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Nanaimo author wins children’s book awards

Hannah Beach’s “I Can Dance…” series teaches self-expression through movement
Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin Nanaimo-based writer Hannah Beach collected three children’s book awards earlier this month for a series of educational books that prompt students to express themselves through dance.

Nanaimo-based author Hannah Beach has won a trio of children’s book awards for her “quirky” series of books that teach self-expression through movement.

Beach’s “I Can Dance…” books, published by Rubicon Publishing, are educational resources for teachers that, along with their accompanying atmospheric music CDs, challenge students to represent concepts, emotions and sensations through physical actions. Earlier this month, Beach’s “I Can Dance My Dinner,” “I Can Dance My Feelings” and “I Can Dance Textures,” won “Gold” Moonbeam awards in the “music/theatrical” category.

“I was surprised because I didn’t even know that they had been entered,” Beach said.

“It made me happy because the type of award is really recognizing a specific type of genre of book and that really helps support children becoming their best selves or developing compassion, empathy … so it was meaningful to me.”

Beach was inspired to originally write and self-publish her first book, “I Can Dance My Feelings,” after teaching an elementary school class in Ottawa in 2009. She was using her interpretive dance techniques to prompt her students to explore different emotions, but one girl with Down syndrome and leukemia would only curl up into a ball and “dance sad.”

“At first my feelings were I wanted to have her dance ‘happy,’ too. But I was really happy that I refrained and let her dance her own thing because her mom would always tell me every class, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing in there, but Anna comes out so happy,’” she said.

“I was thinking, even me, would I have the nuance of language to be able to express what I was feeling if I had cancer? And here was a little girl who definitely didn’t have the language skills … and here she was able to express so much with her body.”

As Anna’s condition worsened the dance classes continued in her hospital room. When she passed away her classmates gave tributes at her funeral, first with their words, then with their movements. Beach said it was a powerful moment and left her determined to begin her book series.

“All of them were able to express with their bodies that they weren’t yet able to express when they spoke out loud,” she said of her students.

“So I just thought, it doesn’t matter to me if [the books] do well or not. I’m going to write them and we’ll see what happens.”

The following year Ottawa’s school board commissioned Beach to create a set of six books for each of its schools. Soon other school boards started taking notice and now Beach books are in use across the country. Beach attributes her books’ unexpected popularity to the unique manner in which they present the concepts of learning through movement.

“We know that children learn by playing. They learn by pretending and being… That’s how children learn when they’re not at school,” she said.

“I thought we need to give them more opportunities to learn in their natural style.”

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