Big Read 2020 Wrap-Up: Lessons Learned from “Books as Windows and Mirrors: The Importance of Reading Diverse Books”

We are continuing our Big Read 2020 Wrap-up series: a compilation of blog posts written by various community members about some things they learned (and are still thinking about) from our recent Big Read events.

In this post, Abby Hamilton, English Educcation major, reflects on what she learned attending Books as Windows and Mirrors: The Importance of Reading Diverse Books. You can view this event on our Youtube channel here.

Abby writes,

One thing I learned from this event was how important book recommendations are to students and to other teachers in general. Recommending books involves knowing your students, and when you as the teacher are able to pick a book that would fit their interests, they are more likely to read it and enjoy reading it!

Another thing that I learned was about the theme of water in many children’s books, especially in the two books chosen for the Big Read/Little Read this year and in many other diverse books as highlighted by the presentation.

Lastly, I learned that “Own Voices Authors” means that the author telling the story belongs to the affinity group they are writing about. 

One idea that I’m walking away with is the importance of recommending books to my students on an ongoing basis. I want to have silent-reading time in my classroom, and I think that my students will develop a more personal relationship with reading if they are encouraged to read books I recommend or their peers recommend!

Secondly, I want to encourage my students (even though I hope to be teaching at the secondary level) to look at children’s literature as examples of windows/mirrors into diverse experiences. This could be connected to an in-class discussion of the importance of literature or why we still read Shakespeare and Homer in the 21st century.

Lastly, I really liked the audience participation by asking questions in the chat! Especially for this new virtual academic world, we are living in, students should be encouraged to ask questions or comment on course material in the chat to stay engaged with the lesson and the material covered in class.

Big Read 2020 Wrap-Up: Lessons Learned from “Adventure Stories with Hope Professors”

Our Big Read 2020 program may be over but the ideas and insights presented and discussed in our program are still floating around and shaping the way the readers along the Lakeshore are thinking about the world. We’re starting a series of blog posts written by various community members about some of the things they learned (and are still thinking about) from our recent Big Read events.

In the paragraphs below, Jael Stilwell, Art Education major at Hope College reflects on what she learned from watching the NEA Big Read Lakeshore’sAdventure Stories with Hope Professors.” If you missed this event, it’s not too late! It’s available for viewing on our Big Read YouTube channel – you can access it here.

Jael writes,

I was so excited when I learned this event would give me a chance to hear professors’ stories! I was on my toes for the entire event because the stories were so interesting and exciting to listen to. Some of the stories were rather scary and risky but were definitely very enjoyable to listen to.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about what Dr. Van Duinen said about her experience of biking throughout Southeast Asia. She reflected that often when we’re in the middle of a story, we may not be enjoying it or able to reflect on it. However, when we have time and space away from it, once we’ve lived through a story, we are able to learn and laugh from our experiences.

Dr Forester’s story about biking through Europe was fascinating. He said that he was invited to dinner with a family and was given a cup of coffee, and the only person who drank coffee was him. He ended up finding out that coffee was very expensive at the time and was only bought through the black market. As a coffee lover myself (more of a coffee addict, I have to drink it every day!) I was shocked at how expensive and rare coffee was at the time.

This event has made me think about the importance of listening to people’s stories! As a future teacher, I’m realizing how important it is to listen to what students have to say. I think some amazing conversations with students could stem from asking them about their experiences. It’s also a great opportunity to get to know your students on a more personal level by asking them about some of their greatest life experiences.

I’ve also thought more about the importance of travel. Many of the amazing stories that the professors shared happened somewhere around the world outside of Holland, MI. Often these trips were taken during the earlier years of the professor’s life, and they had great experiences during these trips. One can experience amazing things through discovering and traveling to other places in our world. I think travel opportunities should be taken advantage of because of the experiences and stories that travel brings to one’s life. My mother still talks about her May Term through Hope College that she took in Austria and she still travels around the world for her job and always has amazing stories to tell us when she comes home.

This event has also prompted me to think about having confidence to step outside of our comfort zones. Sometimes we have to do things that are uncomfortable, in order to grow and learn and have stories to tell. I’ve always wanted to travel outside of the United States, and I’ve had the opportunity quite a few times. However, I often experience anxiety when it comes to traveling even only a couple hours away from Holland. I’ve always loved the idea of traveling and have been on many trips as a child, but I often spend more time worrying than exploring and experiencing those stories to share with others.

Although sometimes we have to push ourselves slightly out of our comfort zones to learn and grow. As I think about my chosen major (Art), I realize that many artists in history had to experiment and try new things when it came to their personal artistic practice. Many movements and great works of art came out of these experiments.

Big Read 2020 Wrap-Up: Lessons learned from the”Ethics Aboard the Essex” event

Our Big Read 2020 program may be over but the ideas and insights presented and discussed in our program are still floating around and shaping the way the readers along the Lakeshore are thinking about the world. We’re starting a series of blog posts written by various community members about some of the things they learned (and are still thinking about) from our recent Big Read events.

In the paragraphs below, Jael Stilwell, Art Education major at Hope College reflects on what she learned from watching Western Seminary‘s “Ethics Aboard the Essex” event led by Dr. Daniel Flores and Dr. David Stubbs. Her reflections speak to the ways that Dr. Stubbs’ comments and insights can be applied to a myriad of contexts. If you missed this event, it’s not too late! It’s available for viewing on our Big Read YouTube channel – you can access it here.

Jael writes,

Dr Stubbs, during his event “Ethics Aboard the Essex” discussed the ideas of the chaos of the sea and the theological implications of a chaotic sea. During my senior year of high school, I took one class at Holland Christian High School called Discipleship. In Discipleship, I learned about God’s promises to the Israelites in the Old  Testament of the Bible and how these promises connect to God’s promise of Jesus and his life on earth in the new testament. In Discipleship, we discussed the Hebrew word for the chaos, formlessness, and void in Genesis 1 in references to the dwelling place of the spirit before the creation of the earth. The word is tohu va vohu, meaning formless, empty, and void. While this was not necessarily something that I learned, this was a connection I was able to make between what Dr. Stubbs was discussing in regards to human’s ideas of the sea and the Hebrew meaning for the words discussed.

Dr. Stubbs also taught me that Nathanial Philbrick, the author of In the Heart of the Sea, was a sailor. Along with this, I learned that sailing is a great hobby and skill to develop as an individual. I could perhaps see myself enjoying sailing,  although I know nothing about sailing and have not stepped foot on a sailboat once in my life. I do know that I love the water because I used to be a swimmer, and I love the outdoors, so perhaps I could enjoy sailing if I tried it.

This event also taught me the Nantucketer Quaker disconnect between their religious and moral beliefs and economic practices. The Quakers were pacifists and did not believe in killing other humans, but they did believe in killing whales, almost in a savage way, as was stated throughout the journey of the sailors. Dr. Stubbs discussed this interesting phenomenon that the killing of others was considered very savage and inhumane while seeking out and killing whales was one of the biggest economic prosperities of  Nantucket.  

The culture and experiences of whaling and how it formed and shaped the people of Nantucket reminds me of what we’ve learned in Education classes about sociocultural theory and how each of our students have different backgrounds and differences in beliefs and culture. As a future teacher, it is imperative that I see each and every one of my students as unique individuals who each have a unique story to tell. I want to learn what shapes and forms my students in order to best serve them as individual students and individual learners.

Another lesson learned for me was how the captain of the Essex, who was an authoritarian figure and leader of the boat, practiced a democratic act by discussing what to do with those beneath him on the boat. This is similar to the role of a teacher in the classroom. While the teacher is in clear command of the classroom and leads the classroom in learning, often it is the role of the teacher to lead a democratic classroom by asking students to share their opinions. In ED 287 (Classroom Management) this semester, we learned about developing classroom expectations with your students. The best way to establish classroom expectations is having everybody form them, and then post the ones that everybody agrees upon.

Little Read Event: Angela Dominguez at Herrick District Library

November 14, 2020 10:00 AM

Angela Dominguez: Illustrating Galapagos Girl

Herrick District Library

For Families: Join us for a very special virtual presentation by Angela Dominguez, as she talks about her experience illustrating of this year’s Little Read book, Galápagos Girl!

November 14, 2020 1:00 PM 

Angela Dominguez: Illustrating Galapagos Girl

Herrick District Library

Join us for a very special virtual presentation with Angela Dominguez, illustrator of The Little Read book “Galápagos Girl”, and author and illustrator of “Maria Had a Little Llama (María Tenía Una Llamita)”, “Sing, Don’t Cry”, “Stella Diaz Has Something to Say”, and so many more! (Recommended for ages 5-8)

November 14, 2020 3:00 PM 

Angela Dominguez: Illustrating Galapagos Girl

Herrick District Library

Join us for a very special virtual presentation with Angela Dominguez, illustrator of The Little Read book “Galápagos Girl”, and author and illustrator of “Maria Had a Little Llama (María Tenía Una Llamita)”, “Sing, Don’t Cry”, “Stella Diaz Has Something to Say”, and so many more! (Recommended for ages 9-11)

Angela Dominguez was born in Mexico City and grew up in the great state of Texas. She now resides on the east coast with her boyfriend, Kyle, and petite dog, Petunia. She is also the author and illustrator of several books for children and a two-time recipient of Pura Belpré Illustration Honor. Her debut middle grade novel, Stella Díaz Has Something To Say, was a New York Public Library and a Chicago Public Library pick for Best Books for Kids in 2018, Sid Fleischman Award winner, and an ALA Notable. When Angela is not in her studio or visiting schools, she teaches at the Academy of Art University, which honored her with their Distinguished Alumni Award in 2013. Angela is a proud member of SCBWI, PEN America, and represented by Wernick and Pratt Literary Agency. As a child, she loved reading books and making a mess creating pictures. She’s delighted to still be doing both.

Mark Your Calander! Ross Richardson is coming virtually to Herrick District Library

November 13, 2020 5:00 PM 

Marine Biologist: Ben Kamphuis 

Herrick District Library

Ross Richardson

Journey to the waters of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Northern Lake Michigan and join author and shipwreck hunter Ross Richardson in exploring the histories and mysteries of the Manitou Passage, one of the deadliest areas on the great lakes. An undiscovered fleet of shipwrecked ghost-ships lies off that rugged coast, just waiting to be found. Learn their stories and explore a newly discovered mystery schooner thought to be one of the most intact shipwrecks on the planet.

Too excited to wait? Check out some of Ross Richardson’s books!

Follow Herrick District Library on Social Media

And don’t forget our Big Read social media links are down below.

NEA Big Read Kick-Off Announcement

November 02, 2020, 7:00 PM

Kick-Off Event with Dr. Fred Johnson III: Swimming Through the Gray


In this kickoff address, Dr. Fred Johnson III will explore the historical context of the sinking of the Essex in 1820. In doing so, he will reflect on those who have told our nation’s history, those who are telling our history, and those whose histories have been left out.

Big Read Lakeshore Announces Author Skip Finley as Featured Speaker

Exciting announcement! Our November programming will include two events featuring Skip Finley, author of Whaling Captains of Color – America’s First Meritocracy

The events featuring Finley will take place on November 11 and 23, both at 7pm. The second event will be hosted in partnership with the Herrick District Library. Due to COVID-19, these events will be hosted virtually. More information can be found on

Finley will discuss race in the context of the whaling industry which is heavily featured in the Big Read Lakeshore’s 2020 book selection, In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Skip Finley built a career in radio and the communications industry. He served as Vice Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, Chairman of the Radio Advertising Bureau and several industry boards and committees. His career, since 1971, has included responsibility for 44 radio stations (five of which were owned by him). 

Although Finley has been retired since age 50, he has continuously returned to the communications industry. Finley is currently the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Vineyard Gazette Media Group on Martha’s Vineyard. Beginning in 1955, Finley spent his summers on Martha’s Vineyard and in 1999 he moved there and decided to become a writer.

Notably, Finley has written articles for the Vineyard Gazette, Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, Island Weddings Magazine, the Provincetown Banner and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum publications, The Intelligencer and the MV Museum Quarterly.

He has written two books: Historic Tales of Oak Bluffs, published by The History Press – Arcadia Publishing, and Whaling Captains of Color – America’s First Meritocracy, published by the Naval Institute Press in June 2020. Information of Finley’s career and publications can be found on his website,

Hope College’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore program began in 2014 with the goal to create and foster a culture where reading matters. By bringing the Lakeshore community together around a common book, Big Read Lakeshore uses the shared experience of reading, discussing, and exploring the themes of the book as a springboard to listen from and learn from each other.

Contributed by Kylie Galloway. Kylie is the Marketing Manager for Big Read Lakeshore. Kylie is also a junior at Hope College. She is majoring in Communications and minoring in both History and Spanish.

Let’s talk! Just reading our Big Read book isn’t enough…

During these summer months, our Big Read team has been hard at work getting ready for our upcoming virtual program this November. We are eager for our Lakeshore readers, on Hope’s campus and beyond, to read Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea along with our Little Read book, Galapagos Girl/Galapagueña, by Marsha Diane Arnold.

I’ve often said that while reading our chosen book is important and is a huge part of the Big Read experience each year, what I love and encourage more are the discussions that happen around the book and the ways that it can serve as a springboard for thinking and talking about a variety of topics, issues, and themes. Our Big Read is about reading a book but it’s also about what we do with the book and what we do after we read the book.

Particularly in light of our nation’s current racial protests and reckoning with race, we encourage our Big Read readers to reflect on both the historical events included in the book and the ways that they are told. We encourage our readers to read with and against the text. We encourage our readers to read with a racial equity lens and think about and read counterstories to what is included in In the Heart of the Sea.

To this end, here are some framing questions to guide our reading and our discussions about our Big Read and Little Read books: 

  • Whose history does this story tell? 
  • What is the historical Black experience in the United States? In In the Heart of the Sea?
  • Historically, the commercial maritime industry offered opportunities to Black Americans that weren’t available in most other industries. Why might this have been?
  • How do we tell our national stories from the past? How do we talk about them?
  • What choices do historians/writers have when writing about the past? How have historical stories been told/taught? How might they be taught in ways that acknowledge and value the experience of all?
  • What are counterstories to In the Heart of the Sea or other stories about our nation’s past?

In our November events and book discussions, we’re looking forward to digging more deeply into these questions and topics, bringing about more awareness to them, and exploring ways to respond in as individuals and as a community. Stay tuned for more information about these events!

Copies of the Big Read and Little Read books are available online or in-person at the Hope College bookstore for a discounted price. If you want to get started now, we encourage you to attend a free webinar on Tuesday, August 18 at 7pm led by Dr. Carlin Borsheim-Black, author of Letting Go of Literary Whiteness: Antiracist Literature for White Students. Hope faculty, staff, or students are welcome to attend along with any interested K-12 teachers or community members.

Contributed by Dr. Deborah Van Duinen. Deborah is the Big Read Lakeshore Executive Director and an Associate Professor of Education at Hope College.

Important history lessons for today

I will never forget my eighth-grade social studies teacher Mr. Danato at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton, Ilinois. Mr. Danato stood at 5 feet 8 inches and had salt and pepper hair that fell at the nape of his neck. At the start of each class period, we would scramble to copy down pre-written notes from a dimly lit smartboard. Then, Mr. Danato would make his way to the front of the room and begin telling stories, stories that captivated our attention. Not one set of eyes dared look at an iPhone when Mr. Danato told his stories; no one wanted to miss a single detail. 

If some people think history is made up of useless and old facts and dates, they clearly didn’t have a teacher like Mr. Danato. His stories brought history alive and showed all of my middle school classmates and me that stories from history have, in one way or the other, impacted our world today. Mr Danato helped me see how historical stories can be bridges to other times and places. When we hear or read them, we get invited to walk across these bridges, enter into the past and gain insights to who we are today. Mr Danato and the stories he told are the reason I have chosen to become a history teacher during my time at Hope College.

Best-selling author Nathaniel Philbrick, like Mr. Danato, knows the power stories hold. In the Heart of the Sea, our NEA Big Read Lakeshore 2020 chosen book, he brings the tragedy of the whaleship Essex to life. His novel follows the whaleship crew on their three-year voyage to harvest whale oil; however, their journey takes a turn for the worse when their whaleship is attacked and sunk by an 85-foot angry sperm whale. The crew endures 90 days of starvation and false hope at the hands of the great and unforgiving sea. 

Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea is a relevant and timely story for our Lakeshore community for many reasons. For one, the novel and its survival story is a page-turner. It’s well written, historically accurate, and one you won’t be able to put down. For another reason, this November marks the 200th anniversary of the sinking of the Essex. What better time and reason to read this story? COVID19 had never been heard of in 1820 but the Essex crew’s perseverance can teach us lessons in hope and in the strength of the human spirit. Another reason this book is relevant is that readers along the Lakeshore can personally relate to a water-based economy. While we don’t live near an ocean and Lake Michigan doesn’t have whales, much of our own economic activity, leisure pursuits, and sustainability issues are focused on water. Philbrick invites us to walk across the bridge that his story represents and learn from what happened in the past.

While you might not have had a Mr Danato in your life like I did, our NEA Big Read Lakeshore 2020 book choice is your chance to experience the power of stories from the past. I encourage you to read the book and discuss it with family, friends, and neighbors. Visit our website ( to find resources and event information and join us for our program in November. Let’s walk the bridge together!

Abigail Knoner is a sophomore at Hope College where she is majoring in Social Studies for Secondary Education. She is this year’s Communications Manager for the NEA Big Read Lakeshore.

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

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.