'Tom Sawyer' takes over the county

DeKALB – Encouraging people to read and getting books in the hands of “reluctant readers” – that is the purpose behind the Big Read, according to Edith Craig, community relations director for the DeKalb Public Library.

For the sixth straight year, the library has received a $16,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. Grants were awarded to 78 libraries nationwide, and the DeKalb library is one of only four to receive it six years in a row.

“We are very proud of that fact,” library director Dee Coover said. “The real problem in America is that people aren’t reading.”

Coover noted a study that shows less than 50 percent of the population had read a work of fiction. She said the Big Read Program, which began in 2006, “is the largest literacy effort ever started by the federal government.”

Through October, the library will promote Mark Twain’s 1876 classic, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” with a variety of community activities. Craig said a local steering committee chose the novel from a list of 25 books, which changes annually.

“We try to alternate every year,” Craig said. “Last year, we had the ‘Maltese Falcon,’ an adult book. This year, we wanted to do another family book, like ‘Call of the Wild,’ which we did two years ago.”

This year’s choice is about an orphan named Tom Sawyer and the adventures he and his friends have in a fictitious Missouri town along the banks of the Mississippi River. Activities begin with members of the community whitewashing individual picket fences at the library on Sunday, Sept. 30.

A scene in which Tom tricks his friends into performing his whitewashing chore is one of the most famous in the children’s novel.

There will also be a picnic with healthy snacks and refreshments in the library’s new “picnic grove.” A number of games that were popular in the late 1800s will be played, including jacks, hopscotch, graces and ring toss. In case of rain, the activities will be held inside the library.

There will be activities throughout the county almost every day, Craig said. Children’s story times and craft activities will have a Big Read theme. The library will also distribute 6,000 free copies of the book. To date, the library  has distributed more than 24,000 copies of books through past Big Reads, Coover said.

One of the highlights of the month will be folksinger Jim Post presenting “Mark Twain and the Laughing River” at the Egyptian Theatre on Oct. 4. The free show reflects on the life and sayings of Twain, considered by many critics to be America’s first great novelist.

Past Big Read selections have included “Fahrenheit 451,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe.”

Once this year’s program is completed, Craig said the steering committee will have until February to pick another book and submit a grant proposal for 2013. Winners are announced in June.

Since this is a matching grant, Craig said the library will accept donations for the program.

The Big Read Highlights

• Whitewashing and Picnic
1-3 p.m. Sept. 30
DeKalb Public Library

• ‘Why Read Mark Twain?’ Panel Discussion
6:30 p.m. Oct. 2
Ellwood House Visitors Center, DeKalb

• Sawyer Family Fun Night
6:30-7:30 p.m. Oct. 3
Genoa Public Library, Genoa

• ‘Mark Twain and the Laughing River’
6:30 p.m. Oct. 4
Egyptian Theatre, DeKalb

• Teen Cemetery Walk
5:30 p.m. Oct. 11
Departing from DeKalb Public Library
Permission slips required

• ‘Mark Twain: Slavery, Civil War and Morality’
6:30 p.m. Oct. 15
Resource Bank, 555 Bethany Road, DeKalb

• ‘Tom Sawyer’ Character Dissection
7 p.m. Oct. 17
Barnes & Noble, DeKalb

• Fishing Day
8 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 21
Three Fires Picnic Shelter, Shabbona Lake State Park, Shabbona

• Public Read Aloud
7 p.m. Oct. 25
Kishwaukee College Conference Center, Malta

• Square Dance and Pie Baking Contest
6 p.m. Oct. 27
Hopkins Park Shelter House, DeKalb

• Canoe Tip Test for Teens and Tweens
12:30 p.m. Oct. 28
DeKalb Barb City YMCA, DeKalb
Permission slips required

All events are free and open to the public. For a complete schedule, visit

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