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Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

nessPublisher’s description:

A new YA novel from novelist Patrick Ness, author of the Carnegie Medal- and Kate Greenaway Medal-winning A Monster Calls and the critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a bold and irreverent novel that powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.


Amanda’s thoughts:

2015 has really delivered some fantastic books. Add this one to my favorites list. I’m pretty much in love with this book, but I’ll try to not just gush on and on. TRY.


Here’s how this book is structured: Each chapter begins with a little summary, so we get:

Chapter the first, in which the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent Vessel; and after being chased by her through the woods, indie kid Finn meets his final fate.


But then the chapter goes on to talk about other stuff entirely–the things that are going on with the people who just live in the town, not the the kids referenced in the chapter setup. Tiny little bits from that storyline that carries through in the chapter descriptions show up in the main story, but from the view of Mikey and friends, who are mostly just witnessing whatever this Immortals business is from afar. It’s a brilliant setup.


It’s a month prior to graduation and Mel, Mikey, Henna, and Jared are spending their last few weeks all together before their post-high school lives split them up. Outside of the constant background threat of possible undead masses coming to destroy the town, the kids lead pretty normal lives. Mike is full of anxiety about his friends, his future, and his family. He suffers from OCD and can’t stop getting stuck in repetitive loops. Mel, who’s one year older than her brother Mike, is making up for the year of school she lost while battling anorexia. Henna, the object of Mike’s affection, is not super excited to be heading to a war-torn African country for the summer. And Jared? Well, he’s a little less normal. He’s three-quarters Jewish and one-quarter God. His mother was a half-Goddess. So what exactly is Jared a god of? Cats. Mikey starts to stress out more when Nathan moves to town five weeks before graduation. Henna seems interested in him, much to Mikey’s dismay, and he can’t help but think it’s super suspicious that Nathan’s arrival happens to coincide with a resurgence of supernatural activity.


There is a lot to love about this book. The structure is intriguing, the writing is smart and funny, and the characters are incredibly interesting and well-developed. I love how they interact with each other and care for each other. At one point, Mike’s OCD has made him wash his face until it’s raw. Jared dabs some moisturizer on it for him. In Mike’s narration, he says, “Yeah, I know most people would think it weird that two guy friends touch as much as we do, but when you choose your family, you get to choose how it is between you, too. This is how we work. I hope you get to choose your family and I hope it means as much to you as mine does to me.” These friends care deeply for one another (and explore just what exactly might be found in the depth of those feelings, with Mike noting very matter-of-factly that he and Jared have hooked up in the past–“And fine, he and I have messed around a few times growing up together, even though I like girls, even though I like Henna, because a horny teenage boy would do it with a tree trunk if it offered at the right moment….”). Their stories dovetail at times with the story of the indie kids waging war against a potential apocalypse (those poor indie kids, always battling the undead, ghosts, and vampires. At one point, Mike notes there are two more indie kids dead. Henna says, “This is worse than when they were all dying beautifully of cancer.” GOD I LOVE THIS BOOK), but they prove that daily teenage life is just as fraught and dramatic as the lives of The Chosen Ones.


Here’s what I want to talk about for the rest of the review: Mental health, therapy, and medication. Friends, I was cheering out loud while reading this. The characters have many frank discussions about these topics and I FINALLY felt like someone really did a great job showing the good that therapy and medication can do. An ongoing conversation many of us have been having is about the worrisome messages some books send regarding mental health and the stigma of diagnosis, treatment, and medication. (You can go back to my piece Mental Health Medications are Not Your Enemy for some more context.) As much as I want to quote every line related to these topics, I’ll just share a few. For background, Mikey has seen a therapist for his OCD and anxiety and been medicated in the past. He’s not currently seeing someone or being treated. Jared finds him endlessly washing his face. He says:

“There’s no shame in therapy, Mike… Or medicine. You shouldn’t have to go through this.”


When Mikey finally tells his mother (who is a self-absorbed politician) that he thinks he needs to see a psychiatrist again, that he needs to be medicated, she just says okay and helps him do that. For all of her other failings, she understands he needs help and makes sure he gets it.


Mike talks to his therapist about how awful the OCD is, how debilitating the anxiety feels, how he worries that if he can’t break himself out of a loop, the only way to end it will be to kill himself. He says, “I feel like I’m at the bottom of a well. I feel like I’m way down this deep, deep hole and I’m looking up and all there is is this little dot of light and I have to shout at the top of my lungs for anyone to hear me and even when I do, I say the wrong thing or they don’t really listen or they’re just humoring me.” His struggles are very much on the page and he wrestles with what to do to overcome them. His therapist says he’d like to start him back on medication. Mike makes a face.

“… Why are you making that face?”

“Medication is a … failure?”

“The biggest one. Like I’m so broken, I need medical help.”

“Cancer patients don’t call chemotherapy a failure. Diabetics don’t call insulin a failure.”

His therapist goes on to ask why he feels he’s responsible for his anxiety. During their fantastic discussion, he says to Mike, “Medication will address the anxiety, not get rid of it, but reduce it to a manageable level, maybe even the same level as other people so that—and here’s the key thing—we can talk about it. Make it something you can live with. You still have work to do, but the medication lets you stay alive long enough to do that work.”

As a person with anxiety disorder, as a parent raising a kid in therapy and on medication for anxiety disorder, as someone deeply invested in wanting teenagers to understand that there is help for their depression, or anxiety, or whatever, I applaud these scenes. They never felt preachy or forced. Mikey is honest, Jared is compassionate, the therapist is effective and optimistic.


It’s impossible to capture the brilliance of this book in a review, but I’m hoping you’ll go out and pick it up and experience it for yourself. This is the kind of book you finish reading and want to reread again just to savor it. I can’t wait to start recommending this to teens at the library. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062403162

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 10/06/2015



Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

16060716I waited almost 2 years for this sequel to the genius The Diviners, but it was so worth it. It follows a group of young people with exceptional abilities as they navigate life in New York City in the 1920s. Each character has a thread in the story, which somewhat crossed in Diviners, but all weave together to form a more complete picture by the end of Lair of Dreams.

Following closely on the end of The Diviners, we see Evie O’Neill living the life of a party girl after her break with her Uncle Will and her self outing as a diviner. She’s living on her own and working as “America’s Sweetheart Seer” at a radio station where she does a show reading objects for audience members. Behind her devil may care facade, Evie is struggling to deal with both the recent trauma of defeating ‘Naughty John’ and the more distant loss of her beloved brother.

Underground work in the city disrupts a spirit who walks through the dreams of the living and steals their life force. To the living, the symptoms appear to be some sort of sleeping sickness, as the victims never awake and a hive-like rash spreads across their bodies. Because it began in the immigrant Chinese community, they are blamed for it and find themselves increasingly isolated, persecuted, and at one point rounded up for who knows what treatment – internment, deportation? Many, if not all, of those rounded up are American citizens.

In the midst of this, Henry, who can walk in dreams, meets another dream walker, Ling Chan. Together they search for Henry’s lost love, Louis, whom he had to leave behind in Louisiana. As they explore the dream world they can access together, they delve deeper into the mystery of the sleeping sickness. In this dream world, Ling Chan meets a young girl who is on her way from China to San Francisco, then New York, to be married. They develop a close friendship and she teaches Ling much about manipulating the dream world.

Meanwhile, Memphis is manipulated into healing someone with the sleeping sickness and exposes his renewed abilities. He is still wooing Theta, who is still hiding her true identity and her diviner ability. Meanwhile Sam, in trying to help Jericho save the museum in Uncle Will’s extended absence, is manipulating Evie through the advantageous misunderstanding of the media that he and Evie are betrothed. To both Evie and Sam’s dismay, they begin to have feelings for each other. As Sam and Jericho delve deeper into Uncle Will’s past to try to save the museum, they begin to uncover some of the mystery behind the diviners and the secret government program set up to use them. Sam and Evie spend some time investigating and learn more of what happened to Sam’s mother. We see glimpses of these government agents and what is going on behind the scenes, including their use of eugenics tents at fairs to identify possible diviners. Sam also inadvertently reveals his own diviner ability in a desperate moment.

There is so much more going on in this 613 page work of art. It is a complex and extremely detailed imagined world with multiple plots, motives, and themes. In some ways it struck me as almost X-Files like in that it has multiple ‘monster of the week’ plots as well as an overarching conspiracy of epic proportions. But this is both a compliment and a simplification. Libba Bray has created a masterpiece in this work.

When a coworker asked what I was reading and I tried to describe it, I was somewhat overwhelmed. It’s easier to explain the surface plot of what is going on than the themes behind it, but this is what I ended up telling her. At it’s heart, Lair of Dreams  is an excoriation of the ideology behind ‘American Exceptionalism.’ This ideology that asserts our unique values of democracy and personal liberty has historically only been within the reach of those white, heterosexual, neurotypical males with access to either property or education through family heritage. What Bray has created exposes the many ways in which this ideology either ignores or twists so much of our history as a nation. In Lair of Dreams, she exposes all of the damage and evil we have done to our people over the course of our history as a country. In many ways, despite all of our advances, it is the damage and evil we continue to do.

I cannot sing high enough praises in recommending this book to any collection serving both Young Adult and Adult readership. I wholeheartedly wish I could send multiple copies to every high school in the nation.


If Adults Are the People Buying YA Literature, Should We Still Call It YA? I Say Yes!

whyyaOn Monday, David Thorpe at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure pointed out that current statistics indicate that 80% of YA fiction titles are purchased by adults. This percentage has seemingly increased since the last time we talked about this here at TLT back in 2012 when we discussed that We NEED YA Books for Teens. At that time the percentage was in the high 50s. And since then we have seen a huge increase in adults openly embracing their love of reading YA. They even participate in things like the Forever YA Book Club (and I am a member of the DFW chapter). I have no problem with adults reading and enjoying YA fiction. I am an adult who reads and enjoys YA fiction. But I do have a problem with adults taking over the YA market in such a way that we start considering whether or not we should even call the market YA. The answer is: we should. Teens need, want and read YA fiction. The YA category in bookstores and libraries makes it that much easier for teens to find the books they want, need and read. Like the Juniors section at your local clothing store or the Country category at your local record store, it’s a label designed to help the target market easily find the product they are looking for. It doesn’t exclude others, but it does help increase access. It also is a label of validation. By writing, publishing and marketing age appropriate books for teen readers that they can more easily identify with, we as a society communicate to our teens that we respect them, we value them, that they have a space among us to call home. I said a lot of these same types of things on Monday when I tweeted about this so rather than repeat myself, I Storified the tweets for you. There are also some tweets from others that were wise and affirming. And if you are interested, here is another passionate defense I make about YA literature titled Dear Media, Let Me Help You Write That Article About YA Literature.

What should we call YA (this link will take you to the Storify story)

If Most YA is Bought by Adults, Should We Still Call it YA?

Once again it has come up that a majority of YA fiction tends to be purchased by adults and the question was asked, should we still call it YA if adults are the ones mostly buying (and presumably reading) it? And here is my answer (with some help from my friends on Twitter).

  1. I have a lot of thoughts about this, but my basic answer is yes. Other useful info in the post as well. …
  2. Re last RT: TEENS DESERVING THEIR OWN BOOKS! So please don’t let the fact that adults are buying/reading YA take YA away from them.
  3. Re last RT: TEENS DESERVING THEIR OWN BOOKS! So please don’t let the fact that adults are buying/reading YA take YA away from them.
  4. There are so many signals society already sends that let teens know we don’t value them. Keep YA, and Keep YA for Teens.
  5. I begrudge no adult who wants to buy and read YA for whatever reason, but let’s not change YA because they do. Teens NEED YA.
  6. As a YA librarian, I can assure that TEENS WANT, NEED, AND READ YA. Every day I talk with them. Trust me.
  7. Yes, they need to know where/how to find the books that reflect their lives. Adults already have large sections. …
  8. I would love to know more about this as well. I mean, I buy YA. I read YA. I also have a Teen. And I work w/teens. …
  9. .@TLT16 @JensBookPage Teens have limited disposable income. Most of their things are purchased by adults.
  10. .@TLT16 @JensBookPage We never say “most teen clothing is purchased by adults! maybe we should call it something different!”
  11. There was almost no YA when I was a teen. I read adult books. What a difference it would be if I had access 2 the YA books 2day. I needed YA
  12. I needed to know that my peers thought, feared, and worried about the same things. That I wasn’t alone. That I wasn’t abnormal.
  13. I needed to know that there were other sexual assault survivors, that there were other anorexics, others who were lost.
  14. Anything good that teens have, adults want to claim for themselves, which leads to pushing teens out of it. grrrr. @TLT16
  15. I couldn’t relate to the things in the adult fiction I read. I didn’t know what it meant to be married. To be a mom. I struggled 2 connect.
  16. When I see my teens reading YA, I see how much it matters. How much it helps them in this personal journey.
  17. I needed YA when I was a teen because it probably saved my life. Thank you, Wintergirls. …
  18. The “but adults read YA too” argument reminds me too much of “but all lives matter”- yes they do, but that’s BESIDE THE POINT @TLT16
  19. I see my teenage daughter reading Sarah Dessen, & Kissing in America and more to help her navigate teenage friendships. I am thankful 4 this
  20. I see her dipping her toes into YA romance as she is just starting to think about this & I am grateful it is there for her.
  21. Basically, I’m thankful teens today have the YA they want & need to navigate the teen years. Let them keep it. #yasaves
  22. And yes, YA is well written & funny & entertaining. That doesn’t mean it still can’t be for teens. They deserve quality. They deserve fun.
  23. I’m now going to call my baby & ask her what she’s reading today because that’s another thing about YA, it bonds, builds bridges, open doors
  24. In fact, if you are an adult that cares about any teen, you should read YA and then talk to the teens in your life about it. Communication!

Edited to add this link shared on Twitter by Hippodilly Circus: A Letter to Teachers, Stop Telling Teens You Don’t Like Them

Video Games Weekly: Super Mario Maker

supermariomakerThis week, I’m reviewing Super Mario Maker, which I have been anxiously awaiting for weeks! Super Mario Maker is probably the most unique Mario game Nintendo has put out in recent years, and I’m looking forward to showing you why!

Platform: Wii U

Rated: E for “Everyone”, but don’t let that fool you. This game is rated “E” because there isn’t violence, gore, sex, etc. but that doesn’t mean that kids/teens will be able to beat every level they attempt. For example, there is a level called “Pit of Panga: P-Break” which is the most “difficult” level in Super Mario Maker [for now] that has made grown men cry when they FINALLY beat it. Watch this YouTube video if you don’t believe me (warning: turn down your volume) :

Single or Multiplayer: Single player. You can, however, have teens play with the same policy that my brother and I had while growing up: When you die, I’ll play.

Quick Synopsis: First of all, the video game character “Mario” dates back to the ‘80s. The first Mario arcade game came out in 1983 called Mario Bros. It was a sidescrolling platform jumper, which means Mario runs left to right, and can jump up and down. The goal was always to save Princess Peach from the evil Bowser, and you have to beat levels in order to find her.

Since then, there have been many Mario themed video games, but Super Mario Maker has completely changed the sidescrolling platform jumper genre. Instead of players beating levels designed and created by Nintendo game developers, players create their own levels for other players to beat. This is genius for so many reasons! First of all, adult players [like myself] who have been playing Nintendo games since they were kids can experience some serious nostalgia. Second, Super Mario Maker never feels boring because players from around the world are constantly releasing new levels for others to play. Players can sort of “beat” the game by either defeating the “10 Mario Challenge”, where players are given 10 lives to beat 8 sample levels, or by defeating the “100 Mario Challenge” where they have 100 lives to beat a certain number of levels, but every time you fail a challenge, you have to start over with new levels. This gives the game a long shelf life since the game is always changing and is full of surprises.   Third, this is a great STEM learning opportunity for kids/teens, which I will get to later.


Playing Levels: Players can either use the Wii U Gamepad, Wii Remote, Wii Pro Controller, or a classic controller. In a level, Mario can move right, left, jump up, or slam down. Mario can also change into different “costumes” if the they are available in a level. The goal for each level is to reach the “end”, usually by hitting a switch.

Creating Levels: Players who are creating their own level have to use the Wii U Gamepad to drag and drop items on a course. Players can use a variety of enemies, artwork, and items from previous Mario games to create their level. This is fun because players can also “blend” items to make non-conventional combinations. This makes levels interesting for both older and younger players because every time Mario approaches an item, the player has no clue what is going to happen! I should also mention that in order for a level to be posted online, the creator has to be able to beat it themselves. This is a great game mechanic because it prevents mean people from posting impossible levels! Once your level is complete, the level is posted to the “Course World” where other players can comment and rank your level.

If you’re interested in watching a player create a level, here’s a good YouTube video:

Amiibo: A quick note about Amiibos. Amiibos are tiny figurines that players can purchase to unlock special content from Nintendo, but they are not required in order to play the game. With the Wii U, you place the Amiibo on the Wii U Gamepad near the NFC reader. If you use an Amiibo in Super Mario Maker, it unlocks more costumes for Mario.

STEM Appeal: There is a lot of STEM appeal for teens who are interested in game development. In the video game medium, a game has to have a “balance” in order for it to be considered a “good” game. That balance is mainly between game mechanics and difficulty, although there are other theories/contributing factors that make a good game. By playing Super Mario Maker, teens get a quick introduction to learning that balance. A teen’s goal is to create a level that is challenging enough to make players have a difficult time beating it, but not TOO difficult where it becomes impossible and makes players give up quickly. Remember that “Pit of Panga: P-Break” level that I talked about earlier? That level has been widely popular with hardcore gamers because it nearly impossible to beat, but casual gamers such as myself haven’t even attempted it because I don’t want to invest the time/effort. So, teens have to think about their level’s audience, skill level, and difficulty when creating a level. You know, like a game developer.

Verdict: I definitely recommend this as a core purchase for video game collections. It may or may not do well at a Teen Game Night program because you can only have one player at a time, but teens can pass the controller around when they die. Alternatively, you can ask teens to create a level together and see how it does in the online Course World. Make sure you have an internet connection, otherwise you will not be able to access levels created by other players, nor post your own.

By Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian


$59.99 on Amazon

Book Review: Detour by S. A. Bodeen

detourPublisher’s description:

Livvy Flynn is a big deal – she’s a New York Times-bestselling author whose YA fiction has sold all over the world. She’s rich, she’s famous, she’s gorgeous, and she’s full of herself. When she’s invited to an A-list writer’s conference, she decides to accept so she can have some time to herself. She’s on a tight deadline for her next book, and she has no intention of socializing with the other industry people at the conference. And then she hits the detour.

Before she knows it, her brand new car is wrecked, she’s hurt, and she’s tied to a bed in a nondescript shack in the middle of nowhere. A woman and her apparently manic daughter have kidnapped her. And they have no intention of letting her go.


Amanda’s thoughts:

I sometimes like to think that I’m not the kind of person who enjoys seeing various bad things happen to insufferable people—but I am totally that kind of person. I didn’t necessarily want to see any actual harm come to Livvy, but I did want to see what would happen when she’s knocked off her high horse and held captive in a basement for a few days. As the description says, she’s kidnapped by a woman and her kid (who, weirdly, is standing on a log playing a flute, seemingly just waiting for Livvy to drive along and have an accident right in front of her–that part’s a little convenient, but I’ll go with it). The woman seems to completely hate Livvy and seems to have some kind of history with her.  She wants Livvy to admit what she did, to figure it out, to remember. Livvy doesn’t know, but has plenty of time to think on it as she is left to rot in the basement. While in the basement, Livvy, who is already in a lot of pain from injuries, is further hurt. She’s attacked by bees, which her captors apparently know she’s allergic to, and goes into shock. She’s hungry, dirty, and in pain. Potential hope arrives in the form of a police officer, but it turns out Peg is having an affair with him and blackmails him into keeping her secret. When Peg’s uber-creepy nephew, Wesley, shows up, he makes it clear that he knows a lot about Livvy. She worries they’ve stolen her very private diary—soon her fans could know all about her past as a friendless, bullied kid with trichotillomania (pulling out her hair).


I’m not going to ruin the eventful last few chapters for you. The plot twits and shocks come fast and furious. Some of them were obvious, but some were not. I’m not sure I ever really found any empathy for Livvy, which is okay, because I’m good with unbearable characters remaining unbearable. I think she ended up seeing some things she didn’t like about herself and those around her by the end, but I didn’t need her to learn a lesson or anything from her ordeal. The obvious comparison here is to Misery, but teen readers might not make that connection. This is a good pick especially for reluctant readers who want a fast-paced story with lots of suspenseful twists and turns. The fact that the story is populated solely with odious people who make questionable choices makes this thriller even more interesting as we wait to see who will get theirs and how. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250055545

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Publication date: 10/06/2015

Everyone’s Worst is Their Worst: A guest post by S.A. Bodeen

A close friend of mine grew up under deplorable conditions for modern times: no running water, intermittent electricity, less than plentiful food. I once asked her how she reacts when her children—who have seemingly everything compared to her at their age— complain about something. She smiled and told me, “Everyone’s worst is their worst.”


Growing up in a small town, from second through sixth grade, I was with the same twenty-five kids. I was an introvert with a speech impediment, which made me the perfect target. I once saw a quote “We read to know we are not alone.” Books saved me. Let me say that again: books saved me. For all those years that I never had a friend, I always had a book.


Bullying is all over the web now, and because of my experiences, I have to restrain myself from judging when parents are horrified that their child was left out of a birthday party or something similar. They seem like such minor travesties compared to the things I went through. But everyone’s worst is their worst.


In YA novels, some main characters endure tragic situations, and other characters seem to not have to deal with much at all. But everyone’s worst is their worst.


I’ve read reviews that bash a character for being whiney as they have to deal with their problems, some of which come across as meager compared to what other characters have encountered. And I find myself perplexed at the judgement.  Characters—and humans in general— rarely react the same way to a difficult situation. And no two difficult situations are the same. Because everyone’s worst is their worst.


Readers of YA reflect this. All of their worsts are completely different. But they may need to read to know they are not alone. And while one reader may need to see a character survive worse things than they did, perhaps to commiserate or feel lucky they didn’t have it quite that bad, another reader may not. That reader may need to see someone who did have it easier than they did. Maybe so that they can stand tall and roll their eyes at the ease in which that character goes through life. Maybe to wipe their tears as they wish their road had been that simple. But perhaps, also, to discover and potentially embrace the concept that everyone’s worst is their worst. And the recognition of that goes beyond the page, because it applies to life. Everyone’s worst is their worst. No judgement needed.


S A  Bodeen by V Imagery and DesignS.A. Bodeen is the author of the YA novels The Compound, The Gardener, The Raft, and The Fallout, a Fierce Reads title. She is also the author of the Shipwreck Island series for middle-grade readers. She travels the country making school visits, and lives with her husband outside of Minneapolis. Visit her online at or on Twitter at @sabodeen. 

Middle School Monday – Middle School goes through Grade 8


Yes, I realize most of you know this, but how do you consider it when developing your collection?

fiercereadslogoI was recently invited to interview 4 of the Fierce Reads authors during one of their tour stops in my area (it’s not until next week – I’m so excited!) In preparation, their publicist sent me advanced copies of the titles they’ll be promoting on tour, and I’ve been working my way through them. One of the authors, Leigh Bardugo, is very familiar to me, and I’m really excited to meet her. I already have her Grisha Trilogy in my middle school collection. Another, Josephine Angelini, was an unknown quantity, but I just finished her Trial by Fire, and really enjoyed it. So my first consideration is, would this be good to add to my collection?

My initial instinct is yes, I have students who would really enjoy this title. I think it would appeal to my fans of Cassandra Clare’s novels as well as some of my Divergent and Hunger Games readers. My second instinct is to check the reviews and see where other professionals have gauged its interest level. Most are 14 and up, or 8th grade and up, one is 12 and up. Good. I can add it to my collection. But I know that’s not always going to be the initial reaction amongst my middle school librarian peers.

Self-censorship, or collection development censorship, is a real issue in the middle school library. While I believe it’s important to know your community and your patrons, I think there is a danger in going too far in limiting what is purchased for your middle school collection. I’m fortunate in that the community of readers I serve is extremely diverse. My readers run the full spectrum from very sheltered 11 year olds to extremely worldly 14 year olds, with everything in between. Occasionally that can be a struggle due to budget constraints, but in general it has been a great advantage.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that children and teens will find the books they are ready to read. The main problem, I think, is when the adults in their lives are not ready for them to be ready. This can sometimes include their librarians. But, if you fill your collection with titles that are only recommended for 6th through 8th grades, you are limiting your students access and doing them a great disservice. I include titles with interest recommendations of 3rd through 6th grade in our collection, why would I not add titles recommended for 8th grade and up? 6th grade and 8th grade are both a part of the middle school experience – and it’s important to remember it.

App Review & Blended Pic Tutorial: Fused (with an assist from the Silhouette app)

Monday my co-blogger Heather Booth sent me a text that said,” you might really like this app called Fused.” She had no idea what she was starting as I quickly became obsessed, for the MakerSpace and my teens of course! Using the app I was able to create these images:


The “Love You” overlay in this picture is from Aviary.


I used a silhouette of Thing 2 and blended it with a great pic of her.


I used a silhouette of The Teen doing The Dumplin’ Pose with a picture of crowns to create this ode to Dumplin’.


A picture of stairs overlaid with a silhouette that comes stock with the Fused app.

This pic was further enhanced using an effect in Space Effects and adding Text in Aviary. It took 4 apps to make this picture. I'm probably doing it wrong.

This pic was further enhanced using an effect in Space Effects and adding text in Aviary. It took 4 apps to make this picture. I’m probably doing it wrong.

Now I have been seeing images like this online for years and coveted knowing how to make them. And I’m not going to lie, there was a bit of a learning curve. Here’s how it works, you select a background image and a foreground image and the Fused app blends the two images together. It sounds simple, but there are a few key tricks that improve your outcome.

Tricks and Tips To Keep in Mind

1. It is helpful, though not necessary depending on what you hope to create, if your background image is a black and white silhouette. I found an app called Silhouette to help create this image, more on this in a minute.

2. A big key to your success if having 2 images that are both well taken photographs and that line up well together. For example, I tried to combine a baby silhouette picture of my girls with a current picture of them to show how they have grown and it was hard finding two pictures that lined up well so there faces weren’t being obscured in weird ways. Like, in one attempt you could only see Thing 2’s chin, which didn’t create a very successful end product.

3. Having a nature picture or just a cool colored photo works well, too. Try taking a picture of a neon sign, a sunset, or clouds. These images blend well with others and you don’t have to worry as much about the ways the pictures line up. This image uses a picture of the moon a friend of mine took (used with permission) and a silhouette provided in the Fused app.



A silhouette of Thing 2 blended with a picture of the cloudy sky that I took.

First Step: Create Your Background Silhouette Using the Silhouette App

As I mentioned, I used an app called Silhouette to create the background silhouette for blending purposes. Here you need to start with a picture that has a stark contrast to begin with. If you can, pose yourself or your subject in front of a white or a dark wall and take your photo in black and white. Here’s my initial photo that I used:


I then used the Silhouette app to make it into the black and white silhouette I needed for the Fused app:


A picture with a darker background and a lighter focal point, say a person, will create a white or negative space silhouette.

Darker background with a lighter focal point=white (negative space) silhouette

Darker background with a lighter focal point = white (negative space) silhouette

A picture with a lighter background and a darker focal point will create a black silhouette.

A lighter background with a darker focal point=a black silhouette

A lighter background with a darker focal point = a darker silhouette

Either one works, they just work differently as the Fused app will color in the white space – the negative space – with your other photo. Of course black and white are relative terms, I should probably say negative and positive space The Mr. would say, because you can use an RGB slide bar to colorize your silhouette.

Left: A silhouette of Thing 2 colorized blue Right: Same silhouette blended with a pic of the sky after being spiffed up with the Space Effects app

Left: A silhouette of Thing 2 colorized blue
Right: Same silhouette blended with a pic of the sky after being spiffed up with the Space Effects app

There is also an Invert option that can be used to toggle between a colored or a white silhouette:

The same silhouette from directly above using the Invert option.

The same silhouette from directly above using the Invert option.

It is also helpful to have as little in the background as possible to create your silhouette. Ideally, you would pose your subject in front of a blank wall in a contrasting color.

The above silhouette examples were made using this initial picture, taken at night and lightened. It would have worked better without the dark edges near the top of the frame.

The above silhouette examples were made using this initial picture, taken at night and lightened. It would have worked better without the dark edges near the top of the frame.

And as I mentioned, you do not have to use a black and white silhouette, I just found that Fused app worked better if I did. Insructables has some more information on how to create a photo silhouette. Digital photography school also has some information about photographing silhouettes.

Don’t want to use an app? Here’s a tutorial for creating a silhouette using

Second Step: Using the Fused App

After saving this to my camera roll, I uploaded it as my background picture in Fused. As my foreground I used this picture:


The Fused app gives you several blending options and you just kind of play around with them to find an option that you like best. Within each option it also has a slide bar which allows you to increase the contrast and blend. I used the “screen” option with the two pictures above to create this:


Please note, Fused does not actually have an add text option. I added the text using the Aviary app that I reviewed last week.

I love and highly recommend both of these apps. It takes a little bit of time and trial and error, and some attention to details, to get a good end product; however, as I learned more what worked and what didn’t it became easier to use. The key is having good pictures to start with and it probably won’t surprise you to know that I have tons of those to experiment with.

If you want to get highly sophisticated and have access to Photoshop, here’s a tutorial for creating the same types of effects using that program.

And here is a free online program you can use to create a double exposure effect.

I made this really quickly with the free online double exposure program.

I made this really quickly with the free online double exposure program.

About Fused

BlendPic and InstantBlend are apps similar to Fused that you can also try. I was not able to use InstandBlend as successfully as I was Fused and I have not tried BlendPic. All of them have additional in app purchases. I paid for the upgrade for the Fused app after deciding I really liked it to remove the watermark from my images. In future upgrades of the app I hope that they consider better undo options.

About Silhouette

It’s free and does cool things so no harm, no foul.

Fused also can be used to make videos, but I have no idea how to do that part yet.

Now I’m sure there will be someone out there who will tell me there is a much easier way to do this. :)

Sunday Reflections: The Weight and Meaning of Words, thinking about the casual ways in which we use words associated with mental health issues

From the new bind-up of UGLIES and PRETTIES. A letter from me to you all on the tenth anniversary of Uglies.

A photo posted by Scott Westerfeld (@scott_westerfeld) on

At some point in the last few years I really began paying attention to the words we use and what they mean. There are campaigns to remind people not to use “That’s so gay” as an insult. Or the “R” word. As we realize the origin of words and how they are used to put people down by comparing them to another people group, it has become increasingly clear to me that a great deal of the common phrases we use are in fact incredibly problematic.

And as we, as a society, work towards breaking down the stigma about mental health issues, I think it is also important that we begin to recognize and question the ways in which we use language associated with mental health issues incorrectly. I was reminded of this once again as a fellow librarian pointed out the picture above regarding Scott Westerfeld’s dedication in a new edition of the Uglies series.

Here’s the thing. Schizophrenia is a very real and very difficult mental health issue that many people struggle with:

People with the disorder may hear voices other people don’t hear. They may believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. This can terrify people with the illness and make them withdrawn or extremely agitated. (NIMH:

Approximately 1.1% of the populations is diagnosed as Schizophrenic and it is debilitating and requires treatment.

In comparison, trying on different roles and personalities is a very normal part of adolescent development; it is part of the journey of self discovery, definition and acceptance that all teenagers engage in. In my teenage years I went through a preppy, glam rock, and grunge phase. None of this was abnormal and it’s not “schizophrenic”.

This is an example of how we casually use terms associated with mental health issues incorrectly. And we all do it. Crazy. Psycho. Hysterical. Manic. Schizophrenic. These are just a few of the words that we use incorrectly and often to disparage or discount others, thus making it harder for those who are truly struggling with very real mental health issues to find the help that they need. They suffer in silence because they know that the stigma surrounding mental health issues is very real, we remind them every day when we use language incorrectly.

This is not a post disparaging Scott Westerfeld. Keep in mind that a variety of editors, publishers, etc. signed off on this. I myself have used this term in the same ways that it is used here, suggesting that someone who is displaying inconsistent personality traits is schizophrenic. Chances are that you have as well. Words have real meanings, and there is power in that. We should all be careful in the words that we choose and the ways that they impact those around us, directly and indirectly.

Our teens need to know that the fact that they don’t quite know who they are yet is perfectly normal; it’s not schizophrenic, it is in fact completely normal adolescent behavior. It’s not some type of anomalous behavior that should be labeled with a term that applies to a real mental health issue. And those teens that are struggling with mental health issues need to know that they are valued, respected and supported.

Friday Finds – October 2, 2015


Sunday Reflections: Yes, Teens Still Read! Texas Teen Book Festival Recap

Middle School Monday – The Shrunken Head (Curiosity House #1) – Giveaway!

App Review: Aviary (The quest for the perfect photo app continues)

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Video Game Weekly: Terraria

Book Review: The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy (reviewed by Teen Reviewer Lexi)

A Look at the Akron Public Library Mini Maker Faire

Around the Web

This is a great post on passive programming.

So is this great list of creepy reads.

The Cybil’s are coming – go forth and nominate!

The Kirkus Prize finalists were announced.

Laurie Halse Anderson Wins NCTE Intellectual Freedom Award

This week in authors being brilliant on the internet: Libba Bray.

The Guardian speaks truth about censoring books for teens.