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Book Review: Pointe, Claw by Amber J. Keyser

Publisher’s description

pointe-clawJessie Vale dances in an elite ballet program. She has to be perfect to land a spot with the professional company. When Jessie is cast in an animalistic avant-garde production, her careful composure cracks wide open. Nothing has felt more dangerous.

Meanwhile, her friend Dawn McCormick’s world is full of holes. She wakes in strange places, bruised, battered, and unable to speak. The doctors are out of ideas.

These childhood friends are both running out of time. Jessie has one shot at her ballet dream. Dawn’s blackouts are getting worse. At every turn, they crash into the many ways girls are watched, judged, used, and discarded. Should they play it safe or go feral?

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Take my advice on this, please: read Carrie Mesrobian’s Just a Girl, Elana Arnold’s What Girls Are Made Of, and Amber Keyser’s Pointe, Claw all in a row just like I did. Especially taken together like this, they build a powerful examination of girlhood.

 

Amber and I are agency-mates and here is something from her bio there: “Amber is a former ballerina with a masters degree in zoology and a doctorate in genetics; she lives in Portland, Oregon.” I tell you this to say that really only Amber could have written this unique and very weird (I mean that in the best way) book. Pointe, Claw takes place in Portland and involves a ballerina and a girl, a bear, and lots of genetic questions. The cover made me extremely curious about the book, but I had NO IDEA what I was in for.

 

When we first meet Dawn, she is in some kind of rage. She seems feral (I word I wrote in my notes after reading the second page and that I now see is used in the description–really, there’s no other way to think of Dawn). She talks about “going dark,” about waking up not knowing where she’s been or how she got there or what on earth is going on with her. She is drawn to a bear that a sketchy neighbor keeps locked up in a cage on his property. Her cold and unsympathetic mother drags her to doctor after doctor, trying to figure out what is wrong with Dawn and how to “fix” her. Is it mental illness? Lyme disease? Drugs? What’s behind Dawn’s strange episodes?

 

Jessie, meanwhile, dances six hours a day, six days a week, and is about to learn to be feral in ways that will disturb, challenge, and ultimately change her. At first devastated to not be chosen to dance in the artistic director’s student showcase piece, she learns to embrace the freedom and wildness that comes from dancing in Vadim’s boundary-pushing piece. The dance is animalistic and “ugly, lustful, lonely,” opening Jessie to a side of herself she’s never considered before.

 

Once Jessie and Dawn’s lives intersect again (they were childhood friends), things become even more interesting. Together they will reminisce about their past and recover memories that felt long gone, as well as uncover secrets and truths. Dawn’s episodes increase and she begins to suspect what may be going on with her, as impossible as her theory seems. And while Jessie doesn’t fully understand what exactly is happening to Dawn, she’s there for her, understanding that no one has ever meant what Dawn has meant to her. 

 

This is absolutely 100% a book about what it means to inhabit a girl’s body. It’s a book about growing up, changing, seeing ourselves, and being seen. It’s about expectations, anger, jealousy, relationships, shame, love, friendship, and support. There is a constant conversation about women and women’s bodies–Jessie, her fellow dancers, Dawn, Dawn’s makeup-selling mother, the girls at the strip club, the men who observe all of them… there is SO MUCH to unpack and think about. Much like Vadim’s dance (which, by the way, I was left sobbing after the description of their performance), this book is experimental and risky. And, like his dance, it is successful and surprising. The metamorphosis each girl undergoes is powerful; Dawn’s is downright shocking. I can’t say enough good things about this strange, disturbing, and extremely compelling look at girlhood, bodies, and identities. Raw, weird, and wonderful. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781467775915

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/01/2017

Book Review: What Girls Are Made Of by Elana Arnold

Publisher’s description

what-girls-are-madeThis is not a story of sugar and spice and everything nice.

When Nina Faye was fourteen, her mother told her there was no such thing as unconditional love. Nina believed her. Now Nina is sixteen. And she’ll do anything for the boy she loves, just to prove she’s worthy of him. But when he breaks up with her, Nina is lost. What is she if not a girlfriend? What is she made of?

Broken-hearted, Nina tries to figure out what the conditions of love are. She’s been volunteering at a high-kill animal shelter where she realizes that for dogs waiting to be adopted, love comes only to those with youth, symmetry, and quietness. She also ruminates on the strange, dark time her mother took her to Italy to see statues of saints who endured unspeakable torture because of their unquestioning devotion to the divine. Is this what love is?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

There are people who are going to read this book and judge Nina harshly. Here is who I suspect those people will be: people who are not teenage girls; people who have never been teenage girls; people who completely forgot what it’s like to be a teenage girl; people who literally cannot imagine being a teenage girl; and people who don’t understand the realities of teenage girls. Reading this book requires being aware of the fact that being a teenage girl means processing, internalizing, and subverting a lifetime of your gender being socially constructed. It means bending and breaking under the weight of expectation. It means digging deep to find your worth when you’re surrounded by an entire world that tries to define it for you. It means being fed conflicting and dangerous messages, then being left to untangle them, alone, and find out the truth for yourself. Being a teenage girl is not easy; Elana Arnold shows us exactly why in this stunning and thoughtful book.

 

Nina is told by her mother, at age 14, that love is always conditional—that there is no such thing as unconditional love. She’s not just talking about romantic love; her mother tells her that she could stop loving her at any time for any number of reasons. Nina spends the next few years grappling with this statement. For her, in her relationship with Seth, love is very conditional and involves games. Or, I should say, it’s conditional from Seth’s perspective. As far as Nina is concerned, her love is unconditional. Her love of Seth is worshipful. She admits that all of the decisions she makes are based on Seth, and she knows “it isn’t okay to care this much about a boy. I know it’s not feminist, or whatever….” But knowing something and applying that knowledge are two different things. They have been dating for three months and Nina has made him her whole world. It is uncomfortable to see her so absorbed in this not particularly satisfying relationship—not because I feel she is being foolish, but because I recognize my teenage self in her choices and feelings. Maybe that’s the best summary of being a teenage girl: it is uncomfortable.

 

Nina volunteers at a high-kill dog shelter (I fully admit I had to skim the parts that talked about surrendering, harming, and killing dogs). She mentions a few times that she was ordered to volunteer as part of an incident from last year—an incident that we don’t learn the truth of until quite late in the book. There is a lot to be said about Nina and working at the shelter, about how, much like the attention-deprived dogs, she just wants someone to love her, to choose her. There are also entire papers just begging to be written about women’s bodies, what fills them and empties from them, and metaphors dealing with her large but often empty home, her mother’s miscarriages, and Nina’s own abortion.

 

Between the main narrative of Nina’s story are short pieces mainly about virgins, martyrs, and saints. These are stories Nina’s mother told her and are stories of sacrifice, unconditional love, and the happily ever after that comes from dying for what you are devoted to. Nina is writing these, along with other short pieces, for an English assignment, only she doesn’t think she can bear to share them with her teacher. I suppose some readers may be inclined to skim them, not seeing them as integral to the main story, but skipping them would be a mistake. These stories, which have left such impressions on Nina, are powerful, important, and revealing. As Nina’s mother says at one point, “As long as there have been women, there have been ways to punish them for being women.”

 

This meditation on the idea of unconditional love—whether it is, indeed, unconditional, whether this idea is dangerous or appealing (or both), and determining who sets conditions and why—is devastating, smart, complex, and utterly real. Nina is aching, learning, screwing up, holding on too long, letting go, bending, breaking, and recreating. Arnold shows us that none of that is simple. It’s not easy, in any way, but she is doing it all, largely alone. She is hurting and growing and being. She is becoming. Her story is so painfully familiar and common and will surely resonate with readers. A powerful and unforgettable look at the things that define teenage girls.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781512410242

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/01/2017

SJYALit: More Social Justice Reading in Schools, a guest post by Alex B.

sjyalit6th grade (and any grade) can be great. YA literature can be great. Educators, librarians, writers, publishers, and other advocates can be great. In a time of uncertainty, it is helpful for me to say so! Also, you’re here, reading this, as part of Teen Librarian Toolbox’s Social Justice in YA Lit project. That’s great, too. I have posted about my experience with LGBT literature and social justice reading in a 6th grade classroom, and I want to share a little more. It seems important to use my voice, carve out space for self-reflection, and keep thinking and moving forward.

In answering the question, “what would I add to a curriculum that includes social justice in its texts and readings?” I originally came up with the following list of relatively new books that celebrate diversity in theme or authorship.

Alexander, K. (2014). The crossover. New York, NY: HMH Books for Young Readers.

Written in verse, the front jacket states, “in this heartfelt novel, basketball and brotherhood intertwine to show Josh and Jordan that life doesn’t come with a playbook and, sometimes, it’s not about winning.” There is strong appeal in the two brothers’ personalities and relationships, in addition to the mentions of LeBron or 2 Chainz and the inclusion of text messages, but the emotional depth is the major strength of the book. I have seen firsthand the excitement this book and author inspires in children, young adults, and teachers and librarians alike at an author presentation in a public library, and the content and structure of the book would tie into curriculum themes and learning standards well.

Engle, M. (2015). Enchanted air: Two cultures, two wings: A memoir. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

This memoir told in verse begins by introducing readers to Margarita Engle’s parents’ story and then opens with “Magical Travels, 1951-1959” which chronicles her first trips to Cuba, progressing through “Winged Summer, 1960,” “Strange Sky, 1961-1964,” and finally “Two Wings, 1965,” when the author is fourteen. Many chapter titles and phrases throughout are dual language, such as “Hasta Pronto/Until Soon” (p. 116). It is very important, describing her coming-of-age, historical events, and conflict over gender and ethnicity well. I like the open and explorative tone with use of figurative language and the complex coming-of-age issues discussed, and it would be a great book to use in teaching connections to other texts.

Kostecki-Shaw, J. S. (2011). Same, same but different. New York, NY: Henry Holt.

Two boys, Kailash and Elliot, become pen pals in art class, drawing pictures of their worlds and sending them from India to America and vice versa. They describe their families, alphabets, favorite classes, hobbies, and landscapes and repeat the phrase “same, same but different” until the phrase is inverted at the end.  The statement, “we’re best friends…even though we live in two different worlds. Or do we?” is a wonderful reflection on the lines we draw. The repetition of the title as a line throughout is great for reading aloud. This is a picture book that I would recommend including in curriculums for older students, as its content and structure are useful in discussing themes that could eventually lead to better understandings of social justice.

Myers, W. D. (2009). Looking like me. New York, NY: EgmontUSA.

Jeremy lives in Harlem and creates an “I am” list of his identities. He fist bumps everyone who helps him with his list. This is another picture book I would include in curriculum or programming for older students, in addition to or as a connection to his previous popular text Monster (HarperCollins, 1999).

Tonatiuh, D. (2014). Separate is never equal: Sylvia Mendez and her family’s fight for desegregation. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams.

This book is has won numerous awards, including a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor in 2015. As Sylvia starts at a desegregated school in California, 1947, she reflects back on the last three years and her father’s part in filing a progressive lawsuit. A beautifully told, important true story with lovely illustrations, the book also includes an author’s note, photos of Sylvia, her parents, and the schools, a glossary, and a bibliography. Quotes from the superintendents and from the educational specialists involved in the case show both the prejudice involved as well as the need for public education’s celebration of diversity. Sylvia is relatable yet inspiring and is a strong girl for readers to meet. It is the third and final picture book that I would recommend using in curriculums at different levels, if the theme involves social justice reading.

Woodson, J. (2014). Brown girl dreaming. New York, NY: Nancy Paulsen Books.

Told in verse poems in five parts with photos at the end, the artistic autobiography begins with Woodson’s memory of learning to write, discusses 1960s and 70s experiences with race in the north versus south, and ends with a class presentation of her poetry and affirming final poems about identity and beliefs. I had read Jacqueline Woodson’s The House You Pass on the Way (1997) and considered it for inclusion in classroom lessons or a classroom library, and she continues to write important books. This seems especially accessible and easy to include in lessons!

I am still not sure what book I would choose to include that focuses on social justice for LGBT people – Jacqueline Woodson’s The House You Pass on the Way (1997) would be one option – but I want to.  The nice thing, in my reflection, was that there are a lot of options – in so many areas – to choose from. One of my undergraduate education courses gave out a list of “multicultural adolescent literature ideas,” and it would be many, many pages longer now if it was updated with YA lit published in the last few years. In a recent article, Temple (2017) writes (http://lithub.com/if-fiction-changes-the-world-its-going-to-be-ya/), “YA can tackle social issues head-on, without any fears of seeming didactic or overwrought because as a genre, it doesn’t have the same kind of baggage. Literary fiction, despite all our claims that it opens our hearts to one another, is just not the best genre for engineering social change.” The end of the article states, “So whether in explicit protest novels, fiction as resistance, or simply by loudly representing underrepresented voices, it’s YA that has the best chance to jump on that ‘wave of popular energy’ and lead us all to a better world. Or at least, I hope so.”

The next step would be to make sure these books are included in curriculums, shared in schools, libraries, bookstores, and other spaces, and used in creative and powerful ways.

Bio:

Alex B. is an aspiring librarian in a Master’s of Library and Information Science + K-12 program. She’s gay and has a goofy sense of humor. She can read, is testing her ability to write, and is so-so at talking. She does love to listen so you can connect with her via email (absjyalit at gmail.com) or comment here with your stories or thoughts!

SJYALit: Social Justice Reading in Schools, a guest post by Alex B.

sjyalitI have had many great experiences in graduate school for Library and Information science, but one of them has been the discussion on personality traits of people who work in libraries versus museums versus archives; coming from a background in education, I consider schools as well. Personality trait is maybe the wrong phrase, but I am talking about trends such as how outspoken on values and beliefs people are; in my 6th grade classroom, we watched Sara Bareilles’ music video for the song “Brave,” so that is one consideration, as are words like reticent, shy, political, or strong. Do you share your opinions with others? Do you have a disclaimer on them? Do you work to promote values and support the rights you believe in? I am still working on it, and considering qualifiers like when, how, how much, etc.

While watching the show When We Rise recently, I saw a portrayal of Tom Ammiano, one person I researched and mentioned in a past post (http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2017/01/sjyalit-how-does-real-life-and-research-fit-with-lgbt-young-adult-lit-a-guest-post-by-alex-b/). I also heard Harvey Milk’s catchphrase again, “come out.” Yet, I was not out as a middle school teacher. I was unsure how to respond to student questions and anxious about possible conflict, and my cooperating teacher during student teaching had told me (not knowing I was gay) that she would never recommend that LGBT people go into education and definitely not come out if so.

My experience in the 6th grade classroom

Despite the personal tension, however, I found myself excited by the curriculum and the work I could do to help students think critically about issues of social justice, build empathy for others, and practice being open-minded, creative, and kind. The books we read had diverse characters and touched on themes of classism, racism, xenophobia, and sexism, but not homophobia. How unique was this curriculum? How much different could  – and should – it look? My Curriculum and Instruction courses, as well as some of my Library and Information Science courses, have had “diverse” and “multicultural” in their titles and in their discussions and assignments. It seems as though many educators address issues of social justice through exploration of a text or prompt in conjunction with standards of reading and writing; books may be the easiest way to enhance student experience.

So, what did we read?

Wonder by R. J. Palacio (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) was newly released and gaining traction.

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick (Blue Sky, 1993) was thematic and engaging for most students.

The Other Half of my Heart by Sendee T. Frazier (Delacorte Press/Random House, 2010) was a popular choice.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (HarperCollins, 2011) was both thought-provoking and fun.

I would recommend these beyond a curriculum to be read with families and read by younger and older students (and adults!). I also loved to use children’s picture books in my lessons and there are many new possibilities for these and other books that include a social justice narrative; for issues that are so pressing, complex, and personal, it makes sense to branch out, be creative in use, and build a network across formats, grade levels, environments, or fields.

Students need these books and these experiences. It was both invigorating yet sometimes exhausting to be implementing these units with students, since the content was emotional and the landscape of addressing social justice in a curriculum and in schools was developing. We have the opportunity to give students tools for social change and social justice in young adult literature, in and out of schools, and educators and librarians (not to mention writers, publishers, students, and scholars) are working hard to do so. When I had or have questions or concerns, I go back to the enjoyment of the books, memories of my students’ positive exclamations and connections around them, and online resources like those provided below.

Bio:

Alex B. is an aspiring librarian in a Master’s of Library and Information Science + K-12 program. She’s gay and has a goofy sense of humor. She can read, is testing her ability to write, and is so-so at talking. She does love to listen so you can connect with her via email (absjyalit at gmail.com) or comment here with your stories or thoughts!

Resources

American Association of School Librarians. (2017). Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/awards/social-justice

Brown, J. (2017). Equity & social justice in the library learning commons [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.open-shelf.ca/170201-equity-social-justice/

Hansen, J. (2014). Check it out: Want help boosting cultural responsiveness at your school? Ask your librarian! Teaching Tolerance 48, 20-22. Retrieved from http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-48-fall-2014/check-it-out

Harmon, J. (2015). Social justice: A whole-school approach. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/social-justice-whole-school-approach-jeanine-harmon

Johnson, M. (2016). Do school librarians and educators have an obligation to address social change? [Blog post]. Knowledge Quest. Retrieved from http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/school-librarians-educators-obligation-address-social-change/

Kumasi, K. D. & Hughes-Hassell, S. (2017). Their eyes are watching us: serving racialized youth in an era of protest. Knowledge Quest, 45(3), 6-8. Retrieved from http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/KNOW_45_3_GuestEd_6-8_OPT.pdf

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2017). Teaching tolerance: a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved from http://www.tolerance.org/

Teaching for Change. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.teachingforchange.org/

Acosta, A. (July 13, 2016a). Third graders assess and improve diversity of classroom library. Teaching for Change. Retrieved from http://www.teachingforchange.org/elementary-diverse-library

Acosta, A. (July 13, 2016b). Virginia middle school students critique lack of                      diverse books. Teaching for Change. Retrieved from                                                            http://www.teachingforchange.org/ms-critique-books

Acosta, A. (July, 20, 2016). Developing critical literacy. Teaching for Change.                   Retrieved from http://www.teachingforchange.org/books/critical-literacy

We Need Diverse Books. (2017). WNDB. Retrieved from http://weneeddiversebooks.org/

Wetta, M. (2016). Libraries and social justice [Blog post]. The Hub: Your Connection to Teen Collections. YALSA. Retrieved from http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2016/12/02/libraries-social-justice/

Book Review: Just a Girl by Carrie Mesrobian

Publisher’s description

just a girlTaking a hard look at the societal constraints on teenage girls, Morris Award nominee Carrie Mesrobian tells one girl’s story with bracing honesty and refreshing authenticity.

By her senior year of high school, Rianne has exhausted all the fun there is to have in small-town Wereford, Minnesota. Volleyball season is winding down, the parties feel tired, and now that she’s in a serious relationship with reformed player Luke Pinsky, her wild streak has ended. Not that she ever did anything worse than most guys in her school…but she knows what everyone thinks of her.

Including her parents. Divorced but now inexplicably living together again, Rianne wonders why they’re so quick to point out every bad choice she’s making when they can’t even act like adults—or have the decency to tell Rianne whether or not they’re getting back together. With an uncomfortable home life and her once-solid group of friends now dissolving, the reasons for sticking around after high school are few. So why is Rianne locking step when it comes to figuring out her future?

That’s not the only question Rianne can’t answer. Lately she’s been wondering why, when she has a perfect-on-paper boyfriend, she wants anything but. Or how it is that Sergei, a broken-English-speaking Russian, understands her better than anyone who’s known her all her life? And—perhaps the most troubling question—why has Rianne gotten stuck with an “easy girl” reputation for doing the same exact things as guys without any judgment?

Carrie Mesrobian, acclaimed author of Sex & Violence and Cut Both Ways, sets fire to the unfair stereotypes and contradictions that persist even in the twenty-first century.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Here are things I consistently like about Carrie’s books: the plots are really just about the day-to-day lives of teenagers (we all know by now I’m a big fan of plots that don’t extend a ton between just talking/daily lives/figuring out what life as a teenager means—you know, that small plot); the endings never tie everything up neatly or definitively; the teenagers talk and act like actual teenagers; the books are set in Minnesota. Given that I grew up in the same area as Carrie at roughly the same time, I always so enjoy the way she captures the feeling of small-town Minnesota and like being able to recognize the details of places and references.

 

Rianne spends a lot of time thinking perhaps she should behave one way and then doing the opposite. She doesn’t think of herself as a “good girl,” whatever that means (we know what that means), and often tries to convince herself to behave better… maybe later. She’s bored and restless and aimless. Welcome to the end of senior year, right? Her friendships aren’t as strong as they once were, her long-divorced parents are apparently now dating each other, and somehow Luke, the boy she’s been hooking up with, thinks he wants to settle down with her. At a time in her life when the big question is “what’s next?” Rianne doesn’t seem to have any answers that actually seem appealing. Move to St. Paul just because some of her friends are going there? Find an apartment in boring Wereford? Move in with Luke? It all seems to sound awful to Rianne. Her mother has basically washed her hands of trying to guide Rianne, telling her once graduation happens, she’s out on her own. Though Rianne has always done her own thing with little regard for consequences, her impending total freedom doesn’t seem exciting or appealing—it just seems terrifyingly uncertain and sort of depressing. She doesn’t really talk to anyone about any of this. Her friends have their own drama going on, she’s never confided much in her parents, and Luke, though attentive and fun, isn’t someone she really feels any big connection to. She can’t even bring herself to call him her boyfriend and is pretty freaked out that he calls her his girlfriend. She’s constantly pretending with him, which she knows. She continues to date Luke, leaving him in the dark about her potential plans—or lack of plans—and also leaving him in the dark about Sergei, the older Russian college student she’s hooking up with. He seems like the only person she really feels any real connection with, though even that is marked by her passivity and inability to decide her life for herself. Rianne is a complex character. Though on the surface she seems bold and confident, she’s actually really insecure. Losing the stability she’s had (a solid friend group, an understanding of her family unit, a predictable but secure life in Wereford) is throwing her for a loop and it’s not clear if she will be able to recover and take some control over her life or just be led where others take her. Readers worrying about their own uncertain futures will particularly relate to Rianne. A realistic but uneasy look at choices, expectations, independence, and everything else that comes with the end of high school. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062349910

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 03/28/2017

Middle School Monday: Jumpstart Creative Writing with Storybird Poetry

MSM11Have you been using Storybird? It’s a wonderful free digital tool that uses images to unlock creative writing in our students [and ourselves!]. Sometimes, writing poetry or prose from scratch can be daunting for students—this is why Storybird can be so effective. With Storybird, users choose the art FIRST and then create poems, picture books, or chapter books using the artwork.

The artwork is extremely varied—and differs greatly in terms of tone, medium, and subject matter. There is truly artwork that would fit the writing of our students from K to 12, making it a wonderful fit for the tricky age-level that is middle school.

Storybird is a favorite tool of mine because of two empowering events that seem to happen with every class.

  1. A student that has never shown interest in poetry will have an immediate affinity for Storybird poetry. As the words are preloaded, it is a sort of ‘found poetry’ like black-out or spine poetry. It’s almost like putting together a puzzle. Without fail, a student will blow us away with her/his/their talent with this mode of poetry. It’s awesome!
  2. Also, in every class, there will be at least one student who will love the tool so much that they will start using it to create poems in their free time.

girl reading poem

Storybird has a new feature that I’m incredibly excited about. Teachers are able to select the words [up to 100] that will pre-fill for a poetry assignment.

What a wonderful project choice for a culminating assignment for any subject! I can imagine 6th grade students using this feature to create cool poems after their space unit. Or, 7th graders writing poems on an aspect they’ve been studying during their WWII units. 8th graders ‘studying’ vocabulary by building poetry. It can fit just about any topic. Any unit. Any subject.

Recently, sixth graders created poetry using a vocabulary list I created from G. Neri’s Yummy: Last Days of a Southside Shorty.

yummy poem

Whenever I incorporate creative mini-projects after reading literature, I’m going to include this as a choice. Thank you Storybird for adding this feature. I LOVE IT!

I’m Julie Stivers at @BespokeLib—and I get excited about things. Have a great week!

TPiB: Escape Room The Game, a review

escaperoom

Today’s Teen Program in a Box literally came in a box – that I bought at the store. This weekend my family, friends and I gathered together to play this Escape Room game so that I can see if it would work well as a teen program at the library. The short answer is: no.

The longer answer. . .

Escape Room the Game has four Escape Room scenarios inside for you to play and I purchased mine for around $35.00. My family thought it was a really high price to pay for a game, but those of us who do teen programming know that this is not a high price to pay for a teen program. Scratch that, it’s not a high price to pay for a successful teen program. This would not, I believe, make a successful teen program. Not the idea of an escape room, that I think the teens would love. I just think that this game would not translate into a successful teen program.

The first escape room scenario is titled Prison Break and you are asked to break out of prison. The game comes with a timer in which you must insert a series of 4 keys in the proper sequence if you want to break the code. Each scenario has 3 challenges within, so you have to insert the correct sequence of codes in 3 times if you want to escape.

Readers, we did not escape. As I write this I am still theoretically stuck in prison somewhere. Please send me a cake with a file in it. I am not cut out for prison life.

The biggest flaw with this game is that many of the items and clues are literally too small and difficult to read. It doesn’t come with a magnifying glass, but you’ll want to have one on hand. Our youngest player was 11 and our oldest was in their 60s, all agreed that parts of the clues were virtually unreadable.

Also, it’s not an escape room in the truest sense of the word. It is, quite literally, a board game. Now I do think if you wanted to go all out you could adapt it to a more traditional escape room, but you would have to play each scenario first in order to figure out how to adapt and set up your space to make it into a live play escape room as opposed to a board game.

But good luck reading the clues. Did I mention they are really small and hard to read? Yeah, I can not emphasize this enough.

This game has timed hints that you can reveal as you play the game. This turned out to be imperative for us because the clues were not as intuitive as I think the game makers thought they might be. At some point, the hint cards actually gives you the answers. They literally give you the answers, and we still failed to solve the game puzzles because we couldn’t read the game pieces themselves.

Here’s How it Works

escaperoom2

Each game scenario is played in 3 parts. You open the envelope for part 1 and try to find the first sequence of keys to place in the decoder. If you are correct, it makes a happy sound and you know that you can go to part 2. If incorrect, it cusses you out in buzzer form and you lose a couple of minutes off of your time.

We got the first sequence of keys correct all by ourselves, but upon reading the answers in a walkthrough (I talk more about this below), it turns out we got the correct answer for the wrong reason. Basically, we got lucky. I shall now hang my head in shame.

You then proceed to part 2. Part 2 was a floor layout of a prison cell. It was chock full of clues that, you guessed it, we literally couldn’t see to read. They also involved math. I’m not opposed to math, but math when you can’t see what you’re supposed to be mathing is somewhat more difficult. Once you get the correct sequence of keys here – and we did but only because the final hint card for this round basically told us the answer – you can proceed to part 3 of the game.

Here you get a smaller picture of a laundry room in a prison. Once you understand the clues for this part, they certainly make more sense then everything that happened in part 2.

The time clock is called a Chrono Decoder by the way and it has some ciphers on the side which are helpful in playing the game. This review, which I found after playing the game as I was looking for a walk through to explain what had just happened, mentions what types of ciphers they are. The official page of the game actually has a really good walkthrough which I consulted after playing to explain what had happened. After playing it the information as explained in the walk through all makes sense, but I don’t know that we would have figured it all out on our own. The hint cards were completely necessary for us. Also, you’ll notice in the review I just shared that they also mention how small and difficult to read many of the clues were. It’s a real thing.

Although I have only seen this one in stores near me, there are apparently a few other escape room board games that you can try:

3 Best Escape Room Board Games of 2017

I do not recommend doing this board game, at home or as a library program. It didn’t give us the experience we were hoping to have, it was fairly inaccessible, and it was ultimately disappointing. But fear not, our own Heather Booth has already written about successfully hosting an Escape Room with teens in the library and you can find that information here:

TPiB: Locked in the Library!

Give this game a hard pass and do what Heather did. That’s my best advice to you.

Sunday Reflections: A Sea of Black Belts and the Myth of the Lazy Teen

Teenagers, they’re all so lazy and entitled, amirite?

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Having worked with teenagers for a over 22 years now, I know that there are certain truths that the general public holds self evident. The most popular among them is the idea that teenagers are lazy, entitled brats who are a menace to society. I thought about this perception of teens a lot this weekend as I sat in a sea of teenage black belts soaked in blood, sweat and, sometimes, tears.

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I spent my weekend at an International Tae Kwan Do Tournament in Dallas, Texas. There were 48 schools that gathered together to spend the weekend competing, among those competing were a mega ton of teens. I saw hundreds of teenage black belt walking around this weekend and having witnessed my own teenager get her black belt, I can tell you that a lot of hard work and dedication goes into the process. These kids spent more time and energy in this process than many of us will spend on any one single thing in our life time. It took my daughter a little over 3 years of 3 times a week classes, practice at home, and one of the most brutal tests you will ever witness. I don’t mean brutal in terms of getting beat up by other people, although that did happen, but I mean brutal in terms of the lengths of the test and the amount of physical and mental energy it demands of its test takers.

Many of the teens competed in a demo team competition late Friday night. Like my daughter, these teens committed hours and hours of time practicing to learn their routines and get their timing and precision just right. They practiced on Friday nights. They practiced on Saturday mornings. They practiced on Sunday afternoons. This is on top of the many hours of classes they attend regularly during the week. Every time I took my daughter to practice I marveled at this team’s dedication and hard work.

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The Bestie went with us this week to support The Teen. She spent her Friday night cheering on her friend. We got home late at night only to wake up just a few hours later to get up, drive back and do it all over again. She sat patiently for hours waiting for her best friend to participate in a 15-minute competition. She enthusiastically cheered her on. She is loving, kind, supportive and everything I would want in a friend. And in this moment, she was selfless.

The Bestie herself recently spent her own hours dedicated to making the cheerleading squad for the upcoming year (we’re so proud!). She took tumbling classes to perfect her flips and jumps. She worked tirelessly to maintain the grades she needed to be eligible. And then she spent evenings learning the routines she needed to know for tryouts. She’ll spend part of her summer going to camps and getting prepared for the next year. Cheerleaders are another group who are harmfully stereotyped, when the truth is they put a lot of hard work and dedication into their craft.

Many teens will spend time this summer in marching band camp, two-a-day football practices, church camp, science camp, volunteering, or working summer jobs.

Don’t get me wrong, some days I look over at my teen and she is laying like an invertebrate slug on the couch and I think if she tries to move she will have to ooze like a liquid blob across the floor. But this is actually a normal part of adolescent development. The teenage years are rivaled only by the baby and toddler years in the amount of physical change and growth that takes place. We give toddlers tons of leeway for behavior and sleep, but teenagers often don’t get the same consideration even though we know biologically that the same types of demands are being made on their brains and bodies.

Do teenagers sleep a lot? Yes, they often do. And science tells us that they need to. The amount of energy being expended behind the scenes to help their bodies and brains grow is monumental. A two-year old can throw a full blown tantrum in the candy aisle of the grocery store and we all make knowing eye contact with the parents because we’ve been there and understand. But heaven forbid a teenager walk into the library with a sullen expression and a clipped verbal interaction after a regimented eight-hour day of school.

Teens and sleep: Why you need it and how to get enough – NCBI

Want to know another secret? Even though I love my job, my co-workers, and my community, I’m sometimes cranky after an eight-hour day at work. I just want a moment after meeting the demands of everyone else around me to decompress. Because I am an adult, I often get to do just that. I get to manage my time and interactions outside of work. Teenagers often don’t. In fact, I can think of no other time in my life then my teenage years when there were so many outside demands put on my time, attention and attitudes. Young kids are given a lot of freedom to explore the world and play, we try to be empathetic to their needs, but less so with teenagers. School, extracurricular activities, jobs, chores, church and more – the demands and expectations that society puts on teenagers can be overwhelming.

As a librarian who works with teens, I have fought against the stereotypes we hold for teenagers my entire career. I have seen toddlers throw fits and adults berate staff over 10 cent fines, and no one has ever said let’s shut down the youth or adult services department. But have a bad interaction with a group of teens and staff are lamenting that we have to have teen services at all. Why do we want them coming into the library, we ask, when there behavior is so awful.

Teens are just like any other group of people. Some of them are truly awful. I, the teen services librarian and advocate, will secretly loathe a couple of the teens that use my space every once in a while. For one reason or another, we just won’t connect or I genuinely hate their attitude and approach to life. I will work hard to make sure that none of them ever know this, but if we’re going to be honest, it happens.

But I also think that we as a society do a really bad job of seeing all the positive things that teens are doing, how hard they work, and the demands that we put on this group of people who have so little say in what we ask of them. Every day there are teens solving problems, helping others, supporting people they love, and pursuing their personal dreams. There are teens getting up early to go to practices, staying late for more practices, and sacrificing weekend mornings that could be spent sleeping in or playing video games to do things that they have a passion for. We just keep overlooking it.

It’s an old marketing saying that a negative experience will be communicated by your customer to 7 other people. We don’t pass on the positive, because our expectation is to have a positive costumer service experience. But a negative customer experience, we’ll pass that on to everyone. It’s the same thing with teens. We, society, tend to focus on the negative and forget to tell each other about the positives.

This is me sharing with you a positive and reminding us all that we need to stop being negative about teens. They’re working harder than we and the media often give them credit for. As I looked out this weekend and saw a sea of teenage black belts, I am reminded once again that the way that we talk about teens just isn’t correct.

Also, maybe we need more YA with teens who do martial arts. Pretty please.

Friday Finds: March 24, 2017

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Support Libraries, Save the IMLS

Quick Book Review: The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend

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#SJYALit: If You Don’t Get It, You Won’t Get It Right, a guest post by Shaun David Hutchinson

Book Review: Armstrong and Charlie by Steven B. Frank

Teen Book Club – Creating a Place to Read and Belong! (a guest post by Sheri Schubbe)

Book Review: Pyromantic by Lish McBride

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Book Review: Pyromantic by Lish McBride

pyromanticThe ARC for this sequel to her 2014 novel Firebug hit my doorstep extremely early, but I still dropped everything to read it – and I was not disappointed. I enjoyed this entry into McBride’s universe every bit as much as her previous novels. Rejoining her characters felt like coming home.

For some context, read my review of Firebug here.  We also have a great interview from her blog tour for Firebug here.

Summary from the publisher:

Ava is having a rough time. Getting rid of Venus didn’t set her free—she’s still Coterie. Her new boss seems like an improvement, but who knows if he’ll stay that way? The Coterie life changes people. And since Ava’s currently avoiding her friends after (disastrously) turning down a date with Lock, well, everything kind of sucks. And that’s not even taking into account the feelings she might have for him.

But when a mysterious illness starts to affect magical beings, it’s up to Ava and her team to stop its spread . . . or else one of them might be next.

I don’t really want to get into the plot here – too many spoilers. What I’d like to reflect on, however is Lish McBride’s ‘dual giftedness’ that makes her one of my favorite authors. As I said above, rejoining her characters felt like coming home. A model of ‘show not tell,’ McBride’s characterizations are delightful. Even her minor characters come fully fleshed with individual flaws and weaknesses. Her main characters are so fully realized that you feel they are close friends after reading the story. Secondly, McBride is gifted in the style of storytelling I like most, where individual threads of story are introduced individually and slowly woven together to form a complete and often bizarrely interrelated story. In the beginning, all you can see are the separate threads. By the end they make a picture so complete and detailed, without ever ‘overtelling.’

If I were you, I would drop everything to get my hands on a copy of Pyromantic. And if you haven’t yet read Firebug, or her other novels in this world Hold Me Closer, Necromancer and Necromancing the Stone, you are in for a treat!

Pyromantic hit shelves on Tuesday, March 21st.