“I’m a person of the book” said Christine Melnick by way of introducing herself. On Tuesday night I was a guest of Christine Melnick, the Manitoba minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism. She had invited members of the Manitoba Writer’s Guild to a reception in her office at the legislature to hear more about a personal project of hers called Share the Magic. Ms. Melnick, who has a master’s degree in library science from Dalhousie University is a passionate believer in the power of the written word to change people’s lives. She told us that one book can turn someone into a life long reader and then who knows where they can go after that!
Christine has developed a program called Share the Magic, through which she collects books and then gives them away to people of all ages across the province who don’t have many books. She says so far she has given away over 65,000 books. This is a personal project of Christine’s. She has invested her own money in it and is a very ‘hands on’ participant. She loads boxes of books into the back seat and trunk of her car and carts them to various community events for distribution. Christine says she would never give away a book as part of Share the Magic that she wouldn’t give to family or friends, so she personally repairs donated used books that have too much wear and tear before redistributing them.
Right now she is working on an ambitious project with the Winnipeg School Division in cooperation with First Book Canada and an American corporate donor to place at least five books in every home in inner city Winnipeg for the Christmas holidays. Christine cites research that shows kids’ reading levels are negatively impacted by long school holiday breaks unless they have access to reading materials.
One thing that impressed me about Christine’s approach was the element of choice that is an integral part of Share the Magic. It is important for people not to just be given books, but to choose books. She talked about a North Point Douglas Children’s Fair where she spread the contents of dozens of boxes of books on tables and then allowed children to pick any ten they liked. Within just a short period of time she had given away 1,300 books. Children didn’t just grab books but took time to really look at them and pick the ones that interested them.
Share the Magic also targets adult populations that may not have access to reading materials. When Christine investigated making more books available to women at the Headingley Correctional Institute she discovered they wanted travel books, dictionaries for Scrabble game help, books to help them learn new languages, biographies and books about animals. They had no interest in books about romance or crime.
Christine was full of stories about how she has seen books inspire people, trigger an emotional response in people and empower them. She wanted to make our writers’ group aware of her project because she is always looking for donations of books as well as suggestions for avenues via which she can distribute them to people in the community.
In a Winnipeg Free Press article Christine said, “This is a literate world. And God help the child who can’t read.” Christine is certainly giving God a little help in the literacy department with her Share the Magic project.
If you’d like to donate books or you know where books might be needed in the province you can contact Christine’s executive assistant Cindy Edmonds at 204-253-5162.
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