StoryCorps is an American non-profit organisation founded in 2003 by radio producer David Isay. Its stated mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world”.
The short film "The Treasures of Mrs. Grady's Library" (4.5 minutes) is a true story told by Judge Olly Neal, who grew up in Arkansas in the 1950s. It recounts an experience he had during his high school years: although he wasn't a particularly dedicated student, one day he visited the school library where he saw a book by the African-American author Frank Yerby. The cover piqued his interest. But instead of officially borrowing it, he just took it because he didn't want to be ridiculed by his friends for reading a book. When he put it back on the shelf after reading it, there was another book by Frank Yerby which he also secretly took and read. He later found out that one of the librarians had watched him take the book and had even gone all the way to Memphis several times to buy new books for him to read. He credits her with sparking his interest in reading, which prepared him for the extensive reading in law school later in life and enabled him to have a successful career.
The film, which is presented in animated form, is suitable for learners of English at all levels from B2 upwards. Below is a suggested classroom activity that can be used with the film.
Ask the students if they like reading and if they sometimes visit a library and, if so, what types of books or media they borrow there.
Tell students that they will watch a short film that involves a library. Ask them to answer the following questions:
Who is the protagonist?
Where does the story take place?
When did it take place?
What happens in the story?
Why didn’t Ollie borrow the book officially?
Stop the video at 1.14 minutes to allow students to answer the questions above.
Some students may misinterpret Ollie's motives for not officially borrowing the book. If this is the case, watch the relevant part again. Next, ask students how they think the story will end.
After watching the film, ask students to comment on the film with one or two adjectives and on the takeaway (the main message) for them.
One key aspect of the story is the peer pressure that Olly Neill felt exposed
to. Peer pressure refers to “a feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one's age and social group in order to be liked or respected by them” (Merriam-Webster).
Although peer pressure may be particularly strong in some communities, anyone can experience it and be harmed by it at some point in their life, especially as a child or teenager.
Talking about peer pressure
In what way can friends negatively influence each other?
Why are teenagers especially vulnerable to peer pressure?
What strategies can we use to avoid or resist negative peer pressure?
See also the following websites for some tips:
Students can rate the usefulness of the tips.
The following video by ReachOut.com Australia, an organization that provides targeted tools for young people, also provides useful information in this respect:
How to deal with peer pressure