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Sunday Reflections: The Problem with “Just Write It Yourself”

sundayreflectionsI admit it, I do it. I read the comments. And one comment I see over and over again on posts about needing more diversity or female representation in literature, tv or movies is this: Just write your own. Which, when you think about it, is silencing and condescending.

The idea is that we don’t have a right to ask for better representation and that if we see a problem then we have to fix it on our own. But that’s not a realistic way to address the problem.

Let’s take, for example, the city road you drive down every day. Let’s say that road is full of potholes. You’ve repeatedly blown out a tire driving down that road. So one day you call the city road department to complain and instead of considering your request to fix the road, they simply told you that if the road was really such a problem you should fix it yourself. Except, of course, you can’t. You don’t have the means to fix the road yourself, so this answer wouldn’t help solve your problem at all. It is an answer designed to shut down conversation. Now replace that pot holed road that is ruining your car and replace it with a movie or book that perpetuates negative stereotypes.

For a more relevant example, let’s discuss my desire to have a movie based on a female superhero. We could use any example: more POC representation in YA, more GLBTQ representation in YA, more representation of teens with disabilities in YA lit. The goal is the same in all of these requests – representation – and when we ask for it we are often met with the same reply: Just. Write. Your. Own.

But back to female superhero representation in movies. Here’s why that answer is really just a way to shut down the conversation.

You see, I am not a writer. I’m not a filmmaker. And I am not rich. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to express my concerns about the lack of female representation in the movies and the ways in which it is harmful to us as a culture.

Even if one day I woke up with the ability to write a world class novel featuring a YA superhero – which I must remind you, is not a talent I possess – I would still have to find someone to publish it or, in the case of making a movie, to make the movie happen. I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but most movies have million dollar budgets. I can barely pay my barely middle class bills each month. Making the movie of my dreams is not in my future.

And let’s say I did write that novel, getting published is hard. I could pursue self-publishing, but there is still some cost involved in that.

And that people who are asking for more representation in the media often don’t have the access or power necessary to make the products they want to see happen. They are, by definition, the marginalized and othered in our culture. They are the disenfranchised. That’s part of the reason why they are under-represented or stereotypically represented in the media. They lack the power and resources to make sure they have good representation in the media which is why they are asking for more.

Which is also why that answer – make it yourself – is silencing, designed to shut down conversation.

I can’t write a movie featuring a female superhero. If I did write one, I don’t have the finances to film, edit, distribute, and market said movie. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t have the right to speak out about the need for more and better female representation in superhero movies, or film in general.

In some ways, the Internet and social media help level the playing field. They at least allow voices who previously didn’t have a chance to speak out to be heard.

I’ll use the recent discussion of the Confederate flag as an example. A commentor recently observed that nobody complained that the Confederate flag was racist before the Charleston incident and now all the people removing the Confedereate image off of their products were just cotowing to the liberal agenda. But this is a false statement, I have heard my entire life many people discussing the fact that the Confederate flag was racist and offensive. I heard it at church potlucks and college seminars and over a glass of wine with friends. It’s just that those were all individual voices who didn’t have the forum to join collectively and be heard. The Internet and social media provides us with that forum.

Just as it provides us to discuss the gender roles and stereotypes, the depiction of POC in the media, the appropriation of various cultures in offensive ways, the persecution and civil rights of the GLBTQ population, and more.

People have been having these conversations for a really long time in small, intimate circles. But they didn’t have access to the tools to help make those conversations heard. At most we could maybe write a letter to the editor in a local paper or possibly a big name magazine and hope it got published. But now the othered have better tools to raise their voices and “Just do it yourself” is an angry response designed to shut those voices down.

I can’t do it myself. I can’t change a culture by myself. I can’t make the movies I want to see or the books I want to read by myself. But I can ask that we consider why we do what we do the way that we do it and if there are ways that we can do it better. I think better female representation in the movies helps us all, men and women. I think better representation of GLBTQ, POC and people with disabilities – to name just a few – helps us all. It’s a human rights issue.

Just do it yourself is a new response to the same old problem designed to maintain the status quo because the people who flippantly make that reply often know that the target of their comment is not in a position to actually just do it themselves. It’s a reply designed to shut down conversation and put those of us asking for more in our place. They know full well that I can’t write that movie, produce that movie, direct that movie, distribute that movie, or market that movie. And I resent the implication that I don’t have the right to ask for goods and services that meet my wants and needs, that better reflects me and the world we live in.

I can’t just do it myself. I need your help. And I’m not going to stop asking. Because at the end of the day that’s what we all really want, to be heard and respected.

Friday Finds – July 3, 2015

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: We Have Always Been Makers

Middle Grade Monday – Greenglass House by Kate Milford

An Interview with Patrick Jones by guest blogger Jessi Schulte-Honstad

Circulating Maker Kits, part two – Putting the Kits Together (with a book list)

Book Review: Survive the Night by Danielle Vega

Things I Learned Visiting the Cincinnati MakerSpace: Fun with Buttons! Edition

Around the Web

It’s almost like investing in our nation’s children pays off…

Unless they have a medical restriction, please vaccinate your children. (via @scalzi)

From the Economic Policy Institute: Early Education Gaps by Social Class and Race Start U.S. Children Out on Unequal Footing

Why YA fiction needs to tell stories of mental illness

Where is the terrorism debate about the burning of black churches?

The ‘gay agenda’?

AASL Best Apps for Teaching and Learning


Allow girls to participate in your robotics session, Timmons. A petition.

Smart teenager.

Things I Learned Visiting the Cincinnati MakerSpace: Fun with Buttons! Edition

In early June my colleague and I journeyed to the city of Cincinnati (OH) to tour their new MakerSpace. It was glorious in many ways. You can see pictures of that visit on the TLT Tumblr page here, here and here. I learned many things:

The entrance to the Maker Space at the Cincinnati Public Library

The entrance to the Maker Space at the Cincinnati Public Library

1. I can not consistently spell Cincinnati correctly.

2. A button maker is the most glorious fun you can ever have. No, seriously, it is.

So I looked at my colleague when we returned and said, “We need it, a button maker!” To which she replied, “Why yes, yes we do.” And thus the button maker was ordered. After exhaustive research, which involved talking with fellow TLTer Heather Booth who also has a button maker, we opted to purchase ours through American Button Machines. We purchased both a 1.25 inch and a 2.25 machine.

On June 22nd I hosted my first teen program using the button maker and to say that the teens enjoyed it would be an understatement. They were ravenous to create buttons.

Oh look, there's The Tween making buttons!

Oh look, there’s The Tween making buttons!

We cut up comic books, graphic novels (discarded of course) and magazines to make our buttons. We also used scrapbook paper.

We cut up comic books, graphic novels (discarded of course) and magazines to make our buttons. We also used scrapbook paper.

Just a few of the buttons our teens made

Just a few of the buttons our teens made

We then (and by we, I mean me in this case) made a template to make Super Reader buttons to give to kids who completed their SRC goal.

Buttons for our 2015 Super Readers!

Buttons for our 2015 Super Readers!

After our first program using the button maker, we realized that we needed better instructions. On Monday, July 6th we are going to kick of our Maker Mondays with a variety of Maker stations and we wanted to make sure we had some good instructions for patrons to follow. I made some personalized instruction sheets using some of the pictures off the American Button Machine site and adding my own commentary.

ButtonInstructionsPage1 ButtonInstructionsPage2You can download these instruction sheets if you find them useful Page 1 and Page 2

The original American Button Machines instructions that I adapted can be found here

Our plan for Maker Mondays is to have a variety of stations set up and have really detailed instructions at each station. We will have: Little Bits, Legos, Button Making, the Ellison dies, paper cutters, the Ellison machine, Strawbees and whatever else we come up with set up around our programming room.


We made buttons for the staff to wear to promote Maker Mondays!

We made buttons for the staff to wear to promote Maker Mondays!

And because we loved our button maker so much, we ordered the pieces and parts to make mirrors and key chains. I did it for you readers, I swear. I wanted to write you a fully informed post. In a not surprising turn of events, I have to report that we also loved the mirrors. They are a little smaller than I would like, but great for putting on lip gloss and checking for monsters under the bed.


Look! There’s me taking a picture of the front and back side of a 2.25 inch mirror made with the American Button Machine.

Thank you Cincinnati Public Library for a great visit and inspiration! We love our button machine and have already done a prototype of our Maker Mondays with teens that was very successful. We love our button maker!

MakerSpace Notes:

My Original Mobile Makerspace
My Updated Mobile Makerspace
MakerSpace Tech Tools Comparison Chart
The Unboxing and Learning Curve
Exploring Circulating Maker Kits and Circulating Maker Kits part 2 with a Book List
The Maker Bookshelf/Collection (with a book list)
Strawbees part 1 and part 2

Book Review: Survive the Night by Danielle Vega


“We’re all going to die down here!”

Publisher’s Annotation:

Fresh out of rehab for oxycodone addiction, Casey and some of her friends attend an all-night rave called Survive the Night in the New York City subway, and find themselves fighting for their lives because drugs are not the only danger here–something is using the rave to attract victims, and some of them will not be coming back.

Karen’s Thoughts:

First, I have to give props to this cover which is one of my favorite covers of the year. I know, I know, it’s such a shallow thing to start with. But I think it has high cover appeal and teens will pull it off of shelves.

For those who are looking for a horror story, after the first 75 pages or so Survive the Night definitely delivers. People die right in front of everyone and there is blood and guts and if you like that type of thing it is all pretty cool. I like that type of thing and I thought it was pretty cool. For me, it was very reminiscent of Phantoms by Dean Koontz or Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Before you get all boy Karen those are some really old references, please keep in mind that Phantoms by Kean Koontz was my favorite book in 6th grade and it has always stayed with me. And I recently watched Relic on TV. There are other reasons why those titles come to mind but I can’t share them with you here because it wouldn’t be very nice of me to spoil you in that way.

If at the end you want to know what happened and why, this book is not for you. This book is all about the fun of old fashioned horror. There is something happening, you must escape said thing or die. The how or what or why of it is less important than the adrenaline rush of pursuit. Sometimes that’s what we want out of a book and Survive the Night delivers. Deadly peril in a tight space with an unknown assailant? Check, check and check.

There are a couple of other layers to the story that are interesting. Our main character, Julie, is dealing with some addiction and self denial issues. She has made and continues to make some crappy life and friendship choices. All of these are part of the reason that she is in the tunnel to begin with, so it makes sense that coming face to face with her mortality she ponders them every once in a while. It was interesting.

It is my humble opinion that the ending can be interpreted on two different levels, which is fascinating.

And for those who like a little romance, Julie has a tense relationship with an ex-boyfriend that she is totally crushing on and he happens to be with them in the tunnel this unfortunate night. Will they hook up? Will the make-up? Will the break up (again)? But most importantly, will they both survive the night?

Sometimes, a book is just fun. Yes, that’s right, horror can be fun. Teens will enjoy this.

Circulating Maker Kits, part two – Putting the Kits Together (with a book list)

Maker Collection-1As step three in our efforts to fully embrace the Maker movement, and in conjunction with our Maker Collection of circulating titles, we are putting together Circulating Maker Kits (CMKs) that will check out to the public and provide our community with some simple but fun hands on introductions to Making. The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County already has a really good prototype for this in the form of circulating toy kits bundled by theme for early childhood education, so we just adapted it for our Circulating Maker Kits.  We are collecting a variety of toys, tools and resources on a particular theme and putting them together in clear backpacks that will be checked out as one complete unit. Each CMK will have an inventory list and in addition to the resources we buy, we are also planning to print off on-line instructions where appropriate to add in the kits as well, or resource pages with lists of on-line sites that will be of further interest.

We did a lot of research about what to put in each kit, with a few particular needs in mind.

1. We needed the items to be low cost.

We anticipate having some loss and needed to make replacements, so low cost is key. Also, we live in a more financially challenged community and we don’t want to put too high of a financial burden on our patrons should they have to pay for lost or damaged materials.

2. We needed the items to fit in our circulating bags.

3. We needed the items to be easy(ish) for staff to keep track of when checking the bags in and out.

The CMKs are a little more of a burden for circulation staff in that we will ask them to inspect each kit before checking it out and upon return to make sure that all the pieces and parts are there and accounted for, so we wanted to make it as easy as possible for staff while still putting together some fun and educational circulating maker kits.

There are lots of cool things out there that we considered, include marble mazes, magnetic building blocks, stomp rocket kits and more. We researched on-line and in person. I went to toy stores, Barnes and Noble, and offbeat places like TJ Maxx (they always have interesting toys there that I’ve never seen anywhere else). We found out that a few other libraries had circulating maker kits, either to check out to patrons or to check out to branch libraries for programming, and we looked at what they put in their kits.

And after all that research, this is what we decided on for our trial run . . .

Circulating Maker Kits

CMK#1: Tinker & Build with Straws

Strawbees, Make it Yourself (with Straws) 9780749669102, Geodesic Domes


We have the Accucut dies so we can easily fill a circulating kit with parts and pieces with minimal costs, especially since you can recycle things like milk jugs to make the connectors.

CMK#2: Stopmotion

Animation Studio, Stopmotion Explosion, Brick Flicks, The Klutz Book of Animation


The Animation Studio has a little stage that folds out and works perfectly for a kit. Users will have to provide their own technology, such as a smart phone, tablet or laptop, but this kit is a great place to explore and get started.

CMK#3: Robotics (Teens)

The Robot Book, Robot Building for Teens, Recycled Robots

cmk2Recycled Robot has a basic motor and ideas for creating robots from items commonly found around the house.

CMK #4: Paper Machines

The Paper Boomerang Book, Karakuri, Paper Toy Monsters, The Flying Machine Book


Partly because I thought the Paper Toy Monsters book was adorable, we decided to go with paper machines because it’s pretty easy and cost effective to keep putting blank paper in a bag to offset the cost of some of the higher priced CMKs we put together. The Karakuri and Paper Toy Monsters books both have templates that can be punched out and used. We will put a notion on the books asking patrons to use them as templates for reference, but we anticipate that we will have to replace these books as the templates get used up.

CMK #5: Robots (Easy)

Robots for Children, Bot + Boy by Ame Dyckman, Build a Robot toy, Stacking Robots, Robots for Children


We wanted to make sure and include a few younger kits (there are a few more listed below). There is no shortage of robot books, both pictures books and amazing How To books, so this was actually one of the harder kits to put together because we had to make some hard decisions about what we would (could) include and what we had to just leave on our wishlist for another day. We did purchase many additional titles, however, for the circulating collection.

CMK#6: Build with Me

Quercetti Tecno Building Toy, Dreaming Up by Christy Hale, Tinkerlab, Make: Tinkering, How Cars Work: The Interactive Guide to Mehanisms that Make a Car Move


CMK #7: Electricity

Snapcircuits Jr, Squishy Circuits, Making a Circuit, What is a Circuit

snapcircuitsjrCMK #8: Rainbow Loom

Rainbow Loom & Monster Tail, Loom Band It, Totally Rubber Band Jewelry, Loom Magic Charms, Loom Magic Creatures


We bought a large, bulk order of bands and are pre-making packets that circulation staff can easily slip into the kit when it is returned. We will also include a note saying please use the band provided to make whatever they like and to feel free to buy additional bands if they want to make additional projects.

CMK #9: Legos for Teens

Chain Reaction, Totally Cool Creations, Cool Creations in 35 Pieces


This is one of the kits that staff is not looking forward to checking out and in because it will contain a handful of Legos. There will be a replacement cost for Legos should they not come back. Though I recently read on the ALATT Facebook page that another library uses a shipping scale to weigh the Legos as opposed to counting items which is a great idea we are exploring.

CMK #10: Engineering (School Age)

Goldie Blox, Rosie Revere the Engineer, Engineering ABCs

duploreadandbuildThe 5 following CMKs are founded on the Duplo series of Read and Build kits that come with a book and the pieces to make a small Duplo creation that corresponds with the book. In addition to the Duplo kit, we are adding a couple of age appropriate books on the topic to go in the kit. I’ll be honest, I wanted to do these kits because I thought the Duplo kits were perfect for our purposes, but the Children’s Librarian Debbie Baker is working on ordering the additional materials for these kits so I don’t know fully yet what will be in each kit. Duplo, like Legos, is a great introduction to making because it involves concepts like building, following instructions, and basic geometry.

CMK #11: Cars (Easy)

Duplo Read & Build Let’s Go Vroom, My Car by Byron Barton, Car Goes Far by Michael Garland

CMK#12: Fairy Tales (Easy)

Duplo Read & Build A Fairy Tale, Maisy’s Castle by Lucy Cousins, The Usborne Book of Fairy Tales

CMK #13: Jungle (Easy)

Duplo Read & Build Peekaboo Jungle, Over in the Jungle by Marianne Berkes

CMK #14: Farm (Easy)

Duplo Read & Build Busy Farm

CMK #15: Caterpillar (Easy)

Duplo Read & Build Grow Caterpillar Grow, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, Caterpillar to Butterfly by Laura Marsh

Possible Future CMKs:

Rubber Band Fun: Rubberband Mania, 15 Genius Rubber Band Life Hacks to Simplify Your Life, Epic Rubberband Crafts, Rubber Band Powered Flying Machines, The Racecar Book, Amazing Rubberband Cars

Duct Tape Fun: Sticky Fingers, Stick It!, Duct Tape Discovery Workshop, Duct Tape 101, Tape It & Make It

Life Hacks: The How to Handbook, How to Build a Fire and Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew, How to Sew a Button and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew, Life Hacks

Movie Making 101: Movie Maker, Learn to Speak Film, How to Make a Movie in 10 Easy Lessons, Tricky Video: The Complete Guide to Making Movie Magic (Klutz) – maybe include a green sheet and a book on green screen

Music: Garageband tutorial, Learn to Speak Music

As you can see, it’s a work in progress. But I like to think it is a good work in progress. The kits will be cataloged as one item and technical services is doing an awesome job of creating detailed records for us. We’re going to be printing off an inventory of each kit with the content to put in both a reference guide for us and to laminate and put in the front pocket of each kit. This should make it easier for everyone to tell what’s inside. Most of the items were ordered as part of our Maker Bookshelf order and you can easily find that here. Though we have gone through and added some additional items which are listed above in each kit description.

The Maker Collection is almost processed and ready to be put out for the public. The CMKs will probably take another week or so to get ready for circulation, we currently have about half of the items in and processed.


And on a personal note, once I got the go ahead to proceed with this project I dove right into doing a ton of research. Debbie Baker, head of Children’s Services, and I have worked hard on putting all of this together and it has been the most professionally rewarding experience I have had in a long time. It’s been exciting and invigorating. I’m hoping our community feels the same once it is all unveiled.

MakerSpace Notes:

My Original Mobile Makerspace
My Updated Mobile Makerspace
MakerSpace Tech Tools Comparison Chart
The Unboxing and Learning Curve
Exploring Circulating Maker Kits
The Maker Bookshelf/Collection (with a book list)

Edited to add, after seeing this article on SLJ we have decided to add some nature themed kits.

An Interview with Patrick Jones by guest blogger Jessi Schulte-Honstad

Written by Jessi Schulte-Honstad, Young Adult Services Supervisor for Skokie Public Library, Skokie IL.


patrick jonesIn Patrick Jones’ current book series, Locked Out and Support and Defend he looks at the effects of losing a parent to the justice system and military service. Written specifically with reluctant readers in mind, Jones works hard to portray the lives of underrepresented youth in ways that are easily accessible and appealing to all readers. This is important stuff; with an estimated 2.7 million children in the United States who have an incarcerated parent, and 900,000 children who have at least one active duty or deployed parent, the issue of missing a parent in adolescence is a huge one.


Patrick and I go way back, we used to booktalk at county correctional facilities for incarcerated youth- some of the highlights of my library career! The kids in the juvenile detention system are eager for outside entertainment, and librarians are treated as celebrities presenting in front of a group of remarkably passionate readers. However, you couldn’t help but be haunted by the things you learned there, and challenged by the dearth of relatable material for them. Jones tackles these stories from firsthand experience; during his time as a librarian serving patrons in detention centers and speaking with military families, he has learned much about the effects that these kinds of losses have on teens- whose futures are on the line.


returning to normalReturning To Normal

Xavier’s father is finally coming home from prison, after ten long years. The timing couldn’t be worse- he’s doing great on his baseball team and there is talk of him going pro someday. His Catholic school girlfriend Jennie is amazing. He’s squeaking by in his classes and excited for the future.  When his father comes home, and starts back into the business that landed him in jail in the first place, tempers flare. Xavier has to control himself if he wants to succeed, but with his history, is that possible? Jones tells a heartbreaking tale of anger and resentment that rings all too true for the kids whose parents have been locked up. They are locked out.



Always Faithful always faithful

Rosie has perfect grades, the perfect boyfriend, and in the years since her military father has come home, she has had a complete family that cares for her. But trouble brews between her father and brother, who is also home from the military. Her father doesn’t want to drift through life as the manager of a fast food chain or retail store, so instead he re-enlists and shakes Rosie’s perfect life apart. Seething with anger, Rosie sabotages herself in every way possible. She puts her own future at risk, because she can’t accept her father’s. A truthful portrayal of the bad choices we make when stressed and scared, Always Faithful is the story of one military family and the struggle to succeed when your parents choose to leave you behind.


How did your library career inform your work as writer?

Other than publishing in a pro wrestling newsletter when I was 8, my first “real” publishing was because of my library career, starting with an article in RQ magazine in 1986 through my last one (so far) in VOYA in 2009 (interview with Dave Cullen, author of Columbine.) So I learned first by writing articles, then professional books a great deal about the business of writing/working with editors, as well as gaining confidence.  I never would’ve read a YA book if I hadn’t done YA work in a library.  Many of the teen characters in my first six novels from Bloomsbury were inspired by teens I meet working in libraries, in particular while visiting school doing booktalks and other YA work. Also, and I’ll talk more about this later, the idea of youth involvement stems from my YA work. Simply, if I was working in a factory in Flint, I wouldn’t have written these books.  Finally, being active in the YA professional world helps me understand what books kids want, don’t want, what is missing from the market and what stories are likely to succeed.


head kickWhy reluctant readers?

To begin with, I am one and except for a brief “spurt” in my 20’s when I didn’t have a TV, I’m a reluctant reader except about those topics which really interest me in non-fiction.   So when there is a new pro wrestling biography, I will read it over the weekend. Or if I get fascinated with something, then I’ll read everything on that topic: but that is more reading for purpose than pleasure. When I booktalked, I did do lots of reading, but a great deal of that was on audio.  Also I served on YALSA’s Quick Picks for four years and loved it, so it was very cool when my first novel Things Change made that list, and then later when all four titles from my first reluctant reader series (The Dojo) made the list as well.  Finally, in my old day work I worked with kids in custody and so many of them were struggling readers for so many reasons, but in part because they didn’t see themselves in books and/or they’d failed so many times trying to read in past that they associated any book with failure.  I wanted to write books that let these kids succeed.


Why these topics? target

I did my first series about Mixed Martial Arts because there wasn’t any YA novel out there about the topic, plus it contains a lot of scenes of people punching each other in the face, which seems a theme in my work. The Alternative comes from my great experiences first as a librarian then as an author visiting schools in this type of environment.  Students in an alternative school had some major influence on that series.  First I put together a list of 20 possible books and they voted what topics they were most interested in, and then small groups of students volunteered (though they did get extra credit and I bought them lunch) to read the books in manuscript. Mostly they said I got it right – both the experience of being in an alternative school but also some of their experiences being kids of color/in the minority.   One of the books in that series (Target) was about parental incarceration, so that inspired along with the Strengthening. Families Affected by Incarceration project this new series Locked Out.  Also many of the kids in custody and in alternative schools are more likely to have a parent who is/or has been locked up, so again, it was writing about topics for the audience that I want to appeal to: young men of color who need books they can succeed in reading.


How can you – a white guy – dare write in first person as an African American female?

I started a blog called Monday Night RAWing (Reading Advocating/Writing) and I just posted an interview with Paul Volponi and another with Paul Langan who writes Bluford High answering this very question. I also ask this question to writers of color, like Greg Neri, giving me their take.  The female part I’ve done before in my Bloomsbury books, but writing about somewhat from a different ethnic background is challenging and I admit to bracing for the blows and there have been several. Like the one blog “review” that begins “Jones, who is white” while another told me I wasn’t aware of my white privilege. Thanks for the info. I was serving all these kids in corrections, 80% kids of color (I actually have a nonfiction book spring 2016 about the big changes in youth in custody, so while we’re locking up a lot less kids than ever before, the DMC disproportionate minority contact remains appalling) and so few books. I add an extra layer of protection in that I have kids of color at various alternative schools where I visit read the books in manuscript, but again, to bloggers that doesn’t matter because – it comes down to a core belief – I shouldn’t be writing a book in 1st person about a black girl in poverty.  And of all the things wrong with that, the worst is this: you’re saying to Coe Booth, you can’t write about anyone BUT black kids in Brooklyn.  Write, research, and respect, rinse, repeat.


barrierWhile you’re no longer the “YA guru” guy, what is your opinion of YA?

I mainly know what I see on YALSA-BK and the coolest things non technology-related are the growth of the Teen Book Festivals.   I’ve done three this year, just recently one in the Twin Cities, and it is just amazing to see that many teens in one place excited about reading.  Second, is the growth of programming around Cos Play:  not what is not true of even most of these kids, I think, this attracts outsider kids (I have my outsider character in The Barrier attend a Manga convention.) Finally, I still see lots of YA librarian jobs posted, so it seems the field is doing fine with tons of great stuff coming from YALSA.



What do you think are some of the challenges facing young adults today and how do you think your books can help resolve them?

It is such a cliché but as connected as teens are via social media, I wonder if it all isn’t very anti-social.   When I hear from teens, not as much as I used to since kids who read reluctant reader books are not the kind to reach out to authors, that’s the big theme: feeling alone.  One of the other inspirations for the Locked Out series was a nonfiction title about children of incarcerated parents called All Alone in The World.  In my soon to be published novel Clicked, the main character is in front of his computer on homecoming night and he comments about watching all these other people post – and to him brag – about how much fun they are having which makes him feel worse.  But the main thing most of my books are about is second chances:  kids in The Alternative go to Rondo because they’ve failed in a regular school.  In Locked Out, these teens feel such a complex web of emotions and because of it most of them make mistakes.  And I guess the big thing, like a teen who read Target, is he said something like “how do you know so much about me” because his Dad just went to prison and told me that I (pun intended) Nailed it.  I have always said and probably wrote someplace, the best YA lit isn’t that which paints the prettiest pictures, but displays the best mirrors.  I hope teens reading my books see themselves in the story and know they’re not alone in the world.


things changeDo you hear from your readers much? What do they have to say?

Not as much as before, as mentioned, and most of my interaction tends to be in small groups during school visits.  One of my favorite things during school visits is to ask the teacher librarian to organize a lunch with the kids who want to be writers so we can talk craft.   Also as mentioned, I hear from readers as I’m writing.  A teen I met in Keller, TX, just finished reading three books in spring 2016 series and her comments were very helpful.   For about five years after Things Change came out it was rare that a month would pass without an “I am Johanna” or “I think my friend needs to read this because her boyfriend is hitting her” email. That’s so powerful to know that something I’ve written sitting in my house or in a hotel airplane made a difference in people’s lives.  With my reluctant reader fiction, I actually hear more from parents and teachers thanking me for writing something their child (always a son) actually enjoyed reading.


Other than collection, what other ways can libraries better serve your readers?

Three things:  get every kid a library card.  I wrote a whole book on this and I still believe it.  And also waive fines from over x number of years.  We got cards for kids getting out of custody and I’d say 75% hadn’t checked out a book in years because of fines when they are eight.  Two, get out of the building: the teens who NEED libraries are, for the most part, not in libraries.  I talked about this recently on a YALSA podcast, but it is not just teens in custody: it is teens in alternative schools, charter schools, homeless shelters, halfway houses, Boys Clubs, juvenile justice diversion programs: all these high risk kids libraries librarians could help but instead (major rant) we’re sitting at a reference desk like it was 1975 waiting for teens to come ask us questions. Finally, buy library materials these kids can read.  My fear is again our collections over-represent the teens who USED to use libraries, not those we want to and need to get libraries in their lives.  End rant.


Find Patrick Jones online on his website, blog (Monday Night RAWing), and Twitter

Middle Grade Monday – Greenglass House by Kate Milford

61oAigRWnBL“Listen.” Each of the mysterious guests at Greenglass House is called upon to tell a story and this is the traditional formula for the start. All of the guests have a secret – a reason for being at the house. All have a different reason, but all of the reasons have something to do with the house. But even more mysterious than each one’s secret is the fact that they all show up in the week before Christmas…during a snow storm.

Traditionally a very slow week in his family’s business, adopted son and only child Milo is looking forward to some quiet time alone with his parents in their rambling five story home at the top of a cliff overlooking a smugglers’ cove. In fact, smuggling is a large part of the local economy and Greenglass House was built by one of the most notorious smugglers, Doc Holystone. After his death, the house was sold to Milo’s grandparents. But one by one, more and more guest show up to stay. Milo’s parents, the Pines, even call in their usual cook for reinforcements.

When guests’ personal items go missing, Milo and his new friend Meddy devise a plan to figure out exactly what is going on, and why each of the guests has come to stay. They begin by making themselves some role playing characters to go along with Meddy’s favorite game, which just happens to be the game Milo’s father played when he was younger.

This is a quiet, well developed, multifaceted mystery that is sure to appeal to a large swath of middle grade readers. Milo, along with solving the mystery, is dealing with some very personal issues about his adoption, which are complicated by the fact that he and his parents are of different ethnicities. He also seems to have always been very close with his parents, helping them out with the family business, and perhaps not engaging in many close peer relationships. This comes out in his interactions with Meddy, and we see him struggle to let go of some of his more particular ways. Every different thread of this story, from Milo’s relationships, to the guests’ ulterior motives, to the role playing game, to the stories being told each evening, to the fantastically rich history of Greenglass House itself, is completely engaging. And the climax of the story – Oh. My. Word. I have no problem understanding why this novel won the Edgar Award for Juvenile Literature.

What is surprising to me is how little I’ve heard about it. If I’m remembering correctly, I believe I heard about it from John Scalzi, of all people (or, it could have been Chuck Wendig.) I just remember it wasn’t from someone I normally depend on for Middle Grade recommendations. I purchased a copy of it at my local book store’s semi-annual sale, because nothing else I wanted to buy was available yet – but oh, how glad I am that I did. If you collect for middle grade readers, I highly recommend purchasing multiple copies.

Sunday Reflections: We Have Always Been Makers

sundayreflectionsOn Monday July 6th I will host my first “Maker” program at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. And the truth is it is different and revolutionary from all the other programs that I have ever hosted at a library in exactly no way.

You see, librarians have always been makers and our libraries have always been Maker Spaces.

I am currently working at the first library that I ever worked at. I was hired there as a paraprofessional to work with teens. I built collections, I booktalked books, and I did programming. The things that I do now, 22 years later, as a YA librarian are not a lot different then the things I did then as a YA paraprofessional, I just know more now and do them better.

Sometimes we use different tools, like ebooks and 3D printers, but the goals and objectives are still the same, I’m empowering teens and helping them to learn, to create, and to engage in meaningful self exploration and self expression.

It’s been almost 15 years since I taught my first Pimp Your Blog program. Today we would call that a MakerSpace event if we were going to use the currently popular jargon. And if I were going to host that event today it would indeed be a Maker program. It was a maker program back then, as well, we just didn’t know to call it that. Because, you see, the heart of what we do as librarians hasn’t changed, just the tools and language surrounding it. We have always been makers and we have always equipped our local communities to be makers.

Repairing your own vehicle, setting up a home computer network, learning to code, learning to sew . . . those tools and more have always been at our libraries. And from crafts at storytimes to the most basic of teen and adult programs, we have always engaged our patrons in the most basic of maker programs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the maker language and label. I think the terms are empowering. There is something fulfilling about the idea that at the end of the day we have made something. And that idea that we get to be a maker, it sounds so achieved and accomplished. Although part of this I fear is that the idea of crafting has been associated with feminine things and coming from the art community there is equally some bias against art, artists, and artistic pursuits. The starving artist is an unfortunate trope that probably makes some want to shun that label as well.

But to be a maker . . .

And yes, I know that in theory making involves more science and technology, more tech tools. But I also know that we would have done these types of programs regardless of the new terminology because we are a living and responsive profession and we see the need so we meet it. That’s the way of librarianship. That’s why I was teaching teens to blog and do basic html almost 15 years ago.

And whatever label we choose to put on our resources and programs, there’s no denying that the growing need to incorporate technology into our library spaces is challenging largely because it all comes with a much higher price tag in a time when budgets seem to be declining. Libraries aren’t dying as many people seem to think, in many ways the need for libraries have never been greater, but many of us our struggling to meet the growing technology needs of our local communities in the face of dwindling incomes and staff and hours.

I recently visited the Maker Space at the Cincinnati public library and it was glorious. I’m not going to lie, I turned green with envy. But I also had that a-ha! moment when I thought of course libraries should have Maker Spaces. Just as libraries should have Internet computers labs and e-book collections. It’s not a new goal or mission, it’s just providing new tools to help fulfill our longstanding goals and mission to our local community.

We have always been makers. Libraries have always been maker spaces. The tools change, but the core of who we are and what we do is the same. We are educators, enablers, equippers. We are a space to try new things, learn new things, and do new things. We are open doors and new opportunities. We are makers. We always have been. We always will be. Even when the terminology changes.

Friday Finds – June 26, 2015

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: I Have No Words

The big dress code round up post

Middle Grade Monday – Loot by Jude Watson and the Heist Genre

What’s New in LGBTQIA+ This Summer

The Title’s the Thing: A guest post on GODLESS by Pete Hautman for #FSYALit (guest post by Lourdes Keochgerien)

#SVYALit: Male Survivors Google Hangout with authors Eric Devine, Barry Lyga and Carl Deuker

Maker Bookshelf, the next step in our Maker journey at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County

Book Review: THIS BOOK IS GAY by James Dawson


Around the Web

College of Charleston board renames a scholarship for slain librarian Cynthia Hurd.

Amazon makes it clear how deeply they misunderstand the point of a well edited manuscript…

Fantastic Lego creations based on novels

Epic Reads is posting Winter 2016 Cover Reveals

Big Box stores are more than just an eyesore for cities.

From NPR, teen brains and risky behavior.

Gayle Forman is writing an adult novel.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

YA Movie News – Looking for Alaska


Even When You Lie to Me by Jessica Alcott

evenwhenyoulietomePublisher’s Book Description: Fans of John Green’s Looking for Alaska as well as Lauren Oliver and Sarah Dessen will embrace this provocative debut novel, an exploration of taboo love set against the backdrop of a suburban high school.

Charlie, a senior, isn’t looking forward to her last year of high school. Another year of living in the shadow of her best friend, Lila. Another year of hiding behind the covers of her favorite novels. Another year of navigating her tense relationship with her perfectionist mom.

But everything changes when she meets her new English teacher. Mr. Drummond is smart. Irreverent. Funny. Hot. Everyone loves him. And Charlie thinks he’s the only one who gets her.

She also thinks she might not be the only one with a crush.

In this stunning debut, Jessica Alcott explores relationships-and their boundaries-in a way that is both searingly honest and sympathetic. (Published June 2015 by Crown)

Karen’s Thoughts: This debut novel will resonate with readers who are struggling to find themselves in what seems like a sea of rejection. Charlie’s mother rejects her, telling her she loves her but following it up with those “buts . . . ” In fact, this novel combined with Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu perfectly captures how we as parents can break our kids in profound ways, even when we think we are loving them. It’s a reminder that sometimes a parent “doing their best” isn’t always good enough because some parents, their best is still incredibly toxic and damaging. At its core, however, Even When You Lie to me is a book about boundaries, and everyone is crossing them. With well developed characters, uncomfortable but realistically tense situations, and a few broken taboos and Even When You Lie to Me explores the concepts of rejection and longing and trying to find yourself in very authentic ways. I appreciated that Alcott took on the topic of student-teacher relationships in a way that made it clear that at the end of the day the adults are ultimately responsible for setting and maintaining boundaries.

Denton Little’s Deathdate (Denton Little #1) by Lance Rubin

denton littles deathdatePublisher’s Book Description: Fans of John Green and Matthew Quick: Get ready to die laughing.

Denton Little’s Deathdate takes place in a world exactly like our own except that everyone knows the day they will die. For 17-year-old Denton Little, that’s tomorrow, the day of his senior prom.

Despite his early deathdate, Denton has always wanted to live a normal life, but his final days are filled with dramatic firsts. First hangover. First sex. First love triangle (as the first sex seems to have happened not with his adoring girlfriend, but with his best friend’s hostile sister. Though he’s not totally sure. See: first hangover.) His anxiety builds when he discovers a strange purple rash making its way up his body. Is this what will kill him? And then a strange man shows up at his funeral, claiming to have known Denton’s long-deceased mother, and warning him to beware of suspicious government characters…. Suddenly Denton’s life is filled with mysterious questions and precious little time to find the answers.

Debut author Lance Rubin takes us on a fast, furious, and outrageously funny ride through the last hours of a teenager’s life as he searches for love, meaning, answers, and (just maybe) a way to live on. (Published April 2015 by Knopf)

Karen’s Thoughts: This book was interesting and fun. It reminded me of the fantastic 80s movie Adventures in Babysitting in that a lot of absurd adventures take place over the course of a short period of time. It just happens that this period of time involves Denton Little trying to get to his funeral alive. You see in the future, they can tell you the day of your death and you are invited to attend your funeral before you actually die to spend one last day with loved ones. But fate, it seems, wants to make sure Denton does indeed die. And then there are some interesting twists where Denton learns that everything he thought he understood about this world he lives in and his family are maybe not completely true, setting us up for a sequel that I will definitely be reading because the concept is fascinating and the writing is good.

For another fun read that reminds me of Adventures in Babysitting check out A BAD DAY FOR VOODOO by Jeff Strand.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

thewallsaroundusPublisher’s Book Description: On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other. (Published March 2015 by Algonquin)

Karen’s Thoughts: Dark, alluring, fascinating, and deep, you won’t want to miss this book. Sum writes a haunting and poignant tale that will haunt readers for a long time afterwards.

Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Khuen

delicatemonstersPublisher’s Book Description: From the Morris-Award winning author of Charm & Strange, comes a twisted and haunting tale about three teens uncovering dark secrets and even darker truths about themselves.

When nearly killing a classmate gets seventeen-year-old Sadie Su kicked out of her third boarding school in four years, she returns to her family’s California vineyard estate. Here, she’s meant to stay out of trouble. Here, she’s meant to do a lot of things. But it’s hard. She’s bored. And when Sadie’s bored, the only thing she likes is trouble.

Emerson Tate’s a poor boy living in a rich town, with his widowed mother and strange, haunted little brother. All he wants his senior year is to play basketball and make something happen with the girl of his dreams. That’s why Emerson’s not happy Sadie’s back. An old childhood friend, she knows his worst secrets. The things he longs to forget. The things she won’t ever let him.

Haunted is a good word for fifteen-year-old Miles Tate. Miles can see the future, after all. And he knows his vision of tragic violence at his school will come true, because his visions always do. That’s what he tells the new girl in town. The one who listens to him. The one who recognizes the darkness in his past.

But can Miles stop the violence? Or has the future already been written? Maybe tragedy is his destiny. Maybe it’s all of theirs. (Published June 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin)

Karen’s Thoughts: Khuen is the modern master of dark YA psychological thrillers. Perfectly paced and mesmerizing, Khuen doesn’t pull any of her punches and the twists are dark and twisty in all the perfectly menacing ways that make you want to look away but keep you glued to the page and keep you up all night wanting to finish. I saw the other day that Christa Desir tweeted about this book saying, “It’s everything I want in a YA novel.”