New York State Library Personal History Initiative and Summer Reading 2021 “Tails and Tales” 

Although we are now starting to go back to some of our normal routines and resume previous activities – each of us still feels the effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic in unique ways. The experiences of all New Yorkers make up the foundation of our state’s history. To record and preserve the unprecedented, historical events unfolding around us currently, Manuscripts and Special Collections (MSC) encourages all New Yorkers to contribute to the COVID-19 Personal History Initiative. A diary or journal. A photograph. A video. An art project. How have you recorded the events of the past year or expressed your feelings about the pandemic?

The idea for a collaboration involving the NYSL COVID-19 Personal History Initiative and Summer Reading initially came together in 2020 during a virtual meeting of State Library colleagues who were involved in the development and launch of the Personal History initiative.  Now as we prepare for the 2021 Summer Reading season with the theme of animals and the slogan of Tails and Tales, we continue to recognize the strong connection between young people documenting their personal history during the pandemic and as the world moves forward.  So we want to keep encouraging young adults to use Summer Reading ideas and activities to tell their personal story and explore and learn about all things related to animal topics. The July 1 2020 webinar slides and recording ​ as well as some updated project examples are available on this page to give you some helpful ideas to support programming during this post-pandemic summer period when things are rapidly changing.

Libraries all over NY State have worked hard over the last few months to rework and adapt their Summer Reading and Summer Learning programs to a very different and challenging environment. Once again, they have come up with many creative solutions and programs and offerings to keep kids engaged this summer.  Do you have some awesome and creative personal history narrative ideas to share from your library?  Please send them to Marisa Gitto at or Sharon Phillips at and we may include them on this page!  


Ideas for Summer Reading Projects using the NYSL COVID-19 Personal History Initiative!

  1. Do you have a pet? What type of pet is it? What is his or her name? What’s the personality of your pet? Create a daily journal of your pet for seven days. Observe the pet’s day. What does your pet like to do or eat? When is playtime? When is nap time or being lazy? Do you think your pet realizes what is going on during the pandemic? Do you think your pet realizes changes that have been made from this historic situation? From the journal entries, create a mini-graphic novel on your pet’s daily life and how their day has changed because of the pandemic.
  2. What is your favorite animal tale and why? Create a poster of why young people should read this tale especially during the time of Covid-19.
  3. During the summer it is always fun to go to a zoo. Which zoo will you be going to this summer? Which animal is your favorite at the zoo? Which animal don’t you like at the zoo? You may wish to ask the following questions or document what you see related to Covid-19 and the zoo. What precautions did you need to take when you were at the zoo? Did you ask the staff and zookeeper questions about the animals and Covid-19? How has the zoo changed? Create a photojournal or collage of your time spent at the zoo.
  4. Have you ever visited an animal sanctuary? Animal sanctuaries help rescue animals who have been hurt. New York State has lots of animal sanctuaries especially in the Hudson Valley region. Due to Covid-19, many animals needed to be rescued. Some animal sanctuaries place the stories of the animals on their website. If you go to visit an animal sanctuary or view their website, review the website with your parent or caregiver. If you cannot visit an animal sanctuary this summer, you can read the stories of the animals on the website. After reading the animal’s story, create a picture book or graphic novel based upon the animal.
  5. Are you going to an aquarium this summer? If you do, what types of aquatic animals do you see? What various colors are seen at the aquarium? Create a kaleidoscope (using a paper towel roll and place cellophane at the end of the roll with tape) of all the amazing colors seen at the aquarium. How has our perception of color changed during the time of Covid-19? What are we seeing differently during this time? Create a time capsule and add your kaleidoscope. Write a short message of how this time has changed you to add to your time capsule.
  6. Create a “Happy Tail/Tale” in honor of animal/s during the time of Covid-19. Write a mini-graphic novel, picture book, or mini-play about an animal who is the main character of your story. What is it like for the animal during the pandemic? Who are the friends of the animal? What are the best things and most challenging things during this time period for the animal? What are the most memorable experiences the animal shares?
  7. It’s always fun to go outside and observe nature whether it is in your backyard or at the park. What animals from nature do you see? Create a photojournal with text and digital images of the animals. Create names for the animals, create text of their thoughts or make up conversations between animal friends.
  8. Create an animal puppet/s of your favorite animal character. Use paper bags, envelopes, socks to make the puppet/s. Create dialogue, text with family and friends to recreate the animal tale.
  9. If you could create an animal, what would it be? How would the animal look? What would the name be? Create an animal and write a mini-story regarding the character. Who are his friends? How do they feel during the time of Covid-19? You can draw, paint, use graphic design to create your characters.
  10. Write a comic strip in honor of Snoopy and Woodstock from Peanuts. Share how the two animals are living during the time of the pandemic. How are they responding? Use pictures and words to illustrate the characters.
  11. During the summer, it is always fun to go visit a farm. Farm animals like to be fed and spoken to when you visit. Which animal was the most memorable on your visit and why? Take a photo of the farm animal. Share the observations of the animal’s personality. Was the farm animal shy, stubborn, friendly, fearful, etc.? Create a collage of personality to express the farm animal’s character with words, pictures, images, etc.
  12. Two famous lions in New York State are at New York Public Library. The lions sit outside of the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Their names are Patience and Fortitude. Why are the names of these lions important during the time of the pandemic? How have you been patient and exemplified fortitude during the time of Covid-19? Create a poem, mini-graphic-novel, short story, essay, drawing, art, etc. of both virtues.
  13. Using your cell phone or a digital device, interview your pet. Create a series of questions, and share the moments as your pet responds to you. Share the moments of your interview by writing an article for your public library. One of the questions you may like to ask your pet: How do you feel during the pandemic? What is new to you that did not happen before? See how your pet responds and record the interaction.
  14. In the past, homing pigeons were used to send messages. The homing pigeons delivered the messages in a bottle/tube around its neck and the message was delivered on parchment paper, and then returned home. If you were a homing pigeon, where would you send your message? Why did you choose this place? Who did you send your message to? What did your message say? Why do you feel this message would be memorable during the pandemic? On parchment paper, create a message you would send via a homing pigeon during the pandemic.
  15. With a parent or caregiver, visit a humane society. Have a parent or caregiver call ahead of time if you are able to visit. Ask before going to visit the humane society if you are able to donate an item for the animals. How does it feel when you donate time, or give a donation/gift to someone or an animal in need? Share your experiences about the humane society with a family member, friend, teacher, librarian, etc. Ask the person where they like to volunteer or donate time to something significant in their lives. How does it make the person feel? Ask the person how have they donated to something during the pandemic. Create a bookmark on your time spent at the humane society and give the bookmark to the person you asked about donating time or volunteering.
  16. With a parent or caregiver, visit a veterinarian hospital or clinic and interview a staff member. Ask a parent or caregiver to call the veterinary hospital or clinic if you are able to visit. When you visit, ask the types of precautions that were taken during Covid-19 to protect the staff as well as the animals. Ask if animals can get the virus as well, and what is best to protect animals during this time. When you finish the interview, create a poster of how you can protect animals during Covid-19.
  17. Animals are in many ways heroes. Find a story of a heroic animal who achieved greatness and helped someone or animal. Create a mini-graphic novel, picture book, or short story of this amazing animal.
  18. Mascots honor a sports team or a school, etc. Create an animal mascot in honor of the nurses, physicians, teachers, and essential workers during the time of the pandemic. Create a poster of the animal mascot, and write a tribute to all the amazing heroes of the pandemic.
  19. Therapy dogs are amazing animals. The therapy dogs with their owners visit libraries, hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. The dogs provide love and nurturing when someone is feeling sick or sad. At libraries, you can read to the therapy dogs. Create a tale with the main character being a therapy dog. Create the story from the therapy dog’s point of view. You can create the tale with a picture book, mini-graphic novel, short story, comic strip, etc.
  20. Create a rap or a poem based on your favorite animal or animal character of a story. Have your friends or family members guess what the animal is at the end of the rhyming creation.


Sending Materials to New York State Library, Manuscripts and Specials Collections

If you are interested in donating projects or other items related to the pandemic and personal history, please contact Manuscripts and Special Collections at or 518-474-6282.

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