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Commentary: One Book One Community

Rich Egger

The American Library Association initiated its One Book One Community program just over 20 years ago. Since then, hundreds of cities and towns have adopted the program and each year choose a book they can read and talk about together.

Macomb’s Shared Community Action Group has adapted the program to bring residents together through common interests and experiences and has suggested the 2024 One Book One Community Festival Committee adopt the theme of water and schedule events for this month.

For adults, the committee selected Mona Hanna-Attisha’s What the Eyes Don’t See. It’s about the crisis in Flint, Michigan, when dangerous levels of lead were found in the city’s drinking water. The program on Thursday, April 4, titled “Crisis, Resistance, and Hope,” will bring three University of Michigan (Flint) staff members to the Western Illinois Museum through the magic of live-streaming. They and Chris Merrett, WIU’s Director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, will talk about the Flint crisis, the community action it took to get the government to respond, and ongoing efforts to moderate its effects.

The community will have another opportunity to discuss What the Eyes Don’t See on Tuesday, April 30, when the Friends of the Macomb Public Library, will host a discussion of the book.

Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water, will also be discussed that afternoon. Both adults and teens find A Long Walk to Water’s story of two Sudanese 11-year-olds gripping. Walking eight hours a day to get water for her family is a daily routine for Nya and, for Salva, finding water proves a daily challenge as he searches for safety after rebels attack his village. Macomb Middle School students and the YMCA’s After School program at Edison are not simply reading the book but are exploring its themes with lots of creative and imaginative interaction.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a movie set in Malawi and magnifies the themes of A Long Walk to Water. Its storyline is familiar—a bright young boy meets obstacle after obstacle as he tries desperately to save his family. What makes this film so unique are the real-life circumstances that unfold as this teen uses every tool, every strategy, every usable scrap he can salvage to bring water to his village. The movie will be shown at the Macomb Public Library on Saturday, April 13, at 10:00 a.m.

Pre-schoolers and kids in the early grades are participating in the Festival with readings and activities at the Macomb Public Library, at Prairieview Townhomes, and in the YMCA’s After School program at Macomb’s Lincoln School. Their book is This Raindrop Has a Billion Stories to Tell. On Thursday morning, April 4, at 10:30 and again on Saturday, April 20, Tiffany Erickson will read the book at the library and invite her listeners to interact with the story by creating their own hands-on responses.

Three additional OBOC events open other ways to study the water theme. On Sunday, April 14, between 1:00 and 5:00 pm at the Western Illinois Museum, professional storyteller Brian “Fox” Ellis will facilitate a storytelling workshop. He will then step into the role of Steamboat Captain Henry Detweiller to tell the Captain’s story of the Mississippi River’s critical role in the Civil War. After a refreshment break, creative writer Barbara Lawhorn will emcee an Open Mic that will feature original poems, stories, and songs by area residents.

Two concerts will round out the Festival. At The Wine Sellers on Friday, April 26, Bill Maakestad, well-known Macomb musician, will devote his April Final Friday to music that revolves around water, whether soothing or stormy.

The second concert will focus on classical music and will feature the WIU Community Music School’s String Ensemble directed by Karen Martin. The concert will take place in the COFAC Hall on Western’s campus.

Many individuals and organizations have helped plan these programs and will be working together to implement them. Please join us for the 2024 One Book One Community Festival.

Dates and times of events are posted on the TSPR events calendar.

Janice Welsch is a Western Illinois University faculty emerita.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.