The community reading project is supposed to be a large undertaking — hence the name Big Read.
But Tuesday’s kickoff focused on some of the project’s smallest beneficiaries — children.
The Big Read got its official start with a children’s program at the Scotland Memorial Library.
About 30 Scotland County youth took part the program about this year’s selection, Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
“We’re looking for five papers, when you find them all you puzzle it together,” said Erwin. “It’s a picture of Tom Sawyer sitting down and his friend working. He has a kite and they’re standing outside and talking.”
Erwin’s mother, Michelle Best, said that her son has just begun to work his way through the children’s edition of the novel, for the most part independently.
“He’s like ‘Mom we have to read it,’ so we started reading it last night and he’s super amped,” said Best. “He’s gotten through the first chapter and I let him kind of read and he calls me up at night when I’m working and he’s like “Mom, what’s this word?’ With kids you have to really keep reading with them.”
The book’s opening chapter, when Tom Sawyer disburses the responsibility of whitewashing his Aunt Polly’s picket fence by tricking his friends, was a favorite of nine-year-old Isaac Menzel.
“I read the kids’ book; my mom read it to us at nighttime,” said Isaac. “I liked when they were painting the fence and trading kites and knives - I trade a lot with my brother.”
Some 125 of the 1,800 books ordered and distributed beginning in February remain available free of charge at the storytelling center and library. The Big Read is sponsored by a National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest grant and organized by the Storytelling and Arts Center of the Southeast and the county library.
Caleb Wood, a senior at Scotland Christian Academy, was also on hand during the program. Several years ago, he played the part of Tom Sawyer in a production of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: The Musical” at the storytelling center.
“At the time I was cast as Tom Sawyer, I was the same age so I was going through a lot of the same things he was going through,” said Wood, who remains fond of the story and optimistic about its continuing legacy.
“It will be relevant 150 years in the future. As long as kids keep experiencing life with imagination, they’ll still be able to relate to the characters going down the Mississippi River and that’s a wonderful thing.”
For the program finale, Laurinburg attorney and thespian Chris Wood posed as “Samuel Clemens Webster,” Twain’s great-great-nephew and namesake. Wood entertained the audience with factoids from Twain’s affinity for watermelon to the origins of his nom de plume.
“Samuel came up with that name after he served as an apprentice to a pilot on a Mississippi riverboat, because back in those days they didn’t have GPS to determine the depth of water, so what they used to do is they used to put a young man out on the bow of the boat with a long rope to measure the water, and it was marked off in fathoms,” Wood said.
When the riverboat began to reach shallow waters, the apprentice would cast one end of the rope into the water to determine the depth - shouting “mark three” when it reached three fathoms and “mark twain” for two.
“Samuel liked the name so much that he used it for the last 45 years of his life whenever he was penning a story or writing a novel,” said Wood.
The library will host two other programs: today and on April 16, both designed to introduce the novel’s plot to young children. Both programs will include an arts and crafts session.
Beginning on April 13, a reading of an abridged version of Tom Sawyer by local storytelling Tyris Jones will be broadcast on WLNC from 10-11 a.m. The readings will be broadcast on Saturdays through May 4.
For a full listing of Big Read activities, visit storyarts.info.