Group uses fun activities, interesting books to promote reading

This is part of a series that highlights a grant provided by the Foundation.

The lives of the young protagonists in The Book Thief, who live in World II-era Germany, are filled with uncertainty. They often play sports to take their minds off of these hardships, if only for a short time.

“One of the themes of the book is overcoming tragedy through the uplifting nature of sports,” said Kristina Yezdimer, Adult Services Librarian at Schlow Library and co-chairwoman of Centre County Reads.

The Book Thief has been chosen as Centre County Reads’ 2012 book, so it makes sense that the kick-off event for this year’s program will be at the State College YMCA, where, on Jan. 22, from 1-3 p.m., there will be indoor sporting activities like rock climbing and a soccer obstacle course, and appearances by the Nittany Lion and Ike the Spike, as well as a giveaway of 50 copies of the book!

Centre County Reads, an initiative of the Centre County Federation of Public Libraries, encourages people to read by promoting one book every year and planning activities and discussion groups that get people excited about reading. From its start in 2003, every year the program has chosen a different book that is both thought-provoking and enjoyable to read for people of all different reading levels. The group recently received a grant from the Centre County Community Foundation to help with this year’s programming.

The Book Thief is an award-winning novel by Markus Zusak about Liesel Meminger, a foster child who is taken in by a family in Nazi Germany during World War II. The family experiences pressure to join the Nazi party, sees book burnings and bombings, and hides a Jewish man in their basement.

The book is a good match for the program, Yezdimer said, because it addresses an important theme — the value of resiliency during harrowing times.

Though The Book Thief is intended for young adults and adults, the library also offers “read-a-likes” – children’s books with similar themes, for parents who want to involve their children.

In past years, activities planned by Centre County Reads have included talking with cultural groups at Penn State when discussing books from other countries, and observing trained mustangs when discussing a book about horses.

This year, Centre County Reads is partnering with Penn State’s Center for American Literary Studies, through a writing contest. The Book Thief is narrated by death, so for the contest, writers are encouraged to write their own piece from death’s point of view. The categories for the contest are Best Short Fiction (7500 words or less), Best Poetry, Best Parody, and Best Entry for a Writer Under 18. There will be prizes, including a $200 grand prize for the overall winner!

In most countries, The Book Thief is regarded as adult literature, but in the United States, it’s classified as young adult literature. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 4 p.m. in 124 Sparks Building on the Penn State campus, there will be a panel discussion about that and other interesting aspects of the book. The panel will feature Erin Clarke, Senior Editor of Knopf Books for Young Readers, the chief editor and acquirer of The Book Thief for Knopf, as well as children’s literature expert Jacqui Reid-Walsh, Jewish and Jewish American literature expert Ben Schreier.

Another planned event will utilize new technology to bring locals face-to-face with author Markus Zusak. Using Skype, the Australian writer will speak, via a video call, to Centre County residents about his motivations for and experience with writing The Book Thief. WPSU’s Patty Satalia will moderate. This event will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20 at the Mt. Nittany Middle School Auditorium.

Centre County Reads will also sponsor discussion groups at county libraries, bookstores, Rockview State Correctional Institute, the Fraser St. Senior Center and Mid-State Literacy. And they also encourage private groups to gather to discuss the book on their own.

 Though there is no way to tell exactly how many people are participating and reading the books every year, Yezdimer, who has worked on the program since 2006, says it’s easy to tell that a lot of people are excited about this year’s book.

“We know that people are reading it, because as soon as we announced it, all 80 of our copies were gone within a week,” Yezdimer said.

There are a couple of options for people in search of a copy of the book. You can request it through Schlow Library’s website, you can buy it (Barnes & Noble, who work with Centre County Reads, should have copies in stock) or you could win one of the 50 copies that will be given away at the YMCA this weekend!

For more info, check out this brochure or take a look at Schlow Library’s website!

Happy reading!

-Erin

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