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How the Toronto Library’s Dial-a-Story program helped this child of refugees learn English, one call at a time

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At age 6, a little boy with a lisp is told by his parents if he wants to succeed in Canada, he has to learn English. He’s the son of two refugees from Vietnam, neither of whom speak the language.

So his mother calls the Dial-A-Story program, a Toronto Public Library service that lets kids and their families call in to listen to a bedtime story at any time of day, free.

“She would hold the phone, dial (the hotline) every night, give me the phone and I would sit at the edge of her bed,” Andrew Do, now 29, tells the Star. “She couldn’t really read bedtime stories to me in English and she wanted me to learn English to succeed in school. This was her way to read bedtime stories to me.”

Today, Do works at a downtown Toronto think tank. He designs research projects, facilitates policy hack-a-thons and workshops for government clients. He has no lisp.

The ritual with his mother, which Do said started when he was in senior kindergarten around 1995 at the family’s condo at Keele St. and Finch Ave., gave him a love and appreciation for stories — and the confidence he lacked to tell his own.

“I think just hearing someone tell you a story kind of just gives you that confidence to articulate yourself,” he says.

A quick call to 416-395-5400 transports the listener to the 24-hour Dial-a-Story hotline, where on Wednesday morning the Star heard a woman’s kind, animated voice on the other end.

“Hi my name is Itah Sadu and boy, do I have a story to tell you,” the narrator says, in a recording, before launching into a morality tale about how a man named Gor decides which of his two daughters will inherit his wealth.

A caller has the choice between a story for “older” children up to age 12, or “younger” children under age 7, with the narrators and stories changing throughout the week.

In Sadu’s tale, which is for the younger audience, Gor asks his daughters to fill a room with just $5 — one purchases tons of things, the other a candle, to fill the room with light.

The story is a traditional tale, Sadu told the Star in a followup call. The Toronto storyteller, who owns the multicultural bookstore A Different Booklist on Bathurst St., near Bloor St. W., said she has been doing the recordings as a volunteer for several years.

Dial-a-Story, which is available in 16 languages, was created in 1989 by a consortium of the Caledon, Vaughan, Brampton and North York libraries.

The Toronto Public Library took over the service in 1998, after the libraries of the Toronto’s former municipalities merged with amalgamation.

The purpose of the program, said Peggy Thomas, Toronto Public Library manager of children’s services, is to make stories available to a child all the time, anywhere, any place their family has access to a phone.

“If you listen to it together and have conversations around it you’re developing your oral literacy as well, along with your listening skills,” she said.

The hotline had nearly 160,000 calls in 2017 alone, down some from a peak of 316,635 in 2007, said Thomas, who taught at the Toronto District School Board for 22 years before entering the world of libraries.

Sitting with a parent and calling the hotline, she said, gives children “an opportunity to be with someone who you love and admire and spend time with them exploring literature.”

Access to stories is crucial to the development of a young mind, said Raymond A. Mar, an associate professor of psychology at York University who has researched how children who are exposed to more kids’ books tend to be further along in their development beginning as early as age 4.

“We are intrinsically interested in other people,” Mar said. “The flow of stories told to us offer an insight or a window into other people.”

There are a lot of subtle aspects of Canadian culture — which may be invisible to native English speakers — that can be a challenge to people learning a second language, but that end up embedded in our stories, Mar said.

Through stories, “people not only learn or get access to language content, they also get access to cultural content and cultural knowledge,” he said.

Do’s father, Hieu Van Do, moved to Canada in 1984. His mother, Michelle Ann Le, joined in 1988 and he was born one year later.

The family’s nearest library was the York Woods Library at 1785 Finch Ave. W., a 20-minute walk from home.

Do said he vividly remembers one of the first times his father left him alone at the library after first asking the librarian to watch over his son, no older than 11, for an hour.

“We aren’t really a babysitter,” Do said the librarian replied, and so his father instead sat down and the two read together to pass the time. When his father did leave the library — just for an hour — Do said he was so engrossed he barely noticed.

“I just remember being enthralled,” said Do. “I didn’t really have a love of books before, I didn’t really have a love of stories before.”

By 2001, when his family moved to Vaughan, Do said he had learned to speak near-perfect English, an achievement he also credits to school, English-as-a-second-language classes and speech therapy for his lisp.

But when it came to completing his mandatory school community service hours, he decided he would take himself back to his childhood library on Finch.

“I was very dead set on going back to that library and volunteering at that library because I just had so many memories there,” he said. “I was in a position to tutor kids in reading, and reading stories to them as well.”

Emerald Bensadoun is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @twerk_vonnegut

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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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