Teen Reading Lounge 2016-17: Where Ms. Marvel and Musicals Meet Civic Engagement

August 18, 2016

PHC will provide funding, training, and technical support for 2016-17 Teen Reading Lounge programs in 26 libraries across 19 Pennsylvania counties. Among participating libraries, 13 will take part in an ongoing pilot program structured to provide ways for teens to meaningfully contribute to their communities and participate in civically focused activities. The pilot puts special emphasis on reaching youth from low-income backgrounds.

Here is a sampling of the program plans for some of the participating libraries:

Ephrata Public Library, Ephrata (Lancaster County)

Teens at Ephrata Public Library will have the opportunity to participate in a fun yet rigorous program that is centered around social justice, compassion, and inclusiveness. They will read books like Sharon Flake’s You Don’t Even Know Me, Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and Jason Reynolds’ When I Was the Greatest, all of which will enable them to explore issues of race and sexuality through multiple perspectives.

Site coordinator Rebecca Lawrence, who manages public and outreach programs at Ephrata, hopes that teens will, after completing the program, be able to “recognize the diversity of people in their community, be able to identify differences and commonalities, be comfortable with their identity, and express interest in experiences of others.” This will largely be facilitated through a multimedia project that students will create, which will enable them to identify sites of inclusivity and exclusivity in their own community and will “visually illustrate the teen’s appreciation and recognition of community and ideals desired in Ephrata.”

In addition to the reading and the project, teens will also participate in field trips where they will observe and help in community social work that revolves around tolerance and compassion. They will also watch films, such as Robert M. Young’s Dominick & Eugene and Stephen Hopkins’ Race, and engage in journal reflections— all of which will enhance their understandings of the readings.

Highland Community Library, Johnstown (Cambria County)

Director Ashley Flynn at Highland Community Library seeks to cover a broad range of humanities topics through Teen Reading Lounge. “Historically, we have had participants from neighboring communities, sometimes coming from as far as an hour away to participate in our programs,” says Flynn. “This program will help our audience learn how to understand and discuss literature and movies, while thinking critically and applying knowledge from other areas of the humanities.”

Teens will trek from near and far to read books such as Stead’s Goodbye Stranger, Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and Ness’ A Monster Calls. They will also read Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, discussing the book in terms of gender, mythology, food and culture, and historical parallels within the broader framework of how a person’s individual experiences with these cultural markers inform their personal identity. They may even get the opportunity to visit a horse farm, discussing them in light of the text and how horses have impacted human development.

Finally, their experience will culminate in an Escape the Room Activity, where they will reinforce and put to the test the bonds and friendships they will have made over the course of the program. This will also be a great way of meeting some of the goals of the program, which involve helping teens to problem-solve, work together, and interact with peers in a positive environment outside of school.

Pottstown Regional Public Library, Pottstown (Montgomery County)

Pottstown Regional Public Library hopes to introduce teens to history in narrative in a fun, interactive way. Running across two different sessions— one in the spring and the other in the summer— Pottstown hopes to explore their teens’ relationship to narrative, history, and performance.

In the spring, teens will have cameras leant to them so that they can walk around their town, documenting what they see. They will then craft a story using images they select from that experience. This, in addition to a talk by a local young adult author, will help them synthesize the art of narrative with the documentation of local geography and history. Ideally, they will also participate in a local historical attraction and train ride experience, called Colebrookdale Railroad. In the summer, teens will create and perform a play for young children at the library’s afterschool program. These activities will be facilitated by their discussions of books such as Lauren Kate’s Fallen, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains, and Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.

Library Site Coordinator and Youth Services Director Leslie Stillings hopes that the teens feel empowered to “take ownership of the program and ultimately feel like an integral part of their community,” a goal shared by many of the 2016-7 Teen Reading Lounge sites.

Radnor Memorial Library, Wayne (Delaware County)

Radnor Memorial Library took its Teen Reading Lounge inspiration from an unconventional yet motivating source— the 2015 hit musical Hamilton! The library’s Youth Services Librarian, Andrea Elson, wanted a theme that young people would love, and she chose Hamilton in particular because, in her words, “Within the narrative are themes of freedom, immigrant rights, self-expression and an examination of history that critics call transformative.” She decides to break the musical down into themes, each of which could be explored through literature, activities, and field trips.

For example, in their first session they will discuss poetry and verse, and will read books written in verse and experiment with different kinds of poetry, such as blackout poetry and spine label poetry, and will attend the Villanova University Poetry Slam. Their activities and literature will be incredibly diverse as they attend a hip hop dance class, discuss the immigrant experience (through either Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, Neela Vaswani’s and Silas House’s Same Sun Here, or Bettina Restrepo’s Illegal), journey to a program at the National Jewish American History Museum, recreate the historical events they learn about through stop motion animation, and go to other historical sites.

Elson hopes that “participants will experience stories and perspectives different from their own but will learn to see commonality in the narratives.” By choosing these themes and by mixing in many different activities, she also specifically hopes to encourage those who would be classified as “reluctant” or “struggling” readers, who might not otherwise feel that they are always encouraged to attend this kind of programming.

Raymond Blasco-Erie County Public Library, Erie (Erie County)

The Raymond Blasco-Erie County Public Library wants to use literature to inspire their teens to action! Youth Services Manager Amberlee Taylor-McGaughey chose the theme of “Change the World” for this iteration of Teen Reading Lounge because she hoped to “encourage teens to use literature as a platform for examining the problems that confront our society.”

One example of how she plans to empower teens to make a difference in their communities is to help them plan a Teen Town Hall meeting, which will be open to all those in Erie who are 12-18 years old. Local politicians will also be invited to the library to participate, and teens will be able to ask questions and express their views about policies that affect their communities.

“Our theme revolves around civic and community engagement,” says Taylor-McGaughey, “So teens will also enjoy real-life experiences that help them shape their community and learn about local government.”

Teens will be able to choose what they want to read from pre-selected book packs, which enable teens to discuss important issues like cultural values and identity in Marvel Comics’ Ms. Marvel, art and self-expression in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, and privilege and discrimination in Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.

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