Jessica Kelly sits alongside Ivan while she reads her portion of the story in front of the camera.

by Dave Warner

It didn’t start here, but in Seattle in 1998. The first program was call “If All of Seattle Read the Same Book” and it was started by Nancy Pearl at the Seattle Public Library. The idea was to promote a sense of community and literacy, all at the same time. Other cities quickly copied the idea and by 2007, the Library of Congress had cataloged more than 400 of those programs.

Now, fast forward to Little Falls in 2019 and we have our own spin on the idea. According to Jessica Kelly, one of the organizers of the event in Little Falls, “the school has been doing a PARP (Parents As Reading Partners) program since I was going to school back in the 80’s. We’re rebranding it this year to be Pick A Reading Partner.

Anyone can be a reading partner in this new take, but the idea is to encourage reading during the month of April within the community. “I think this is a really important project because it’s twofold. It promotes literacy first and foremost, but it’s also a community building exercise,” stated Kelly.

She feels like it gives everyone common ground for discussion. If everyone is reading the same book, “then there is something we can all talk about,” she said.

“As communities, I think we’re losing that skill…where we’re just able to have a casual conversation with our neighbor, or when we’re standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting for kids to get picked up after school. This idea of small chat is being lost because we’re all plugged into technology,” stated Kelly.

Part of the idea behind the initiative is to create those kinds of conversations in the community. She said “As a Think Local representative, I’m really interested in community. I come to the idea from the community building side of things. As Think Local, we had been wanting to do this for a long time.”

Kelly communicated this interest to Tracy Young at Benton Hall Academy about a year ago, thinking that it would be a lot easier to get it off the ground with the teachers and students participating.

“I was very happy that Tracy was excited to jump onboard,” stated Kelly.

The One and Only Ivan

The book that was selected for the project was The One and Only Ivan. It is a children’s novel written by K. A. Applegate and illustrated by Patricia Castelao. The book is about a silverback gorilla named Ivan who lives in a cage at a mall. The novel is written in first person from the point of view of Ivan, a gorilla.

The book starts out “I’ve learned to understand human words over the years, but understanding human speech is not the same as understanding humans….”

Young has spent time video recording teachers and community leaders who are given sections of the book to read in front of the camera. “Usually I am part of the PARP community for the school. A couple of years ago, one of my colleagues said they wanted to do a one school one book project, but we didn’t have enough people to carry that out.”

As soon as Kelly told her about the one city one book idea, she was excited about it because that approach provided enough resources to make it happen.

“Just as we do our BHA bedtime stories every Sunday night, we will post one of these video segments each night on the Think Local and Benton Hall Academy Facebook pages during the month of April,” stated Young.

Kelly said that there are also several activities that are planned at the Library and throughout the City for the entire month.

“It’s designed to pull our community together around this book, so on Tuesday’s at 4:30 we’ll be hosting a program at the Library for grades K-5, on Thursday evenings there will be more adult-focused activities where we can have deeper book discussions at different business throughout the City,” she said.

Friday nights, the plan is to have some family fun events that would apply to all ages, and Think Local feels this would be a way to get people into some of their member businesses.

One of the great things about the book, is that it is accessible to everyone. “Adults who read it say they love the story,” stated Kelly.

She said that choosing the book in itself was quite the process. “Finding a book that everyone in the community can enjoy, was a challenge. Parents, kids and senior citizens can all find something interesting in the book,” she said.

At some point, they plan on putting the entire book together as one video with all of the different people reading the sections in order. “That would be something that would really be a culminating activity for adults as well,” stated Young.

During the video taped sessions, the readers who made mistakes were told to press on. “It’s real life. That’s what our kids need to see,” she said.

Benton Hall Academy is also planning on a week of activities surrounding the reading of the book, including yellow banana day. “The morning program presentation will be on March 29th where a couple of teachers will get on stage and introduce our part for the month of April and we’ll fill that whole week before our spring break with fun days,” stated Young.

Young says there will be some surprises for the students as well. “I’ve always wanted to walk around in a banana costume.”

“What is exciting about this and part of what makes Little Falls unique is that we have organizations that are able to come together to do these bigger types of projects that are exciting for the community and that individually, we wouldn’t be able to take on,” said Kelly.

They are going to get a copy of the book into each household in Benton Hall Academy and the Middle School said Young. “We are going to be able to purchase about 400 books to get into each home,” she said.

Teachers in both schools have been having a dress-down month to raise money, the PTC is donating funds, and Huckleberry Press created a logo and donated book marks and book plates to put into each book. Rock City Development, LLC is also a sponsor of the event and contributing towards the purchase of the books.

Some of the people who participated in the readings were: Amy Bladek, Matt Powers, Marica Bellico, Liz Pritchard, Ann Nasar, Mayor Blask, Scott Kinville, Dan Clarey, Poolney Healy, Dave Warner, Caren Woolner, Chief Mike Masi, Tracy Young, Dave Casullo, Chet Szymanski, Tamara Razanno, Alex Palmer, Lisa Lauritsen and Laura Powers.

There’s even a rumor that people had seen Ivan running down City streets. You’ll just have to watch to find out if that’s true.

To follow the video segments visit https://www.facebook.com/bentonhallacademylf/ or https://www.facebook.com/ThinkLocalLittleFalls/