You Can Run a Successful Will Eisner Week

By Kat Kan, MLS

Will EisnerMost people who work with comics in school, public, or academic libraries should have at least heard the name Will Eisner. He wrote and drew comics from the 1930s until his death in early January of 2005. He created the character called The Spirit, wrote military how-to manuals in comic book format during WWII, and continued that work in PS, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly until 1971. He also wrote and illustrated graphic novels, starting with A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories in 1978.

In testament to his standing in the industry, Eisner is commemorated in a number of ways. The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, among the major comics industry awards in the U.S., have been given out since 1988 as part of San Diego Comic-Con International. After his death, Eisner’s niece and nephew, Nancy and Carl Gropper, started the Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation. The Foundation has funded library grants in cooperation with the American Library Association, and in 2009 began to commemorate Eisner’s birthday with Will Eisner Week — an annual celebration promoting comics, graphic novel literacy, free speech, and the legacy of Will Eisner. The celebration runs from March 1–7 every year (Eisner’s birthday is March 6). By 2017, which would have been Eisner’s 100th birthday, various agencies produced more than 100 events around the U.S. and in other countries.

For several years now, I have run a small program for Will Eisner Week at my local public library, Bay County Public Library (In fact, my 2016 program has been mentioned in the Will Eisner Week Playbook since 2017). In the past, the library had me do a program for kids and teens on a weekday afternoon, where I featured lots of age-appropriate comics for attendees to look at and gave away some free comics. Will Eisner Week Program 2019 booksThis year, we scheduled an early evening program for all ages, and I brought a sampling of recently published graphic novels and comics for all ages, from TOON Books for very early readers up to graphic novels for adult readers, including Eisner’s last book, The Plot, a nonfiction account of the anti-Semitic hoax The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. I put together a one-page handout with a short biography of Eisner, and I downloaded a great comic about Eisner from Pop Culture Classroom, written by Jill Gerber, illustrated by Matt Strackbein, and edited by Dr. Katie Monnin (it’s a free download). The library made several copies of each handout available for those who attended. I gave a short talk about Eisner and his accomplishments, the Eisner Awards, and how librarians became closely connected to them by serving as judges on the Eisner juries.

We had a small audience of several families and one retired college professor who taught comics at his former institution up north (he’s what we call a snowbird: a winter resident in Florida). I brought a selection of free comics for people to take with them and encouraged everyone to come back for Free Comic Book Day in May. Considering that Panama City had suffered catastrophic damage from Hurricane Michael just five months before our program, I think it was a great success.

Programs around the country range from comics celebrity-studded panel discussions, film festivals, and comics conventions to small-town library programs, which cover just about anything related to Eisner himself or any aspect of comics and comics fandom. The Foundation provides access to a Playbook with all kinds of ideas for programming, a short biography of Eisner, and a list of past programs in many different libraries domestically and internationally. They also produce a poster and flyer each year featuring art from Eisner that any organization can customize with their program information. All of this is available at www.willeisner.com. This is a great resource for libraries to draw upon when developing their own programs and celebrations.

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Anyone can sign up to hold a program. Check the official web site of Will Eisner Studios, Inc. later on this year (signups usually open around November) to sign up for 2020. If you do, you can email details about your program to be included in their list for 2020, and you can request posters to put up in your library. You can do anything from holding a mini-comic convention, to a comics how-to program, to something like my program, which was more of what I call a “comics petting zoo” with books people for people to look at. Other libraries have done displays of Eisner’s works.  If you have a local comics retailer who is willing to support libraries, you could partner with the retailer for a program. If you know any comics creators local to your area, you might want to ask them to do a comics workshop; that’s what I’d like to do next year.

Just take it from me — conducting a Will Eisner Week program is both fun and easy!

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Katharine

If you’re looking for a graphic novel guru, you’re looking for Kat Kan. Kat looks like the stereotypical librarian with glasses and a bun, until you see the hair sticks and notice her earrings may be tiny books, TARDISes from Doctor Who, or LEGO Batgirls. Click here for more.

Large Print Books Are Crucial for Striving Readers

By Ann Wilson, MLS, MA

As educators and librarians struggle to combat the dire reality of illiteracy and its impact on low graduation rates, meager job prospects, low income, and even crime, many remedies have been tried, with little success. Thankfully, one rather old-fashioned tool is gaining traction and showing promising results: using large print books with young, striving readers.

Large print is defined as text formatted in roughly 16 point type, compared to the usual 11-13 point type found in most hardcover books and on computer screens. A clear, clean font is used, and there is increased space (leading) between the lines. The dark, high-density ink stands out clearly from the high-opacity paper, creating a higher contrast, which is easier to read (see this article about helping reluctant readers for more). These characteristics have long been understood to benefit older folks with visual impairments, and for years, most books published in large print have been geared toward this audience. Unfortunately, children and teens with visual impairments have been largely ignored by the publishing industry.

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Not only does a large print format assist those with visual impairments, but large print helps reduce eye strain for everyone, a factor which has become even more important as our population — especially teens — is spending more time on small-screen digital media.

In their quest to make reading an enjoyable experience for students, educators have noticed that too much text, information density, and visual clutter on a page can make reading a daunting task for many students. Large print books have fewer words and more white space, presenting a more inviting visual cue that increases reading performance and builds confidence. Students young and old, who are learning English as a second language, also seem to respond well to large print.

While research is important and can help us understand what’s going on, it’s also important to hear from teachers and librarians on the front lines. In a recent Booklist webinar titled “Large Print, Big Advantages: Strategies for Increasing Youth Literacy,” Camille Freund, ENL teacher at Urban Assembly Media Studies HS in New York, explained how incorporating large print books into her classroom collection has improved student literacy. Freund says that these books have motivated striving readers to keep trying, and that these students quickly make progress with reading and feel successful. In fact, Freund says, students often seek large print titles, refusing to read anything else.

Also during the webinar, Don Giacomini and Shelly Schwerzler from Gwinnett County Public Library System (GA) addressed the “why” and “how” of their large print title program, geared to middle grade students and teens. They explained that the large print titles are interfiled throughout their collections, allowing patrons to browse these books alongside books with normal-sized print. The library staff has worked closely with reading specialists and other education professionals in schools near each branch library to help promote the large print collection. Circulation statistics show that this collection is very heavily used.

Girls reading_470554472According to the presenters, adults’ concerns that the stigma of reading large print books will deter striving readers are almost entirely unfounded, especially for younger teens. If allowed to choose any book they wanted, many students automatically gravitate toward “books with big words.” When teachers and librarians extolled the virtues of “good books” while passing around large print versions, many kids responded favorably. Some students were quite receptive to large print titles, stating that their eyes were tired.

With a wide range of titles to choose from, supported by research and endorsed by the kids who read them, large print books are finding new uses and enthusiastic acceptance in today’s libraries. They’re not just for the visually impaired anymore. Why not consider expanding your selection of large print titles to help reluctant readers?

 

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Ann

Ann Wilson started working for Brodart, where she is affectionately known as The Sourceress, in 2000. Ann draws from her high school/public library career experience to feed sources and choose key titles for our selection lists. Click here for more.