NEA Big Read in the St. Croix Valley

Join the St. Croix Valley as we read Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

The NEA Big Read in the St. Croix Valley is a one book, one community program that brings together residents from throughout the St. Croix Valley around a common book. ArtReach is pleased to announce that in 2020 programming will include a variety of literary, visual and performing arts opportunities centered on themes found in Lab Girl.

Some events for Lab Girl have been RESCHEDULED and moved ONLINE for August 2020. Please see information below for updates and registration.

Photo by Erica Marrow

Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment.

Read the book 
In January, numerous copies of Lab Girl and book club kits can be found in circulation at local libraries throughout the St. Croix Valley. In addition, ArtReach will be distributing hundreds of Read and Release copies of the book throughout the St. Croix Valley in Little Free Libraries, laundromats, coffee shops and doctor’s offices. If you prefer to purchase your own copy of Lab Girl, our local independently-owned bookstores Valley Bookseller in Stillwater and Chapter 2 Books in Hudson are offering at 15% discount for those who would like to purchase their own copy.

Draw inspiration from another story of dedication and success by reading Brave Enough, the memoir by Olympic gold medalist and hometown hero Jessie Diggins and co-writer Todd Smith. Diggins shares the story of her journey from her childhood in Afton, MN, to one of the greatest sports moments in our nation’s history: her historic sprint to the finish line for Gold in the team sprint event at the Pyeongchang Olympics. Read her stories of races and ribbons as well as stories about the challenges and frustrations of becoming a serious athlete. Purchase a copy of Brave Enough at

August Online Book Discussions

  • August 17: Lab Girl, hosted by Bayport Public Library at 6:30pm - Register Here
  • August 24: Lab Girl, hosted by Stillwater Public Library at 6:30pm - Register Here
  • August 31: Brave Enough with co-writer and sports journalist Todd Smith,  hosted by Valley Bookseller and ArtReach St. Croix at 6:30 pm - Register Here
Todd Smith is author of Hockey Strong and co-author of Brave Enough with Jessie Diggins. His sportswriting has contributed to Minnesota Hockey, USA Hockey, and the Minnesota Wild on the NHL Network. His work has been published in The Rake MagazineMinnesota Monthly, and Twin Cities METRO Magazine, and he has been a commentator on Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current, WCCO Radio, Fox 9 Sports Now.  He is a graduate of the University of Montana.

Shawn Otto’s book The War on Science provides a new lens to explain science's place in the founding of America and in the preservation of its democracy. Musician John Gorka will join Otto for this online Science and Song event. Both are nationally-known and they are St. Croix Valley residents!

In his remarks, Otto will outline how we can bring evidence-based solutions to difficult problems facing our country and how citizens can ensure civic leaders (on both sides of the aisle) are not ignoring or, worse, discounting science. Otto is a screenwriter and novelist, who wrote and co-produced the Academy Award-nominated movie HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG. He is cofounder of, the US presidential science debates. Otto speaks worldwide on the critical role of science and truth in free societies.

Gorka will add his signature songs to this online event. When Gorka received the 2016 IAP Best Singer/Songwriter CD of the Year award it was remarked, “John Gorka is perhaps the quintessential iconic singer-songwriter of the 80’s folk scene. Hailing from New Jersey, but forged in the Greenwich Village Fast Folk scene, he honed his craft and persona into an unmistakable image." Gorka is known for insightful observations and subtle, wry, layered approach to contemporary folk music.

During our initial Big Read planning, the team was inspired to hear from Shawn Otto. A sign seen at the March for Science expressed it all.

"At the Beginning of Every Disaster Movie There Is a Scientist Being Ignored."

Now, living through this pandemic and inspired by another quote (by children's book illustrator Mo Willems, below), we worked with Otto and reconnected him to Gorka to create a NEA Big Read in the St. Croix Valley exclusive presentation: Science and Song.

“Science will get us out of this and the arts will get us through this.” 

An ASL interpreter will be provided for this event.

Experience Silent Sky with Festival Theatre, the beautiful true story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt. The staged reading explores a woman’s place in society during a time of immense scientific discoveries. As Henrietta, in her free time, attempts to measure the light and distance of stars, she must also take measure of complicated choices in her life on Earth.

All readings will take place at outdoor venues.

These shows will be free of charge (with a suggested donation to help us out) and we'll be installing social distancing security to make sure we're all being safe! You can reserve tickets for these events at the link below!

During Parallels to Pokémon, Botanist Nate Dahlberg will show youth and other Pokémon enthusiasts how they are using the tools of science when they hunt, find and collect Pokémon characters. This entertaining online class draws parallels between studying the characteristics of Pokémon with those of our area’s native plants.

ArtReach St. Croix is pleased to announce the exhibition Specimens: art, science and the human condition, originally scheduled as part of the NEA Big Read in the St. Croix Valley programming this past spring, will be on view beginning August 20.

Specimens reflects the themes of Minnesota-native, author and geobiologist Hope Jahren’s memoir Lab Girl. The exhibition brings together the work of ceramic sculptor Jenn Angell and the embroidered botanical illustrations of Karen Gustafson.  Angell’s work is self-reflective and preserves emotions and traumas the way a scientist preserves a specimen. Gustafson’s delicate, floating botanicals harken back to an era of documentation and observation before mass spectrometers and DNA sequencing used today.

NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

NEA Big Read is designed to broaden our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. ArtReach St. Croix is one of 75 not-for-profit organizations to receive a grant to host an NEA Big Read project between September 2019 and June 2020.

ArtReach St. Croix is presenting the NEA Big Read in the St. Croix Valley in conjunction with core program partners Valley Bookseller, Stillwater Public Library, St. Croix Festival Theatre, UW River Falls, River Falls Public Library and library branches located in communities between St. Croix Falls, WI and Hastings, MN.