A Journey Around The World In Northeast Kansas

The libraries in Atchison, Basehor, Bonner Springs, Lansing, Leavenworth, Linwood and Tonganoxie hosted a journey around the world with “One Book, Many Neighbors,” a community read initiative, as part of their “Universe of Stories” adult summer reading program. The collaborative project successfully brought together more than 50 patrons who might not have otherwise had the opportunity to interact with one another.

Patrons received a passport for their trip to each library, where they participated in a series of discussions and presentations inspired by stories from the book One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri and 21 other authors. The libraries chose an anthology because it offered opportunities for a variety of presentations as well as invited patrons to explore other cultures without having to read a long book.

The furthest travelling time between the libraries, from Atchison to Linwood, is about an hour. The entire journey took place over seven weeks in June and July. The planning process, however, took much longer. The seven libraries started discussing ideas in the fall of 2018 after Jack Granath, director of the Bonner Springs City Library, proposed the idea to other directors at a Northeast Kansas Library System meeting. After the group decided on the direction of the project, they met monthly to brainstorm ideas and give updates on each library’s program.

Participants received a stamp on their passport at each destination they visited, for which they earned an invitation to a special celebration at the end of the journey and an opportunity to win prizes. Highlights of each program:

Atchison: Thirty-eight people attended a discussion of The Kettle on the Boat by Vanessa Gebbe, a story about an Inuit family in a remote Canadian wilderness and The Volunteer by Lucinda Nelson Dhavan, about an American volunteering in a poor village school in India. Dr. Julie Bowen, an English professor at Benedictine College, led a spirited literary discussion of both stories. The library served mango lassies and Indian finger food.

Leavenworth: Forty people examined cultural diversity with The Way of the Machete by Martin A. Ramos, about a boy and his father in the cane fields of Puerto Rico, and Fireweed by Skye Brannon, set in California with a West African immigrant who works for a rich, white woman, each with a very different definition of fireweed. Diversity consultant Gene Chávez, led the discussion. Three guests also shared their stories: a woman from Liberia and another from Ghana who shared their journeys as refugee immigrants, and a man from Puerto Rico, who discussed his childhood experiences and his move to the U.S. Patrons enjoyed a traditional Ghanaian rice dish and treats from Puerto Rico.

Lansing: Forty-five patrons discussed Air Mail by Ravi Mangla, about two young boys, one from the U.S., the other from India, who are pen pals in a school project, and Maryanne Clouds Today by Ivan Gabriel Rehorek, set in Australia. The spouse of an Australian Army officer attending the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, spoke about her life in Australia compared to life in the U.S. Patrons enjoyed some Australian bakery treats.

Bonner Springs: Forty-eight people participated in a video chat with a reader in South Africa named Murry, who stayed up until after midnight to participate in the program. She read Porcelain by Henrietta Rose-Inness, set in South Africa about a woman who collects pieces of porcelain to alleviate her anxieties, and The Rich People’s School, about a young girl in Botswana who is sent to a school she doesn’t want to attend. The library served a traditional South African tea with malva pudding, milk tart, Ouma rusks (a dry hard biscuit) and Cronat Gold coffee, an instant coffee popular in South Africa.

Basehor: Fifty-seven patrons discussed the story The Third and Final Continent by Jhumpa Lahiri, about the struggles of an immigrant from India after arriving in the U.S. Following the discussion, Janell N. Avila of the Solorio & Avila Immigration Law Firm, gave a presentation about legal immigration today, followed by Deepti Srinivasan, a local immigrant living in the Kansas City area, who shared her personal immigration experiences.

Linwood: Nineteen people participated in a discussion of Nellie by Vanessa Barbara, a story set in Brazil from One World Two: A Second Global Anthology of Short Stories. Patrons then put together ingredients for a Brazilian banana cake they could bake at home.

Tonganoxie: Fifty-one patrons listened to Travis Slankard read Ashwari’s Children by Nadya Shabnam, about a family in Bangladesh who attempts to control the lives of poor people living on its land. The story’s author joined the discussion from San Francisco via Skype. Patrons enjoyed traditional Bangladeshi food that included Nimki, Bombay Mix, Banana Ball Fritters and green mango tea.

Fifty patrons and their families attended the final celebration held at Cider Hill Family Orchard, which is located midway between all of the libraries. The libraries shared the expenses for the venue, the caterer and a band. Each library also provided a gift basket worth $75. A few libraries donated some extra door prizes. Patrons who attended three or more of the programs were eligible to enter a drawing for the gift baskets; everyone who attended was eligible for the extra door prize drawings.

Based on patrons’ survey responses, they want to participate in other programs like this in the future. They especially liked the opportunity to visit the other libraries, the ability to read each story in a short amount of time and the variety of programs each library presented.

The group of seven libraries will be presenting a session at the Kansas Library Association Conference in October on how they worked together on this successful community read initiative.