There's no place like home

Steamboat Reads program brings Oz to the Yampa Valley

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The list of possibilities seemed endless when Alysa Selby and a group of fellow Steamboat Springs librarians began to brainstorm possible themes for this year's installment of the Steamboat Reads program.

But as their criteria became clear -- the desire to link a great book to its movie and the ability to hire a Chautauqua performer among them -- so did the book.

It wasn't long before the group of librarians realized all signs pointed to Oz.

The fact that Greg Maguire, author of "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" was available for an appearance didn't hurt, either.

And so it is that Steamboat Reads 2004 is a celebration of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," the American classic authored by L. Frank Baum more than a century ago.

Baum's fantastical tale, which later became a hit 1939 movie, has captivated readers young and old since its publication, Bud Werner director Chris Painter said. That fact alone made Baum and his books an ideal choice for Steamboat Reads because they appeal to all readers.

"The hardest thing about Steamboat Reads is getting something that reaches all ages," said Selby, reference librarian at Bud Werner Memorial Library. "We really feel we hit it on the head this year with Oz."

Steamboat Reads began three years ago as a concerted effort by area librarians to promote libraries and reading during April, when National Library Week is held.

Last year's theme was based on Edgar Allen Poe, an author who children sometimes have a difficult time understanding or enjoying.

But young and old can enjoy Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

"It's a story that kids and their parents can connect with because of the age of the story," said Soda Creek Elementary School librarian Marty O'Leary. "There's a timelessness to it. (Kids) don't think it's a 100-year-old book. They get totally engaged in the characters."

Complete with wizards and witches, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" and the 13 other Oz books written by Baum were the Harry Potter of their time, the librarians said. It had all the controversy and even was banned briefly.

"Fantasy is just such a popular genre with kids," O'Leary said. "They just read any and all fantasy."

One of the librarians' goals is for the Steamboat Reads program to bring young and old together for shared reading and read-aloud times.

Four large events coincide with this year's Steamboat Reads program.

A "Toto-ly Terrific Dog Show" was held Saturday for dog owners who thought their favorite canine looked, acted like or captured the spirit of Toto, Dorothy's faithful pet throughout her adventures in Oz.

Chautauqua actor David Skipper portrayed Baum during a special "Evening with L. Frank Baum" presentation Saturday night at the Depot Art Center. The performance was sponsored by a grant from Colorado Endowment for the Humanities.

Maguire, author of "Wicked," will be in Steamboat on Thursday for a discussion of his book at Olympian Hall. A book signing will follow the discussion, and refreshments will be provided.

The 2004 Steamboat Reads program concludes April 28 with a special showing of the famous 1939 MGM movie based on Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." The free showing is at 7 p.m. in the Steamboat Springs High School theater. Door prizes will be part of the showing, including a free hot air balloon ride courtesy of Wild West Balloon Adventures.

Though the movie perhaps has overshadowed the book it was based upon, the librarians warn readers they "can't judge a book by its movie," Strawberry Park librarian Sherry Holland said.

Holland said it's important to talk to kids about how movies can highlight aspects of a book but don't always accurately portray the events of the written work. Such is the case with "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" and its movie, which changes the ending and other details.

Steamboat schools also are incorporating Steamboat Reads into activities for children. Strawberry Park Elementary School is quizzing students on Oz throughout the month and holding a "No Place Like Home" poster contest, among other activities.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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