The Big Read Blog (Archive)

“A lot of my students have never owned a book”

 June 10, 2009
Washington, DC

 The great thing about working with thousands of grassroots partners around the country on The Big Read is that amazing things keep bubbling up from the most unexpected places. Sure, it stood to reason that Columbia University would cook up a solid Big Read around Naguib Mahfouz?s The Thief and the Dogs. But who knew they?d create a terrific three-minute video telling their story?

One after another, this clip makes important points that even people working on the program for years can sometimes stand reminding about:

1) The Big Read is every bit as much an arts initiative as it is a literature initiative, incorporating events like this beautiful Alvin Ailey dance commission.

2) No Big Read gets off the ground without a substantial arts education component. Check out the inner-city class you see here, getting the first schoolbooks most of them have ever had that they didn?t have to give back at the end of term. ?A lot of my students have never owned a book,? the obviously dedicated teacher says. Now, thanks to us, they have that all-important first book ? and, as a look around my apartment would tell you, books tend to beget more books.

3) Look for the shout-out to the State Department, who were instrumental not just in helping us bring The Big Read to Morningside Heights, but also in helping us bring Steinbeck, Bradbury, and Harper Lee to Egyptian readers in Cairo and Alexandria, and in setting up a transatlantic digital videoconference with U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison. International collaborations, not just with Egypt but with Russia and Mexico too, have been central to the Big Read from the outset.

4) Finally, look for the student who talks about bringing home the Mahfouz novel to her family, where the household language isn?t English. ?I?m their bilingual girl,? she says, underscoring a point I recognize on the road again and again: In a lot of Big Read households, getting parents to read to their kids is arguably less important than getting kids to read to their parents.

OK, I?ve teased you long enough. Take three minutes to view this video and look at what Columbia and their partners pulled off with just a little help from The Big Read?

Pretty snazzy, eh? This is just the first of several videos we'll try to incorporate into the blog in the days to come, including a two-minute evening news spot highlighting Kansas City?s pace-setting Big Read in the Workplace program. Have you got a video highlighting some aspect of your Big Read? By all means, send it to the blog and, as always, thanks for all your hard work.

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