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First Lady promotes literacy, community with reading project

By Jody Ewing
February 20, 2003

Christie Vilsack

When the University of Iowa Center for the Book formed a committee of people to choose a book that all of Iowa would read, they had a few conditions. They were looking for a book by a midwestern author — not necessarily an Iowan — and they wanted an author that people hadn’t heard about or hadn’t read before. It had to be a book that could be read by a range of people, from all walks of life, and from ages of middle school on up.

They found their perfect read in Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River, a novel that celebrates family, faith and America’s spirit.

The selection launches the inaugural program “All Iowa Reads 2003,” a statewide project of the Iowa Center for the Book that encourages Iowans to read and talk about a single title in the same year. Iowa’s 543 local libraries and other local organizations already are implementing programs and book discussion groups to talk about the selection.

Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack kicked off the program in Sioux City last month by leading a discussion group with Western Iowa Tech’s lifelong learners.

Peace Like a River“The big issues in the book tend to center around miracles and family loyalty, and what it means to be a parent,” says Vilsack, who is traveling to schools, libraries, and prisons this year to discuss the book with Iowans. “Faith is a very important theme, and relationships are very important. There are so many important things in the book, and whether it’s faith or courage, loyalty or fear, I think a discussion of it helps us define our values.”

The mission of the Iowa Center for the Book is to promote literacy and a love of literature via the printed word, particularly as it is presented in book form. Members of the “All Iowa Reads” selection committee range from Susan Craig, director of the Iowa City Public Library, to Shaner Magalhaes, bureau chief of the State Historical Society of Iowa. Other members represent libraries, the University of Iowa Press, and the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

“Iowa has been a haven for libraries and literacy since its early history,” said Center for the Book Director John Y. Cole. “The new Iowa Center for the Book will take advantage of this rich heritage of books and reading and a wonderful spirit of cooperation among organizations across the state.”

Enthusiasm for the project has been the forefront of promotion.

“We have copies of the book scattered around the state in AEAs and public libraries, in my office, at the state library, and have multiple copies of the book on tape and also in print,” says Vilsack, whose office recently sent 10 copies to the Waverly high school where she will lead an upcoming discussion. “We’re all lending out our copies, and asking people in book groups around the state to contribute their copies to the libraries.”

The All Iowa Reads website offers book reviews, study guides, further suggested readings as well as bookmarks and posters on the featured selection.

“This book, or any book that we might choose, gives us an opportunity to have something to talk about in common, and that makes connections between people and builds community,” says Vilsack. “That’s what we’re about in Iowa, and it is that sense of community that makes us very strong.”

More online:

Read Jody’s interview with author Leif Enger



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