It was the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when one Vancouver Island woman came up with a wonderful and heartwarming idea.
“I was hearing how everybody is feeling down, is feeling frustrated, feeling anxious. The kids are at home, and parents are struggling to work and look after their children because they’re not at school,” recalls Charlayne Thornton-Joe.
That’s when Thornton-Joe, who is also a member of Victoria city council, decided to she would read a children’s storybook and have her husband film it.
“I said to my husband, ‘Let’s do a little video and I’m going to read a storybook,'” the city councillor said.
On April 30, with her husband filming, Thornton-Joe recorded herself reading No Such Thing as Far Away by Laura Langston.
That might have been the end of the story and the idea, except Thornton-Joe decide to take it one step further by asking a few of her friends if they would like to join her.
So the city councillor recruited fellow politicians from around the Greater Victoria Area including Susan Brice, David Screech, Carole James, Geoff Orr and Niall Paltiel, who filmed themselves reading a children’s storybook.
“We got great responses,” recalled Thornton-Joe.
What was supposed to be one week of storybook reading has turned into weeks and is still ongoing, recently reaching day 129.
A YouTube channel called 8 O’Clock Storybook Reading featuring all the videos was eventually created by Thornton-Joe with the help of the University of Victoria
“It’s been wonderful,” said Thornton-Joe. “I get stopped, or called, or emailed, and people will say ‘Oh I loved that story last night.'”
Victoria politicians like Elizabeth May, John Horgan, Lisa Helps, Rob Fleming, Lana Popham, Adam Olsen, Mitzi Dean, Maja Tait, and Ebony Logins have recorded themselves reading for the 8 O’Clock Storybook Reading channel.
CHEK’s own Stacy Ross, Joe Perkins, Mary Griffin, Tess van Straaten, April Lawrence, Jasmine Bala, Kori Sidaway and Julian Kolsut have also recorded themselves reading for the channel.
Even Jagmeet Singh participated, recorded himself reading Like A Fox by Danielle Daniel.
“What I love is that the readers get to choose their own book,” said Thornton-Joe. “So what I love is the diversity. People are choosing books that they read to their children. We’re seeing people that remember books that were read to them when they were young.”
Not long after the idea was first born and before there was a YouTube channel, the Victoria Public Library reached out to Thornton-Joe asking if 8 O’Clock Storybook Reading could be posted on the library’s website.
“When we first did it, of course, friends of the readers were loving it, then the library called me,” the city councillor said.
Jennifer Windecker from the Greater Victoria Public Library says posting the 8 O’Clock Storybook Reading was a wonderful opportunity for people to connect during the early days of the pandemic.
“When we closed our branches it became very important for the Greater Victoria Public Library to find new ways to support engagement within our community,” said Windecker, later adding. “Storytelling is a wonderful way to bring that connection together. It’s a way to mitigate that social isolation that we are all feeling.”
Then the University of Victoria reached out to Thornton-Joe, encouraging her to make a YouTube channel showing all of the videos.
“Then the University of Victoria called me and said ‘You need a YouTube channel’ and they connected me with someone who set it up,” Thornton-Joe recalled.
Thornton-Joe hopes to continue the nightly ritual for a while longer, as long as she has readers willing to participate.
“For a very small little project that I thought I would do for a week, it has taken off and if we can spread a little joy during this difficult time, then we’ve accomplished something, and that makes me happy,” said Thornton-Joe.
To view all of the 8 O’Clock Storybook Reading videos and visit the YouTube channel, click here.