Planting The Seeds For Teen Lit Mob

This article was written by Josie Haley and Elly Budliger, students in the U-32 Journalism class.

 

“Teen Lit Mob is a fantastic opportunity for students in our small state to connect with like-minded people.”

 

Jill Abair, a librarian at U-32, is incredibly excited for this year’s Teen Lit Mob on April 10th. Teen Lit Mob is a literary festival for high school students in the state of Vermont. This year, U-32 will be hosting the event, with students from other schools around the state coming together to take workshops from authors and bond over books. 

 

“The vibe at Teen Lit Mob is joyful! The joy of reading and the craft of writing is centered, and I love knowing that teens from around the state can connect over these shared interests,” Meg Allison, a U-32 librarian said. Not only are students able to connect with authors, but U-32 students are also able to be a part of the planning. “I like connecting with authors and going to the workshops. I think it’s really cool how a lot of it is student-organized to help run the event,” said student Mayla Landis-Marinello. 

 

Student organization is at the heart of Teen Lit Mob. “It’s involved a lot of people and time on our end to pull this off, and I’m grateful to work with colleagues, administrators, and students who see the value in this event and in our role as hosts,” said Meg. 

 

Many students who are attending the event are also getting involved as student ambassadors. The role of student ambassador can mean a variety of things; behind-the-scenes planning, running tables at the events, helping support an author/presenter for the day, and much more. “I’m excited to lead the event too,” said Christin Haynes, a student and leader in the library community.

 

Student Ambassadors holding the poster they created for the event. (Meg Allison)

 

The past few years for Teen Lit Mob have been a challenge because of COVID-19. “Freshman year it was online. We were in our library on screens, and it was a totally different experience. Last year as a sophomore, I got to do it in person. It was super exciting to actually be with everybody,” said Christin. U-32 was supposed to host in 2020 when the pandemic hit, and the hosting of the event at U-32 4 years later is meaningful for many people. “This is a full circle moment,” said Peter Langella, a Teen Lit Mob cofounder. 

 

Not only is it exciting for U-32 students to have this event in our school, it also provides opportunities for other local students. “By hosting Teen Lit Mob at U-32 this year, we’re also accomplishing one of our goals, which is to host the event around the state, not just at schools and libraries in Chittenden County, to help improve access,” said Langella. Teen Lit Mob circulating around the state each year is essential to provide as many students with the opportunity as possible.

 

“They were really trying to push it more central and hopefully eventually more southern so that everybody has the opportunity,” Jill explained. Since our state has so many small districts it is incredibly important for students to be able to enjoy opportunities such as Teen Lit Mob. “It has helped teens from all over the state access programming that wouldn’t be possible at many of their local schools,” said Langella.

 

Overall, Teen Lit Mob is an event that provides students with new, exciting experiences. “Getting to talk with authors and having students who have never spoken with an author or heard an author speak in person, that was really exciting,” said Jill, “just so many fun connections come out of it that would have maybe otherwise never happened.” Beyond the authors, the new connections between students from different schools can be very beneficial and exciting, “You get to connect with people you wouldn’t normally [meet], even though you have similar interests,” said Leela McCann, another U-32 student and book group member.

 

“Teen Lit Mob is the creation of friends of mine, two librarians and a teacher, who came together in 2017 to put on the first ever literary event in Vermont created especially for teens and to celebrate young adult literature,” said Meg. Peter Langella and Jory Hearst partnered with a public librarian named Rowan Buckton, who formerly worked at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington.

 

Teen Lit Mob Logo (Elly Budliger/Chronicle)

 

The first event was hosted at the Fletcher Free Library in 2017. “We also wanted to connect teens to local authors and illustrators, honor and amplify underrepresented voices, and help teens from different parts of the state connect around a shared passion,” said Langella. The core elements of Teen Lit Mobs founding continue to this day with local authors and huge guests in the YA world. 

 

Additionally, the announcement of the Green Mountain Book Award (GMBA) list happens during the Teen Lit Mob event. Christin was one of two teenage representatives on the GMBA committee this year. This leadership opportunity tasked her to read over 70 books and nominate her favorites to be voted on by other members of the committee. “I’m excited to be able to present the final list of 15 books for next year’s GMBA reads,” said Christin. 

 

“There were instances where the adults in the room didn’t care for a book, but then both me and the other team member really did like it. And instead of arguing against us, the adults really valued our voice,” said Christin. This opportunity is another way that Teen Lit Mob and the VT Department of Libraries collaborate with students

 

“I have always enjoyed reading, and the new worlds that books open up have inspired me to do more writing,” said Ella Thomas. Ella is an avid writer and a member of Meg’s high school book club. The book club, like Teen Lit mob, is a safe space for anyone interested in connecting through literature. A book club, with the same focus, is run for middle schoolers by Jill. 

 

The U-32 Library is a sacred space for many students and faculty. The positive environment is intentionally fostered by both Meg and Jill. “I love connecting readers to books.  I consider it an art form.  We have a school that puts a lot of importance on cultivating an independent reading habit and so many students find themselves in the library, looking for a book to read,” Meg said. 

 

The expectation to read independently is introduced in English classes across U-32. Students in 9th and 10th grade are tasked to keep a reading log and are offered independent reading time. Given this expectation, Meg and Jill are often asked to recommend books to students. The wide variety of offerings in the library are made meaningful through the lives of readers who interact with them. 

Stacks of books awaiting Teen Lit Mob Attendees (Elly Budliger/Chronicle)

 

“I think reading a wide variety of genres and diverse viewpoints is really helpful for social development,” said Christin. She is a huge proponent of independent reading in school. “I think it’s really great to have so many books available, there are lots of opportunities to learn new things,” said Mayla who agrees that independent reading would not be the same without the library.

 

It’s difficult for our librarians to balance their roles within the bounds of the library, and their roles as educators. “We used to be able to go in and support teachers in their classrooms a lot more than we are able to do  now,” said Jill. For the librarians, it has been increasingly difficult to manage all these opportunities, and yet book-based events and connections still remain a top priority. 

 

“It takes a team of professionals to have a library as dynamic as ours, and administrators who understand what a dynamic and integrated library program provides to our culture of learning.  We do not take this support for granted,” said Meg. In the face of school-wide budget cuts, opportunities in the library may continue to be threatened. “Meg and Jill are just really supportive,” said  Leela.

 

There is a lot of equipment available in the library that has remained untouched given staffing shortages. Without people to supervise materials such as the 3-D printer, film supplies, etc. these resources remain unused. “We have all these great tools here but not enough staff to manage them. So they sit in closets…no matter how much money you spend, if you’re losing on personnel, things can’t happen,” said Jill. 

 

“I would beg the school board to consider, during these budget cuts, to not take away from library funding,” said Christin. The library community and resources positively aid many students. “I read a lot before U-32, and this library affirmed my passion,” said Leela. Contrasting Leela’s statement, “I actually wasn’t a big reader until I came to U-32. Having the library that I was in every morning with all the books inspired me to read more, and having friends who were excited about reading made me more of a reader,” said Ella. All types of readers are welcome in the library. The reading levels, genres, and topics are widespread. 

 

The librarians encourage students and staff to recommend books for the community offerings. “I’m constantly having Meg and Jill order more books for me to add to the collection,” said Mayla. There are ample opportunities for people to access books they may not be able to find on their own, or they may not want to invest in themselves. 

 

“I really think a lot of people find comfort in the library’s atmosphere and I just couldn’t imagine if we didn’t have the library we have today,” expressed Christin. The library aids students’ understanding of topics within their academic classes and their own identity. “In addition to the empathy and self-discovery literature provides, reading provides us a lot of information and knowledge, and contributes to the growth of an informed citizenry,” said Meg. 

 

Literary opportunities are incredibly important for the community. Students and staff are looking forward to this year’s Teen Lit Mob opportunity, Langella said, “Upon returning from past Teen Lit Mobs, our students often say it was the best day of their year!”

 

Mural in the U-32 Library welcoming student readers. (Josie Haley/Chronicle)

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