In an election year when the gap between Americans seems awfully wide, books help build a bridge.
That's what organizers of the Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year reading program believe, and it's why they remain committed to the program, now in its ninth year.
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The books"The Submission"
by Amy Waldman
The chosen winner of a contest to design the memorial for victims of a terrorist attack is an American Muslim, and the judges hesitate. Personal grief and fear of public opinion undermine the healing message of the winning design. Whether or not to name a Muslim the winner creates a national outcry.
"Will Grayson, Will Grayson"
by David Levithan and John Green
One cold night on a street corner in Chicago, two teens, both named Will Grayson, are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions.
"Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice"
by Phillip Hoose
A 15-year-old girl, fed up with Jim Crow segregation, refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955. Claudette's arrest and conviction was the spark that led to the Montgomery bus boycott and led to the end of Jim Crow laws in the South.
"How Tia Lola Learned to Teach"
by Julia Alvarez
Miguel and Juanita's great-aunt, Tia Lola, is living with the family in Vermont. She is asked to teach Spanish at their school while learning English. Her visitor's visa is about to expire and the town rallies to extend her visa from the Dominican Republic.
by Kyo Maclear
Neither spoon nor fork, Spork did not fit in and neither a bowler hat nor a crown could win him a place at the table. Spork wondered about other misfits, until the morning "a messy thing arrived." Simple but expressive illustrations are muted but brought to life by the contrasting red, particularly the red of "the mess."
"Reading does challenge us to think about and feel things we wouldn't otherwise," said Cathleen Blair, readers' adviser at the Mount Prospect Public Library.
Suburban Mosaic invites suburbanites to read and discuss up to five books that deal with issues of cultural understanding and tolerance. Roughly two dozen libraries and school districts in Cook and Lake counties are involved.
As is the custom, the 2012-2013 reading list comprises books for all age groups. The titles are "Spork," by Kyo Maclear (preschool); "How Tia Lola Learned to Teach," by Julia Alvarez (grades 1 to 4); "Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice," by Phillip Hoose (grades 5 to 8); "Will Grayson, Will Grayson," by John Green and
David Levithan (grade 9 and up); and "The Submission," by Amy Waldman (adult readers). The books are available at participating libraries, some of which will build discussion groups around the titles. The Mount Prospect library, for instance, will incorporate the books into its Food for Thought discussion groups in early 2013, Blair said.
Schools, meanwhile, have put the books on student reading lists and encouraged teachers to use them in the classroom.
Blair, who was part of the committee that chose this year's titles, said "The Submission" is a favorite of hers.
Waldman's novel documents the aftermath of a terrorist attack similar to the one that occurred in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. In the book, a citizens group chooses an anonymous design plan for a memorial, discovering only later that it had been submitted by a Muslim-American architect. This discovery sets off a complicated chain of events.
"What I really liked about it is that you can empathize with multiple characters," Blair said. "No one's absolutely wrong in the book. It doesn't try to tell people what to believe.
"That's what we've tried to do with all the books on the list. We don't want them to be preachy and dry. They have to be good stories in their own right."
Adelaide Rowe, head of youth services at the Elk Grove Village Public Library, said she's fond of "Will Grayson, Will Grayson," which tells the story of the fateful meeting of two suburban boys, both of whom are named Will Grayson. The novel explores, among other topics, the issues facing young gays.
"The book, like all the ones on the list, lets you walk in other people's shoes for a while," Rowe said. "This is not the America of the 1950s anymore. It's so much more diverse. We see it here at the library. Suburban Mosaic gives you a chance to understand your neighbor. How great is that?"
Mount Prospect resident John Brennan, leader of the Suburban Mosaic program, said he likes that people can participate however they see fit. "It's nice to see people attend a discussion group for one of the books, but obviously, that's not necessary," he said. "If someone hears about this and reads one of the books and thinks for a second about some of the issues presented on his own, then I think it's done its job."
For more on the program and titles, including some discussion questions, go to suburbanmosaicbooks.org.