Red Deer Public Library readers have made their number one choice clear for this year’s popular Red Deer Reads program.
The Outside Circle, a graphic novel by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and illustrated by Kelly Mellings, was the pick this year at a special announcement made last week at the downtown branch.
Red Deer Reads, currently in its second year, is described as a community-wide book club organized by Red Deer Public Library to get everyone reading and chatting about the same book.
Red Deerians submitted their favourite titles by Canadian authors, which were then short-listed and voted on, said Briana Ehnes, manager of adult services at the downtown branch.
This year marks the second year of the program, which has proven to be a hit with local readers, she said.
“We get nominations from Red Deerians at the beginning of the year, then we narrow all of those suggested titles down to five,” she explained. “From those top five finalists, people vote for their favourite.”
The Outside Circle follows Pete, a young aboriginal man wrapped up in gang violence who lives with his younger brother Joey and his mother who is a heroin addict.
As the synopsis reads, “Pete and his mother’s boyfriend, Dennis, get into a big fight, which sends Dennis to the morgue and Pete to jail. Initially, Pete keeps up ties to his crew, until a jail brawl forces him to realize the negative influence he has become on Joey, which encourages him to begin a process of rehabilitation that includes traditional Aboriginal healing circles and ceremonies.
“Powerful, courageous and deeply moving, The Outside Circle is drawn from the author’s 20 years of work and research on healing and reconciliation of gang-affiliated or incarcerated Aboriginal men.”
Ehnes said that from here, the goal is to get the book into the hands of as many Red Deerians as possible and to get as many copies into the community as they can.
To that end, physical and digital copies are available at all three City branches, and copies will also be shared at events and other locations throughout the community as well.
“We ordered 500 copies of the title, and we’ve added 150 copies to our collection,” she said.
“The other 350 copies we will use as give-aways in the community.” This happens typically through a variety of community events or contests on social media, for example. “We’re just encouraging people to read the book.”
A Red Deer Reads launch party is set for Sept. 30th at the Timberlands branch starting at 7 p.m. That event kicks off several weeks of related library programming, Ehnes said. “It will be an evening of drinks, appetizers, entertainment and of course talking about the book and what’s coming up.
“It all wraps up with a visit from the author on Oct. 28th.” That special event will be held at the Welikoklad Event Centre.
“Up until then, we go full tilt with Red Deer Reads,” she said, adding both the popularity and impact of the book have been inspiring to see.
“The book really ran away at the polls, and I think that’s due in part to the content of the story which just grabs you right from the first few pages, and the artwork which is fascinating,” she said, adding that LaBoucane-Benson and Mellings are of course thrilled with the news and look forward to connecting with readers in October.
“They’re very excited to come visit in the fall,” she said. “It’s also fun to have someone win who is so close to home.”
Ehnes said that Red Deer Reads was actually brought about by a challenge that Mayor Tara Veer put forward to the Library. “She challenged us to come up with a way to engage Red Deerians in literacy and reading.
“So we started looking around, the committee came up with the idea for Red Deer Reads.”
Veer also spoke at the announcement, sharing how pleased she is to see the program blossom in light of her own passion for literacy.
“When we have the opportunity to celebrate the vision and the initiatives of the Red Deer Public Library, we are reminded of what a great community we have the good fortune of calling home,” she said. “As one who has a life-long passion for reading, learning and books, I’m personally inspired by the Red Deer Public Library’s commitment to Red Deer Reads.
“And although reading can be a solitary activity, in our community books have become community builders,” she said.
“Engaging our community around reading is one more way that we are using books to build community and to bring Red Deerians together through a shared reading experience by providing many opportunities for people to connect and have engaging conversations with one another.
“We know that literacy is the foundation of our educational, economic and social programs. And while there are many many ways of achieving literacy, instilling a love of books, a love of reading and a love of life-long learning is one of the most effective and compelling roads to literacy that we can take together as a community.”
Ultimately, The Outside Circle was selected from some 70 nominated titles. Last year, about 50 books were nominated, which demonstrates the momentum around the program, she added.
For Ehnes, seeing folks gather together to chat about a title is indeed fulfilling.
“This is when the exciting part of the program really gets started,” she said, referring to the unveiling of the winning title.
“It’s been building all year with people voting but now I feel like it’s really ramping up – we will be giving away lots of free copies, we’ll be engaging people in programs – and that’s what I get excited about.”
For more information, check out www.rdpl.org.