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Steal This Idea: Photography Program Brings Divergent to Life

by Molly Wetta

*Originally appeared in the September issue of Kids & Books.*

When planning for teen programs to accompany summer reading, teen favorites like video game tournaments, crafts, and food-related programs always make the list. We’ve also made it a point to include technology-related activities and makerspace programming. Our goal with teen programming during the summer is to plan fun activities that give teens a safe place to socialize and explore their interests. Drawing teens in with fun projects is designed to boost participation. While most programs don’t necessarily have book-related content, this summer we decided to plan some events around literature.


At the 2012 YALSA Young Adult Literature Program, I was inspired by a session on fan-created works and Scott Westerfeld’s keynote, where he shared art made by fans of his Leviathan and Uglies series. Teens at our library are immersed in fan culture, whether that’s reading fanfiction online or drawing the characters from their favorite books. These activities allow them creative expression and a way to connect to their favorite books, TV shows, and movies. It’s also a great way of introducing these fictional worlds to other teens. When my colleagues and I returned home from the conference, we brainstormed ways that we could use fan culture as a springboard for teen programming in the upcoming year.

Last year I also discovered The Real Fauxtographer, a blog by Margot Wood. She takes photographs inspired by young adult novels. The shots are amazing works of art and give great visuals to accompany scenes from the book or to illustrate concepts. We had shared some of her photographs on our Facebook page, and teens thought they were cool. That’s how the idea for a YA book-inspired photoshoot program was born.



At Lawrence Public Library, we don’t plan programming around the national theme. We have a unified theme for our adult, teen, and children’s programs to position the library as an integral part of the community. We are also currently undergoing a major renovation and expansion and have less programming space while we are in a temporary location, so planning events that took place outside the library or with community partners was important.

Along with the Teen Advisory Board, we brainstormed books to use as inspiration for the photographs. We selected Divergent by Veronica Roth because it afforded the opportunity for a large group to participate in recreating scenes from the books, the costumes would be simple, and we had a list of locations near the library downtown that would serve well as sets and backdrops for the photographs. It’s also a very popular book with most teens who frequent the library and participate in programs. Our hope was that those who hadn’t read it would be intrigued by the program and possibly check it out.

We required permission from a parent or guardian to participate, since we would be leaving library premises and sharing the photos through the library’s social media accounts and on the website.

To market the program, we featured it on our blog and social media in addition to the printed and online calendars. We also share all our events on the local newspaper calendar and a local kids’ activities website. Leading up to the program, on our Facebook page, we posted photos and inspiration for outfits that initiates in the Dauntless faction from the book might wear.



We invited a local photographer who specializes in pinup-style photoshoots, Rachael of Atomic Photography, to shoot the photographs. Her background in costumes and stylized photography made her an ideal fit for this program; she loved the idea and felt comfortable working with teens.

To kick off the program, she briefly talked about how she became a photographer, the education and skills she needed to be successful, and the challenges and rewards of running her own business. Rachael also answered a few questions from program participants.

After introductions, we walked from the library a few blocks to the train station. This gave us the time to chat about the forthcoming movie based on Divergent, how excited the teens were for the release of the conclusion to the trilogy, Allegiant, and other books they’ve been reading. I’ve found that less structured “book talks” in this kind of setting are far more successful. Teens share with each other the books they’ve been reading, and I can offer suggestions for other titles they might like and talk about books I’ve been reading, too. Starting the conversation with, “What’s everyone been reading?” is the simplest approach to book talks, and gives the opportunity for peer recommendations rather than just the books the librarians think they should read.

Our local train station, which features retro '60s-style fixtures and an open platform, was the perfect backdrop for photographs inspired by the scenes in the book where Dauntless initiates have to jump on trains. We were lucky enough to have one drive by while they were there, and the shots of the teens running past it and acting like they were jumping aboard were a lot of fun. Since we were only using the exterior of the building as a backdrop for photos and it’s a public space, we didn’t get special permission, but if we had chosen other locations where more people were often present or were indoors, asking for permission would have been necessary.

Rachael took individual shots, and talked with each teen about posing for portraits, as well as group photographs and explained why she shot from different angles. The teens came up with other ways to recreate scenes from the books, such as simulating training exercises. We went to two other locations, including some dilapidated properties (again, all exterior shots in public places downtown near the library) that with a bit of Photoshop editing looked decidedly post-apocalyptic.

In addition to being the subject of the photographs, teens were also invited to bring along their own cameras and experiment with taking their own shots. For a more ambitious version of this program, it would be fun to have a component devoted to teaching teens about the principles of photography and more technical skills. While for our program, Rachael edited the photographs, there are many ways that teens could participate in this process. There are many free programs available for editing photos online or through apps on mobile devices. This type of programming could also take the form of a sponsored contest where teens could enter their own creations of visual art inspired by their favorite books and then vote for their favorites.

This photography program offered teens the chance to learn about not only photography, but also how one can turn a creative passion into a profession. They had the opportunity to express themselves creatively and immerse themselves in the world of one of their favorite books. This type of hands on programming is popular with teens in our library, and attracted teens who don’t regularly attend events as well as our core group of teens.

Molly Wetta is an MLIS student and YA librarian assistant at Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, KS, where she wrangles a teen book club and manages the library's Tumblr. She also contributes to YALSA's young adult literature blog, The Hub.