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Redding Reads: Connecting residents with town’s past

May 26, 2017 GMT

REDDING — Mark Twain Library hopes to connect residents to each other and their town by encouraging everyone to read a novel that explores a critical piece of Redding’s 250-year history.

The young adult novel for Redding Reads is called “My Brother Sam is Dead” by James and Christopher Collier. The townwide program launches Saturday at the Memorial Day parade.

The novel is set in Redding and follows Tim Meeker, a teenager during the Revolutionary War who must choose to side with his Loyalist father or his brother, Sam, who has joined the militia.

About 300 books will be available at different locations, including Town Hall, the community center, Mark Twain Library, the Spinning Wheel, West Redding and Branchville train stations, Ridge Market and Uncle Joe’s Not Just Coffee and Donuts shop. Anyone can pick up a book for free at these locations. Readers are asked to sign their name in the cover and return it to one of the spots when finished.

Mark Gilbert, Redding Reads committee chairman, said the idea for this year’s book came from senior members at the library looking to tie in a book to the town’s 250th anniversary celebrations this year.

Residents can read the book and then join a variety of events to discuss and connect to the book in real life.

“We’ve got one foot back in 1767 and one in today,” Gilbert said.

Here are some events centered around Redding Reads: a talk next month discerning fact from fiction in the novel; a program on how patriotism is remembered in September; a birthday party for Redding in October, a twilight graveyard tour around Halloween, and a discussion about religion and patriotism in November. The program ends with a trivia contest in November.

There will also be a family day at Putnam Park in August, complete with colonial reenactors and games. ”It’s a physical place that’s relevant to the book and town history,” Gilbert said.

”You can take the kids and show them these are the stones from when the soldiers had to huddle for warmth.”

Amy Cabot, a resident, worked with the town historian to design a map which people can get at the library to see how town would have looked when the book’s Meeker family would have lived there.

Participants are encouraged to take pictures of themselves around town at the places mentioned in the book and share them on social media using the hashtag #ReddingReads or by emailing the library at reddingreads@marktwainlibrary.org.

Cabot said she enjoyed working on the map and learning more about her town and her house, which existed in colonial times.

”I learned so much about life at the time,” she said. “It’s been fascinating.”

Many locations mentioned in the novel are still standing, including the churches.

Gilbert said many New England towns have colonial histories, but Redding has the advantage of having a well-known novel set in it during that time. Christopher Collier lived in Redding and taught history in town before becoming the state historian.

The book was published in 1974 and was a Newbery Honor Book and National Book Award nominee. It has been used in schools across the country, including Redding’s middle school.

“It’s really cool that there’s something about Redding that’s made it out into the world,” Gilbert said. “It helps glue down this idea that New England was the heart of the American Revolution.”

The library sponsored a townwide read several years ago to commemorate the library’s 100th anniversary with a book by Mark Twain.

Beth Dominianni, Mark Twain Library’s director, said she heard people were seen reading the book all over town.

“We expect that this will have the same popularity,” she said.

Gilbert said organizers hope hundreds of people participate.

“It’s a great opportunity for families to read together and discuss history at the time,” he said.

kkoerting@newstimes.com; 203-731-3345