The Bohm Theater in downtown Albion hosted this year’s Big Read Closing Celebration, where Director Jess Roberts, Associate Director Nels Christensen and Assistant Director and Albion College class of ‘22 alum Akaiia Ridley honored participants and volunteers on Oct. 25.
“Albion’s Big Read is a local program that aims to change the world by changing young people’s relationship to reading,” said Jess Roberts via email on Oct. 31. “Lots of young people (and college students) associate reading with isolation, boredom, irrelevance, and joylessness. We aim to create reading-based experiences that enable young people to experience reading as community-making, engaging, relevant, and joyful.”
This message was emulated in a speech by Lamar Giles, the author of “Fake ID,” the featured book of this year’s Big Read, who spoke to the Albion community on Oct. 25.
“I struggled with a bunch of different subjects,” said Giles. “Mandatory readings that were supposed to be important were not important to me. Sometimes it’s about pairing the reader with the right book. Sometimes, it’s their turn to write.”
Giles also spoke about book banning; books such as “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson are criticized for messages about race and contemporary understandings of gender identity.
“The very books that can meet readers right where they are,” said Giles.
“All Boys Aren’t Blue” is number three on the Top Ten Most Challenged Books List of 2021 as assessed by the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Throughout his speech, members of the audience could be heard affirming Giles’ message, saying “yes,” and “amen!”
Roberts said Giles’ speech especially resonated with the young people in the audience.
“He saw them and heard them, and he made them feel seen and heard,” Roberts said.
Some of those young people are known as big read leaders, who are the eighth through tenth grade students that have participated in Albion’s Big Read programming. Along with Albion College volunteers, these students were awarded hoodies depicting the cover art of the novel, “Fake ID.” On the back, personalized nicknames and phrases were printed, commemorating their participation in this year’s program.
The Big Read would not be possible without the collaboration of its participants, Roberts said.
“There would be no Big Read without our planning committee, our more than 20 partners (of which Albion College is one), the young people in our program and their families, the College volunteers who give their time, and the hundreds of people who come to Big Read events. We make Albion’s Big Read together.”
Each year’s Big Read differs in some ways. This year was unique with the implementation of Albion’s Big Little Read initiative at Harrington Elementary school.
“[It] enabled us to circulate copies of two fantastic books to the kids there: Sundee Frazier’s Cleo ‘Edison Oliver, Playground Millionaire’ and Dr. Tamara Pizzoli’s ‘Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO,’” said Roberts in an email.
The goals of the Big Read, which began in 2015, are to increase access to books and change local attitudes towards reading. As its eighth year comes to a close, these goals are still very much in focus, and the program expects to continue on its path to achieving them in the future.