Mark Twain kicks off county’s Big Read programs

Whitewashed fences, images of steamboats and rocking chairs filled the Albert L. Scott Library Feb. 9 as Mark Twain shared his life story with more than 30 children and parents.

The famous author, dressed in a cream-colored suit, black bow tie and a cigar, explained his love of Mississippi riverboats, adventure and writing as the library seemed to travel back in time more than 170 years.

“Children, don’t worry about what other people think. They don’t do it very much,” laughed local actor Darrell Revel, who impersonated Twain during the event.

“If you do not remember anything else from tonight, latch onto this. Read books,” Revel added. “The person who does not read books has no advantage over those who can not read books.”

Every library and city in Shelby County is preparing to share Revel’s pro-reading message, as the county is set to participate in the statewide Big Read program.

The program, which will run through April, is the first statewide reading initiative in Alabama’s history, and all of Shelby County is planning to participate, said Harrison Regional Library Director Barbara Roberts.

“In Shelby County, we have 100 percent library participation in the (Big Read) project,” said Roberts, who also directs the Pelham Library. “To participate in the program, every library has to have a kickoff and a book discussion.

“But everyone here has far exceeded that requirement,” Roberts added. “All the libraries have planned way more than just two events.”

The Big Read is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and several other state and local sources, and is aimed at encouraging reading across all age levels.

Because libraries across Alabama chose to focus on Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” during the project, it will help draw communities together, Roberts said.

“The purpose is to re-emphasize the written word,” Roberts said. “Getting everyone to read the same book builds a sense of community among people.”

In addition to encouraging reading, the program also may drive up traffic at Shelby County libraries, said Alabaster Youth Services Librarian Frances Smith and Columbiana Library Director Jane Bailey.

“It’s been done in other cities before, but this is the first time it’s been done across the whole state,” Bailey said. “We expect it to increase circulation and foster awareness for the library.

“A lot of people think the printed word is dead, and that everything is going toward e-books and things like that,” Bailey added. “But it is definitely not dead.”

Smith said the Mark Twain book will appeal to a wide range of people.

“I hope everyone will take the opportunity to read the book,” Smith said. “There’s something in it for everyone.”

Every city in the county will host many Big Read-related programs over the next few months, including kickoffs, book clubs and senior events. For a complete list of events in Shelby County, visit Alabamareads.org/events.htm.