Library’s Great Stories Club offers relevant topics for teens

November 10, 2018

Not many high school classes assign students to read graphic novels, but the Great Stories Club isn’t like most classes.

The Norfolk Public Library club, which started this semester, is allowing some high school students to earn class credit with relevant teen reads through an American Library Association (ALA) grant-funded program as one of 75 libraries in the nation selected to participate.

Earning the grant was an honor — and a shock, said Amber Peterson, assistant youth services librarian.

“Being a part of the ALA (program) is a huge honor; it’s kind of a big deal,” she said. “ALA grants are nationwide and a lot more competitive.”

The Great Stories Club is a reading and discussion program that engages underserved teens, according to the ALA website.

The Norfolk Public Library partnered with Norfolk High School’s Alternatives for Success program to provide English credits for up to 10 students, who get to keep the three books they read each semester, Peterson said. This semester, the club’s theme centers on empathy, and the next theme will be heroism.

Alternatives for Success allows students to provide resources and more individualized attention for at-risk students, said Mike Grove, Alternatives for Success teacher.

Great Stories Club fits into the Alternatives for Success program because it gives students more options for English classes, he said.

“We get to go a little outside the curriculum since we’re partnered with the library,” he said. “We get different options for literature.”

Students are currently reading a graphic novel adaptation of “Kindred” by Octavia E. Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy and illustrated by John Jennings. The sci-fi classic follows main character Dana as she inexplicably time travels to the Antebellum South, and the story centers on themes of race and family.

In the weekly meetings, students discuss plot, characters and themes. They also shared tips on reading graphic novels in a recent meeting, since the format is a generally new experience for students and instructors alike. Different shapes of speech bubbles can convey shouting or thinking, for example.

Student Alysa Battershaw said the “Kindred” adaptation is the first graphic novel she’s read.

“I would never read a graphic novel if I wasn’t in this club, so it’s something new,” she said.

Battershaw said she likes the book selections because they’re more relevant than most reading assignments.

Groves agreed that the graphic novels are more relatable to teenagers, and said the club can help foster more of an interest in books. “I think our main goal for Great Stories Club is to get kids that wouldn’t normally read ... interested in reading,” he said. “To introduce to them the idea that not all literature is boring.”

Peterson said she hopes the club can provide a way for students to dive into relevant discussions about concepts like empathy, power and oppression.

“I think that the more opportunities these kids can have to think about big-picture things and to talk about things that are a little more outside the box, the better,” she said.

The library might reapply for the Great Stories Club grant next school year, Peterson said.

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