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Pima County Library brings stories by Tucson children to life

Pima County Library brings stories by Tucson children to life

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Megan Hellwig, of the Kirk-Bear Canyon Library, is part of a team that illustrates stories written by Tucson children. Those stories are then turned into narrated videos.

When the COVID-19 closed down the Pima County Public Library, my first thoughts were for our young visitors.

What would they do without story time and an ample supply of picture books? The image of a child isolated at home, missing out on the opportunity to socialize with others their age saddened me.

There would be no singing or important conversations about favorite dinosaurs in the library for the foreseeable future.

More selfishly, I missed their enthusiasm for stories. Virtual story time allows children to see the librarians performing on camera, but the librarians cannot hear or see the reactions on the other end. Just like a comedian on stage, librarians work with the energy from the crowd. It is always easier to come up with silly voices for each character in a book and dance with a beanbag on your head with the infectious laughter of toddlers filling the room.

We needed a way to fill this gap … thus, Story Sketches was born.

With Story Sketches, youth ages 5 to 18 submit stories of up to 500 words (and art if they wish) to the library. Stories are then turned into narrated videos featured on the Pima County Public Library Kids YouTube channel.

I had a blast creating the first two Story Sketches with the help of my awesome co-worker Elaina Brabant, who provided narration. Kendra Davey, the literacy initiatives program manager; library associate Carl Murdock; and Leila Duncan, student support librarian. All helped get the program running in time for the 2020 Summer Learning Program.

More than five months since we launched the program, Story Sketches is going strong. I have the pleasure of working as the illustrator and video editor. I get to draw pretty pictures and put the pictures and sound together to make the video. When we first receive a story, the artists get the first crack at reading it and decide who the best person for the job is.

If I get to do it, my first step is looking through the text carefully to see what actions should get their own picture. Since each story gets around six pictures, I pay special attention to the parts of the story that most need to be illustrated.

The next part is the most fun — sketching! I draw out all of my ideas for each of the pictures as quickly as possible. Once I am happy with them, I add color to liven them up.

While I create, the narrator records the sound. They send me the sound file when they are finished, and I edit out the white noise and add music. Listening to the audio recording also gives me a good idea how long each picture should be on the screen. I use a video editing program to put the images and sound together. It’s really exciting to see the movie coming together.

What makes this process so thrilling is that we never know what type of story we will receive. Each type requires a different style of art and color scheme to bring it to life.

Megan Hellwig has worked at the library since January. She is the children’s library associate at Kirk-Bear Canyon Library. If you know a young person ages 5 to 18, Megan would love to illustrate their story. Visit library.pima.gov/storysketches to learn more.

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“It feels good to walk in a bookstore and see one of your books on a table near the front door,” author-illustrator Chris Gall admitted. “The rest of the year we’re in the back someplace. To hear parents talking about books for their kids, to know they might be talking about yours, that’s pretty great.”

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