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Night of the Reading Dead

November 28, 2012

A youth event with a difference highlights the community value of libraries

There is no-one in the library when the children arrive.

Jagged letters are chalked across the door: SAVE YOURSELVES.

Blood is pooled on the front step.  Within, bookshelves have been knocked to the ground, their contents spilled across the carpet.

The air is thick with summer heat and silence.

The children suspect a prank.  They’re quick to investigate, eagerly picking over the vandalised interior, quizzing their teachers:

“Is it a murder mystery game?”

“Did you fake a burglary?”

Before the adults have time to answer, a terrible cry comes from the street outside.

The children run to the library doors.

They see figures approaching: gruesome, deformed individuals from the ranks of the walking dead. Zombies attack!  The children scream as the teachers hurry them inside and barricade the doors.

Only the library can save them now…

On November 9th, 2012, the rural Australian community of Tullamore, New South Wales experienced a literacy event like no other.

Thirty-two children and teens found themselves besieged in the town library by an army of the living dead.

Expecting a storytelling workshop, students aged from 9 to 18 suddenly faced a desperate battle for survival.  With only the library’s books at their disposal and two reporters from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation looking on… would they survive?

Libraries are often overlooked as a community resource.  So much more than just a glorified book store, your library can be the first port of call in times of crisis.

During the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, librarians demonstrated this, offering storytelling sessions in emergency refuges to keep children entertained while parents and carers had much-needed adult conversations.  After the 2010 quake, local people had flocked to the outside of the city’s central library, using it as a wi-fi hub from the street.  When phones were down, the library was a vital communication access point.

Some of the reading materials distributed by libraries can also help the public during natural disasters.  The Tullamore kids and teens who found themselves confronting a zombie horde used a free comic book prepared by America’s Centres for Disease Control, addressing real life needs through a fantasy scenario.

As the Tullamore students trawled their library to make a list of items they’d need to survive the zombie uprising, and plotted escape routes on maps of their town, they were developing both research skills and the real life competencies needed to survive a natural disaster.

Thankfully the town’s kids and teens weren’t entirely alone in their struggles.  The local fire service arrived to distract the zombie horde and drop off supply crates.

While the fire fighters established a safe haven back at Tullamore Central School, students hit on a desperate plan to sneak past the horde and escape the siege.

Using face paint and fake blood, Tullamore’s children and young people disguised themselves as members of the living dead.

Adopting the lurching gait and blood-curdling moans of their foes, they made their way to safety through the cannibal crowds.  Tullamore’s young people faced the zombie hordes, survived, and even got home in time for tea.

The events of the Tullamore zombie uprising were covered by ABC radio and community blogging correspondents, and sparked discussion across the Internet.   Canadian arts website The Cultural Gutter collated the media coverage online.

Over the following week, Tullamore Central School students devoted themselves to writing activities based on their real life zombie siege.  Principal Sandra Carter explained: “Children talked non-stop about the event: planning, writing, thinking about the audience they were writing for.  These were fantastic learning outcomes, the older students helping the younger ones, and they didn’t even realise they were doing all this learning!’

Libraries are a community resource for all situations: your first port of call for imagination, education, action, and adventure – and just possibly your safest refuge in a zombie apocalypse.

Matt Finch is a British writer and educator, who can be found online at http://matthewfinch.meIn case of zombie apocalypse, he will repurpose his long dormant pizza delivery skills to help survivors scavenge supplies.

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