When I read Ramsey Beyer’s graphic memoir Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year, I knew that I wanted to incorporate it into the teen programming at the Homer Township Public Library. Little Fish documents Beyer’s first year of college through illustrations, diary entries, comic panels, and lists. Because of its easy-to-digest graphic style, it is accessible to both low and high level readers, and it explores common themes in the lives of teenagers: finding an identity as a young adult, forging new friendships, battling insecurities, and adjusting to life’s changes.
The memoir stayed on my mind until the right fit came along through a Teen Read Week grant provided by YALSA and Dollar General Literacy Foundation. As a grant recipient, I created a program entitled Little Fish, Big Stories that centers on creativity, storytelling, and zine making that parallel’s the theme of this year’s Teen Read Week, Unleash Your Story.
As they register, teens will be given a copy of Little Fish to read and keep. At the event, they will conduct an interview with Beyer via Skype to learn about her creative process and why it was beneficial to share her experience as a teenager through a graphic memoir. I am thrilled that these teens will have direct access to a published author who will reveal the ways that writing her story and reading the stories of others have made a positive impact on her life.
The program will then focus on creating pages for a collaborative zine highlighting the participants’ own voices. They will browse zines (self-published works of writing and art) to see the range of stories being shared through this medium, then discuss ideas for writing topics as a group. Teens will choose a subject, then create their own pages to be included in the zine. Copies of the finished zine will be given to all participants and distributed to other teens within the library. Teens will go home with materials to encourage them to continue writing and sharing, including a journal and a handful of zines.
Little Fish, Big Stories will encourage teens to seek out non-fiction writing that engages them, and it will demonstrate that zine making is an accessible, cost-effective means of sharing their experiences. And yet all teens in our community will benefit from this awarded grant, as some of the funds will go to purchasing high-interest memoirs and biographies, along with expanding the library’s teen zine collection.
Teens will leave the event feeling the power in amplifying their voice. They will see that publishing a zine — or even a book — is an achievable goal and that they will find support for this goal at their library. They will learn how to create and publish their own zine, and they will gain a sense of accomplishment and pride found in channeling their emotions into a work of creativity. Their communication skills will be enriched, and they will find joy in working with their peers to tell their story and create a tangible work of art.
I can’t wait to watch the teens in my community unleash their stories. It’s going to be wild.
Heather Colby is the Teen Services Coordinator and Information Services Librarian at the Homer Township Public Library in Homer Glen, IL.