April 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Star Wars Reads Day: A Growing Force for Literacy

Star Wars fans around the world—from the youngest padawan to the wisest Jedi—along with authors, artists, and costumed volunteers will be flocking to libraries and bookstores this Saturday, October 5, for the 2nd annual Star Wars Reads Day (SWRD), an event that harnesses the appeal of the popular franchise to celebrate literacy and reading. The day is being sponsored collaboratively by Star Wars creator Lucasfilm and its publishing partners: Abrams, Chronicle, Dark Horse Comics, Del Rey, DK, Random House Audio, Scholastic, and Workman.

More than 600 public and school libraries have signed up to host SWRD events in the U.S., triple the number of participants as last year, along with events at more than 1,000 U.S. booksellers and other retailers, according to Mindy Fichter, publicity manager for DK. Worldwide, more than 2,000 events are being planned, including at libraries in Germany, Austria, Canada, and Australia. School libraries that cannot be open on Saturday are encouraged to celebrate on Friday, October 4, Fichter notes.

To help schools, libraries, bookstores, and community organizations celebrate the event, SWRD’s publishing partners have collaborated to create a free, official Star Wars event kit—including reproducible activity sheets and trivia—available for easy download in both English and Spanish. In addition, the publishers have distributed about 207,475 individual pieces of exclusive SWRD swag  to participants who signed up ahead of time (on a first come, first served basis.) The publishers also created a suggested book list showcasing the newest Star Wars titles for all ages.

At some events this weekend, lucky participants will be greeted by costumed characters, in most cases courtesy of the nation’s two independent Star Wars costuming/charity organizations, the 501st Legion and the Rebel Legion, which are sending volunteers to SWRD celebrations around the country.

“They’re just really great,” Carol Roeder, director of publishing at Lucasfilm,” says of the 501st and Rebel Legions. “The savvy booksellers, retailers, and librarians who have worked with them in the past know this.” Though a purely volunteer fan organization that is not affiliated with Lucasfilm, Roeder says, “They’re these huge ambassadors for the brand, and all they ask is that we make a [charitiable] donation on their behalf, which we gladly do.” Libraries and other community groups can request public appearances from members of the organizations on their respective websites, she notes.

A day for celebration
SWRD is an ideal time for librarians to draw kids and the community overall to the library. For example, at Cuyahoga County Public Library in Cleveland, OH, the planned SWRD celebration will include scores of activities for kids grades K–5, such as Jedi skill-building and light saber training.

Cuyahoga participated in last year’s inaugural SWRD as well, partnering with DK especially. “It was fantastic working with them,” says Michael Pawuk, teen services librarian at the Brooklyn Branch of Cuyahoga. He adds, “I’ve been holding Star Wars library events…since 1997, way back when the Star Wars Special Edition movies were re-released in theaters.”

At the Lawrence (KS) Public Library, all-ages activities will be the order of the day. Says Karen Allen, teen services librarian, “We’ve partnered this year with a creative and innovative group, the newly fledged makerspace in town, Lawrence Creates.”

This means the Lawrence library is able to offer lots more creative activities than it did in the past, Allen tells SLJ. “What we have on tap: a Wookiee yelling contest, a Feed Jabba bean bag toss, recycled cardbaord/paper trash compactor, a screening of the locally made movie Carrot Wars, a costume contest, a green screen light saber battle, a 3-D printing demo, force/magnetism stations, trivia, and Star Wars themed pizza and drinks,” Allen says.

“We’ll have prizes for the top three Wookiee yells and a giveaway table with freebies that we won from Del-Rey and were given to us by the great people behind Star Wars Reads Day,” Allen adds. “Also, attendees will receive a Jedi Training badge when they arrive and complete the activities to earn a Jedi Knight certificate. It’s going to be a great day.”

Light years ahead
At the Brick branch of the Ocean County (NJ) Library, Senior Librarian Michelle Brzozowski is the go-to Star Wars expert. Her programming involving the franchise is “my all-time favorite type of programming to do, most likely because I’ve been a huge Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember,” she says.

Brzozowski’s branch will be celebrating SWRD again this year with drop-in crafts for younger kids, followed by a lightsaber training program later in the month, she notes.

In addition, every summer for the past five years, Brzozowski has hosted a Star Wars camp at her library for kids and parents on three consecutive Thursday nights in July. “The first two nights are filled with games, activities, crafts, costume parties, scavenger hunts, cookie decorating, etc.,” she says.  “The third and final night I invite the guys and gals of the local 501st garrison to the library to tell the kids about all of their volunteer work and how they create their amazing costumes and weapons.”

Says Brzozowski, “I usually get between 150–200 people attend over the course of the three nights. It’s one of our library’s most popular programs and attracts some very enthusiastic kids and adults. I rely on the kindness and generosity of publishers, especially DK and Del Rey, to help make Camp a success.  Star Wars programs are almost guaranteed winners.”

And when it comes to promoting reading and literacy, the Star Wars franchise is also a wonderful resource, Brzozowski says. “The kids are so passionate and that is often the result of their parents’ enthusiasm for it. I think one of their favorite parts of Star Wars Camp is when I ‘raffle off’ books that were donated by DK, Del Rey, Dark Horse and others.”

She notes, “It’s so easy to get the kids interested in the expanded universe because there are books for all ages. DK has books for beginning readers as well as the encyclopedias and dictionaries; Scholastic has chapter books and even some board books; Dark Horse has graphic novels; and Del Rey has scores of books for teens and adults. The Star Wars books practically fly off the shelves.”

In fact, Brzozowki tells SLJ, “I’m hoping to have a Star Wars Readers’ Theater next summer.”

Lucasfilm’s Roeder hopes even more librarians will be just as inspired as Brzozowski, and continue to utilize Star Wars to promote reading throughout the year. There are more than 1,000 published titles in the franchise, including more than 120 New York Times best sellers, and the books have been translated into more than 30 languages.

“The beauty of Star Wars is it spans generations, and especially now,” Roeder says. “Those kids that grew up on Star Wars in the 1970s now have children who are growing up on Star Wars, and they’re going to get reintroduced to the classic films and the prequels, and we’re going to have a whole new animated TV series next year, and new movies starting in 2015. So it’s never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan, or be introduced to it. “

Reaching all readers
In publishing, Lucasfilm has “a program that ranges from early readers through core fan adult coffee table books and collectible books,” Roeder notes, adding that, for middle-grade boys especially, some of the newest series, such as Tom Angleberger’s “Origami Yoda” series (Abrams) and Jeffrey Brown’s new “Jedi Academy” series (Scholastic), have resonated very well.

These titles get kids excited and reading, “which is what we want,” she says.

Sarah Bean Thompson, youth services librarian in the Springfield-Greene (MO) County Library District, agrees. “My library has an avid Star Wars fanbase, as I suspect most libraries do,” she says. “We have a large selection of Star Wars early readers, chapter books, and comics. We have a lot of young preschool age patrons who love checking out the early readers and the comic books circulate pretty well with older readers, but that middle grade reader [has been] somewhat left out. “

“That’s why I’ve really loved is seeing new series come into the kidlit world, like Tom Angleberger’s books and Jeff Brown’s Jedi Academy,” Thompson says. “These books are great for middle grade readers who are looking for something about a subject they like and also getting them to read and try something new. I’ve also found that readers who are interested in Star Wars are often interested in moving into other science fiction titles and open to branching out and trying something new.”

Roeder says Lucasfilm hopes librarians will continue to be inspired by the Star Wars franchise in getting kids to read, perhaps starting with some of the activities SWRD’s publishing partners have put together, drawing from them, and crafting their own ideas.

She adds, “I think they can also work with some of the publishers. Depending on where the libraries are, we’ve got authors around the country. We have books published practically every month, so when there is a featured author that can go out and promote, there’s definitely opportunities for libraries. Librarians have been such a huge supporter for Star Wars. I’ve seen the growth, year over year, how much we hear back from librarians and libraries how Star Wars has infiltrated into their programming, which is really great. Anything we can do to support that.”

Says Roeder, “Reading and Star Wars have gone hand-in-hand since 1976, when the novelization of the original Star Wars movie was released….many fans have discovered the joy in reading through Star Wars books, and we hope to continue encouraging more people to read.”

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson (kpeterson@mediasourceinc.com) is a former News Editor ofSLJ.

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  1. Dolores Ashworth says:

    This was confusing. Isn’t the SWRD III on the second Saturday this year? Why are you posting old info?