Books Build Bridges community literacy initiative

Staff Report

Jay S. Willis

Jay S. Willis

Kurt Dinan

Jack Adkins

Mindy McGinnis

PORTSMOUTH — Imagine a future world where death has been eliminated and individuals are selected to address the resulting challenges of overpopulation. This is the setting for the newest book chosen for local tenth graders to read as part of the Books Build Bridges program.

Books Build Bridges is a community initiative designed to promote the value of reading by linking the community through a common dialogue regarding one specific book. The foundation of this biennial program is simply to put books in the hands of children. By sharing a guided experience with the added value of a community conversation about the book it will foster both a lifelong love of learning and a stronger community.

For a number of years, the Portsmouth Rotary Club donated dictionaries to local schools as part of its literacy program. As technologies changed and fewer children were using physical dictionaries, the group wanted to update its program. An ad hoc committee was formed in 2017 including representatives from the Rotary Club, Clark Memorial Library (Shawnee State University), Portsmouth Public Library, and the South Central Ohio Educational Service Center. Working together collaboratively these organizations created the Books Build Bridges program.

In the 2017-18 school year the program focused on eighth-grade students and provided a copy of Not a Drop to Drink by Ohio author Mindy McGinnis to every eighth grader in participating Scioto County schools. Programming that year included an author’s talk at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts for the eighth graders, an author’s meet and greet at the Portsmouth Public Library, and an author’s talk for Shawnee State University college students.

In the 2019-20 school year the program provided copies of The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate to every fifth grader in Scioto County participating schools. Unfortunately, the related programming had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This school year the focus is on tenth grade students, all of whom have been provided with copies of Scythe by Neal Shusterman. The story is a science fantasy novel, which tells an unsettling story of two teenagers in the near dystopian future who live in a world where death has literally been defeated. Over 800 books were provided to local students in October of 2021 and they have all been invited to attend an author’s talk by Ohio author and dystopian writer, Mindy McGinnis at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts in March. McGinnis will talk with Shawnee State University education and literature students later the same day.

McGinnis’s visit will also include a Regional Authors’ Meet and Greet at the Portsmouth Public Library from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 17. This event is free and open to the public. McGinnis along with Jack Adkins, Kurt Dinan, and Jay S. Willis (also regional authors) will all share information about their writing styles and will have their books available for purchase.

Mindy McGinnis, a former school librarian, is an Edgar Award-winning novelist who writes across multiple genres, including post-apocalyptic, historical, thriller, contemporary, mystery, and fantasy. While her setting may change, you can always count of Mindy’s books to deliver grit, truth, and an unflinching look at humanity and the world around us. A ninth-generation farmer, Mindy attributes much of her character to growing up on an Ohio farm, learning the value of physical labor, and the harshness of the natural world early in life. Much of

her writing reflects small-town living and aspects of rural poverty. Mindy still lives and works in her hometown of Cardington, and is dedicated to making herself available to financially disadvantaged school districts and communities.

Jack Adkins is an IT Professional in a small hospital in Eastern Kentucky and author of the upcoming High Fantasy novel The Blood of a Dragon, Book 1 in the Dragons of Dorwine series. As an avid fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Jack’s writing style is a blend of slow-burn, Epic Fantasy (like Tolkien and Jordan), and fast-paced swords and sorcery of Salvatore and Denning. His writing style is heavily influenced by his love of South and Central American cultures and a passion for Reformation-era Christian theology. Jack is a thirty-year Dungeons and Dragons veteran who has written campaigns, epic character backstories, and short stories for most of his life. Now he is channeling those skills into a career in Fantasy Writing.

Kurt Dinan is a high school English teacher living in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and four children. His first novel, Don’t Get Caught, was a Junior Literary Guild award winner. His second novel, The Scam List, was published in 2020.

Jay S. Willis is a Portsmouth native and graduate of Portsmouth High School. He is a graduate of both Capital University and Capital University Law School and has been a licensed attorney for more than 25 years. He is a former Judge and now works as an Assistant Prosecutor. His goal as an author is to create an engaging and fun body of work to sustain a generation through their life as readers of Fantasy: from intelligent chapter books to sprawling epics. From an early age Jay was fascinated by story-telling and he wrote his first books in grade school. An avid Dungeons & Dragons role-player, growing up in the 80’s obsessed with Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, his reading and writing interests have always skewed toward the fantasy and science fiction genres.

Sponsors for this year’s Book Build Bridges program are: Rotary Club of Portsmouth, Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth, Ohio Arts Council, Portsmouth Public Library, Shawnee State University, and the South Central Ohio Educational Service Center.

Jay S. Willis S. Willis

Kurt Dinan Dinan

Jack Adkins Adkins

Mindy McGinnis McGinnis

Staff Report