PJ Gillen School hosts Willow Awards Gala

May 27, 2024, 11:54 am
Ashley Bochek

Author Lorna Shultz Nicholson accepting the Diamond Award from Nicole Spearman, Callie denBrok, and Kenzie Gilchuck.

It was a first for PJ Gillen School in Esterhazy when they hosted a provincial awards Gala Friday, May 24. The school hosted the SaskEnergy Willow Awards Gala for their students.

The school participated in the Willow Launch with the idea of their students growing as a willow tree with each book they read. The school won the launch and later won the opportunity to host the gala for Canadian Author nominees.

Lorna Schultz Nicholson of Edmonton, author of Taking the Ice, a Willow Award nominated book, visited Esterhazy for the first time to accept the Diamond Award, which is the Children’s Choice Award. She spoke about her visit to PJ Gillen School.

“I wrote Taking the Ice. It is a hockey novel for middle grades and it was up in the diamond willow category.”

She says she was thrilled to attend the Gala in Esterhazy.

“I was very excited. I was really excited when I first found out I had won and then when they asked if I would come out, I thought that would be so amazing.

“I am from Edmonton. I haven’t been to Esterhazy. I always like to go to new towns and this has just been a joy to be here because this school has just done a fantastic job of organizing this event and the Willow board as well.

“The kids were great. I actually did a presentation with the grade 5s in the morning, so that was really exciting because they had all read the book and had so many questions to ask me about it. It was wonderful. We got into some great discussions about leadership, anxiety, and some of the themes in the novel, and that was really fun.”

She said the whole event was well organized.

“It has been so great. The Willow board arranged the flights and I was picked up by a board member and they drove me to Esterhazy. We stayed in the Canalta last night and apparently they were sponsors so that was great. I have been at the event all day.”

The award was a first for her.

“I have had books nominated in the Willow Awards, but I have never won until this year. So, this is my first big win and I was really excited. Winning the Children’s Choice Award is just a beautiful thing because you know the kids love it so that is just so exciting.” When she was announced as the winner, the kids in the gym were excited.

Students excited to be part of event
Library technician Suzannah Duff said a lot of work went into planning the event, and the students were a lot of help, and were excited to be part of the big event.

“There was a lot of planning for the event. Our grade 5s did a lot of work setting it up, the whole school put together artwork. One of our teachers, Josey Rink, she was definitely the artistic director and she had kids working on things for weeks and weeks. We have been reading the books for months now. It has been a lot of work, but a lot of awesome work.

“The kids were thrilled today. They feel like they were part of something so important which they were—they were over joyed!”

The school has never hosted an event like this before. “The school has hosted a couple of things before, but this was completely different. It was a different kind of event and it was truly awesome for our kids.”

The students are excited about being part of the Willow Awards in the future.

“We’re absolutely going to partake in future years of the Willow Awards. We are going to do the reading every single year because the kids have really been diving into those books and enjoying them. We are lucky to have all 30 of next year’s nominees that we were awarded at the Gala and the kids are already excited that they are going to be able to start reading those.”

She said the Willow Awards are well-known across the province. “It is well known with libraries in Saskatchewan. It is my first year as a library technician at the school and I was mailed a form with all of this year’s nominees. I only had about two weeks to put together a proposal for the launch and the gala and then we were lucky enough to win both. It was pretty cool.

“I feel super grateful that our kids got to have this experience. They really put so much heart into this and watching them get excited about literature is like every librarian’s dream. Everyone who works with kids wants kids reading and they are excited to read so you couldn’t ask for anything better.”