Nine-year-old boy from Chicago admitted to select club of Czech literature lovers

Jerry Mech, photo: CTK

Every year the Czech Ministry of Culture and the Association of Czech Libraries awards the title Knight of the Order of the Beautiful Word to over a dozen children who have discovered the joy of reading and to selected actors and writers who have helped to bring the magic of the spoken or written word to the youngest generation. This year, for the first time ever, one of those admitted to the select club is a member of the Czech expat community abroad – nine-year-old Jerry Mech from Chicago.

Jerry Mech, photo: CTK
As the sword rested briefly on his shoulder Jerry Mech -known as Jurda to his schoolmates in Chicago- said the oath in fluent Czech, promising to preserve books and defend the ideals in them. The nine-year-old was among the youngest of close to two dozen children from around the country who were admitted to the select club of literature lovers, but already his achievements in the field surpass those of the other laureates.

Jerry has been reading since the age of five –both in Czech and English- and had read over a hundred books before starting first grade. He soon tried his own hand at writing, producing comic books and essays on topics that fascinated him, be it ancient Egypt, the Titanic or Mother Teresa. Now he is working on his biggest project to date – a book about the Czech Republic which he is writing and illustrating. We spoke briefly about it after the ceremony.

“It is about the history of the Czech Republic and everything that happened. First I started doing a report about the Czech Republic for my class and then at the seventh page I just decided to turn it into a book.”

And where do you get inspiration for it?

“In different books and sometimes libraries.”

So how many books do you read on average?

“Something like two books a day.”

Jerry Mech, photo: CTK
How do you pick them?

“I just read about everything.”

This must be an amazing experience –your first time here…do you have grandparents here?

“Yes.”

So they visit you in the States but you were never here before. What did you most look forward to seeing and what have you seen so far?

“I got to see different castles and stuff.”

Which will help you write about Charles IV… I hear you are particularly interested in Charles IV - why is that? I would have expected Jaromir Jagr to be one of your Czech heroes – why Charles IV?

“He’s just really interesting.”

Jerry attends the St. Celestine Catholic School in Chicago, but on Saturdays he’s a pupil of the Czech School T.G. Masaryk which is immensely proud of his talent and which awarded him a 1,000 dollar grant to come to the Czech Republic for the knighting ceremony this week. It was a visit by Czech writer and artist Renata Fučíková to the school that got him noticed and nominated for the Knight of the Order of the Beautiful Word. Jerry’s father Jiří Mech says that it is important for all four children to know about their roots.

“We want them to speak Czech and to be acquainted with the country’s history and culture so they can feel at home here. Their grandparents in the Czech Republic help to create that bond, they send Jerry books and things and tell the children stories from home. Our kids are American citizens but they know that they are Czech too and when we are watching hockey they root for the Czech team.”

Jerry Mech, photo: CTK
Right now literature appears to be Jerry’s biggest passion, although he plays the drums and wants to form a band, speed-skates, plays chess and plans to start with hockey in the autumn. And, although his thirst for knowledge appears to be unquenchable on all topics –there is one field of particular interest to him – one day he hopes to be a successful doctor.