The story of how nature connects us is a huge story to tell—and we’re delighted to do our part telling it. This year, our Community Read explores the concept of trees as nature’s great connectors, and how trees may help us gain insight into ourselves and our place in the world. Like the subject matter of this year’s program, our Community Read is also a great connector. Each year dozens of organizations across our region join together to present programs around the topics covered in our Community Read books. In 2021 more than 9,600 people attended the 265 Community Read programs that were held across our region. This year we have casted our partnership net even farther and are working with the talented team at The Morton Arboretum in DuPage County, Illinois to feature their engaging graphic novel, Canopy Career Chronicles, as one of our three featured books. This fantastic selection helps introduce budding tree advocates to new possibilities through a unique approach to career exploration.
As part of their mission to address key challenges facing trees and inspire the next generation, in 2019 The Morton Arboretum launched the Canopy Career Chronicles, a graphic novel and website highlighting the real-world stories of eight tree scientists. Through the stories of Sasha the Horticulturist, Danny the Arboriculture Scientist, and Dina the Conservation Advocate, among others, young readers discover the variety of tree science careers and learn how diverse and interesting the field can be.
“Reading is a great way to understand and empathize with people from different backgrounds, different life experiences, and different perspectives,” shares The Morton Arboretum’s Head of Knowledge Management Carissa Dougherty. “Reading provides an on-ramp for those opportunities and helps people see connections and start conversations where they might not otherwise,” she continues.
“Graphic novels are a great visual way for students to access information and many students enjoy reading them, which is why we thought Canopy Career Chronicles would be a great fit for the Community Read,” said Longwood Director of School & Youth Programs Heather Drzal.
“We are always looking for new ways to inspire young people, so getting the chance to participate in the unique and far-reaching Community Read program was an easy choice to make,” says Dougherty. “The Community Read gives all of us an opportunity to start conversations, build connections, and engage communities where they are … this is an opportunity to listen to an entirely new audience talk about the ways in which the selected books and topics resonate with them,” says Dougherty.
The Morton Arboretum Science Communication Leader and Seed Your Future Advisory Council Member Jessica Turner-Skoff, Ph.D., works to engage the next generation of tree scientists through the development of the Planted: Finding Your Roots in STEM Careers podcast and the Canopy Career Chronicles. An important part of Turner-Skoff’s job is connecting the next generation with stories and opportunities regarding “green-collar” careers, allowing them to try on different jobs through the power of storytelling. “I was delighted to be a part of the team of people that developed this [Canopy Career Chronicles] series, as it answers a real world need,” she shares.
And a real world need it is. "Plants are the answer to many of the most pressing challenges of our time: food security, biodiversity loss, climate change, etc.,” shares Turner-Skoff. “We need to train and inspire the next generation in plant science and horticulture so humanity has the knowledge and skills to find solutions." According to Seed Your Future—an initiative to promote horticulture awareness across the US of which Longwood and the American Society for Horticulture Science are lead partners—only 61% of the average 57,600 annual job openings in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, or the environment are filled due to lack of qualified candidates, causing a severe workforce gap. And while 76% of youth strongly believe issues like climate change can be solved with immediate action, most schools stop teaching plant-based concepts in the third grade.
Through Longwood’s easy-to-use toolkits for teachers and featured partnered programs for libraries, a partnership with the Community Read provides access to thousands of people, including school-aged children who are starting to think about what they want to be when they grow up. “Connecting with Longwood’s Community Read to promote Canopy Career Chronicles is a dream. This program has a proven track record of engaging people with the power of plants through stories, and if we inspire even one child to pursue a plant-focused career, we will have done our jobs,” says Turner-Skoff.
The Morton Arboretum is just one of more than 50 like-minded organizations we’ve partnered with nationally and locally for our Community Read. When it comes to local impact, New Castle Department of Community Service Administrative Librarian Marlene Esposito says the skills developed in book discussions foster an environment for acknowledging other opinions as well as formulating and adapting your own. “These skills are ones that can be used in our world to encourage inclusivity and limit discrimination and prejudice, ultimately helping to develop a true understanding of cultures other than our own,” she shares.
Delaware County Libraries Youth Services Coordinator Cheri Crow finds the Community Read brings together new readers and helps to bring a sense of community. “Longwood’s Community Read is unique because you get to learn about science and nature while reading a great book,” she says. “This focus brings in new readers who wouldn’t otherwise participate in a traditional fiction book discussion.”
Humans are hard-wired to enjoy a good story as stories help us to make sense of the world. The act of reading in community can also help us read more deeply, better understand diverse perspectives, and deepen relationships through shared learning … all through the power of reading. Find more information on the Community Read and learn how you can get involved at longwoodgardens.org/community-read.