Mr. Zinger’s Hat is the picture book the TD (Toronto Dominion) Grade One Book Giveaway program is distributing this year to all Grade 1 students across the country — all but those enrolled in the Commission scolaire de Montréal, the Saanich School District in B.C., and the York Region District School Board (YRDSB.)
According to a policy introduced in 1995, the YRDSB, one of the largest school boards in Canada with more than 170 elementary schools, does not approve the distribution of materials in which logos or messages of political or for-profit organizations appear.
Previously, Toronto Dominion Bank Group’s logo has appeared annually on the cover of the giveaway book, since it fully sponsors the program. But after some school boards voiced concerns over overt branding, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, the non-profit organization that runs the program, removed the logo from the cover. It does appear on a letter from the CEO of TD enclosed on the first page of the book.
“We would not approve a book with a logo on it regardless of where the logo is,” said Licinio Miguelo, YRDSB senior manager of corporate communications, “whether it’s on page one or page 10.”
This year, it says on the book’s cover: “The TD Grade One Book Giveaway, a program of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.” Miguelo says the York board would accept the book if it stopped at that — even with the word “TD” as it’s part of the program’s name.
The letter enclosed in the book, however, violates the policy that says the board shall not approve information from for-profit organizations.
“It’s not the book that we’re not approving,” said Miguelo. “It’s the fact that it’s a message from a private corporation… Our schools are not advertising mediums for corporations.”
According to the book centre’s records, the York board received and distributed the books up until 2008. Miguelo says it’s possible the policy has evolved over time in response to the high number of requests received. The policy has been revised three times.
“The policy is like a tempest in a teapot over a little logo,” said Charlotte Teeple, executive director of the book centre. “We’re just giving a beautiful book.”
The books have remained in boxes at public elementary schools across York Region since they were delivered. They’re currently in limbo as the book centre decides what to do. Teeple says the books will probably head to York Region public libraries to be distributed for free, as has been done over the past two years.
According to Teeple, several York Region teachers came to the Newmarket Public Library last year when the books were being handed out so they could re-distribute them to their students. This year, the book centre thought it had reached an agreement with the York board over the logo after receiving a pre-approval letter.
Miguelo said the board granted the pre-approval letter based on the understanding the logos were to be removed from the book as a whole, not merely from the cover.
The book is distributed in English and French to public and private schools, schools on reserves and home-schooled children. The TD Grade One Book Giveaway program has distributed more than eight million books over its 15 years in an effort to encourage children to develop a love of reading and a passion for books.
“The school board,” said Teeple, “has such a strict policy that they can’t bend the rules for a wonderful book.”