For Tayari Jones, one of the best things about the Big Read is that it’s “hyper-local.” The Rutgers professor’s book “Silver Sparrow” has been chosen as the adult Big Read title in Essex County, and in communities in several states.

Jones’s novel about two teenage daughters of a bigamous father was a selection of “O: The Oprah Magazine Best Books for 2011,” and was one of Library Journal’s top 10 books of the year for 2011.

Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with Arts Midwest. It offers grants to support programs and participation by audiences around one title.

“Silver Sparrow” was chosen by the Essex County Library Directors (ECLD). Through the Big Read grants, Jones travels to California, New York, Tennessee, New Jersey, Virginia, Illinois and Alabama. “There are events in schools, jails, senior homes,” Jones said. Through Big Read, she sees parts of a community that wouldn’t be on a town’s travel brochure. “They won’t show people in the food pantry. I learn new things about my own book as I travel. Every different community sees something different. Last week, in Charlottesville, Virginia, I was speaking to a group of young girls. The questions they had were very different from the questions adult readers had.” The girls, Jones said, were interested in girlhood itself, asking questions such as, “Do you think that girls have a lot of power that other people don’t see?”

Essex County’s Big Read begins this weekend, and in Montclair on April 5. Jones will visit the Montclair Public Library on

Big Read

Wednesday, April 19.

Chelsea Dodd, MPL’s information services supervisor, said the Big Read is important because diving deep into one book helps focus discussions on the themes of that book. The library has planned many events, including a “Read-In’” on Wednesday, April 5, that is a kind of literary Open Mic or karaoke night, where audience members sign up to read either a passage from the book or a poem or other literature that connects to the book.

MPL will also host book discussion groups, and workshops on different subjects, including one presented by S.O.F.I.A. (Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates) about recognizing the clues to an unhealthy relationship. There are also activities planned around the picture book chosen for the children’s Big Read, and the Young Adult Big Read book, Maplewood resident Marina Budhos’ novel “Tell Us We’re Home.”

“Like all nerdy children, I loved the library as a girl,” said Jones, a native of Atlanta, where “Silver Sparrow” is set. “Traveling with Big Read has ignited my passion for libraries. In Peoria, I found out how much low-income people rely on public libraries. If you don’t have a lot of money, a book is free form of entertainment. It doesn’t require any equipment. It’s just you and the book. Libraries are a secret lifesaver.”


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973-744-0500, ext. 2235.

For list of all county Big Read events, visit

Essex County Big Read: “Silver Sparrow” by Tayari Jones.

Children: “Families, Families, Families!” by Suzanne Lang.

Young Adult: “Tell Us We’re Home” by Marina Budhos.