Our guest today is Jessica Summer, a Youth Services Librarian in Winooski VT. Her community of 7000 has the highest percentage of new families in the state. The community's school has children who speak 15 different languages making for a vibrant and fun experience.
Our library has had a monthly book-to-film series for adults for years, but teens and children weren’t welcome. One of my regulars in my teen writing group asked if we could do our own teen book to film series because he wanted to participate, so I immediately jumped on board. At the next teen group meeting, we all talked about what books and movies we wanted to share together and came up with a list to get us through the rest of the school year. Most of the teens were nervous about the discussions, so we decided to start with a picture book.
For our first ever teen book to film series, the teens brought lots of popcorn and sodas to share. I set up the screen and projector as the teens helped me close up the library (our teen group meets after hours). We had agreed on having a conversation about a picture book and it’s movie adaptation but the teens hadn’t picked a book. I decided to do The Lorax because it’s one of my favorite books to read. I explained that we were going to read the book together first, and then settle in for the movie. Once everyone got comfortable, I started reading. The teens were surprisingly into having story time! Then I turned on the movie. In typical teen fashion, there’s a lot of moving around and talking over the movie, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention. Comments during the movie were split fairly evenly between making fun of some of the characters and yelling out that it wasn’t following what happened in the book.
After the movie was over, we had about 25-30 minutes left before the teens would leave. We spent it talking about the differences between the book and the movie, which we liked better, and why. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of discussion. I started by asking a few questions to get them talking, but they led the discussion on their own. The part that most impressed me was how many teens chose to recycle their soda cans after the program instead of tossing everything in the trash like they usually did. Even for the quiet ones, the message clearly sunk in.
The program continued during the school year for a year and a half (when I left the position.) The teens chose all the rest of their own books, and all from our Young Adult collection. It was really great to see them get so involved in program planning, and even in collection development. If one of them thought of a good book, they would request it from the library director (added bonus: she got to see that the teens were reading, too!). Some of the books/series we read together included Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Scott Pilgrim, Alex Ryder, Beastly, Percy Jackson, and Harry Potter. About once a season, the teens would request that we do an extra book to film selection for our Free Choice weeks, which was always a picture book.
Tips and Tricks: I’ve learned a lot from doing this program. One of the more unexpected effects of this program was how popular the book title would be in the weeks following the event. There were 6-12 teens each month who attended the program and I always ordered enough copies through ILL for each to read the book in advance. After the movie, teens who weren’t in our teen group would come in groups asking to read the book we had just used. Clearly, my teens were talking in school about what they were reading, which is a huge win! The downside is that our library only had one copy of each book, so I had to ILL everything for at least 2 months at a time.
I also learned that I needed to plan for the teens to not necessarily have finished the books by the time we were ready to watch the movie. My teens begged for a year for us to do Boy in the Striped Pajamas together, but I wasn’t convinced it was a good idea. I finally agreed, and all the teens promised me they had finished the book. I realized about half way through the movie that not only had they not finished the book, but also several of them hadn’t read far enough to realize it was about the Holocaust. After the movie was over, we had a very in depth discussion about that era, and racism, and what was happening historically to allow that kind of genocide to happen. Many of the teens were very very upset by the ending. I wound up staying until almost 10pm talking with them and making sure they were all ok. If I did another program around this book, I’d want to spend more time preparing and making sure the teens knew about the history and were ready for the emotional blow this particular book blows.
Lastly, I learned it’s really important to pre-view the movie before you watch it as a group. I mistakenly thought that if I read all the books, I wouldn’t need to watch the movies first because I’d know what was coming. That is decidedly not true. I had a very uncomfortable movie session where there was unexpected nudity that wasn’t part of the book, and would have been really inappropriate if any of the younger teens had been present. I will never, ever, ever show another movie that I haven’t watched at home first.
Bottom Line: Teen book-to-film is a great way to get teens reading in your library collection and getting really involved in the planning process. This program can be run as a series or a one-off (or even vacation programming for school breaks!) and requires very little planning time or budget. I highly recommend teen book-to-film programs to any library with the capability to show movies!