By Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye
Author Jacqueline Guest is educated, but not in the traditional sense of the word. A high school dropout, her love for reading was the key to turning her life around.
She did eventually earn her diploma and became a writer with dedication and a strong ability to read. Guest writes for young readers and her fast-paced stories incorporate characters from a variety of backgrounds. Some of her books are what she likes to call, “historical adventures, a way of educating without calling it learning” where the story is set in the past, but the characters are fictional.
The Métis writer presented her work and the story of her people at Diamond Willow Middle School (DWMS) on Oct. 5. She has been a speaker at the school for several years as part of the Taleblazers Festival through the Young Alberta Book Society, whose goal is to inspire children to read.
Guest said reading made a big difference in her life and the skills gained from literacy will have far reaching positive effects for the students. Being a writer has its benefits too. Guest explained how she writes about what is interesting to her, which is why she has a story with rally racing as the subject.
“You can have your dreams if you know this one secret: the secret to success is to read. It is the most important thing you are going to learn in school,” Guest explained.
Reading is the most important gift children can have and she stressed how the skill could make their dreams come true.
Her presentation tied in with students’ social studies classes and Guest held their attention by involving them in her stories of how the Métis made their living in the 1700s and 1800s.
Much of what Guest spoke about will end up in the students’ exams. She used visual clues and costumes and had some students come up and act out some characters from history.
One participant was Dylan Hart, a Grade 7 student Guest dubbed “Pierre.” This would most likely be his name during the period because the Métis were of French and First Nations descent.
Hart played the part of a Métis voyageur who hunted for beaver pelts to sell to the Hudson’s Bay Company or the North West Company. Voyageurs would use what Guest liked to call, “the mighty Métis sash,” a large woven sash that had several uses. As big as 25 centimetres wide and five metres long, they were used as blankets, wraps for injuries, thread for ripped clothing and as slings to hold beaver pelts. Guest guided “Pierre” and the rest of the class through what it meant to hunt beavers, educating them through example.
Guest ended the presentation by encouraging students to visit the library and to take time to research and read.
“You guys have so much to do, I don’t know how you guys make it through the day,” she said.
Guest’s advice for the best research is with books, because the material has a proper source, unlike Wikipedia or Google, where anyone can use whatever information they have.
Guest’s latest book, Ghost Messages, follows the story of a young Irish girl who gets trapped on a ship setting off on a voyage to lay the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable.