NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—In a meeting room on the side of the children’s room at the New Brunswick Free Public Library, tween librarian Chelsea Woods encourages the participants of her Tween Stories Club to expand their imaginations.
“He might just be a cowboy, or an actor that dresses up,” she says while holding a small figurine of Woody from the Toy Story franchise.
This Tween Stories Club activity focused on story creation, narratives, and character development.
Each program participant, ranging in ages nine to eleven, picked a character out of a paper bag (characters included Hedwig from Harry Potter, Pegasus from Hercules, and a dolphin) and added the characters one by one to their story.
At the end of the writing period, participants were encouraged to share their stories aloud.
Stories focused on the common theme of friendship, and had plot lines such as an owl who flew into space to make friends with a horse, or a king who wanted a new crown from Woody the crown maker.
All stories were creative, individualized, and gave the participants an outlet to show off their thoughts and emotions.
Tween Stories Club is just one of the many programs that are offered to the tween age group at the New Brunswick Free Public Library. The newly identified age group, tweens, is outlined as students enrolled in grades four through eight, though children who are in sixth grade or higher are encouraged to use the teen room for programs.
Ms. Woods runs other tween programs such as the Harry Potter Alliance, a club where readers can practice literacy skills while enjoying Harry Potter books, and a video game tournament.
Local Rutgers University students also provide tutoring and homework help free of charge throughout the school year.
In addition to the structured programs, the children’s room is open for tweens as a space to do homework, go on a computer, or generally socialize. On average, 40 children and tweens occupy the children’s room on any day after school.
“People enjoy coming here and value the space,” says Ms. Woods. The library staff who make up the Youth Services program (a children’s librarian, a tween librarian, and a teen librarian) work to “expect a lot in terms of encouraging [the patrons] to do as much as possible because this is a place where they can get individualized literacy attention.”
This individualized literacy attention makes a stark difference for children who are not receiving the needed academic help to bring them to the age appropriate reading level.
During programs like the Harry Potter Alliance, participants are encouraged to read aloud from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a way to improve comprehension.
Participants are said to gain “a better grasp of rhythm and language” and Woods has already seen “a marked improvement in reading” from the tweens who regularly attend the program.
This improvement in literacy skills is extremely important for New Brunswick tweens who attend the public school system. According to New Jersey High School Performance Report, by the time these tweens enter New Brunswick High School 20% of their class will score poorly on the language arts section of their standardized tests.
In addition, New Brunswick High School students will score an average of 90-93 points lower than the state average on the Critical Reading and Writing sections of the SAT.
Woods pushes for her patrons and tween program participants to gain literacy skills in a “creative but not graded” way. This increase in skills is a major goal of the tween program. She also wants the children’s, tween, and teen rooms to be a safe space where there’s a “heavy emphasis on respect and responsibility.”
Lastly, the tween program is made to help create what Ms. Woods calls “lifelong library users.” These library users start as children, and move through the array of offered programs until they become adults who frequent the library and support the much needed community institution.
Dr. Robert Belvin, the New Brunswick Free Public Library Director, praised the tween program for working with “the research that shows that children in the preteen stage are not the same” as children or teens. The tween program is a fully “tailored program created to sit that difference,” and is creating a better experience four youth “moving from child to teen.”
Woods echoed Belvin’s idea about a personalized program, explaining that tweens should be given individualized attention just like adults in terms of library usage. “A lot of kids have a deep passion for reading,” she explained. “One reader asked for a book that would make tears come out of her eyes, and said her sister wanted the same thing.”
Woods continued to say that each tween patron has unique interests and preferred genres, and that as tween librarian, it is her job to foster these interests while encouraging readers to try more advanced material to help them gain additional literacy skills.
For tween readers, Woods recommends Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K Rowling, Holes by Louis Sachar, and the Pals and Peril series by M.T Anderson. The most popular books are either the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series by Rick Riordan or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.
A first person narrative of a regular kid going through middle school, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is loved by tweens because it “helps them deal with perception of other people, and reminds them of their own lives,” says Ms. Woods.
At the end of the Tween Stories Club, Woods asked the patrons what they liked about the activity.
“I like to write,” one child said. “It’s fun.” As they all left the room, they promised to attend the next program, and to continue to participate in programs in the future.
To contact the library about tween programs, or programs for any other age group, look on www.nbfpl.org or call the reference desk at 732-745-5108 x20.