ELIZABETH, NJ – Tracy Robinson, teen services manager at the Elizabeth Public Library, thought she would have to tell the young people in front of her that their Great Stories Book Club, already established at the library for the last two years, would have to end due to cuts in federal funding.

Then, she got a pleasant surprise.

Mayor Christian Bollwage, on hand to congratulate the group at the conclusion of the program, announced he would donate $1,000 to start the Club next year. Calling himself “a big fan of reading,” the mayor said, “I will provide the first $1,000, and all of you who want to come back and a few others have the financial wherewithal to do that.”

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The Great Stories Book Club was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is being cut by the Trump Administration in its proposed budget, and administered by the American Library Association. This year’s theme was Structures of Suffering, Origins of Teen Violence and Suicide, and moderators like Robinson received training in how to lead group discussions. The group read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, and Romeo and Juliet (No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels) illustrated by Matt Weigle.

Asked about the young readers’ responses to the books, Robinson observed, “In reality, the responses were more reflective of our society as a whole. Many understood that people struggle with mental disease, and others didn’t understand it.  Each side learned a little bit how the other side felt. I watched the group grow to understand different points of view.”