State Historical Library launches "The Big Read" in Council Bluffs
Jack London's The Call of the Wild featured April 18-19 at CB Public Library and WHTC

For immediate release April 11, 2008


Contact: Jeff Morgan,, (515) 281-3858

(DES MOINES) – The State Historical Library will launch a series of “The Big Read” literary events this month in Council Bluffs with Jack London’s classic novel The Call of the Wild before moving on to 11 other communities across Iowa.

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and bring the transformative power of literature into the lives of its citizens. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment.

The State Historical Library will launch the program April 18 in Council Bluffs and take it to Walnut, Adair, Earlham, Des Moines, West Des Moines, Ankeny, Newton, Iowa City and Clermont through May 28. Programs will include book discussions, displays and presentations about London, The Call of the Wild and related issues.

“In selecting London’s The Call of the Wild, we have chosen a work that addresses numerous universal themes such as what it means to be a family, self-sufficiency, the search for acceptance, honor, loyalty and trust,” said Cyndi Pederson, director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

“It will also appeal to readers who enjoy adventure, and others may enjoy learning about the social aspects of wolves and competition to be the Alpha male. And, Jack London’s historical ties to Iowa as part of Kelly’s Army make The Call of the Wild a good fit for The Big Read in Iowa.”

London, who had been tramping around the country in 1894, joined Kelly’s Army in Council Bluffs and marched with the group of about 1,200 men through Walnut, Adair and Earlham to Des Moines. The men were on their way to Washington, D.C. to advocate for workers’ rights.

In Des Moines, the group boarded boats and traveled down the Des Moines River to the Mississippi. London left the group in Keokuk and published The Call of the Wild eight years later.

London had a number of additional ties to Iowa, including his surname from Moscow, Iowa, farmer and stepfather John London. Jack London’s second wife, Charmain Kittredge, was from Newton.

NEA launched “The Big Read” in 2006 in response to its 2004 landmark survey, “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America,” which found less than half the American adult population now reads literature – novels, short stories, poetry and drama.

The survey also found the percentage of the U.S. adult population reading any book has declined by seven percent over the past decade, with the steepest decline in the youngest age groups.

To help counter the slide, NEA awarded nearly $1.6 million in grants to 127 libraries, municipalities, and arts, culture and higher education, and science organizations throughout the country to host a Big Read celebration of one of 16 classic novels January-June 2008. The State Historical Library received a $16,300 NEA grant to promote the program this year in Iowa.

The 2008 Big Read grantees represent 38 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The NEA inaugurated The Big Read as a pilot project with 10 communities in 2006. By 2009, approximately 400 communities in the U.S. will have hosted a Big Read since the program’s launch.

Following is the State Historical Library’s The Big Read event schedule April 18-May 28, 2008 in Iowa:

Friday, April 18, 2-4 p.m.
Council Bluffs Public Library, 400 Willow Avenue
Council Bluffs

  • “A Walk on the Wild Side: Council Bluffs, Jack London, Kelly’s Army and Railroads” display
  • Book Discussion: Jack London’s novel, The Call of the Wild

Saturday, April 19, 10-5 p.m.
Western Historic Trails Center, 3464 Richard Downing Dr.
Council Bluffs

  • Klondike Kick-Off to “A Walk on the Wild Side: Kelly’s Army, Jack London and his The Call of the Wild
  • Klondike demonstrations; Jack London Trivia contest with prizes; Montana Mountain Mushers: Hero Dogs Sled Team display and program with prizes; and a screening of the film The Call of the Wild: A Dog of the Yukon.

Monday, April 21, Noon-5 p.m.
Walnut Visitors Center, 607 Highland St.

  • Antiques and History: When Jack London and Kelly’s Army Came to Town (display)
  • Book Discussion: Rewards of Reading The Call of the Wild
  • Feature Film: The Call of the Wild

Tuesday, April 22, 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Adair Public Library, 312 Audubon St.

  • A Call to Reading: Celebrating Library Week with Jack London
  • Reception with Historical Display

Wednesday, April 23, Noon-2 p.m.
State Historical Society of Iowa, 402 Iowa Avenue
Iowa City

  • A Big Read: The Call of the Wild  discussion (Noon-1 p.m.), Kyle Harnish, facilitator
  • Kelly’s Army display and exhibit (1-2 p.m.)

Saturday, April 26, 9 a.m.-Noon
Earlham Public Library, 120 S. Chestnut Avenue

  • Book Talk: “Different Time-Same Place: Jack London’s Earlham Connection”
  • Library Week Reception with a The Call of the Wild readers’ contest

Sunday, April 27, 1-4:30 p.m.
West Des Moines Public Library, 4000 Mills Civic Parkway
West Des Moines

  • Jack London/Kelly’s Army historic display
  • Book Talk: Rewards and Risks To Reading
  • The Call of The Wild contest

Thursday, May 1, 7-9 p.m.
State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust Street
Des Moines

  • Panel Discussion: “Which Side Are You On? Unions and Community Organizing: Past & Present.” Representatives from Iowa Federation of Labor and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.

Saturday, May 3, 1-3 p.m.
Gold Star Museum, Camp Dodge

  • “Army & Guard: The Rewards and Risks of Reading” with special reference to Jack London’s The Call of The Wild

Tuesday, May 6, 5-7 p.m.
Uncle Nancy’s Coffeehouse and Eatery, 114 North 2nd Avenue West

  • Presentation: “Different Time–Same Place: Jack London’s Iowa and Newton Connections”
  • London w/Kelly’s Army Display

May 7-May 28, 2008 (Wednesdays)
Clermont Public Library, 503 Larrabee St., Box 49

  • “A Walk on the Wild Side: The Big Read, Kelly’s Army and Jack London” display

Wednesday, May 7, 9-10:30 a.m.
Montauk Historic Site

  • A Call to Reading: The Big Read’s selection The Call of the Wild, Intro and chapters 1-2

Thursday, May 8, 7-9 p.m.
State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust Street
Des Moines

  • Movie Night: The Call of the Wild and Jack London trivia contest w/prizes

Wednesday, May 14, 9-10:30 a.m.
Montauk Historic Site

  • Reading the Wild: Chapters 3-5, The Call of The Wild

Friday, May 16, 2-5 p.m.
DMACC, Ankeny Campus, 2006 South Ankeny Boulevard

  • A Call to be Wild: Life Experiences and Life Stories (part of the International Day of Life Stories)

Wednesday, May 21, 9-10:30 a.m.
Montauk Historic Site

  • Comparing the Wild: View The Call of The Wild movie to compare & contrast with novel

Wednesday, May 28, 9-10:30 a.m.
Montauk Historic Site

  • Last Call: Chapters 6-7, The Call of The Wild

 Wednesday, May 28, 11:45 a.m.-1 p.m.
State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust Street
Des Moines

  • A Wild Ending: Book Discovery Discussion
  • The Big Read Closing Reception


Iowa National Guard:
The Big Read is going international via telecommunications to Iowa National Guard members stationed overseas. Times and dates will be announced for this event in coordination with the Iowa National Guard and unit commanders in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. State Historical Society of Iowa Librarian Susan Jellinger will facilitate the book discussions.

Scavo Alternative High School:
Scavo Alternative High School Readers Theater class is creating a presentation tentatively scheduled to be performed and broadcast over the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) April 17. Teacher Ellen Robinson and State Historical Society’s Museum Theater Coordinator Maureen Korte are guiding the students throughout this production. English or Language Arts teachers who want their class to see the performance and get involved in the discussion about the production or the book, The Call of the Wild, should contact the State Historical Society of Iowa Library/Archives Reading Room at 515-281-6200 or 515-281-6897, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.


The State Historical Society of Iowa is a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa’s past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. SHSI is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. Visit or call 515-281-5111 for more information.

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