Search on ....
Subscribe to SLJ
Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

#MHYALit: Seven Myths About Mental Illness, a guest post by author Paula Stokes

Today as part of the #MHYALit Discussion we are honored to host author Paula Stokes who discusses some of the myths that people have about mental illness.


Why do myths and stereotypes about mental illness persist? Why do people believe things that aren’t true? As someone with an undergraduate degree in psychology and a graduate degree in nursing, I’ve thought about this issue quite a bit. Here are some possible explanations:

We formulate incorrect ideas based on limited personal experiences.

Paula Stoke's GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE came out May 2016 from HarperTeen

Paula Stoke’s GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE came out May 2016 from HarperTeen

Sometimes we’re just wrong about stuff. If my only direct knowledge of clinical depression came from observing a close friend who was diagnosed with it, and I watched that friend seem to get worse on his medicine, I might draw the conclusion that medicine isn’t helpful for depression. But there are a lot of flaws with that logic. My friend might have been incorrectly diagnosed. His physician might not have selected the medicine best suited for his particular case. He might have only tried one medication regimen before giving up. He might actually be worse off the meds, but hiding that information from me. Or maybe he really is someone who doesn’t currently need medication to manage his symptoms. But just because my friend is fine off his meds doesn’t mean other people with the same diagnosis will be too.

The media we consume exacerbates our incorrect preconceived notions.

We believe what we see—in books, in movies, in blog posts, on the news. The problem here is that all of those things are curated and manipulated to be what the creators consider “newsworthy” and/or a “good story.” That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re lying (although they could be), but it means they’re presenting skewed information instead of giving you unbiased facts. Both news and entertainment media tend to emphasize mental illness when it presents with extreme symptoms, because those are often viewed as more interesting or “clickable” stories.

We subconsciously reinforce our views with “selective perception.”

This phenomenon contributes to pervasiveness of almost all stereotypes. Once we accept something to be true, we’re more likely to hone in on evidence that backs up our beliefs, ignoring or downplaying contradictory information. Or, when evidence to the contrary is difficult to ignore, we’re more likely to justify it as being an outlier, not truly representative of reality. So if I think medicine doesn’t help depression, each time someone posts about how their meds affected them negatively, it registers in my mind, but I skip right past all the evidence of people who improved with medication.

How does all this affect the way we think about mental illness? Here are seven mental illness myths that many people believe to be true.

You can tell someone is mentally ill by looking at them.

This is just blatantly false. It might be tempting to diagnose the man sitting next to you on the train who is dressed inappropriately and talking to himself as mentally ill, but there are many organic causes for hallucinations and delirium—everything from a brain tumor to an infection to dehydration. Most mental illness does not look like Girl Interrupted or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. My main character in Girl Against the Universe has PTSD and anxiety, along with some secondary unhealthy coping behaviors, and her pathology is not readily apparent to anyone. Even her own mother doesn’t realize how much she’s struggling until she has a crisis. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 teens experience mental illness in any given year. Take a look around. Mentally ill people look like you and me.

Therapy is just a bunch of talking about your feelings and your childhood.

It’s true that psychoanalysis, as made famous by Sigmund Freud, involves exploring your history and childhood, and most forms of psychotherapy will involve talking about your feelings. However, that’s not all the therapy experience is. Most clinicians give their clients subjective and objective tests to help diagnose them and determine the best course of treatment. Behavioral therapists use theories of classical and operant conditioning to help clients. One example of this is systematic desensitization to help with phobias. Under the monitoring of a clinician, clients are slowly exposed to the phobic stimulus, building up the degree of exposure as they become less afraid. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is what my main character Maguire undergoes, incorporates ideas from both behavior and talk therapy. Maguire’s sessions—several of which are featured in the book—are a mix of discussing her negative thought processes and coming up with outside tasks that will help her get past her fears.

Therapy is only for the wealthy and those who can’t function.

I felt like this for a lot of years when I was younger. If you grew up in a “tough love” household, it’s possible you think that therapy is only for self-absorbed celebrities and people who are a danger to themselves or others. This just isn’t true. There are all kinds of licensed therapists who specialize in things like family therapy, career therapy, etc. Just because you’re “getting by” or “surviving” doesn’t mean you don’t need or deserve help. You only get one life. You should aim for thriving, not surviving. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your life situation and/or your emotions, talk to your general medical doctor about getting a referral for therapy. If you don’t have an internist, talk to a counselor at school, a clergy member, or find support at

Therapists want to put all of their clients on medication.

If anyone is trying to put clients on medication, it’s insurance companies. Medications are cheaper than therapy by far, and it’s true that a lot of insurance companies limit the amount of therapy sessions you can have. However, your therapist has no reason to push medication on you unless they think it will improve your symptoms. Listen to what they say and then make an informed decision. Even in a hospital setting, nurses and doctors can’t force you to take meds against your will unless they believe you’re a danger to yourself or others.

Psychotropic drugs make everyone fuzzy-headed or “a zombie.”

This is one myth I really wish that books and movies would stop perpetuating. Yes it’s true that some psych medications make people feel fuzzy-headed. So do some painkillers. So do some blood pressure meds. So do some antibiotics. It’s normal to start a medication and need your dosage adjusted due to side effects. I’ve taken antibiotics that made me lightheaded and the fix was as simple as changing the time I took the medicine from in the morning to before bed. Sometimes the fixes are a little more complicated—different or split doses, perhaps trying a different class of medication. Most side effects can be reduced or eliminated by working with your doctor and being honest about what you need. I’m not saying medication is right for everyone—just that there a lot of options. You don’t have to settle for a treatment regimen that saps your energy or clouds your inability to think clearly.

It’s impossible to live a meaningful life with mental illness.

Mental illness might make it harder—though not impossible—to pursue certain careers, especially those in the military, police force, etc., but being diagnosed doesn’t mean you can’t find happiness. People who have struggled with mental illness find romantic partners and engage in healthy relationships. They graduate from high school and college. They achieve success in a variety of careers. In the past ten years or so, some huge literary and Hollywood stars have talked candidly about dealing with mental illness—J.K. Rowling, John Green, Maureen Johnson, Kristen Bell, Demi Lovato, and Lena Dunham just to name a few. Mental illness doesn’t half to hold you back.

Mental illnesses are all incurable.

A lot of mental illnesses are incurable, at least right now, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be incurable forever. There’s a lot we don’t know about the brain, but we’re learning more every day. And just because an illness isn’t curable doesn’t mean we haven’t figured out treatment plans to manage symptoms so people can still live a normal life. And good news: longitudinal case studies have shown that it is possible to completely recover from some disorders, for example anorexia and Borderline Personality Disorder. Additionally, there are many cases where people with depression, anxiety, etc. needed medication at first but were able to reduce their dosages or quit taking it after engaging in therapy. Maybe they’re not “technically cured” but they’re happy and healthy, and that’s what really matters, right?

What other mental illness myths do you wish people would just get over?

Author bio:

Paula Stokes writes stories about flawed characters with good hearts who sometimes make bad decisions. She’s the author of several YA novels, most recently Vicarious and Girl Against the Universe. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Paula loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands She also loves interacting with readers. Find her online at or on twitter as @pstokesbooks.


Maguire is bad luck.

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.

From author Paula Stokes comes a funny and poignant novel about accepting the past, embracing the future, and learning to make your own luck.

Social media links:

#MHYALit Book Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

girlinpiecesPublisher’s description

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people do in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.
A deeply moving portrait of a girl in a world that owes her nothing, and has taken so much, and the journey she undergoes to put herself back together. Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.


Amanda’s thoughts

Do you like nearly unremittingly bleak stories? Then do I have a book for you! Now don’t jump ahead and assume that I mean that in any kind of damning way. I like bleak. I like real bleak. I like books where I think, good lord, more bad stuff? So keep reading, okay?


We meet Charlie as she is just getting settled in a treatment facility. She’s a cutter who has done too thorough of a job and just spent a week in the hospital. At the facility, she’s silent—selective mutism. She’s been through a lot. Prior to landing in the facility, she was homeless for nearly a year. Now in treatment, she’s getting the help she so desperately needs, grateful to be indoors, warm, and fed. But money and/or insurance doesn’t last forever, and way too soon she’s being cut loose, released to her abusive mother. Instead of going home with her mother, she’s handed some money, her birth certificate, and a bus ticket to Arizona. Great parenting. Charlie heads out there alone. Her friend Mikey is there, but Mikey’s tied to a lot of her past. He’s also not around much, so when he leaves on tour with a band, Charlie is truly alone. She gets a job washing dishes at a cafe, where she meets Riley, a sometimes charming junkie ten years her senior who quickly gets into her head, heart, and pants. Riley is horrible for Charlie. She’s trying so hard to move on from her past, but that’s not easy. Every day is a struggle for her to not cut herself. She makes a lot of crappy choices around and because of Riley. There are small good things mixed in among all this bleakness. Charlie finds solace in drawing and is going to have some of her art in a show. She’s making… I wouldn’t say “friends” at work, but she’s interacting with her coworkers and coming out of her shell a little. And when things fall apart in a pretty epic way, Charlie learns she has more support, resources, and hope than she had imagined.


Glasgow’s writing is stunning, moving from lush and poetic to choppy and spare. We’re in Charlie’s head a lot and slowly learn about her background—her father’s suicide, her best friend’s near-suicide, her abusive mother, her life on the streets. She isn’t much for talking, even with Riley, who’s far too self-absorbed to really think to ever ask her anything  about herself. Glasgow’s story is gritty and grim and at times almost too much to bear. I admit to taking lots of breaks while reading this one. People bend, break, leave, disappoint, hurt, die, suffer, and harm. In most cases, they also heal, change, recover, and hope in this astoundingly sad, astonishingly poignant debut.


For more on Girl in Pieces, see Glasgow’s previous piece for our blog, “This Book Will Save Your Life.”


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781101934715

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Publication date: 08/30/2016

#MHYALit: Who Cares for the Caregivers?


Who cares for the caregivers?

  1. I have a thing I want to say about depression/mental health. It will take a couple of tweets.
  2. When we lost a baby, several people reached out to us. When I was in bed rest, several people reached out to us. When my child had surgery
  3. Well, you get the point. When people are sick, we reach out to families because we understand that being a caregiver is hard.
  4. Guess what, loving someone with a mental illness is also hard. It’s hard in spouses. It’s hard on children. And we don’t support those
  5. caregivers in the same ways that we support caregivers in the face of other losses or illnesses. Dealing w/mental health can be lonely.
  6. Part of it is, of course, because there is still so much stigma attached to mental health issues, so people stay silent.
  7. Part of it is because I think we forget the illness part of mental illness. We focus on the word mental and not the word illness.
  8. Part of it is, I’m sure, because we don’t know how or if or when to talk about it. Like, can you just call up a friend & ask how you are
  9. hanging in there while your wife or mother is having a major depressive episode? It depends on the person & your friendship.
  10. For some people, they would appreciate a friendly text or a meal or just acknowledgment that they are a caregiver & it is challenging.
  11. If you are friends with someone & you know that their spouse/child/parent struggles, ask them how they would like you to acknowledge or not
  12. Some people just need to know that people are aware of their struggles and they are there if they ever need anything.
  13. Some people just need to know that they don’t have to struggle through the wilderness alone.
  14. Okay readers: I’m looking for examples of characters who have a parent/sibling w/a mental illness & their friends acknowledging/supporting
  15. @TLT16 iirc, the MC’s roommates and friends help the MC to understand/escape her mom (who is narcissistic) in THE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED.
  16. @TLT16 CRAZY by Han Nolan is one word my favorite YAs of all time. Told in the format of a Greek tragedy. So good.
  17. @TLT16 & (to tackily toot my own horn) in THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE the MC’s father is bipolar/an addict, & her friends/crew are supportive.
  18. @TLT16 The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
  19. @TLT16 I think The Weight of Zero is supposed to have a good support system.
  20. @TLT16 @YAIndulgences Alexi from Faking Normal has Blue and Sam from Every Last Word has her fam and the poetry corner.
  21. @jclillis @TLT16 it’s not out until 2017 but GRENDEL’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND WAR by AE Kaplan. MC’s dad has PTSD.

Middle School Monday: Reading in Class. Minus the Worksheet or Report. Just, you know, READING. By Julie Stivers

MSM1Disclosure: I love writing. I love when students write. One of the goals for my library this year is helping to integrate more creative writing opportunities into multiple classrooms. Not for a grade or to tick off a curriculum line, but for the incredible social and emotional benefits of encouraging student expression.

But, here’s the thing. I think sometimes we get in a trap of always linking reading and writing. After a student reads a chapter or a book, we (as educators) want them to write about it: complete a worksheet, a summary, or (horror) a report. This makes me uncomfortable as it can be at odds with developing a love of reading.

Imagine the last book you read. What if when you finished it, you had to write a report on it or complete some plot and theme worksheets? Hmmm. Would that make you want to pick up another book?

It was these thoughts, plus the abundance of great World War II MG and YA fiction and narrative non-fiction that led to one of my favorite collaborations last year: the 7th grade WWII Historical Fiction Choice + Expert Project.

WHAT do I mean by Choice and Expert?

Our goal was for students to dive deeply into one aspect of WWIIspecifically, a topic that interested them. We introduced this project just as they were about to begin their WWII study and we were hoping that as elements of this wide-reaching and global unit appeared, students would feel empowered by already knowing interesting information from their chosen title.

To generate interest in the project introduction, I showed a series of trailers and historical footage to tie into available titles. [If you’ve clicked through to the link, several of the images and titles are hyperlinked.]

Giving students choice doesn’t make any sense if the options they have to choose from are not wide. I worked to have different formats, lengths, and main characters representing different communities. I was not as successful as I would’ve liked to be at this. (See below for an example…which has a happy ending!)

In addition to giving students choice in which book they chose, they also had complete power in how they chose to show us what they had learned. Their choices included:


  • Set up a time to come talk to Ms. Stivers in the library.
  • Write an imaginary text conversation between two of the characters.
  • Write a Top Ten List related to the book.  [Top Ten Reasons I Liked This Book, Top Ten Scenes, Top Ten Bloodiest / Scariest / Unbelievable Moments, etc.]
  • Draw a picture based on the book.
  • Think of three questions you’d like to ask the author.  We’ll try to connect with the author via Twitter to ask those questions!
  • What’s your idea??

They didn’t need to decide on their product until AFTER they had read the book. The response was overwhelmingly positive when they saw how the project would end. Our great 7th Grade Social Studies Teacher gave students time each week to READ and, just as importantly, gave students TIME to finish. The end date became fluid as the project progressed.

What did most students choose? Over 90% came to talk to me in the library about these titles and I loved hearing their impressions of the book. Two wrote book reviewswhich I uploaded to the library website. Several drew pictures whichjust like the book reviewsI shared with authors if they were on Twitter. [Sidebar: I love Twitter. Deeply. For bringing the world IN and sharing our students’ talents, work, and brilliance OUT to the world.] One of our students read Unbroken, never having read a book half as long. His teacher and I were so proud of him that we gave him the copy to keep.

The Happy Ending. Which Starts Out Disappointing.

41MpOzu9H-L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_I liked my list of WWII books. Didn’t love it. One of its glaring flaws is that we had no authentic historical fiction on the Tuskegee Airman. I am thrilled that our library has TWO new titles on the Red Tails to share and booktalk with students this year and also include in this project.

American Ace by Marilyn Nelson (2015) is a powerful and engaging title, written by the daughter of a Tuskegee Airman!

Below is SLJ’s review from December 1, 2015.

Gr 8 Up-When she dies, Nonna Lucia leaves a letter to Connor’s father, her oldest son, which reveals that he is not the biological son of her husband but rather of an American who died during World War II. It is as if Connor’s father has lost himself as well as his beloved mother; he is devastated. The confusion and questions emerging from the discovery propel Connor to explore who this mysterious grandfather might have been. It emerges that he was one of the storied, heroic Tuskegee Airmen. Through 45 poems in Connor’s voice, Nelson considers such matters as identity, heredity, nurture, race, and family. Connor and his father, who is teaching him to drive, have ample opportunity to probe tentatively and delicately into their feelings about such things while they’re on the road. Connor’s research takes on urgency after his father suffers a stroke, and his gradual recovery is deftly linked to Connor’s increasing pride about their newfound heritage. VERDICT Nelson packs a good deal into these verses, and though the subject matter is weighty, she leavens it with humor and deep family affection.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Library, NY

When I introduce this title to students, I will actually begin with the illuminating author’s note titled:

How this Book Came to Be,

And Why an Older African American Woman

Ended up Writing as a Young White Man

you-can-fly-9781481449380_hrThis fascinating and informative note could lead to some interesting and powerful discussion with students. [BTW, I would feel perfectly comfortable using this book with seventh graders.]

Amazingly enough, the second Red Tails books is ALSO a novel-in-verse. You Can Fly by Carole Brown Weatherford (2016) is another beautiful title and impossible to read without thinking of the myriad ways to use with students!

Below is SLJ’s review from February 1, 2016.

Gr 5 Up-This distinctive collection of verses lets readers journey with the African American men who dreamed of flying despite racist attitudes. Through 33 poems, readers will travel beside these determined men as they become pilots and fight not only the Nazis, but prejudice as well. For those who have never studied this time period, this book sheds light on the Tuskegee Airmen through stories filled with authentic voices and hard truths. For those who already know of the Airmen’s accomplishments, the book offers a more personal connection to the men and their ideas and feelings through poems such as “Operation Prove Them Wrong” and “No Hero’s Welcome,” which demonstrate that despite their proven skill and heroism, the aviators were still denied acceptance and respect. Scratchboard illustrations by the author’s son bring the subject to life. VERDICT A unique and very readable addition to supplement black history and World War II collections.-Laura Fields Eason, Parker Bennett Curry Elementary School, Bowling Green, KY

I also love that this slim novel has a powerful epilogue, a helpful timeline, and a great list of additional resources. If you’re reading the above and thinkingthis would make a perfect 7th or 8th grade Social Studies (whole) Class Text, I like the way you think! It would also be interesting to pair specific poems to additional texts, for example Private Joe Louis (page 28) with Matt de la Peña’s A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis (2013).

Welp. This post was too longI’ll stop talking! I would love to hear about the WWII collaborations or historical fiction lessons you have done! The more we SHARE with each other, the more we can DO each year in our own libraries.

Have a great week!

Julie Stivers


Sunday Reflections: Five Words We Should All Stop Using

sundayreflections1We use a lot of words that we don’t fully consider where they originate from and what they truly imply. Some words are loaded; heavy with meaning and wielding a subtly destructive power that we often fail to fully grasp. Some words harm with their history, the suggested implications, and the way that they reinforce dangerous stereotypes and harmful stigmas. I have been thinking about the power of words a lot lately and here are five words that we should all probably stop staying. These aren’t the only five words, they just happen to be five words that I have heard recently – or I’m sad to say I have said myself. Please note, after much internal debate I have decided to use the words here instead of censoring them to help us fully understand their impact.

1. Retarded

At it’s most basic, the definition of this word means less developed then the rest. In its truest form, it can refer to anything. For example, you can refer to the interrupted growth of a tree as being retarded. The problem is that at some point in time in the history of our language we started referring to people as retarded and this is a problem. Now, we casually use this word to refer to something that we think of as stupid as retarded, which is incredibly harmful. People with disabilities have struggled long and hard to be recognized and respected as fully human. The history of how average citizens have treated those with any type of disability is staggeringly shameful. And this word continues that shame. For more information on why we should all stop using this word please visit R-word | Spread the Word to End the Word.

2. Lame

I am a child of the 1980s, which means one of my go to phrases has long been, “that’s so lame.” Like retarded, lame is a pejorative term used to denote something that is stupid, less than or fails to please. Teacher gave a big assignment over Christmas break? Lame.

What does lame really refer to? A person or animal that is unable to walk or unable to walk well because of an injury or illness that affects their foot/feet or legs. A war veteran who loses part of their leg in combat is lame. A child born with a congenital deformity of the feet is lame. And we have just used this word to say that someone or something is stupid, unacceptable, not desirable.

Using the term lame as a derogatory remark others people. If saying something we don’t like or find as less then is lame, the corollary is that people who are in fact quite literally lame must be less than and undesirable.

Retarded and lame are examples of ableist language. Ableism is the discrimination by non-disabled people against disabled people.  Ableist language assumes that there is a norm and that anything outside of that norm is undesirable and bad. For example, being able to walk fluently is the norm and anything else – having to use a wheelchair or walker, for example – are bad and undesirable. So our language has evolved to reflect these biases that say there is one right way to be and everything else is less than. The words retarded and lame reflect this bias and when we use them, they hurt people. See, for example, Ableist Word Profile: Lame and Deeply Problematic: Language: why “retarded” and “lame” are not okay.

3. Schizophrenic

So you have that friend who changes their mind a lot? Yeah, stop saying they are schizophrenic. Schizophrenia is not the inability to make a decision or someone who changes their mind a lot or has a problem committing. Schizophrenia is a real psychological illness that can be very difficult to live with and requires lifelong care and treatment. People with schizophrenia struggle to find support because there is so much stigma associated with mental illness. For example, even today as we continue to recognize the importance of medical insurance for quality of life, many people still don’t have insurance for mental health issues because our understanding of and stigma against mental health issues is that extreme. Using schizophrenia as a pejorative for your friend with a “quirky” personality helps no one. Worse, it actively harms people. Real people who are struggling to find support and quality care for their very real schizophrenia. See also: It’s Time To Stop Saying Schizophrenic

4. Crazy/Insane

Crazy and insane as a pejorative falls under the same umbrella as schizophrenia. We throw these words around so casually and they are actively harming people. I talked some about this here: Sunday Reflections: Let’s Talk About How We Talk About Mental Health.

The bottom line is this: people with mental health issues are fighting against so many stigmas to get the medical care and personal support that they need, these terms hurt that fight. They hurt real people. Don’t use them.

5. Slut

I myself am a former slut shamer and I fully admit it. If I saw a girl who was what I considered to be immodestly dressed, the term slut automatically popped into my brain. The problem with this term is that it sexualizes women’s bodies as the default and takes away their sexual agency. It’s a loaded term, someone who makes different clothing and or sexual decisions than me is a slut, the thinking goes. But the problem with this term runs deep because it also feeds into our rape victim blame culture, setting up the idea that a woman can dress or act in a way that makes them somehow complicit in their rape. This is not okay. Slut shaming is deeply rooted in both patriarchal and purity culture. It suggests that a girl in a spaghetti strap tank top is somehow a slut while our men walk around freely without shirts. It suggests that girls are responsible for how men think and act around the female body instead of forcing men to take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. I talked earlier and perhaps more eloquently about my former slut shaming ways here: True Confessions of a Former Slut Shamer.

Words matter. They have meaning and impact. They have a history. Before we use the words that we use, we should take time to consider where they come from, what they mean, and how they impact the people around us. I’m working on this every day and I hope that you’ll join me.

Things Kate Milford Remembers from Middle School: The Left Handed Fate Blog Tour

Today, in honor of her August 23 release of The Left Handed Fate, Kate Milford joins us to share some of her own remembrances from Middle School:

Things that I remember from middle school, in no particular order: I always seemed to wear the wrong clothes; I discovered Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series; I had a crush on a guy for the entire three years and then he went to a different high school before I could figure out what to do about it; I made friends with a girl named Alli who also had a crush on that guy the whole time. I somehow made it onto the dance team, even though I wasn’t particularly good at dancing; I wrote terrible poetry I thought was epic; I didn’t die from any of the incidences of extreme embarrassment that happened to me. (There were many, a disproportionate number of which seemed to have to do with the aforementioned clothes and boy problems.) The last song of the Eighth Grade Dance was “Can You Stand The Rain” by New Edition. Alli danced with our crush. I was happy for her.

Middle school is so weird. I’m honestly not sure which, of the things that I remember about it, are important—except for Alli (who’s still my best friend), The Dark is Rising (which I still reread every year or so) and the fact that I was marginally better at some things, like dance, than I thought I was and not as good at some things, like writing, at which at the time I thought I was some kind of genius. I wasn’t exactly who I thought I was, and I certainly wasn’t exactly who I wanted to be, but I was at least someone who could be happy for a friend who got something I badly wanted, too. There was at least one moment in those otherwise nothing-but-confusing years where I got something right. I suppose it’s even possible there were more moments like that. That’s a nice thought. Kinda wish I remembered them.

If you’re interested in knowing more about The Left Handed Fate, read on…

Return to Nagspeake for a new fantasy adventure from the bestselling author of National Book Award nominee Greenglass House.

Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault are on a mission: find the three pieces of a strange and arcane engine they believe can stop the endless war raging between their home country of England and Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. During the search, however, their ship, the famous privateer the Left-Handed Fate, is taken by the Americans, who have just declared war on England, too. The Fate (and with it, Lucy and Max) is put under the command of new midshipman Oliver Dexter . . . who’s only just turned twelve.

But Lucy and Max aren’t the only ones trying to assemble the engine; the French are after it, as well as the crew of a mysterious vessel that seems able to appear out of thin air. When Oliver discovers what his prisoners are really up to—and how dangerous the device could be if it falls into the wrong hands—he is faced with a choice: Help Lucy and Max even if it makes him a traitor to his own country? Or follow orders and risk endangering countless lives, including those of the enemies who have somehow become his friends?

And be looking for my review of this enchanting novel in the near future.

Friday Finds: August 19, 2016

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: The Summer without Makeup

Middle School Monday: Sacrificial Lambs, Horses, Kings, Babies and Middle School Students, author guest post with Kelly Barnhill

Back to School: How to support and respect LGBTQIA+ students

The Secret Sea Blog Tour – Interview with Barry Lyga

This is What Happened When We Held a Pokemon Go Program at the Library

Why I Write What I Write, a guest post by THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU LAUGH author Peter Hoffmeister

Book Review: It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt

Around the Web

‘Warm Bodies’ sequel ‘The Burning World’ cover released

Marvel, Hulu, team up for ‘Runaways’ TV series

Librarians on Bikes Are Delivering Books and WiFi to Kids in “Book Deserts”

Teens can now vote for the 2016 Teens’ Top Ten

Robotics Can Get Girls Into STEM, but Some Still Need Convincing

How to Help The Louisiana Flood Victims

Book Review: It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt

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 the August 2016 issue of School Library Journal.


looks likeMittlefehldt, Rafi. It Looks Like This. 336p. ebook available. Candlewick Publishers. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763687199.

Gr 9 Up—High school freshman Mike deals with homophobia and heartbreak in this throwback coming-out story. Recently transplanted from Wisconsin to Virginia, shy Mike is mostly a loner at school and feels uncomfortable in his “old-fashioned” family. His conservative, religious father wishes Mike were into sports instead of art and always seems mildly disappointed in his son. When Mike meets Sean, unspoken attraction eventually blooms into something more. A school bully films the two kissing and alerts the boys’ parents to their relationship, setting into motion horrific yet inevitable events. Mike is shipped off to a conversion therapy program, while Sean meets the same fate as so many gay teens from young adult novels of the past. Unlike in those older offerings, however, a few characters provide acceptance, including Mike’s fantastically loving and outspoken younger sister, Toby. Mittlefehldt manages to make the tragedies that befall Mike and Sean not seem like punishments for being gay. Instead, they are shown for what they are: things that happened because of people failing to support and love the boys. The work is told through factual, detached narration and is devoid of quotation marks, and it can be difficult to feel a connection to Mike, who has his guard up for good reasons. It’s only after tragedy strikes that characters begin to drop their defenses and show real emotion and the capacity for change. VERDICT A moving but dated-feeling examination of the costs of homophobia; an additional purchase for LGBTQ collections.—Amanda MacGregor, formerly at Great River Regional Library, Saint Cloud, MN


Why I Write What I Write, a guest post by THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU LAUGH author Peter Hoffmeister

laugh1For a brief period of time when I was in middle school, we lived in a trailer park. Technically, my dad’s girlfriend lived in a trailer park and we just spent a lot of time there. If you know anything about trailer parks, you know that there is a lot of stigma attached to living in one. There are not, in fact, a lot of YA books that feature teens that live in trailer parks. For example, both Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols and Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige feature a MC who lives in a trailer park. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline also features a group of people who live in a trailer in a trailer park. THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU LAUGH by Peter Hoffmeister also features a main character that lives in a trailer park.

It’s interesting to me lately how I will read about something and think, you know – there’s not a lot of that in YA. It happened when I read the description of This is the Part Where You Laugh, where it mentions that the main character lives in a trailer park. It happened when I read an article talking about Simone Biles and her family adoption, something that I also have seen a lot of with my teens and yet find is under-represented in YA literature.

The fact that the main character lives in a trailer park isn’t really a significant part of the story, it’s just a fact of Travis’ life: he is economically disadvantaged. Many teens are. In fact I recently read that 1 in 3 workers qualify as the working poor. Slowly, we are beginning to see more of this truth represented in YA literature. I know far fewer teens who have been sent to a private boarding school – which we read about a lot in YA – and far more teens who live in trailer parks. So I’m thankful every time I see a book like this one come across my desk.

But this post is not about trailer parks or being economically disadvantaged in YA literature. This is about author Peter Hoffmeister and why he writes the types of books that he writes. He doesn’t use the words, but he writes for what we sometimes refer to as “reluctant readers“. He writes for readers who want short, quick chapters where a lot of things happen. He writes for readers who are just like him . . .

“First off, I want to write entertaining books. I don’t want to write something long and slow and dull because I don’t enjoy reading long, slow, dull books in which nothing happens. So I enjoy writing the romance scenes (the scenes with Natalie and Travis, for example), the action scenes and the struggles. And as strange as it sounds, I love it when things go wrong, when a book is like real life sometimes and many things go wrong all at once.

That’s not to say that I don’t want to slow down sometimes and allow the characters to have conversations or to be in peaceful environments – sometimes people need a break – but then I want something to happen again. I want my books to be readable, and readable usually means that the reader is sucked in and doesn’t want to put the book down.

People ask about my short chapters, and I guess that’s part of it too. I like reading short chapters and I like writing short chapters. I remember the first time I read Cormac McCarthy’s Child Of God, how every chapter was a page or two and it felt SO good to read. I thought, I want to write like that.

But then there has to be a second level to a book. Or there have to be many levels. The extended metaphors that make books stick with you. There’s a surface level to Creature’s “Pervert’s Guide To Russian Princesses,” those chapter-break scenes in my book that are over-the-top, funny and erotic and ridiculous. But then there are the metaphors behind those scenes. What are each of those scenes really saying?

In that same way, when I’m talking about hands or water, books, cell phones, pets or pills, I’m really saying something else at the same time. There’s more than the literal going on. Maybe my metaphors work and maybe they don’t. But I’m definitely trying to give the reader something to think about. I’m not saying there’s only one way to look at this world. I’m saying open your eyes and ask a lot of questions.” – Peter Hoffmeister

Publisher’s Book Description

Rising sophomore Travis and his best friend, Creature, spend a summer in a Eugene, Oregon, trailer park dealing with cancer, basketball, first love, addiction, gang violence, and a reptilian infestation. – Knopf Books for Young Readers, May 2016


“Profane and profound… A raw offbeat novel with an abundance of honesty and heart.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review”In my mind the best storytellers walk that high tight wire between tragedy and comedy with a magician’s grace. The further they take you down the road of comedy, the further you’re willing to follow them down the road of tragedy. Enter Peter Hoffmeister. This Is the Part Where You Laugh is exactly the part where you laugh. And ache. This is a really good book!”—Chris Crutcher”A memorable story of good kids’ transcending rough lives…. What might seem didactic in lesser hands feels realistic and right here. Messages are delivered in natural dialogue, the well-drawn characters speaking from the heart with wisdom derived from firsthand experience.” —Kirkus, starred review”A unique, unforgettable tale that is a must-have for all YA collections.” —School Library Journal, SLJ Popular Pick

So real it hurts. Hoffmeister explores the depths of family and addiction, friendship and first love with the skill of a writer who knows his way around—and I was happy to follow. This story will stick with you.” —David Arnold, author of Mosquitoland

“A courageous novel. Incandescent and unflinching.” —Jeff Zentner, author of The Serpent King

“Hoffmeister crushes it, weaving seamlessly between aching humor, brilliant dissonance, gritty romance, and chaotic hope. He glosses over nothing. He doesn’t give a single word for free. There is blood and truth on every page.” —Estelle Laure, author of This Raging Light

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Peter Brown Hoffmeister is the author of the critically acclaimed novels This Is The Part Where You Laugh & Graphic The Valley, the memoir The End of Boys, and the forthcoming novel Too Shattered For Mending (Random House, Knopf).

His books have earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, School Library Journal, and The Bulletin.

A former troubled teen, Hoffmeister was expelled from three high schools, lived for a short while in a Greyhound bus station, was remanded to a recovery and parole program, and completed a wilderness experience for troubled teens.

He now runs the Integrated Outdoor Program, serving teens of all backgrounds, taking them into wilderness areas to backpack, climb, spelunk, orienteer, and whitewater raft.


This is What Happened When We Held a Pokemon Go Program at the Library

pokemongoLast Thursday The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH) hosted it’s Pokemon Go program, an event that was put together by a committee of about 7 people for all ages. We scoured the Internet and found a variety of activities and decorations which helped make our event an exciting success.

Because Pokemon Go is played by people of all ages, we specifically chose to make this an all ages event, which proved to be a very wise move. We had a lot of families come that were obviously enjoying playing the game together. Our event lasted for 5 hours and we placed a lure (a lure draws Pokemon to your location) every half hour. A lot of people came and stayed the entire time and it was fun to see them sitting around talking and then get up to go somewhere and catch a Pokemon. At one point someone declared that Pikachu was nearby and there was an excited mass exodus. As far as I know no one caught Pikachu that night, but they sure did have a fun time trying.


pg22Pokeball Lanterns

Two of our staff members worked incredibly hard to make the space look awesome, which they did with these amazing Pokeball lanterns. They tested three different ways of turning white paper lanterns into pokeballs: duct tape, spray paint and tissue paper. They ultimately decided that red paint was the easiest and worked the best.  In all 3 versions they used black duct tape for the center line.

It was awe inspiring to walk into our programming room and see about 10 of these hanging from the ceiling.

pg20 pg14

pg5Pokeball Tables

My personal philosophy of table decorations is not very visually appealing. I only recently learned what tablescaping is. But some of my coworkers believe very strongly in making things look amazing in ways I would never even think of, which is why they set about creating these amazing pokeball table effects.

To create the look, they used red and white table clothes and black duct tape. They overlapped the two – it works better to put the white on the bottom and have the red on top – and taped them together using the black duct tape. You’ll have excess on each side which you will need to cut off.


To create the center button – is that what it is, a button? – they used a thick white plate and a black marker.pg17 pg16


We believe firmly that you can’t have a program or party without food. We had a vast array of snack food items that we related back to Pokemon. For example, Doritos were “Charmander Chips”. The snacks were served in red and clearish white bowls designed to look like open pokeballs. When looking for Pokemon snacks, Pinterest really is your friend.


A local baker made 7 dozen pokeball cookies. Every last one of them were eaten.pg10

And we ordered a pepperoni and a cheese pizza which we cut in half and swapped out to make them look like poke pizzas. Again, Pinterest.pg3


In addition to making Fingerprint Pokemon Buttons in the Teen MakerSpace, we did a variety of crafts and activities in this program.


We also colored our own pokeballs which we then made into buttons. Yes, we use our button makers a lot. I can not stress enough to you how popular they are. And with all ages.pg11

Younger kids made Pikachu ears. We also printed off and folded these Pikachu and pokeball cubes. We tried many ways to hold them together and hot glue worked the best. And should you be thinking the Pikachu ears were too young for teens, I myself was pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of teens did in fact make and wear the ears.pg9

We also made this Pin the Tail on Pikachu game. It was amusing to watch adults play it.pg6

At each completed station participants got a Pokemon card and a ticket that went into our raffle crawing. We put together 50 Pokemon Hunter Kits that included things like glow sticks, wipe on sunscreen, small bottles of water and little eggs with miniature Pokemon. The kits were wickedly popular and it was fun to watch people trading cards and Pokemon throughout the night.


We also did this scavenger hunt, which was shared online by another librarian, Karissa in the Library, who was kind enough to do all the work. It worked really well for us and I highly recommend it.

We also had a Guess the Pokemon game set up on a large screen TV. One of our tech people created a slide show that showed a silhouette of a Pokemon and participants were supposed to guess the name of the Pokemon. I was not involved in the creation of this game but it resembled this game in theory: I was not good at this game, but most of the people present got a perfect score.

One of the best parts of hosting a pop culture related event is seeing how enthusiastic people are for that pop culture phenom. We had a variety of kids and adults coming in dressed to the nines.


And although most of the people who came were already playing the game, we wanted to make sure and have an education component so we had a tech education table set up next to our charging station where newbies and players alike could have questions answered, learn secret tricks and tips and more.pg7This turned out to be a highly successful program for us. It met all of our goals and, most importantly, every one who came had a great time and left in awe of the library. At the end of the day, that’s what we want to do: create positive library experiences.

More Pokemon Go at TLT:

Pokemon Go and Teen Programming (TPiB)

MakerSpace: Making Fingerprint Pokemon Go Buttons

App Review: Pokemon Go, The Basics

See Also:

Pokémon GO: What Do Librarians Need To Know? (School Library Journal)