Community leaders were challenged by the Park Rapids Area Library to read two or more books from a list of young adult and children’s books. In all, 29 leaders joined the program.

Branch manager Jodi Schultz said, “We’re pleased with the response to our Leaders are Readers Literacy Initiative, and with the results of the combined efforts of the library staff and all the community leaders who participated. At the outset, we hoped to engage community leaders in reading from a common list of books in order to start conversations about books via social media and in person.”

The library hosted a Jan. 16 gala to celebrate the joy of reading and share reactions to the books that were read.

“The positive energy at the gala was infectious,” Schultz said. “It was uplifting to see patrons and community leaders mingling, laughing and sharing ideas about books. It may have been cold outside, but inside the library glowed with the warmth of community, connection and the love of reading.”

Here is a sampling of their book reviews.

‘Undefeated’

Pastor Josh Hawn read “Undefeated,” a book about football legend Jim Thorpe. He said he “thoroughly enjoyed it. I had heard of Jim Thorpe, but never read anything in depth of his life. It was not a very hard sell that he was the greatest athlete of his time, perhaps of all time. What I did not expect was an intriguing story about the evolution of football – nine people died one year from playing, and the sport would have been banned, had it not been for Teddy Roosevelt – and of treatment of Native Americans at the turn of the century. It opened my eyes to new aspects of American history.”

‘Walk Two Moons’

“I think the whole idea that leaders are readers is fantastic,” said Liz Stone, a Park Rapids City Council member. “The gala at the end is an added bonus, but just getting to participate and being asked to do so is a real honor.”

She read “The Yellow Tutu,” “Interrupting Chicken” and “Walk Two Moons.”

“The illustrations in ‘The Yellow Tutu’ were beautiful, and my favorite of the three books I read was ‘Walk Two Moons.’ I highly recommend it,” Stone said.

Carolynne White, former president of League of Women Voters Park Rapids Area, said, “This challenge was so much fun. I love reading young adult books, pictures books, etc. I had read seven of the books on the list already.” In particular, she said, “I liked ‘Walk Two Moons,’ mostly because I could not predict the ending.”

‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’

Chris Fieldsend, Park Rapids public facilities superintendent, said, “Books have always been a big part of the Fieldsend family. My mother, Judy Fieldsend, worked in the school library for many years.”

Fieldsend said, “‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ was a great book and the pictures help you see what the author is seeing. It was hard to put the book down once you start because you just have to know what will happen next. I recommend that everyone pick this book up at your local library and enjoy the read.”

Park Rapids City Treasurer Angela Brumbaugh agreed that she couldn’t put the book down.

“I appreciate the imagination that authors have in their books and I enjoy allowing them to take me out of the norm into their imagination. I hope everyone has the opportunity to enjoy a good book and share it with a child. For me, some of the best times were discussing a book with my children and getting their perspective,” she said.

‘The Yellow Tutu’

Brumbaugh also chose to read “The Yellow Tutu.”

“I would have loved to have read ‘The Yellow Tutu’ to my daughter as she was growing up,” she said. “It shows the innocence of a child, but at the same time, reminds us that sometimes we have to stand firm even when others don't always agree.”

‘El Deafo’

Annamae Holzworth, a retired Menahga teacher, said, “As a four-year-old, Cece Bell lost her hearing after contracting meningitis. Her journey through her struggles with and triumphs over her disability is outlined in her semi-autobiographical graphic novel ‘El Deafo.’ Her story gives insights into the unique trials of a hearing impaired child, but also speaks to every child with real worries about fitting into their peer group.”

She added, “I appreciated the opportunity to once again visit young adult and children's literature. They hold messages for all ages.”

‘I Want My Hat Back’

Gina Williams, with the Park Rapids Community Education Program, chose “the delightful children’s book, ‘I Want My Hat Back’ by Jon Klassen. I love and appreciate children’s books with the creative simplicity and beautiful artwork. This book pick ended with a silly, clever and unexpected twist.”

Local author Deane Johnson also read this book, saying, “The simple, stylized illustrations leave plenty to the young imagination. Bear is looking for his hat, and goes from animal to animal asking about it. Then, just when he has given up, he realizes he has seen it! The fate of the wearer is left to the imagination as well.”

‘Because of Winn-Dixie’

Lu Ann Hurd-Lof, a Heartland Arts member, said she always wanted to read a book by Kate DiCamillo. “‘Because of Winn-Dixie’ did not disappoint. The story is about a young girl who moves to a new town with her preacher father. She rescues a rather large dog when he gets into trouble, the preacher accepts him and Winn-Dixie goes with her everywhere. Because he is such a friendly dog, he helps her make friends … ‘Because of Winn-Dixie’ is filled with joy and sadness at the same time. My family moved frequently when I was in grade school so I could relate to the young girl’s dilemma of figuring out how to make friends in a new town. The author writes like she talks – fast and direct. It’s a great read.”

‘A Different Pond’

Hurd-Lof said Bao Phi’s “A Different Pond” “is dedicated to his family and for refugees everywhere. The charming story and equally charming illustrations by Thi Bui make for a picture book young children might enjoy on many levels. In our part of the world, some will relate to going fishing with their dads and others with being so poor that fishing isn’t for sport – it’s what’s for dinner.

“The book is also a tribute to the struggles of Phi’s family who came to Minnesota from Vietnam after the war. So for me, a student during that awful time, it brought back memories of another period in our nation’s history when our country was divided and classmates and friends died for a senseless cause. Odd how a picture book can stir such emotions, but reading it to an older child or grandchild might lead to some kind of conversation about Baby Boomers’ memories and feelings on that tumultuous time.”

‘Brown Girl Dreaming’

Johnson said award-winning writer Jacqueline Woodson's biographic "Brown Girl Dreaming" “takes us from her birth in Columbus, Ohio, through the rapidly-changing rural life of South Carolina, to her school years in Brooklyn, N.Y. She tells stories of friends and family in free verse poetry, a page or a few per chapter, or sometimes a simple haiku. Stories flow from her as she learns to write, and she describes the first ruled journal that she was given, and what it means to her. One look at this book and the reader is drawn in to her welcoming verse and clear writing.”

‘The Remember Balloons’

Local author Jill Johnson said “The Remember Balloons” by Jessie Oliveros, a “compassionate picture book, told through a grandson's relationship with his grandfather, takes on the subject of dementia and memory loss. The author uses the metaphor of memory-filled balloons to talk about a situation many of us will face. I will use this book to help explain the disease to young children.”

‘The Giver’

Jill Johnson also read “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. “This is a story about a rigidly controlled society where everyone is the same and citizens are denied freedom of choice. Citizens are also denied any memory from the past. One of the most important themes in ‘The Giver’ is the importance of memory to human life. The author was inspired to write the book after visiting her aging father who had lost his long-term memory. ‘The Giver’ is one of the most controversial and banned books from 1990-2009, as the author explores the topics of sexuality, suicide and euthanasia,” she said.