New Letterkenny initiative promotes reading and community

Think reading is a solitary pursuit? Not the way the town of Letterkenny is about to do it.

Think reading is a solitary pursuit? Not the way the town of Letterkenny is about to do it.

Letterkenny Educate Together National School and Errigal College have joined with local authorities, agencies, businesses and community groups to embark on a five-week, community reading initiative, “Read LK – One Book, One Community.”

The objective is to get as many people in Letterkenny as possible to read the same book at the same time. The larger idea is to bring people together through reading and discussing the book, building a sense of community while promoting literacy.

The initiative was launched Tuesday night at Central Library Letterkenny with a festive presentation and costumed children representing the title characters of the book that Letterkenny people will read in the coming weeks: “Four Kids, Three Cats, Two Cows, One Witch (Maybe)”. The book’s author, Letterkenny native Siobhán Parkinson, is the first Irish children’s Laureate. She launched the initiative and earlier in the day delivered a talk on at Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT).

Siobhán told the audience she was “very, very honoured and flattered, and in fact very touched by the reception I got here this evening.”

She said the book she had written that was selected for the project, “is now everybody’s book”.

Among those involved are Central Library Letterkenny, Letterkenny Town Council and Donegal County Council, the Health Service Executive and Donegal Vocational Education Committee.

The Letterkenny effort is based on an initiative that began in Seattle, Washington, in 1998 and has spread around the world in the years since. “One Book, One Community” has been run in several Irish cities, though this is its first time in Donegal.

“Reading is a real skill for life and also, I think, a gift we can give our children,” Anne McAteer, health promotion officer with Health Service Executive West, told the room full of children and adults at the launch.

Anne and Paddy Hannigan, school completion officer, National Education Welfare Board, led the launch, outlining the project. More than 150 copies of the book have been purchased, with most available at Central Library Letterkenny, and copies also available at the two schools and the Port na Fáilte centre on Letterkenny’s Port Road.

Other books by Siobhán are also available in shops in the town. Anyone who reads “Four Kids, Three Cats, Two Cows, One Witch (Maybe)” or any other book by Siobhán will receive a badge that they will be encouraged to wear during the five-week programme. People wearing a badge that indicated they read the book, “may start a conversation,” Paddy said.

Paddy, Máire McManus, the Home, School, Community Liaison teacher at Letterkenny Educate Together and Eileen Maguire, the Home, School, Community Liaison teacher at Errigal College, first came up with the idea of bringing “One Book, One Community” to Letterkenny. They found great support.

Anne McAteer said the three sent out emails inviting people to discuss the idea, “and every time we met there were more chairs at the table”.

There are also a series of events planned for Read LK, including an art competition and a creative writing competition. At 7.30 pm, Feb. 29th, there will be a free event in the Central Library for parents, with storyteller Liz Weir discussing, “Bringing Stories Alive”. In coming weeks, Educate Together and Errigal College students will read from the book to residents of St. Eunan’s nursing home. Errigal College TY students have also recorded an audio version of the book that will be available as a podcast at the LYIT web site.

Shade Yakubu, a fourth-class student at Letterkenny Educate Together, told the launch audience how lucky she was to have met Siobhán and said she hoped everyone would enjoy reading the book. Elaine McLoughlin, a first-year student at Errigal College, said Siobhán “might inspire some budding writers here some day”.

The students also said their schools were organizing lessons to complement the book. For example, the book is set on an island and Patsy Dan Rodgers, the king of Tory Island, will visit the schools to speak about island life.

Donna Quinn, senior executive manager of library services for Donegal, said the main priority of the county’s library services for 2012 will be reading and literacy, and said “Read LK” will have a far-reaching and positive impact.

The five-week initiative will encourage people to “read a book that will appeal to the imagination of young and old”, she said.

“You can forget everything in a book,” Donna said, urging people to become members of the library.

Letterkenny Mayor, Sinn Féin Cllr. Gerry McMonagle, said he believed the initiative “will go a long way to help fight against illiteracy and bring the community together”.

Donegal Mayor, Fine Gael Cllr. Noel McBride, would like to see “One Book, One Community” become a county-wide initiative. County library usage is up 10 percent this year and book stock is up 4 percent, the mayor said, adding, “That’s good to see.”

For more, follow Read LK on Facebook and Twitter.

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