After nine years of promoting literacy across Mattoon, the student led Mattoon Middle School Reading Committee admits that the quest to find the right book continues to prompt spirited and lengthy debates.
This year's title selected for Ready to Read Across Mattoon is Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix. The selection was officially announced Wednesday afternoon during an assembly at Mattoon Middle School.
The author describes the premise of the book Found on her official website http://haddixbooks.com/home.html: "Thirteen-year-old Jonah has always known that he was adopted, and he's never thought it was any big deal. Then he and a new friend, Chip, who's also adopted, begin receiving mysterious letters. The first one says, "You are one of the missing." The second one says, "Beware! They're coming back to get you. Jonah, Chip, and Jonah's sister, Katherine, are plunged into a mystery that involves the FBI, a vast smuggling operation, an airplane that appeared out of nowhere -- and people who seem to appear and disappear at will. The kids discover they are caught in a battle between two opposing forces that want very different things for Jonah and Chip's lives."
The reading committee comprised of 39 students, a couple of community members and teachers and advised by MMS librarian Anieta Trame, reads a plethora of books and discusses those books during meetings throughout Fridays in the fall. The titles are then kept or tossed off the list.
Some students assumed they were attending the final meeting and a title would be selected but that wasn't the case.
"It took two different meetings to pick Found," said Brianna Eller, eighth grade reading committee member.
Nicolas Helms, sixth-grade reading committee member, loved the debate surrounding the book "Found." The avid reader, who is completing his first year as an MMS reading committee member, said the discussions about books especially the books Found and other Read Across Mattoon contenders "The Boy Who Dared and Mailbox became very involved.
"I would do this again," said Helms who is looking forward already to serving as a seventh-grader. It is fun to see people get so heated about different books they like. I am the only one in my family who reads so I can't talk about books with anyone. But this is awesome. These people in the reading committee are really passionate about books."
During the discussions, the length of Found and its genre prompted some concern from some committee members.
"This year we picked a longer book pages wise," said Eller. "We usually pick a book that is not so thick because we don't want students in different reading levels to be intimidated."
The adult committee members believed adults would be able to finish the book but they weren't sure students would finish.
"In the beginning, it drags on but it picks up," said Helms.
He was not concerned that students wouldn't read it because they are already reading it.
"If you look at the library where Haddix books are at, you will not see any copies of the books because the books are always gone," said Helms.
For those students who have already read Found, Trame recommends they continue on with the series by reading the second and third books titled Sent and Sabotaged. She encourages adult readers who enjoy Found to do the same.
Another potential hurdle is Found is the first science fiction book the committee selected. The reading committee knows the MMS student population devours science fiction however they understand adult readers aren't always apt to pick up a science fiction book. The idea is to promote reading not repel readers.
Trame explains that although Found is considered science fiction, it reads like a fiction book. The reader really doesn't realize they are reading a science fiction book until the final chapters.
"I think it will appeal to adults even though it is science fiction," said Eller. "It also has mystery in there. Our adults in our community trust us to be able to pick the right book for them."
Although Found is the book that will be the focal point of Read Across Mattoon, the students wanted to share some of the other titles that they read.
Taylor Warf, seventh-grader, said one of the more unique titles the committee discussed was All Shook Up, by Shelley Pearsall.
"It's about a boy who goes to live with his dad and his dad is an Elvis impersonator," Warf explained. "The boy is embarrassed and he doesn't want anyone to find out. The dad's girlfriend has a daughter who goes to the same school so the boy tries to get her not to tell anybody."
Helms recommended Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.
"It's set during World War II," Helms explained. "This boy imagines the war as a younger boy would believe it is all glory and fame and being a hero. He sees that it is not that great. It is awful."
However, Kate Gosnell, seventh-grader added Boy Who Dared had something to say about religion. "I didn't enjoy it because it said something (bad) about my religion," Gosnell said.
Trame is very proud of the work the committee does each year and the emphasis they place on promoting literacy. She recalls when she started Ready to Read Across Mattoon nine years ago, that it was only supposed to last one year but the groundswell of enthusiasm and support from both the district and the community propelled it forward year after year.
"We passed out 100 books in the community that first year and now we pass out 1,000 books," said Trame. "We would pass out more but we only have funding for that many."
In the programs early years, there was no blueprint.
By accidents we did a lot of things right, Trame said. "One of them was involving community volunteers that were instrumental in growing the program. They brought a great deal of enthusiasm and support to the table.
Two individuals Trame credited were Bonnie Eades and Belinda Hendrix. Hendrix a retired teacher continues to volunteer.
Trame also thanked Dalena Hall for scheduling the presentations throughout Mattoon where the students have the opportunity to discuss Ready to Read Across Mattoon and distribute copies of the books.
"We already have 18 commitments beginning with the Mattoon school board meeting in January," said Trame.
The books will be distributed throughout the community at various businesses and at the January school board meeting.
Trame appreciates the financial support each year from organizations, individuals and from grants. It is not paid for through school district funds.
Anyone interested in supporting the program may contact Trame at 238-5850.
"I am concerned about funding of this program because of economic issues," she said. "Many grants have been cut and that leaves us without funding."
Trame said everyone wants to read it's just a matter of finding the right book and it is especially challenging to find students the right books.
"A goal of the reading committee is to not just to get students to read one book but encourage them to buy into reading and read more books," said Trame.
Pictured from left to right are Nicolas Helms, Kate Gosnell, Brianna Eller and Taylor Warf.