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It's challenging enough to get all Penn freshmen to read the same book before school starts in September. Getting all of Philadelphia to read the same book is an even more difficult matter, but that is exactly what the Free Library plans to do. Penn Creative Writing Lecturer Lorene Cary's novel The Price of a Child has been chosen to pioneer the One Book, One Philadelphia project. The book is one that takes place in Philadelphia and deals with a slave's escape and subsequent trip to freedom by means of the Underground Railroad. While Philadelphia did not initiate the idea of getting an entire city to read the same work of fiction, it is the first city in which the novel chosen was written by a living resident of the city. The idea to foster community literature appreciation through the encouraged reading of one specific work began in Seattle, with the Washington Center for the Book's "If All of Seattle Read the Same Book" project. Chris Higashi, the associate director of the center explained that "even though we all read the same book, we all read a different book." By encouraging discussions among different city residents from different walks of life, the center believed it could create a stimulating enough dialogue to simply get people to love reading more. The project, which began in 1998 with Russell Banks' The Sweet Hereafter, was a great success and has since spread to many other cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles. Lori Blount, the project coordinator for One Book, One Philadelphia, is unsure exactly how many people will be participating in the events surrounding the novel. Still, while the Free Library of Philadelphia usually orders 150 copies of books like a Tom Clancy best seller, 2,000 copies of Cary's book were ordered, and circulation is high. Philadelphia's decision to use a local author was not a purposeful one, explained Linda Carroll-Pitts, the head of the Free Library's public relations. After the library decided to start this project, with support from Mayor John Street, a committee composed of librarians, library administrators, Carroll-Pitts and representatives from the city's school districts got together to choose a novel. It had been decided that the book would focus on issues of constitutional law and civil rights in order to honor the upcoming opening of the National Constitution Center on July 4, 2003. After much deliberation, the committee decided that the books they had short-listed were all either too much like textbooks or had reading levels that were inaccessible to the general city population. At that point, the committee turned the selection over to students at local Philadelphia high schools. They decided that The Price of a Child would be an appropriate read, and both the committee and the mayor agreed. Blount feels that the choice of Cary's book was particularly apt, considering that the project's goals are to foster reading and to promote a sense of community. The Price of a Child "is a Philadelphia book by a young Philadelphia author with lots of history about the city. There are lots of issues to talk about and because it [takes place in] the past, it almost makes it easier to talk about race issues -- it's not quite as uncomfortable, and the dialogue can happen," Blount said. Events include discussion groups at Starbucks locations around the city where free coffee will be offered. Additionally, Penn's Kelly Writers House is hosting a book club for kids from the Lea School, which will end with a book-signing at the Penn Bookstore. The final event, which will be attended by Street, University President Judith Rodin and Cary, among others, will be co-sponsored by the Penn Humanities Forum. Cary said she is truly excited that the readers of her book will be able to meet her. "The intellectual life that you experience through our written culture is accessible, and having a real person there, particularly when you are just entering into the intellectual life, changes the way you feel when you enter a library forever," she said. "You too are responsible for the intellectual life of your times."

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