Hastings Reads is about to get started for 2017. Hastings Reads is a community-wide reading program that seeks to encourage reading and discussion of books and the ways in which they can help us understand the lives and experiences of ourselves and others. This year's theme is "The Japanese-American Experience."

The Hastings Reads Kick-off is planned for Saturday, Feb. 4, at the Pleasant Hill Library in Hastings. Sally Sudo from the Twin Cities Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League will present a first-hand account of her experience spending three and a half years of her childhood confined in an American prison camp during World War II. The program begins at 1 p.m.

Hastings Reads features three books related to the year's theme, each geared to different age groups. The high school and adult selection is "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet," by New York Times bestselling author Jamie Ford.

Ford is the great grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the western name "Ford." Ford's half-Chinese descent lent him the idea for this powerful book about the World War II internment of Japanese Americans through the eyes of a young Chinese boy who befriends a Japanese American girl. Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

Ford's debut novel not only made the New York Times bestseller list, but it was also an IndieBound NEXT List selection, a Barnes & Noble Book Club selection, Pennie's Pick at Costco, a Target Bookmarked Club pick and a national bestseller. It was named the No. 1 Book Club Pick for fall 2009/winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association, and has been translated into several languages. It also won the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.

For the Hastings Reads main event, Ford will visit Hastings in person to discuss his novel as well as sign and sell copies of his book. See below for more details about that event.

The middle grades selection is "Dust of Eden" by Mariko Nagai. The book tells the story of Mina Tagawa, an American middle-schooler, as Pearl Harbor is attacked and as she and her family are forced to live in an internment camp under armed guard.

The elementary grades selection is "A Place Where Sunflowers Grow," written by Amy Lee-Tai and illustrated by Felicia Hoshino. This book approaches life in a World War II internment camp through the experience of a young girl in an art class, showing that hope can survive even the harshest injustice.

Hastings Reads is sponsored by Dakota County Library, Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library, Hastings AAUW, Hastings Community Education, Hastings Public Schools, Hastings Public Schools Foundation, Hastings Star Gazette, Hastings YMCA, KDWA Radio, the Ruth and George Doffing Charitable Gift Foundation, SEAS School, United Way of Hastings and many volunteers.

Hastings Reads events

There are several special programs planned to go along with Hastings Reads topics.

1-3:30 p.m., Feb. 8: Hastings Reads Movie, "Snow Falling on Cedars." Enjoy a romantic mystery based on the novel by David Guterson in which a mysterious death forces the residents of a small town to face the treatment of their Japanese American neighbors experienced during World War II. Rated PG-13. Location: Tilden Community Center, 310 River St., Hastings.

6:30 p.m., Feb. 9: Middle School History Movie Night. Middle schoolers, join your classmates for a movie about American prison camps of WWII. The program will be held at the Hastings Middle School.

11 a.m., Feb. 10: D is for Draw. Stories, songs, crafts and games that are all about art and feature "A Place Where Sunflowers Grow" by Amy Lee-Tai. Sponsored in part by ECFE. Registration required. Ages: 3-5. Location: Pleasant Hill Library. Registration begins 10 a.m., Jan. 27.

2:45 p.m., Feb. 16: High school book discussion of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet." High school students are invited to enjoy refreshments while discussing Ford's novel. This discussion is a great way to prepare for Ford's visit to HHS. The program will be held at the Hastings High School.

4 p.m., Feb. 16: Gyotaku Fish Prints. Create your own fish print wall art using Gyotaku - a Japanese art form first used to document the size of a prize catch - using rubber-cast fish forms to show off texture and detail. Presented by Artistry. Registration required. Ages: 6-12. Location: Pleasant Hill Library. Registration begins Feb. 2.

6-8 p.m., Feb. 16: Japanese Folk Art Traditions. Explore the customs and traditions of Japanese culture by learning how to make origami, dressing in a kimono and performing Japanese dances. Presented by Artstart. Registration required. Geared for ages 16 and older. Location: Pleasant Hill Library. Registration begins Feb. 2.

6:30-8 p.m., Feb. 21: Hastings Reads Main Event. Spend an evening with Jamie Ford, author of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet," as he discusses his novel of friendship, family conflict and the Japanese American experience in Seattle during World War II. Ford will sign and sell his book. Location: Hastings Arts Center, 216 E. Fourth St., Hastings.

6-7:30 p.m., Feb. 24: Family Fun Night. Member or not, bring your elementary children to the Hastings YMCA for pizza and fun family activities related to the book "A Place Where Sunflowers Grow" by Amy Lee-Tai. Location: Hastings YMCA, 85 Pleasant Drive, Hastings.

6-8 p.m., Feb. 27: Chinese Brush Painting. Learn to paint Chinese characters, animals and natural subjects and scenes on rice paper using bamboo brushes and ink. Presented by Artistry. Registration is required. Ages 12-18. Location: Pleasant Hill Library.