Star Wars

A little Darth Vader, six-year-old Benjamin Nagiel, of Ellicott City is engrossed in his Stars Wars book at the Elkridge library while a big Darth Vader stands watch with his fellow Star Wars characters. (Photo by Phil Grout / October 9, 2012)

The force was strong at the Elkridge Branch Library Saturday, as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader and Yoda walked between the bookshelves.

Some were members of a costuming organization dedicated to charity work. Some were toddlers, itching in their outfits. All were at the Howard County Library System's Elkridge location for Star Wars Reads Day, a celebration of the classic films and of reading.

"It's such a popular topic, and there are so many books tied to that, for all ages, from pre-readers (like picture books) to adults," said Sarah Russo, teen instructor and research specialist with the library system. "The books are diverse because the fans are diverse."

It was the first time Stars Wars Reads was celebrated at the Elkridge branch, but Russo said the county has had Star Wars-themed events for years.


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"Star Wars captivates you in the same way a good fairy tale captivates you," Russo said. "There's a hero, there's a villain, there's good versus evil. It's just a really great story."

There's a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) component as well, Russo said. With that in mind, among the crafts and displays of Star Wars books were presentations on the science of the fictional galaxy — light sabers, lasers and space travel. It's a way to bring facts out of fiction, Russo said, and the reverse is true as well: reminding students that reading for the sake of reading is just as important as reading for school.

"So much of their curriculum is non-fiction based, and there's a focus on reading for knowledge," Russo said. "But it's good to read for fun, too."

The Star Wars franchise is a good gateway into reading, Russo said, and developing a love for reading at an early age.

That was the case for Shea Howland, 3, of Ellicott City, who first picked up her father's 1970s Star Wars picture book several months ago and became "obsessed," her father said. She was dressed up as Princess Leia, and her one-and-a-half year-old brother, Harris, was dressed up as Yoda.

"It's kind of like a dad-daughter thing, looking at these books with Shea," said Shea and Harris' father, Harris Howland. "Every time she comes to the library, she comes home with a Star Wars book we read together every night."

Benjamin and Evan Nagiel, 6, and 3, of Ellicott City, were dressed as Darth Vader and the bounty hunter Jango Fett.

"I already got two Star Wars books," said Benjamin, a student at Worthington Elementary. "I might get more."

"We love the library, so we come to a lot of the programs, but the Star Wars was another chance for them to wear their Halloween costumes," said Benjamin and Evan's mother, Jill. "This is a great idea. This is one of the reasons (Benjamin) started reading, because he wanted to read about Star Wars."

Dressed as Anakin Skywalker, Tony Federici, executive officer of the Rebel Legion Terrapin Base — the costuming organization present at the event — said children become more proactive in their reading when they can interact with the characters on the page and on the screen.

"It's a good tool to get on the child's level, to relate to what they need to be more interested in the education programs offered by Howard County," he said. "We just want them to read more."

People of all generations relate to Star Wars, Federici said, because it's more than a movie: It's a story for the ages.

"There's real emotions, real problems, real crises, and there's different relationships and friendships," he said. "It's a learning tool. When you're a young person, learning how to get along in your life, this is a good movie or book because it shows unity among friends. That's the message: If you stick together as friends, you can get through anything. … It's about striving for a happier co-existence with your fellow man."