NEA Big Read 2021 Programs & Events

All events are free, open to the public, and will take place virtually via Zoom, unless otherwise noted. During in-person outdoor programs, masks must be worn over the nose and mouth when unable to maintain a 6’ distance from others. For more information, visit

Giveaway: Some events will feature a surprise drawing for a copy of Hope Jahren’s new book, The Story of More. Must attend to win.

If you have interpretation needs for an event (ex., American Sign Language), please call 309-274-2719 at least two weeks in advance, and we’ll do our best to provide accommodations.

* These programs are guided hikes.

† These guided hikes have flat terrain: stroller & wheel/powerchair accessible

Lab Girl Book Discussions

Mon., Mar 22 @ 6:30 pm
Hosted by Chillicothe Public Library’s Books+Tea @ the Library book club

Sun., Mar 28 @ 3 pm
Facilitator: Ellie Tiley, biological science technician at the Ag Lab
Focus: higher education, mental health

Wed., Apr 7 @ 10 am (in person)
Stroll & Chat: Meet at the library for a rambling, fresh-air book discussion

Cancelled–Tue., Apr 13 @ 7 pm
Facilitators: Mike Contratto and Kristen Gerstner, who ran a test lab together
Focus: dynamics of females working in traditionally male-dominated spaces

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Making Room: Eliminating the Barriers to Telling Your Story

Tue., Mar 2, 9, 16, 23 @ 11:00 am
Register by 3 pm on Feb 26 at to save your spot.
Whether you’re hung up on the technicalities of writing or burdened with never having enough time to craft your story, let’s remove the barriers together in this memoir-writing workshop facilitated by Carmen Smith. Open to adults; no writing experience needed.

Seed-Starting Workshop

Wed., Mar 3 @ 10 am
Save dollars and get a jump-start on your garden this spring by growing your own seedlings! Learn the basics of starting seeds and tending seedlings at this live virtual workshop, and find out about our seedling swap in April.

Missed the program? View the recording here.

NEA Big Read Kick-off Week

March 8-12
Help us celebrate the start of our 2021 NEA Big Read! Stop by the library any time this week during open hours to pick up a copy of Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren. While you’re here, you can also participate in our community mural, visit the herbarium exhibit, reserve a tree for our tree-planting event, grab a seed-starting kit, interact with our “Be a Scientist: Ask a Question” board, and drop off a submission for our poetry & short-form writing project. Come back often to see the progress of the mural as it materializes!

Prioritizing Mental Wellness

Mon., Mar 22 @ 12:00 pm
Join this presentation to learn how to prioritize mental wellness in 2021. Self-care strategies and information on community resources will be shared by Dr. Ted Bender, President of UnityPoint Health – UnityPlace.

Soils 101: Dig It Like Bill

Wed., Mar 24 @ 5:00 pm (rescheduled from March 18, due to weather)
Register via the event on the Friends of Coal Hollow Facebook page.
Meet at the Coal Hollow parking lot. Join Naturalist Mike Contratto and Ed Stermer, Professor of Geology and Chair of the Earth and Physical Science at Illinois Community College, at Coal Hollow Park for an intro to soils, soil profiles, and the geology of the Chillicothe area. You will have an opportunity to try your hand at defining soil horizons (no digging required). A short hike will lead you to Coal Hollow’s “cliff,” coal seam, and the remains of glaciers. We will discuss soils, erosion, and disturbance by man and nature. (Reading Lab Girl? This program discusses material on pp 106-112.)

Illinois Women in Science

Thur., Mar 25 @ 7:00 pm
In this panel discussion by women scientists from the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, IL, panelists will offer a lively glimpse into the scientific minds of several deeply inspiring women scientists at NCAUR, past and present, whose real-life stories have surprising parallels to Hope Jahren’s funny, gritty, and fascinating life described in Lab Girl. Panelists include Dr. Martha Vaughan, Dr. Susan McCormick, Dr. Briana Whitaker, Dr. Jill Moser, Dr. Jessica Lohmar, Dr. Kristin Duffield, Helene Tiley, Kylie Hampton, Kim Ascherl, and Erica Goett.

Did you miss the program? View the recording here.

Restoring the Illinois River Bluffs*

Sat., Mar 27 @ 10:00 – 11:30 am
Registration required by noon on 3/26: call 309-274-2719.
Forest Park Nature Center (809 N Forest Park Dr, Peoria Heights). Hit the trails with Chief Naturalist Kristi Shoemaker (Peoria Park District) to learn about restoration efforts and their importance.

NAMI – Ending the Silence

Tue., Mar 30 @ 7:00 pm
Designed for middle and high school students, NAMI Ending the Silence is an engaging presentation that helps audience members learn about the warning signs of mental health conditions and what steps to take if you or a loved one are showing symptoms of a mental health condition. Local ally Beth Lawrence will give an informative presentation, and Owen Johnson, a young adult with a mental health condition, will share his journey of recovery. Audience members can ask questions and gain understanding of an often-misunderstood topic. Through dialogue, we can help grow the movement to end stigma.

Stars over Peoria*

Fri., Apr 2 @ 9:00 pm (rescheduled from March 26, due to cloud cover)
Registration required by noon on 3/25: call 309-274-2719.
Tawny Oaks (715 W Singing Woods Rd, Edelstein), meet in parking area. Naturalist Kelsey Ernst (Peoria Park District) will be your guide.

Illinois Ag, Medicinal Herbs, and Restoration*

Sat., Apr 3 @ 9:00 – 11:00 am and Tue., Apr 20 @ 9:00 – 11:00 am (April 20 is cancelled, due to weather)
To confirm the event (in case of weather, etc.) text David Pittman at 309-573-2354.
Horseshoe Bottoms (Meet at West end of St Mary’s Cemetery, 421 N Sterling, West Peoria). Learn about the history of agriculture in Central Illinois from indigenous people through Western technology, medicinal herbs, and restoration ecology on this guided hike with David Pittman (Friends of Rocky Glen). Terrain is mostly flat and can be muddy in places.

Local Geology, Native Plant Communities, and More*

Sat., Apr 3 @ 1:00 – 3:00 pm and Tue., Apr 20 @ 1:00 – 3:00 pm (April 20 is cancelled, due to weather)
To confirm the event (in case of weather, etc.) text David Pittman at 309-573-2354.
Rocky Glen (176-450 N Kickapoo Creek Rd, Peoria). Join David Pittman (Friends of Rocky Glen) for a guided exploration of local geology, complex native plant communities, and the impact of invasive species. Terrain is steep and physically challenging.

Cooking with a Low-Carbon Footprint

Mon., Apr 5 @ 6:30 pm
In this virtual program, the Poeppel family of Broad Branch Farm, located just northwest of Chillicothe, will demonstrate how to cook with locally sourced and homegrown food, even in the winter months. Learn how all of us can enjoy delicious, healthy food while having a lighter impact on the environment. You can jump into the conversation during the live Q&A session. Watch this short demo video before the session (or any time)!

Learn how to make a colorful, delicious, and hearty salad in this demo video.
Missed the program? View the recording here.

Forest Trees of Illinois*

Fri., Apr 9 @ 10:00 – 11:00 am
Registration required by noon on 4/8: call 309-274-2719.
Naturalist Kelsey Ernst (Peoria Park District) will lead you on an exploration of the living framework of our local forests.

Cancelled–Spring Wildflowers*

Sat., Apr 10 @ 9:00 am
Due to unforeseen circumstances, this April 10 hike has been cancelled. Instead, check out “In Search of Woodland Wildflowers” on April 21 at Camp Wokanda, or the “Signs of Spring” hike on Earth Day, April 22, at Coal Hollow. You’ll still see plenty of spring wildflowers! Details are in the program listings below.

Moldy Mary

Thur., Apr 15 @ 7:00 pm
Dr. Martha Vaughan (NCAUR) will present the story of Mary Hunt and her role in the development of the mass production of penicillin.

Watch the recording of the program here.

Keynote Address: Dr. Hope Jahren

Sat., Apr 17 @ 11:00 am
Don’t miss this special opportunity to hear from the author of Lab Girl! Seven NEA Big Read communities from around the United States will host an insightful and inspiring lecture and Q&A by Hope Jahren, a scientist from rural Minnesota who not only knows her trees and flowers but also “has some serious literary chops” (The Washington Post).

Cancelled – In Search of Woodland Wildflowers*

Wed., Apr 21 @ 10:00-11:30 am

Sorry folks — due to potentially slushy trails following whatever the weather throws at us on Tuesday (and because if it snows, wildflowers may be buried and not visible to us anyway), this hike has been cancelled. Instead, please consider joining us at Rocky Glen on Thursday at 10am for an Earth Day hike — any snow should be melted by then! And/or, you can tag along with Kristi Shoemaker on a virtual wildflower hike at Forest Park Nature Center any time, here: (the program begins about minute 2:15).

Registration required by noon on 4/20: call 309-274-2719.
Camp Wokanda (620 E Boy Scout Rd, Chillicothe). Meet in the lower parking area for a guided hike with Program Specialist Cathy Lane (Peoria Park District) and keep your eyes out for those ephemeral jewels of spring.

Meet the Filmmaker: Lisa Merton, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

Wed., Apr 21 @ 7:00 pm
Hear how Merton and her filmmaking and life partner Alan Dater met Wangari Maathai and got the chance to make a film about her remarkable life. Watch the movie ahead of time at (Password: takingroot4u), and bring your questions!

View the event recording here.

Seedling Swap

April 21-23
Did you start more seedlings than you have space for in your garden? Label each plant clearly and drop them off at the table under the library portico. While you’re here, browse the seedlings that others have brought, and feel free to take a few home!

Earth Day Hike: Signs of Spring

Thur., April 22 @ 10:00 am
Register via the Chillicothe Park District Facebook page by clicking “Going” on this event. Spaces will be limited. Celebrate Earth Day with a Naturalist-led hike at Coal Hollow Park (22004 N Yankee Ln, Chillicothe). We will visit several different habitats throughout the park in search of the signs of spring. Please wear hiking shoes and bring drinking water and binoculars, if you have them. All ages welcome. Masks and social distancing required. Meet at the Coal Hollow parking lot. This is a free event; however, donations to Coal Hollow/Chillicothe Park District are greatly appreciated.

Tree-Planting Extravaganza

May 1 @ 10:00 am (Rain date: May 2 @ 1:00 pm)
Attend a brief tree-planting demo by Trees Forever at the library before claiming your reserved tree* and bringing it home to plant. Bring a 5-gallon bucket for free mulch, courtesy of Chillicothe Shademakers. (If you aren’t planting a tree on your own property, you can help the Chillicothe Park District or the Chillicothe Shademakers with their plantings.)

From 12 noon to 2pm, reconvene at the library for a picnic on the lawn and a concert by Bones Jugs. Please bring your own picnic and blankets/lawn chairs. Households will be seated in appropriately distanced sections. Masks must be worn during all activities, except when seated with your household within your designated picnic area.

*Reserve your tree by April 23: visit or pick up a form at the library.

What Is Forest Bathing?*

Tue., May 3 @ 6:00 pm (rescheduled from April 27)
Registration required: call the library at 309-274-2719.
Coal Hollow Park (22004 N Yankee Ln, Chillicothe). Spending time in the woods can improve our physical and mental wellbeing. Forest bathing or forest therapy (shinrin-yoku, in Japanese) broadly means taking in the forest atmosphere with all of one’s senses. Not simply a walk in the woods, it is the conscious and contemplative practice of being immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest. Join Mike Contratto at Coal Hollow Park to explore the basic concept of forest therapy and experience a short session of forest bathing.

Migratory Birds of the Illinois River Valley*

Fri., May 7 @ 10:00 – 11:30 am
Registration required by noon on 5/6: call 309-274-2719.
Camp Wokanda (620 E Boy Scout Rd, Chillicothe). Explore the wonderful world of migratory birds on this walk with Program Coordinator Susie Grana Ingram (Peoria Park District). Meet in lower parking area.

Hike through the Tallgrass Prairie*

Sat., May 22 @ 1:00 – 2:30 pm
Registration required by noon on 5/21: call 309-274-2719.
Tawny Oaks (715 W Singing Woods Rd, Edelstein), meet in visitors center. Wend your way through the prairie and learn about this fascinating ecosystem with Mike Miller, Peoria Park District Environmental & Interpretive Services Supervisor.