Apprentices of the Book Empire

Editor’s note: We’re inviting people to speak up about projects that arose from CLUncon. Send ideas to cluncon at gmail dot com. The following is a guest post from Amy Holcomb (Northbrook Public Library) who also tweets at @tulipsfromputin.

After attending the first ever CLUNCON, I felt a professional recharge like no other. There’s something to be said for high quality, practical discussions with your peers. Things and changes actually happen afterward. Really, they do.

One of the more memorable table top discussions focused on using technology in youth programming, stressing the concept of using what your library has first before expanding into new technological territory. This discussion was founded on the understanding that libraries are moving from consumer spaces to creator spaces. Libraries use available technology to provide opportunities for project based programs, where patrons can show off what they create.

So how do we tie it all together and create a program that fits our community?

I considered some of the shared ideas, like a photography club or a stop motion animation program. But I didn’t think those ideas could be readily implemented in my library.

Then I discussed this dilemma with my colleague, Anna Fillmore, and from that discussion, we developed: The Apprentices of the Book Empire. ABE, as we like to call it, is a young authors and illustrators club, but with a twist. In this incarnation, we wanted to mimic the publishing industry as much as possible while facilitating a creative outlet for kids. The library is the publisher. The librarians running the program represent the publisher. The kids are the apprentices, where they are the authors of their own stories and illustrators of someone else’s story. The apprentices have no say in who their illustrator is, who they are assigned to as an illustrator or what their final product looks like. They do have the option to have their final published story circulate in the library’s collection for a year, pending parent permission.

The five week program covers publishing related topics in mini workshops, including page breaking, author-illustrator pairings, types of illustrations, and how illustrations convey certain moods/tones. Since we only have an hour each week, we send the kids home with one or two tasks to recap what was covered in the mini workshops and to encourage them to apply this new knowledge to their own stories and to the stories they are illustrating.

Twelve kids in grades 2-5 signed up for the pilot program. Week 1 was a hit, with all the kids joining in on the book cover activity and discussion with minimal prodding from the publisher representatives. We are approaching Week 2, where the illustrating assignments will be distributed. Then we’ll carry on from there.

These kids understand and sense so much of what goes on in a well-written and well-illustrated story. It’s amazing to witness and we can’t wait to see the final products.

For more information about ABE, please contact Amy Holcomb at or Anna Fillmore at

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