February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

DeKalb Public Library and the Big Read Dilemma | Library Programming

Here’s the dilemma: You want your entire community to read the same book. You pick the ideal novel. You fill a month with lots and lots of book-related events. You win a Big Read grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. So you’ve got a plan, the funds to execute it, and now the only thing left is an event to launch the fun. A reading by your ‘Big Read’ author—perfect! you think. That’s where you experience your first hitch: your author is a known recluse. He has no email, an unlisted phone number, and has declined all interview requests (even with The New York Times). What will you do for opening night? In DeKalb, Illinois, you invite an author who writes for teens.

Author Amy Timberlake with IL State Representative Bob Pritchard

When DeKalb Library chose Charles Portis’s True Grit as their 2013 Big Read, the librarians knew that it was unlikely that Charles Portis would ever appear in person. But this didn’t stop DeKalb from choosing True Grit, a book that felt right for their community. The staff filled the month of October with western-styled events, and on October 1, invited One Came Home author, Amy Timberlake, to kick off the festivities. Illinois State Representative Bob Pritchard of the 70th district personally introduced True Grit and Timberlake at the reading.

“We knew One Came Home was a western, and we’d worked with Amy before. One of the first events we hosted at our library was a reading of Amy’s picture book, The Dirty Cowboy. That was back in 2003, but we had such a good time that we wanted her back,” says Dee Coover, Director of the DeKalb Public Library.
One Came Home is a good fit with True Grit. Bookpage called it “…a True Grit for the middle school set,” and the book itself has received raves, including starred reviews in School Library Journal, The Horn Book, Kirkus, and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Edith Craig, Communications Director, DeKalb Public Library; author Amy Timberlake

This month, the community will read, discuss, and experience True Grit at over 70 events—including a picnic that ends with a melodrama, an evening with a U.S. Marshall, and canning and roping demonstrations.

DeKalb, Illinois, loves books. In fact, this rural community has won seven NEA Big Read grants, putting them in a category shared only with Miami and San Diego library communities. And everybody in DeKalb reads. Huntley Middle School Principal Roger Scott says that over two-thirds of his students read the 2012 selection, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This year, Amy Timberlake visited several schools to present One Came Home and to get everyone in that western, True Grit-frame of mind.
If you’re in the DeKalb area this month, you’re invited to stop on by for the 2013 Big Read. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of True Grit. The DeKalb Public Library is giving the book away to every person who promises to read it!
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