Although the National Endowment for the Arts recently reported a continuing national decline in reading, this fall has been a good season for reading in Evanston. Thanks to several generous grants, including one for $33,800 through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSAT), Evanston Township High School was able to provide every student with a copy of the book “Of Beetles and Angels: A Boy’s Remarkable Journey from a Refugee Camp to Harvard” by Mawi Asgedom. This “Evanston Reads” project, modeled after similar projects in Chicago and other cities, is a literacy collaboration among Evanston schools, the library, the City and the community.

Since his memoir was published in 2001, Mawi Asgedom (Mawi, shortened from Selamawi, which means “peaceful” in his native language) has made hundreds of public appearances and spoken to hundreds of thousands of young people and adults across the country. In 2006 the Illinois Association of Teachers of English named him Best Illinois Author. Speaking at Evanston Township High School in November, Mr. Asgedom told Cassie Schnatterly’s sophomore English class and members of the Books-R-Us book club that “despite how tough and challenging life is, we all have choices.” He advised students to take advantage of their time in school – and not only for academic growth. “School is a way for you to cross boundaries and meet and get along with all kinds of people. Think about it. Where else in your life will you be able to be with so many different kinds of people?”

ETHS librarian Nancy Figel said planning for “Evanston Reads” began last spring. “The partners included ETHS, District 65 schools, Evanston Public Library, Evanston Youth Initiative, the City’s Youth Engagement Initiative, and National-Louis University’s Center for Teaching Through Children’s Literature,” she said.

Ms. Figel and ETHS English teacher Laura Horton are project managers for the LSAT grant, which enabled ETHS to become Evanston’s largest book club.