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Twain an open book during Big Read

Seth Nelson gets a helping hand from his mom while working on his plank for the “Tom Sawyer” picket fence.
Seth Nelson gets a helping hand from his mom while working on his plank for the “Tom Sawyer” picket fence.

DeKALB – Over the next month, DeKalb might seem a little like St. Petersburg, Mo.

The DeKalb Public Library hopes to bring the fictional hometown of Tom Sawyer and other Mark Twain creations to life in October for the annual Big Read event aimed at engaging the community in reading.

Sunday was the start of Big Read activities as residents gathered at the DeKalb Public Library to whitewash the library’s Tom Sawyer fence that will be displayed through October and participate in games from the time period such as jacks, hopscotch and ring toss.

Tracey Michel, who attended the event with her fifth-grade daughter, Anna, said it was great to see the library encourage reading. She said her daughter will start a unit on Mark Twain at St. Mary’s School in Sycamore thanks in part to the library providing the school with free books.

“I think it’s timeless,” she said of Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” “This will be her first time reading it, and I think she will enjoy it.”

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts aimed at getting a community to unite behind a single book and participate in activities centered around its themes. With the help of an NEA grant, the library will provide 6,000 copies of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” to community organizations and schools.

Library Director Dee Coover said she was excited for the focus on Twain and is rereading some of his works herself. She hopes the community gets involved throughout the month and discover more about one of America’s most influential authors.

“This is really something we can all get behind to encourage literacy,” Coover said of the Big Read program. “And Mark Twain remains enormously popular even today.”

The $16,000 grant also will fund two of the featured events in the first week.

On Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., a panel discussion on what makes Twain relevant today will take place at the Ellwood House visitors center. The panel will talk about the language, social class, stereotypes and other characteristics in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”

On Thursday, Jim Post’s “Mark Twain and the Laughing River” production will be the keynote event at the Egyptian Theatre at 6:30 p.m. Post is a singer-songwriter, composer, playwright and actor who has gained national recognition for his portrayal of Mark Twain. His production includes information about the author’s life and books.

After securing the NEA Big Read grant for six years in a row, the DeKalb Public Library is in exclusive company. Only 78 libraries nationwide receive the grant, and the DeKalb library is now one of four libraries in the nation to acquire the grant for six consecutive years.

Coover said the lengthy streak is a testament to community support of the program.

“I think it shows [the NEA] realizes the county totally supports literacy programs,” Coover said. “We have given away 25,000 copies of books in the last six years, so it has been great for us.”

Featured Events

Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.: “Why Read Mark Twain?” panel discussion at Ellwood House visitors center

Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.: Sawyer Family Fun Night at the Genoa Public Library

Thursday, 6:30 p.m.: Jim Post presents “Mark Twain and the Laughing River” at the Egyptian Theatre

Oct. 11, 5:30 p.m.: “Wildcard: Tom Sawyer and The Big Read Cemetery Walk at St. Mary’s Cemetery.” Event is open to area teens.

Oct. 15, 6:30 p.m.: “Mark Twain: Slavery, Civil War & Morality” discussion at Resource Bank on Bethany Road in DeKalb

Oct. 21, 8 a.m.: “A Sawyer Fishing Day” at Shabbona Lake State Park

For a full list of events, visit

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