Each year the National Endowment for the Arts awards grants to libraries, universities, and literacy centers across the nation as they prepare for a community read, known as the BIG READ. This year, funding has been received by organizations from the White Bear Center for the Arts in White Bear Lake, Minnesota (promoting The Bear by Andrew Krivak) to the Flint River Regional Library System in Griffin, Georgia (reading Circe by Madeline Miller). The aim of the program, overall, is “to inspire meaningful conversations, artistic responses, and new discoveries and connections in each community.” Monies awarded are to help initiate kick-off events, book discussions, community events (such as an author visit), and creative projects (musical performances, poetry slams, writing workshops or contests, for example). To date, 5.7 million Americans have attended a Big Read program of one sort or another, ultimately instituted to encourage “interest lapsed and reluctant readers and/or to challenge avid readers and introduce them to new voices.”
Of course, the books promoted and shared are adult books, targeting adult readers, but I posit we need to encourage such a program for children’s books, targeting child readers! Our nation’s public, charter, private, and sizeable home schools could apply for grants promoting such rich discussions, such art-begets-art events, such creative responses! Or, BIG READ grantees could also be encouraged to select a similar children’s book to promote at the same time the adult BIG READ is occurring. Certainly, the NEA’s goals for adult literacy are the same as we have for childhood literacy – helping both reluctant, average and avid readers, encouraging reading as a community affair, critical conversations and artistic responses, new learning connections!
As we enter the children’s book publishing award season, why not begin a conversation in your neighborhood as to how local schools and school systems can pull together, working as one to create a climate, an expectation, of reading in communities across our nation, BIG and small, advancing reading response for both big and small people! Perhaps we could call this the SMALL READ to describe those who will be participating, though such programming itself would prove anything but small in scope! Perhaps such conversations will reach the ears of those administering the BIG READ program itself!