Teens mesh old and new storytelling traditions to weave tale of kindness

November 17, 2022
Teens from the Franklin Public Library's Teen Reading Lounge perform their version of an English fable.

By Karen Price

PA Humanities’ Teen Reading Lounge (TRL) program gives young people the space to learn different perspectives, ask questions and share ideas, which in turn helps them figure out who they are, who they want to be, and their role in the community.

Based on our extensive research into youth-led programs, one tool to effectively engage teens is to meet them where they are. For young people at Franklin Public Library, that meant merging a social media trend with an old English fable to explore what it means to be kind. 

“They’re teenagers, so they really do enjoy social media,” said Daidre Green, teen services coordinator for Oil City Region Libraries, of which Franklin Public Library is a part. “One thing that was popular on social media at the time was a teen would go through a checkout line and ask someone to buy them a water or something. As soon as they found someone willing to buy it for them, they’d turn around and either buy their entire grocery cart or reward them in some way monetarily.”

The theme of last season’s TRL cycle at Franklin Public Library was culture and diversity. They explored fables from around the world and how stories are passed down and retold. The social media trend was not unlike the tale of the two brothers and the white-bearded man, in which two brothers venture from town to town in search of happiness and meet an old man with a white beard. One brother greedily accepts the man’s offer of a few coins and gems but won’t help the man carry his bag. The other brother carries the bag, and is rewarded with its contents. The bag is filled with riches. 

One group chose a traditional retelling of the fable while the other group opted for a modern update.

“The teens were given the choice of recreating the fable more the way it was intended, like the back in the day version, or modernizing it so it resembled more what they were seeing on social media,” Green said. 

They filmed their own versions of the tale, one group choosing the traditional model and the other leaning more towards the modern. 

“I just think we’re more into modern stuff, not old fantasy stuff, so we wanted more of a modern day style,” said Skylar Green, 13. 

The library is located in a rural area in northwestern Pennsylvania, where two of the three school districts were having issues with racism, Green said. TRL gave the teens an opportunity to explore different cultures and learn not only how they’re different but also similar to their own. Throughout the year they explored the humanities through books and literature, foreign films and international music. 

They also took field trips, including one to the local De-Un-De-Ga pow wow and another to Pittsburgh, where they visited the Heinz History Museum, ate lunch at a Nepalese restaurant and then visited the historically African American neighborhood of Homewood to see murals that address equality, Black history and other topics.

At the end of the cycle the teens did a podcast about diversity, and what schools are doing and what educators and role models can do to help them more, Green said. 

“If we want to change the world, first we have to unite each other and learn to love each other, no matter what.”

Nicole Earnhardt, 15, TRL participant

Nicole Earnhardt, 15, said she enjoyed meeting new people, going to the pow wow and creating the podcast most of all. 

“If we want to change the world, first we have to unite each other and learn to love each other, no matter what,” she said.

Skylar Green agreed.

“We’re all people, we’re all the same inside,” he said. “There’s no reason to treat someone differently because they’re a different color or come from a different place.”

This coming season, PA Humanities is taking a different approach to the program. This new cycle, which will begin in early 2023, will invite public libraries and Out-Of-School-Time sites to apply to be part of the next phase of our education funding, the Youth Led Humanities cohort. Building on best practices from 10 years of Teen Reading Lounge, this new cohort will encourage sites to create spaces that center youth leadership in and through the humanities in meaningful and sustainable ways. 

Stay tuned for more information on this exciting new cohort, including details on how to apply. 

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