Organization & History

Organization & History

What Are The Willow Awards? – Regina Teachers’ Convention Presentation March 2021

Saskatchewan Young Readers’ Choice Awards is a volunteer-run, non-profit, registered charity begun in 2001.

The mission of SYRCA – Saskatchewan Young Readers’ Choice Awards – The Willow Awards, Inc. is to promote reading and celebrate Canadian literature.  Each year, Saskatchewan children and youth vote for Willow Award recipients from finalists nominated in three award categories.

The three categories were established to encourage participation by all children, regardless of the level at which they are reading. They include:

  • The Shining Willow Award for books written for young readers
  • The Diamond Willow Award for books written for upper elementary readers in grades 4 to 6
  • The Snow Willow Award for books written for readers in grades 7 & up

Participation in the Willow Awards is free to Saskatchewan children and youth. They may vote for their favourite book in any category in which they have read the minimum number of books required. Individuals may vote. Teachers, librarians or teacher-librarians can submit tallies of votes made in their buildings.

In the first year of voting, 2002, more than 5,000 voters participated. In recent years, the number of votes collected has increased to more than 15,000.

Ballots and how to vote for the current Willow Awards may be found under the VOTE tab on the home page.

SYRCA publishes posters, bookmarks, and award stickers. We also manage a website to provide activities and information related to the nominated books, authors and illustrators.

The Willow Awards Gala is held annually where authors of the students’ favourite books are presented with their Willow Awards.

Each fall, schools and libraries are invited to submit the ideas and activities they have conducted around the Willows to be eligible for book prizes.

Saskatchewan Young Readers’ Choice – The Willow Awards Inc. depends on membership donations and sponsorships to operate. Please consider a membership donation. Our charity business number is: 87530 3919 RR0001. Download a donation form from our home page. Tax receipts are issued for donations of $25 or more and for donations under $25, upon request.

“Thanks for giving us the opportunity to participate! I get so much positive feedback from both the students and teachers!”

Adele Green, Outlook Elementary School

Author Ashley Spires 2012 Shining Willow Award Winner for Small Saul




A History of the Willow Awards – The First 20 Years Part 1

May 2000 At a  Saskatchewan School Library Association (SSLA) board meeting following the AGM and conference, the secretary, Judy Nicholson, agreed to strike a committee that would review options for a Saskatchewan children’s choice award and make recommendations to the SSLA board.  

October /November 2000 –  A committee of 4 was struck and met in the Thunder Creek School Division  board office in early October. In November, the SSLA board accepted the report and made a decision to contract Marion Perry to study the feasibility of creating an independent association and to determine what the process might be. 

Winter 2001: A Grassroots Project as a Pilot – Judy Nicholson applied for a Grassroots grant to develop a website as a pilot for the Willow Awards.  Members of the committee, Stephanie Olsen, Lori Rog, Lyn Gilbert, and the website developer selected books for three age categories, Kindergarten to Grade 3, Grade 4 to 8 and Grade 10 to 12. Each list of books contained at least one Saskatchewan author. The website was used to share information and register votes.  By the conclusion of the pilot, there were about 30 teachers involved and votes collected from approximately 600 young readers across the categories. 

August 31, 2001SYRCA was established as a non-profit organization. 

September 15, 2001 – The Inaugural Board MeetingThe following people were the first members of the Willow Awards Board.

  • President – Marion Perry
  • Vice President – Lynn Gilbert
  • Vice President – Claire Issac
  • Secretary – Liz Roberts
  • Treasurer – Margaret Steger
  • SSLA Rep – Carol Thiessen
  • SLA Rep – Caroline Selinger
  • Director – Judy Nicholson
  • Director – Lori Rog
  • Director – Maureen Erlendson

At this meeting, the purpose of the Willow Awards was formally established. It was determined that the mission of SYRCA would be to promote and celebrate Canadian literature. Each year, Saskatchewan children and youth would vote for Willow Award recipients from finalists nominated in three award categories (Shining Willow, Diamond Willow and Snow Willow).

Funding was provided in the start up year by:  SSLA ($5000) and SLA (committed $500-$1000).

The board decided to use SLA’s email policy of the day. As well, the board applied to receive charitable status. 

March 2, 2002 – It was determined that there would be a media launch of the Willow Awards on Saturday, October 19th, 2002  in conjunction with Saskatchewan Library Week. The first awards ceremony would be held at  Dr. John G. Egnatoff School in Saskatoon on May 30, 2003. 

April 27, 2002Attendees at the Saskatchewan Library Association (SLA) Conference appeared interested and excited about the Willow Awards. Both library board members and librarians took packages back to their respective libraries. Saskatoon children’s librarians had already had a meeting and discussed the awards and how they might become involved.

Liz Roberts sent a thank you to SSLA for its support in initiating this project and providing financial support for the first two years. SSLA was given special recognition at the first gala. .

SLA determined that a link to the Willow Awards website would be created from the SLA website and there would be information about the Willow Awards in each issue of The Forum (SLA journal). 

September 28, 2002An article about the Willows was shared. It was written by President Marion Perry for the Forum.

The marketing committee planned media kits that included a bookmark, a copy of the Forum article, a one-page document that linked the Willow Awards launch to both Education Week and Saskatchewan Library Week, and other information.    

Vice -President Claire Issac suggested to members of SLA that they could select The Willow Awards as the theme for the next summer reading program through the public library system. 

October 19, 2002This marked the launch of the first Award Cycle at Grant Road School in Regina, coinciding with Saskatchewan Education Week and Saskatchewan Library Week. 

November 2002SYRCA became a registered charity.

May 23, 2003The first Awards Gala, attended by the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan, was held at  Dr. John G. Egnatoff School in Saskatoon.

Since that first Awards Gala in 2003, the Willow Awards have continued much as they were originally planned. While there have been slight variations in the annual cycle of the awards and the policies and procedures have evolved, the Willow Awards continues to provide a venue to expose the young readers of Saskatchewan to quality Canadian literature.

Part 2 of the Willow Awards History will provide more details of the work during the ensuing 20 years.