Inspired by Gary D. Schmidt’s young adult novel Okay for Now, the New Bedford (Mass.) Free Public Library, the Friends of the New Bedford Free Public Library, New Bedford Free Public Library Art Room, and the New Bedford Art Museum partnered to create Art in Words, a program for teens ages thirteen through fifteen that combines reading, drawing, and painting.
Okay for Now tells the story of Doug Swieteck, a new-in-town fourteen-year-old with a reading disability, an abusive father, one brother who is frequently in trouble with the law, and another who is fighting in Vietnam. Struggling to overcome adults’ low expectations of him, Doug meets Lil Spicer, and together they turn to the local library and find inspiration in John Audobon’s bird paintings. The novel “weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.”
Part book club, part art workshop, the ten-week program also uses Audobon’s bird paintings to help local teens to interpret events in their own lives. Each participant will receive a copy of Okay for Now, an artist portfolio, watercolor paints and supplies, a journal, and a pen. The teens will read a chapter of the book each week, then meet every Wednesday afternoon for two hours to discuss what they read, study the related Audubon painting (the library is fortunate to have a rare complete set of the double-elephant folios of Audubon’s Birds of America), and draw. Halfway through the program, the teens will start work on their own bird paintings, which will be displayed in the New Bedford Art Museum next fall. A visit from the author is also planned.
This pilot program is limited to fifteen teens. If it goes well, the library hopes to expand the program to include other books. More information about the program, including the program’s curriculum, can be found on the Friends of the New Bedford Free Public Library website.