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Obamas, Oprah join Chicago project reading to kids online

CHICAGO (AP) — Barack and Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey have joined the ranks of famous Chicagoans who are reading children's books in videos posted online by the Chicago Public Library to engage families during the coronavirus pandemic.

The former president and first lady's video of “The Word Collector” was posted Thursday and the library said Winfrey's rendition of “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse" would be released Monday.

Officials for the library, which had to temporarily close its branches in March because of the pandemic, asked celebrities with ties to the city to take part in the project. The library posts a new video on its Facebook and Instagram pages every day that features both celebrities and city librarians, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The “Live From the Library” project started in April and there are nearly 20 videos available for viewing. The videos are an extension of virtual story sessions that librarians were already doing and a response to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s request to get more children reading.

“It’s a way to reach people, to bring the love of stories and books to families,” said Chicago Library Commissioner Andrea Telli. Among those whose videos have already been posted are Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, actress Jane Lynch, Lightfoot and Cardinal Blase Cupich.

Among those who are also taking part in the project are musicians Common, Pete “Fall Out Boy” Wentz and Michelle Williams, and professional athletes Zack Smith of the Blackhawks and former Bears defensive end Israel Idonije.

“They feel the way we feel about Chicago. I think it says a lot about roots and the way the city stays with you,” Telli said of the many former Chicagoan's who are participating. Winfrey and the Obamas have a history with the library. The Obama Foundation is partnering with the city to include a new branch at the Obama Presidential Center, once it is built. In 1991, Winfrey donated $100,000 to the city's library to keep award-winning children’s books available to guests.

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