A retired Okotoks teacher isn’t done enriching young minds.
Terrence Siqueira, a teacher of 35 years, saw reading fall by the wayside for children, and aimed to change by creating the titular character in How Reid Erman Became Reader Man, joining forces with children's book illustrator Romi Caron.
“I noticed in class literacy, is the number one thing people all strive for,” said Siqueira, a teacher at St. Mary's School in Okotoks.
“Being a teacher I know the stats; by Grade 3 kids are dropping off reading and the question is why?
“We know reading is good for you, it’s the number one thing you and I should be doing, but if you look around the world, reading is not high in demand for people.”
Part of the issue Siqueira saw is balancing the various demands for young minds.
“Reading levels are showing, with the pandemic, they’re really going down,” he said. “Reading is like everything else, it kind of peters out with all the competing stuff.
“The two things teachers fight for in the classrooms is engagement and attention—if you can hold your attention and be engaged, well the chances are your reading is going to be a lot better.”
“You don’t realize until you’re at the school and then you realize how many kids are really fighting this? Not only reading but comprehending.”
The teacher started to look at ways to keep children engaged.
“Three years ago I said to myself ‘these kids are going to run out of time,’” Siqueira said. “I had an idea: what if we try to make reading fun again?”
Looking for a way to hook elementary-aged students back to reading he looked at modern media.
“So I came up with this character Reader Man,” the educator said.
"We have superheroes for pretty much everything, so why don’t we try to make kids cool again?”
The book focuses on student Reid Erman.
Through the 20-page book, Reid starts out like many students Siqueira saw in his career, struggling with reading and reading comprehension.
As the story progresses, the compassionate teacher Mr. No It All gives his student a list of tips on how to to better his literary skills, which turn Reid into a force for good.
“So Reid Erman is a kid who’s struggling, and he gets all these magic clues from his teacher Mr. No It All, and he ends up helping other kids read,” said Siqueira. “Reid ends up figuring out a way to make sense what his teacher is telling him, and then he becomes a role model for other students.
“The key point was these reading strategies that would help kids with their decoding, but then I liked the superhero, because every kid wants to be a superhero, but in reading that’s not easy.
“What I did was create a superhero, but I had to bring the superhero back to Grade 3.”
Having taught music for much of his career, Siqueira saw an opportunity to use the power of song for retention, and so the book includes a jingle containing those strategies that can match up to various familiar tunes in pop culture.
“I figured why not just sing these and see if the kids would have something they relate to,” he said. “So I came up with some rhymes, looked at a lot of superhero stuff.”
Much of the scenery in the book has a Canadian flavour, which Siqueira was insistent upon in contrast to what he saw as a largely American-centric market of children’s books.
“I wanted something Canadian, something local, so I got all the backgrounds for the Foothills, the mountains,” he said. “I wanted that background to give us identity.”
The book's artwork was created by illustrator Romi Caron, who said she valued the partnership and enjoyed the opportunity to help children.
“I thought Terry had incredible ideas, and he’s a teacher, so he knows what he’s doing,” Caron said. “I didn’t realize how many kids have problems with it and he opened me to this problem—he knows, he’s teaching them.
“I was really glad to work on it and it was a wonderful collaboration between us—when I had something he would answer right away, it was graphics artist and writer working in unison.”
The book may be valuable not just to anglophone children, but also French-Canadian children learning English, added Caron, who was born and educated in the Czech Republic and based in Quebec.
“In Quebec sometimes reading in English is a challenge, so I hope kids from Quebec can benefit from this,” she said. “Whoever wants to learn English might benefit from this.”