Hope Springs Eternal: A Time for Butterflies

On November 12, 2019, Holland, Michigan, was hit by a major blizzard that rendered 800 middle and high school students unable to meet Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies and Before We Were Free. Prior to the fall of 2019, I had never heard of Julia Alvarez. Now, I am on a mission to read every single one of her books. Not only is Julia a talented and awarded author, but she is a butterfly. Julia graciously offered to do a virtual author visit out of the kindness of her heart. Thanks to the director of the Big Read and Little Read Lakeshore programs, Deborah Van Duinen, those 800 middle and high school students got their chance to meet Julia Alvarez. 

For all the individuals unable to attend or for those who want to reminisce over this magical experience, here is a summary of one of the highlights from Julia Alverez’s virtual author visit. 

Julia titled her presentation “Hope Springs Eternal: A Time for Butterflies.” What is a butterfly? Butterfly is a theme in the novel In the Time of the Butterflies, and it was the theme of her virtual visit. So what does Julia mean when she says that now is especially a time for butterflies? Butterflies are a symbol of liberation, courage, and standing up for the most vulnerable. Butterflies are a symbol of the soul. They represent the good in all of us. Butterflies connect us.

During this time, it is easy to become discouraged. It is understandable. That is why now more than ever, it is a time for butterflies. Now is a time to focus on the butterflies that are taking off!

Butterflies are easy to miss. You do not notice them unless you look. They are a silent beauty. They flutter past eyes staring at phone screens. They rest motionless in backyard gardens. If you take a moment to look around, you will see them. You will see their elegant beauty.

Butterflies are easy to miss, and so are butterfly moments. A butterfly moment is an encouraging sign, a kind police officer handing out pizzas to the impoverished, or healthy individuals wearing masks to protect those at risk.

Here at the Big Read we do not want these extraordinary butterfly moments to go unnoticed. We would love to see the butterfly moments you have been coming across. Send us pictures of your butterfly moments via Instagram or email; you will find this information at the end of this post.

Need examples of butterfly moments? Here are a few I have captured from around my town:

How to send us your butterfly moments:
Instagram: @bigreadlakeshore
Email: thebigread@hope.edu

Written by Abigail Knoner, Abigail is a sophomore at Hope College studying social studies for secondary education. Abigail has a passion for storytelling and would like to rely on stories when she has a classroom of her own one day. Whenever Abigail gets a chance, she spends time in nature or paints. Her favorite book is The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton.

A big Little Read thank you

The end of November brings another year of NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore festivities to an end.

On behalf of everyone on the Little Read team, thank you to everyone who made it such a successful year. From all of the participating libraries and classrooms, to everyone who attended the events, we are grateful for positive involvement. 

This year, the Little Read made great strides of improvement. We became a much more formalized program by creating logos, making t-shirts, working with local schools, implementing a dance program and more. Taking these steps has launched the Little Read to the next level and none of it would have been possible without the generous funding from Michigan Humanities.

The following pictures are from some of our favorite moments involving the Little Read. 

The Kick Off event

The Kick Off event was an amazing way to kickstart the program’s events. 

Story time at Rose Park Christian School.

This year we had over 19 preschools and elementary schools involved. The Little Read program would not be the same without the enthusiasm and interest of students and teachers. 

Strike Time performing at Holland Christian.

Our dance program Strike Time made over 25 performances to participating schools. What a fun way to get the kids excited about reading! 

Abby at WGVU/NPR.

Our amazing Social Media Manager, Abby, and our Executive Director, Deb (not pictured) had the chance to speak on air with Shelley Irwin on WGVU/NPR about both the books for Little Read and Big Read. 

One of the baby chickens from Critter Barn.

Each event was unique and offered something special for the kids. Herrick District Library partnered with the Critter Barn who brought baby chickens, Hens, and a Rooster. It was a great interactive event that allowed kids hands on involvement. 

Although this years events are finished, be sure to keep following us on social media and stayed tuned for updates regarding next year’s books! 

Little Read Lakeshore from a Little Reader’s Perspective

Here at the Big Read and Little Read Lakeshore, we are busy preparing for a month full of amazing programs geared towards adults and kids alike. We can’t wait! However, some of our Little Readers have already begun reading our Little Read 2019 book, The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy! Eliza Rowe, age 6, and Adrian Stroop, age 10, wanted to let you know why they think you should participate in reading the book, too!

“When we first met, we didn’t know anything about each other. Our moms were in the same book club for The Big Read. We started to read Paw Patrol stories together because we found out we both liked them. Even though Adrian is 4 years older than Eliza, we had something in common and became friends. Then we became the original Little Readers and our moms tried out kids books on us.

We think Holland is a better place to live because of the Little Read. We get to do cool things like read a lot of books and meet authors. We like to hear about their lives, inspiration and their feelings about things outside of books. We both have a collection of books that we got signed by Little Read authors. We get to bring bookmarks and copies of the book to our school to share with our friends. Our teachers get to meet each other and make friends, too. 

This year we are going to the Striketime Dance Theatre at the library to get our groove on. We’re going straight from there to see other people Drumming and Dancing at Hope College. We both like to dance, too. The next weekend, we’re going back to the library to meet the author.

This year, we think we’re going to make a lot of new friends. Any kids that participate in the Little Read already have two things in common. They live in the same town and they have all read the same book. That’s enough to start a friendship.” 

Coming Soon: A Broader Big Read

When I first heard that Julia Alvarez’s novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, was the book selection for this year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore, I laughed aloud right where I was standing–in the center of my host university in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. The story takes place less than an hour’s drive away from where I was studying abroad for the semester.

It is a fictionalized account of the upbringing, formation, and eventual assassination of three of the four Mirabal sisters–women who became the figureheads of an underground uprising opposing the thirty-one year dictatorial reign of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in the Dominican Republic in 1960. These sisters remain mythic on the island nation even today, whose faces appear on everything from murals to money.

I was thrilled to learn that my own college community of Holland was about to explore the too-often unsung culture of a nation with such close proximity to our own.

In addition to the main book, the program will also be incorporating a shorter novel also by Alvarez titled Before We Were Free and Carmen Deedy’s children’s book, The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!

These texts have the potential to challenge and stretch the lakeshore community to adopt a more inclusive worldview at home and abroad by opening conversations around what makes a person good or evil, perceptions of oppression and rebellion, and the importance of remembering the past. 

For the first time, all three of this year’s books and a number of events will be offered in Spanish. For the community on the Lakeshore, this is a significant step toward inclusivity. Over 24% of the population of Holland is Hispanic or Latino, making this the largest minority group in the area by nearly 20%. Incorporating Spanish offers so much possibility to draw the regional community together in discussion and camaraderie in a way that transcends the biggest and most immediate language barrier. This expands the size of the conversation, but also multiplies the dimensions and depth as well, adding new perspectives. It provides a literary common ground. 

With regard to the content matter itself, the book is true to Dominican social and cultural conventions. The Dominican Republic is a country that fosters a male-dominant mentality–often referred to as machismo. This concept shapes the cultural context in which the story is written and shows itself in the roles that the male and female characters in the story take or reject. Especially because the novel capitalizes on female political heroines who fought in a political arena that they were told they should stay out of, at a time when taking such a vocal and public leadership position was so fiercely discouraged, this text is often taken to be a women’s empowerment piece. It encourages the reader to question gender roles in their own cultural contexts–especially when it comes to loyalty, patriotism, and common human resistance to oppression. 

Told within the frame of the memories of the one survivor, the youngest of the four sisters, the story also addresses grief, loss, and the past. She, as a character, is written with a very real case of survivor’s guilt; in light of the trauma of her country and her own family, she is forced to consider what to do moving forward and how best to honor the sacrifices others made to procure the current reality. Alvarez does a beautiful job of humanizing these women whose actions and very existence often seem larger than life. That said, the book also addresses more universal themes such as what makes human goodness and oppression. Above all, it challenges the reader to consider the role of rebellion and what forms are necessary in the light of different cultures as well as their own.

This year’s NEA Big Read and Little Read Lakeshore programs thrill me for all the potential it has to challenge Lakeshore community members to reach outside of their own cultural understandings and connect with others of different life experiences within their own neighborhood.

I highly encourage everyone in the area to take advantage of this opportunity by first reading the book and then having the courage to discuss it within all the nooks and crannies that make up our lives–libraries, coffee shops, cubicles, grocery stores, classrooms, and beyond. Stay posted for the listings of all the events and activities to come!

Rebecca Duran is a senior at Hope College where she is majoring in English and Spanish Education. She is this year’s Big Read student assistant.

Repent Nothing

“I repent nothing.” This is a phrase that is repeated constantly by Miranda in Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. She uses it as her shield against the world. She says this whenever she feels she is doubting herself, so in other words, she says is constantly. In a way it is a good way to look at things.

It is good not to regret things, like choosing a career path that you love and your friend doesn’t or picking out that ice cream that you really like but your sibling doesn’t. You need to follow your heart and work towards it like nothing before. For example, I tried Dungeons and Dragons for the first time at one of the Big Read events. I don’t regret that, it was really fun and I made some new friends. Of course I know some people I told about that event were not ecstatic and told me to go to a different event with them. But I thought it would be fun and I was not about to make a decision based on their opinion.

You should always live life the way you see fit as long as you are not hurting anyone(especially if the epidemic is going to happen!). There will always be things in life that will put you down and make you feel like you should give up. But if it is something you are passionate about, work for it and don’t give up.


Contributed by Ellie Dykema, a 9th grade student at West Ottawa High School.

“For All the Children to Whom We Entrust the Future”

“What happens to the children?” Dr. Jesus Montaño asked this question as part of the opening to his lecture which took place Monday morning in the rare books room of Van Wylen Library. “I’m serious,” he continued when nobody answered, “what happens to the children?”

The answer to this question is, in one sense, simple when one reads Station Eleven. Children, even ones growing up in a world ravaged by a pandemic and its resultant chaos, will eventually grow up and inherit the world they are left. They will inherit the land itself and whatever resources they can glean from it; they will inherit cherished tokens and names from their family. Perhaps most importantly, though, they will inherit a collective memory of the world and people that came before them.  

“Memory is foundational to our identities,” Dr. Christiana Salah said in the opening of her discussion of The Giver, this year’s middle-grade novel, on Wednesday evening in Howard Miller Public Library. Memory serves as a mirror through which we see and construct the image and narrative we present; it is how we come to know ourselves. Memory has another purpose, too. It is closely tied to our emotions; it allows us to feel. When Dr. Salah asked the audience to name something which seemed good about the community depicted in the story (where nobody except The Giver has any memory of a world different than the one in which they live), one young reader murmured, “there’s no pain.” The community of The Giver is made up of children who weren’t told of all they had lost, and while, as the reader correctly said, they feel no pain, the loss of collective memory, of emotion and identity, seems almost more grievous. Dr. Salah pointed this out and ended her talk by sharing that Lowry wrote The Giver “for all the children to whom we entrust the future,” and that the novel holds a powerful message for them. It says that willful ignorance is not a solution, and that anybody, at any age, can have an impact on the world.

When we take this message and look back to Station Eleven, the question shifts from “what happens to the children?” to “what do we pass on to the children?” Throughout the novel, we see two different answers. Either leave them this collective memory and tell them what has been lost, or don’t. The reader hears of children who don’t know that the world was ever different from the way they know it; they don’t know that cars used to run, that swimming pools used to be filled with water, that credit cards were used daily. For some, the memory of the old world, the world that was lost, is unknown, because someone else deemed it too painful to remember.

Station Eleven acts as a reminder, too, that memory takes form in stories. Clark’s Museum of Civilization begins the process of bringing forward and preserving the recollection of the old world, making sure that the past is not rendered obsolete. But the objects showcased are just that: objects. Without the stories and experiences behind them, anchoring them to the present, they are meaningless. It is talking about the past, sharing anecdotes and narratives, that keeps the memory alive.    

When I first heard these two lectures, I thought I was in a unique position as a twenty-one-year-old college student; I thought it was something special that I could count myself both as a child to whom the world is entrusted and an adult who bears some of the responsibility of passing that world along. But after a day of reflection, I realized that is not the case: I share this position with every other person in this world. How often do we speak of children, of what they will grow up with, what we must give them? We forget that we do not inherit the world or the future in one instance, or with one experience, but we receive it gradually and continuously with every story we collect, every memory we hear. What is more, we do our part to pass it on from the day we learn to speak, as we tell our own stories and share our experiences with others. We are all, in a sense, the children to whom the future is entrusted, and we hand part of it off each and every day.  


Contributed by Annika Gidley

Annika is a senior at Hope College, studying English and Spanish, and this year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore student intern. When not at the library or talking about Harry Potter, you can find her at a local coffee shop or the nearest Big Read event.

“Survival is Insufficient”

The morning of November 1st was cold and brisk on Hope College’s campus; remnants of Halloween still hung about porches and windows while students bundled in winter jackets drifted down sidewalks. Inside the Kruizenga Art Museum, a small group of readers had gathered in a cozy conference room located immediately behind the front desk. They were there for a gallery talk by Charles Mason, the museum curator, and a book discussion led by Dr. Tatevik Gyulamiryan, a professor of Spanish literature at Hope College.

Mr. Mason began the gallery talk by pointing to the framed paintings which lined the perimeter of the conference room; they represented a variety of styles, movements, and artists, but all had one thing in common: they all prominently featured ruins. As he described the different pieces and the links between them, he talked of the catharsis that art offers; viewing it can allow us an opportunity to acknowledge or release emotions we may not have previously understood, while creating it allows us to rework those emotions and give them physical form. He pointed to some of the painters featured on the walls and detailed how they had turned to art as a means to make sense of their own emotions, to represent them physically and share them with others.

Charles Mason, director and curator of the Kruizenga Art Museum, points to different pieces depicting ruins and speaks on the representation of a broken world in art.

In the book discussion which immediately followed, Dr. Gyulamiryan brought up the role of art in the novel. She noted that Shakespeare features prominently, and is often held up as the pinnacle of art. Yet, she noted, the mantra often repeated throughout the novel, “survival is insufficient,” comes not from Shakespeare, but an episode of Star Trek. She posed the question, what are we, as readers, to make of this?

In the conversation that followed, the readers seemed to agree that the appreciation of art of all kinds was a central concern to the novel, and that Mandel uses art as a way to highlight the importance of human connection. To me, it seems that the treatment of art within Station Eleven is critical to the message of the novel and, even more, its selection as this year’s Big Read book.

Mandel lauds Shakespeare’s plays, but she also celebrates the value and power of Station Eleven, the fictional graphic novels created by Miranda. These graphic novels are cathartic for their author; just as Mr. Mason pointed out in the painters, Miranda finds reprieve in the act of creation, and the representation of her own experiences and sentiments is a way for her to come to terms with the past and become a more complete version of herself. Yet the particular power of art which the novel celebrates is not the power associated with its creation or consumption; it is the power of sharing art. The Traveling Symphony’s goal is not simply to read Shakespeare plays or perform them for one another; it is to share them with audiences who may not have heard of or seen them before. The power of the graphic novels does not come from the means or reason of their creation; it comes from the effect they have on the characters who possess them. While only two copies of the work exist, Kirsten has one of them. As she travels from town to town twenty years after the pandemic, she continually searches for others. The overriding feeling which the graphic novels inspire in her is a deep longing for another person with whom she can share them.

The novel suggests that the value we ascribe to works is arbitrary; in this world, the words of Shakespeare and Star Trek are given equal importance; two copies of a graphic novel created by a woman seeking to understand her own life prove central to the development of the story and its characters. Art, in all its forms, can wring emotion from us, offer hope for the future, and bring us into connection with others; art reaches its full potential to change and challenge us, move us and build us, when it brings us community. It is the sharing of art, then, the connection it can bring, that holds value, more so than the piece itself.  

And here the novel answers for us a question which sometimes floats in the background of Big Read book discussions and events: what is the point? Why do we gather in conference rooms on cold mornings with people we do not know in order to discuss a novel we might not have read of our own accord? In short: because we need to.

We need stories, but more than that we need to share them. Dr. Gyulamiryan remarked during the discussion that what makes human beings distinct from other animals is the fact we pass information to one another through stories. Those tales become our connection. While the Big Read encourages individuals to read, and selects wonderful texts that are delightful to read independently, the value and meaning of the program is found in discussions such as this one. To actively share the experience of processing a story, to discuss our thoughts and our emotional responses, to relay personal experience and viewpoints, all of this works to fulfill that desire to find others who have been moved by the same work and can share it with us. “Survival is insufficient,” Mandel reminds us repeatedly, but perhaps it can also be said that when it comes to art, creation and consumption alone are insufficient. Art lives while it is shared. We live while we share it with one another.


Contributed by Annika Gidley

Annika is a senior at Hope College, studying English and Spanish, and this year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore student intern. When not at the library or talking about Harry Potter, you can find her at a local coffee shop or the nearest Big Read event.

2018 Introduction

Over the last four years, The Big Read has changed the Lakeshore community and all who have participated in it. We have grown as a community and as individuals through this shared experience. Together, with Harper Lee we witnessed Tom Robinson’s court case in 1930s Alabama; with Tim O’Brien, we fought a long and oftentimes heartless war in Vietnam; with Edwidge Danticat we traveled to Haiti and glimpsed the grueling, sometimes cruel, process of United States immigration; last year, with Julie Otsuka, we saw the pain and turmoil of the Japanese internment camps.  

This year, we go not back in time, but forward. Together we will see what our own home looks like after a global catastrophe shatters civilization as we know it, and observe a broken world begin to put itself back together. In the upcoming month we will learn and discuss the science behind pandemics, the role of art in our lives, and what it means, precisely, to be part of a community.

We hope that the learning and discussion will not be confined to any one event, group, location, or time. As we celebrate the start of another Big Read and welcome you to the 2018 program, we also extend to everyone an invitation. We invite you to read the novel Station Eleven, whether it be for the first time or the fifth, along with our middle-grade novel The Giver by Lois Lowry, and our Little Read selection Blackout by John Rocco. We invite you to reflect, individually or with others, on the meaning these books hold. We invite you to join us, to become another voice at discussions and another integral member of this community. And finally we invite you to speak, to keep the conversation going with friends, family, and neighbors, even after the events have finished and the program ended.

As our program has expanded geographically and thematically over the last few years, we are also expanding digitally. I would like to take a moment to invite everybody to share your experiences and ideas on your preferred digital platform, and be sure to tag @NEABigReadLakeshore or else to use the hashtag #bigreadlakeshore and become part of our digital network.



Contributed by Annika Gidley

Annika is a senior at Hope College, studying English and Spanish, and this year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore student intern. When not at the library or talking about Harry Potter, you can find her at a local coffee shop or the nearest Big Read event.

The Hard Questions

The steady drizzle and chilling wind of the day had mostly died down by seven o’clock on Wednesday evening, but the cold temperatures persisted, compelling attendants of “Claiming America: Questions of Belonging” to shuffle quickly inside Zeeland’s Howard Miller library. We grabbed our complimentary coffee and settled into our seats, eager to learn more about the history surrounding When the Emperor Was Divine. Dr. Kimberly McKee was at the podium, prepared with extensive research on the Asian immigrant’s experience in the United States.

Her research dated back to the 19th century, when the first Asians traveled to America as temporary workers. “They never intended to stay”, said McKee, referring to the waves of sojourners attracted by the Gold Rush and the building of the Trans-Atlantic Railroad. However, they found that they could do quite well for themselves here in the United States. Experiencing a prosperity they hadn’t known in their native countries, they decided to settle here. But their success gained them some adversaries; many Americans sought to take back via legislation the jobs that their new neighbors were getting. The Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907 was one such ordinance, intended to discourage Asian immigrants from claiming the U.S. as their home. McKee cited more examples of the discrimination faced by Asian-Americans, including political cartoons from the 20th century that portrayed Japanese-Americans in an unfair and hysterical manner. Much of what she presented to us was information I had never heard before, which served to prove another of McKee’s points: why hasn’t the racism faced by Asian-Americans been more talked about?

One of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s lecture came afterwards, during the Q & A portion. An audience member asked: Were the internment camps really that bad? Was the public’s idea about the Japanese during World War II completely unfounded? Wasn’t there reason to be afraid of kamikaze and Japanese spies? Her questions were hard ones, causing everyone in the room to examine their conscience and consider their own subjectivity on the matter. Were we trying to prove the lesser of two evils? McKee didn’t have answers for the woman and I’m not sure anyone in the audience did either. She went on to challenge us all to continue questioning ourselves and our society, citing evidence of the Asian-American stereotypes that still persist: in Snapchat filters, in movies, in children’s books. The audience was encouraged to reflect: how do these representations shape our ideas about Asian-Americans?

The Big Read is valuable to our community for so many reasons, but what makes it most relevant are the conversations it starts up all over the Holland area: in classrooms, in bookstores, in coffee shops, in homes. When we read and talk with others, we can learn important lessons and discover areas of personal growth, but we can also make connections to present day situations. McKee pointed out the parallel between the anti-Japanese sentiment of WWII and the current anti-Muslim feelings in our country. As reflective and responsible citizens, we can use When the Emperor Was Divine as a jumping-off point for conversations about how to move forward as a nation in the face of terrorism and racism.

Contributed by Lindsay Kooy

Lindsay is a junior at Hope College, studying Business with minors in English and Communication. When she’s not at her desk or on the soccer field, you can find her at a coffee shop, most likely talking about personality tests.

Do What You Love

On a very cold and dreary Saturday morning, the children’s section at Herrick District Library couldn’t have been more full of energy and warmth.  Amy Lee-Tai, author of A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, came to delight an audience of almost 100 people with her children’s book inspired by her family’s experience in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. Amy is a reading specialist turned children’s book author from New York, and it was her love of picture books and their ability to show that the world is good that made her write this one.

Amy started her book reading with a small history – personal and global – of WWII and the internment camps.  She showed many pictures of her family, and one that especially tugged at my heart was a picture of her grandmother and mother on evacuation day, which was the day the Japanese Americans were pulled from their homes to go the camps.  Lee-Tai explained to the children present that the internment camps were much different than the summer camps that they are familiar to.  She concluded her history with this question: “What do you love to do?”  This idea plays an important role in her book.

Then, the reading started.  The book A Place Where Sunflowers Grow is about Mari and her family, a Japanese-American family, who are forced to live at a camp in Utah.  Mari is enrolled in an art class, but she can’t figure out what to draw.  Her teacher gives her the advice to draw what she loves, and suddenly, Mari finds life at the camp just a bit more bearable.  She makes friends and draws about her life, and she realizes that doing what you love – in her case is drawing – turns a bad situation into something better.  This was unlike any other book reading I had been to – the pictures were projected onto the screen so that the audience had a great view.  All of the people who came, ranging from preschoolers to adults, were captured by the powerful message that came from this children’s book.  

The advice that Mari gets carries strongly into the real world, and it is something that we all can use to see the beauty in everything.  Lee-Tai concluded her reading with a message of hope: do what you love, and you will make the world a better place.


Contributed by Emma Jones. Emma is a student at Hope College.