Robert Gray, a columnist for Shelf Awareness, featured Ringgold Reads in today's edition of Shelf Awareness for Professionals titled "Sometimes All You Can Do Is Help."
Last spring, devastating tornadoes raked across the South as part of what has since become a record-breaking year for a category the NOAA calls "billion-dollar weather disasters." There have been so many other "weather events" since then--floods, storms, drought--that the media's attention span has been fully tested as it is lured from one crisis to the next. Being on the scene is the goal. Looking backward is less common.
"We're just trying to keep it in people's minds," said author Susan Gregg Gilmore recently. "Ringgold is a small town and it is easy to forget with so much sadness in the news every day."
This week we'll glance over our collective, weather-weary shoulders at a small city in Georgia where a "book-raising" effort is having an impact. Ringgold was just one of many communities wrecked by tornadoes April 27, but Gilmore had a personal stake there. It was the setting for her first novel, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen, and it is where members of her Not So Rapid Readers book group live. When the town was grievously wounded, she wanted to do something to ease the pain and books were the remedy she knew best.
With more than a little help from her friends (Shelf Awareness, May 13, 2011), she launched Ringgold Reads, a long-term effort to rebuild the community with a particular emphasis on restocking library bookshelves at Ringgold Middle School and Ringgold High School, both of which were crushed by 195-mile-per-hour winds.
"So much has happened since this spring when you ran that piece about Ringgold Reads and our fledgling effort to help this tornado-ravaged community," Gilmore recalled. "People from all over the country have been mailing books in, but of course we still need more! Random House has made a huge contribution of books. Every title the high school and middle school asked for that fell under an RH imprint they gave. And not one--but full classroom sets--so we are talking more than 20 titles, 35-70 of each. I also love that indie Aaron's Books, Lititz, Pa., is helping us, too. Miles and miles away but doing so much"
On its website, Aaron's has pledged that all proceeds from sales of Gilmore's novels will be donated to Ringgold Reads, emphasizing with a true handseller's craftiness that "Susan's books are perfect for book groups and to give as gifts... so buy multiple copies!"
Recently, the project received "another great donation from Communities in Schools (CIS) of Catoosa County," Gilmore said. "Basically they support students, families and schools to ensure that our kids succeed. They donated seven classroom sets. That's 245 books. I just want to shout all this good news from the mountaintop!"
The high school's English Department "is incredible--so appreciative, so humble," she added. Speaking of the Random House contribution, department head Mark Pierce said he "still cannot process this amazing gift to our department and to our students. I, too, am overwhelmed. I literally have tears in my eyes."
And the process continues. "Mark and I are already brainstorming about ways to bring authors into the classroom and I may be teaching a novel writing class this spring," Gilmore said. "And we may organize after school book clubs--partnering each club with a member of the Not So Rapid Ringgold Readers book club. Love the inter-generational blending."
In addition to blog posts that chronicle the ongoing efforts of Ringgold Reads, frequent updates appear on a Facebook page, where the enthusiasm for reaching each goal and a sense of momentum are readily apparent. Here's a sampling from yesterday morning:
(22 hours ago) Our next focus is The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. We still need copies of each book in this amazing trilogy! It only took us 2 weeks to reach our goal for To Kill a Mockingbird, let's see how quickly we can complete this one!
(14 hours ago) Thanks to donations from Communities in Schools, we have met our goal for Catching Fire and Mockingjay--but we still need more copies of The Hunger Games!
(About an hour ago) Wow--thanks to individual donations and Communities in Schools we have ALREADY met our goal for the entire Hunger Games Trilogy! Thank you so much to each person who donated!
A single sentence on the project's website beautifully sums up the Ringgold Reads philosophy: "We are embracing this opportunity to rebuild and rehabilitate our community with an emphasis on literacy and the joy of reading and writing."
Sometimes all you can do is help.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)