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MALF Grant Funds "WONDERFUL" BEA Reads

wonder.jpgOver the last decade, we’ve witnessed libraries truly come into their own as nexuses for public congregation and collaboration. This is perhaps best exemplified by the explosion in library-led “community read” (or “one read”) initiatives. In practice, community read programming takes a multitude of forms – and the concept is extremely scalable. At their heart, however, all such initiatives aim to bring different segments of the community (be it a school district, city, county, or even state) to read and learn from the same book together.

Several cooperating libraries, and their Friends groups, have built such a program in Faribault County. Blue Earth Area Reads is now in its fourth year. Historical fiction favorite Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline; Ordinary Grace by mystery phenom William Kent Krueger; and the semi-autobiographical The Things They Carried by Vietnam War vet Tim O’Brien served as a focus for BEA Reads in 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively.

For 2018, the partnering libraries hoped to up their game, and turned to MALF for help. The Friends of the Blue Earth Community Library sought, and received, a financial award through MALF’s members-only Chris D. Olson Event & Programming Grant to expand BEA Reads.

Organizers selected award-winning Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, as the basis for the One Read. While a work of fiction, it is grounded in the real experiences of people with rare birth defects. Young protagonist August "Auggie" Pullman suffers from Treacher Collins syndrome. Facial abnormalities cause him to have difficulties transitioning from home schooling to public school. Palacio’s book has been adapted into a 2017 feature film, starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson.

Community Reads participants across the country have already found Wonder to be a perfect entrée into candid and empathetic discussions about physical deformity, ableism, and bullying.

With assistance from MALF, the Friends of the Blue Earth Community Library (along with a second long-time MALF member, Friends of the Elmore Public Library) saw to it that these important discussions did not begin and end with the book.

Faribault.jpgIn April 2018, they hosted public film screenings, themed storytimes for preschoolers, and special gatherings for teens at libraries in Blue Earth, Elmore and Winnebago. Each library also hosted a “Wonder Day,” anchored by interactive stations that play off the many teachable themes in Wonder.

Like the three previous years, the Friends sought a Minnesota tie-in (though in this case, the book did not automatically suggest one). Ultimately, the Friends invited guest speaker Steve Bensen in to speak at each of the partner libraries. Bensen, a Twin Cities resident transplanted from South Dakota, suffers from mandibulofacial dysostosis – a condition very like Auggie Pullman’s in Wonder. Since birth, Benson has undergone ten surgeries, and even been outfitted with prosthetic ears – rare experiences he is more than happy to talk about. (He is married to a Blue Earth Area High School alum, which brought him to the attention of BEA Reads organizers.)

Thanks to MALF’s financial assistance, for the first time ever, The Friends had the wherewithal to purchase ad placements to promote this impressive slate of events.

Interested in hosting your own Community Read? Visit read.org, a web resourced maintained by the Library of Congress, for a primer. Remember, if your Friends of the Library group is a MALF member, you are also eligible for the Chris D. Olson Event & Programming Grant!