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Sex and Consent in LGBT Manga, a guest post by Eden Grey

by Eden Grey (@edenjeangrey)

In this post I would like to explore the differences between portrayals of sex in lesbian and gay manga and heterosexual romance stories in manga. By manga I mean graphic novels originally published in Japan, by Japanese authors and artists. In most libraries, manga is confined to the Young Adult Collection. In some libraries, such as mine, there are manga in both YA and the Adult graphic novel sections. Determining where to shelve particular manga, especially those with LGBT themes, can be confusing and challenging because the ratings given to the books don’t always reflect the explicitness of the content.


In general, heterosexual romance manga is lighthearted, there is rarely on-page sex, and both parties consent to whatever sexual action does happen. Some of the most popular romance manga include Nisekoi: False Love, Ai Ore! Love Me!, and Alice in the Country of Hearts.  There are notable exceptions, but I would like to talk about the majority of manga stories. In gay manga, on the other hand, there is frequently on-page sex, frequently questionable consent, and undertones of violence.


In many American-published, adult romance fiction, with both straight and gay characters, there are frequently themes of sexual violence and forced sexual interactions. Pick up any Harlequin romance and it’s likely to have a situation of dubious consent. These novels are intended as a fantasy for readers, and they are enjoyed by a large readership of adult women. However, the biggest audience for LGBT manga, at least in the United States, is young adults.


Should we be sharing these stories with our teens? Is it our place to decide what kind of sex they should and should not have access to? Is the answer as simple as ordering popular and requested manga and placing the explicit ones in the Adult section? These are questions rarely asked or discussed in Libraryland, and that’s really unfortunate. If we’re ordering these manga for our teens we should be discussing the sexual violence in them with readers. We should use this as an opportunity to talk about the issue of consent.


Below I will list several of the most popular manga with LGBT romances, as well as those commonly found in libraries. Ratings for these series can be looked up on the publisher’s website. I personally have most of these in my library’s collection, with everything except Whispered Words in the adult section or only available as an ebook. Most of them were requested by teen patrons.


Author’s Pet by Deathco Cotorino

The story of a single couple thrown together by chance. The gullible Yuuta is forced into oweing the mysterious author Tsubaki a big favor, and he ends up helping him write his romance novels. The men become involved, with Tsubaki taking the initiative in their seemingly one-sided relationship.


Apple and Honey by Hideyoshico

Features the story of 2 gay couples, set during the summer season. The characters are ordinary adults, going to college and working day jobs while pursuing their hobbies. The relationships take time to develop, but by the end of the volume the characters are having explicit sex.


Whispered Words by Takashi Ikeda 

The story of 2 high school girls who have been best friends since childhood. Ushio like cute girls (like Sumika!) but Sumika prefers tough, athletic girls. Will they ever be able to confess their feelings?


Private Teacher! by Yuu Moegi 

Rintarou needs a private tutor, but he also gets a lover with Kaede-san, who enjoys punishing Rintarou’s poor academic performance some unique punishment. Kaede’s sexual advances quickly become dominating and Rintarou starts questioning the feelings he has for his tutor.

author's petapple honeywhispered worldsprivate teacher


Junjou Romantica by Shungiku Nakimura 

The story of several gay couples who are connected through their work at a publishing company. The tone of the story is lighthearted and comedic, while the relationships can get unexpectedly serious and intense.


Citrus by Saburo Uta

When her mom marries a rich businessman, Yuzu must move to a new home and switch to an all-girls school. Yuzu is a fashionista and frequently gets in trouble with the student council president, Mei, who also happens to be her new step-sister. Yuzu finds herself inexplicably attracted to Mei and jealous of the attention she receives from other girls and boys. Their attraction escalates quickly, despite the potentially taboo nature of it.


What Did You Eat Yesterday? by Fumi Yoshinaga

The story of a single middle-aged male couple living together in Tokyo. Shiro loves cooking more than anything, and the chapters are organized around their meals together. The chapters also feature delicious and authentic Japanese recipes! A simple yet clever slice-of-life story.


Wolf Magic by Natsuki Zippo 

A collection of alternating short stories told in a casual, slice-of-life style about a variety of unlikely gay couples. The writing is clever and the art is well-done. The relationships quickly become serious, due to the stories being very short; they swiftly become sexual and explicit.

junjocitruswhat did you eatwolf magic


Meet Eden Grey


Eden Grey is the Young Adult Programming Librarian at the busiest branch library in Kentucky. Eden is a reviewer for Young Adult Books Central and School Library Journal. When she is not herding cats -ahem, teens- at the library, Eden can be found reading, knitting, sewing, cosplaying, and playing Pokemon. You can always find her on Twitter @edenjeangrey.

Violence in LGBTIQ Fiction for Young Adults, a guest post by Rob Bittner

By Rob Bittner (@r_bittner)


altheaI was originally approached to do some work on sexual violence, YA literature, and LGBTQ themes because of a post that I wrote about the novel Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho. There is much to love about the book, save for the incredibly problematic notion of rape against the male protagonist, which seems to be lessened throughout the novel because the perpetrator is a girl. Some see that assertion as too simplistic, but if you want to see a more full discussion, see the post by TLT on the novel. Though that was only one novel, I was later contacted by TLT and I found myself thinking more and more about violence against sexualized others in texts for young adults.



I am not a specialist in the area of sexual violence, but I do try to keep up with statistics and information on the subject. Stats on sexual violence against LGBTQ populations in real life are terribly disheartening:[1]

  • Approximately 1 in 8 lesbian women (13%), nearly half of bisexual women (46%), and 1 in 6 heterosexual women (17%) have been raped in their lifetime. This translates to an estimated 214,000 lesbian women, 1.5 million bisexual women, and 19 million heterosexual women.
  • Four in 10 gay men (40%), nearly half of bisexual men (47%), and 1 in 5 heterosexual men (21%) have experienced SV other than rape in their lifetime. This translates into nearly 1.1 million gay men, 903,000 bisexual men, and 21.6 million heterosexual men.
  • approximately 50% of transgender people experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.[2]


While I understand that authors often include these instances of violence in order to lend a sense of realism to the story, I feel that having an overabundance of such situations in YA gives the impression that to come out as L, G, B, T, I, Q, etc., inevitably leads to violence or unavoidable negative consequences. The same goes for uses of homophobic/transphobic language in novels as a way of realistically portraying the cruelty of homophobic/transphobic individuals. The use of such language, however, also troubles many readers who hear these words being hurled at them in real life. Sometimes I think it’s okay to have a book that contains challenges for characters, and references life’s complexities, without necessarily including scenes of violence and/or homophobic language.


Why do I seem to be focusing so much on language in a post about sexualized violence, though? I feel that it’s creepsimportant to remember that sexual violence can take multiple forms, both physical and emotional (brought on by verbal and psychological attacks), among others. I recently reviewed the novel Creeps (2013) by Darren Hynes, which features a young protagonist who identifies as straight and cisgender, but that doesn’t stop secondary characters from engaging in acts of psychological and physical violence against the main character. The homophobic attitudes in particular, and the use of derogatory terminology for gay and lesbian individuals is excessive. While homophobia and bullying are a grievous part of everyday life for many young people no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, the book fails to move beyond these instances of assault and violence, which unfortunately mirror similar acts which take place in so many LGBTQ novels for young audiences.


Many YA novels feature scenes of assault on individuals who identify on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, etc, and as mentioned earlier, this is usually because the novels use such instances of abuse as indicative of a sense of realism. Unfortunately, this also serves to further the expectation that existing as other than straight means to expect or be deserving of assault of some kind. These moments tend to include homophobic commentary as well as physical violence based upon physical difference, a fact that is much more explicit in novels with transgender, intersex, sexual, or gender nonconforming characters. Here are three examples:


dream boyJim Grimsley’s Dream Boy for example, features the rape of the main character, Nathan, by another boy from school after he discovers Nathan and Roy during an intimate moment. The boy traps Nathan in an abandoned plantation house, rapes him, and beats him unconscious. This disturbing event is compounded when, during the rape, Nathan’s mind flashes to past memories of being sexually abused by his father. The implication of the flashback is unclear, but it seems to indicate that sexual abuse is at the root of Nathan’s homosexuality. And even if this is not the intent, it hearkens back to novels that underscore the general harshness associated with queer literature of the 80s and 90s, that is, the emotional and physical violence that befalls Nathan because of the sexual acts associated with physical intimacy between him and Roy.


Jack Gantos’ Desire Lines (1997) is also a good example of the trope of homosexuality as desirenot necessarily evil, but leading inevitably to negative consequences. Seen through the eyes of a sexually ambiguous narrator, the story is of two lesbians who, exposed to the overly fundamentalist son of a pastor, eventually attempt a murder–suicide. While Desire Lines not only provides homosexual teens with a negative scenario leading to tragic consequences, it also distorts religion, even if it does mirror some real-life “Christian” congregations. Gantos’ treatment of religious fundamentalism results in Christianity being portrayed as a destructive force that leads to ultimate tragedy for the lesbian couple.



golden boyA recent Alex Award novel, Golden Boy (2013), by Abigail Tarttelin, features an intersex protagonist whose identity is not fully realized or understood until after a particularly violent episode. When Max’s old childhood friend, Hunter, arrives on the scene, he is quick to take advantage of the situation and rapes Max upon discovery of his physical difference. The violation of his body leads Max to question his gender identity, sexuality, and his self-worth. This novel is a prime example of how sexual violence causes incredible psychological damage, and the addition of violence because of physical or sexual difference is an incredibly complex issue.



Furthermore, many of the more popular queer YA novels that are seen as “literary” are those centering on tragic events: October Mourning (2012), Luna (2004), Almost Perfect (2010), and many others. The fact that these instances of violence are such a commonplace event within queer fiction for young readers is not terribly helpful either, as fiction is so often seen as a mirror of reality, thus leaving young queer readers with the impression that sexual violence is simply an inevitable part of growing up “different.” I can only hope that the future of queer literature sees a more positive turn in portrayals of queer experience, not necessarily entirely free of violence—realism is, after all, not always happy—but at least with more uplifting components.


[1] Walters, M.L., Chen J., & Breiding, M.J. (2013). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from


[2] Stotzer, R. (2009). Violence against transgender people: A review of United States data. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 14, 170-179.


Meet Rob Bittner

rob bittnerRob Bittner is a PhD candidate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University, and he has a history of working with children’s and YA literature in various contexts, including his MA degree and various award committees through the American Library Association. He loves queer lit and especially loves when it engages with topics that are “out of the ordinary.”

Middle Grade Monday – Diary of a Mad Brownie (giveaway)

9780385392471Angus is a brownie (mythical creature, not chocolate dessert treat) living under a curse. Due to some mischief his father caused, the brownies of Angus’ line are bound to serve the McGonagalls, and to bring a curse upon the males of the household in which they live. So far, this has worked out well for Angus. He (as all brownies do) needs to serve someone, making sure their dwelling is both tidy and clean as well as performing minor mischief to keep his family on their toes. For many years Angus has lived with and served Sarah McGonagall, who conveniently lived alone and therefore Angus has not visited the second half of the curse on anyone in many years. Alas, humans do not live nearly as long as brownies, and at her death Angus’ services are transferred to the youngest female in the McGonagall line who is of age, who happens to be the American tween Alex Carhart. Not only is Alex unfamiliar with the concept of brownies, she doesn’t want any help cleaning her disastrously messy room (or her desk at school.)

Much of the humor and heart of the story comes from the conflict of personalities and the clash of cultures experienced by Angus and Alex. Both of them could use some anger management skills, but they manage to work through their differences and come to genuinely value each other. The reader watches Alex grow in her appreciation of Angus’ talents as their friendship blossoms. Unfortunately, Angus has also brought the other part of the curse to Alex’s household. Because he has been so long serving in a household without any males, he is hopeful that this part of the curse has died out. Unfortunately that is not the case, and both Alex’s father and brother are seized by the undeniable urge to create poetry (or write songs, in her father’s case.) Not just any poetry, but appallingly, laughably bad poetry. In order to break the curse, Alex and Angus must work together to return what was lost to the queen of the fairies. The many threads of the story weave together into a solution to this problem at just the right moment.

I have long been a fan of Bruce Coville’s writing. While humorous and engaging, his work also has a genuine and caring heart to it. This book more than lived up to my expectations. The fact that it is written in varying formats (diary entries, memos, letters, etc.) adds greatly to its charm. It is a good addition to any collection serving 8 to 11 year old readers, and would even be a good read aloud for a younger audience.

I have one hardcover copy of this title (provided by the publisher) to give away (within the US.) Please enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below.

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An Introduction to the Sexual Violence in LGBTQIA+ Young Adult Literature Project


For the next two weeks, Teen Librarian Toolbox will be focusing on sexual violence in LGBTQIA+ young adult literature. This is part of our blog’s larger ongoing sexual violence in young adult literature (or SVYALit) project.


We’re grateful to Vee Signorelli, admin and co-founder of GayYA, and Nita Tyndall, a moderator at GayYA. who have helped us brainstorm, organize, and facilitate this project.


Throughout the last many months, we have reached out on the blog and Twitter to seek input and to find people interested in contributing posts to this series. We got a great response and are happy to have such a wide variety of posts coming up from so many contributors. Posts examine sexual violence, issues of consent, and depictions of positive sexual experiences, among other things. I’m including everyone’s Twitter handles to make it easier for you to go follow all of them now (no, really — go do it now!).


Meet the contributors to our series and get an overview of the upcoming posts:


Rob Bittner (@r_bittneris a PhD candidate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. He has a history of working with children’s and YA literature in various contexts, including his MA degree and various award committees through the American Library Association. In his post, “Violence in LGBTIQ Fiction for Young Adults,” he writes about the obligatory sexual violence scene in YA books.


Eden Grey (@edenjeangrey) is the Young Adult Programming Librarian at the busiest branch library in Kentucky. Eden is a reviewer for Young Adult Books Central and School Library Journal. In her post, “Sex and Consent in LGBT Manga,” she explores the differences between portrayals of sex in lesbian and gay manga and heterosexual romance stories in manga.


Dahlia Adler (@MissDahlELamais an Associate Editor of Mathematics by day, a blogger for B&N Teens by night, and writes Contemporary YA and NA at every spare moment in between. She’s the author of the Daylight Falls duology, the upcoming Just Visiting, and Last Will and Testament. In “Why Heteronormativity in YA Hurts More Than You Think,” she examines consent and power dynamics in LGBTQ YA.


Marieke Nijkamp (@mariekeynis a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and wants to grow up to be a time traveler. In the midnight hours of the day she writes young adult stories as well as the occasional middle grade adventure. Her debut young adult novel THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS will be out from Sourcebooks Fire on January 5, 2016. In her post, “Microaggressions and Sexual Violence,” she looks at how microaggressions and sexual violence are closely related as symptoms of a culture that both sexualizes teens’ experiences and others or even fetishizes experiences that deviate from a supposed norm.


Vee Signorelli (@rausicabklvrspends their time writing, reading, hunting through queer book tags on tumblr, and keeping up with school. They’re a passionate feminist, a huge fan of actual representation in media, and a lover of theatre, mythology, and biology. Vee is the admin and co-founder of In their post, “Sex and Romance in Trans YA,” they look at the books in which trans characters have sex, get swept off their feet by a dashing love interest, and explain to their date that they’re trans and have them respond affirmatively.


Rachel Gold (@RachelGoldis the author of Just Girls (Bella Books 2014) and the award-winning Being Emily (Bella Books 2012), the first young adult novel to tell the story of a trans girl from her perspective. She has an MFA in Writing from Hamline University and has spent the last 14 years working in Marketing and Publicity. In her post, “Tough Girls Talk About Rape,” she talks about female-female partner/date rape in her book Just Girls and shares her own personal story.


Sarah Benwell (@SWritesBooks) is a queer, genderqueer author. She lives in the picturesque city of Bath. Which is nice, but she’d much rather be off exploring deserts and jungles elsewhere. Having seen a good chunk of the world, Sarah is a keen advocate for diversity in life and on bookshelves, and she loves nothing more than acquainting herself with both. Her debut novel THE LAST LEAVES FALLING is published by Penguin Random House (UK)/ Simon & Schuster (US). In her post, “Why We Need Abuse and Sexual Violence/Abuse in LGBTQIA YA,” she argues for the importance of these narratives as they show us that we’re not alone and that others have walked this same path.


Megan Honig (@vonmeggz) is a writer and editor and the former Young Adult Collections Specialist for the New York Public Library. She is the author of Urban Grit: A Guide to Street Lit, published by Libraries Unlimited, as well as the popular 30 Days of Street Lit blog series. In her post “Misrepresentations of Violence in Julie Anne Peters’ Rage: A Love Story,” Megan looks at one of the few YA titles depicting an abusive relationship between two girls–a book that, unfortunately, conceals more than illuminates abusive behaviors.


Nita Tyndall (@NitaTyndall is a tiny Southern queer with a deep love of sweet tea and very strong opinions about the best kind of barbecue (hint: it’s vinegar-based.) She attends college in North Carolina and is pursuing a degree in English. In addition to being a YA writer, she is a moderator for The Gay YA and a social media coordinator for WeNeedDiverseBooks. You can find her on tumblr at nitatyndall where she writes about YA and queer things, or on Twitter at @NitaTyndall. In “Coercion and Sexual Violence in LGBTQIA Lit,” Nita focuses on what coercion is and why “positive” or commonplace depictions of it are harmful, particularly in LGBTQ lit, through examining ASK THE PASSENGERS and SHE LOVES YOU, SHE LOVES YOU NOT.


Cheryl Rainfield (@CherylRainfield) is the author of the award-winning SCARS, a novel about a queer teen sexual abuse survivor who uses self-harm to cope; the award-winning HUNTED, a novel about a teen telepath in a world where any paranormal power is illegal; STAINED, about a teen who is abducted and must rescue herself; and PARALLEL VISIONS, about a teen who sees visions and must save a friend. Cheryl is a lesbian feminist and incest and ritual abuse torture survivor. In her article “The Need For Realistic, Compassionate Portrayals of Sexual Violence In LGBTQIA+ (and all YA) Lit ,” she talks about the importance of realistic portrayals of sexual violence and abuse in queer YA lit and how they can help.


Amanda MacGregor (@CiteSomething) is a librarian with a MA degree in children’s literature, a longtime book reviewer for School Library Journal, The Horn Book Guide, and Voice of Youth Advocates, and also a contributor at Teen Librarian Toolbox. In her post, “‘Our Kisses Were Seismic': Positive Sexual Experiences in LGBTQIA+ YA Books,” she shares some of her favorite positive sex/consent books, scenes, and relationships, as well as those offered up by friends on Twitter.

Sunday Reflections: Paper Towns, Miracles and Privilege

sundayreflections**Spoilers for Paper Towns by John Green follow**

At the beginning of Paper Towns by John Green, the main character, Q, says that everyone gets a miracle and claims that his miracle is Margot. The rest of the book is a deconstruction of this idea that people are miracles that save you. People, he comes to realize, are just people. It’s a profound realization, this idea that people come into your life and save you.

I took The Tween to see Paper Towns and it was interesting to see the movie through her eyes. She was moved, in awe. Afterwards I texted a friend a revelation, John Green is her John Hughes. Right now, in this moment, Paper Towns is speaking to her in the same way that The Breakfast Club spoke to me when I was her age. She walked out of the movie thinking it was the best movie she had ever seen. It was the right movie for her at the right time. And as a parent, I appreciated the message that people are just people, that we must take responsibility for our own happiness.

For me, that day was a kind of little miracle. If you are lucky, occasionally you get them, little miracle days. People may not be miracles, but sometimes a moment or a day can be.

Sometimes the realization can come as you play ball with your kids in the front yard on a summer night. The sun is setting, the breeze is blowing just softly enough to cool you down, and you stop for a moment and really look at this child of yours and know that this moment is perfection. A miracle.


Yesterday we got invited to the lake house of a family from church. It was a miracle day I never thought I would experience. The girls and I rode on a boat. The engine hummed beneath us, the boat bounced on the waves, the wind blew in our faces. It was a majesty and a freedom I never thought I would experience in this life.

This family, they asked The Tween if she wanted to ride on a tube behind the boat. Though she was fearful, she said yes. I’m sure in part because she knew she may never have an opportunity to experience this again. As I watched her racing across the top of the lake hanging on to this inter-tube, I relished the joy and freedom I saw on her face. For me, as a mom, this moment was a miracle. This family was giving my child a moment I would never be able to give her and I was grateful that she got to have it.


This idea that people are miracles may be an unfair burden to put upon others, but it’s also true that there are miracle moments in life provided by people. I’ve read several stories lately about a person paying for the groceries of a family who couldn’t afford them at the grocery store – in this moment, those people are definitely miracles. This family that invited us to their lake house – in this moment, they were a miracle. After spending weeks trying to claw my way out of the pit of despair known as depression, my kids needed a moment of freedom and just pure joy. I couldn’t give this day to them, but someone else did and for this moment, they were in fact a miracle.

This idea of miracles, however, is troubling because it plays into this positive social media culture that seems to be growing. Just choose to be happy, be positive, someone has it worse than you they say. Sarah Mclachlan sings a line in a song (Black and White) where she says, “Everybody loves you when you’re easy.” Which is kind of what this positive social media thing is about; we’re supposed to be happy and positive to make it easy on others. They don’t want to sit in their discomfort as we discuss things like grief or depression or poverty or privilege. For some people, it really must be hard to see a miracle. When you’re hungry, scared, stressed out, depressed, even if there is a miracle happening right in front of you it’s so hard to see them. For some people, the miracles are few and far between. Asking them to pretend that they are in a space that they are not for our own personal comfort is not fair. It doesn’t solve problems, it just asks us to pretend that they don’t exist.

This idea of miracles and positive presence, it made me think of privilege. The Tween comes from a place of privilege in some ways, she is a white female who definitely meets conventional beauty standards. But she is also a part of a financially struggling family, she has a mom struggling with depression, her father works weekend nights which means he can’t really see her the only days she isn’t in school, and for the second time in her life her parents both work in different states. For the past seven months she has lived in a constant state of flux as to whether or not we were going to be able to move and settle into a more normal routine. Right now the Magic 8 Ball keeps saying “ask again later.”

Yesterday, she got a miracle. I can imagine there are a lot of kids who feel like they don’t ever get a miracle. When we hear them say this, we need to listen. Even if it makes us uncomfortable. And it’s important to remember that even for kids that sometimes get a miracle day, it doesn’t erase all the stress and fear and anxiety of the non-miracle days. A free meal on Monday doesn’t erase the hunger of Tuesday. Let’s not ask our tweens and teens to be any less than their authentic selves, because by listening to them we may just be given the opportunity to give them a miracle moment. And that is our real privilege in life, to be able to help others.

Friday Finds – July 31, 2015

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Around the Web

Simmons College Homecoming: The Summer Children’s Literature Institute

This past week, I attended Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature‘s Homecoming: An Institute. I went to Simmons for graduate school and haven’t been to an institute since 2005. The institute happens every other summer. They invite a load of great voices from the children’s book world and this year’s lineup was no exception. Below you can see the schedule and then all of the tweets I frantically typed out while listening and trying to absorb all of the brilliance that was crammed into those few days.


Fittingly, the theme this year was homecoming. Boston will always be one of my homes. Spending a week with the usual suspects in my girlgang and then getting to go home again to my Simmons community (and my Children’s Book Shop gang) was a weird and wonderful time warp. Search #chlithome15 on Twitter for more tweets from the conference. You can also find the Storify of the tweets here at Simmons College Homecoming: The Summer Children’s Literature Institute.












































































5 Reasons Why Maker Days/Labs/Spaces Can Trump Traditional Library Programming

As I approached my position as the YA coordinator at a new library, one of the things I knew I wanted to do was to evaluate my maker programming and try and recreate the parts of it that were successfull while making any necessary changes to improve on the model. And since it was a new idea for this library, I had to be able to prove that there was some benefit into adopting a maker lab model of programming, especially since it can involve a high initial cost. When you are asking administrators to spend money, you need to have some good, solid reasoning for how and why that money is going to be spent. So I went to my new administrators asking that we make that investment of time and money into a maker lab/space so that we could move away from more traditional library programming.


First, let me define what I am meaning here when I use the term “traditional library programming”. For many YS and YA librarians, we are tasked with continually coming up with programs based around an idea or a theme. For example, you might host a Doctor Who party with a variety of Doctor Who activities or a Mockingjay release party. Traditionally, we are tasked with coming up with a program theme and then create a program around that theme. It can involve a currently popular book, movie or tv show, it can be a craft, or it can be related to a specific medium, such as an anime club. I have been doing programs like these for 20+ years and I understand the who, what, when, why and where of them. I am in no way going to suggest that we should stop doing them. I am, however, going to suggest that we do less of them and develop more programs like MakerSpaces – whether permanent installations or a rotating program like Maker Mondays – to be the primary foundation of tween and teen programming in our libraries.


In comparison, I have been hosting a regular Maker Mondays for a couple of years now at two different libraries. At The Public Library of Mount Vernon of Knox County (OH), I have 3 carts loaded up with a variety of maker stations that include things like Legos, Little Bits, button makers and more. I go in on a Monday, set up the make lab, and have an open program for several hours. I take a laptop with me so that I can work on book orders or research more maker items (you can rotate new stations in and out to keep it fresh) or answer email in the event that I have a down time with no patrons in the library. Though to be honest, I have yet to have any down time during one of these open labs, even on days when I have had the make lab space open for five hours. They are popular and busy.

So what makes a maker lab/space more desirable than engaging in more traditional library programming? I’m glad you asked.

1. Predictability Drives Up Attendance Numbers

If I have a maker lab or Maker Monday every Monday from say 3 to 9 PM, teens and staff know when upcoming programming is taking place. Having a regularly occurring program with a set schedule eliminates the guess work for our intended audience; it helps them develop a regular routine of coming to the library. My teens at my previous library knew that on Mondays they can come to the library after school and hang out and make stuff. This is the same principle that is applied with things like teen cafes, teen hangouts, or homework help sessions. There’s no carrying around calendars or looking events up on the webpage only to realize that you’ve missed something really cool, it’s regular and predictable and becomes a part of everyone’s routine.


2. Provides Developmentally Appropriate Opportunities for Self Direction and Exploration

It’s fun to have a trivia night or for everyone to go from station to station during a Harry Potter party, but it’s also developmentally appropriate to give teens the space and freedom to engage in some self directed behaviors, to give them an opportunity to make choices about how they want to spend their time, what they want to create, and what they want to explore. A maker lab or space does this. I have a variety of options, they get to choose what they do or don’t do. It’s empowering, it’s asset building, and it helps them transition into the oncoming storm of independence.

July 6

3. Balances Hands On Learning with Opportunities for Social Interaction

I have routinely found that one of the things that most teens primarily want in library events is a time for social interaction. If you can provide an opportunity for teens to do something and be social, it’s win-win. Part of the large appeal with something with like Rainbow Looms, which were a huge deal not too long ago, is that it is something simple you can do with your hands while sitting around a table and talking with your friends. I like having a couple of maker stations on hand that create this same time of atmosphere for teens. The teens who wish to can go work together on robotics and being really involved with that process, while other teens can do something that requires less attentiveness and catch up with their friends in a safe environment.


4.Creates a Better Time Management Scenario

Programming and collection development are the two parts of my job that require the most amount of time. At one library I worked at they hired an operations manager from the corporate world with no library experience, she put together a spread sheet for all the librarians of how they should be spending their forty hours a week and allotted one hour to programming. This was an impossible scenario because I was required to have a weekly one hour program, but programming involves more than just this one hour. I had to research each program, deciding which activities we would do, purchase and organize staff and supplies, market the program, set up the program, execute the program and then clean up after the program. Having a regularly recurring maker lab/space cuts down on the amount of time I spend researching, setting up and marketing a program, freeing up more time for me to do other things, like school visits or innovate new elements for the library like our circulating maker kits.

In addition, having a regularly recurring event is easy to brand, which cuts down on the amount of time you spend creating and distributing marketing materials. If you develop publicity materials for your maker space, including a unique logo, then you are kind of set in the marketing department. It’s easy to go in an change dates, re-print, push out notifications on your social media pages. Where as every time you have a new, unique program you have to start from scratch with your marketing effort.

Even if I continue to have say one additional program every month or every other month, like a Paper Towns or Mockingjay release party, the regular maker lab/space gives me more time to research and put together higher quality programs for these bigger events as opposed to having a lot of smaller programs that have to be researched, organized and marketed. Even though I am engaging in what appears to be more regular programming, each individual program takes up less background work, giving me more time for other things.


5. Has Larger General Audience Appeal

If I have a Doctor Who party, which I have and definitely will again, I am creating an event with a more limited audience. Each time we pick a program theme, we are pre-selecting and limiting our audience. A Doctor Who party appeals to Doctor Who fans, an anime club appeals to anime fans, a gaming night appeals to gamers, etc. When we create a larger event with a variety of activity choices, like a maker lab/space, we are creating programs that are more open for the general public. We are inviting a larger target audience into our space, serving a more diverse portion of our local communities.

A good maker labe/space would involve high and low tech options, you can even throw a craft station or two in there. Right out of the gate, because there is no theme except come make stuff, you are opening your event up to a larger portion of the population. At a recent Maker Monday I had around 75 tweens and teens come in and make stuff with me, that’s more than I get at most of my regular themed programs, except of course for something like a Harry Potter night.

And as I said, I’m not going to stop having some traditionally themed programs, I am just transitioning the ratio of my programming for the reasons stated above. And as the maker movement eventually phases out in popularity, which it probably will, I’ll have to rethink my programming strategy once again. I have been doing this for 20+ years now, this is the strategy that is working for me now, it’s different than the strategy that I used 5 years ago, and I’m sure it will be different than the strategy I use 5 years from now. Being a good YA librarian means paying attention to the needs of my audience and making changes when needed. This is what works best for me now, and as long as it continues to do so I will keep doing it. But you and I both know that won’t be forever. Librarianship is all about change; the core of who we are and what we do remains the same, but the tools we use and the ways in which we do it change from time to time.

MakerSpace Notes:

My Original Mobile Makerspace (the text below)
My Updated Mobile Makerspace
MakerSpace Tech Tools Comparison Chart
The Unboxing and Learning Curve
Exploring Circulating Maker Kits and Circulating Maker Kits part 2 with a Book List
The Maker Bookshelf/Collection (with a book list)
Strawbees part 1 and part 2
Things I Learned Visiting the Cincinnati MakerSpace: Fun with Buttons! Edition
Creating and Using an iPad Lab in Your Library
Take 5: 5 Tools for Movie Making in Your MakerSpace
Take 5: The Robot Test Kitchen Reading List

App Review: A Beautiful Mess

Last week while discussing the Candy Camera app, suggested by The Tween and the Bestie, librarian Maria Selke reminded me of the A Beautiful Mess photo app. I am a huge fan of the A Beautiful Mess (ABM) blog, so I had actually purchased the app well over a year ago. The only problem is that I had an older device with an older operating system and it never worked for me. Fast forward to today and I had to get a newer device and I decided to re-load the app and it does indeed work. But would I love the app as much as I love the blog?

The short answer is, no.

A Beautiful Mess is a blog run by two women, Elsie and Emma, that focuses on crafts, DIY, food and photography. The crafts/DIY and photography tips section are the parts I love most. So I was looking forward to this photo app.


Availabe for both iTunes and Androids

The 411:


$0.99 for the app itself. But you have to make a bunch of additional in app purchases if you want more functionality.

The Basics:

You can alter a photo or create a collage.

Using the backgrounds provided, you can also make whimsical quotes or create a background with a photo overlay.

There are about 25 filters in the version I have, which is the basic version.

You can add doodles and text overlays, which is the part of the app that excels.

Here are some pictures I created with the app:



For this picture, I used a photo that I had created and filtered in the Candy Camera app, as you can see the Candy Camera watermark there. I went in and added the whimsical elements, the border and wording, using the ABM app.


This last image is made using the background feature, for obvious reasons. It is my favorite part of the ABM app.


Final Thoughts:

If I had to describe the A Beautiful Mess app in one word, it would be whimsy. This is obviously an app designed to help you create those whimsical photos with your cutesy borders and text overlays. It accomplishes that well, though I want an app that does a little more than that.

It has a list of some of the top in-app purchases, which I have not purchased:

  1. Font Pack$0.99
  2. Dainty Borders$0.99
  3. Mod Backgrounds$0.99
  4. New Phrases (One)$0.99
  5. New Phrases (two)$0.99
  6. Sketchbook & Shape Borders$0.99
  7. Arrow & Symbol Doodles$0.99
  8. Word Bubble Doodles$0.99
  9. Geo Backgrounds Pack$0.99
  10. Font Pack 2$0.99

So it’s possible that by making some additional purchases I could do more things and would be more impressed, but all those in app purchases add up and I am on a tight budget so this app is not the right app for me.

What Others are Saying:

This comparison chart allows you to look at the features of A Beautiful Mess that matter most to you and explore some other photo app options. It’s kind of a Consumer Reports feature on the ABM app.

C-Net called it “cute and crafty, but not much else.”

Canvas Pop liked the retro feel and ease of use.

Final Thoughts:

If you want to make cute, crafty, or whimsical pics, this app is probably for you. It definitely would make great blog pics for crafty/DIY blogs that were going for a certain type of audience. I think I still like OVER best for adding texts to my graphics. It’s a little costly to get the full functionality of the app, so it’s not my go to app by any means. It has a pretty decent overall rating on the iTunes store.

There is also this A Beautiful Mess Photo Ideas Book, published in 2013. I haven’t seen it, but they have great tips and ideas on their blog so it might be worth checking out.


My top 5 photo apps are:

  • BeFunky
  • ComicBook – makes great comic book pages
  • PhotoShake – I use it to make bookmarks and grid photos
  • Over – for adding text
  • Hipstamtic – for the various lens and film combinations

Definitely check out the A Beautiful Mess photo tips and e-courses.

More Tech Talk

Book Review: Forever for a Year by B.T. Gottfred

FOREVERTwo teens take turns narrating their story in this painfully honest look at young love and all of its ups and downs in B.T. Gottfred’s FOREVER FOR A YEAR.


For Carolina, 9th grade brings big changes. She stops going by “Carrie” in an attempt to be taken more seriously. She’s smart and geeky, but hopes to downplay those qualities in her effort to become more popular. Her best friend Peggy, now going by her full name of Marguerite, happens to have an extremely popular (and mean/shallow/insufferable) sister, Katherine, who is determined to make them the hottest girls in their class. This means tutorials on things like what to wear, how to walk, where to sit, and, most importantly, how to get boys to like them. Carolina understands all of this is kind of ridiculous and ultimately not important, but she’s excited about high school and the possibility of overhauling her image.


For Trevor, 9th grade means a new school and a repeat of a school year. Recently transplanted from California to Illinois, Trevor is decidedly not excited about high school. He’s not excited about anything, actually. “Life is pointless” is one of his mottos. His mother recently attempted suicide and lives in a depressed fog. Trevor’s mindset isn’t much better.


The two teens meet on the first day of school and it’s love at first sight. Really. They both fall hard, even when they know nothing, really, about each other—even when they’ve barely even spoken. It’s just one of those things. They recognize something in each other and are drawn to one another. It doesn’t take long for them to start talking and then start dating. They are both extremely honest about their feelings (though not about everything else in their lives)—awkwardly, painfully earnestly so. They’re both so infatuated and self-conscious and sweet. Carolina is all, Oh my gosh! all the time and Trevor is like, God I love her, but how will this fall apart, and why is everything I say and think so cheesy?


A lot of their story is devoted to their increasingly sexual relationship—and the reader is right there with them for every detail. EVERY DETAIL. There are some of the greatest scenes of talking about sex, both between Trevor and Carolina and between each of them and their parents, that I have read in a long time. Trevor’s mom has an extremely candid talk with him. “Talk to her about things. Okay? Don’t not talk about it just because it’s awkward. If you want to do things sexually, ask her how it makes her feel first. Ask how it feels during it, ask her how it feels afterward. This might sound easy now, and in the moment it’s going to seem impossible, but it’s very important,” she tells him. This is just one of many conversations about sex (later Trevor even admits to her that he’s not good at making Carolina have orgasms and his mom replies, “No teenage boy in the world is.”). Both teens freely mention researching different things about sex, watching porn, things like that. When they do start to have sex, it’s not that great for Carolina, and they get caught up in the moment—repeatedly—and skip protection.


This is young love. It’s sweet and exciting but also upsetting and sometimes way too heavy. Gottfred shows readers all of the parts of being in love—the secrets, the stresses, the joys, the confusion, everything. No matter how old a person is, love is complicated. Their youth doesn’t make their feelings any less serious or real. At times I admit that I felt like, okay, I get it, you’re obsessed with each other, move the story along! But then I remembered how it felt to fall in love for the first time, and how every detail felt amazing, and what a wild ride it was. And in the end, Carolina and Trevor make some big realizations about each other (after many other big realizations about themselves, their families, their relationship, and more).


Readers will root for these two while likely understanding that 9th grade love can’t last. The alternate narration really works here—not only are their voices distinctive, but the way they retell the same part of the story or pick up where the other left off helps move along the story. A lot of it is repetitive—They love each other! Oh my gosh! They make out! Their parents are making them bonkers!—but it’s also real. As much more of a Trevor-type, I found Carolina’s enthusiastic optimism and naiveté a little overbearing at first, but she grew on me as their relationship matured. The book did go on longer than was probably necessary, but that’s kind of fitting, actually, as many relationships do too. I tried to read this with my teenage eyes instead of my nearly-40-year-old-eyes, because adult me often found the repetitiveness and all of Carolina’s exclamations overbearingly tedious. Overall, though, a really honest, romantic, and nuanced (if overlong) look at young love. Those who can relate or who wish they could will eagerly snatch this one up.


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781627791915

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Publication date: 7/7/2015

Pages: 432