Miles Morales: Spider-Man

If you are a fan of Marvel, then you should definitely pick up a copy of the second middle-grade read that the NEA Big Read Lakeshore has chosen, which is Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds. At this point, Jason Reynolds should be a household name for anyone who attends NEA Big Read Lakeshore events. Not only has Jason Reynolds been to Holland, Michigan before, but he is also the author of our other middle-grade read, A Long Way Down, which you can read more about in this blog post

Though what is Miles Morales: Spider-Man about? Well, the book version, there is also a graphic novel version, follows the story of Miles Morales, a half African-American and half Puerto Rican boy from Brooklyn who goes to the Brooklyn Vision School on a scholarship. His father, Jefferson Davis, is a police officer who got into trouble during his teenage years, and his uncle, Aaron, never moved past his troubling teenage years. However, Miles is trying to stay on the straight and narrow and be Spider-Man simultaneously. Even with Miles keeping his head down and focusing on school, something is still off. His spidey senses seem not to be working as well; he is suspended from school and is butting heads with his history teacher. Yet, with the help of his roommate slash best friend, Miles will find that there is a deeper reason for everything feeling off. 

Ultimately, this book has a little bit of everything for everyone. There is a connection to Spider-Man. There is the fantastic writing of Jason Reynolds. There are the relevant underlying themes, which we will discuss in the next blog post, and so much more. So, even if you are older than the typical middle-grade reader or are wondering if a Spider-Man book is for you, I highly suggest you pick up Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds and give it a try.

Themes in the Long Way Down

In the last blog post, we discussed why you should read Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds and even gave you some background information about the author and the book to entice you to pick it up and begin reading. This blog post will discuss the major themes that make Long Way Down a book you need to read.

Grief:

Grief is a theme that is strung throughout Long Way Down. It is very clear from the beginning of the book, when the first murder happens, and the family is made aware, that grief will play a significant role in the book. Though Long Way Down does not just deal with having grief, it also deals with coming to terms with your grief and doing that in a healthy way which is what Will, the main character, does throughout the book,

A Cycle of Violence:

The cycle of violence is also an essential theme in the book and helps to push the plot along. The most memorable quote from the book, “There’s a code of conduct, and what those rules are is number one, no crying, number two, no snitching, and number three, always seek revenge.” help to show that with each act of violence more violence will follow.

Toxic Masculinity:

According to The Good Men Project, toxic masculinity is a “narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status, and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness;”. The idea that emotions are a weakness can be seen throughout the book, like in rule number one, which states no crying. 

Family:

Though not all the themes in Long Way Down are sad, some can be heartwarming, like family. Family is an essential theme in the book; it is intertwined with other themes, like grief, and it also kicks off the action when Shawn is murdered while coming home from getting an eczema cream for his mother.

Ultimately, there are many ways these four themes can be seen throughout Long Way Down and many more themes to discover. Grab a copy of Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds and tell us what themes you can find.

Why read the Long Way Down

In keeping with our 2022 NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read theme that anyone can be a hero, our team decided to show that with our middle-grade books. These are books that are targeted at late elementary, middle school, and early high school students, but are perfect for any reader.  

The first middle-grade book we have chosen is Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Jason Reynolds is an award-winning author, and Long Way Down has even won the John Newberry Award. This award is given to the author of books considered a distinguished contribution to American children’s literature. Also, if you were in Holland, Michigan, in March of 2018, you may already be familiar with Jason Reynolds because he had an author visit at the Herrick District Library. 

Long Way Down is an interesting book. Will, the main character, is a fifteen-year-old boy who witnesses his brother, Shawn, die because of gun violence. Will then takes it into his own hands to kill his brother’s murderer because of the neighborhood’s rules: don’t cry, don’t snitch, and take revenge.  However, a ride in his apartment building’s elevator, which is the main setting for the book, and some frank talks with people from his past make Will rethink if following the neighborhood rules is something he should do. 

Another thing that makes Long Way Down interesting is that it is written in verse. Now, if you participated in the 2021 NEA Big Read Lakeshore and read along as we worked our way through An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo, you will be an old pro at reading verse. Though even if you did not join us for An American Sunrise, Reynolds writes in such a way that there are still poetic qualities along with a clear storyline and many themes, which we will discuss in the next blog.

Q&A with the Big Read Synlesa App Creators

This summer two Hope College students, Tatiana Beranand Luke Van Hout, have been working on an app for the Big Read and Little Read programs. The creators of the app were kind enough to answer a few questions about the process and what they learned along the way.

The purpose of this app is to connect readers and allow them to discuss various books and topics. It is our hope that this app will further our goal to connect Lakeshore readers and give them a chance to bond over a love of literature. We’ll be sharing more information about the Synlesa app as we kickstart our November 2022 programming!

Student Bios

Tatiana: I am from Stevensville, Mi about an hour south of Holland. I chose Hope because of the community aspect and I could see myself in their Computer Science department. I am planning to major in Computer Science and Mathematics. At Hope, I love Chapel services, hanging out with friends, and going to sporting events, especially basketball games. Some of my favorite Hope memories are late-night study sessions, hammocking in the pine grove, and worship nights at the beach. Looking to my future, I hope to continue my education and eventually work as a software developer.

Luke: I’m from Lombard, Illinois which is a suburb of Chicago. I’m a Computer Science major and a Business and Math double minor. I enjoy hanging out with my friends, going to the beach, and participating in Hope College traditions.

What excited you about this project when you first began on it?

Tatiana: I haven’t really done any front-end development coding, so I was excited to learn more about that and create something that people actually use. I was excited about a challenge.

Luke: I was excited to take an already existing project and completely overhaul it. I liked being able to have some creative freedom with the layout and design of the site.

Can you outline for us the process of creating the app?

Both: There were a lot of different steps to creating this app. We were given a rough draft of the chatroom that we manipulated and changed to fit what we wanted with Synlesa. In the beginning, there was a huge learning curve as we had to learn multiple new programs and languages for this project. Then we made some elementary fixes to be able to upload different types of data in the chatroom. After we met with Dr. VanDuinen though, it was clear we needed to do some major refactoring to add the Bookrooms. After creating this, we added different features to the user interface and separate features to the admin interface. Finally, there was just a lot of debugging and fixing different features to work as smoothly as possible. We both underestimated how big of a difference-making all these small modifications would make on the website as a whole. It was all very worth it though, and we’re both very proud of this project.

What was the hardest part of this process?

Tatiana: The hardest part for me, at least, would definitely be the learning curve at the beginning of the project. It was very overwhelming trying to figure out how all the different programs and languages interacted with each other.

Luke: The hardest part of the project for me was learning to implement our database into the website. We used a free service from Google, called Firebase, to store all of the data entered into the site. Getting the data to display correctly across the site was a big challenge in the beginning, as it wasn’t like anything I had done before.

What was the most enjoyable part of the process?

Tatiana: Definitely just seeing the project coming together. As each feature was added, it was really exciting and rewarding to see all our hard work displayed in a tangible way. It was fun to show my family and be like “I made that!” 

Luke: For me, the most enjoyable part of the project was whenever I would be working away at a bug for hours and then suddenly have a Eureka moment. Oftentimes solving that one bug would fix many of the other bugs and the techniques I learned to solve it often came in useful in other parts of the project.

Why the name Synlesa?

Both: Dr. Jipping’s technique for naming apps is to google translate the English name into different languages and see what sounds cool. This seemed like a fun technique so we translated read into different languages and finally chose Icelandic because lesa sounded pretty. We also loved the idea of students coming together to read and grow through the discussions so we added the prefix syn to the front of lesa. Synlesa symbolizes reading together or coming together to read.

How do you think the Big Read app can contribute to the program goals of fostering a culture where reading matters and readers, of all ages, learn from each other?

Both: We think Synlesa will allow readers, of all ages, to engage in discussion over books and topics that interest them. Books enable readers to make connections across different topics including current events, historic events, art, and especially other books. By sharing these connections with others, it will encourage readers to venture deeper into the book’s content and gain more from the book as well as make connections with other readers. This will not only further their enjoyment of the book itself, but also further their enjoyment of reading in general.

What books do you enjoy reading?

Tatiana: I will read pretty much anything, but I read primarily realistic fiction and romance novels.

Luke: I like reading fantasy, science fiction, and horror novels.

What advice do you have for users of this app?

Both: Our advice would be to be open-minded and ready to learn from other users. Everyone comes from a different background and will have their own inferences and thoughts based on that, so be ready to learn from others who differ from you. Be kind.

Any other thoughts?

Tatiana: I chose to do this project because of my love for reading and books. I have always loved reading. My favorite classes in high school were when we had Socratic Seminars and discussed the books we were reading because I enjoyed hearing how others read the same book I did. Everyone has a different background and brings something different to the discussion.

Luke: I think that this site has the potential to be an awesome place for discussion between all kinds of different people and I’m excited to check back in on it in November.

What to Know Before Reading The Odyssey

Who is Homer? 

Homer is a Greek poet born between the 12th and 8th centuries BC. Scholars know very little about Homer other than the fact that he wrote both The Iliad and The Odyssey.

What is an Epic Poem? 

Both The Iliad and The Odyssey are epic poems. This means that the texts are book-length stories in verse form. Epic poems typically retell a person or group’s heroic journey as they complete superhuman deeds and go on adventures. 

Where Does This Story Take Place? 

The Odyssey mostly takes place on and around the Aegean sea. The Trojan war took place in Troy, believed to be a place in modern-day Turkey, and Ithaca is a Greek Island located off the coast of Greece. 

What’s the Trojan War? 

The Trojan War was a conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans. It is not known for sure if this conflict actually happened, but in Greek Mythology the conflict began when Paris, the son of the Trojan King, ran away with Helen, the wife of the Spartan king.

The Iliad takes place 10 years into the Trojan War and follows the Greek hero Achilles, while The Odyssey begins after the Trojan War is over and Odysseus journeys home to Ithaca. 

Which Characters Show up in Circe? 

Odysseus- the main character of The Odyssey who was a favorite of the goddess Athena. This epic poem tells the story of his journey back home to Ithaca after the Trojan War 

Penelope- Odysseus’s wife in Ithaca and the mother of Telemachus known for her loyalty and faithfulness 

Telemachus- the son of Odysseus and Penelope who tries to protect his mother from various suitors in his father’s absence. After his father’s death, he arrives on Circe’s island and marries Circe 

Circe- a nymph and enchantress who turns sailors into pigs when they land on her island. Odysseus landed on her island in The Odyssey and stayed with her for a year before resuming his journey 

Telegonus- the son of Circe and Odysseus who left Aeaea, Circe’s Island, and accidentally killed his father with a poisoned lance. After his father’s death, he married Penelope, Odysseus’s widow

How Does the Odyssey Relate to Circe?

As you probably know, the Big Read’s 2022 book selection is Circe by Madeline Miller. Our program also selected several middle-grade books and a little grade book. One of our big-grade and middle-grade reads is a version of Homer’s The Odyssey. 

You may be wondering why our program selected this book. It is not exactly the kind of book that someone picks up from a library shelf and starts reading. If it had not been for my 11th grade English class, I probably would not have read it. 

One reason we chose this book is because of this very reason. Many high school curriculums use this text in their curriculum and it pairs well with Circe. Miller’s book retells portions of The Odyssey from Circe’s point of view. Circe is a villainous character that is a barrier to Odysseus, the main character of The Odyssey. It is important to take the time to understand different perspectives and pairing these pieces together allows our lakeshore readers to do that. 

Many of our student participants will be reading this in school with a teacher to guide them through the tricky content. Yet, if you are thinking of reading this on your own, then choosing Garth Hinds graphic novel version of The Odyssey may help you understand the story in an accessible way. There is also a version by Gillian Cross that gives illustrations along with the narrative text of The Odyssey

Our program aims to inspire lakeshore readers to read texts that push them and help them understand important themes within literature. The Odyssey does this by incorporating the hero’s journey, a better understanding of Greek mythology and culture, themes of pride, loyalty, and vengeance, and many other reasons. 

We hope you will join us now and at our events as we unpack all of these themes and topics! 

Circe – What’s to Know?

This year our Big Read Lakeshore selection is Circe by Madeline Miller. We have a number of middle read and little read books that incorporate the theme of the Hero’s Journey. We believe that it is important to read literature in order to learn about and from the experiences of others – our 2022 chosen books provide ample opportunity for conversation about this! 

About the Author: 

Madeline Miller was born in New York City and then moved to Philadelphia. Throughout her childhood, she recalls loving museums in the city and was drawn to exhibits about the Egyptians, Romans, and Ancient Greeks. 

Later, she attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. She has taught and tutored Latin, Greek, and Shakespeare to high school students for over fifteen years. Furthermore, Miller has studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama. 

Her first novel, The Song of Achilles, was awarded the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a New York Times Bestseller. Her second novel, Circe, was an instant number 1 New York Times bestseller and won several awards including the Indies Choice Best Adult Fiction of the Year Award. 

Background on Circe: 

Madeline Miller’s Website gives some background information on Circe in the introduction to a Photo Essay that explains: 

“Circe, the witch who turns Odysseus’ men to pigs, has proved one of Homer’s most memorable creations. We first meet the goddess in book 10 of the Odyssey, living on her lush, deserted island of Aiaia, surrounded by tame wolves and lions. When Odysseus’ ship lands on her shore, she gives the crew wine mixed with spell-drugs, then transforms them to pigs. When Odysseus comes to rescue them, she attempts to give him the same potion, but he is protected by magical herbs, courtesy of Hermes. Circe and Odysseus become lovers, and Odysseus and his men (returned to their regular shape) dally in luxury on her island for a year.”

“It is no surprise, given such a vivid story, that Circe has proved irresistible to generations of artists. Below is a sample of the many faces our favorite witch has worn over the millennia.” 

Madeline Miller’s Photo Essay at www.madelinemiller.com/circe/circe-photo-essay/

Circe is an infamous Greek figure and this book includes many other Greek figures like Odysseus, Greek gods and goddesses, Prometheus, and Scylla and Charybdis. 

This map shows where Circe’s Island likely would have been in context to the ancient Greek world. 

Where to Find More Information About Circe: 

Are you interested in learning more about Circe? This video features Madeline Miller as she answers questions about her book. You could also check out her website for more information. 

Read Circe with us!

We are so excited to have Lakeshore readers read our 2022 book (Circe by Madeline Miller) and start conversations about its topics and themes. 

This year we will be featuring many different books throughout the level that bring our themes together. Check out more about our various age group selections on our website. We made sure to include something for all ages!

We will be talking a lot about what makes someone a hero, the hero’s journey, resilience, Greek Mythology, different perspectives, and so much more! The variety of themes and topics in this book is what excited our book selection committee this year.

I started reading Circe over Christmas break. After a long semester of having to read lots of things for homework, I was hesitant to start reading yet another book, even though it was for pleasure. This said, I absolutely loved the book and finished reading it a few days after starting it.

Percy Jackson books were always a favorite of mine when I was younger so I enjoyed reading a book linked to Greek Mythology and that gave Circe, a typical “villain,” a redeeming story. 

It isn’t just me that likes this book either! The New York Times reviewed this book in 2018 and said that it was, “A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story that manages to be both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right.” 

Let us know what you think about this year’s selection below in the comments. We are excited to start reading with you! 

2022 Big Read and Little Read Book Announcements!

The community-wide NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore organized by Hope College have received grants from both the nationwide NEA Big Read and the statewide Michigan Humanities in support of this coming fall’s programming, which will explore Greek mythology, the Hero’s Journey and untold hero stories through the lives of characters ranging from an ancient mythological enchantress-goddess to a modern-day child and well-known teen superheroes.

Running throughout the area for the ninth consecutive year, the Big Read Lakeshore will feature Madeline Miller’s “Circe.”  The Little Read Lakeshore for children will feature the picture book “Last Stop on Market Street,” by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson.  For middle readers, the program will be featuring Homer’s “The Odyssey”; and the young-adult novels “Miles Morales: Spider-Man,” by Jason Reynolds; “Superman: Dawnbreaker,” by Matt de la Peña; and “Zita the Spacegirl,” by Ben Hatke.

The NEA Big Read Lakeshore has received $19,000 from the NEA, one of 62 grants announced on Wednesday, June 15. The Little Read Lakeshore has received $15,000 from Michigan Humanities, one of 19 grants announced earlier this summer.  In May, Michigan Humanities named the NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore the Statewide Community Partner of the Year for 2021.

“There’s already a lot of excitement around our book choices this year and our decision to explore Greek mythology and what it means to be a hero in different cultures and time periods,” said Dr. Deb Van Duinen, who is founding director of Hope College’s Big Read and associate professor of English education at Hope.  “I can’t wait for readers of all ages to dig into these topics and themes.”

NEA Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest that seeks to broaden understanding of world, community and self through the joy of sharing a good book.  NEA Big Read showcases a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, aiming to inspire conversation and discovery.

Hope College’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore bring the community together around a common book for a month each fall, using the shared experience of reading, discussing and exploring the themes of the book as a springboard to listen to and learn from each other.  Presented in collaboration with 50 community partners including lakeshore libraries, non-profits, businesses, school districts and academic institutions, the programs involve thousands of readers along the Lakeshore each year.

“Circe” offers new perspective on the Greek mythological goddess by telling her story in her voice.  As outlined by the NEA, while Circe in the Classic texts serves as a foil or obstacle for male protagonists and is portrayed as weak, or evil and lacking nuance, Madeline Miller reimagines her as complex, empathetic, and determined to evolve and find her own path.  “Circe” was #1 on the Best Seller list of The New York Times, which has described the book as a “bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story that manages to be both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the ‘Odyssey’ as a hero in her own right.”

“Last Stop on Market Street” will be read through the lens of “everyday heroes,” with the Little Read exploring what it might look like for readers to be heroes in their own communities and daily lives.  The story follows a child, CJ, and his grandmother as they ride the bus across town from church to the soup kitchen where they volunteer.  As praised by BookPage, “It’s not often that you see class addressed in picture books in ways that are subtle and seamless, but ‘Last Stop on Market Street,’ the affectionate story of a young boy and his grandmother, does just that…  This ode to gratitude is 2015’s first must-read picture book.”  The book — which was adapted as a musical in 2018 — has also been a New York Times #1 Best Seller, with its numerous other honors including the 2016 Newbery Medal.

“The Odyssey” tells of the journey home by Odysseus following his participation in the Trojan War, and includes what is arguably the best-known depiction of Circe.  “Miles Morales: Spider-Man” follows the teen-aged Marvel character from Brooklyn as he wrestles with self-doubt stemming from his father’s and uncle’s criminal past, and contends with a teacher who lectures about the benefits of slavery historically and of the modern-day prison system. “Superman: Dawnbreaker” follows a teen-aged Clark Kent as the DC Comics future superhero teams up with his best friend, Lana Lang, to solve the disappearance of people from the Mexican American and undocumented worker community in Smallville, Kansas. “Zita the Spacegirl” is the first in a trilogy of graphic novels, and centers on the title character as she becomes an intergalactic hero determined to find her way home when she winds up on a planet inhabited by humanoid chickens and neurotic robots after being abducted by an evil cult.

Van Duinen founded the NEA Big Read Lakeshore in 2014 and added the Little Read Lakeshore in 2017.  The programs have engaged an estimated 12,000 people annually, including thousands of students from pre-school through college age in Allegan, Allendale, Fennville, Grand Haven, Hamilton, Holland, Hudsonville, Saugatuck-Douglas, Spring Lake and Zeeland.

The NEA Big Read Lakeshore has received NEA Big Read support during each of the program’s nine years, for a total of $145,500. The Little Read Lakeshore, which began in 2017, has received Michigan Humanities grants throughout the past three years, for a total of $60,000.

More about the NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore is available at bigreadlakeshore.com.  Details regarding the fall programs, which will include events featuring the authors, will be released in August.

The Big Read Lakeshore encourages book clubs interested in reading any of the chosen titles to sign up on the program’s website. Book discussion material and information on how to get involved are also available on the website, bigreadlakeshore.com.

In addition to Hope, the NEA Big Read Lakeshore’s community partners include Allegan District Library, Allendale Township Library, Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony, City of Holland, CultureWorks, Dorr Township Library, Fennville District Library, Freedom Village, Gary Byker Memorial Library of Hudsonville, Georgetown Township Public Library, Herrick District Library, Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, Holland Museum, Hope Academy of Senior Professionals, Howard Miller Public Library, J. C. Wheeler Public Library, Loutit District Library, Muskegon Area District Libraries, Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, Otsego Public Library, Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, Outdoor Discovery Center, Patmos Library, Ready for School, Salem Township Library, Saugatuck Center for the Arts, Saugatuck-Douglas District Library, Spring Lake District Library, Western Theological Seminary, The Woman’s Literary Club.

Hope and the other participating organizations will match the NEA grant with additional financial and in-kind support, but committee members will also be contacting businesses and individuals in the area for sponsorships of book discussions and main events.

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,600 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $22 million to organizations nationwide. Over the past 13 years, grantees have leveraged more than $50 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 5.7 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 91,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 39,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible. More information about the NEA Big Read, including book and author information, podcasts, and videos, is available at arts.gov/neabigread.

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. More information is available at arts.gov.

Arts Midwest promotes creativity, nurtures cultural leadership, and engages people in meaningful arts experiences, bringing vitality to Midwest communities and enriching people’s lives. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Arts Midwest is one of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, and its history spans more than 35 years. More information is available at artsmidwest.org.

As one of 56 state (and territories) humanities councils in the country, Michigan Humanities was founded in 1974 as a result of federal legislation. An affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Michigan Humanities also actively seeks grants, sponsorships and individual donations to further support cultural programming for Michigan communities. More information is available at michiganhumanities.org.

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. More information is available at neh.gov.

Announce Books and Receive Grants for Fall Program

HOLLAND – The community-wide NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore organized by Hope College have received grants from both the nationwide NEA Big Read and the statewide Michigan Humanities in support of this coming fall’s programming, which will explore Greek mythology, the Hero’s Journey and untold hero stories through the lives of characters ranging from an ancient mythological enchantress-goddess to a modern-day child and well-known teen superheroes.

Running throughout the area for the ninth consecutive year, the Big Read Lakeshore will feature Madeline Miller’s “Circe.”  The Little Read Lakeshore for children will feature the picture book “Last Stop on Market Street,” by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson.  For middle readers, the program will be featuring Homer’s “The Odyssey”; and the young-adult novels “Miles Morales: Spider-Man,” by Jason Reynolds; “Superman: Dawnbreaker,” by Matt de la Peña; and “Zita the Spacegirl,” by Ben Hatke.

The NEA Big Read Lakeshore has received $19,000 from the NEA, one of 62 grants announced on Wednesday, June 15. The Little Read Lakeshore has received $15,000 from Michigan Humanities, one of 19 grants announced earlier this summer.  In May, Michigan Humanities named the NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore the Statewide Community Partner of the Year for 2021.

“There’s already a lot of excitement around our book choices this year and our decision to explore Greek mythology and what it means to be a hero in different cultures and time periods,” said Dr. Deb Van Duinen, who is founding director of Hope College’s Big Read and associate professor of English education at Hope.  “I can’t wait for readers of all ages to dig into these topics and themes.”

NEA Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest that seeks to broaden understanding of world, community and self through the joy of sharing a good book.  NEA Big Read showcases a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, aiming to inspire conversation and discovery.

Hope College’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore bring the community together around a common book for a month each fall, using the shared experience of reading, discussing and exploring the themes of the book as a springboard to listen to and learn from each other.  Presented in collaboration with 50 community partners including lakeshore libraries, non-profits, businesses, school districts and academic institutions, the programs involve thousands of readers along the Lakeshore each year.

“Circe” offers new perspective on the Greek mythological goddess by telling her story in her voice.  As outlined by the NEA, while Circe in the Classic texts serves as a foil or obstacle for male protagonists and is portrayed as weak, or evil and lacking nuance, Madeline Miller reimagines her as complex, empathetic, and determined to evolve and find her own path.  “Circe” was #1 on the Best Seller list of The New York Times, which has described the book as a “bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story that manages to be both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the ‘Odyssey’ as a hero in her own right.”

“Last Stop on Market Street” will be read through the lens of “everyday heroes,” with the Little Read exploring what it might look like for readers to be heroes in their own communities and daily lives.  The story follows a child, CJ, and his grandmother as they ride the bus across town from church to the soup kitchen where they volunteer.  As praised by BookPage, “It’s not often that you see class addressed in picture books in ways that are subtle and seamless, but ‘Last Stop on Market Street,’ the affectionate story of a young boy and his grandmother, does just that…  This ode to gratitude is 2015’s first must-read picture book.”  The book — which was adapted as a musical in 2018 — has also been a New York Times #1 Best Seller, with its numerous other honors including the 2016 Newbery Medal.

“The Odyssey” tells of the journey home by Odysseus following his participation in the Trojan War, and includes what is arguably the best-known depiction of Circe.  “Miles Morales: Spider-Man” follows the teen-aged Marvel character from Brooklyn as he wrestles with self-doubt stemming from his father’s and uncle’s criminal past, and contends with a teacher who lectures about the benefits of slavery historically and of the modern-day prison system. “Superman: Dawnbreaker” follows a teen-aged Clark Kent as the DC Comics future superhero teams up with his best friend, Lana Lang, to solve the disappearance of people from the Mexican American and undocumented worker community in Smallville, Kansas. “Zita the Spacegirl” is the first in a trilogy of graphic novels, and centers on the title character as she becomes an intergalactic hero determined to find her way home when she winds up on a planet inhabited by humanoid chickens and neurotic robots after being abducted by an evil cult.

Van Duinen founded the NEA Big Read Lakeshore in 2014 and added the Little Read Lakeshore in 2017.  The programs have engaged an estimated 12,000 people annually, including thousands of students from pre-school through college age in Allegan, Allendale, Fennville, Grand Haven, Hamilton, Holland, Hudsonville, Saugatuck-Douglas, Spring Lake and Zeeland.

The NEA Big Read Lakeshore has received NEA Big Read support during each of the program’s nine years, for a total of $145,500. The Little Read Lakeshore, which began in 2017, has received Michigan Humanities grants throughout the past three years, for a total of $60,000.

More about the NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore is available at bigreadlakeshore.com.  Details regarding the fall programs, which will include events featuring the authors, will be released in August.

The Big Read Lakeshore encourages book clubs interested in reading any of the chosen titles to sign up on the program’s website. Book discussion material and information on how to get involved are also available on the website, bigreadlakeshore.com.

In addition to Hope, the NEA Big Read Lakeshore’s community partners include Allegan District Library, Allendale Township Library, Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony, City of Holland, CultureWorks, Dorr Township Library, Fennville District Library, Freedom Village, Gary Byker Memorial Library of Hudsonville, Georgetown Township Public Library, Herrick District Library, Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, Holland Museum, Hope Academy of Senior Professionals, Howard Miller Public Library, J. C. Wheeler Public Library, Loutit District Library, Muskegon Area District Libraries, Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, Otsego Public Library, Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, Outdoor Discovery Center, Patmos Library, Ready for School, Salem Township Library, Saugatuck Center for the Arts, Saugatuck-Douglas District Library, Spring Lake District Library, Western Theological Seminary, The Woman’s Literary Club.

Hope and the other participating organizations will match the NEA grant with additional financial and in-kind support, but committee members will also be contacting businesses and individuals in the area for sponsorships of book discussions and main events.

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,600 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $22 million to organizations nationwide. Over the past 13 years, grantees have leveraged more than $50 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 5.7 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 91,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 39,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible. More information about the NEA Big Read, including book and author information, podcasts, and videos, is available at arts.gov/neabigread.

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. More information is available at arts.gov.

Arts Midwest promotes creativity, nurtures cultural leadership, and engages people in meaningful arts experiences, bringing vitality to Midwest communities and enriching people’s lives. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Arts Midwest is one of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, and its history spans more than 35 years. More information is available at artsmidwest.org.

As one of 56 state (and territories) humanities councils in the country, Michigan Humanities was founded in 1974 as a result of federal legislation. An affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Michigan Humanities also actively seeks grants, sponsorships and individual donations to further support cultural programming for Michigan communities. More information is available at michiganhumanities.org.

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. More information is available at neh.gov.

Two More Days until our Book Announcement!

This year’s book selection and details about our upcoming programming will be announced in just two days. We are excited to share our chosen book and begin our conversations around this year’s themes. 

It will be the Big Read and Little Read’s ninth year headed by our director Dr. Deb Van Duinen and we’re honored to have been awarded the Community Impact Partner of the Year by Michigan Humanities. You can read more about this honor in this Hope College press release. Our program’s success is made possible by all of our many community partners and Lakeshore readers and we look forward to another exciting program this November. 

We often get questions about how we choose the books we do. Our first response is that because we apply for an NEA Big Read grant each year, we have to choose from one of the books on their list. If you’re interested, you can see their book list here.

In terms of choosing a book from the given list, we have a Title Selection committee who reads through all the books on the list (the NEA Big Read list changes every year) and then chooses a book based on: topic, theme, genre, setting, author availability, programming possibilities, cost of book, Little Read book connections, and so on.  

We’re so excited about our 2022 book choices and can’t wait to share them with you! On June 15, keep an eye on your email, our website and social media for our big announcement!