The Summerside Sparks had two special visitors at a recent meeting in the Sherbrooke Community Centre.
An author and illustrator were waiting to read the girls, aged 5 and 6, a story about a magical wheelchair named Sparkle.
The club won one of 10 Reading Street Grants from the P.E.I. Writers’ Guild.
Sparks leader Karla Lynch thought Reading Street seemed like a good fit for Sparks.
“We like to talk about reading,” she said. “I was looking for a good children’s book about inclusivity because that’s something that we definitely expand on in Sparks - all about everybody embracing their differences and being proud of who they are. Someone suggested Jaya’s Magic Wheelchair and I thought, ‘Well how wonderful’.”
Ellis Ferrish, 5, has just joined the troop and uses a wheelchair.
“We just modify things,” said Lori Ferrish, Ellis’s mom.
For example, recently the Sparks were hopping, so Ellis used the controls on her power wheelchair to raise and lower herself and join in.
At this meeting, Libby Arsenault, 6, was seated next to Ellis. Libby’s navy-blue sash was filling up with badges - one more for inclusivity will be awarded to each girl soon, but including Ellis is second nature to Libby. The two have been friends since they were around 2, said Lori.
The Sparks and their leaders arranged themselves around the room, settling in to hear a story.
The girls were socially distanced, each at a table that dwarfed their size - but not their personalities.
“Who likes to read?” asked author Marlene Bryenton.
Everyone’s hands flew up.
Bryenton and illustrator Leanne Bowlan told the Sparks some of what went into making the book Jaya’s Magic Wheelchair.
Bowlan even showed them a storybook she wrote when she was just 11 years old.
“If you can imagine it, I bet you can probably do it,” said Bowlan, who had always loved to draw and colour.
Together, she and Bryenton began to read their creation, hot off the presses just two days before.
The message of the book was one of encouragement and inclusion and it was appreciated by Lori.
“It was awesome,” she said. “We’re just like everyone else, the same but different.”
Afterwards, each Spark went home with her own copy of Jaya’s Magic Wheelchair and Anna’s Pink and Purple Glasses. Also, thanks to the silent sponsor, Reading Street sent along enough books for each Spark to go home with a new book each week for the rest of the year.
“There was a silent sponsor who donated a lot of books,” said Lynch, gesturing to a table filled with boxes of books.
There were enough books for each Spark to go home with a new book every night she’s at Sparks.
There were even enough books for each of the girls’ classmates to take home six brand-new books of their own.
“Because we promise to share and be a friend at Sparks, so they are sharing with their friends at school,” said Lynch.
Alison Jenkins is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.