Remembering: The First Five Years

Here at the Big Read, we are excited to be getting closer to announcing our book for the 2023 program. As we approach the tenth anniversary of the Big Read Lakeshore program, we want to take the time to look back at where we started with the first five books. The Big Read started in 2014 and has transported our community to places and times very different from our experiences here in West Michigan.

In our first year of The Big Read, we visited Scout and Atticus Finch in 1930s Alabama and sat through Tom Robinson’s court case. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was our kickoff book, and it was unclear how the community would respond or engage with the program. Slowly schools, libraries, and other local organizations began to come on board and we were able to continue to grow those connections since then.
Throughout the month, we talked about themes of race and equality and had some great events, like talking to a childhood friend of Lee.

In our second year, we traveled to the Vietnam War through The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. These short stories talked about the physical, emotional, and mental burdens these soldiers took up. Amidst conversations about these burdens, many local schools got involved and found ways to interact with these stories by creating various art pieces to inspire the community.

In our third year, we joined Edwidge Danticat in her journeys in Haiti and the United States starting in 1969. Brother, I’m Dying was the first autobiography we read for the Big Read, and it approached hard topics like immigration and the American dream. Art was used once again, but this time involving as much as the community as we could with an installation art piece made up of hundreds of individual reflections on the stories shared and fingerprints representing the many identities that make up the Holland area.

The fourth year of Big Read brought us the story of a nameless family in a Japanese internment camp through the story of When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka. Based on real family experiences, the novel spends time on the differing perspectives of four family members and their eviction from California to a Japanese internment camp in Utah during World War II. One memorable event from that year was getting to see Raion Taiko Drumming and learn some Japanese words along the way.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel kept us in the Great Lakes region and instead took us on a journey to a dystopian future society. A swine flu pandemic taking out a large part of the world population most likely seemed more dystopian in 2018, but rereading it in 2023 could give us a different perspective after our experiences with COVID. Some discussion brought up during the program were questions about art and what legacy we pass on to children. We traveled a lot in this book, from person to person and back to the past many times.

This community has blessed us with a space to share these stories, and we are thankful for your support and engagement with our program. Some of you have been with us from the very beginning, and we are extremely grateful for you. For those who are just beginning their journey with us, welcome! We cannot wait to share where you get to travel with us this year!

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” ~Dr. Seuss: Films for Women’s History Month

By Teisha Struik-Kothe 

As a celebration of Women’s History Month, each week a Hope College professor or student will recommend their favorite books or films dealing with issues facing women today and throughout history. This week is dedicated to movies and films and is written by Dr. Teisha Struik-Kothe, an Assistant Professor of Instruction. As a former teacher and administrator, Dr. Struik-Kothe understands the difference equal representation makes for women in our world today.

As a former K-12 English language arts teacher and administrator, in honor of National Reading Month every March, I planned creative themes, books, speakers, and activities to engage students in literacy and spark a lifelong love of books. It was the annual March-Mission. Throughout the first official month of spring, in a nod to Dr. Seuss, I was busy enticing children to read upside down or read in bed with a flashlight or read to a dog!

This spring, I greatly enjoyed a twisting deep dive into movies list-worthy of Women’s History Month, which is officially celebrated on March 8. Why not spend the month of March (and beyond) engaged in reading and in viewing movies?

Countless films lift up and celebrate women’s brilliance and beauty. Friends, family, and my book club all had favorite nominations. (My significant other felt strongly that The Iron Lady (2011), a biographical film on the life of Margaret Thatcher, should make the list. He was disappointed it did not make the final five!) After considering everyone’s recommendations, and spending several nights with a blanket and a bowl of popcorn, below are the movies that made my Official-Unofficial Women’s History Month Movie List. They comprise an eclectic variety of movies featuring women who are brave, bold, bright, and beyond inspiring. Oh, the places you will go with these films!

Hidden Figures (2016)-The intelligence and determination of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, three black women who were employed by NASA in Langley, Virginia in the 60’s, transcended the prejudice of their colleagues. They made significant contributions to the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union, and they made significant contributions to the fields of math, science, and engineering.

Based on the book by Margot Lee Shutterly, the performances of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae are remarkable. Their visual storytelling is outstanding as an ensemble, and the history (or herstory) lesson is inspiring. Available on Disney Plus, Prime Video, Apple TV, and other sources. Rated PG.

Homecoming (2019)-Beyonce’s documentary and its overarching theme is one of education and hard work. In 2018, she was the first black woman to headline the Coachella music festival, which debuted in 1999. The documentary captures both weekend performances. Montages spliced into the concert highlight the mega-star’s year-long preparation for the show after she gave birth to her twins. Fans are given an intimate look into the intense rehearsals in which Beyonce carefully plans every detail of the concert, balances family time with her husband and three children, and fervently pushes her own work ethic beyond its limits. She is the one and only Beyonce, and she is both the creator and performer of Homecoming. 

During the documentary, the audience is educated in black culture and in the importance of preserving and encouraging a legacy of historically black colleges and universities. (Beyonce’s father attended Fisk University.) Words of Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, W.E.B. DuBois, and Toni Morrison dot “Homecoming” with inspiration. 

Homecoming morphs from “concept to cultural movement” and is best represented by Beyonce’s description: “It’s hard to believe that after all these years I was the first African-American woman to headline Coachella,” she said. “It was important to me that everyone that felt they had never seen themselves represented felt like they were on that stage with us.” It is 140 minutes of proof that Beyonce is the hardest-working person in show business, and is a creative, talented, God-loving genius. Available on Netflix and Prime Video. Rated PG-13.

Joy Luck Club (1993)-Based on the best-selling novel by Amy Tan, this movie shares the story of four women who were born in China and immigrated to America. Their daughter’s stories are also central to the piece. The “Joy Luck Club” is made up of the four older Chinese women who meet once a week to play mah jong, and while they play, they compare stories of their families. All of the women have lived to see loss, heartache, and indescribable grief. Their secrets and stories play out in the film, one that moves effortlessly between past and present.

The delicate intricacies between mother-daughter relationships and interracial marriages are intimately examined, and every viewer with a family can relate to the hopes and prayers one generation will have for the next. This story illustrates compassion, empathy, and unconditional love, uniting threads of all cultures. Available on Prime Video, Apple TV, Redbox, and other sources. Rated R.

On the Basis of Sex (2018)-Long live RBG! Felicity Jones delivered an incredible performance as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in this film. The well-crafted biography covers her life from schoolgirl to the Supreme Court. Did you know Ruth attended all of her law school classes and her husband’s classes when he fell ill with cancer? Did you know that no law firm would hire her despite Harvard Law and Columbia Law (first in her class) on her resume?

If you are in need of motivation and inspiration, watch this movie. Ruth and her husband fought one case together—a tax case that could be argued on the basis of sex—and that case changed everything. If there is “must see tv,” then this is a “must see movie.” Available on Prime, Apple TV, Redbox, and other sources. Rated PG-13.

Venus and Serena (2013)-Seeing footage from when these phenomenal female athletes were only ten years old gave me a whole new appreciation for the struggles Venus and Serena faced during their tennis careers. The girls grew up playing in Compton, California on broken courts. Their father-coach pleaded with country clubs to donate throw-away tennis balls so his girls could practice. At times, the young athletes were taunted with racist catcalls from the stands and unfairly criticized by opponents for every look, comment, or outfit. The documentary shows every obstacle they overcame.

The determination and resiliency of Venus and Serena in the face of criticism, injuries, illnesses, family challenges, and other obstacles will leave viewers in awe. This documentary provides a private view into the world of the Olympic stars’ lives. Players, tennis fans, and those with very little hand-eye coordination will enjoy this movie. (I’m among the latter and I loved it.) Available on Amazon Prime, Hulu, and other sources. Rated PG-13.

Women Talking (2022)-While all five of the films above are incredible in their own way, in the end, one movie really stuck with me. If you only have time to watch one film this spring, I recommend Women Talking (2022), directed by Sarah Polley. It is based on the novel Women Talking (2018) by Miriam Toews, which is loosely based on a real story, one that is horrifying. 

Between 2005-2009, 150 women and young girls were drugged and then raped by men in their secluded Mennonite community. The movie captures the women’s response while they meet in a barn to discuss their options: 1) Do nothing. 2) Stay and fight. 3) Leave the community.

None of the women can read or write, so the ballot they use to vote is drawn in pictures. Each woman makes a single mark to signify her vote. The debate to break a tie after the votes are tallied is raw, layered, nuanced, and ultimately gut-wrenching. The talented actresses drive the storyline and convey the heavy emotions as “women talking.” Oh, the places you will go during this film. What do they decide and why? Watch. It is a movie I cannot stop thinking about. If I had an Oscar to give, Women Talking would win. Available on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and other sources. Rated PG-13.

Celebrating Women’s History Month: Children’s Literature

By Alyssa Whitford 

As a celebration of Women’s History Month, each week a Hope College professor or student will recommend their favorite books or films dealing with issues facing women today and throughout history. This week is dedicated to children’s literature and is written by Dr. Alyssa Whitford, an associate professor of Education. As a former elementary school teacher, Dr. Whitford understands the importance of literacy, and promotes reading diverse literature.

“I didn’t know before [reading books about women’s history] that girls can have such great ideas, and can stand up for themselves, and can do pretty much anything that they set their mind to, and that girls can change the way that people see.” 

– Elli, Third Grade

Unfortunately, the misconception that women have failed to contribute to history isn’t uncommon. In fact, it’s one that is supported by many schools’ curriculum materials, which feature large images of (typically white, wealthy) men inventing, fighting, and leading. Yet women created many important inventions such as windshield wipers (Mary Anderson), home security systems (Marie Van Brittan Brown), fire escapes (Anna Connelly), and even the first Monopoly game (Elizabeth Magie). Ida B. Wells fought for voting rights and against racial violence, while a teenaged Clara Lemlich led one of the largest factory walkouts in the nation’s history. Don’t recognize those names? You aren’t alone. Women have been boundary-breakers, trail-blazers, and world-changers, but their history is often silenced. Using childrens’ literature, however, can provide both a stage and a microphone for women’s voices. I’m honored by the opportunity to highlight children’s books that feature incredible historical women. These women have influenced sports, arts, politics, civil rights, music, and science, and we still feel their impact today.  Below, I’ve listed just a few of my favorites.

Mamie on the Mound: A Women in Baseball’s Negro Leagues by Leah Henderson

Mamie Johnson was only 5’3 when she went face-to-face with some of the biggest hitters in baseball history. In fact, she was so small she earned the nickname “Peanut.” But her size didn’t stop her from making a big impact. Despite facing systems of sexism and racism throughout her career, Johnson was the first woman to pitch on a Major League baseball team. She held a winning record and became known as an inspiration to women athletes. 

Mamie on the Mound tells the story of Johnson’s life from her childhood through her post-baseball career as a nurse. The illustrations are supported by real pictures and quotes from and about Johnson. It’s sure to be a “hit” with sports enthusiasts of any age! 

My Name is Celia/Me llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/la vida de Celia Cruz (English, Multilingual and Spanish Edition) by Monica Brown 

Known as the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz is credited with popularizing salsa music in the United States through her beautiful, soulful voice and enchanting songs. Over a lifetime of music, Cruz created more than 70 albums and entertained millions of devoted fans. She would often use her trademark cry of “¡Azúcar!” during performances to honor the enslaved people who worked on sugar plantations in Cruz’s birth country of Cuba. This year Cruz will become the first Afro-Latina to appear on U.S. currency. 

This bilingual book uses whimsical color and musical lyrics to tell the story of Celia Cruz’s life and her impact on music. Its rhythmic cadence makes it a joy to read! 

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans With Disabilities Changed Everything by Annette Bay Pimentel.

Jennifer Keelan has been an activist since she was only six years old. Keelan was born with cerebral palsy and has spent her life advocating for equal rights and access—in fact, when she was only eight years old she left her wheelchair to crawl to the top of the US Capitol Building steps in order to show her support for the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since, she has been known as an influential part of the disability rights movement and an inspiration to many. 

Along with engaging illustrations and storytelling, this book uses the word “STOP” to show the barriers Keelan faced and how she continues to push through each challenge. This book also begins with a letter from Keelan herself reminding us all that there is still important work to be done in gaining equal rights. 

Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer by Traci Sorell 

Mary Golda Ross was the first known Indigenous engineer whose work on fighter planes and aerodynamic forces is still considered revolutionary. A Cherokee woman, Ross was a strong advocate for women and Native peoples in STEM, especially in engineering. She has broken boundaries and created a lasting legacy, which can still be seen in her contributions to engineering and to causes she supported such as the creation of the Smithsonean’s National Museum of the American Indian. 

Classified is a bit longer and more detailed than several of the books on this list, making it ideal for upper elementary grades. Using realistic images and graphics that clarify the story and Ross’s scientific work, the book will delight science-lovers and shine a light on Ross’s incredible historical impact. 

Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring by Nancy Churnin

Laura Wheeler Waring is an artist best known for her lovely, detailed landscapes and stunning portraits of prominent African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance. Fascinated with art and color at a young age, Wheeler Waring took an early interest in painting. Wheeler Waring was passionate about uplifting and amplifying the amazing work of Black singers, activists, scholars, and otherwise notable persons and today her work can now be seen in galleries all over the world. 

Told in a lyrical and descriptive way, Beautiful Shades of Brown tells of Wheeler Warings life as an artist. The text will make readers think about the beauty in the world around them while they also learn about a talented artist and her achievements. 

My Name is Not Isabella AND Isabella, Girl In Charge by Jennifer Fosberry 

Most of my recommendations are focused on one historical woman, but if you are looking for a fun way to learn about many women in history (My Name is Not Isabella) or politics (Isabella, Girl in Charge), the Isabella series is a great start. In each book, a little girl daydreams about being different notable women. The engaging repetition, creative illustrations, and charming main character make this an ideal book to read with early elementary grades. The books also feature backmatter with photos and brief biographies of all of the historical women featured in the story. 

Wonder While You Wander: Black Children in the Outdoors

By Jesus Montaño 

As a celebration of Black History Month, each week a Hope College professor or student will recommend their favorite books or films dealing with issues facing Black Americans today and throughout history. This week is dedicated to children’s literature and is written by Dr. Jesus Montaño, an associate professor of English. As a teacher/scholar of Latinx literatures and cultures, with special interest in children’s and young adult literary and cultural production, Dr. Montaño’s teaching and research examines the transformative and reparative power of writing and reading on young minds and spirits.

One can justly assume that this blog post took a wrong turn, got lost, then found itself in the woods. To be fair, it is easy to presume that a blog post on African American children’s picture books would not be concerned with Black children wondering as they wander in the outdoors. I would like to take this time and opportunity afforded to me by the Big Read Lakeshore to map what such a journey, via picture books, can offer us, that is, what can we gain from treading along these wild wonderscapes. 

We know that play is an important part of childhood, beneficial to learning and wellbeing so much that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children lists it as one of its international rights and that playing outdoors in particular helps children to learn science, practice social and emotional skills, and develop the lifelong habit of being active. Wondering and wandering in the great outdoors, we might say, is an important part of childhood, and of being human. 

Yet, as children’s literature scholar Dr. Michelle Martin at the University of Washington Information School notes, Black kids are rarely featured playing in nature. This lack of representation can be a detriment to Black children who do not often see themselves represented in picture books, much less in picture books in nature. For Professor Martin, this is important right now not only because of health issues, such as obesity, that disproportionately impact kids of color, but also because this lack of representation can communicate ideas about to whom nature belongs. Given the state of our environment, it is essential to consider issues of equity in terms of access to natural spaces and the role of Black and Brown people in environmental conservation efforts. 

By diversifying our bookshelves to include picture books with Black kids exploring nature, we can help kids find themselves in literature and in the great outdoors. During this Black History Month, take a moment to check out some picture books that show Black kids leading us as they wander and wonder in nature. Here are a few favorites to get you started:

Where’s Rodney? by Carmen Bogan is a story of a young Black student who can’t keep still. When Rodney visits a national park for the first time, he finds that the outdoors can be a majestic and peaceful place. 

The Hike by Alison Farell features a multi-racial group of three young female explorers as they wonder and wander in their local forest park. Each girl engages with the woods in a unique way, teaching us the value of observing, appreciating, and learning in the natural world. 

The Thing about Bees by Shabazz Larkin is a love poem to the author’s two sons that helps kids understand the role of these some-times scary pollinators. Perfect for a read-aloud, this book helps kids understand the importance of bees and the natural environment. 

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann is a picture book/graphic novel hybrid about Ernestine, a city kid, and her first adventure camping in the Pacific Northwest. This book shares the frustrations and delights of camping and how time in nature can transform our way of seeing the world. 

Buzzing with Question by Janice Harrington tracks what is possible when Black youth place their love of nature at the service of answering the world’s “buggy” questions, such as how ants find their way home or can bugs see color. About Charles Henry Turner, the first Black entomologist, this picture book provides a look at the obstacles as well as the promise of encouraging Black youth into the sciences. 

What would our world look like if we encouraged all kids to wander and wonder in the outdoors? Specifically to this blog entry, what would our world gain if we envisioned Black youths treading into wild wonderscapes? This is to say that changing the world begins in such imaginative ways. I highly encourage you to read these books, to yourself and to those you love. 

Celebrating Black History Month: Young Adult Literature

As a celebration of Black History Month, each week a Hope College professor or student will recommend their favorite books or films dealing with issues facing Black Americans today and throughout history. This first week is dedicated to Young Adult literature.

Book: Gifted Hands by Ben Carson (1990)

Reading Level: 3rd-5th grade

Gifted Hands is an inspiring autobiography about the neurosurgeon and politician Ben Carson. In this touching story of his journey to becoming a successful neurosurgeon, he describes growing up with a single mother who suffered from depression in inner-city Detroit. Though the odds were against him, Ben Carson graduated from Yale University and went on to University of Michigan Medical School. At the young age of thirty-three, Dr. Carson became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and has performed many life-saving surgeries on children, as described in his book.

Faith is an important aspect of Dr. Carson’s life, and therefore his story. Throughout the book, Dr. Carson mentions the hands of God directing him in miraculous ways, from his childhood to life as a successful surgeon.

Gifted Hands is a great book for anyone looking for an inspirational story focusing on one perspective of the Black experience in America.

Book: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1976)

Reading Level: 4th-6th grade

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is about a Black family of sharecroppers living in rural Mississippi during the early 1930s. Although set at the height of the Great Depression, the story mostly focuses on the economic disadvantages caused by racial disparities in the South during the Jim Crow era. Throughout the novel, multiple characters encounter racial discrimination and hate crimes like lynching at the hands of white southerners. This book explores the importance of family, racial equality, and faith during hard times. 

Book: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)

Reading Level: 6th-8th grade

The Poet X  is about a fifteen-year-old Afro-Latina girl living in Harlem, born into a religious family. Through writing her own slam poetry, Xiomara reflects on the religion she was born into and the way her race and gender have impacted her life. This coming-of-age story is about making sense of personal identity at a time when racial tensions are high, and is essential for a society that still represents many minority groups as stereotypes. Therefore, this novel is a breath of fresh air in that it is a more realistic depiction of a young girl wrestling with her identity as an Afro-Latina woman.

Book: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014)

Reading Level: 6th-8th grade

Written in verse, this novel is about the author, Jacquline Woodson’s childhood growing up near the end of the Civil Rights Movement. While born in Ohio, Woodson ends up moving to South Carolina at a time racism and discrimination are rampant in the South. Eventually, Woodson moves to New York, and she grows to love it. Throughout the novel, Woodson learns more about the Civil Rights Movement, Black Panthers, and feminism, and by the end, considers herself to be an activist and writer. Overall, this novel describes the experiences of one Black writer and activist and her journey to self-discovery amidst the tensions of race in America since the Civil Rights Movement.

Book: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2015)

Reading Level: 9th-12th grade

All American Boys is a co-written novel that deals with the racism Blacks still deal with today, focusing primarily on law enforcement. This book has two main characters, Rashad, an innocent Black teenager who gets beaten by a police officer, and Quinn, a white teenager who slowly comes to realize the unfair treatment Blacks in America still receive today. It would have been easy for this novel to paint the racial disparities depicted as good versus evil, but instead it shows the humanity of every character, no matter what choices they make, good or bad. This novel is a great way to look at issues that face Black Americans today such as police brutality and unfair representation in media.

Behind the Scenes Spotlight: Brooke Carbaugh

I am a senior English Secondary Education major at Hope College with a minor in history secondary education. I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and other than the Big Read I am involved with Residential Life and the Education Technology Team on campus.

What’s your role on the Big Read team?

 My role on the Big Read Lakeshore team is communicating with the teachers that work with our program. I help send out information about teacher meetings, resources, and how many books each teacher would like for their classrooms. Additionally, I manage the blog by writing posts or setting up a schedule of what will be posted and when.

What did you learn from the program?

Through my role, I have fostered my love of reading and seen how much literature matters. I get to work with the teachers and hear about the impact that simply getting a book can have on a student. I have enjoyed learning from our authors and reading alongside the community. Also, I learned the value of working with people that you admire.

What’s your favorite book (and why)?

At the moment, my favorite book is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I love that the book is both a murder mystery and about the human connection with nature. My favorite book before that was Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan because I love a good memoir, especially one with some twists and turns.

Behind the Scenes Spotlight: Shelly Arnold

Shelly has been with Hope College since 2003. Her main role is the office manager for the Center for Ministry Studies. She earned a second post-secondary degree in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree from Hope majoring in history with an art history minor. 

What’s your role on the Big Read team?

Shelly began working part-time with Big Read Lakeshore in 2017 providing administrative support and now works primarily with budgetary details.

What did you learn from the program?

Even though the basics of carrying out the program is the same, each year is very different from the previous. All the hard work is worth it in the end when you learn so much more beyond the pages of each book through speakers’ stories and artistic interpretations. The written word comes alive, reaching out in ways you wouldn’t have imagined.

What’s your favorite book (and why)?

She has many favorite books, but most recently it was a Big Read selection, Station Eleven, read prior to the COVID pandemic.

Behind the Scenes Spotlight: Nancy Gately

Next up in our series, we have Nancy Gately. Nancy is a fifth-year senior majoring in English for Secondary Education with minors in History for Secondary Education, K-12 English as a Second Language, and Women’s and Gender Studies. Nancy is also a Holland native and is a fan of a good cup of coffee. 

Q and A with Nancy:

What’s your role on the Big Read team?

 I have been working for the Big Read for two years now, and my role can be described as anything and everything having to do with libraries and non-profits. I’m the point of contact for libraries and non-profit organizations. In the summer, I ensure they still want to participate in the program. In the fall, I finalize the events that the libraries and non-profits are hosting, and in the winter, I gather the attendance information for all events. 

What did you learn from the program?

Through my role, I have learned the importance of a good email. Being the point of contact for so many libraries and non-profits has made it so that I am sending many emails throughout the day and answering many emails. Though by sending good emails, specifically, those that are clear, to the point, but also kind, make it so all the people I am in contact with know what is going on, and I can build a good relationship with them so that the Big Read can keep as many library and non-profit partners as possible. 

What’s your favorite book (and why)?

I have many favorite books. While it is not really a book one author that I always find myself coming back to, and would consider a favorite is John Grisham. I love the court scenes that he writes and how the pace of his books is fast, yet the storyline is not that predictable. 

Behind the Scenes Spotlight: Addie Wilcox

We’re starting a new series to feature all of our workers behind the scenes that make the Big Read and Little Read Lakeshore happen. Come back each Monday to learn more about our team members, what they learned from working for the program, and their favorite books!

Introducing Addie Wilcox

Addie is a sophomore at Hope College majoring in Secondary English Education, Creative Writing, and Classical Studies.

Q&A with Addie

What’s your role on the Big Read team?

This year, I was responsible for all things Greek mythology. This meant that I worked a lot with the podcast by getting interviewees, coming up with the questions for the podcast, and also editing it. I helped at all the events by taking pictures, introducing speakers like our kick-off speaker Dr. Maiullo, getting speakers ready, running around with a mic for audience members to ask questions, etc. Additionally, I wrote multiple blog posts relating to Greek mythology and even one Op Ed for the Holland Sentinel. If you saw any poster for the Big Read and Little Read events, I created those as well!

What did you learn from the program?

 I thought I had a pretty firm grasp on Greek mythology before, but after hearing each interviewee on the podcast, I learned so much more about it as well as how Greek mythology transfers to, and informs, modern society. Throughout the program, I was forced to think about the historical context of different Greek myths which is something I had not considered before, so my grasp on ancient history improved. I also learned how to create, produce, and edit a podcast which is something I had never been exposed to before.  

What’s your favorite book (and why)?

My favorite book is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I love how the main characters are female victims of a patriarchal society who come up with a way to combat the system and decide to live the life they want despite the consequences. I also love Hawthorne’s use of motifs and symbolism throughout the book. 

Takeaways from Circe

Part of the joy of the Big Read Lakeshore program is reading a book on your own and then learning about the book from different perspectives. 

One of my biggest takeaways from the programming around Circe was how ingrained storytelling and myths are in culture. Every civilization has stories and oral traditions to pass down that help them make sense of the universe. Even if these traditions are different, having these stories links cultures together. 

Another thing I learned from programming was to pursue your passions. Madeline Miller was interested in Greek mythology from a young age and studied classics, Latin, and Greek extensively. Eventually, this study and a lot of research led her to become a popular author. Her passion for Greek mythology was evident in her talk and she created a relevant version for our time. 

Miller’s retelling of this story stuck with me as well. It was interesting to hear how reading The Odyssey inspired her to retell the story of Circe. She read numerous primary sources that mention Circe to piece together another version of the story. This illustrates the importance of looking at a different perspective and retelling stories that are relevant to modern times.