Bright Ideas | May 2019

IllustrateHER: Empowering Girls thru Graphic Novel Storytelling | Health Literacy Partnership | LAPL's Year-Long CSK Award Anniversary Celebration 

IllustrateHER: How a Library Empowered Girls through Graphic Novel Storytelling 

It is widely acknowledged that young women, particularly those in grades 3 through 12, are exceptionally impressionable by today’s mainstream media. Countless studies have shown that the media reinforces a preoccupation with physical attractiveness in young women, and statistics support this disheartening trend. In fact, in their book, Body Image: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice, Thomas F. Cash and Thomas Pruzinsky note that 40% to 70% of middle-school-aged girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their bodies. 

Book shelf featuring graphic novels bought with Eisner Grant money

It is clear that now, more than ever, young women need exposure to female protagonists who are valued for admirable qualities that are wholly separate from their exteriors. We need to give these girls heroines who embody intelligence, tenacity, kindness, and courage. But how? 

It was this conundrum that spurred me to apply for ALA’s Will Eisner Graphic Novel Grant for Libraries on behalf of the Tuscarawas County Public Library System in New Philadelphia, Ohio. After some investigating, I determined that only a miniscule percentage of our total collection was comprised of graphic novels, and an even tinier percentage of those holdings featured notable heroines that could inspire young readers. Wouldn’t it be fantastic, I thought, if the ‘tween and teen girls who were browsing our collections encountered striking female characters on a frequent basis? And wouldn’t it be even better if these characters, because of the magic of the graphic novel format, vividly came to life as these readers perused their remarkable stories? Jane Goodall’s ground-breaking research and discoveries are highlighted in the non-fiction pages of Jim Ottaviani’s Primates. Maggie Thrash’s Honor Girl is a memoir that explores the author’s poignant coming of age at summer camp. Even Ursula Vernon’s Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible gives the youngest graphic novel readers a spunky rodent heroine to emulate. But our library system had none of these titles on its shelves. 

With the Will Eisner Graphic Novel Grant for Libraries, however, that changed in the fall of 2018. As a result of the grant, our library system purchased over twenty-five graphic novel titles that were either written by women or geared towards young female readers. Each of our library branches (five total) received a copy from this substantial collection. Titles like the ones referenced above, along with novels like El Deafo (Bell), Ghosts (Telgemeier), and Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust (Dauvillier) jumped into our library system’s collections with the spirit and determination of the heroines within their pages. 

Along with the addition of these titles to our shelves, the grant allowed us to bring in renowned graphic novelist Meags Fitzgerald to our library for a graphic novel workshop geared specifically for girls in grades 3 through 12. The workshop itself was an incredible success, attracting young women from varying backgrounds and age groups, and allowed students to practice their new skills under the guidance of a professional artist. 

Winning entry in the art contestIn addition to the graphic novel workshop, local schools in our library’s service district helped to promote an art contest that coincided with Ms. Fitzgerald’s visit. Students were encouraged to submit a piece of original artwork that depicted a unique female superhero character with admirable traits and abilities. The contest winners – there were two – were given the opportunity to have dinner with Ms. Fitzgerald, receive signed copies of her books, and have their works published in a local newspaper.

It was a dream come true to help make this project come about, because I, like many of you, feel strongly about changing the way young girls see themselves in books and media. I was lucky that, growing up, I had heroines like Sally J. Freidman in Judy Blume’s books or Salamanca Hiddle in Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons – or even May Ann in Ann M. Martin’s The Babysitter’s Club series – to look up to. While there are hundreds of authors who are working diligently to give our young girls strong heroines in the fabulous books they write, we still need to keep filling girls’ minds with these characters. Characters who are strong. Characters who are kind. Characters who are smart and real and passionate. Characters who will inspire them to change the world. Characters who – because of the beauty and imagery of graphic novels – they can SEE as they read. Because if they can SEE these characters clearly enough, they might just be able to see that heroine in themselves.—Andrea Legg, Assistant Director, Tuscarawas County (Ohio) Public Library System 

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Health Literacy Partnership 

The Library System of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, partners with CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health to instill healthy choices among young learners across three fronts: 1) library book collections; 2) library summer and fall educational events featuring Hank the Health Hero, puppet and champion of healthy choices, and; 3) the CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health Brush Twice-A-Day Challenge. The overall scope of our activity promotes healthy habits in nutrition, behavioral health, and oral hygiene. 

Storytime with Hank the Health HeroDuring the summer, Hank the Health Hero and educators from CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health hold library story times about nutrition and feelings. They also provide grant funds for the purchase of health-related books (i.e. visiting a dentist, eating veggies, feelings). Hank’s summer visits segue into the fall season for the Brush Twice-A-Day Challenge. 

The Brush Twice-A-Day Challenge is designed to inspire ten weeks of tooth-brushing that is positively habit-forming for young children.  CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health provides us with pre-made Health Hero Starter Packs that include ten weeks of Challenge scratch-off cards, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and an informational card for adult caregivers. Each weekly Challenge card features child-friendly activities and scratch-off teeth children can “clean” in the morning and at night. 

The Challenge begins in early September and lasts until early December, when there’s more regular attendance of library families and young children. The Challenge is for children, ages three to nine, and offered countywide at all 17 local public libraries, by the Bookmobile, and the Be READy Rover early learning van. During this time, we have a slate of Hank the Health Hero “teeth” themed story times scheduled. Hank’s enthusiasm sparks young children to see themselves as health heroes with the power to make healthy choices! 

“We are committed to helping families practice healthy lifestyles and libraries help us make our educational resources and programs accessible to all families. Libraries are our primary partners in creating a community of health heroes!” said Lori McCracken, Director of Education, CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health.

Two boys mail off their challenge cardsLibrarians introduce and distribute the Health Hero Starter Packs at the special Hank events, preschool and family story times, and other early learning programs. The Bookmobile and Rover van staff give packs to early childcare classes and children who are in the care of home-based providers. The goal is for a child to complete all ten weeks of the challenge cards and establish the healthy habit of brushing twice-a-day. If a child misses getting a Starter Pack at the onset of the ten weeks, we still encourage them to join. Completed challenge cards are returned and “mailed” via the Hank mailboxes at each library. The mailboxes are a huge success.  CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health provides every participant a string backpack prize that reads, “I took the Brush Twice-a-Day Challenge!” 

In 2018, we had a 6% increase in the number of participants over that of the previous year, with 678 youth participating; and the largest group was three-year-olds—with 122 participants. A few outcomes included: children learned better ways to keep their teeth healthy; children were motivated to brush their teeth; and families were grateful that their children adopted a life-long healthy habit. 

Now, in 2019, the Hank story times are scheduled, funding for new books has been granted, and the Challenge is set for early September. As one library director stated, “We’re able to show the public-at-large that libraries have a “greater purpose” in the community, in the county.”—Renee Christiansen, Youth Services Manager, Library System of Lancaster County, Pa. and Lori A. McCracken, Director of Education, CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health

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Los Angeles Public Library's Year-Long CSK Award Anniversary Celebration 

The Coretta Scott King Awards are turning 50 this year! How will your library celebrate? Get inspired -- learn how Los Angeles Public Library is celebrating.

CSK: 50 Years Strong, 1969-2019On Saturday, April 27, at its Central Library, the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) kicked off a year-long celebration in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Awards, which are presented annually by ALA to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values. The launch on April 27, which would have been Mrs. King’s 92nd birthday, included a storytime, crafts, and, of course, cake in the Children’s Department. 

The anniversary celebration will feature events and programs throughout the year at branches across the city; a CSK Award 50th Anniversary Reading Challenge; and an exhibit, “Our Voice,” featuring original art from Coretta Scott Award-winning books, running November 8, 2019 through January 27, 2020, at Central Library. 

For more inspiration and further details about LAPL's CSK reading challenge and anniversary events, visit the library's website.  

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