Star Wars Reads: Bringing the Power of the Force to Libraries

Four librarians pass on what they have learned about bringing Star Wars Reads to their communities.

Libraries around the country are celebrating Star Wars Reads this month with home-grown celebrations that include fully armored stormtroopers posing for photos, actors portraying Shakespearean Hutts, and the epic mayhem of a pool-noodle lightsaber battle. At the heart of each one is a librarian looking to get a community excited about reading and the magic of myth. “The Star Wars stories have endured because they use classic archetypes to tell timeless tales about the fight of good vs evil,” says Andria Amaral of the Charleston County Public Library. Those tales have an important place in literacy initiatives. “They help establish familiarity with the elements of story. And they serve the same role as fairytales: teaching us that monsters exist but that good people can, with a combination of hard work, bravery, wits, and luck, overcome them.”

StarWars.com spoke to four librarians from small community hubs to sprawling urban systems, to share ideas about how to craft a fun Star Wars Reads celebration, why the simple act of sharing stories is still so important, and even a cautionary tale about how one wrong menu choice at the Ackbar Snackbar almost sparked a rebellion.

A Star Wars Read Event in Los Angeles.

Danica Sheridan, Young Adult Librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library, Silver Lake Branch

Now in their fifth year celebrating Star Wars Reads, unabashed droid fan Danica says the event is by far the most well-attended regular program run out of her branch library in southern California. Initially started as a way to help get more teens interested in visiting the library, Star Wars Reads also draws in entire families to explore Star Wars storytelling together. “I love involving our teen volunteer crew. Star Wars Reads checks a lot of buttons for them — love of helping children, love of food prep, fandom…plus they get so into the organizing and the displays. My favorite part of my job overall is connecting a teen with something they can feel proud of.”

The event usually includes appearances by costumed heroes and villains, galactic craft projects, and some unique additions like a teen pianist who sat in one year to play John Williams’ iconic compositions live. “This year the Saber Guild did a fight show,” she says, igniting excitement for the pool-noodle saber craft that followed. “Soon every kid was making one!”

Danica’s Favorite Themed Snacks

  • Ewok Ears (cocoa-flavored Rice Krispie treats shaped by hand)
  • Lightsaber Pretzels (pretzel rods dipped in colored candy melts and sugar sprinkles)
  • Mustafarian Magma (nacho cheese with swirls of paprika)

Danica’s Favorite Crafts and Activities

  • Activity sheets from StarWars.com
  • DIY Droid out of recyclables
  • Pool Noodle Lightsabers
  • Free film screenings and giveaways
  • Photobooth!
  • Visits with local costume fan groups

Danica Recommends:

ABC-3PO by Calliope Glass, Caitlin Kennedy, and Katie Cook, perfect for younger readers and the adults who enjoy Star Wars-themed rhymes and silliness. (She even provided the ISBN number!)

Lydia Kegler, Director of the Bloomsburg Public Library

Lydia — who is definitively on on the light side, she says, “No dark side for me.” — has been bringing Star Wars Reads to her community since 2015 when she literally found herself behind the wheel of the nearby Columbia County Traveling Library, a bookmobile serving rural neighborhoods in Pennsylvania. After joining the Bloomsburg Public Library in 2016, fans on her staff and board inspired the continuing trend. “Star Wars is truly epic storytelling that makes me think of oral traditions and the roots of written literature,” she says. “The themes are universal and timeless. As a librarian and educator, I am a huge fan of any films and books that entice children (and adults) to read more, that spark curiosity, and inspire them to be creative. Star Wars is the very best at firing up brains. Libraries are not just about the books, we are about supporting curiosity and creativity.”

Last year, the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series inspired a live performance by a local acting troupe at Lydia’s Star Wars Reads event. “The Star Wars Shakespeare performance was amazing!” Lydia says. “Our small town has an award-winning theatre company, the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, and three of the ensemble members agreed to perform a few short scenes from the original trilogy.” The trio’s stripped-down rendition included several memorable moments. “On the fly, one of them grabbed a medium-green cushion off a comfy chair and voila, he’s Jabba! The video is on our Facebook page and once in a while I take a look for a laugh.” This year, they’re planning a Star Wars Escape Room straight from the swamps of Dagobah.

Star Wars Reads in Bloomsburg.

All year long, patrons can check out a sizable collection of 251 Star Wars-related books. “I love that kids, teens, and adults can continue enjoying the timeless themes and endless creativity of the Star Wars universe in print,” says Lydia. “We want to remind children and parents that reading is not just something to do when there is leftover time, but that it’s important to make time for reading. Time to unwind and let the brain take off on an adventure to another galaxy with unlimited possibilities…. If we can attract a couple of families to start using the library or keep a kid reading because they love Star Wars, then we have made an impact on our community.”

Lydia’s Favorite Themed Snacks

  • Hoth Dogs and Boba Beans
  • Wookiee cookies and brownies with piped bandolier decorations.
  • Tatooine Trail Mix (which packed more sugar in each bite than is good for a Jedi or a Sith.
  • Red and green grape lightsabers
  • Yoda Soda and Vaderade

Lydia’s Favorite Crafts and Activities

  • Pool noodle lightsabers (and waging an epic lightsaber battle in the Children’s Library upstairs)
  • Wearable paper Yoda ears and Leia buns
  • Origami X-wings and TIE fighters
  • Stormtrooper Ring Toss
  • Word puzzles, Mad Libs, and reading time – both aloud and quietly

Lydia Recommends:

Star Wars Maker Lab to inspire Star Wars Reads activities and at-home crafting. Plus the resident Star Wars expert on staff, M.J. Mahon, recommends the short story anthology, Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View. “She says that it’s an amazing way to fall in love with Star Wars through some of the so-called minor characters.”

The 501st at Star Wars Reads in Charleston.

Andria Amaral, Young Adult Services Manager at the Charleston County Public Library

Six years ago, Andria’s local 501st Legion chapter, the Carolina Garrison, asked about paying a visit to her patrons. “At the time, I was helping plan a system-wide ‘One Book’ community reading initiative,” around another science fiction series, so it was a natural fit. “I like Star Wars, but I LOVE Star Wars fans,” says the self-proclaimed Leia fan. “I am really loving Rey, especially as a role model for young girls…she’s just so fierce and fearless, young girls are really relating to and emulating her and it’s wonderful. I love when people embrace their passions unabashedly and with all their heart.”

The library’s first Star Wars Reads event was such a success — it can bring as many as 1,000 people in, as long as there are no tropical storms in South Carolina — they decided to make it an annual event. “We have many large events at the Main Library, but Star Wars Reads is definitely one of our highest-attended, signature events and one that draws the most generationally-diverse crowd,” she says, including families who have made it an annual affair. “We see grandparents who loved the original trilogy attending the event with their kids who grew up with [the prequels], and their grandbabies who are clutching stuffed porgs. My favorite thing is when patrons think they are just coming to the library on an ordinary Saturday and find themselves in the middle of a huge celebration of all things Star Wars,” she says. “How often do you get to see Darth Vader strolling through the book stacks, or R2-D2 rolling around the checkout desk?!”

The challenge has become keeping the event fresh and new without excluding fan favorites from years past. “One year we served BB-8erade instead of Yoda Soda and we nearly had a real-life rebellion on our hands,” she jokes. “Lesson learned: there shall always be Yoda Soda at Star Wars Reads, even if that means I have to drive all over town looking for lime sherbet.”

Andria’s Favorite Crafts and Activities

  • A Star Wars music performance by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra
  • Star Wars storytime with 501st members performing “stormtrooper hokey pokey”
  • Sensory bins with kinetic sand for pre-schoolers and a Jedi training obstacle course that included crawling through an asteroid field
  • Scavenger hunts including a search among the stacks for the ancient Jedi texts
  • Temporary tattoos created by a local tattoo artist and given to anyone who checks out a Star Wars book or movie
  • Jakku Junkyard – build a droid out of recycled parts
  • Green Screen Magic – get your photo taken with a cool Star Wars backdrop
  • Write your name in Aurebesh

Andria Recommends:

“As a YA librarian I work primarily with tweens and teens, and I love recommending the Star Wars novels by Adam Gidwitz, Alexandra Bracken, and Tom Angleberger since they are perfect for that age group, and are written by authors that many of my readers already know. There’s something comforting about reading a book in a familiar universe, written by a familiar author.”

a Star WArs Reads Event in New Jersey.

Katherine Vander Wende, Children’s Librarian at Westwood Free Public Library

Star Wars Reads helps Katherine get people in her New Jersey community interested in a lifelong habit of reading through familiar characters and tales in the Star Wars galaxy. “We have about fifty patrons who participate in Star Wars Reads each year. For a local library of our size, that’s huge,” she says. “Teens bring their grandparents. Parents bring their children. Everyone can remember that magical moment when they saw their first Star Wars film. Everyone has a Star Wars character who they can relate to as a personal hero. We have books to reach everyone on their level, from Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex for preschoolers to Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn for the adults.”

Each year, the library staff creates a display celebrating Star Wars books. “It’s a bit overwhelming to see them all together. We have children’s picture books, early readers, chapter books, graphic novels, children’s nonfiction, adult fiction, video games, and films. When you put them all together, it is an entire wall of Star Wars.” Throughout the month, just that display can pull kids in like a tractor beam. “Yesterday, I saw a boy drag his grandfather toward the display to show him the Jedi Academy graphic novels by Jeffrey Brown. Grandpa reluctantly started to read one. Within minutes, he was in stitches. They took the book home to finish together.”

As a child, the Legends series Jedi Apprentice by Jude Watson and Dave Wolverton were among Katherine’s favorite books. “Often, reluctant readers simply haven’t found the right book to pique their curiosity.” But through the power of the Force, “Star Wars books reach an audience beyond bibliophiles.”

Katherine’s Favorite Crafts and Activities

  • Star Wars story time for kids and trivia (with a collection of facts taken from Star Wars Made Easy by Christian Blauvelt)
  • Build-your-own cardboard spaceships with time for a test flight to see which designs are most aerodynamic. “The X-Wings came out on top.”
  • Toilet paper tube Yodas and R2-D2s
  • Darth Vader bookmarks
  • Wookiee hand puppets

Katherine Recommends:

Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray. “It’s a relatable coming of age story, even if it occurs in a galaxy far, far away. Specifically, it examines the process of a young woman realizing her own power and learning to wield it. I love the way Leia learns to weigh when it’s time to play politics, and when it’s time to start a revolution.”

Check out more Star Wars books here!

Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them!

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