Story Planet: Literacy at Light Speed

Reprinted from Spacing Magazine, Issue 28

Hidden among the furniture stores and bars of Bloordale is Story Planet’s Intergalactic Travel Authority. Story Planet, the brainchild of former children’s television producer, Liz Haines, is a non-profit that offers workshops to support children and youth in becoming creative and effective communicators.

“After working in children’s television for a long time, I became concerned that our programming was presenting a very sanitized voice. I wanted to find a way to present children’s voices in a more authentic way,” says Haines.

After experimenting with a storytelling workshop model, Haines discovered author Dave Eggers’ 826 National – an American non-profit that runs eight writing and tutoring centres for youth out of unique storefront settings, including Brooklyn’s Superhero Supply Co. and San Francisco’s Pirate Store.

Following a two year search, Haines found a defunct Croatian credit union in Bloordale and developed a vision for turning it into a space station. The store, designed by the Brothers Dressler, is a departure lounge, with out-of-this-world coffee and space supplies drawing in all sorts of passersby. The lounge features shelving constructed from the credit union’s old radiators and reclaimed wood from Dufferin Grove park. The storefront provides critical funding to meet the organization’s overhead costs and allows Story Planet to interact with many members of the community.

“At some point, you need to be grounded in a place where people can come to you. We wanted to have programming that was part of a community and to develop long term relationships with the children we work with. The Intergalactic Travel Agency is a gateway to Toronto.”

Behind the store’s portal, a constant stream of programming entertains, delights and inspires the creative spirits of local youth. After school and field trip programs combine creative writing activities with art, enabling kids to create their own publications and develop collaborative stories. Through one-on-one work with Story Planet’s volunteers and group workshops with local authors, Story Planet’s programming emphasizes a creative approach to writing.

“In the current education system, creativity isn’t a priority. There are a ton of creative teachers out there but, because of the constraints of the system, curriculums tend to be quite restrictive. For some kids, this is the spark that they need,” says Haines. “Our primary goal is to reach and connect with kids who, for social and financial reasons, may not have had access to this kind of extra curricular programming.”

These connections have made the Intergalactic Travel Authority a welcome addition to the eclectic Bloordale neighbourhood.

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