The plot thickens and the drama builds

The youth of today are generally better than their reputations, also as a target group for book presentations. Sari Mäkinen- Laitila from Seinäjoki enjoys presenting literature to secondary school students. If the presenter of the books has enough nerve, the book presentations can be combined with drama, as the group Next Libris does.

The yearning for a story

Sari Mäkinen-Laitila is the director of the children’s department at the Seinäjoki Public Library-Provincial Library. However, she is known as ‘Kirjava Inkkari’ (the ‘colorful Indian’) when playing the role of book presenter. The name, which originated from a typographical error of ‘kirjavinkkari’ (one who presents books), has become a part of her role in some of the most interesting book presentations, even with 13-16 year-old adolescents.

Mäkinen-Laitila, who has been giving book presentations for roughly ten years, has yet to run into ill-mannered secondary school pupils. The teenagers have been “quiet as church mice” when books have been presented and excerpts have been read to them. Mäkinen- Laitila explains, “When someone reads aloud, or tells a story, the listeners develop a yearning for the story, even though they might not be interested in the book”.

Mäkinen-Laitila feels that high school students are a challenge for book presenters, because they have developed preferences regarding their interests and reading to a greater extent than primary school pupils. Some children have already become completely estranged from reading, and the threshold for reading may be high. Friends also affect how students use their time and their attitude towards books. Mäkinen-Laitila says, “It’s challenging in a positive way.”

What’s in the book basket?

When planning her book presentations for secondary school students, an abundance of various types of books find their way to Sari Mäkinen-Laitila’s book basket. She explains, “It is important to feel a bit drawn to the book. You have to like the book yourself to make presenting it worthwhile.”

When choosing books, the different genres of literature must be kept in mind, as well as domestic and foreign books and the viewpoints of both boys and girls. In addition to different books for teens, Mäkinen-Laitila always tries to bring fairytales to the secondary school. Why? She answers, “I’m fighting against the tendency to associate different genres of literature with certain age groups.”

Fairytales are important, and there are fairytales for people of all ages. For example, Margaret Mahy’s fairytales, Kari Hotakainen’s book of fairytales, or Peter Bichsel’s children’s stories and also folktales, especially ghost stories, according to Mäkinen-Laitila, can spark interest in secondary school students.

Like fairytales, novels often elude target group definitions. Walking the tightrope between adulthood and childhood, adolescents may be interested in authors who write books suitable for both teens and adults.

The ‘colorful Indian’s’ book basket usually contains poetry also, children’s poetry in particular. She explains, “With difficult poetry, the reader may not necessarily immediately find the joy that you can find in children’s poetry.” Fantasy in particular, as a genre of literature, interests teens and there are also comics included in the book presenter’s book basket.

Feedback

Sari Mäkinen-Laitila doesn’t use any special tricks or props when making presentations to teens. “I introduce the characters and setting of the book, and then I read some important parts in the book, parts which leave you with the feeling that you have to read the whole story.”

When presenting the books, she relies on her own enthusiasm and her ability to convey that enthusiasm to the listeners. It has also given rise to enthusiastic readers and productive discussions with secondary school students.

Sirkka-Liisa Kankaanpää, teacher of Finnish, history and literature at Seinäjoki’s lower secondary, has had good experiences of the book presentation visits. She says, “The students’ desire to read books increased drastically when Sari visited the eighth forms last month. We practically had to draw lots for the books she mentioned because there were so many students interested in them.”

According to Sirkka-Liisa Kankaanpää, book presentations would be good for all lower secondary forms, but the eighth forms especially benefit from it. “Seventh graders are still somewhat affected by the enthusiasm for reading they acquired in primary school, while ninth graders have already developed their preferences for reading. The eighth forms, as a group, can still be enticed to read.”

Theatrical book presentations

Literature and drama can also be productively combined. Since 2002, the group Next Libris has been touring Finland with its ‘literature live’ performances for primary school pupils, lower secondary school and upper secondary school students. The group consists of three theatrical directors: Siri Kolu, Marko Kokko and Raisa Omaheimo. They are all passionate readers of literature and present Finnish literature in particular.

But how can drama and book presentations be combined? Marko Kokko explains, “In theatrical book presentations, the reader’s venture into the book is dramatized visually through the main characters, who familiarize themselves with the book. ‘Literature live’ patches together the book excerpts to be presented in fragmented drama that is common in modern performances – in the performance and the selection of presented books progression occurs, depending on the performance, either following the plot or according to a more open dramaturgy.”

‘Literature-live’ is intended to awaken interest in books. This happens, in part, through contradictions; the world within the books and the frame story of the main characters collide with one another. Books that have been coined classics can be approached in a contradictory way, read from a post-modern viewpoint. The basis of theatrical book presentations per se is the same as it is for regular presentations: to find some hook, point or theme in the book, which sparks the readers’ interest. In theatrical book presentations, the excerpt of text must also be presentable, to work on stage.

Marko Kokko explains, “The excerpt taken from the book being presented is framed in a modern dramaturgical performance. The text excerpt collides with other texts, news, interesting parallel texts or contradicting ones. This is again part of the ideology; literature is a network, a path or link leads from one book to many others. Motivating others to read is also a part of making this network – when you find a way to one book, it leads right to the next possible worlds.”

The group’s method of presentation is effective. Of the presented books, many classics, which otherwise would have been practically left untouched, have become reading favourites for teens. Next Libris also aims to revive forgotten classics, for example books with styles, which are in some way surprising, and also books which meet the increasing needs of schools’ curricula.

A theatrical presentation can be one opportunity for book presenters in libraries to develop rapport with young readers, although, of course, the method is fairly difficult and requires that the presenter of the book have acting skills. Marko Kokko suggests, “Performing for lower secondary school students is challenging for an actor, but also provides exceptional professional development. If you feel you can do it, you are ready for performing theatrical book presentations.”

Mervi Heikkilä

Library Director
Nurmo municipal library
mervi.heikkila AT nurmo.fi

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

 

Director of libraries, Seinäjoki