Teen Reading Lounge 2016: Where Sci-Fi and Manga Meet Empathy and Diversity

March 9, 2016

Spring Teen Reading Lounge programs are taking shape at fifteen public libraries across the state. All program sites promoted their programs to teens within their communities, with a special emphasis on engaging teens from low-income backgrounds. Below is a sampling of themes, selected books, and special activities planned at five of the participating libraries.

Allen F. Pierce Free Library, Troy (Bradford County)

Participants at Allen F. Pierce Free Library will explore the theme of diversity through the lens of young adult science fiction books (including The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey) and hands-on activities that highlight differences in perspectives, lifestyles and cultures. Kay Barrett, the assistant librarian, says, “I worked with our program facilitator Pam Mihalik to select this theme because space itself is so diverse and the world of sci-fi raises wonderful questions about humanity. We hope to expose our participants to diverse characters in hopes of helping them become more open-minded and accepting individuals.”

In addition to peer-to-peer discussion, local teacher and artist Andrew Wales will lead a workshop on graphic art and storytelling. The library aims to incorporate science activities into its Teen Reading Lounge program as well with a visit to the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh and a workshop with a Mansfield University astronomy professor. Activities like these will effectively demonstrate how the study of the humanities can deepen STEM learning by building critical-thinking, literacy, interpersonal and communication skills.

To close out its program, the library will hold an “Across the Universe” workshop with a local Brownie Troop during which program participants will present what they learned about diversity throughout the course of the program.

Allen F. Pierce Free Library’s program will run from February through May.

Lansdowne Public Library, Lansdowne (Delaware County)

During its Teen Reading Lounge program, the Lansdowne Public Library will explore the hero’s journey and diversity through the story of Yasuke, who despite his lower social status became a powerful samurai in Japan. The group will explore Yasuke’s story and read several comics featuring black characters, including Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue.

Ken Norquist, head of technologies and public services at the library, and Keville Bowen, program facilitator and local artist, saw the need to expand the minds and perspectives of local youth, particularly around the idea of cultural identity, history and possibility. The program is designed to get participants thinking about how media portrays heroes and challenges the idea that heroes fit a certain mold. Participants will relate this to their own lives as they work toward creating comic books based on their personal experiences. Norquist and Bowen hope to self-publish a compilation of those comics this summer. 

“By the end of the program, these young people will see their own stories in print,” says Ken Norquist. “We hope that participants see they are the writers of their own destinies and their stories should be celebrated.”

A highlight will be a Skype interview with Thomas Lockey, assistant professor at Nihon University College of Law in Tokyo, Japan, who is an expert on Yasuke and will talk to the group about the samurai’s unique story. Other activities include a manga drawing workshop and a Mural Arts walking tour exploring the history of notable African-American Philadelphians.

Lansdowne Public Library’s program will run from March through May.

Free Library of Philadelphia – Greater Olney Branch (Philadelphia County)

Youth at the Greater Olney Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia will read three books (Maus by Art Speiglmen, Bruiserby Neal Shusterman and Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson) that explore how suffering, empathy, personal heroism and perseverance shape our identities and histories. Over the course of eight weeks, participants will take part in book discussions led by Mercedes Walton-Mason, a teacher at Cedarbrook Middle School in the Cheltehham School District. The library has also planned a visit from a World War II vet and a field trip to the Philadelphia History Museum’s Quest for Freedom program, which focuses on the Philadelphia Abolitionist Movement.

Christina Patton, the branch’s supervisor who also oversees adult and teen programming says, “We want to broaden the minds of participants and expose them to ideas and experiences that give more context to what they are reading. We hope they walk away from the program with a deeper understanding of themselves and their worlds.”

Encouraging participants to dig into the program’s themes and reflect on them is central to the experience. The group will work together to define themes like perseverance by designing the “Survivor’s Award” which will be given to one character in the book that best exemplifies their definition of a survivor. Throughout the program, participants will synthesize what they are learning and document it by creating a Teen Reading Lounge timeline, which will be shared with the public at the program’s final session. Both activities aim to build trust and community among participants—a crucial component to creating an environment that welcomes different perspectives, ideas and experiences.

Greater Olney’s program will run from February through June.

Martin Memorial Library, York (York County)

At the Martin Memorial Library in York, youth participating in Teen Reading Lounge will combine book discussions and hands-on learning to explore themes of personal motivation, identity and resilience.

Using books focusing on these themes as a starting point for discussion (for example, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper), local youth will take part in peer-to-peer discussion facilitated by celebrated poet Carla Christopher. Christopher has been working with youth in the York area for years; helping them change the narrative of their lives is something that is especially important to her. Many of the youth she works with come from challenging backgrounds and they don’t often get the opportunity to participate in programs that allow them to discover their own history, culture and identity while building communication, literacy, critical-thinking and interpersonal skills.

“Literacy is crucial,” Christopher said in an interview with the York Dispatch this past December, “You need to know how to research, read and process information.”

When asked about the idea of building resilience, Christopher commented, “Our job is about giving students the strength to overcome (adversity) and the skills to get through it.”

Dawn States, Martin Memorial Library’s teen program coordinator, hopes that connecting the program to the stories of young entrepreneurs will inspire participating youth to think about what they want from their lives and how to make their goals a reality. A series of visits to local businesses—like York City Pretzel so shop owner and York resident Phillip Given can speak to the group about his own success story—will highlight that determination, personal accountability and hard work can yield positive results.

Martin Memorial Library’s program will run from April through May.

Community Library of Shenango Valley, Sharon (Mercer County)

At the Community Library of Shenango Valley in Sharon, participants will use three popular young adult novels (Reality Boyby A.S. King, Crank by Ellen Hopkins and In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang) to explore identity, decision-making and how choices shape our lives.

In addition to book discussions led by Corri Hines, youth services librarian, participants will take part in a field trip to Gallery 29, an art studio in the Shenango Valley. Working side by side with artists, youth will create their own art that compares how they believe the world sees them and how they see themselves. Also planned is a poetry slam featuring participants’ writing, which they will record with the help of Mud-Hut Records, a local recording studio. The group will help produce the record while learning how to edit, mix and record as they work alongside Bill Dodd, the studio’s owner.

According to the director of the library, Robin Pundzak, the library wants to attract more teens for similar programs. Robin says, “Our goal is to expand the number of teenagers that use our library for both education and entertainment. We hope to demonstrate to local teens that the library is a safe, fun, and enriching environment.”

The program, which incorporates the humanities, arts and STEM activities to build communication, interpersonal, literacy and critical-thinking skills, will conclude with a public celebration acknowledging the young participants’ creative contributions to the experience.

Community Library of Shenango Valley’s program will run from February through May.

Related Stories

Stay Up To Date

Sign up for the PA Humanities newsletter now.