Books have a unique ability to connect people, even at a time when the cultural and economic divisions between them seem wide.
That's the thinking behind the Suburban Mosaic Books of the Year Program, now in its 10th year.
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Suburban Mosaic invites suburbanites to read and discuss up to six books that deal with issues of social justice. Roughly two dozen libraries and school districts in Cook and Lake counties are involved.
"It's an important program, in that it gets people to stop and think a little bit," said Mount Prospect resident John Brennan, leader of the program since it began a decade ago.
As is the custom, the 2013-2014 reading list comprises books for all age groups. The titles are "Me ... Jane" by Patrick McDonnell (preschool); "Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace," by Jen Cullerton Johnson (grades first-second); "Inside Out & Back Again," by Thanhha Lai (grades third-fifth); "The Running Dream," by Wendelin Van Draanen (middle school); "Sold," by Patricia McCormick (high school); and "Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur," by Halima Bashir (adult).
The books are available (or soon will be) at participating public libraries, some of which will build discussion groups around the titles. Schools, meanwhile, have put the books on student reading lists and encouraged teachers to use them in the classroom. Brennan suggested that suburbanites who belong to book clubs suggest a Suburban Mosaic title for the group.
The reading list was compiled to reflect this year's theme -- the barriers and challenges that face women across the world. "Sold," for instance, tells the story of a 13-year-old girl who is sold to a brothel in India after her family's crops are devastated by rain. "Inside Out & Back Again" is about a girl who moves from war-torn Vietnam to a new home in the United States, and the way her life changes as a result.
"This is probably a theme we could devote two or three years to," Brennan said. "Unfortunately, those issues seem to be getting worse."
The Suburban Mosaic program was inspired in part by the success of Chicago's One Book, One Chicago program. Brennan and his collaborators hoped that books could spark a regional discussion about tolerance and social justice.
Ten years later, Brennan said he's happy with how the program has been received.
"People do seem to believe it's worthwhile all these years later, so that's wonderful," he said. "In recent years, the Evanston Public Library and the Deerfield Public Library asked to join the group, so it's obviously spread beyond the original participants."
For more on the program and this year's reading lists, go to suburbanmosaicbooks.org. The website includes a list of past book selections and suggested discussion questions for the current titles.