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All of Tampa is reading about boy and his dogs

Published Aug. 31, 2005

Everybody in town is reading the book Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.

Or at least they're supposed to be.

That's the idea behind a Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library program that has been encouraging everyone to read the same book this month.

One Community One Book is intended to promote the discussion of literature and encourage families to read together.

"It is a marvelous book. I am sorry I do not have a child in my life to share it with," said Blanche Shelton, 72, of Carrollwood. "If I truly absolutely believe in something I want to tell the whole world about it. That's how I feel about this book."

Where the Red Fern Grows is the coming-of-age story of 10-year-old Billy Colman's determination to save money to buy two hunting dogs, his passion for the animals and their devotion to him.

Hillsborough public school teachers chose the book, said county library spokeswoman Patrice Koerper.

"We weren't looking for a young adult book or a family reading book," Koerper said. "We were looking for a good book. This one has wide appeal and for our first book, we thought it would be perfect."

Koerper said once they realized the story had family reading potential, organizers decided to give the readers a "doggie bag" loaded with gifts like microwave popcorn and fast food coupons.

County libraries are offering book discussions and other programs all month to celebrate the project.

Hillsborough librarians Penelope Titus and Donna Scott are coordinating One Community One Book for the Jimmie Keel Regional Library. A preschool event relating to the book will be held there on March 19.

"It's a real tear-jerker," Scott said. "The boy saves his money nickel by nickel for two years to get these dogs." One Community One Book will be held on an annual basis. Koerper said it's in March this year because Mayor Dick Greco is a strong supporter of the program, so they wanted to establish it before he leaves office next month.

A growing number of communities nationwide have started to adopt the One Book projects, which originated in Seattle in 1998.

Pinellas County launched One Bay One Book last year, choosing Killing Mister Watson by Peter Matthiessen.

One of the highest-profile citywide reads was One Book, One Chicago in 2001, which gained momentum when Mayor Richard M. Daley spoke of his regard for Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.