To Read a Mockingbird

Native-American Tribe Hosts Big Read in Michigan

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Several people reading

This photo was one of a series that were part of a Caught Reading promotional ad for the Big Read of To Kill a Mockingbird by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians of Michigan. Photo by Annette VanDeCar

A federally recognized tribal entity, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBB) has more than 4,000 members, many of whom live in Charlevoix and Emmet Counties in the northwestern part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. According to LTBB Education Director Melissa Claramunt, the Tribe wanted to host a Big Read of To Kill a Mockingbird as a vehicle for expanding its existing literacy efforts and building partnerships with local non-tribal organizations. "The Big Read project actually encompasses a large part of the greater Northern Michigan community, including seven public libraries, the schools within the Charlevoix-Emmett Intermediate School District, local bookstores, area churches, and many social service organizations and agencies. The primary motivation in pursuing this grant was the opportunity to develop collaborative partnerships between the Tribe and local community organizations."

In light of the novel's themes, the LTBB and Greater Community Big Read featured a roster of community-building and intergenerational events, including read-alouds, storytelling, and a tour of the tribal government's headquarters. "It is important that the greater community increase their understanding of the resources and educational opportunities that are available from the Tribal community," explained Claramunt.

Partners such as the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra were eager to get involved in the Tribe's Big Read. The orchestra commissioned a song cycle for mezzo soprano and chamber orchestra by composer James Grant based on To Kill a Mockingbird, entitled Scout. The piece was narrated at its premiere in mid-June by Mary Badham, who portrayed Scout in the 1962 film adaptation of the novel.

Like many Big Read communities, LTBB used a portion of grant funds to purchase multiple copies of the novel. "[We have] given away more than 1,500 paper- backs of To Kill a Mockingbird so far," reported Claramunt. "Because our community is rural and socio-economically diverse, the committee felt that it was essential to put the novel in the hands of our community members, therefore eliminating any obstacles that they might have in obtaining the book." Free copies of the novel were available at local schools, churches, libraries, and arts and culture centers. Claramunt added, "This element of the project helped to extend the reach of our efforts even further, as extended family members, visitors to the area, and many others heard about the Big Read project and asked to get involved."

Claramunt stated that, overall, the community embraced the project wholeheartedly. "The Big Read has been quite successful. . . .The public libraries have done an amazing job reaching the residents, drawing in participants, and sharing the project's purpose. We have also been very fortunate to receive extensive media and photo coverage from the local newspapers. . . .What has been the most surprising is how many people knew about the program and knew about reading To Kill a Mockingbird.