Simpson Street

Ali Khan of Simpson Street Free Press in his book trailer video.

To many minorities in high school, stereotypes and laughter are rarely tied together. But both are big parts of 16-year-old Ali Khan’s life. So when it came time to choose a book to read and make a video trailer about it as part of his work with the Simpson Street Free Press’ summer program, Khan decided to pick one he could relate to that contained both, Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices, edited by Mitali Perkins.

It’s a collection of fiction and nonfiction stories by ten young adult authors aboug breaking down cultural barriers.

“If you didn’t know already, race can be a pretty heavy topic. But when you add in humor, it becomes pretty light,” the Middleton senior says in the opening of his book trailer.

Khan indentifies himself as an American, but his parents grew up in villages in Northern Pakistan and he has consequently dealt with his share of stereotypes.

Khan and seven other students were asked to pick a book from the “Read On Wisconsin” list, write and publish a review in the Simpson Street Free Press. Once they completed their book reviews, they produced short videos, similar to movie trailers, about their books.

The Read On Wisconsin website describes a book trailer as” a video booktalk involving multiple actors, images, and even special effects. It can be live action or animated.”

Over the course of nine weeks, the students were introduced to the Media Lab at the Madison Central Library, also known as the Bubbler. In the media lab, they learned how to use iPads, storyboards, portable green screens and computers with editing and software tools to complete the project.

The book trailers project is part of a literacy partnership in conjunction with the library, Cooperative Children's Book Center and Madison Civics Club.

“Simpson Street Free Press and I had been talking about different ways to partner up on their book clubs when we started to explore ways to expand upon the excellent teen book reviews published in the their paper,” said Jesse Vieau, the library’s teen librarian, in an email.

Students watched and dissected examples of different styles of trailers before storyboarding their videos. The storyboard is the part of the process that visually maps out a story. Once students mastered the storyboard process, they moved on to the iPad animation station, where they began to bring their work to life. In the final step of the process, the students sat down with librarians to discuss their book choice and the message they want to relay, according to Vieau.

“This was such an awesome experience,” said Claire Miller, design editor at Simpson Street Free Press, who worked with Vieau to help supervise the project. “There is no way we would have been able to do this without Central Library. This overlaps what we teach. At Simpson Street Free Press, we encourage the students to take the ideas in their head and turn it into something tangible. So, it was good to see all the students’ hard work pay off.”

This program has lead to summer jobs for the Simpson Street Press students. Two students from the Simpson Street Free Press who participated in project have joined the Central Library as paid book trailer assistants.

Students who missed out on the first round of fun do not have to worry. Thanks to an LSTA grant that is currently funding the library’s teen book trailers, students will have the chance to participate in pop-up camps that are being offered with other local community partners.

Other interested students are encouraged to drop in during the library’s open lab hours. Like Khan, students will be able to express themselves creatively all while gaining skills needed for the film-making process.

Since 1992, Simpson Street Free Press has been running outside-the-classroom programs focused on academic achievement through a newspaper reporting curriculum. Student reporters work to positively influence their peers and learn by writing articles on many topics that their words make a difference in their communities. The award-winning publication’s circulation has grown over the years with 7,000 copies of each edition distributed to Madison schools.