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Library officials hope children dig into 'Holes' during summer


City library officials believe Holes will be the perfect way for area youth to fill in those dreary summer gaps.

Louis Sachar's 1998 novel about friendship and destiny has been selected as the fourth annual "Baltimore's Book" and will be handed out to children in fourth grade and above who register for the state's summer reading program today at an event at Mondawmin Mall.

Holes, a popular children's book that spawned a Disney feature film, chronicles the odyssey of Stanley Yelnats, who is wrongly sent to a boys' detention camp and ordered by a vicious warden to dig holes all day. The book interweaves two mysterious story lines brought together and resolved by Stanley's courage.

"One of the things we like about it is that the kids in the camp are from a variety of backgrounds," said Deborah Taylor, Enoch Pratt Free Library's coordinator of school and student services. "It's the power of friendships among kids. We can all learn from that, adults and young people -- that if we stick together, we can get ourselves through tough experiences."

Holes was the recipient of the 1999 Newbery Award -- the top award for children's books -- and the 1998 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Today's event will feature the Dunbar High School Jazz Band, African drumming, face painting and giveaways from the Baltimore Orioles. Mayor Martin O'Malley and Pratt Library Executive Director Carla Hayden will formally announce Holes as "Baltimore's Book" on Wednesday at the Charles Theatre. The city will sponsor family book discussions throughout the summer, and Pratt staff hope to reach 15,000 students across Baltimore City.

Holes has a relatively lighter tone and subject matter than past selections, which included the autobiographies of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Johns Hopkins surgeon Ben Carson and Miracle's Boys, a story of three orphans.

"One of the major aims is to have as many people as possible discussing and thinking about ... a piece of literature," Hayden said. "We wanted to make it accessible to as many people as possible."

In addition to programs throughout the summer, Hayden said city schools have built the book into the fall curriculum. And she's not worried that students who have seen the movie, or who take advantage of the free screening at the Charles Theatre on Friday will skip the print version. In fact, both versions will be part of the discussion.

"A lot of times when people see the movie, they want to read the book," Hayden said.

Sachar, who lives in Austin, Texas, is not expected to attend Wednesday's news conference, said library spokeswoman Mona Rock, but is expected to attend September's Baltimore Book Festival.

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