Changing lives, one very big book at a time

The Winnipeg Foundation

Janet Simpson
Janet Simpson with one of her big books.

Janet Simpson may have retired from her career as a Speech-Language Pa­thologist, but she’s still educating peo­ple about how books – in this case big books – can help infants and preschool children improve literacy skills.

Ms. Simpson recently spent a Satur­day afternoon showing the early learning com­munity how they can rewrite children’s books – like Goodnight Moon for example – to in­clude Moe the Mouse™. Moe and his cuddly friends are the stuffed animals at the centre of an innovative early speech and language de­velopment program incorporating Indigenous themes. Each animal is associated with a dif­ferent sound. The recent workshop was held as part of the Very READ-y initiative, an early literacy program for Point Douglas families supported by The Winnipeg Foundation.

As part of her presentation, Ms. Simp­son brought along some of the big books she’s created.

“What I’ve done is adapted familiar books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? and turned it into Moe the Mouse animals [and concepts]. It is ‘moose, moose, what do you say?’ or ‘squirrel, squirrel, what do you say?’” Ms. Simpson explains.

“And of course, it’s not so much about what I’ve done, it’s more about how I can help others think about what they can do… It’s asking them the question, ‘So how do you think you can use a book and promote Moe the Mouse?’”

During her 36-year career as a Speech-Language Pathologist, Janet saw how access to books helps infants and pre­school children develop literacy skills.

“You can use storybooks for so many things when working with children’s speech and language development,” she says. “Reading a book to [a] child every night, and maybe doing it in a more interactive way. Using the book as a way to build con­versation with your child… We know those interactive conversations between parents and children are very valuable in promoting speech and language skills.”

Similar to the way she encouraged the early learning community to think about ways they can integrate Moe the Mouse into their work, throughout her career Jan­et aimed to empower parents and give them ownership over their family’s literacy. For example, instead of sitting down with a parent and child and demonstrating what to do, she would have a discussion with the parent about what needed to be worked on, and then let the parents decide what they wanted to do and when.

“What I saw as my role in the last 10 years of my ca­reer was as coach/facilitator versus the expert who knows how to work with children. My job is, ‘How do I help these parents learn how to work with their children, what works for them?’”

While working at the Winnipeg Regional Health Au­thority’s Access Downtown location, Ms. Simpson often worked in the downtown and Point Douglas communities.

“I always brought a book and showed them how to read with the kids, demonstrated it, or had fun around some sort of book and activity. I really wanted to be able to have the parent take that book home so they could ac­tually use it at home. And we had no budget for that.”

I really wanted to be able to have the parent take that book home so they could actually use it at home.

Janet Simpson
Fund holder

Through support from First Books Canada, she was eventually able to make some books available at Access Downtown and to give some out in the community as well.

Janet remembers visiting a family in Lord Selkirk Park, and the three-year-old girl she was working with answered the door in her pink princess pajamas. The book Janet brought was about Disney princesses, and the little girl immediately started reading it with her siblings.

“It was pink, it had sparkles, it was just perfect for that little girl at that time and she was a hero in her family because it was her book, she was sharing it. It was very special.”

Ms. Simpson knows more books are always need­ed, so she established the Janet Simpson Books for Kids Fund at The Foundation to ensure charities can purchase books and learning materials for kids.

“I wanted [the fund] to be in place before I retired… [I thought] instead of a gift they could just make a con­tribution to this fund and it would help to get it set up.”

In addition to volunteering at Very READ-y events, Janet sits on the initiative’s Advisory Committee. She also regularly presents at literacy workshops, is working on an early-years book that will be distributed through the Downtown Parent Child Coalition called Communities 4 Families, and teaches a course about speech and language disorders in children at the University of Winnipeg.

Click here to make a gift to the Janet Simpson Books for Kids Fund.