like you have a part connected to her now. And just seeing that brilliant human in front of you, it's truly remarkable. I'm just so honoured to be able to be championing her book.

The theme of this Canada Reads is finding one book that connects us all, and I feel like this book does that perfectly.

You also met the other panelists — your fellow contenders. What was it like for you to catch up with them?

Oh, it was really good. I was scared at first when I walked into that first Zoom call, but everyone was just so welcoming and sweet. And of course, there's going to be that fun, competitive energy. But it's a ride all along, and these folks are so deserving.

Have you been sizing them up in those first meetings?

[Laughs] I wouldn't say that I sized them up! I would say that I was taking notes, jotting down "Oh my god, I really loved their pitch," or "I should really think about that for the next time." They're all older than me, so they're kind of like my mentors in a way, and I'm just happy to be able to be having these conversations with them and sharing our knowledge.

What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

I mean, who wouldn't say that they would love to win, right? But overall, I think, as Miss Catherine said to me earlier, to just have fun — this is an honour in itself, and just sharing these thoughts with these people is a blessing in disguise for real.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. This interview was written up by Tabassum Siddiqui.

The Canada Reads 2022 contenders

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