Collaborative projects are great for teen library programs. They provide opportunities for creativity, cooperation, and experimentation, an environment where teens are engaged and just having a blast without realizing how much they’re actually learning. The recent Draw Your Own Adventure! program I cohosted with my colleagues Sonya and TSU’s own Alice was a prime example of a success with this type of program.
We are lucky to have two really successful teen clubs: Inklings, a creative writing club, and Anime Academy, which focuses on anime & manga. We had a really successful session of Inklings where they wrote different branches of Choose Your Own Adventure stories, and thought it would adapt perfectly to a comics-creation program. Writing comics is a time-consuming task, with both ideas and executions taking some time and effort. It’s really too much for one person to do in a short period of time, and anyone with passing interest has those hurdles to clear. This program allowed for division of labor, a chance to work on part of a much larger piece, with 15 teens working together to craft a 37 page comic in about 2.5 hours. It also provided an opportunity to mash our two clubs together and possibly introduce members to new interests and opportunities at the library, and we’ve had several of the program’s participants join in on subsequent sessions of either club.
The program requires a minimal amount of scaffolding and preparation on your part, but by building a solid framework, you create a space for your teens to work freely without much concern of the logistics of fusing the different parts together. As a large group we would create a character and decide on the initial branches of the story. Then we divided into teams to craft each branch and decide where they would go.
Teens build storytelling and visual literacy skills
Teens build collaborative and creative skills
Teens develop an attitude towards the library as a place to create
Time: 3 hours
Materials & supplies:
Dry erase board & markers (optional)
Organized an outline of how the story paths would flow. This should depend upon how many participants you’ll have, and how many groups & story branches they’ll be working on. It’s always best to plan for one more than you think you’ll need, just in case you have more teens show up than expected. (Which is, of course, the very best kind of problem.) Here’s an example of our outline:
Organize your sheets according to the outline. On the back bottom corner of our sheets, we noted what part of the story they were for. Because each section had about 3 pages, we noted those numbers in parentheses: I(2), IVA(1), IVB1(3), etc. We paper-clipped each grouping together, and organized each grouping into a folder for each of the four major branches.
Running the program:
We started the program off by discussing some basic comics terminology. To make it both more fun and more challenging, we told the teens to focus on telling the story through images more than words. We used a great handout we had from a presentation by Chicago-area comics author Corinne Mucha a few months prior.
To get everyone started, we guided the teens through a brainstorming session about what kind of character the story would be about. We took a blind vote, and our top options were: detective, dragon rider, french comedian, penguin. We used this to help us both craft our character (they made him a French penguin) who is on the run from the police and attempts different careers as a disguise.
Teens created a character model for everyone to base their drawing of the penguin on to keep consistency throughout the story. (And of course, it is a penguin wearing a beret, dubbed Q.T.)
We modeled how each writing session would look by outlining our comic panel and drawing it on our dry erase board. (Because we knew that different groups would work at different paces, we left the first page and covers to be completed by groups who finished before others.)
The teens divided into four groups, each one assigned an initial story branch. The teens had 30 minutes to write & draw one initial branch together that would end in two options that the story in which the story could go.
After the teens completed a section, we collected the finished work to keep it organized. For the second branch, we had each group split in half, each mini-group tackling one of the story branches they’d created. One branch had to come to an ending, and the other had to, again, branch out into two additional directions. Like before, they had a time limit – only 30 minutes or so – to complete about 3 pages.
For the end, the teens swapped partners within their initial groups to tackle the final story branches, each one ending. Again, there was a time limit of 30 minutes.
Like mentioned before, if any group finished before the time for their session was up, they created the introduction page, or some alternate cover options, like the one below.
After the program
If you’ve kept each section organized as you gathered them, putting the book together should be easy enough. Your cover(s) and introduction page obviously go first, followed by future branches of the stories. Good CYOA books always had you turn to odd pages, so don’t have storylines too grouped together.
After you have your pages numbered, note at the end of each story branch what page numbers the reader should turn to so they can follow their chosen adventure.
We scanned our pages. We used them in a webcomic creation program as part of our coding club (always important to use your programming leftovers) and plan on uploading them to an online book creation tool so we can have a few physical copies of the book added to our collection.
The program went really well, though there were a few areas with room for improvement. Some groups had issues with time management and collaborating. While it’s important for them to figure out how to divide and assign tasks themselves, in the future we will be giving more guidelines and suggestions for important roles and steps their group should take for greater success.
Still, this program was really successful, both in its popularity and the amazing outcomes. It requires minimal resources, and is incredibly scalable to libraries and groups of varying sizes. It is also primarily participant-driven, with library staff simply creating a framework in which the teens are free to create and collaborate.
Evan Mather is the Young Adult Librarian at the Bloomingdale Public Library in Bloomingdale, IL. He loves working with teens and finding innovative ways to foster creativity, learning, and build community partnerships. You can find Evan shouting smart library thoughts and/or dumb jokes at the Internet on Twitter (@evan_mather).