This Saturday, Make It a Mob Scene

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March is Read Across America Month, and March 7th was Read Across America Day at the Children's Museum of Memphis. That was the day the Cat in the Hat visited the museum and where families could purchase Jennifer Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish, the young-adult title chosen by Literacy Mid-South as one of its two 2015 Books of Choice — the other book, for adults, is Mary Roach’s Gulp — for this year’s communitywide reading campaign.

The week of March 9th was another component of Literacy Mid-South’s monthlong reading initiative. That was the week that the local organization, working with the national nonprofit First Book, distributed some 486,000 books — free books — to Memphis schools, churches, nonprofits, and organizations.

To cap off the month, on Saturday, March 21st, Literacy Mid-South wants the Greensward in Overton Park to be a real mob scene. That’s when, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Memphians are invited to another book giveaway and for some outdoor reading time.

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The flash mob and all of Literacy Mid-South’s efforts during Read Across America Month have this goal in mind: improving literacy among children and adults in the Mid-South. The larger goal: make the Mid-South 100 percent literate.

According to figures supplied by the organization: Last year alone, more than 17,000 area children received books through Literacy Mid-South’s ongoing reading campaign, and that’s in addition to student summer reading programs and the hundreds of children who have had their vision tested in comprehensive eye exams.

As for Literacy Mid-South’s flagship initiative, the Adult Learning Program: In 2014, more than 500 low-literate adults participated, tutored by more than a hundred newly trained volunteers.

You could say Kevin Dean, executive director of Literacy Mid-South, was recently trained as well — in the operation of a forklift. That’s because ice and snow happened to be on the streets of Memphis when trucks arrived to drop off the books that Literacy Mid-South then distributed to area children and adults.

Unboxing Day: Literacy Mid-South readies for its recent citywide book giveaway
  • Photos courtesy of Literacy Mid-South
  • Unboxing Day: Literacy Mid-South readies for its recent citywide book giveaway.
“Literacy Mid-South has been working three and a half years to get First Book to come to Memphis, to be a distribution point,” Dean said. “First Book works with publishers to get books donated. Then First Book goes to different cities and partners with someone locally to do the distribution. Last year [and with First Book playing an advisory role], we gave away 15,000 books. This year we really upped our game.”

Getting those boxed books off the trucks at Literacy Mid-South’s warehouse was, due to the weather, a challenge, Dean admitted. Even so, “It went great,” he said. “But it was so icy, the only two people there were me and another employee. I had to learn how to drive a forklift and use a pallet jack ... not really in my job description. But you do what you have to do to get kids reading, right?"

The book distribution itself came off, according to Dean, "without a hitch.”

Those books were in addition to the two titles Literacy Mid-South had chosen as its 2015 Books of Choice. The organization handed out 1,000 copies of The Fourteenth Goldfish and Gulp.

“We’re trying to get reading going in after-school programs,” Dean said. “And we want adult book clubs to not only read but get talking. That’s half the problem: getting these conversations started. That helps everybody.”

The Overton Park flash mob on Saturday will be another distribution opportunity: free books to those who attend and a chance for them to simply sit and read. According to Dean, last year’s flash-mob event attracted a crowd of 350 or so. He’s hoping this year exceeds that figure.

But he and the staff at Literacy Mid-South are already looking beyond March. They're gearing up for September’s Mid-South Book Festival, which debuted last year. This year it will take place on Cooper, which will be blocked off between Hattiloo Theatre and Union Avenue, with events taking place inside Playhouse on the Square and Circuit Playhouse. Dean said there will be outside tents too and food trucks and a wider range of authors — 32 authors so far confirmed. “Awesome” is how he’s already describing the 2015 book festival and the interest generated.

“Last year’s authors told other authors about this new festival in Memphis. People are talking!” •

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