My favorite photo from this year’s Arlington Reads Together was taken at the author Skype event we had in the Community Room. It was a Saturday afternoon in Arlington, March 21st, and Annabel Pitcher, author of My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, had just finished speaking to an audience of a couple dozen adults and teens from her home in West Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. Her smiling face was projected a few feet in front of the audience, on the screen that hangs above the Community Room fireplace. During the Q&A an audience member commented, “did you know you’re on the mantelpiece right now?” I sent Annabel the photo of herself on the mantelpiece, which she promptly shared on her author Facebook page.
That was just one of many great moments from this year’s Arlington Reads Together “one book, one community” series. In a year of changes at the library, I found comfort and inspiration in the continuation of this annual tradition and I’d like to thank all those who made it great: the readers, the presenters, library staff, and Annabel herself! We held seven community events in all, ranging from intimate book discussions to larger gatherings that focused on the major themes in the book. As those who read it can attest, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece deals in some heavy subject matter. Though it’s told from the point of view of an upbeat ten-year-old, among the themes it addresses are terrorism, intolerance, alcoholism, grief, and anorexia.
Planning community events around these themes led to partnerships with five amazing organizations. Here are some of the highlights.
The Arlington Youth Health and Safety Coalition and local addiction center Right Turn offered a program that featured a documentary, Brought Up By Booze, by the son of soccer legend and notorious alcoholic George Best, followed by a discussion of how Arlington teens are affected by drugs and alcohol.
The Diversity Task Group of Vision 2020 co-sponsored a panel discussion with the Daughters of Abraham, an interfaith book group created in the wake of 9/11. One panelist relayed a story of a fellow group member speaking out when ugly comments were made about Muslims at a family gathering. The ripple effect of enlightenment reaches far and wide. We talked about the challenges of addressing religion and politics in a group setting, and how the shared experience of reading a book can make those conversations easier.
Finally, The Children’s Room of Arlington held their public annual meeting in the Community Room on March 25th at our invitation, where Executive Director Donna Smith Sharff and others spoke about services to grieving families in Arlington. The family in My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is completely upended by grief, though the protagonist Jamie barely remembers the source: his sister Rose who died in a terrorist attack when he was just five. The Children’s Room helps kids like Jamie understand and process the grief that surrounds them when a family member dies.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is the kind of book lots of adults would pass by, not only because it’s technically a Young Adult novel but also because many would judge it by the cover, or judge it prematurely because of the subject matter. I admit I would never have picked it up if it hadn’t been nominated for Arlington Reads Together by our very savvy Young Adult librarian. Yet it proved to be the kind of book that takes you by surprise, and inspires great conversations–just what you want in a community read.