Being well-read is nothing to dread, author says

Thursday, February 10, 2005

It's not every day that Cape Girardeau gets a visit from a famous author of young adult literature, especially one that's as amiable as Richard Peck.

Peck was in Cape Girardeau Wednesday holding discussions throughout the day of his young adult book, "The River Between Us," as part of this year's United We Read campaign.

About 60 people came out to the Central High School Library at 7 p.m. to hear Peck talk about the craft of writing, the importance of reading and the path of history.

"This is the first community that's chosen 'The River Between Us' for a citywide read," Peck said, "probably because it's set on your stretch of river."

Historical setting

The novel, set in Grand Tower, Ill., just 34 miles north of Cape Girardeau, tells the story of teenager Noah Pruitt as the town gears up for the Civil War. Peck used the book's historical context to point out the importance of developing a love of reading and history among the younger generation.

"I love the idea of community reads, because they bring young and old together," said Peck. "The great truth we have as elders to share is that history repeats. Some of us have seen that. I have -- there was a Pearl Harbor at both ends of my life."

He spoke of tearing down walls between generations to find out if things like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks affected the young as they did the old. And, of course, he spoke of fostering a love of literature among the young in a society based on the Internet, instant messaging and iPods.

"Our young people think being well-read is for English majors," Peck said. "We should kick that out of them while there's still time."

Through the entire talk, Peck kept the audience of young and old engaged and entertained. They frequently laughed, responded to his questions and delivered enthusiastic applause when he was finished.

Julia Jorgensen, organizer of United We Read, said it was a pleasure to have a Newberry Prize-winning author in Cape Girardeau, especially one who connected with adults and children with such ease.

"He treated each one of us like we were each important to him," said Jorgensen.

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