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Islanders unite through ‘Big Read’

This spring, the classic Jack London novel, “The Call of the Wild,” will pop up on Starbucks coffee tables, in the pockets of children’s backpacks, the briefcases of city employees and the shelves of Mercer Island Library.

The book will pass from hand to hand throughout the spring and summer of 2009. It is all part of “The Big Read,” a communitywide initiative to promote reading on Mercer Island.

During the March 17 City Council meeting, Deputy Mayor El Jahncke proclaimed the months of April and May as “The Big Read for Mercer Island.” The initiative, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, aims to encourage leisurely reading among Island children and adults. The King County Library System (KCLS), Mercer Island Rotary Club, City Council, Arts Council and School Board are all part of the effort.

KCLS member Sue Sherwood, in presenting the “Big Read” to Councilmembers last month, pointed out that nearly half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure, and when reading does occur, it competes with other media such as

TV, video/computer game‐playing, instant messaging and e-mailing -- even on the Island, where literacy is high.

“Does this affect our families on the Island, our community? You bet it does,” Sherwood said, before passing copies of “The Call of the Wild” to Councilmembers. “Not only can you participate, but you can model the importance of reading and literacy for your community.”

The “Big Read” is supported by a $20,000 National Endowment of the Arts grant. On Mercer Island, the Rotary Club earned a grant of $4,800, which was matched by the district club for a total of $9,600.

These funds have already gone toward purchasing several hundred copies of “The Call of the Wild” for Island students, City Councilmembers, School Board members and others. “The Call of the Wild” was chosen in part to celebrate this year’s centennial celebration of the Klondike Gold Rush, the backdrop for London’s story about a boy and his Yukon sled dog.

Throughout this spring and summer, the grant money will go toward hosting literary guest speakers, community book discussion groups and “Big Read” school projects.

Islander Middle School students, in particular, will be actively involved. In addition to reading and discussing “The Call of the Wild,” students will organize a food and blanket drive through the Humane Society and put on a spring dog show as part of the theme, “discovering our call in today’s world.”

Copies of Jack London’s classic novel will also be available at the MI Library. Islanders are encouraged to check the book out, read it and discuss it with friends and family. Emerald City Smoothie will offer a free smoothie to those who write a review of the book for others to look over at the library.

Islanders are also encouraged to pass their copies of the book on to others. An online Web site will be set up to track the copies and read individual reviews on them. Other “Big Read” events include a screening of “White Fang” in May, a book discussion at the MI Library and visiting authors such as Gary Paulson and Kirby Larson.

KCLS has participated in the “Big Read” since 2007. This will be the first year that the Mercer Island branch participates.

Big Read events:

May 2: “‘Gold Rush!’ Panning for Gold,” Mercer Island Library (2 p.m.)

May 20: Jennifer Worrick presents “Backcountry Betty Crafting with Style: 50 Nature-Inspired Projects,” Mercer Island Library (3:30 p.m.)

May 27: “The Call of the Wild” book discussion, Mercer Island Library (3:30 p.m.)

May 28: Screening of “White Fang” (PG) with commentary by film historian, Lance Rhoades, Mercer Island Community Center

June 3: Guest speaker, author Gary Paulsen, Mercer Island High School (7 p.m.)

More information at www.kcls.org.

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