Sweet divinity candy, cornmeal mush and a crisp bacon tart may not seem to have much in common, but they were all part of a young girl’s journey across Texas back in its Wild West days. As described in “News of the World,” the Galveston Reads communitywide book for 2018, food could be just as much of an uncharted adventure as the route from Wichita Falls to San Antonio, marked by stops where Captain Kidd brings the local citizens up to date with the latest news gleaned from far-flung newspapers.
Each year, Galveston Reads selects a book that will foster discussion, reflection and community events. “News of the World,” written by Paulette Jiles, was chosen for its readability, broad appeal and its moving depictions of adjusting to wrenching change, both personal and social. “It has a lot of appeal to Texans,” Rosenberg Library’s Dustan Archer said. “It really does show what the culture was like back then.”
Set just after the Civil War, the story revolves around Captain Jefferson Kidd and his unwilling travel companion, 10-year-old Johanna, who has spent the past four years living with the Kiowa tribe that killed her family. With American culture now unrecognizable to her, Johanna must relearn English, indoor behavior, and even a taste for sugar. Presented with a gift of freshly made divinity candy, she first rejects it as poison.
Meals on the trail weren’t all sweets and treats, though. As the pair makes their way southward, skirting their way through a variety of suspenseful threats, Captain Kidd’s staple is corn dodgers — cornmeal mush baked over a campfire. In contrast, Johanna’s return to her San Antonio relatives is marked with a great feast of Alsatian food.
The Galveston Reads schedule also includes a hoedown on Jan. 29, when the Bryan Museum opens its conservatory for a Western Swing performance by the local band Alligator Handshake. “Galveston Reads has done musical events in the past, but this is a little bit different,” Archer said. “It’s in keeping with the Wild West period of the book.”
The events schedule kicks off tomorrow night with a screening of “Little Big Man” at Rosenberg Library at 6 p.m. in the Wortham Auditorium. An appearance by professional storyteller Scott Baumgardner follows on January 27. “This isn’t a children’s book by any stretch of the imagination, but we wanted to include a family friendly event,” Archer explained. “Scott Baumgardner will spin some fantastic tales of the Old West that will be appreciated by all ages and will be reminiscent of the role Captain Kidd played as an itinerant news reader.”
Rosenberg Library will also unearth some of the treasures from its extensive collections for a Museum Show and Tell event on Feb. 3 hosted by museum curator Eleanor Barton before wrapping up Galveston Reads 2018 with panel discussions, public book discussions and an appearance by author Paulette Jiles.
Jiles, a resident of the Texas Hill Country, will speak at Galveston College on Feb. 20. All Galveston Reads events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit GalvestonReads.org.