Literacy fundraiser: Country musicians rock and read for kids

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WATERLOO, Ont. - If you were to guess which book is a country music star's all-time favourite, I'm betting "Crime and Punishment" wouldn't be it.
Nor, perhaps, would Robert Munsch's "Smelly Socks" or Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" or Peter C. Newman's "Here Be Dragons."
Sandi Hall of Waterloo Public Library was as surprised as anyone by the answers when she asked country musicians to name their favourite book in the world.
Not only did she get a flood of responses, but the titles showed the musicians were an esoteric bunch, with tastes that range from literature ("The Old Man and the Sea") to children's books ("Hop on Pop") to fantasy ("The Fellowship of the Ring") to social commentary ("The Tipping Point") to philosophy ("The Prophet").
Think about it, though. Country songwriters are storytellers. They appreciate a good yarn, says Hall, the library's webmaster and the staff member in charge of publicity and promotions.
"You can't peg them into western novels by Louis L'Amour, " she says. "People would assume they're country singers, so they read gunslinging books."
"They're country singers, but they're also parents, and they read contemporary novels. Maybe they like horror movies. You can't stereotype them."
These days, Hall, a country music fan herself, is in seventh heaven as she communicates with country musicians and their agents about an October event she dreamed up to promote literacy.
Listening to a song one day on Kitchener country radio station KIX 106.7, Hall, who lives near Baden, Ont., with her husband, two horses, two cats and two dogs, was struck by the story it told.
"I wondered, if someone could write a song like that, they must read interesting books."
She came up with the idea to contact 10 country music stars, including George Canyon, Paul Brandt and Aaron Lines, to see if they'd bite. Word spread and now Hall has collected favourite titles from more than 70 Canadian and American country musicians.
What's more, those country artists are donating autographed CDs, photographs, bumper stickers, posters and books for a charity auction to be held on eBay. Last bids for the Country Musicians Rock and Read for Kids fundraiser will be accepted Oct. 24. October is Canadian Library Month and includes Ontario Public Library Week.
The singer Jewel gave an autographed copy of the sheet music for "Stronger Woman," a song she co-wrote; Kenny Chesney sent an autographed acoustic guitar pick protector; and country music legend Charlie Daniels sent a signed copy of his book, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," to mention just a few of the items that artists are contributing.
"Country music is community oriented," Hall says. "They asked: `What else can we do?"'
In addition to the items sent by the musician, each lot in the auction will include other donations, such as a copy of the artist's favourite book, a limited-edition T-shirt, a cowboy sugar cookie and other goodies in a library book bag.
The idea has taken off in a community that seems to really like its country, Hall says. A special website, http://waterloopubliclibrary.wordpress.com, has had some 9,000 hits since April. Updates are provided on Facebook and Twitter.
Of the more than 1,600 people who visit Waterloo Public Library every day, many are country music fans, Hall says. Country music CDs, DVDs and biographies fly off the shelves.
But this year, it isn't just demand for country material that's growing. It's demand for everything at the library. Because of the economy, more people are looking for things to do close to home.
"This summer, we have seen a huge increase in circulation," Hall says. "We are checking out almost 3,000 more items per day than usual."
Library programs are also thriving. This summer, more than 1,000 children are taking part in the kids' reading club.
As well as receiving final bids on eBay Oct. 24, the library will also reveal that day which country musician has a passion for which book.
Curious to know who loves "Green Eggs and Ham"? Wonder who admires "Anne of Green Gables"? Interested in who dreams about "Sex, Death, and Fly-Fishing"? Tune in then.

Organizations: Waterloo Public Library, EBay

Geographic location: Kitchener, Baden, Ontario Georgia Green Gables

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