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A "community read" with "phenomenal" impact

In two Vermont communities that are served by a regional middle and high school, town and school librarians worked with the school in autumn 2004 to stage a highly successful "community read" of The Revealers, which culminated in a multi-generational evening discussion forum.

Led by Bonnie Stewart, director of the Maclure Library in Pittsford, the libraries used grant funding to purchase 150 copies of the novel and offer them free to any resident, of any age, of Pittsford and Brandon. The libraries promoted the reading project with press releases, posters, and fliers (see the press release (7KB PDF)) - and all copies of the book were taken.

"Approximately 250 individuals read the book," Bonnie says.

At Otter Valley Union High School, which includes a middle school, several eighth grade language arts classes studied the novel. On a Wednesday evening in October, Doug Wilhelm visited the Otter Valley library to lead a community forum. He found the library packed with about 110 students, teachers, parents, guidance counselors, librarians, and school administrators.

"During the community discussion, the students who spoke displayed incredible insight, courage, and candor," says Cheryl Reynolds, a language arts teacher at the middle school. "In addition, the children who had never been bullied gained valuable information regarding victims' physical, emotional, and psychological pain."

The forum began with an hour-long question-and-answer session about the novel. After a pizza break, the crowd reconvened for a discussion of the issue itself. "Breaking the ice" with the book talk made a big difference in creating an atmosphere where young people were willing to talk about their own experiences in the second session.

"The community-wide read and dialogue about The Revealers created an atmosphere of sharing and honesty that is desperately needed around this topic," says James Avery, associate principal at Otter Valley.

As a result of the project, some eighth grade students formed the "Bully Busters," a group that created posters, got students trained as peer mediators, and made a "bully box" for students to share their own stories. One middle school class also wrote, performed and filmed a 10-minute movie on bullying that featured two scenes from The Revealers, along with additional scenes the students scripted and students commenting on the issue.

"We hope to make the school a bully-free place," said one member of the Bully Busters, whose efforts were the focus of a feature report by WCAX-TV's evening news program in the spring. "In doing so, we can achieve the higher goal by opening the eyes of many to the problem."

"By all standards, this book successfully moved people to action," reflects librarian Bonnie Stewart. "Students felt empowered by the book and had the courage to speak openly about their experiences, whether being bullied or bullying someone else. An eighth grade teacher has made reading this book part of every student's curriculum.

"The lasting effect on our community is phenomenal," she concludes. "Additionally, libraries across the state are replicating the project in their communities."

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