Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Book Review: Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up—Two lesbians in rural Texas suffer physical and psychological torture in this reimagining of the Orpheus legend. Raised in a conservative small town where gossip becomes myth, Raya has never felt like the other girls. She keeps her real self hidden, knowing that gay kids in her town disappear and become cautionary tales. When Raya and her best friend Sarah, a preacher’s daughter, are caught in bed together, they are sent to Friendly Saviors conversion camp to”get fixed.” Like Orpheus, Raya is determined to save the girl she loves, even if that means going through hell. But her resolve to escape quickly turns to resignation as she undergoes a brutal regime of labor, prayer, exercise, and, eventually, electric shock treatments. The so-called therapies at Friendly Saviors are staggeringly painful to endure and to read about. Horrific, graphic scenes of electroshock treatment as well as homophobic slurs, transphobia, suicide, and more may be triggering for some readers. Deeply emotional, this devastating story is lyrical and haunting, though repetition and heavy-handed reminders of the Orpheus story distract from the power and immediacy of Raya’s narrative. Underdeveloped secondary characters align with other mythological figures but do little to move the story along. This unremittingly bleak depiction of what it means to be anything other than cisgender and heterosexual is heartbreaking; isolated Raya has no examples of queer happiness or survival. 

VERDICT A secondary purchase for libraries with large LGBTQIA+ YA collections that also offer more nuanced and positive looks at what it means to be gay.

ISBN-13: 9781641290746
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/08/2019

Book Review: The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King

Publisher’s Book Description: Liberty Johansen is going to change the way we look at the night sky. Most people see the old constellations, the things they’ve been told to see. But Liberty sees new patterns, pictures, and possibilities. She’s an exception.

Some other exceptions:

Her dad, who gave her the stars. Who moved out months ago and hasn’t talked to her since.

Her mom, who’s happier since he left, even though everyone thinks she should be sad and lonely.

And her sister, who won’t go outside their house.

Liberty feels like her whole world is falling from space. Can she map a new life for herself and her family before they spin too far out of reach?

Karen’s Thoughts:

I remember distinctly the day in the 4th grade when I came home from school and my parents told me to go get my brother. I knew in that moment on my way to get my brother that my parents would be announcing that they were separating. In my memory, the day that they told us they were officially getting divorced was exactly the same. I don’t know if that’s true or just a trick of memory. I remember promises made and promises broken. I remember fear and anger and confusion and parents who started dating other people. And I remember one day going camping with my Dad and him asking if we wanted him to tell us why they were getting a divorce and my just telling him no and walking away.

I tell you all of this because as a reader, The Year I Feel from Space was all too real for me and it was a very hard read. I loved it, I’m glad it exists in this world, and I’m here to tell you, it’s very authentic and real. And all of that is what made this a personally hard read for me.

I’m also here to tell you that there are kids just like me who need this book in the world. I needed this book in the world. I love that on Tuesday, October 15th, 2019, this book will exist in the world for every kid like me who needed it then or needs it now.

The Year We Fell from Space isn’t just about divorce, it’s also about navigating a world of feelings and mental illness. I am a person who parents with a mental illness; like the dad in this book, I struggle with depression (with some good ole’ fashioned anxiety sprinkled in to make it even more interesting.) I loved everything that this book had to say about mental illness. I appreciated the acknowledgements that came each time it was talked about. It is so vitally important the way that the characters talk about how depression isn’t the same for everyone and how it can look different. I like that it acknowledges things like guilt and failure and anger and how they, too, are wrapped up in depression. 1 in 4 people struggle with mental illness and it is profoundly meaningful for kids to read books that acknowledge the very real impact that having a parent with depression has on their lives and on their families.

There are a lot of other great moments in this book. There is a nontraditional mom who loves hiking, camping and feminism. There is talk about periods and acknowledge that it isn’t just girls who need to learn about them. There are a lot of great moments in which various characters wrestle with the topic of friendship and bullying in various ways.

And because this is a book written by Amy Sarig King, it weaves all these thoughts together using very creative strings, or I guess to stay on theme I should using very creative star maps. As someone who has read all of the works of A.S. King, I saw echoes of Ask the Passengers and Still Life with Tornado used in different and creative ways to give Liberty the opportunity to explore both her concept of self and her feelings. King uses her personal style to tell a meaningful and beautiful story while dipping into the surreal and creative; she is a master storyteller that enlightens, entertains, moves and challenges. King gets below the surface in ways that few writers do. I love that she has taken the respect she has always shown in the intellect and creativity in teens while writing YA and has extended that same respect to middle grade readers.

The Teen also read this book and because I knew she liked it I asked her why. Her response was, “I like that it says you’re allowed to feel whatever it is you feel and that it ends with a sense of hope.”

I love Liberty and her family and I think that readers will as well. This is a hopeful look at what it means to fall apart, to fall from space, and then try to put yourself and the pieces of your life back together again. This is an affirmation of feelings, the good, the bad and the ugly, and an exploration of what it means to feel on fire from anger and guilt on the inside. It’s an affirmation of the most fundamental truth of life: we are always in the process of becoming the new-new-version of us because we are a work in progress. And at the end of the day, nobody is perfect but how we deal with our own imperfections and the imperfections of those around us matters.

I highly recommend The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King. And so does 4th grade Karen who just wanted someone to help her navigate her parent’s divorce. And so does 46-year-old Karen who is trying to parent with depression. This book is written with middle grade readers in mind, but it’s a story for all of us in a world that needs more empathy and understanding.

Facilitating Racial Healing Circles, a recap of recent ALA training by Lisa Krok

Recently, I had the opportunity to learn about facilitating racial healing circles. This was a part of the training provided by ALA’s Great Stories Club program on Growing Up Brave in the Margins. The series is a part of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) efforts to bring about sustainable, transformational change, and address both contemporary and historic effects of racism in the nation and in communities. The books selected for the Great Stories Club (GSC) feature characters and plots that explore questions of identity, race, equity, history, social justice, and institutional change.

In order to qualify to be a part of the program, librarians/teachers/community partners need to complete a comprehensive grant application, detailing their proposal of how GSC will be used with their teens to tackle the goals stated above. Those who are awarded these grants (about 35 nationwide this session) are awarded four sets of eleven books each. For this session, the books are pictured below:

There are six choices to choose from, so participants select four out of the six, to best meet the needs of their teens. One copy goes to the leader of the book club, and the remaining ten copies are given to the teen participants. Additionally, the grant provides $1200 for extra copies of books and programming to accompany the selected texts. Grant applicants are encouraged to use the programming funds for racial healing practitioners. Grantees are provided with travel and lodging expenses to attend the multi-day training in Chicago.

Before we even went to Chicago for the training, each of us was asked to complete the supplied webinars on microaggressions and racial healing circle methodologies. We also engaged in online quizzes to assess implicit bias. These are free sets of tests provided by Harvard University. It was fascinating to see how our ideas about our own implicit biases were confirmed or not by these quizzes.

Implicit Bias: Take a Test https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

Before beginning any type of talking circles, group agreements must be made. All participants are empowered to contribute to the creation of this agreement. Some common agreements are things like:

  • Approach people with an open mind
  • Demonstrate active listening
  • Be comfortable with brief silence
  • Lean into discomfort
  • Speak your truth
  • Sharing is by volunteers only, no forced sharing
  • Maintain confidentiality

The agreement can then be posted for group reference.

The Latin root of “facilitator” is facilis, which means easy.. The facilitator’s job is to make things easier for the rest of the group. Some ways they manage the discussions are:

  • Help the group create ground rules
  • Not representing self as an expert on the issue
  • Create opportunities for everyone to participate
  • Does not offer their own opinion
  • Bring in points of view that haven’t been talked about
  • Value group processes and the ways they work together
  • Support democratic process

Key facilitator skills are reflecting, clarifying, and summarizing during the discussion. Also be aware of non-verbal signs, which may vary amongst cultures. Neutrality is aspirational, but no one is 100% neutral. Challenges during the discussion may require redirecting or referring to the group agreement. If misinformation is presented, ask follow-up questions and find sources for information. In the event of tension or conflict, try the following:

  • “I” statements
  • Take a break
  • Address the tension in the room (keeping ground rules in mind)

Another tool that I shared with the group is the pocket guide from Teaching Tolerance.org. These foldable pocket-sized guides provide ways to speak up when witnessing racism or other offensive words and/or actions. They focus on the strategies of interrupting, questioning, educating, and echoing. They focus on addressing specific words and actions, not the person. These free pocket guides can be downloaded from:

Tolerance Speak Up Pocket Card https://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/speak_up_pocket_card_2up.pdf

 I was impressed with the training overall, which included facilitators from ALA, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and -Everyday Democracy.  We were provided with book specific discussion questions for driving narrative change, and activities and tools to use for racial healing circles. We participated in the circles several times throughout the course of the training, taking on the roles of both the participants and the facilitators.

More to come as this project unfolds throughout the next six months…stay tuned!

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the adult and teen services manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians, forthcoming from ABC-CLIO in February 2020. Lisa’s passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. She was appointed to the 2019-2020 YALSA Presidential Advisory Task Force, served two years on the Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s team, and is proud to be a part of the #DiversityJedi. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

Friday Finds: October 11, 2019

This Week at TLT

Book Review: By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Books Featuring Main Characters with Dyslexia, a discussion and a book list

Post-It Reviews: Graphic Novels Galore!

Confessions of a Dyslexic Word Nerd, By Amanda Hosch

Dyslexia Awareness Dashboard: All our Dyslexia posts and references in one place to help us all better serve youth with dyslexia

Around the Web

School Districts Sue Juul, Saying Student Vaping Drains Resources

Book Review: By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

Publisher’s description

Heart-wrenchingly honest, fans of Brandy Colbert and Nicola Yoon will anticiapte this poignant reflection on what it means to choose yourself.

On the day Torrey moves and officially becomes a college freshman, he gets a call that might force him to drop out before he’s even made it through orientation: the bank is foreclosing on the bee farm his Uncle Miles left him.

Torrey’s worked hard to become the first member of his family to go to college, but while the neighborhood held him back emotionally, Uncle Miles encouraged him to reach his full potential. For years, it was just the two of them tending the farm. So Torrey can’t let someone erase his uncle’s legacy without a fight.

He tries balancing his old life in L.A. with his new classes, new friends, and (sort of) new boyfriend in San Francisco, but as the farm heads for auction, the pressure of juggling everything threatens to tear him apart. Can he make a choice between his family and his future without sacrificing a part of himself?

Amanda’s thoughts

Hey, this was great. Here’s why: FANTASTIC voice. Set in the first weeks of college. It tackles gentrification. It revolves around an APIARY. And did I mention the FANTASTIC VOICE?

Torrey, who is Black and gay, is excited to finally get out of where he grew up. But as soon as he arrives as SFSU, he learns two things that throw him for a loop: One, unpaid taxes means he’s about to lose the bee farm he inherited from his uncle. Two, Gabe, a boy Torrey was really into in junior high (and who then moved to Ohio) is also at SFSU. Gabe is Afro-Latinx and bi and has a girlfriend, but it’s clear that Torrey and Gabe still have lots of intense feelings for each other. But instead of figuring out college classes, making new friends, and potentially getting together with Gabe, Torrey has this MUCH bigger thing looming over him. Losing the bee farm would be devastating. He feels so much guilt and obligation and also frustration over the entire situation. He contemplates what to do during the two weeks until the add/drop period ends, wondering if his choice has to be all or nothing—go home? Stay at college? Somehow save the farm? It’s a lot for an eighteen-year-old to deal with.

But he’s used to it.

His mom is in a medically-induced coma, his uncle was killed, and his only real family is his aunt and his homophobic grandpa. He’s been dealing with hard stuff for a long time. He’s also used to taking care of the adults in his life. Now, during a time that theoretically should be all about him finally, he’s still having to worry about taking care of people and doing the right thing. He’s also super used to people leaving, so to fall in with this great found family at school, and to start to see more community and connections, makes him want to figure out both parts of his life—continuing on at college and somehow keeping things going with the apiary.

This is an immensely readable look at gentrification, systemic oppression, protest, action, community, and having your voice heard. It’s also a very sweet love story as well as sort of a best case scenario college story (you like your roommate! you have instant friends! a cool prof immediately takes you under her wing!). And, I can’t stress this enough, the main thing that this book has going for it is its voice. Torrey’s narration just comes alive. A great suggestion for anyone looking to read at the upper edges of YA and a good addition to the growing number of books that tackle gentrification.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624147999
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 10/08/2019

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Books Featuring Main Characters with Dyslexia, a discussion and a book list

This month as I set out to learn and talk more about dyslexia, I went on a quest specifically to find out what types of books are better suited for readers with dyslexia. The answer to this question is slightly more complicated and I touch on it some in this infographic. Along the way I found a list of books for kids that feature main characters that have dyslexia. This is great, I thought. We’ve talked a lot about representation and I had just stumbled upon a list of books that could help kids with dyslexia feel seen and understood. The problem was, the list primarily featured younger kids. So I went looking for a list of teen (young adult) fiction that featured teens with dyslexia and to be honest, I didn’t find a lot.

So I asked my librarian friends on Twitter for recommendations and to be honest, I still didn’t find a lot. When you consider that it is believed that 1 in 5 people has dyslexia, it seems like there should be more than a couple of handful of books that feature characters with dyslexia. And keep in mind that some of what was recommended was just believed to be dyslexia, some of the books recommended don’t actually use that word. If we want to help kids with dyslexia feel validated and help our world better understand and support kids with dyslexia, I believe that it is important that the word dyslexia be used to help de-stigmatize and normalize our kiddos with dyslexia. They are around 20% of the population and it’s important. Though to be clear, any type of disability is underrepresented in youth literature and it is a huge opportunity for growth when we talk about representation.

Here’s a look at what I did find or was recommended to me.

Photograph of an RA tool I created to share with Fort Worth Public Library staff

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publisher’s Book Description: Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.

As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone? 

Karen’s Thoughts: I’ve read this book and it’s a very good book. At the time that I read it I wasn’t looking for dyslexia representation, but as soon as it was recommended to me for this list I thought, yes! The main character, Claudia, has dyslexia and it shown to struggle in many ways with reading, homework and many of the same issues that I see my child with dyslexia struggling with.

Girl, Stolen by April Henry

Publisher’s Book Description: Sixteen-year-old Cheyenne Wilder is sleeping in the back of the car while her stepmom fills a prescription for antibiotics. Before Cheyenne realizes what’s happening, the car is being stolen.

Griffin hadn’t meant to kidnap Cheyenne and once he finds out that not only does she have pneumonia, but that she’s blind, he really doesn’t know what to do. When his dad finds out that Cheyenne’s father is the president of a powerful corporation, everything changes–now there’s a reason to keep her.

How will Cheyenne survive this nightmare?

Karen’s Thoughts: I have not yet read this book so I can’t comment on the representation of dyslexia, but it was recommended to me and I have read other April Henry books and she writes engaging books for teen readers.

Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers

Publisher’s Book Description: Karl, aged seventeen, is hopelessly in love. But the object of his affections, Firella, demands proof, and poses him a series of questions regarding his attitude to the many sides of love. But Karl is dyslexic, and convinced that if Firella finds out, she will think he is stupid, and unworthy of her, and leave him.

So Karl asks a local writer to help him construct his replies – and an unlikely, but extremely touching, friendship develops between the two men. They both come to learn a great deal about about life from a very different perspective, and when an act of violence shatters their calm, they find their respective appraisal of life shifting in profound ways.

This is Aidan Chambers’ Dying to Know You.

Karen’t Thoughts: This is another title that I haven’t read but I looked at reviews and all of the reviews clearly state that the main character, Karl, is dyslexic as does the publisher’s book description. Given that many of us fight to get our kids a proper diagnosis, I feel that it is important that the character is clearly identified as being dyslexic.

Life at the Speed of Us by Heather Sappenfield

Publisher’s Book Description: Silence is safe. Fate is not.

When Sovern Briggs survives a car crash, she stops talking to seal in the memory of the final sounds from her mother’s life. As conflict with her father builds and failure in school looms, Sovern seeks relief in a dangerous boyfriend and in speed’s adrenaline edge. These needs collide, leading Sovern to a snowboarding accident that changes her future and perhaps that of our universe.

Life at the Speed of Us weaves dyslexia, math, cutting-edge science, genius, and love into a young woman’s reluctant journey toward grace. 

Karen’s Thoughts: This is yet another book that I haven’t read that came recommended to me. Again, I appreciate and think it’s important that dyslexia is clearly named.

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

Publisher’s Book Description: When twelve-year-old Foster and her mother land in the tiny town of Culpepper, they don’t know what to expect. But folks quickly warm to the woman with the great voice and the girl who can bake like nobody’s business. Soon Foster – who dreams of having her own cooking show one day – lands herself a gig baking for the local coffee shop, and gets herself some much-needed help in overcoming her biggest challenge – learning to read . . . just as Foster and Mama start to feel at ease, their past catches up to them. Thanks to the folks in Culpepper, though Foster and her mama find the strength to put their troubles behind them for good.

Karen’s Thoughts: I have read this book, though it has been a while. I love all books by Joan Bauer and remember loving this one. I looked at reviews and although they state the main character is struggling to learn to read, most of the reviews don’t indicate one way or the other if the main character is stated to have dyslexia. This book did, however, show up on a recommended reading list about dyslexia.

You’ll see Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo on the image above. It was recommended to me with the caveat that one of the characters discusses having some type of learning disorder related to reading by that they never outright call it dyslexia. So I share that here with that caveat.

If you want to see the original Twitter conversation and all of the recommendations, you can find it here:

And here is a picture of the RA tool I made for the staff at Fort Worth Public Library for books featuring characters with dyslexia of a younger age:

Other Reading Lists


Post-It Reviews: Graphic Novels Galore!

Here are some quick reviews of a few of the books I’ve read and enjoyed over the past few months. As I’ve been busy juggling library work, parenting, writing, blogging, and working on a secret project that has required a TON of reading (don’t worry, I’ll share eventually), I found myself reading a lot of graphic novels in what little free time I could find. I’m a huge fan of graphic novels and comic books.

Post-It Note reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary.

The Secret of Danger Point (Surfside Girls Series #1) by Kim Dwinell

Sun… sand… and spooky adventures!

Things are getting weird in Surfside. Lately, Samantha’s best friend Jade explodes into fits of giggles whenever she sees a boy, and it’s throwing a wrench into the kick-back summer of surfing and hanging out that Sam had planned. But after swimming through a secret underwater cave, Sam starts to… see things. Like ghosts. And pirates. And maybe something even scarier! Can she and Jade get to the bottom of this mystery in time to save their town?

(Post-it says: The writing and depth of the story is pretty meh, but the kids at my school devour graphic novels so this very tame mystery will circulate plenty. The art is fun and the surfing, skateboarding girls are adept, if kind of dull, sleuths. Ages 8-11)

Stranger Things: The Other Side (Graphic Novel, Volume 1) by Jody Houser, Stefano Martino (Illustrator), Keith Champagn (Illustrator)

The hit Netflix series from the Duffer Brothers is now a spine-tingling comic that recounts Will Beyers’ harrowing survival in the treacherous Upside Down!

When Will Byers finds himself in the Upside Down, an impossible dark parody of his own world, he’s understandably frightened. But that’s nothing compared with the fear that takes hold when he realizes what’s in that world with him! 

Follow Will’s struggle through the season one events of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things! Written by Jody Houser (Mother Panic, Faith) and illustrated by Stefano Martino (Doctor Who, Catwoman).

(POST-IT SAYS: If you’ve watched the show and wondered, “But what happened while Will was missing in the upside-down?” this book’s for you. Satisfyingly adds a lot to the story we get on the show. A must-read for fans. Ages 11+)

Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board (Making Friends #2) by Kristen Gudsnuk

Dany, Madison, and…wait-another Dany?!-must navigate some very complicated friendships while trying to capture a magical dog that is turning their town upside-down!

Almost everything is going great for Dany. She and Madison are still best friends, she still has her magic sketchbook, and the new school year is looking up. But when Dany creates a duplicate of herself to secretly help with homework and raise her social status, the two of them accidentally unleash a magical dog that wreaks supernatural havoc on the town. Now, with the big school dance coming up, time is running short for Dany, Madison, and their friends to set things right before the night is completely ruined!

(POST-IT SAYS: Definitely read book #1 in this series or you’ll be so lost. Wacky scifi plot mixes with relatable middle school issues. Very busy illustrations and an overstuffed plot mean it may take readers a while to finish this. Ages 9+)

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, Harmony Becker (Illustrator)

A stunning graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei’s childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon — and America itself — in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What does it mean to be American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins co-writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.

(POST-IT SAYS: I hope this book is already on your library shelves or in your hold queue. This profoundly moving memoir of one of the US’s darkest periods brings history to life through deeply emotional personal reflections. One of the best books I’ve read this year. Ages 12+)

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream is at once a coming-of-age story and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children. The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigated her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid.

Malaka Gharib’s triumphant graphic memoir brings to life her teenage antics and illuminates earnest questions about identity and culture, while providing thoughtful insight into the lives of modern immigrants and the generation of millennial children they raised. Malaka’s story is a heartfelt tribute to the American immigrants who have invested their future in the promise of the American dream.

(POST-IT SAYS: Follows Malaka from childhood to present adulthood. A funny and authentic look at being part of a multiple cultures. The ever-changing layout/format, self-deprecating tone and illustrations, and real exploration of family and culture makes this a hit. Ages 13+)

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.  

(POST-IT SAYS: An important, honest, and raw look at gender and identity. Affirming and educational, Kobabe doesn’t shy away from complicated or painful feelings or experiences. Ages 16+)

Best Friends by Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham (Illustrator)

Bestselling creators of Real Friends Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham are back with a true story about popularity, first crushes, and finding your own path in the graphic novel, Best Friends.

Follow your heart. Find your people.

Sixth grade is supposed to be perfect. Shannon’s got a sure spot in the in-crowd called The Group, and her best friend is their leader, Jen, the most popular girl in school.

But the rules are always changing, and Shannon has to scramble to keep up. She never knows which TV shows are cool, what songs to listen to, and who she’s allowed to talk to. Who makes these rules, anyway? And does Shannon have to follow them?

(POST-IT SAYS: Phenomenal! Should be required reading for all 5th-7th graders–so much insight into friendship, popularity, identity, and important looks at anxiety disorder. Love this even more than book 1. Ages 8-13)

Bloom by Kevin Panetta, Savanna Ganucheau (Illustrator)

Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band—if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

(POST-IT SAYS: A sweet romance that gets to happen because charismatic Hector puts up with Ari, who still has a lot of growing up to do. I liked that both characters weren’t quite settled into what life after high school looks like. Ages 14+)

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

Ryan Andrews’s This Was Our Pact is an astonishing, magical-realist adventure story for middle-grade readers.

It’s the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, when the town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has it that after drifting out of sight, they’ll soar off to the Milky Way and turn into brilliant stars, but could that actually be true? This year, Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanterns really go, and to ensure success in their mission, they’ve made a pact with two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.

The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes to learn the truth, but it isn’t long before the pact is broken by all except for Ben and (much to Ben’s disappointment) Nathaniel, the one kid who just doesn’t seem to fit in.

Together, Nathaniel and Ben will travel farther than anyone has ever gone, down a winding road full of magic, wonder, and unexpected friendship*.

*And a talking bear.

(POST-IT SAYS: A strange and fantastical story. Dreamlike adventure and fantasy mix with themes of friendship and astronomy. Gorgeous art. I loved the ending. Ages 9-13)

Boy-Crazy Stacey (The Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novel #7) by Ann M. Martin, Gale Galligan (Illustrator)

A brand-new graphic novel adapted by USA Today bestselling author Gale Galligan!

Stacey and Mary Anne are baby-sitting for the Pike family for two weeks at the New Jersey shore. Things are great in Sea City: There’s a gorgeous house right on the beach, a boardwalk, plenty of sun and sand… and the cutest boy Stacey has ever seen!

Mary Anne thinks that Stacey should leave Scott alone and focus on the Pike kids, but Stacey’s in love. Looking for reasons to hang around his lifeguard stand takes up all her time, which means Mary Anne has to do the job of two baby-sitters! How can she tell Stacey that Scott just isn’t interested without ruining their friendship and breaking Stacey’s heart?

(POST-IT SAYS: I’m always as excited for these as the students are! Just enough dating/liking someone and friend drama with plenty of the usual BSC excitement. They can’t crank these out fast enough. PS—Did you know Stacey moved from New York? 🙂 Ages 8-12)

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Roller Girl in this hilarious, one-of-a-kind graphic novel about a half-witch who has just discovered the truth about herself, her family, and her town and is doing her best to survive middle school now that she knows everything!

Magic is harder than it looks.

Thirteen-year-old Moth Hush loves all things witchy. But she’s about to discover that witches aren’t just the stuff of movies, books, and spooky stories. When some eighth-grade bullies try to ruin her Halloween, something really strange happens. It turns out that Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, has a centuries-old history of witch drama. And, surprise: Moth’s family is at the center of it all! When Moth’s new powers show up, things get totally out-of-control. She meets a talking cat, falls into an enchanted diary, and unlocks a hidden witch world. Secrets surface from generations past as Moth unravels the complicated legacy at the heart of her town, her family, and herself.

In this spellbinding graphic novel debut, Emma Steinkellner spins a story packed with humor and heart about the weird and wonderful adventures of a witch-in-progress.

(POST-IT SAYS: So fun and cute. Tons of dialogue, fantastic characters, and vibrant art. This will be mega popular in elementary and middle school collections. A must-have book. Ages 9-13)

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing is a heartwarming middle-grade graphic novel in the spirit of Real Friends and El Deafo, from New York Times bestselling author-illustrator Jen Wang.

Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic . . . and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known.

But after Moon moves in next door, these unlikely friends are soon best friends, sharing their favorite music videos and painting their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she has visions, sometimes, of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.

Moon’s visions have an all-too-earthly root, however, and soon Christine’s best friend is in the hospital, fighting for her life. Can Christine be the friend Moon needs, now, when the sky is falling?

Jen Wang draws on her childhood to paint a deeply personal yet wholly relatable friendship story that’s at turns joyful, heart-wrenching, and full of hope.

(POST-IT SAYS: A great story about unlikely friends, expanding your horizons, and community and identity. Moon’s brain tumor late in the story adds a solemn layer to this story about middle grade friendships. Ages 8-12)

Confessions of a Dyslexic Word Nerd, By Amanda Hosch

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and this month we’re sharing posts and resources to help us all better understand what dyslexia is and how we can best parent and serve youth with dyslexia. Today we are honored to share a guest post by Amanda Hosch who shares her story of growing up with dyslexia.

I’m dyslexic.

I’ve learned when to announce this to new colleagues and friends. Too soon, and they tend to doubt me on a myriad of subjects that have nothing to do with spelling. (I can listen to a weather report as well as anyone.) Too late, and I’m met with disbelief and—more than once—arguments about whether or not I actually have dyslexia. (Dude, why would I lie?)

The beginning of formal schooling in first grade brought frustration and feelings of stupidity. Spelling tests were 20 words of pain and humiliation. It didn’t matter how carefully I read instructions, pesky “n’t” would appear and disappear, like a trickster, ruining my work. The middle of words vanished into thin air. Spaces appeared randomly. Did that word begin a “b” or a “d” or perhaps a “p”? Numbers jumped around. “9” tumbled upside down until it became a “6.” I can still feel the burn of shame on my cheeks when I failed the clock-reading test. I said the wrong number (6 or 9). When the teacher asked if the number was on the clock’s left or right side, I panicked and blurted out an answer. It was wrong, and everyone laughed at me. To this day, I have no idea how anyone innately knows left or right. I believe that most of you do, but I have no clue how. Oh, for those people who say, put your thumbs out at a 90-degree angle and see which one makes an “L.” Hi! Dyslexic here. “L” looks the same as “⅃” to my brain. That “trick” is no help at all, and I may be silently cursing that condescending helpful hint.

Fun side fact: besides regular old dyslexia, I have what’s known as directional or geographic dyslexia. I have no concept of left or right, have very limited spatial awareness, and can get lost a block away from home. Yeah, my older brothers thought that was a hoot.

If I had been left to figure things out on my own or just told to work harder, I would have hated school. Not too long ago, it would have been assumed I was incapable of learning. I’m incredibly fortunate because my mother knew something was wrong with my language processing and actively searched for answers. We were a family of readers and I loved being read to. However, even as a little girl, I wanted to be able to read by myself almost as much as I wanted a cat. When I was an adult, my mother told me that my diagnosis was a relief. My difficulties had a name and she had an action plan.

I’m not quite sure if my small, Catholic, New Orleans elementary school previously had paraprofessionals, but my mother somehow convinced the principal that she needed them. That I needed them. And so I and a few other students were given in-school support. At home, my mother would go over the sessions, reviewing and reinforcing them until I felt confident. Outside of school, I also saw a speech-language pathologist for my speech impediment.

I was taught how to learn—how I had to study—which was different than the easy-breezy read-it-once way my older brothers did.

When reading long paragraphs, it helped to have a solid ruler under each line so that the word chunks wouldn’t play switcheroo and bounce up or down a couple of lines, jumbling meaning. Sometimes, it meant my mother had to read a passage out loud to me as I read silently along. Or have her spell out a word slowly since looking words up in the dictionary was an exercise in futility if I couldn’t decode the first syllable.

Early intervention made a difference.

Let me rephrase that: early intervention made a huge difference for both my academic success and my emotional wellbeing.

By the time I entered fourth grade, I had study skills out the wazoo, and was reading way above grade level. For pleasure!!! The librarians at my local branch (Nix Library on Carrollton Avenue) knew me and would offer suggestions. I adored Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, James Herriot, and Agatha Christie. I learned to be comfortable while reading, accepting that sometimes (lots of the time) I’d have to reread a passage until it would settle down on the page.

And yes, spending two to three hours a week memorizing how to spell 20 vocabulary words might seem excessive, but remember this was the late 70s/early 80s, and there were only three major TV channels. Throw in a perfectionist streak and a desire to one-up my brothers, and well, that’s how this dyslexic finally won the spelling award in 8th grade.

Even now, decades later, letters/letter chunks still swim around on the page, especially if I’m tired. Ending of words go missing all the time. Is there a “d” at the end of “you’re welcomed?” I’ve looked it up dozens of times and still can’t recall.

While early intervention with learning strategies made the difference in being able to do schoolwork well, my mother’s unwavering support and belief in my ability to succeed meant I never blamed myself for being dyslexic. It simply was. Like my brother needing glasses. No big deal. School was more work for me than for others, but I had the tools.

I graduated near the top of my class at my college-prep high school. Was a lead in my high school play senior year. Was editor of my university newspaper. Been published in academic journals. Taught at the university level in Europe and Asia. Traveled throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. Wrote a middle grade mystery. (A special shout-out to all the copy editors and proofreaders of the world!)

I will always be dyslexic. There is no cure. However, I have strategies formed over a lifetime to work through difficulties and the self-confidence to use them.

If you have a young person in your life who has dyslexia and you want to help, here’s some things that were useful to me:

Accept the child as is. Be patient. Be kind. Ask questions and listen.

Ask how they would like feedback. Do they want hints about what’s wrong or do they need it clearly pointed out? Adjust as they child changes.

Don’t mistake discouragement for laziness. Don’t tell them they need to focus better. It’s tiring to always be the one who has to work harder for every small success. Would you tell a kid who needs glasses to squint harder to see the white board?

Acknowledge the child’s hard work. Actively tell the child you see the effort.

Advocate for the child. Ask for testing if you think there’s an issue. Ask for services if needed. Politely but persistently. Encourage and gently reinforce learning strategies at home.

Find out what the child enjoys, support them, and let them dig into that subject.

Audio books count as reading. Graphic novels count as reading. Re-reading books count as reading.

If the child is a word nerd like me, explain that English orthography is weird. Do you remember this from school: “i before e except after c or when sounded as ‘a’ as in neighbor and weigh”? Weird (see what I did there?), it’s like there’s a glacier (again!) of words that don’t follow that rule. With a little bit of time, I could probably think of at least eight (I’ll stop now) more examples.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Amanda Hosch loves writing, travel, and coffee. She lived abroad for almost a decade, teaching English as a Foreign Language. A fifth generation New Orleanian, Amanda now lives in Seattle with her husband, their daughters, two rescue cats, and a ghost cat. Her first novel, MABEL OPAL PEAR AND THE RULES FOR SPYING, a middle grade mystery, was published by Capstone Young Readers in 2017. A cat on her lap and a book in her hand is her ideal way to pass an afternoon.

Dyslexia Awareness Dashboard: All our Dyslexia posts and references in one place to help us all better serve youth with dyslexia

My Journey Parenting a Child with Dyslexia

Here are the articles I have written as both a librarian and the mother of a child with dyslexia in which I share my personal journey of learning how to better understand, advocate for and help my child with dyslexia. Every day I’m learning more about how to better understand and help my child and children like her. I hope you will join me on this journey because if we want to raise readers, we need to understand that not everyone learns to read in the same way and at the same time. And if I could say one important thing to you it is this: never ever shame a person on their reading journey, no matter where they are at, what they are reading, or how it may differ from yours.

Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a Child with Dyslexia 

How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Dyslexic Child Hate Reading and Why I Pushed Back 

Middle Grade Graphic Novels That a Middle Grade Reader with Dyslexia Really Loves 

So You Want to Raise a Reader? I Have Some Tips for You 

Everything You Need to Know About Dyslexia and Library Services to Youth with Dyslexia at TLT

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, so let’s get started

How Libraries Can Better Serve Youth with Dyslexia, an Infographic

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Providing a Variety of Formats is an Access Issue

Additional Posts About Dyslexia at TLT

What if it’s more than Reluctant Reading

Books Featuring Main Characters with Dyslexia, a discussion and a book list

Library Services to Youth with Dyslexia Guidelines and Examples

Upper Arlington in Ohio services to children with dyslexia

IFLA has some great discussion about services to patrons with dyslexia as well

ALSC guidelines for library services to children with dyslexia

An interview with The Dylslexic Librarian

Dyslexia Organizations, Dyslexia 101 and Designing for Dyslexia

Resources to learn more about the basics of dyslexia and how to better serve youth with dyslexia. Many of these websites have helpful infographics and design tips that we should keep in mind when designing our signage, flyers, etc.

CNN: This is what reading is like if you have dyslexia

International Dyslexia Association

Dyslexia Fact Sheet

Made by Dyslexia

Decoding Dyslexia


Dyslexia Affects More Than Just Reading, here’s a look at other skills that can be affected by dyslexia

DITC: Dyslexia in the Classroom, what every teacher needs to know

Dyslexia Accommodations in the Classroom – please don’t ask students to read aloud, don’t count off for poor spelling, don’t insist on book levels, don’t make book levels public knowledge if you use them, and consider letting students take photos of notes on the board or provide printed out copies of notes. These are just a few of the accommodations that are suggested to help youth with dyslexia be successful in school. A quick Google search will lead you to many more resources about this important topic.

Dyslexia and High School Drop Out Rates – Undiagnosed dyslexia, self-esteem issues and an unsupportive learning environment or lack of resources can lead to a higher drop out rate for students with dyslexia. It is imperative that we advocate for early diagnosis and proper educational support and that our youth with dyslexia are given proper instruction in order for them to be successful.

Scholastic: Dyslexia, what teachers need to know

Dyslexia, what you’re seeing in your high schooler

F is for Fail – this article is from Canada, but it touches on some important points. One of our biggest measures of academic success is whether or not a child can read at level in the 3rd grade. However, schools don’t typically test for dyslexia until the second semester of their 2nd grade year. At this time, it’s often too late for proper intervention. We need routines screening beginning the moment our kids start school to help get them and keep them on track.

Dyslexic Library – a blog by a mother and daughter

Social and Emotional Problems Related to Dyslexia – want to better understand what it’s like to have dyslexia? This article really helped me better understand that anxiety and self-doubt that can come from having a brain that thinks differently in our world.

Infographic source cites on infographic itself

6 Surprising Bad Design Practices that Hurt Dyslexic Users

Designing for Dyslexia

What to Look for in Books

What makes a book dyslexia-friendly?

Scholastic Acorn and Branches books are a great resource for readers grades K-3. Also look at graphic novels and audio books, especially for readers grades 3-7. Graphic novels, audio books and hi-lo readers like those published by Orca are great for high school readers with dyslexia. Many people have also suggested decodable books. Digital media is a great resource for readers with dyslexia and tools like Overdrive allow readers to personalize their tools in ways that work best for them.

When recommending books to readers with dyslexia, consider the following:

Shorter is better – shorter words, sentences, and paragraphs help prevent the blurring of text.

Bigger is better – bigger text can help prevent the blurring of text as well

Sans-Serif fonts – many people with dyslexia find san-serif fonts easier to read

More “white space” on the page – having more white space, or negative space with no text at all, on the page is helpful

But not actual white space – black text on a stark white background is often the most difficult to read, using an off white page can be helpful for many readers with dyslexia

To the left, to the left – Left justify your text for easier reading

Simple is better – Whatever you can do to simplify your text is better. Use bold lettering instead of italics, for example. Don’t add a lot of flourishes and fancy stuff. You want to make it as easy to read as possible so that readers with dyslexia have less opportunities to mix up letters and words, skip lines or paragraphs, etc.

Friday Finds: October 4, 2019

This Week at TLT

With Her Nose Stuck in a Book, a guest post by Jessica Burkhart

Cindy Crushes Programming: DIY Alcohol Sharpie Tiles

Graphic Novels for Middle Grade Readers, a contemporary reading list

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Providing a Variety of Formats is an Access Issue

How Libraries Can Better Serve Youth with Dyslexia, an Infographic

Book Review: Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, so let’s get started

What to Read if You Like Hadestown the Musical, by Cindy Shutts

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