An American story: 'Weber Reads the Founders and their Documents'

Jan 8 2012 - 8:37am

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Illustration by LEZLIE SOKOLIK/Weber County Library
Illustration by LEZLIE SOKOLIK/Weber County Library

Many cities around the country have book discussion groups, but Weber Reads is unlike most of those, according to volunteer coordinator Margaret Rostkowski.

For one thing, she says, Ogden is the ideal city because it is small enough that a lot of people know each other, yet large enough to have resources such as Weber State University.

But perhaps the element that sets Weber Reads apart the most is the fact that organizers never choose just one book.

"It is not just one book. It is a text in multiple formats," said Kathryn MacKay, a Weber State University history professor and project director for the Weber Reads community reading project.

The book chosen as the basis for the WSU lecture series set to begin Wednesday is "Founding America, Documents From the Revolution to the Bill of Rights," with notes by Jack Rakove.

But there are more than 20 additional books included on the suggested-reading list, ranging from graphic novels and children's books to texts also available in Spanish.

MacKay explained that the initial book was chosen because it was inexpensive -- at $10 for a paperback copy -- and "It pulls together a really good collection of documents."

The board also believed that learning about the Founding Fathers and the Constitution would be especially appealing to the community during an important election year.

"It seemed like the right time to take a deliberate look at the founding documents," MacKay said.

Besides compiling a list of books for all ages and reading levels, Weber Reads has several other facets. Volunteers and library workers put together packets of curriculum wrapped in an American flag and distributed them to area schools, Weber State hosts a lecture series including a readers theater, and the Weber County Library brings families and children into the discussions with games and age-appropriate activities.

This is the first year the library has sent guest lecturers into the schools to draw even more students into what Weber Reads organizers hope will become a growing community dialogue.

To facilitate further interaction, the library and its branches are opening their buildings to any book clubs that would like to meet and discuss books on the reading list.

Weber County Library director Lynnda Wangsgard said that meeting rooms will be provided free of charge, and discussion leaders are available to those who wish to have them. The library will even provide refreshments.

"We want people to be thinking about the principles that underpin our government, because it is an election year," Wangsgard said. "We will be trying to give them a better vision of what things were like back then, to give them a benchmark to measure candidates by."

Rostkowski says, "Even if we have small groups -- that is wonderful."

Rostkowski, who has been working with MacKay since Weber Reads' inception five years ago, explained that besides promoting literacy, Weber Reads seeks to bring people in the community together to talk in an environment where all opinions are valued.

"Right now, that is fairly rare," she added.

The group also works to disseminate important information in a way that is accessible to all.

Rostkowski encourages people from the community to participate even if they don't think the material sounds all that interesting.

She has led discussion groups where people who haven't read the texts have attended, and they've left feeling so intrigued that they wanted to read the books afterward.

"Often, as adults, we come to these texts (a second time) and we realize it is very exciting," Rostkowski said.

She describes the discussion groups as informal and made up of regular citizens from the community.

"People would be surprised at how much fun it is," Rostkowski said.

Visit http://community.weber.edu/WeberReads/ for more information.

To schedule a book club discussion group for any of the books related to this year's topic, contact the desired library branch: North branch, 801-337-2650; Ogden Valley branch, 801-337-2660; Pleasant Valley branch, 801-337-2690; Southwest branch, 801-337-2670; Main Library, 801-337-2632.

EVENTS

Lecture series presented by Weber State University Alumni Association, in the Hetzel-Hoellein Room of Stewart Library, Weber State University, 3850 Harrison Blvd., Ogden. All lectures begin at 12:30 p.m. and are free:

* "English Ideas on Governance," lecture by Steven Francis, Jan. 11.

* "The French Declaration of the Rights of Man," lecture by Brady Brower, Jan. 25.

* "Slavery and the Constitution," lecture by Adrienne Gillespie, Feb. 7.

* "The Godless Constitution," lecture by Susan Matt, Feb. 21.

* "Women and the Revolution," lecture by Leah Murray, March 6.

* "Theatre and the American Revolution," a readers theater presented by the WSU Department of Performing Arts, March 27.

* "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," lecture by Nancy Haanstad, April 10.

Events presented by the Weber County Library System. All events are free:

* Pirate Party, 7 p.m. Jan. 31, North branch, 475 E. 2600 North, North Ogden. Children meet a pirate and his three live parrots, learn pirate lingo and make pirate crafts.

* Growing Into Liberty, 7 p.m. Feb. 2, Pleasant Valley branch, 5568 Adams Ave., Washington Terrace. Children learn what it was like to grow up in colonial America.

* Pirates, 6 p.m. March 26, Southwest branch, 1950 W. 4800 South, Roy. Children learn about pirate ships, flags and the code of conduct.

* Discussion about the books and themes surrounding the Founding Fathers, 7 p.m. March 29, Main Library, 2464 Jefferson Ave., Ogden. This discussion is in Spanish.

* Discussion about the books and themes surrounding the Founding Fathers, 7:30 p.m. April 5, Main Library. This discussion is in English.

* "Pirate Survivor: Do You Belong on the Ship?", 7 p.m. April 11, Main Library. All ages welcome, this is a National Library Week Event. For more information, call 801-337-2639.

READINGS

For Weber State University discussion groups and lecture series:

"Founding America, Documents from the Revolution to the Bill of Rights," notes by Jack Rakove

Suggested readings for elementary school:

* "We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States" by David Catrow

* "A More Perfect Union, the Story of Our Constitution," by Maestro and Maestro

* "Independent Dames," by Laurie Halse Anderson

* "The Revolutionary War, An Interactive History Adventure," by Elizabeth Raum

* "Graphic Library" series, which includes biographies of Molly Pitcher, Thomas Jefferson George Washington, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams and the creation of the U.S. Constitution

* "We the People, the Story of Our Constitution," by Lynn Cheney

* "George Washington," by the D'Aulaires

* "John, Paul, George & Ben," by Lane Smith

* "Letters for Freedom: The American Revolution" (hands-on history book)

* "The American Revolution for Kids," by Janis Herbert

Suggested readings for middle school:

* "American's Black Founders, Revolutionary Heroes & Early Leaders," by Nancy Sanders

* "The Signers: The 56 Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence," by Dennis Brindell Fradin

* "The Founders: The 39 Stories Behind the U.S. Constitution," by Dennis Brindell Fradin

* "The United States Constitution," by Jonathan Hennessey

* "The Revolutionary War, An Interactive History Adventure," by Elizabeth Raum

Additional suggested readings for individual book club groups:

* "Judith Sargent Murray, a Brief Biography with Documents," by Sheila L. Skemp (others in series on Benjamin and William Franklin and Declaring Rights)

* "Ratification, The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788," by Pauline Maier (also by Maier: "American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence")

* "A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution," by Carol Berkin

* "Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation," by editors Young, Raphael and Nash

* "The Founders: The People Who Brought You a Revolution," by Ray Raphael

* "The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States," by Gordon S. Wood

* "Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia," by Woody Holton

* "Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America," by Linda Kerber

* "John Adams," by David McCullough

* "American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson," by Joseph Ellis

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