Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Big Read

One of the greatest programs supported by the National Endowment for the Arts is The Big Read.  The Big Read is a community event during which people of all ages and backgrounds come together to read the same book.  One of the titles on the list is my childhood favorite, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and I am constantly thrilled when I pick up the phone and hear from someone in another community announcing they have selected this book.  I've given keynotes and teacher workshops in many Big Read communities, and I'm thrilled to make new friends everywhere I go and have them come visit me in Hannibal.

The Big Read is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Recently I had the privilege of visiting Irving, Texas and Alexandria, Louisiana, two communities that selected Tom Sawyer.  Both communities planned family-friendly activities to involve everyone in reading, and I was thrilled to get to share the "real stories" behind the book - events, people, and places.  That was the magic I discovered when I first visited Hannibal in 1996 - that there is very little "fiction" in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

"Jackson's Island" in the Mississippi River is where the boys ran off to play pirates.
The Mark Twain Cave is still open to the public, and if you're
lucky you'll see the occasional local resident like this little fellow.

Sam Clemens's childhood friend, Laura Hawkins, lived in this house,
which is right across the street from his. She became the model for
Becky Thatcher. The Museum is accepting donations to finish the
restoration of this house and reopen it to the public in 2012 as a
children's museum that tells the story of childhood in mid-1800s Hannibal.

"Injun Joe" was loosely based on Joe Douglass, a Hannibal resident
whose physical characteristics frightened the local children.

In Hannibal today you will still encounter "Tom Sawyer"
and "Becky Thatcher" strolling the streets.

For anyone reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer today, you can do no better than to visit Hannibal, Missouri, where the stories started.  The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum maintains nine historical properties, including the Boyhood Home of young Sam.  You can come visit and see the very window where Sam would sneak out at night to go adventuring with his buddy, Tom Blankenship, who provided the model for Twain's beloved character, Huckleberry Finn.  For parents, teachers, or anyone reading this book with children, if you can't make it to Hannibal, you can at least orient yourself using the virtual tours created by the Mark Twain Young Authors.  This will give you some background story on the real people, places, and events that appear in this wonderful book.
Grab a brush and help whitewash the famous fence!

My Big Read adventures have taken me from to Carmel, California to Enterprise, Oregon to Ashland, Kentucky and beyond, and I look forward to visiting more communities and telling folks about the true stories behind Twain's fiction.  Listening to the songs and stories on Mark Twain: Words & Music is a great way to learn about Twain's life, and the virtual tours give a glimpse into our historical town, but the best way to experience the boyhood adventures of Sam Clemens is to visit Hannibal.

Don't wait too long!

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