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« Re: When the mission field comes to you | Main | So how IS that Wilberforce movie, anyway? »

February 22, 2007

Encouraging reading -- through film

Micheal Flaherty, president of Walden Media (the production company behind Amazing Grace; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Bridge to Terabithia; and others), recently gave a remarkable speech at Hillsdale College about one of Walden's most important goals. It is, to put it mildly, unique.

A few years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts released a report entitled “Reading at Risk.” Many people here are probably familiar with its findings, but allow me to repeat the headline: For the first time in modern history, less than half of the adult population now reads literature. The decline is across all races, all education levels, and all age groups. While this may come as a surprise to Hillsdale College students, the decline is the most pronounced in their age group. In just twenty years, young adults have declined from being those most likely to read literature to those least likely. . . .

Cultural restoration, Russell Kirk said, begins at home. Certainly the same is true of literacy. And in today’s media saturated culture, I dare to say that it may also begin at the movie theater. Walden Media was started several years ago by myself, Cary Granat, and Phil Anschutz. We wanted to create a company dedicated to recapturing imagination, rekindling curiosity, and demonstrating the rewards of knowledge and virtue. All of our films would be based on great books, great people, and great historical events. They would be made by the best talent in entertainment and they would all be linked to educational materials developed by some of the best talent in education. We were taking Henry David Thoreau’s famous advice—to march to the beat of a different drummer—to Hollywood, which is why we decided to name our company after Thoreau’s most famous book, Walden.

How does this work out in practice?

In conjunction with every film, we launch an ambitious educational campaign that places the book at its center. Since starting Walden, we have distributed hundreds of thousands of books, mostly to Title One Schools that are not able to afford them. When we released [Because of] Winn Dixie, we also launched a program in conjunction with the Girl Scouts of America and Sunrise Assisted Living Centers to draw attention to the “Reading at Risk” report. Girl Scouts across the country volunteered to read Winn Dixie at different Sunrise Centers. In doing this, we were showing one way to reverse the decline in reading and volunteerism at the same time. Recently, with the release of Charlotte’s Web, we invited teachers and students to read a section from E. B. White’s classic to break the Guinness World Record for most people reading simultaneously. The previous record was 133,000. At last count, more than 500,000 people participated in all 50 states and 28 countries.

Visit Hillsdale's site to read more.

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Brian Murphy

That is terrific! The Chronicles of Narnia series (and, let's be honest, basically anything by C.S. Lewis) as well as The Bridge to Terabithia were all present in my childhood. I remember reading through them with wonder and excitement. Kudos to Walden Media for helping to pass on the joy (and importance) of reading to the younger generations!

Greg Laurich

It does indeed start at home. My parents love to read so it rubbed off on me. My wife and I both like to read so it rubbed off on my kids, my 2.5 year old son loves to look at books and my daughter is voracious reader.


Gina, your title is a play on words--I'm encouraged just reading about reading being encouraged! :-) Way to go Walden!

Diane Singer

Gina, Thanks for sharing this lovely quote. I'm going to see Amazing Grace this afternoon, and knowing the noble goals of those who produced the film will make it that much more enjoyable.

Diane Singer

I would also add that Wilberforce is my 'hero' for another reason: historians say he always carried around a green bag full of books! Sounds like a kindred spirit.


Kudos to Walden Media, most notably for their reinforcement and reintroduction of the printed title of the film potrayal. Our culture has for generations found the portrayal of the human soul through the printed story to be a compass. Stories have the power to point out in us the foibles we so despise in others. The book though gives us the time to digest, to paint our own picture and to reread and revisit. I appreciate the work of Walden Media and hope that they will will continue to release quality productions of the 100 most important boosk of the western idiom. Maybe we can regain a culture lost.

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