This past summer, adolescent participants in the Santa Ana Public Library’s Teenspace committed to tackling the deep subject matter of Angie Thomas’s book The Hate U Give. It was an 8-week program held every Saturday, with the final session culminating in a screening of the acclaimed film adaptation following discussion of the final chapters. The program was coined “Bibliomaniax,” and utilized a connected learning model where teens shared their experiences and thoughts to analyze the themes of the novel, and discuss how they might act to implement change in their own community.
Each week the students had a few chapters assigned that they would come in to discuss, facilitated by staff for and with teens. The Hate U Give was chosen because the teens that we serve often face severe learning gaps exacerbated by the summer slide that occurs over summer vacation. This book is both high interest and accessible, written at about 4th grade reading level, allowing the students to be successful in the reading and comprehension of the novel. Discussing the novel with staff and peers was motivational and reinforcing for participants.
One of the subjects the book touches on is “code switching”. This is where a person changes languages and cultural customs depending on their environment and social group. The protagonist of the book, a black American teenage girl, encounters code switching every day as she lives in a predominantly black neighborhood yet attends a predominantly white prep academy. She is perpetually in a struggle between being herself at home and feeling the need to alter her behavior as not to stand out, or feel alienated from peers and teachers at school. Teen participants identified with the struggle as most were Latino students who speak Spanish at home and English at school. Much time was spent discussing this, and it helped them identify with the book and provided insight into their own lives.
The subject of racial profiling and the senseless killing of an unarmed black teen by a police officer also hit home, as real stories are unfortunately brought to light in the news and through social media with disconcerting frequency. The protagonist has to cope with the aftermath of the trauma she has faced. The participants were highly engaged in the discussions of these topics as they are very real, and helped participants gain empathy and insight to the sensitive, but important subject matter.
Pizza was offered at each session to encourage program attendance, which incidentally helped offset the heavy subject matter of the book, and fostered an inviting social environment for teens. Additionally, In-And-Out gift cards were offered at opportunity drawings held at the end of each session. The library promoted the program by sharing a press release with local news outlets, distributing flyers at outreach events and on social media, promoting the program to leaders in the school district, offering volunteer credit to participants, and providing eye-catching bookmarks.
It could be easily stated that the Bibliomaniax program at Santa Ana Public Library Teenspace was a runaway success this summer. On the surface, it was a fun time to spend a couple hours every week with peers talking over pizza and sodas, but ultimately each and every student went away with a deeper understanding of current societal issues with a seed planted for future community activism and civic engagement. Teens expressed interest in coming back for future book club discussions and some had ideas about what books they would like to discuss. Teen participants definitely became card carrying bibliomaniacs. Knowledge is power, and this was a very powerful program that connected teens with both ideas and each other.
Kelli Sjule is a Library Assistant at Santa Ana Public Library.