The Middletown Press - 12/12/2004
Afghan Author Chosen
MIDDLETOWN -- Mayor Domenique Thornton stood in the front of a group of children and their parents in a function room at the Inn at Middletown Saturday morning, reached into a "super-secret" wooden box -- and produced magic.
Just like that, Thornton revealed the choice for this year's "One Book/One Community" program: it is "The Kite Runner," a first novel written by Afghan author Khaled Hosseini.
The book traces the arc of an Afghan family -- and, by extension, that haunted country -- in the years leading up to and immediately following the Soviet invasion in 1979, the years of Soviet occupation, the civil war, and the rise of the Taliban.
"It's very timely," Thornton suggested, "because it's about the impact of war on the lives of children, written from the potion of view of young people when Russia invaded and life changed for Afghanistan.
"And now, we are seeing accelerating violence and war going on the Middle East," she added, "so I think it's very good time to talk about that."
The One Book program is sponsored by the Middletown Rotary Club; Frank Sumpter the president of the Middlesex County YMCA, said this is the third year the city has participated in the One Book program.
"Literacy is one of our focuses," Sumpter said of the Rotary, "so we like this because we are encouraging reading and in doing so, try to choose a book that will be broadly accessible and have an appeal that is multi-generational," so it will foster discussion and a shared sense of community.
Last year, the selection was "Tuesdays with Morrie," by Mitch Albom.
The books are chosen by a committee of volunteers, who begin with a list of a dozen books that are suggested or proposed by committee members, a member of the panel explained. The list is winnowed down to five books, and then the final choice is made.
In addition to being readable, the committee member explained, every effort is made to find a book that is widely available.
Sumpter said the hope is that the book is available, for instance, in Spanish, in paperback, and on audio cassette, to encourage the widest possible distribution of the book.
The selection was announced earlier than usual this year, Sumpter said, "so people might get it for Christmas." Then, in the spring, he said, the Rotary hopes that a number of events -- perhaps including a reading by Hosseini -- will encourage both the reading and discussion of the book.
Thornton said she was pleased that the Rotary, "which is made up of our business community," has taken the lead in promoting the One Book campaign.
But, she added, "The business community has long promoted literacy in the community among all ages," noting that the hope is to encourage an intergenerational effort, in which the entire community participates in a dialogue."
Sumpter said that effort is being helped immeasurably by the sponsorship of Citizen's Bank
Pat Donnelly, a Citizen's vice president for commercial lending, said the bank "appreciates the opportunity to help."
"This unites the community, and it promotes literacy," she said, making it an obvious and desirable program for the bank to support.
The announcement of the One Book selection did not end Thornton's association with reading, however.
Before the event, the mayor had set the tone for the day, as, clad in a striking red jacket, black skirt, boots and a Santa Claus hat, she warmed herself in front of the Inn's atrium fireplace reading "The Kite Runner."
When the One Book announcement was completed, she lowered herself into a armchair and entrance perhaps 50 children and their parents as she read "Little Miss Spider" and "Miss Spider's Tea Party," both written by David Kirk. As she read, the mayor was accompanied by an oversized yellow spider.
The reading was part of the "Holiday on Main" celebration, explained Kim Marquis, the fund development director for the YMCA and the coordinator for the program.
Several public officials, including Thornton and Deputy Police Chief Phil Pessina, have read children's books at various locations around town, Marquis noted. The program concludes next weekend when Fire Chief Gary Oulette reads to children at fire headquarters.
by Jeff Mill, The Herald Press
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©The Middletown Press 2004