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Sunday Reflections: The narrative of competition

I have really grown to appreciate a good documentary in recent years. These days, it’s hard for me to watch the news, and I often don’t have the fortitude to jump in to the weighty dramas that I usually enjoy in film, yet fluffy fun movies seem too frivolous to deliberately choose during my rare leisure watching time. So documentaries strike a pretty good middle ground for me. Currently, I’m working on a list (stay tuned – it’ll show up here soon) of documentaries featuring teen protagonists. Not documentaries about teen problems and society, but rather about teen lives. There are some really fabulous ones out there, and I’d love to hear what your favorites are. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

What I want to talk about is what I noticed as I started seeking these films out. All too often, despite the varied settings and interesting lives and amazing teens featured, the story arc is similar, and it culminates in a competition. A big game, the big match, the test, the dance-off, the pageant, the final challenge. And as film after film was recommended to me, or came up on my Netflix suggested list, it started to sink in how pervasive this story of competition is. What does it mean?

Well, clearly a competition is a great way to frame a story. There’s the preparation, the team building, the challenges and false steps and redemption, the personal growth and development. There’s the excitement and adrenaline of the big moment, then there’s sportsmanship and lessons learned. Teens involved in high stakes (or even dedicated to low stakes) competitions are likely to be engaged, motivated, and driven – good characters. It’s a good story. But it’s not the only story. And I can’t believe it’s the story teens would tell of themselves.

In the few documentary projects created by teens that I’ve seen, this is not the narrative they typically choose. There are practical reasons that play into some of this: a teen created documentary will likely not have the flexibility in time to show this whole arc, or show it from as many angles as a professional production crew could. But I believe there’s more to it. Teens in the thick of their experiences see as much diversity and nuance as adults see in their own lives. When adults look at teens, it’s much easier to see what’s on the school calendar: the theater performance, the games, the Science Olympiad, than to see the people behind those events. As teen services librarians, it’s part of our job to connect with these people, and to remind the adults in our sphere of influence that yes – teens are people, not just players in the competitions we set out for them.

The other side of this is what the media is communicating to teens about themselves. When the most prevalent narrative of real teen lives is one of competition, it’s unsurprising that this seeps into all corners. There are the very real competitions that we all encounter in life like admission to college or selection for a job. There are the “soft” competitions of life too as we seek out friends, romantic partners, and affirmation of our hobbies and interests. And despite the badge that appeared after we clicked “submit” on our tax return last month, congratulating us and letting us know we had “Won At Taxes” I’d prefer to believe, and encourage our teens to understand, that most of life is not a competition.


Friday Finds – May 1, 2015

This Week at TLT

#FSYALit: Doubt and the Teenage Religious Experience, thoughts on EDEN WEST (Pete Hautman), a #FSYALit post by Ally Watkins

Sunday Reflections: I’m Holding Out for a Hero, a Female Superhero

Book Review: Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu

Middle Grade Monday – the DNF Debate

Book Review: Invincible by Amy Reed

Tech Talk 2015: Index to TLT Posts on Technology, Social Media and More

#FSYALit Roundtable: 5 YA Authors Talk About Faith, Teens and YA Literature

From the Stacks to the Shelf: How This Reader Became a Librarian and an Author, a guest post and giveaway by TRACKED author Jenny Martin

#FSYALit Roundtable: 5 YA Authors Talk About Faith, Teens and YA Literature, part II

#SecondChanceChallenge – What’ We’re Reading

Around the Web

This week at The Washington Post Answer Sheet blog, Daniel Willingham weighs in on current reading issues to tie in with his new book Raising Kids Who Read.

We’re starting to get the message out there that reading is a key determinant of health

What does the SAT really measure? – from PBS Idea Channel

Another librarian hero.

The We Need Diverse Books short story contest is open for submissions until May 8!

Students learn by teaching robots.

From Medium, “Why can’t we read anymore?” (thanks to @naturallysteph for pointing this out)

President Obama announced new library initiatives.



#SecondChanceChallenge – What’ We’re Reading

As you may know, next week we are going to be doing the #SecondChanceChallenge. Basically, we’re going to try reading a book we previously DNFed to see if we have a different experience with it this second time. It’s a reading experiment.

So what is everyone reading?

If you read our initial post, you won’t be surprised to know that Mary Hinson (@knoxdiver) is reading The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater. It is, after all, the book that sparked the whole conversation that led to the challenge. You can read her blog post about it here.

Robin Willis (@robinreads) is our Middlge Grade and School Librarian correspondent. She is going to be giving Harry Potter #6 a second chance. I had no idea she didn’t finish the series! I believe out of the 4 of us here at TLT, she is the biggest proponent of DNFing a book and you can read her MGM post on the DNF Debate here.

Amanda MacGregor (@citesomething) is our fierce reviewer and is working on updating many of our Take 5 lists. I thought it was fascinating to learn that she had DNfed Feed by M. T. Anderson. It’s a book I DNFed as well, which surprised me because Thirsty is a book I really enjoyed. And, you know, Feed is an award winner. I will be interested to hear what she thought of it this second time around.

Heather Booth (@boothheather) does a lot of program outlines for us and is good with the words in ways that I am not. And for some reason I have always thought she was a big Nerfighter, which is why I was surprised to learn that her #SecondChanceChallenge book is Looking for Alaska by John Green. Looking for Alaska is probably my favorite John Green book, so I’ll be interested to know how she feels about it this second time around. I’ll still love her if she hates it though, every reader their book and every book its reader and all that.

As for me, my #SecondChanceChallenge book is Chime by Franny Billingsley. I’m basically giving this one a second chance because when I told Ally Watkins I never finished it she said we maybe couldn’t be friends anymore. Chime is one of those books that everyone speaks highly of and it just didn’t seem to work for me and I wondered what I was missing. So I’m going to try it again and see if my feelings have changed, it has been a few years now after all. Ally says we can still be friends no matter what. Probably.

The truth is, we may still find that these are not the right books for us and that’s okay. But maybe not. Like I said, it’s a reading experiment to see how we might have grown and changed as readers.

How about you, will you be joining us? Tweet us with the hashtag #SecondChancechallenge and let us know what you’re reading. Or write a blog post and link to it in the comments.


#FSYALit Roundtable: 5 YA Authors Talk About Faith, Teens and YA Literature, part II

Yesterday, we shared with you the first part of our YA lit Roundtable with authors Kelly Loy Gilbert, Bryan Bliss, Anthony Breznican, Stacey Lee and Aisha Saeed. Today we are honored to share the conclusion of that roundtable discussion on faith and spirituality in YA lit with you.

Did you worry about writing critically about aspects of faith (if you did)?

Aisha Saeed: Absolutely. There is always fear when you address something with a critical eye that people may become offended or upset. While Naila’s faith has no bearing on what happened to her, the fact that she is Muslim may cause people to equate the practice with her faith. I was also nervous about showing how the “it’s your destiny” rationalizations can keep people stuck in bad circumstances. Ultimately though, I believe these issues need to be talked and examined critically if we want to see change happen. I think creating Naila, a Muslim character, who doesn’t believe her circumstances stemmed from religion is important. I also believe it’s important to examine and question how people use predestination as a means to silence dissent. While it’s not the most comfortable conversation to have perhaps, we have to talk about these things if we want to change thinking.

Kelly Loy Gilbert: My faith is what gives me hope for the world and what shapes all my beliefs about love and truth social justice; it’s incredibly important to me.  But I have characters who wield religion as a weapon and twist it to their own ends, and of course I hope that won’t be read as some kind of blanket criticism leveled against faith.

Bryan Bliss: I kind of already got at this above, but the simple answer is: no. If you believe in something greater than yourself – God – and you’re afraid to pull back the drapes and reveal some of the dirt… well, that doesn’t bode well for your divine being, I think. I realize that sounds kind of snarky, but how else can you see it? I personally don’t believe in a God that’s afraid of questions or even criticism. Hell, the Bible is filled with stories of people who make mistake after mistake – who wrestle with God. It feels like good company, even if it means getting your hip broken…

Anthony Breznican: In my book, we have a crooked, thieving priest, and a nun who means well but is misguided by compromise. Father Mercedes is unmistakably twisted, but to me Sister Maria is a hero. I would hate if people saw them as some sort of slam on the faith, although they are definitely a criticism of a powerful organization that could do a lot of good when it’s not obsessively protecting itself. But there are many wonderful people who do contribute to the world in positive, generous, and kind ways under the auspices of the church, and I don’t want to besmirch their good deeds. I only wanted to say we have to be careful when trying to do good, because it’s very easy to end up going the other direction.

Have aspects of your books been considered controversial?  What are your thoughts on that?

Anthony Breznican: I have had a few teachers in Catholic schools says that the hazing in my book, and the insidious cruelty that accompanies it, would never happen at their school. They say things like, “We have hazing, but it’s not nearly that bad.” And all I can think is, yeah, you’d fit in great at my fictional school, where the adults tell themselves lies like that every day. Someone else said my book was hate speech against Catholics. That’s utter nonsense. I think the heroes of the book, both the kids and the adults, are the ones who truly uphold the tenets of the faith by using their station to help and protect others — not just themselves.

Bryan Bliss: I wouldn’t say it’s controversial. It’s hard to defend Brother John – the radio preacher – in any way. Mostly, people seem to get really worked up by the parents and their decision. But like anything religious, I’m sure there’s something in there that could offend someone!

Kelly Loy Gilbert: I think some of mine might be, because ultimately it’s a book about complicated, flawed humans who make difficult choices–in some cases, choices that go directly against things they publicly believe.  But I think it’s important to read stories that ask for empathy and compassion even when it feels difficult to give.

What do you wish you saw more of in YA lit about the spiritual lives of teens?

Aisha Saeed: I think that there must be space in YA literature for characters who have faith as an integrated part of their life. This is the reality for so many teens and should be reflected. Such books should not be shelved into “special sections” as being “religious literature” because as humans we do not section off the different components of who we are, and faith is often a big part of who a person is and what makes them tick. Stacey Lee’s novel Under A Painted Sky does an excellent job of weaving in faith alongside a compelling story. This should be explored not in special books focused on just the topic of faith but in any book in which faith plays a role in how a person operates.

Anthony Breznican: I think it’s interesting to see more YA with people who have faith in the ideas that a religion puts forth, even if they don’t have faith in the religion or the people who oversee it. I think we need to separate the idea of “right from wrong” from particular clubs. No one group has a monopoly on decency and kindness.

Bryan Bliss: Real teenagers facing real questions of faith. It doesn’t even have to be the plot of the book, honestly. But there’s a lot of teenagers who need a guide through their questions. I can think of no better guide than young adult literature.

About the Books

Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Ten years ago, God gave Braden a sign, a promise that his family wouldn’t fall apart the way he feared.

But Braden got it wrong: his older brother, Trey, has been estranged from the family for almost as long, and his father, the only parent Braden has ever known, has been accused of murder. The arrest of Braden’s father, a well-known Christian radio host, has sparked national media attention. His fate lies in his son’s hands; Braden is the key witness in the upcoming trial.

Braden has always measured himself through baseball. He is the star pitcher in his small town of Ornette, and his ninety-four-mile-per-hour pitch al- ready has minor league scouts buzzing in his junior year. Now the rules of the sport that has always been Braden’s saving grace are blurred in ways he never realized, and the prospect of playing against Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing, is haunting his every pitch.

Braden faces an impossible choice, one that will define him for the rest of his life, in this brutally honest debut novel about family, faith, and the ultimate test of conviction.

No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss

Abigail’s parents have made mistake after mistake, and now they’ve lost everything. She’s left to decide: Does she still believe in them? Or is it time to believe in herself? Fans of Sara Zarr, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell will connect with this moving debut.

Abigail doesn’t know how her dad found Brother John. Maybe it was the billboards. Or the radio. What she does know is that he never should have made that first donation. Or the next, or the next. Her parents shouldn’t have sold their house. Or packed Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, into their old van to drive across the country to San Francisco, to be there with Brother John for the “end of the world.” Because of course the end didn’t come. And now they’re living in their van. And Aaron’s disappearing to who-knows-where every night. Their family is falling apart. All Abigail wants is to hold them together, to get them back to the place where things were right. But maybe it’s too big a task for one teenage girl. Bryan Bliss’s thoughtful, literary debut novel is about losing everything—and about what you will do for the people you love.


Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

Three freshmen must join forces to survive at a troubled, working-class Catholic high school with a student body full of bullies and zealots, and a faculty that’s even worse in Anthony Breznican’s Brutal Youth

With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michael’s has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal —so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies.

To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?

Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.

A special thank you to Kelly Loy Gilbert for organizing this roundtable and to all our authors for participating.

For more of the #FSYALit Posts you can go here


From the Stacks to the Shelf: How This Reader Became a Librarian and an Author, a guest post and giveaway by TRACKED author Jenny Martin

Like Star Wars? Speed Racer? The Fast and the Furious? What if I told you there was an awesome new science fiction title coming set in the future and featuring a female racer . . . Pretty awesome, right? Jenny Martin is a school librarian who is about to have her first book, TRACKED, published. Today she talks with us about becoming a librarian and an author. She’s also giving away a TRACKED swag pack that includes a bag, key chain and t-shirt. Meet Jenny Martin.

I grew up in an isolated, scrappy little Oklahoma town. When I say ‘isolated,’ I mean that for many years, we were three hours away from the nearest Wal-Mart. (Okay, maybe only two and a half, as the crow—or the speeding pickup–flies.) And when I say ‘scrappy,’ I mean that our parents and grandparents had managed to build something lasting in the middle of nowhere—a place rooted in red dirt, thriving despite April Storms and August heat, stalwart against the relentless cycle of oil boom and bust.

Back then, in that tiny town, we didn’t have a lot of things. No Starbucks. No malls. No monster cine-plexes.  But we had at least one thing going for us—we had libraries.

And those libraries shaped my life. They directly impacted both sides of my career—as an author and as a school librarian.

In truth, the call of the stacks began in early childhood. I think of our first Carnegie Library, one of the grandest buildings in the county, an oasis just off Main Street. As a kid, I was a lot more interested in the unassuming basement shelves of its children’s section than the brightly painted twisty-slide and monkey bars outside. Sure, the local Lions’ Club did a terrific job on the playground equipment. I just preferred spending my time nose-deep in fictional worlds.

There, in our public library, I met an extraordinary book pusher and kid-confidante, Ms. Kay Bell. Ms. Bell introduced me to my first home-run reads; armed with ghost stories and science fiction and fantasy novels, she whet an appetite I’ve never been able to sate. What’s more, she never batted an eye at my reading choices, even when I checked out too-tough adult books or the audiobook of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Headless Cupid yet again, for the seventeenth time. (Cassette tapes! Back then, so cutting edge!)

Yes, Ms. Bell was the first to meet me at the door to literacy. But other librarians, each in their turn, helped me fling those gates wide-open. I remember our 5th and 6th grade librarian, Ms. Jackson, who encouraged our young writers’ club, and who introduced me to Ms. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. In Junior High, there was Ms. Christner, whose fiery passion for Walter Dean Myers kindled something in me, and pushed me to try new genres. And let’s not forget the high school librarians, Ms. Castor and Ms. Millard, who helped us all get through four years of English papers and Oklahoma History research and Humanities projects.

TRACKED author Jenny Martin

These libraries, they welcomed me, a too tall, too silly, too brassy girl who didn’t always fit in or say the right thing. The resources I found inside these safe havens…be they on the shelf or even in micro-fiche…each novel and poem and biography stretched me, and taught me to look beyond myself and at the same time, to slip deeper into my own imagination. I can’t help but credit my hometown for this. Somehow, among the cattle ranchers and oilrig roustabouts, there was a collective desire to make learning a priority and invest in newfangled resources, even during the leaner years. These everyday, plainspoken folks saw the value in building windows to the larger world, and for that, I’m forever grateful.

I’m grateful because they shaped me into who I am today, an author-slash-librarian. Because when it was time for me to go back to school and choose a new career, I knew what to do. I knew who I wanted to be. I wanted to be Ms. Bell and Ms. Christner, or at least one of their 2.0 counterparts. I wanted to tend that same gateway and escape, to keep the doors open wide, for students of my own.

And that is what I did. I dove into school librarianship and worked hard to finish that MLS. All those hours reading scholarly articles and polishing term papers on topics like ‘intellectual property’ and ‘authority control.’ It nurtured the practitioner and the academic in me, and I have no regrets. But I never forgot the little girl who loved The Headless Cupid, and the teen who loved drafting short stories. Today, I still honor her, too.

Now, by day, I serve as a library media specialist–in a big city district, and in a school I love dearly. Working full-time on a flexible schedule, I collaborate with teachers to push great reads and model good practices and design new learning experiences. By night, I clack on the keyboard, writing and rewriting, until the right stories finally surface.

One of those stories—my YA debut—is just almost here, and I couldn’t be more excited. And curiously enough, wouldn’t you know it…to write it, I had to slip back to childhood, to memories of long hours in the local library. There, rooted in my small town’s heritage…in the worn, clothbound stories of breakneck land rushes and claim-staking runs for homesteads on the frontier, a seed began to grow. Of course, I drew on my love of science fiction–those movies and novels played their part, too. And how could they not? A certain small town librarian had recommended so many of them.

From that mix—in part, from my time in the stacks—my debut was born. Tracked is the story of a young driver, who amidst intense galactic conflict, rockets from street racing obscurity to pro-circuit stardom, sideswiping corporate empires and leaving them crippled in her wake. But it is also the story of too small, too reckless, too brassy girl who lives on an isolated, windswept, fuel-driven planet. A girl who doesn’t always fit in or say the right thing. A girl named Phee–fierce and fearless and flawed–who’s primed for adventure, and who can never stop dreaming of other worlds.

And while Phee may get to blast her way into some of these faraway places, I get to visit them all. By day, they sit beside me on the library shelves. By night, they hide inside my laptop. And always, they live in my heart.

Swag Pack Giveaway:

Do the Rafflecopter thingy below to be entered to win an awesome TRACKED themed swag pack courtesy of Jenny Martin. It includes a bag, key chain and t-shirt. Open to U.S. residents only please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Publisher’s Book Description:

The Fast and the Furious gets a futuristic twist in this action-packed debut!

On corporately controlled Castra, rally racing is a high-stakes game that seventeen-year-old Phoebe Van Zant knows all too well. Phee’s legendary racer father disappeared mysteriously, but that hasn’t stopped her from speeding headlong into trouble. When she and her best friend, Bear, attract the attention of Charles Benroyal, they are blackmailed into racing for Benroyal Corp, a company that represents everything Phee detests. Worse, Phee risks losing Bear as she falls for Cash, her charming new teammate. But when she discovers that Benroyal is controlling more than a corporation, Phee realizes she has a much bigger role in Castra’s future than she could ever have imagined. It’s up to Phee to take Benroyal down. But even with the help of her team, can a street-rat destroy an empire?

May 5, 2015 from Dial Books. ISBN: 9780803740129

Meet The Author:

Jenny is a librarian, a book monster, and a certified Beatle-maniac. She lives in Dallas with her husband and son, where she hoards books and regularly blisses out over all kinds of live and recorded rock. Her debut YA novel, TRACKED, will be released in 2015 by Dial, an imprint of Penguin.

#FSYALit Roundtable: 5 YA Authors Talk About Faith, Teens and YA Literature

As part of the Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit (#FSYALit) Discussion, author Kelly Loy Gilbert put together a fabulous roundtable discussion between several YA authors. We’re going to present this roundtable to you in two parts. In part I, our authors talk a little bit about the role that faith plays in their lives and in their YA titles. In part II, we’ll talk about some of the more controversial elements, what it’s like to be critical of your faith and then introduce you to their books.


Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of CONVICTION

Aisha Saeed, author of WRITTEN IN THE STARS

Bryan Bliss, author of NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES

Stacey Lee, author of UNDER A PAINTED SKY

Anthony Breznican, author of BRUTAL YOUTH

What role does faith play in your book?

Anthony Breznican: Faith is the heart of Brutal Youth. This is a book takes place at a deeply troubled Catholic high school, with three newcomers trying to survive in a kind of law-of-the-jungle social order — hazing, manipulation, deceit rule the halls. These are tools the powerful wield to maintain their position, and our heroes — Davidek, Stein, and Lorelei — try to protect themselves without losing who they are. (They don’t always succeed.)

But really, I see the book as an exploration of all kinds of faith. One, there’s the traditional belief in a benevolent God who will protect you if you are virtuous. Two, there’s faith in our superiors — parents, teachers, priests. We trust them. We count on them to do what’s right. But how often do we find that faith misplaced?

Brutal Youth dives into that idea that we can’t live without putting our faith in others, in believing in something greater and better than ourselves. But if we put that faith in the wrong people, or we expect God to step in and save our asses — we can lose everything. It’s the story of a Catholic school, but I took inspiration from a Jewish proverb I learned in school: “If I don’t stand for myself, who will stand for me? But if I stand only for myself, what am I?”

In the end, these kids learn to trust their own sense of right and wrong. They believe in themselves, which I think is what God wants of all of us — a strict moral compass, guided toward compassion.

Aisha Saeed: Written in the Stars explores the life of a teenager, Naila, who is thrust into a forced marriage. Naila is Muslim and while this practice is condemned by her faith many do equate the practice of forced marriage with Islam. In the novel Naila never blames religion for her circumstances.  For Naila, her faith is a source of comfort that reassures her during difficult moments such as when she hears the call to prayer, adhan. She finds peace and comfort in her faith.

Still, even with the problem of forced marriage framed as a cultural one, religion runs like an undercurrent through the novel, unspoken but present. The fact remains, unspoken or not,  readers may see her predicament as stemming from religion. For this reason I addressed it in a bit more detail in my author’s note at the end.

Naila’s faith also plays a role in her staying in her marriage.  Once she is married, her cousin and even her husband, dissuade her from trying to leave her marriage by telling her it is written in the stars, it is kismet. This belief has both cultural and religious underpinnings, and while this breaks Naila’s heart, it is this line of arguing that her marriage was divinely destined that ultimately makes Naila think that she must stop from trying to fight her circumstances.

Stacey Lee: Religion plays a huge role in UNDER A PAINTED SKY. Samantha my main character is raised in New York with a Christian upbringing (her father was adopted by French missionaries).  Though he was a practicing Christian, her father lived in China long enough to be indoctrinated into their system of beliefs, including the idea that we are born to a fate.  He has passed this two prong system of beliefs down to his daughter. It’s not unlike what many Asian Americans face everyday – in reconciling the old and new, a hybrid system of beilefs often results.  When Sammy’s father dies, she decides she’s no longer speaking to God who had the power to save her father.   Contrast that with Chinese philosophy where the only one to blame would be luck and misfortune.   Her Chinese philosophy never really goes away unti the very end, where she says, quite unequivocally, I reject Fate, and puts herself in God’s hands again.

Kelly Loy Gilbert: In CONVICTION, 17-year-old Braden is forced to question everything he’s ever held true when his father, a conservative Christian talk show celebrity, is accused of murdering a police officer in a possible hate crime.  Braden’s faith is really central to who he is, and as the story progresses he faces a harrowing choice that will test his every belief.

Bryan Bliss: NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES is the story of Abigail and her attempts at keeping her family together after the end times have not come as promised. Right away, I knew this story wasn’t going to be like a lot of the other so-called “cult” books out there. I was interested in Abigail’s relationship not only to her faith, but also to her family. The two, in my opinion, are rarely separate. Especially when your family has sold everything and moved across the country in anticipation of the end times… I wanted to go deep on what it means to believe, to unpack as much of that process as I could while still telling a story about their family.

Did you base anything on your own experiences?  What is your spiritual background like? What drew you to writing about faith/spirituality/religion?

Stacey Lee: Most definitely I drew on my own experiences for the Christian upbringing.  My parents weren’t really in tune with their Chinese backgrounds – they are very Americanized themselves.  It was really my inlaws who showed me the ‘traditional Chinese way’ and by the way, there’s not just ‘one’ way but several philosophies that inform Chinese life: Confucionism, Buddhism, Taosim,, etc.  To be human is to struggle with ourseles and our religions, those belief systems that govern right and wrong. What better way to show that struggle by fraiming it within the context of a girl faced with tremendous loss, and trying to understand if her life matters anymore without her father by her side.

Aisha Saeed: Growing up some of my friends felt pressured to stay in unwanted marriages because they were told the marriage was preordained. I am Muslim and I believe in destiny but I don’t agree with using it as a cultural tool to convince people to stay in bad circumstances. As a Muslim I wanted to be the one to explore both the concept of destiny and forced marriages because in a world where Islamaphobia is drastically on the rise the distinction between culture and faith is an important one for me.

Kelly Loy Gilbert: I grew up with family ties to a Chinese church in San Francisco, but mostly in a heavily Pentecostal church where there was lots of emphasis on speaking in tongues, prophecy, and other spiritual gifts.  I think when you’re young it’s easy for whatever spiritual tradition you’re around to feel like the standard, and I remember what it felt like to be essentially born into an utter certainty that the world worked a certain way––what it was like to be unable to view the world through another lens.  I drew on that experience when writing Braden, who’s also a part of a tight-knit church community, and who for the first time is forced come to terms with the implications of what he’s always believed.

Bryan Bliss: I’m a seminary graduate and spent 10 years working as a pastor. However, when it comes to this sort of fanatical belief – the kind that makes claims about the rapture – I’m pretty ignorant. My own theological views are fairly (okay, wildly) progressive. So that meant a lot of snake handler and end time preacher youtube videos. Getting the words – the passion – correct was key, I thought. I didn’t want to paint this preacher and these parents as simple fanatics. I wanted to know why they believed and what was at stake for them in this belief. That meant not going into knee-jerk mode when it came to their theology, a habit I can easily pick up… especially on Facebook. That doesn’t mean there isn’t bad theology in the world, because there most certainly is. But at the end of the day, I realized that if I was going to tell this story I needed to do it as authentically as possible. And that meant dipping a toe into some ideas that are predatory. Finally – despite my background and education – I’m a highly doubtful and cynical person when it comes to faith. I don’t want to be, but that’s just how it works in my life. I’ve always had a lot of questions, and I think that ultimately helped me write this book from an authentic place.

Anthony Breznican: My actual school was associated with a priest who was literally ripping open collection envelopes and stealing the cash. He claimed he was a descendant of a wealthy family, but blamed all the budget shortfalls on the rotten kids at the high school his parish had to sustain. We were his scapegoats, but eventually he was exposed.

My faith in authority evaporated at an early age. I had teachers who would smack or belittle students — not all, but some. The wonderful, thoughtful teachers only served as a disturbing contrast to the cruel ones. I learned that just because someone is in charge doesn’t make them good, and this was the core of Brutal Youth. Faith and trust is earned, not inherited. Friendship and loyalty are how you prove yourself worthy — not a badge or a collar.

What was challenging about writing about the religious and/or spiritual lives of your characters?  What hang-ups did you have?  How were those aspects of your book received?

Aisha Saeed: I did not want to further cement misconceptions and stereotypes with my novel but I also felt it was a crucial topic to address. As someone who loves her faith and culture, I felt it was important that the hard topic be addressed by someone who wrote from a place of love and not a place of seeking to villainize or stereotype. It can be a fine line to straddle, to address a hard issue but to also give it nuance and complexity, I hope I did it justice.

Anthony Breznican: I did not want to disparage the Catholic faith. I believe in a higher power, I pray, I trust that there is some sort of plan for me, and I’m grateful for all that I’ve been given in life. I have a lot of questions and about God and what may exist after this life, but I’m willing to accept that some things may simply be beyond my understanding. In writing Brutal Youth, I didn’t want to attack the idea of Catholic school exclusively, or to cast aspersions on the religion. Many people get comfort and love through the church, and although I was telling a savage story about corrupt authority, I feel Brutal Youth could take place anywhere there is unquestioned power, like a military school.

Bryan Bliss: Oh, Lordy. I get e-mails and messages that basically fall into two different camps. First: “You’re bashing the Bible. What’s your problem?!” Second: “You’re not critical enough of the parents! Bash the Bible!” I kind of love that, though. It means I did my job well. And for a long time, before I wrote this book, I would’ve been worried about such a response. What will the people in my church think? Oh no, I said shit five times on this page… That sort of thing. But I think most people who are interested in faith want books and films that accurately represent what it means to struggle theologically. And that means real questions, real struggles – real people who say shit and, um, other words. Of course, the Christian book industry is a testament to the fact that there is a market for easy stories where people never curse or ever have sticky thoughts. But I think it’s a misnomer to think that you can’t question religious beliefs, that it somehow doesn’t have a place in a life of faith. If anything, that’s a way literature is – and should be – in conversation with religion. It’s a place to test out questions, to maybe even find answers that can temporarily give us a little peace.

To be continued tomorrow . . .

Find all of the #FSYALit Posts here

Tech Talk 2015: Index to TLT Posts on Technology, Social Media and More

Technology is a HUGE part of what we do everyday.  Whether we are helping our teens use technology, using technology to connect with our teens, or trying to put together teen programs – there is no escaping it, and no escaping how often it changes.  Since we write about it, I thought we would make it easy for you to find it all in one place – HERE!  After all, geek is the new black.

Using Apps in Your Marketing
Giffer App Review (making GIFs with Legos)
Social Media 101
Relational Reading Revolution: Using social media to connecting readers with authors
The Beginners Guide to the Hashtag
Harness the Power of the Hashtag 
A Scientific Guide to the Best Times to Tweet, FB, Blog, etc. 
The Science of Social Timing 
Executing Your Social Media Marketing Strategy
6 Steps to Creating a Social Media Marketing Plan
Examples of People Using Social MediaWell:

You can view the slides of the presentation that I did with JenBigHeart, Jenny Martin and Naomi Bates at TLA 2015 on Radical RA, which includes social media, at

Online Tools

Tech Review: Online Creation Tools Piktochart and Canva

Take 5: Comic Book/Strip Creation Tools


Ongoing changing in policies are causing some users to defect, less popular now, teens are defecting, can now use Hashtags

5 Things You Can Do with Tumblr :Craft Tutorials: Example, TardisCostume ; 2.Booklists: Example, 10 Things I Learned About Surviving the Apocalypse from YA Books; 3.New Books: Share the  covers ;4.Program Pics ; 5.Book Quotes


A BookTube Crash Course by AbbyRoseReads
TPIB: When Books Inspire Art (Using Apps to Create Book/Library Related Art)
The Relational Reading Revolution Revisited: Using social media to connect teens w/authors and get them invested in the reading community
Little Bits, Makey Makey, Raspberry Pi and More!



Robot Test Kitchen – tech news – great example of content; find content to share – fave info resource – sharable content – news about teens & millenials – all about social media


STEM and STEAM Programming for Teens in Libraries (an Infopeople webinar)

Full STEAM Ahead with Tween and Teen Programming (a Florida Libraries webinar)


Book Review: Invincible by Amy Reed

In Amy Reed’s Invincible, things are looking pretty grim for 17-year-old cancer patient Evie. She’s back in the hospital after breaking her leg, which of course sucks, but at least she has acerbic Stella and sweet Caleb to keep her company. They are her hospital-world best friends. In her outside world, it seems unlikely that Evie, a cheerleader, would be best friends with Stella, who is in an all-girl punk band. In her outside world, she’s best friends with Kasey, a fellow cheerleader, and dates Will, who has doted on her during her illness. When Evie learns her Ewing’s Sarcoma has metastasized and is now in her marrow, she feels like it’s her job to still keep smiling and not letting on how she really feels even as it appears the end is near. The next steps and treatments are extensive and only have a 4-7% survival rate. Evie decides she would like to stop all treatments—she is ready for this to be over. And then the unthinkable happens: she gets better. Evie suddenly has the bloodwork of a healthy kid. There is no cancer anywhere in her body. Evie is allowed to go home—not to die, as she had been planning to do, but to live.


Evie knows she should be grateful to be given this second chance, but going back to “normal life” proves to be very hard. She’s not the same person she was before her cancer. If she’s not Cancer Girl anymore, who is she? Why is everyone acting like it’s so normal that she’s back home, acting like she should be able to just slip back into her old life, despite what she’s been through, despite what she’s seen? Everyone is polite, grateful, and endlessly kind. Evie hates it. She begins abusing her pain pills not for her physical pain, but for the deep emotional pain she constantly feels. She tries to get back into the routine of school and her friends there, but it just feels impossible. As they make small talk about things Evie missed, like what the theme for prom is this year, Evie thinks, “I can’t believe I came back from the dead for this.”


Before long, Evie has to make a break from her old life. She ends her relationship with Will and begins to see Marcus, a boy she met in a dark tunnel, of all places. She starts smoking pot, drinking, and taking more and more of her pills. She’s able to hide what she’s up to for a long time, but eventually her parents figure out her drug use and realize she’s a mess. Evie doesn’t care. Nothing they say or do matters to her. She keeps sneaking out, running away, and getting high. She hides her pill addiction from Marcus, who has his reasons for warning her to stay away from pills and hard drugs. She spirals for a long time, eventually alienating everyone in her life. She hates herself, but doesn’t even know where to start cleaning up her many messes. It’s not clear whether Evie will be able to get a grip before she self-destructs, and readers are left with a cliffhanger ending—an ending that (bravely) ends right in the middle of a sentence.


Readers who insist on likeable characters might not like this book. Evie is a wreck. I scowled through most of the book. It’s hard to watch Evie make truly terrible choices over and over again, to watch her suffer in silence. She is mean—cruel even—and manipulative. But we shouldn’t have to like her—we should just have to find her interesting enough to keep reading. And I couldn’t put this book down. Just when it seems like Evie has made enough crappy choices and caused enough pain, Reed pushes her ever forward, letting her get to a darker and darker place. Pair this book with Julie Murphy’s Side Effects May Vary for two intriguing looks at how to live after you’ve already accepted death. 


ISBN-13:  9780062299574
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 4/28/2015


Middle Grade Monday – the DNF Debate

As you may have read here, next week we are doing a Second Chance Challenge – we are challenging you to pick up a book that you didn’t finish and try again. Thus the DNF (did not finish) debate. For those of us who are school librarians, it can be a challenge to help some students find a book they can engage with and finish. When it’s for a class assignment, though, it can be crucial. Many of their teachers may be stuck in the ‘completist’ mode, thinking that a student should finish every book they start. I find this to be one of the surest roads to killing a student’s love of reading.

When I do book talks, I try to work in this idea – for my teachers’ benefit as well as my students’. Some books are ‘almost everybody’ books (Harry Potter) and some books may have a much narrower interest base. It’s important that you find books with which you can engage and sustain your interest throughout. One way we try to foster this is by doing interest inventories with the students so they are aware of what topics they do and don’t find interesting. I know it sounds like a simple thing, but I’ve found that there are a good number of students this age who’ve never been asked to self-evaluate in this way. Another method we use to enhance student engagement with their chosen books is equally simple – we give them an extended amount of time to read once they’ve chosen a book during their class library time. They know if they get several pages into it and it hasn’t grabbed them, that it is okay to look for another.

I have a rather long list of DNFs, mostly due to certain topic sensitivities that seem to pop up regularly in Middle Grade and YA fiction. They include kidnapping, underground settings, and any book where an adult uses their power to manipulate or harm a child. I know…what can I read? That last one has to be integral to the plot. It’s why I’ve never bothered to start The Hunger Games. I watched the trailer for the first movie with my students and almost threw up. So…yeah. My other issues tend to be more stylistic. I rarely engage with books that have footnotes. They tend to draw me out of the story. There are certain exceptions, but I will, for the most part, only make it through if I ignore the footnotes (Colin Fischer is a good example.) I also have issues with books that focus too strongly on plot and don’t develop their characters well. It’s one of my rules of thumb to DNF any title I get half way through if I don’t care about the main character.

On the other hand, knowing what your topic sensitivities are can give you the ability to power through a book that includes them if it’s good enough. In my case, that book was Nancy Farmer’s The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm. It took me 4 tries to get past the point where the children are kidnapped. The first couple of times I didn’t even get that far – I could see what was coming. At that point as a reader, though, I wasn’t self aware enough to see that it was the kidnapping that was the issue. Once I worked through that, I was able to really engage with the book (it’s amazing.) Most of your students won’t have these same sensitivities (although some have been through fairly traumatic episodes and may need to avoid certain topics.) I’ve found that the things that bother me as an adult who is specifically tasked with caring for the welfare of children are seldom issues that bother students. They didn’t bother me at that age either.

So, TL;DR – let your students DNF if they need to. Help them find a book with which they can really engage. Don’t be a completist.

Also, for the record, the book I’m going to try is one I almost finished, put down, and never opened again – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I know.

Book Review: Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu

Use this mascara for longer, fuller lashes. Use this cream to reduce wrinkles and fine lines. Use this cream to fade your dark spots. Use this hair dye to cover your gray. Use this lipstick for fuller. more kissable lips. Wear this type of dress/shirt/pants/skirt/top to look slimmer/bustier/more appealing to men. And here are the things women do that men hate . . . These are just a few of the constant messages that women start receiving at an incredibly young age, messages that tell us that we have to look a certain way to be confident and attract the opposite sex. Messages that tell us we have to do more, be more, and suffer more in order to be “desirable”. This is a huge part of what MAKING PRETTY by Corey Ann Haydu is about – how we teach girls from a very young age to hate the way they look, thus hating themselves.

Sometimes a book so moves me that I feel like I have to write a letter to the author. Sometimes I have done that publicly, but MAKING PRETTY led me to write a very private one to Corey Ann Hyadu. You see, I have never been comfortable in my own skin. I have never felt good enough or pretty enough, and in some ways I know the reasons for that. Part of it is culture and part of it is the things that have been said and done to me and around me in my home and in my personal life. I related all too well with the girls we meet in MAKING PRETTY. I have been these girls. I am these girls. And I have worked with these girls for 20 years now. Corey Ann Haydu captures so much of these girls in pitch perfect ways I was moved to compassion for myself and every girl like me that has to weather the storm that is being a girl in contemporary society. It’s so hard to love yourself in a world that constantly tells you that you have no reason to.

Cultural messaging can be a harmful beast.  The institutionalized and internalized image issues that get handed down to us in subtle and often unconscious ways can really mess with your head. It’s the photoshopped images in magazines. The way we talk about girls weight to them and in front of them in ways that we don’t with men. It’s the way we sit around and watch award shows just to pick apart the way the women look in ways that we often don’t with men. It’s the constant barrage of ads aimed at women about make-up and fine lines and wrinkles and beauty creams and hair dye. We are constantly being told if we buy this and do that then it might make us more worthy, more loveable. There is an entire industry that is bankrolled on the backs of women’s insecurities, people grow rich telling us the lie that if we just did x, y or z then we might finally be worthy of love and acceptance.

The stories I could tell you. That I want to. The girls I have seen hurting. And before anyone leaves me a comment saying but what about the men, I will readily admit that men can and do struggle with body image issues, we have even written about that here at TLT. But it also feels like they aren’t targeted as much as women. For every male baldness or Bowflex ad I see it seems like I see 10 ads for women’s beauty products. Entire industries are built on making women hate themselves.

In addition to the way Haydu perfectly captures the brokenness that we often inflict upon our girls with our unreasonable beauty standards and messaging, MAKING PRETTY is also just amazingly well written; it’s a good, well written story. There are so many perfectly written and emotive sentences that I am going to go back and write in my quote journal. There are so many girls and parents I want to hand this to and say here, read this. To the girls I want to say you are enough. And to the parents and our culture I want to say stop making our girls feel like they aren’t enough. This book is a great tool to help do that. It’s a good story with poignant insight. We’re so busy trying worrying about “making pretty” we forget to worry about “making whole”.

Everyone – every man, woman, and teen – should read this book. I highly recommend it.

I love this book. Thank you for writing it.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Montana and her sister, Arizona, are named after the mountainous states their mother left them for. But Montana is a New York City girl through and through, and as the city heats up, she’s stepping into the most intense summer of her life.

With Arizona wrapped up in her college world and their father distracted by yet another divorce, Montana’s been immersing herself in an intoxicating new friendship with a girl from her acting class. Karissa is bold, imperfectly beautiful, and unafraid of being vulnerable. She’s everything Montana would like to become. But the friendship with Karissa is driving a wedge between Montana and her sister, and the more of her own secrets Karissa reveals, the more Montana has to wonder if Karissa’s someone she can really trust.

In the midst of her uncertainty, Montana finds a heady distraction in Bernardo. He’s serious and spontaneous, and he looks at Montana in the way she wants to be seen. For the first time, Montana understands how you can become both lost and found in somebody else. But when that love becomes everything, where does it leave the rest of her imperfect life?

Coming May 12th, 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books. ISBN: 9780062294081

Ally Watkins sent me a copy of her ARC to read.

Body Image and Eating Disorders