by Tammy Blount
Teen Services Librarian, Erie County Public Library
The Teen Reading Lounge (TRL) of the Erie County Public Library hosted a chalk art competition this summer. The teens were given the opportunity to “imagine their own story” through chalk art. They transformed the concrete around the library into vibrant colors and works of art that demonstrate the power of youth and their connection to the community.
TRL, an award-winning program created by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, is in its 7th year at the Blasco Library. Participants have an opportunity to engage with literature and art with other teens in a safe learning space. They pick the books, the activities, and have deep discussions about serious issues that matter the most to them. Each year, the group also develops a social impact project to connect with the community. The recent project was inspired through their reading and the ongoing racial unrest in the nation.
The group was meeting weekly at the start of 2020. The meetings and a trip to attend a Young Adult book conference in Pittsburgh were cancelled abruptly at the start of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. In June, the teens were finally able to pick up their books when the library was open for curbside pick-up. Each teen said how much they missed the library, the Teen Space and their friends! The TRL program resumed in July and began meeting virtually via Zoom.
This summer, the club read Color Outside the Lines, edited by Sangu Mandanna. It is a collection of short stories about diverse teens (multiracial, intercultural, LGBTQ+) and how they love despite their differences. They wanted to encourage teens to promote awareness of teen issues while also building on the library’s summer reading challenge theme of "Imagine Your Own Story." The chalk art was an opportunity to tell their story about what it means to be a teen today in a positive way.
The event was also the first time they were able to meet in person since March. They were given everything they needed to create their chalk art design. The chalk spaces were socially distant and the teens were required to wear masks. A dozen teens spent most of a very hot day sharing their art and their stories. They even tried frozen pickle juice pops!
Many of the book discussions this session centered around how we can help people without a voice feel seen and heard. Clara Tupitza, age 16, created her chalk design with this thought in mind. She used a favorite quote: “Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place." She chose to make the people with the colors of the different LGBTQ+ flags.
The teens had a great day full of fun and with a positive message. It was a very successful program and they would like to do it again soon. They hope that the people who take the chalk walk will see the beauty in diversity and the power of love in Erie.
Teen Reading Lounge is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.