Yard signs across town show the political differences we have with neighbors, co-workers, family and friends. With so much going on in our country that divides us, it’s important to find ways for us to remain connected with each other.
Hope College’s NEA Big Read and Little Read Lakeshore programs offer just that. During the month of November, I invite our Lakeshore community to come together around a story. This experience of reading the same book allows us to find common ground, to explore topics and themes together, to be reminded of the humanity we share.
For the past six years, readers – from elementary school children to senior citizens – have participated in the Big Read and Little Read programs. Together, we have learned more about others, ourselves and the world around us through literature. Previous Big Read and Little Read programs have taken our community throughout the United States to Macomb, Alabama, and an internment camp in Utah, and across oceans to Haiti, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic. And our outreach continues to grow by the day.

Together we’ve studied historical fiction, memoir and dystopian fiction. We’ve explored topics as varied as immigration, war, technology, identity and global politics. During our month of programming, with over 50 events each year, we’ve learned from experts, watched films, created art, sampled international cuisine, participated in book discussions, danced to music and viewed exhibitions in art and historical museums.
This year, our programs explore the themes of historical storytelling, sustainability and conservation in Nathaniel Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Sea” and in Marsha Diane Arnold’s “Galápagos Girl/Galapagueña.” These books were intentionally chosen as companion texts because of their similar genre and topics, but also because of their differing interactions with the natural world. We hope these books spark conversations amongst all of our Lakeshore readers!
Because of COVID-19, this year’s month of programming will look and feel very different. Initially, we were so disappointed by this. We couldn’t imagine not sitting side by side in the Jack H. Miller concert hall listening to famous authors talk about their books, or not gathering together around a table to discuss our favorite parts of a book. We couldn’t imagine not having our closing event, the Student Exhibition of Learning at the Holland Armory, that showcases thousands of students’ artwork created in response to our Big Read and Little Read books.
However, pivoting to a mostly virtual program has opened up so many new possibilities! Because of being virtual, we’ve been able to include event speakers from Nantucket, Hawaii, and even Australia.
We’ve developed a much more robust website and marketing plan so that we’re able to significantly expand our scope and reach to Lakeshore readers and beyond.
Nearly 50 events are scheduled, ranging from instructive talks by authors and historians to “Galápagos Girl/Galapagueña” take-and-make activities for kids to a marine biologist’s discussion about whales to a dance company’s explorations of the Galapagos.
We invite you to join the over 10,000 Lakeshore readers who participate each year. Visit bigreadlakeshore.com for more information about all the Big and Little Read programs and to register for this year’s events.
– Dr. Deborah Van Duinen is an associate professor of English Education at Hope College and the director of Hope College’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore programs.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Community Knowledge: The collective knowledge and energy of the community is an incredible resource that must be channeled to where it is needed.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to www.hope.edu/sustainability-institute for more information.

In this year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore, dozens of programs explore the themes of historical storytelling, sustainability and conservation in Nathaniel Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Sea.”
This year’s NEA Little Read Lakeshore offers a variety of events and activities for young people to explore the themes of sustainability and conservation in Marsha Diane Arnold’s “Galápagos Girl/Galapagueña.”