Open Book, Open Film Brings Story of Literacy to Life
August 2, 2013   //   By:   //   Arts & Culture, Arts and Culture, Research and Academics

As first-year students and book-group volunteers read “Creating Room to Read” by John Wood, this year’s Open Book selection, it is likely they experienced certain characters as they come to life through vivid vignettes. If you read the book, perhaps you could imagine the wide smile of Inkham, the young Sri Lankan girl who checked out “The Happy Little Monkey” from her local library multiple times.

girl rising move poster

“Girl Rising,” one of two Open Book, Open Film events, shows in Gibble Auditorium at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10.

The themes in the book also come to life as related movies hit the screen in Gibble auditorium this fall. The Open Book committee secured rights to show “Girl Rising” Tuesday, Sept. 10, and “Freedom Writers” Saturday, Oct. 5.

Beth Young, head of reader services at High Library and chair of the Open Book committee said Open Book introduces first-year students to the college experience and provides a taste of talking about big global issues. Brian Newsome, dean of First-Year Programs and associate professor of history, adds that the common read program allows students to sit down together and discuss a text with national and global relevance—and, then, allow them to think critically about their own position.

“The films help place the book in context … Both have a theme of the power of education and how it can be transformative.” — Beth Young

“The films help place the book in context,” explained Young. “Both have a theme of the power of education and how it can be transformative.”

“Girl Rising,” a documentary released earlier this year by 10×10 filmmakers, explores the barriers to education faced by millions of young girls in the developing world. The film follows nine girls as they overcome obstacles including child slavery, arranged marriages and other injustices. Young added that “Girl Rising” has “a really nice tie-in” to the book, because the film follows a few of the same girls Wood wrote about in “Creating Room to Read.”

“Freedom Writers,” a 2007 film based on a true story, reminds us that literacy issues are still just as prevalent in the United States. Hilary Swank stars as a young English teacher challenged with teaching writing to at-risk students at a hostile, Long Beach, Calif., high school.

The Open Film events do, indeed, bring the themes explored in “Creating Room” to life, but that experience goes to the next level—larger than life, perhaps—when John Wood visits campus on Monday, Sept. 9.

“It was no small feat to bring him—and his insight and enthusiasm—to campus … to be able to relate to students and make his organization even more appealing—if that’s even possible,” Young said.

“Creating Room to Read” is more than a book about literacy; Wood’s own story and his leadership philosophy were a constant thread—and something Newsome feels could inspire students.

“John Wood made a really tough choice to leave Microsoft at the height of his career to start an NGO,” he said. “We want our incoming students—all of our students—to think seriously about issues of vocation discernment.”

Newsome explained that a career should not just be about something you want to do for a living but also something you want to do with your life—and how it can evolve over time. Young agreed. She said “Creating Room to Read”—and the organization it’s based upon—align so closely with Elizabethtown College’s motto, in preparing the students for a purposeful life’s work and even if with programs such as Called to Lead.

“That’s John Wood in a nutshell,” she said.

>> Learn more about all of this year’s Open Book.

About the Author :

E.A. (Elizabeth) Harvey is the communications manager and news editor at Elizabethtown College. She has worked in the Office of Marketing and Communications since 2008, after more than two decades as a newspaper feature writer. She holds a bachelor's degree in corporate communication from Elizabethtown College.

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