Young Readers Program Seeks to Expand Beyond Chautauqua Gates


This summer, the CLSC Young Readers program will take youth on a journey of discovery, engaging their minds in the conversations that unfold on the grounds.

Organizers of CLSC Young Readers, for youth ages 9–14, will host weekly programs, usually 4:15 p.m. on Wednesdays in varying locales, that will align with the topic of the week. Participants will then have ammunition for discussions with the adults in their lives who attend the lectures and other adult programming.

“The process, first and foremost for us, is to find the best books out there for young readers,” said Matt Ewalt, associate director of education and youth services. “(Criteria include) how the books are written, to how they demonstrate respect for a young reader, to the kinds of conversations the book can trigger with other young readers and with that young reader’s family.”

Ewalt said the theme of each corresponding week is a guide for he and Education Assistant Karen Schiavone, as they determine the order in which books will be discussed.

Although some themes line up naturally with some chosen literature, other themes call for a more intuitive approach.

The pair cited the Week Six theme of “The Future of Cities” as an example of a time when they “just knew” the selection fit. Brian Selznick’s The Marvels, according to Schiavone, seemed to be a perfect fit after she researched and read the book.

Ewalt said, like the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, the Young Readers program is a personal experience.

Each weekly program will include a discussion of the book, and a supplemental activity that could range from writing narratives and poems to having a lecture on a relevant topic.

Schiavone’s role in the department allows her to act as a partner to Ewalt in the process of determining the year’s book list. Ewalt said he and Schiavone also work together to grow the program.

“One of the things that I really want to spend time on this year is growing our webpage,” Schiavone said. She said she wants the Young Readers page to become more of a resource for local teachers and schools, as well as a way to get input from them.

“Finding more ways to bring our communities together is important,” she said.

Ewalt said he and Schiavone met with local superintendents to spread the message that Chautauqua should be thought of as an accessible resource.

“It takes considerably more effort on our end to convey that message,” Ewalt said, adding that Chautauqua Institution is a place that is not complete without the participation of the community.

The Young Readers program being scheduled during Education Wednesday at Chautauqua is no coincidence, Ewalt said. Every Wednesday from 7 a.m. to midnight, any Chautauqua County student grade K-12 may enter the grounds free of charge. Youth ages 12 and under always have free access.


Youth Coordinator Robin Martin said the program time is also set up to take advantage of when Boys’ and Girls’ Club is over for the day, allowing the kids to flow naturally to the location of each week’s unique activity.

As with the adult version of the CLSC, Young Readers offers a graduation process as an incentive. After reading 16 books from the list, including Jeffrey Simpson’s Chautauqua: An American Utopia, youth will be awarded with the Young Readers medallion, which is made possible by the John H. Bliss Memorial Fund and the support of the CLSC Class of 2002. Youth can also participate in the medallion award remotely. Also, young readers who fall outside the intended age range will not be discouraged from participating.

Ewalt said he is fascinated by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin’s March series, a graphic novel that focuses on Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil rights, which will be discussed during Week Three; he said it is important to preserve the memory of that civil rights movement for young people, so it is not forgotten.

“[March] accomplishes this in a way that is very respectful to young readers, but is also respectful of their ability to understand their world and struggle with these issues,” Ewalt said.

Ewalt said graphic novels are not uncommon for the Young Readers book list, because that style can attract a whole new audience.

Schiavone listed Week Nine’s Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan as her favorite selection this year because of its ability to get readers thinking about what it means to be human.

“The author does a really excellent job of showing the reader that we really are not that different after all,” Schiavone said. “Even though circumstances can be out of our control, at the end of the day, we’re all human. And in this book, music brings it all together, and it all ties in so neatly at the end.”

Although Ewalt said he hopes participants enjoy the selections this year, he also hopes the readers will follow their own paths. He said children can engage in literature at Chautauqua more freely than in a school setting because they are not graded on how they participate. They can find a shady spot, read at their own speed and join other kids in discussion.

“We hope that in those book discussions and programs that we have, readers can be free to talk about their experience with the book,” Ewalt said. “For them to be critical readers is an important aspect of the program.”

Andrew Manzella

The author Andrew Manzella

Andrew Manzella is a reporter and feature writer from western New York. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in journalism from SUNY Buffalo State.