Tag Archives: Grand Rapids Public School

Banned book, soon to be a film, inspires youth to read: see The Giver at the Civic

 

BY: LAURA BERGELLS
PHOTOS: TERRY JOHNSTON

Imagine a world where everyone is universally polite and civil. All adults are gainfully employed in a position that suits their abilities and interests. The entire society is orderly and serene, and its people are free from pain and suffering.

Dreamy, right?

Or could this dream come at an uncomfortably high emotional price?

This is the world you’ll enter when you see The Giver at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. The production runs from October 18-27, 2013. I attended the Civic’s Inside Dish program on October 1 to learn more about this production.

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Try to understand my mindset as I entered the theatre. If you recall, October 1, 2013 was something of a hot mess. The Federal Government shut down. People began exploring health insurance options online as the sign-up for the Affordable Care Act went live. People all around me participated in overwrought shrieking about these two historic circumstances almost all day.

To top it off, ArtPrize was still going down. As I walked from my car to the theatre, I saw hordes of phone-gazing adults stumble on the sidewalks and into the streets, ignoring traffic signals, their children, and other pedestrians.

“Welp, I’m living in the dystopian future I was promised as child,” I thought cheerfully as I broke through one phone-gazing herd only to narrowly avoid colliding with a lone phone-zombie careening through Veteran’s Park.

Given our chaotic social, economic, and political climate — how could you not want to escape into the tranquil and organized world of The Giver?

And how is it that this not a utopian play but a dystopian one? How can a world where everyone gets along so perfectly go so horribly wrong?

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A 1994 Newbery Medal winner, The Giver was often assigned reading for many middle school children in the late 1990’s and 2000’s. Both cerebral and emotional, the story pressures you to explore how you feel about balancing individual desires with the needs of the community.

The subject matter is decidedly timely and relevant. What else might you need to know to enhance your experience of this dark play? As it turned out, I learned three key things at The Inside Dish that might make you love this production a little more.

One of the first shocking things I learned is that The Giver is often a banned book in many communities. This blew my already weary mind.

Sarah McCarville, the Branch and Youth Services Coordinator at the Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL), was on the 1994 Newbery Medal Committee. She helped select the book for the prestigious annual award. In her Inside Dish presentation, McCarville told us that The Giver is currently number 23 on the list of frequently banned books.

The Giver was written specifically for young adults. At the Civic, it will star 16 year old Jake Goldberg as 12 year Jonas. Most of the cast are children. There’s absolutely no foul language. No nudity. No violence. No sex. What could possibly make anyone want to ban this story?

A 25 year old Civic volunteer told me her class had read the book when she was in middle school. She went to Calvin Christian. If they didn’t ban it there, I reasoned, why would anyone ban it anywhere?

“They always ban the best books,” I overheard someone at the theatre murmur. I grinned at this bit of truth. Forbidding something can make it even more delicious.

The second fascinating tidbit I learned is that the book actually has sequels. To me, this seemed unlikely. The story ends ambiguously, which is a huge part of its allure. The ending creates an internal “what happened?” dialog. Viewed as a play, I suspect that this internal dialog is likely to spring into a lively discussion among family and friends. Now knowing there are sequels, I’ll want to get my hands on these books before Hollywood makes popular films out of them. The Giver is already slated to become a film starring Jeff Bridges. Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, and Taylor Swift have also signed on as cast members. If you move fast, you can probably get your hands on the sequels at your local library now, before the books become a craze.

This leads me to the third heartwarming fact I learned at Inside Dish: inspiring young people to read is a driving force behind this particular production. The Civic Theatre, Grand Rapids Public Library, and the Student Advancement Foundation are partnering with Pooh’s Corner, American Seating, and Mercantile Bank to collect new copies of The Giver (as well as new copies of Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells-Batman Smells, a Civic Theatre production slated for April 2014.)

“Our goal to is to have 150 new copies of The Giver to distribute to Grand Rapids Public School Middle and High School libraries. Students will be able to read the book, and attend a special viewing of the play,” stated Nancy Brozek, Civic Theatre Director of Community Relations. “We also want to have this book drive generate 1,200 new copies of Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells- Batman Smells, so all Grand Rapids Public School Second Grade students can receive a copy prior to their visit to the stage in April”.

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The Bring a Book To Life Book Drive begins October 1, 2013 through March 21, 2014. You can drop off new book donations of The Giver at the Civic Theatre box office, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, American Seating, Pooh’s Corner, and Mercantile Bank. You can also make a direct donation or get more information by visiting: http://www.payitsquare.com/collect-page/16696.

A provocative banned book, poised to be a popular film, inspiring children to read: those are three factors beyond our current dystopian climate that make me feel even more excited to see The Giver at the Civic this October. You can get your tickets at the box office online or at grct.org.

Allison Arnold: Graduating from childhood with high honors

 

BY : SPARKLY STELLALY
PHOTOS: TERRY JOHNSTON

Ernest Hemingway said, “Courage is grace under pressure.” If anyone exemplifies these words, it’s Allison Arnold.

To say Allison has achieved a lot in her 18 years on this planet is an understatement. The soon-to-be graduate of Grand Rapids Public School‘s City High School has done more before her first day on a college campus than many do in their lifetime…and she’s just getting started. She is an accomplished scholar, writer, intern extraordinaire, and activist who I am confident will spend her lifetime being a change-maker.

Born and raised in in Grand Rapids, Allison attended Huntington Woods Elementary through second grade and then St. Andrew’s Catholic School from third through eighth grade. Her writing career began with stories she wrote in Kindergarten. Her second grade teacher, Mrs. Bush, praised her for something she had written, and she was so proud that she hung it up in the house. But her “big break” came in the 8th grade when she won an essay contest sponsored by Sharpe Buick. By then, she had become more confident in her writing and developed a great passion for the written word.

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When it came to choosing a high school, Allison was looking for a challenging curriculum and the opportunity to broaden her horizons. According to her mom, Chris, “We (Allison’s parents) decided that City High would be a good school for Allison, based on the academics, diversity of the student body, and rigorous curriculum. We wanted her to be in an environment that reflects the broad diversity of our community and world. It was very brave of Allison, being a ninth grader going into City. Many of the kids had established friendships so the social aspect was challenging, but has made her a stronger person in the long run.”

In ninth grade, Allison joined the Environmental Club, which helped her develop a passion for causes such as recycling and sustainability. In her junior year of high school, she won an honorable mention award for her essay for the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. This led to an internship at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), where she combines her desire to help the earth with her love of journalism to publish the WMEAC blog posts.

She is also an up-and-coming leader, having been chosen for some incredible opportunities including the Washington Journalism and Media Conference (WJMC), an annual event that brings together high school student leaders from throughout the country as National Youth Correspondents. In her sophomore year, she began helping out at the Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Diversity Learning Center at Grand Rapids Community College, where her mother serves as Director, and because of her work Mayor George Heartwell recognized her as one of his Champions for Diversity.

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As part of the Michigan Women’s Foundation’s (MWF) Young Women for Change, Allison is learning to lead as a philanthropist. Young Women for Change is a group of high school girls who receive and evaluate grant proposals, determining which proposals fit their priorities; and fundraise so they can grant more requests for funds each year. Community activism and volunteerism are also a large part of their mission.

This past year in preparation for graduation, Allison has continued to expand her horizons by interning at WGVU. During her internship with The WGVU Morning Show, she greeted guests, assisted with show preparation, and learned the industry. Her mentor at WGVU, Shelley Irwin said, “It was my initial fortune to experience Allie in what she does best…following her passion of journalism! I have also witnessed Allie in front of several large audiences, sharing personal words of inspiration, moving the audience to tears. Allie is destined to follow her calling of motivating others to do their best.”

But all of these experiences, all of the amazing opportunities…it doesn’t mean that life has always been easy for Allison. She has had (more than) her fair share of frustrations and struggles as a young woman. In 2011, Allison was hospitalized for anorexia and depression. Striving for perfection, trying to solve all of the problems of the world, and attempting to be involved in every extracurricular activity available had taken her to a very dark place. Two years later, she is doing much better. That’s not to say she never has tough days, but Allison does not let it slow her down. In fact, she takes the time to talk to others about it because she wants to use her story to inspire others.

In 2012, Allison spoke at the MWF’s 25th Anniversary Luncheon, telling her story of a struggle with anxiety and an eating disorder. She gave a beautiful testimony, speaking with amazing grace and poise, and received a standing ovation from a room full of community leaders. Stacie Behler, Vice President of Public Affairs at Meijer, Inc., got to know Allison through the MWF, where Behler is a Board Member. “Allison was a wonderful ambassador and spokeswoman for the Michigan Women’s Foundation and its Young Women for Change programs. She spoke from the heart and shared her story with and inspired me and so many others to be mindful of the struggle young women may face with depression and anorexia. She is a strong, stellar role model that I am so proud of,” said Behler.

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All of these experiences have helped prepare Allison for the next phase of her life—college. Starting this fall, she will move to Ann Arbor and become a University of Michigan Wolverine. She has been awarded the Grand Rapids Chapter of the University of Michigan Alumni Association’s scholarship; Latino Youth Scholarship; and the very prestigious Jean Fairfax Scholarship from the University of Michigan. The Fairfax Scholarship recognizes students with strong academic performance and a solid record of leadership, and will provide $40,000 towards her college education. She plans to study International Relations and Social Justice and Environmental Issues with a career in journalism and photography. She hopes to have a career at National Geographic one day.

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Before she heads off to Ann Arbor, she will certainly be spending time at her favorite places in Grand Rapids – working out at The Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse and the YMCA; eating at her favorite restaurants like Marie Catrib’sGroveBistro Bella VitaAmore Trattoria ItalianaMaggie’s Kitchen, and Speak EZ (she loves farm-to-table food and restaurants with a nostalgic atmosphere; and enjoying a good book in various coffee shops around town. You will also be seeing her all over West Michigan this summer as the newest member of the Stellafly team, as she will be interning as a writer. We’re beyond thrilled to have her join us and anticipate incredible things from this up and coming talent.

When I asked her what else she hopes to do in life, travel is definitely on the list. Her favorite city is New York, and she hopes to visit Seattle, Los Angeles, and take a backpacking trip through Europe—she’d like to become fluent in Spanish and visit Spain. No matter where Allison ends up, her heart will belong to Grand Rapids. She loves how “everyone is connected,” and she is thankful for all the people here who have cared for and supported her.

Most of all, Allison will do the things that make her happy, because in her words, “If you can’t do something that makes you happy, don’t do it.”