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Book Review: The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Publisher’s description

Told in two distinct and irresistible voices, Junauda Petrus’s bold and lyrical debut is the story of two black girls from very different backgrounds finding love and happiness in a world that seems determined to deny them both.

Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.

Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels—about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner. 

Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.

Junauda Petrus’s debut brilliantly captures the distinctly lush and lyrical voices of Mabel and Audre as they conjure a love that is stronger than hatred, prison, and death and as vast as the blackness between the stars.

Amanda’s thoughts

That summary up there is thorough. I just read it again, when I pasted it in, to see if it’s too thorough—after all, it really hits every major plot point. But while it gives you the broad strokes of the plot, it doesn’t do much to capture how powerful the story is, how beautiful the writing is, or how achingly lovely and profound the connection is between Agnes and Mabel. To be entirely honest, the book started a little slow for me, but once Agnes and Mabel are put in the same space, the story really took off and I became completely immersed in their world, their families, their big thoughts and feelings, and their love.

There is so much to love about this story. Yes, Agnes is sent away when her mother catches her with her girlfriend. She’s shamed and told she’s “nasty” by her mother. But she finds love, support, and acceptance from everyone else in her life. Mabel finds kissing her boyfriend kind of boring, but even just being near her friend Jada makes her all tingly. She’s working out what all this means, but it’s not angst-filled or painful or met with any hate. In Minneapolis, they are surrounded by supportive family and friends, many of whom are queer. And for Agnes, she has Queenie, her grandma, back home in Trinidad, who has always been her closest and most loving person. Queenie fully accepts Agnes for who she is—she always has—and fills with her love, always reminding her of her self-worth and that she’s perfect as she is.

While the story alternates between Mabel and Agnes, we also get some unexpected perspectives. There are chapters about Queenie’s younger life as well as chapters from a memoir Mabel is reading. Written by Afua Mahmoud while incarcerated, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them (his memoir) provides surprising points of connection for Mabel, who feels less alone as she reads his thoughts on life while dealing with her new diagnosis of a terminal illness. All of these voices and experiences speak of hope, connection, loneliness, love, isolation, and freedom. After they become pen pals, Afua tells Mabel that, despite his circumstances, his life is still his own, and so is hers.

Through the lenses of freedom and love, the characters ruminate on the past, the present, and an eternal future found through cosmic connections. They learn to be uncontained, to love without fear or boundaries, to give themselves the space to figure out who they are. The voices from this stunning debut will stay with readers long after the unpredictable ending. Full of love, healing, strength, and spirituality, this is a story that hasn’t been told before—not like this. Be ready to lose a day once you start reading; Mabel and Agnes will draw you into their worlds and not release their grip on you even after the last page. A lovely story that is sad and hopeful all at once.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525555483
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/17/2019

Crafting Community: Instax Locker Decorating

Welcome to a new guest post series called Crafting Community, with me, Stacey Shapiro. I work in a standalone library in central Jersey, but we are fortunate in that every year we can apply for a grant from Union County, the county we reside in. This year, we’re planning to use that money to create a Crafting Community. Cranford is a town with a strong downtown shopping area and lots of local businesses to partner with, so the children’s librarian, Lauren Antolino, came up with the idea of Crafting Community to pay local businesses to host workshops for our patrons. Most of the money will go towards that, but the first big expenditure was Instax cameras.

I first learned about the possibilities of crafting with Instax photos from this blog, and I’ve wanted to do programs with them since then, but haven’t had the funds. The cameras themselves are $50, plus film which you will go through quickly. Luckily, our cameras arrived in plenty of time for the first Instax program.

Instax locker decorating

Supplies:

  • Instax cameras (I purchased 6)
  • Instax film
  • Sharpies
  • Pens
  • Washi tape
  • Roll of magnets to cut
  • Color lenses 

Stickers and other decorations would have been ideal, too.

Step One: Show the teens how the cameras work, turning them on and turning them off. Make sure to take out the film cover prior to any programming (the first photo is always the cover).  Then let them loose! I had a limited quantity of film so I tried to limit them to two apiece, but they were quickly overrunning me. I had enough film for them to all go home with several magnets.

Step Two: Let the film develop. Instax photos don’t need shaking like a Polaroid; it’s easiest to put them down on a table and leave them. Only start decorating once they’ve developed which should be fairly quickly, or else the inks might get squeezed out.

Step Three: Cut out squares of magnets for them to stick on the backs of the photos, and voila, they have magnets to decorate their locker!

I was cautious about how receptive the teens would be to the Instax format, but several teens had their own at home, and they had their friends there and took a bunch of pictures of each other and themselves. All of the teens had fun, and really enjoyed decorating the photos with washi tape. Several didn’t develop at all, and a teen drew on them with Sharpie and took those home as well, so they weren’t wasted. Towards the end of the program, we had one picture left and a kid’s finger slipped and took an accidental, artsy shot and then we were out. But the teens were definitely interested, and they want more crafty programs like this one.


Stacey Shapiro is a teen librarian in Cranford, New Jersey, a cat mom, and a BTS fan. She was a 2019 ALA Emerging Leader and is currently serving on the Printz 2020 committee. When she has any free time, she’s playing Breath of the Wild on the Switch.

More on the Instax Mini at TLT

Friday Finds: September 13, 2019

This Week at TLT

What’s new in LGBTQIA+ YA September 2019

MakerSpace: YouTube Channels to Help Get Your Creative Juices Flowing

Book Review: Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Book Review: The Liar’s Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson

Sunday Reflections: So You Want to Raise a Reader? I have some tips for you

Around the Web

Fall 2019’s Can’t-Miss Young Adult Books

It’s National Suicide Prevention Week

To Prevent School Shootings, Districts Are Surveilling Students’ Online Lives

What’s new in LGBTQIA+ YA September 2019

It’s time for another roundup for new and forthcoming YA (and sometimes not YA) books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters.  The titles I’m including here have LGBTQIA+ main characters as well as secondary characters (in some cases parents), as well as anthologies that include LGBTQIA+ stories. Know of a title I missed in this list? Or know of a forthcoming title that should be on my radar for an upcoming list? Leave a comment or tweet me @CiteSomething. This list covers September 2019 titles. Head over to this link for the previous post (August 2019) in this series. All annotations here are via the publishers/Goodreads. I also have a 2018 master list. I’m working on the 2019 list. I’m happy to send you any list if you’re interested. Tweet at me or email me to request the list. I’m amanda DOT macgregor AT gmail DOT com.

Looking for more information on LGBTQIA+ books or issues? Check out the hashtag here on TLT and go visit YA Pride and LGBTQ Reads, two phenomenal resources. 

The Truth Is by NoNieqa Ramos (ISBN-13: 9781541528772 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 09/03/2019)

A powerful exploration of love, identity, and self-worth through the eyes of a fierce, questioning Puerto Rican teen.

Fifteen-year-old Verdad doesn’t think she has time for love. She’s still struggling to process the recent death of her best friend, Blanca; dealing with the high expectations of her hardworking Puerto Rican mother and the absence of her remarried father; and keeping everyone at a distance. But when she meets Danny, a new guy at school—who happens to be trans—all bets are off. Verdad suddenly has to deal with her mother’s disapproval of her relationship with Danny as well as her own prejudices and questions about her identity, and Danny himself, who is comfortable in his skin but keeping plenty of other secrets.

Red Skies Falling by Alex London (ISBN-13: 9780374306847 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication date: 09/03/2019 Series: Skybound Saga Series #2)

In Red Skies Falling, Alex London’s thrilling sequel to Black Wings Beating, the epic fantasy Skybound Saga continues as twins Kylee and Brysen are separated by the expanse of Uztar, but are preparing for the same war–or so they think.

Kylee is ensconsed in the Sky Castle, training with Mem Uku to master the Hollow Tongue and the Ghost Eagle. But political intrigue abounds and court drama seems to seep through the castle’s stones like blood from a broken feather. Meanwhile, Brysen is still in the Six Villages, preparing for an attack by the Kartami. The Villages have become Uztar’s first line of defense, and refugees are flooding in from the plains. But their arrival lays bare the villagers’ darkest instincts. As Brysen navigates the growing turmoil, he must also grapple with a newfound gift, a burgeoning crush on a mysterious boy, and a shocking betrayal.

The two will meet again on the battlefield, fighting the same war from different sides. But the Ghost Eagle has its own plans.

We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar (ISBN-13: 9781492681045 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 09/03/2019)

A poignant, heartbreaking, and uplifting, story in the tradition of The Perks of Being a Wallflower about three friends coming-of-age in the early 1980s as they struggle to forge their own paths in the face of fear of the unknown.

Michael is content to live in the shadow of his best friends, James and Becky. Plus, his brother, Connor, has already been kicked out of the house for being gay and laying low seems to be Michael’s only chance at avoiding the same fate.

To pass the time before graduation, Michael hangs out at The Echo where he can dance and forget about his father’s angry words, the pressures of school, and the looming threat of AIDS, a disease that everyone is talking about, but no one understands.

Then he meets Gabriel, a boy who actually sees him. A boy who, unlike seemingly everyone else in New York City, is interested in him and not James. And Michael has to decide what he’s willing to risk to be himself.

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman (ISBN-13: 9781541572843 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 09/03/2019)

In this rollicking queer western adventure, acclaimed cartoonist Melanie Gillman (Stonewall Award Honor Book As the Crow Flies) puts readers in the saddle alongside Flor and Grace, a Latinx outlaw and a trans runaway, as they team up to thwart a Confederate plot in the New Mexico Territory. When Flor—also known as the notorious Ghost Hawk—robs the stagecoach that Grace has used to escape her Georgia home, the first thing on her mind is ransom. But when the two get to talking about Flor’s plan to crash a Confederate gala and steal some crucial documents, Grace convinces Flor to let her join the heist.

How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters (ISBN-13: 9781945053801 Publisher: Interlude Press Publication date: 09/10/2019)

Everyone on campus knows Remy Cameron. He’s the out-and-proud, super-likable guy who friends, faculty, and fellow students alike admire for his cheerful confidence. The only person who isn’t entirely sure about Remy Cameron is Remy himself. Under pressure to write an A+ essay defining who he is and who he wants to be, Remy embarks on an emotional journey toward reconciling the outward labels people attach to him with the real Remy Cameron within.

From the author of the bestselling novel Running With Lions, a story about overcoming the labels that try to define our lives.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (ISBN-13: 9780525647072 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 09/10/2019)

The highly-anticipated, genre-defying new novel by award-winning author Akwaeke Emezi that explores themes of identity and justice. Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?

There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

Acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi makes their riveting and timely young adult debut with a book that asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.


The Prom: A Novel Based on the Hit Broadway Musical by Saundra Mitchell, Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin, Matthew Sklar (ISBN-13: 9781984837523 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/10/2019)

An honest, laugh-out-loud, feel-good novel inspired by the hit Broadway musical The Prom—a New York Times Critic’s Pick!

Seventeen-year-old Emma Nolan wants only one thing before she graduates: to dance with her girlfriend at the senior prom. But in her small town of Edgewater, Indiana, that’s like asking for the moon. 

Alyssa Greene is her high school’s “it” girl: popular, head of the student council, and daughter of the PTA president. She also has a secret. She’s been dating Emma for the last year and a half. 

When word gets out that Emma plans to bring a girl as her date, it stirs a community-wide uproar that spirals out of control. Now, the PTA, led by Alyssa’s mother, is threatening to cancel the prom altogether.

Enter Barry Glickman and Dee Dee Allen, two Broadway stars who decide to take up the cause and get a little publicity along the way. But when they arrive in Indiana to fight on Emma’s behalf, their good intentions go quickly south. 

Between Emma facing the fray head-on, Alyssa wavering about coming out, and Barry and Dee Dee basking in all the attention, it’s the perfect prom storm. Only when this unlikely group comes together do they realize that love is always worth fighting for.

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus (ISBN-13: 9780525555483 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/17/2019)

Told in two distinct and irresistible voices, Junauda Petrus’s bold and lyrical debut is the story of two black girls from very different backgrounds finding love and happiness in a world that seems determined to deny them both.

Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.

Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels–about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner. 

Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.

Junauda Petrus’s debut brilliantly captures the distinctly lush and lyrical voices of Mabel and Audre as they conjure a love that is stronger than hatred, prison, and death and as vast as the blackness between the stars.

It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories by Katherine Locke (Editor), Laura Silverman (Editor), Mayim Bialik (Foreword by) (ISBN-13: 9780525646167 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 09/17/2019)

Includes a special introduction by Mayim Bialik, star of The Big Bang Theory and author of the #1 bestseller Girling Up!

Get ready to fall in love, experience heartbreak, and discover the true meaning of identity in this poignant collection of short stories about Jewish teens, including entries by David Levithan, Nova Ren Suma, and more!

A Jewish boy falls in love with a fellow counselor at summer camp. A group of Jewish friends take the trip of a lifetime. A girl meets her new boyfriend’s family over Shabbat dinner. Two best friends put their friendship to the test over the course of a Friday night. A Jewish girl feels pressure to date the only Jewish boy in her grade. Hilarious pranks and disaster ensue at a crush’s Hanukkah party. 

From stories of confronting their relationships with Judaism to rom-coms with a side of bagels and lox, It’s a Whole Spiel features one story after another that says yes, we are Jewish, but we are also queer, and disabled, and creative, and political, and adventurous, and anything we want to be. You will fall in love with this insightful, funny, and romantic Jewish anthology from a collection of diverse Jewish authors.

His Hideous Heart: 13 of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Unsettling Tales Reimagined edited by Dahlia Adler (ISBN-13: 9781250302779 Publisher: Flatiron Books Publication date: 09/10/2019)

Thirteen of YA’s most celebrated names reimagine Edgar Allan Poe’s most surprising, unsettling, and popular tales for a new generation.

Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.

Contributors include Dahlia Adler (reimagining “Ligeia”), Kendare Blake (“Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), amanda lovelace (“The Raven”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).

The Infinite Noise (Bright Sessions Series #1) by Lauren Shippen (ISBN-13: 9781250297518 Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates Publication date: 09/24/2019)

Lauren Shippen’s The Infinite Noise is a stunning, original debut novel based on her wildly popular and award-winning podcast The Bright Sessions.

Caleb Michaels is a sixteen-year-old champion running back. Other than that his life is pretty normal. But when Caleb starts experiencing mood swings that are out of the ordinary for even a teenager, his life moves beyond “typical.”

Caleb is an Atypical, an individual with enhanced abilities. Which sounds pretty cool except Caleb’s ability is extreme empathy—he feels the emotions of everyone around him. Being an empath in high school would be hard enough, but Caleb’s life becomes even more complicated when he keeps getting pulled into the emotional orbit of one of his classmates, Adam. Adam’s feelings are big and all-consuming, but they fit together with Caleb’s feelings in a way that he can’t quite understand.

Caleb’s therapist, Dr. Bright, encourages Caleb to explore this connection by befriending Adam. As he and Adam grow closer, Caleb learns more about his ability, himself, his therapist—who seems to know a lot more than she lets on—and just how dangerous being an Atypical can be.

“What if the X-Men, instead of becoming superheroes, decided to spend some time in therapy?” (Vox on The Bright Sessions)

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall (ISBN-13: 9781984837011 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/24/2019)

In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister—at all costs.

Once a year, a road appears in the forest. And at the end of it, the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons. Lucy’s game isn’t for the faint of heart. If you win, you escape with your life. But if you lose…. 

Sara’s sister disappeared one year ago—and only Sara knows where she is. Becca went to find the ghost of Lucy Gallows and is trapped on the road that leads to her. In the sleepy town of Briar Glen, Lucy’s road is nothing more than local lore. But Sara knows it’s real, and she’s going to find it. 

When Sara and her skeptical friends meet in the forest to search for Becca, the mysterious road unfurls before them. All they have to do is walk down it. But the path to Lucy is not of this world, and it has its own rules. Every mistake summons new horrors. Vengeful spirits and broken, angry creatures are waiting for them to slip, and no one is guaranteed safe passage. The only certainty is this: the road has a toll and it will be paid.

Sara knows that if she steps onto the road, she might not come back. But Becca needs her.

And Lucy is waiting.

High School by Sara Quin, Tegan Quin (ISBN-13: 9780374169947 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication date: 09/24/2019)

From the iconic musicians Tegan and Sara comes a memoir about high school, detailing their first loves and first songs in a compelling look back at their humble beginnings

High School is the revelatory and unique coming-of-age story of Sara and Tegan Quin, identical twins from Calgary, Alberta, who grew up at the height of grunge and rave culture in the nineties, well before they became the celebrated musicians and global LGBTQ icons we know today. While grappling with their identity and sexuality, often alone, they also faced academic meltdown, their parents’ divorce, and the looming pressure of what might come after high school. Written in alternating chapters from both Tegan’s and Sara’s points of view, the book is a raw account of the drugs, alcohol, love, music, and friendship they explored in their formative years.

A transcendent story of first loves and first songs, High School captures the tangle of discordant and parallel memories of two sisters who grew up in distinct ways even as they lived just down the hall from each another. This is the origin story of Tegan and Sara.


MakerSpace: YouTube Channels to Help Get Your Creative Juices Flowing

Like most of our teens, I now have a go to repertoire of YouTube channels that help me get creative ideas for teen programming or makespace ideas. Today, I’m sharing with you some of my favorites. If you have some additional favorites, please share them with me in the comments.

Five Minute Crafts

I actually know about this channel because The Tween is obsessed with it. It has a lot of great craft ideas and hacks. The hot glue gun video you see below has inspired many craft ideas for us both. Of all the channels I have seen, this has the most accessible crafts for those of us looking for projects, tips, tricks and hacks that can be used in library programming. I highly recommend it.

Blossom

Not at the same level as 5 Minute Crafts, but it does have a few gems.

Household Hacker

A lot of these hacks are more elevated and require more sophisticated and dangerous tools. But you can never go wrong with a make the perfect slime video.

Make Workshop

I love basically everything produced by Make. Their books are staples when you consider makerspaces. They are, however, more complex in the tools that they use and the amount of time projects take.

DIY Creative Channel

The title is pretty self explanatory. DIY is a great search term when looking for YouTube channels to follow regarding crafting and making.

DIY Crafts TV

Here’s another channel that offers some fun, simple DIY tutorials for tweens and teens.

There are some other individual crafters to know about as well. Moriah Elizabeth leads you through squishee makeovers (this is another Thing 2 favorite). Karina Garcia is a slime expert that even has her own slime craft kits that you can buy in places like Target. Tasty is the go to place for food related program ideas. And there are several other channels listed here.

If you search things like DIY craft tutorials YouTube, you will find a lot of best of lists to explore. There are YouTube channels dedicated to paint pouring (a very popular activity right now), drawing, making vinyl t-shirts and more. The Teen watches a variety of cookie decorating and nail tutorial videos as well. All of these are great sources of inspiration for program ideas. I will also admit that I find a lot of tweens and teens watch various YouTube channels as stress relievers. The Acrylic Pouring channel can be mesmerizing and stress relieving. Happy watching!

Book Review: Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Publisher’s description

Two friends. One fake dating scheme. What could possibly go wrong?

Frank Li has two names. There’s Frank Li, his American name. Then there’s Sung-Min Li, his Korean name. No one uses his Korean name, not even his parents. Frank barely speaks any Korean. He was born and raised in Southern California.

Even so, his parents still expect him to end up with a nice Korean girl—which is a problem, since Frank is finally dating the girl of his dreams: Brit Means. Brit, who is funny and nerdy just like him. Brit, who makes him laugh like no one else. Brit . . . who is white.

As Frank falls in love for the very first time, he’s forced to confront the fact that while his parents sacrificed everything to raise him in the land of opportunity, their traditional expectations don’t leave a lot of room for him to be a regular American teen. Desperate to be with Brit without his parents finding out, Frank turns to family friend Joy Song, who is in a similar bind. Together, they come up with a plan to help each other and keep their parents off their backs. Frank thinks he’s found the solution to all his problems, but when life throws him a curveball, he’s left wondering whether he ever really knew anything about love—or himself—at all.

In this moving debut novel—featuring striking blue stained edges and beautiful original endpaper art by the author—David Yoon takes on the question of who am I? with a result that is humorous, heartfelt, and ultimately unforgettable.

Amanda’s thoughts

Easily one of my top ten reads this year. EASILY. You know how many books I read a year? A few hundred. Eventually, many of them blur into fuzziness—I can’t remember plots or characters or (gulp) sometimes even that I read them at all. A long time ago, working at The Children’s Book Shop while I was in graduate school, my boss scolded me. “Don’t blot your food!” she told me, watching me devour book after book. I can’t help it—I hardly stop to actually enjoy the writing, so desperate to consume the story. I usually hardly take a breath in between finishing one book and starting the next. But with this book? I read slowly. I let myself NOT read anything the rest of the day after I finished it. And I definitely will not be forgetting plot details or characters. This book is GOOD.

Korean-American Frank isn’t sure where he’s supposed to fit in. The child of immigrants, he always feels like he’s not Korean enough, but he’s not fully American. He loves his parents, who are complicated people. He fully admits they’re racist (and have essentially let their daughter, whose husband is black, walk out of their lives because of this). His best friend, Q, is black, and while he feels totally at home at Q’s house, he rarely has him over. He knows when he eventually finds a girlfriend, she should probably be Korean-American, just to make everything easier. Falling for white Brit means lots of deception. When he begins fake dating his Korean-American friend Joy, as a cover, we can see what may happen, but we can’t predict all of the twists and turns that will come with both his real relationship and his fake one.

While this is a love story, it’s also about so much more. Frank spends an awful lot of time thinking about race and where he fits. He talks with his friends about this. He travels in various circles—the AP kids (the Apeys), the Gathering kids—and fits everywhere and nowhere. He is always learning, rethinking, growing. At one point he thinks, “People who let themselves learn new things are the best kind of people.” Mine, too, Frank. When he starts to date Brit, he eventually realizes that he will always be holding her at a distance because he isn’t being his real self with her (whoever his real self is). But dating Joy turns out to be just as complicated when he begins to see all the gaps in life–gaps in time, in generations, in class, in upbringing, in experience. He’s trying to figure out what labels are for him, or if labels are even helpful, which is not an easy task.

I absolutely loved this book. It’s smart, funny, sweet, sad, cute, and thoughtful in all the best ways. I totally admit that if I start a book that’s more than 250 pages or so, I think, ugh—I bet it won’t need to be so long, mostly just because I want to race through it and onto the next book on my list. At 432 pages, I was wary. But you know what? Every single page needs to exist. I wanted more. The ending is perfect and satisfying, but I wanted more. One last thing: I am an easy crier. I cry at books all the time. If we could play back a reel of my life so far, we could clip together like an entire hour of my son just looking at me in exasperation, saying, “Oh my god—are you crying? Are you crying again? Are you still crying? WHY ARE YOU CRYING SO MUCH?” I am not, however, an easy laugh. It’s the rare book that makes me literally laugh out loud or smile into its pages. This book managed that trick many times. I love how Frank and his friends talk, how they relate, how they support each other. I just love them. I hope you’ll go grab this book and love them too. An utter delight.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984812209
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/10/2019

Book Review: The Liar’s Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson

Publisher’s Book Description

Piper was raised in a cult. 
She just doesn’t know it. 

Seventeen-year-old Piper knows that Father is a Prophet. Infallible. The chosen one.

She would do anything for Father. That’s why she takes care of all her little sisters. That’s why she runs end-of-the-world drills. That’s why she never asks questions. Because Father knows best.

Until the day he doesn’t. Until the day the government raids the compound and separates Piper from her siblings, from Mother, from the Aunts, from all of Father’s followers–even from Caspian, the boy she loves.

Now Piper is living Outside. Among Them.

With a woman They claim is her real mother–a woman They say Father stole her from.

But Piper knows better. And Piper is going to escape.

Karen’s Thoughts

Piper is scared and alone in a room, separated from her family and thrust into a world that she has always been told is dangerous and deranged. She’s angry. She’s alone. And she’s truly home. What Piper doesn’t know is that everything she knows about her life has been a lie, and the story is about unraveling that lie and dealing with the long term psychological complications of being brainwashed and manipulated. It’s an eerily accurate look at the who, what, why and how of cults.

The Liar’s Daughter is a deeply nuanced psychological study that asks us all to imagine what it is like to have grown up in a cult. And it is in the psychology that this book truly excels. Eventually, Piper begins visiting a counselor and the evolution of this relationship, the slow building of trust, the respect this counselor gives to this psychologically injured young woman, and the wisdom that he shares with her about free will and responsibility are truly profound. These are some of the best counseling sessions I have seen presented in YA literature. These are some of the best parts of the book.

As a reader, you also have to give props to the mother and father in this book. They too are an injured party who lost their child years ago and have to live with that fear, guilt and uncertainty only to discover that their child has been raised by a cult leader who has erased their child’s memory and distorted her sense of self and family. They are aching and longing, but they are patient and kind as they try to follow the wisdom of others and allow their daughter to slowly unpack all that has happened to her. They are by no means perfect in the process, as no family would be, but they are truly loving and compassionate in the process.

Piper is an unreliable narrator for a major chunk of this story and it is fascinating to read. She’s justifiably angry and confused and struggling to get back to the place and the people that she thinks are her true family. It’s frustrating to read at time because as an outside reader, your alarm bells are going off from the very first page. But Piper doesn’t have the knowledge that you do and the ways in which that dynamic works are well crafted.

There is a lot of good stuff to read in this book; it’s intriguing and well crafted. It has a slower pace because it is so focused on character as opposed to action, but the psychological aspect is often profound and deeply engaging. It’s not a psychological thriller per se, but it’s close enough to keep readers turning the page and rooting for Piper. The Liar’s Daughter clearly demonstrates that even in the most traumatic of experiences, with good support and access to resources, you can step on a road to recovery and begin a journey to a healthy self. The Liar’s Daughter is a compassionate and engaging exploration of the psychological trauma of being raised in a cult. Recommended.

Publishes September 10th, 2019 from Holiday House

Sunday Reflections: So You Want to Raise a Reader? I have some tips for you

I am both a librarian and a mother. In fact, I am the mother of two daughters, one who is a prolific reader (age 17) and one who struggles to read or enjoy reading because of dyslexia (age 10). In all of these journeys, I’ve learned a lot about what I think we do right – and wrong – in the classroom and in our homes to help or hinder our children in the quest to develop a love of reading. And make no mistake here, this is what I think our ultimate goal is: to help our children develop a love of reading so that they will continue to be lifelong readers because reading has tremendous value. It’s not just a necessary skill, it can and should be an enjoyable practice that we can choose to engage in of our own free will during any moment that has intellectual, social, emotional and health benefits. Yes, there are health benefits to reading because it can help reduce stress, among other things. So my goal here is to help us all cultivate a true intrinsic love of reading in our children to carry them through their lifetime.

Given that stated goal, I want to share with you what I believe we do right and wrong and can do better. This is a culmination of 26 years experience working in libraries, 26 years of reading professional literature on the topic, and 17 years of parenting experience. You will find a lot of this stuff in other places and often said better and with research and data to back it up, but I hope this will help us all stop and consider what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what effect it may or may not have.

So you want to raise a reader? I have some tips for you.

Do not fight about reading. Ever.

We fight about homework, making the bed, taking a shower, eating your vegetables, etc. Teachers create assignments that lead to those same types of fighting around the topic of books and reading. All of that fighting instills in our children values and perceptions regarding the topic we are fighting about. I realized at one point that my husband was fighting a lot with one of my daughters about what she was reading, and it was making her want to stop reading period. I saw this pattern repeated myself last year when I was fighting with my youngest child about reading and a school reading assignment. Fighting about reading does not help build positive feelings about reading. It becomes a source of stress, frustration and anger for all parties. We need to find ways to get kids reading that don’t result in fighting in school or at home. We need to take away all this negativity surrounding the topic of reading.

Don’t use reading as a reward or a punishment

Reading has value in and of itself and when you tie it into other things as either a reward or a punishment, you are complicating this message. Reading then is no longer about reading, but it is about other things. I once read an article that talks about how you shouldn’t use bed as a punishment, sending children to bed because they are in trouble for some totally unrelated thing, because the child will just develop negative feelings about their room, their bed, and sleep in general, which can lead to disordered sleep. This is also true of reading. If you want to raise a reader, don’t tie reading in with other things. Recognize the value that reading has and let it stand on its own. Don’t complicate the feelings surrounding the topic of reading by tying it into things it doesn’t need to be tied into.

Listening to audio books is reading

Like many people, I use to think that listening to audio books is not reading. Then I started raising a daughter with dyslexia and gained a better understanding of what living with a disability is like. I also learned that brain scans of people listening to audio books lights up the same areas as people who are reading. I also started commuting an hour to work both ways. As with a lot of things in my professional and personal life, I’ve learned a lot about audio books and my knowledge of this topic has grown and I am hear to tell you: listening to audio books is reading. For many kids, it is the best way for them to read because their brains literally process the words on a page differently.

Reading graphic novels is reading

Thing 2 loves to read graphic novels. A lot.

My youngest child will currently only read graphic novels, for a wide variety of reasons. I’ve talked to her about what she likes and the design of the pages, the layout, the pictures, the flow of the text, all help her follow the story and process the information. Plus, she just enjoys them. A lot of educators and parents turn their noses up at graphic novels and I am here to tell us all, it’s important that we embrace graphic novels because they are both enjoyable and helpful to our children (and adults) who want to read but may struggle for a wide variety of reasons. And a lot of very fluent readers enjoy them because they are, in fact, reading. So please, let’s all get over whatever issues we may have with graphic novels and recognize that reading graphic novels is reading.

Reading the same book over and over again is okay

So you know how I mentioned earlier that my husband and oldest daughter once had a summer where they fought a lot about reading? It was because she kept reading the same Diary of a Wimpy Kid book over and over again and he wanted her to read something else. But it’s fine to read a book multiple times, yes even for an entire summer. When kids read something over and over again, they are gaining mastery of the text. They are finding comfort in something related to the story. Each time, they will see new details, go a little deeper into the story, and yes, they will even learn new words. Some of us watch the same movies multiple times, because we enjoy them. It’s okay to do this with books.

Reading below level is fine. Yes, even picture books.

This book is below level for my child. I do not care. Look at her reading and enjoying it.

A lot of people are really obsessed with the levels of books that our kids read, and this is harmful. One year, after reading Fudge, my prolific reader was told that she couldn’t read Superfudge because it was above her level. This does not make a kid love reading. Some parents come in asking for books that are clearly above level for their children. This also does not make a kid love reading. I also know of a high school librarian who got rid of all the books leveled at 6th grade from her school library because they were “too low” of a level for her students, but for what students? Be careful about using book levels as a value statement because there are a lot of reasons a kid may want to read a book and this can be harmful.

Sometimes, my dyslexic child will put out a familiar picture book and read it and you know what, that’s fine. You see, for dyslexic children reading is literally emotionally and physically exhausting. Because dyslexic children have to work harder to decode the text, it takes more energy and can leave them feeling tired. And having a constant sense of failure or fear or stress around the topic of reading just drains the self-esteem and love of reading out of our dyslexic children. So yes, let them read something safe, affirming, familiar and comforting. Let them have a time and a space where reading doesn’t have to be a constant source of struggle. And this is true for all readers, not just dyslexic ones.

If you can, buy a magazine subscription

The Teen used to have a print subscription to Teen Vogue.

For years now, I have recommended magazine subscriptions to parents who have come in asking how to help their kids to be better readers. For one, everyone likes to get mail. It’s fun! Also, magazines have a lot of the same appeal factors as graphic novels and picture books. They have shorter stories, graphic elements that up the appeal, and they can just be fun. For my ten-year-old, we have a subscription to Highlights.

When watching TV, turn on the captions

We watch a lot of British shows, baking and murder mysteries are our jam. So we started using the captions because some of the actors had heavy accents and we didn’t always catch what they were saying. But then I noticed that when the captions were on, my youngest was practicing reading. Now we just watch everything with the captions on. Shark documentaries. Superhero movies. Cartoons. All of it, we use the captions and it can help with the reading practice.

Fill your home with books

One of the Teen’s bookshelves of honor.

Having books in the house at all times helps. Research shows that the more books a child has access to in the home the more likely they are to be better readers. Part of this is obviously just access. If they get bored on a Sunday night at 8:00 pm, they can grab a book off of a shelf and read. It’s there and it’s available. It also just communicates to our kids that we value reading. The simple act of filling our home with books communicates the value of reading.

I’m obviously an advocate of visiting the library. Do that and often. But also, if you can, buy books or visit free libraries. I am here to tell you that there is something powerful about owning your own books as well. Because I work in a library, I bring home a lot of books. We read and love them. But the ones we really love, we buy. Because there is something magical and powerful that comes when you own your own books. My youngest child seems more likely to read a book if she owns in and I can’t really explain it, but for some kids that ownership can be important and meaningful.

Model reading in your home

The Teen reading at a soccer game.

Let your kid see you reading. Turn off the tv and have quiet/reading time. If your kid doesn’t want to read during that time, it’s okay, just the simple act of modelling helps. When I sit and read sometimes my kid will start out on the phone and then pick up a book because she wants to be like mom. You know how they always say do as I do and not as I say, it’s because what we do is far more impactful than what we say. Your kids need to see you reading to know that you value reading and that they should to.

Set up reading spaces in your home

This is the reading nook we set up for Thing 2 under her loft bed. She reads to her stuffies.

Having a special, inviting and comfortable space in your home dedicated to reading also sends a powerful message. It doesn’t have to involve a lot of space, time or money. Stringing up a blanket fort works. A bean bag chair in a corner with a basket of books works as well. It works to serve as a reminder to our kids that we value reading in our home so much, we made a special and safe and comfortable space for it.

Carry books with you and have your kids do the same

Reading in the car.

Going in the car? Grab a book. Going on vacation? Grab a book. Going to the dentist or doctor? Grab a book. Get in the habit of grabbing a book – making sure your kid sees you doing this – and ask them to do the same. When you have a free moment, take that book out and read. Let the practice of carrying and reading books become a part of who you are and how you live your life as a family. Your kids will see that behavior and copy it. Again, you’re sending powerful messages about what you value in the ways that you choose to spend your time. This is also true for teachers.

Talk to your kids about books and reading

Tell your kids what you’re reading, what you think about it, and why. Ask them about what they’re reading. Talk about magazine articles, blog posts, etc. Do you have a teenager with a digital device? Send them articles that speak to you. Make it a practice to talk about what you’re reading and how you respond to it with your children. One, it helps build emotional connections and meaningful relationships. Two, you are once again demonstrating that you are a person and a family that values reading.

Don’t immediately discount the power of digital devices

Speaking of phones or tablets, keep in mind that a lot of what we do on our devices IS reading. There is research that shows that reading a physical book is better for younger kids than digital, but even if your kid is scrolling through Insta or texting friends, there is still often reading and writing involved when we use our devices. Moderation is key, but there are benefits. Also, as someone who spends a lot of time reading the news and blogs, I’m here to remind you that many people read on their devices. Just because you see someone on a device does not mean that you should assume they are doing nothing or aren’t being productive.

Let your child know it’s okay to stop a book they don’t enjoy

I used to be one of those people that thought you had to read every book you started all the way through to the end, which meant I spent a lot of time not enjoying reading. I was miserable because I was reading books I hated. Then I learned a secret: You don’t have to finish a book. In the book reviewing world we talk about it as DNFing a book: Did Not Finish. If you don’t like a book, you can set it aside – or throw it across a room if you want and it’s your book – and start a new one that you enjoy. It’s a gift to know that reading doesn’t have to be suffering and pain. Tell kids this secret and let them find joy in reading.

All books are for all readers

The Teen reads. A lot.

This is very important: stop telling people what kinds of books they can and can’t read. There are no boy books. There are no girl books. Books have no gender, they are literally pages bound in a cover and they lack any sex organs or chromosomes or gender. One of the reasons that we value reading is that it helps us develop a stronger world view and a more compassionate point of view. Automatically excluding a book for someone because it’s characters or authors are of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. means that you are cutting that reader off from gaining a better understanding of the world and the various people that inhabit it.

Take advantage of creative ways to engage with and promote reading when they arise

Operation BB: Books in Backpacks

Make a home or classroom reading wall. Cover your walls with reading related art: book covers, homemade signs that promote reading, etc. I love to take photos so I take photos of my girls reading and place them on our walls. I have posters about reading that I’ve picked up in places decorating my walls. When my youngest decided she wanted to start a project to help get books to kids in need, I found ways to support her. We fill Little Free Libraries with books when we can. When opportunities arise to promote books and reading, seize them if you can. Everything you can do to help create a culture and lifestyle of reading helps.

Free choice is extremely important

Thing 2 in her loft bed with a book & flashlight nearby. We added the basket for easy book access.

A lot of these ideas stated above can be simplified by saying this: study after study has shown that when kids get to choose for themselves what they read, they are more likely to enjoy reading it. And when they enjoy reading and have more positive reading experiences, they are more likely to continue to read of their own free will and become both more proficient readers and life long reader.

If I were to sum up all of my hot tips about raising life long readers it would focus on these 3 key elements: Access, Choice and Feelings. We want kids to have access to books and reading experiences in a variety of ways, and we want them to have the choices of when, how and what to read, so that they will develop positive feelings about the subject of reading by having positive reading experiences. That really summarizes everything I’ve said above really well. So whether you are a parent, a teacher or a librarian, let’s do what we can to help make this happen so that we can raise a generation of life long readers who choose to read because they enjoy and value reading. Let’s raise readers!

What other tips, tricks, strategies and successes do you have to share? Please discuss in the comments.

More on My Journey as a Parent and Librarian to a Child with Dyslexia

Friday Finds: September 6, 2019

This Week at TLT

Book Review: Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown

Cindy Crushes Programming: Splatter Painting

Book Review: Have a Little Faith in Me by Sonia Hartl

The Labor of Librarianship, a Reflection for Labor Day

Your Library and Beyond: Building Positive Relationships with Creative Teens in The Community a guest post by author Rayne Lacko

Sunday Reflections: Everything I Learned About Advocating for My Dyslexic Child I Learned by Being a Teen Librarian

Around the Web

Michigan students’ reading levels fall as school librarians go extinct

Getting Over Coco

Closing A Failing School Is Normal, But Not Easy, In Charters-Only New Orleans

The Key To Teaching College-Level Research

Book Review: Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown

Publisher’s description

From the Sibert honor-winning creator behind The Unwanted and Drowned City comes a graphic novel of one of the darkest episodes in American history: the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918.

New Year’s Day, 1918. America has declared war on Germany and is gathering troops to fight. But there’s something coming that is deadlier than any war.

When people begin to fall ill, most Americans don’t suspect influenza. The flu is known to be dangerous to the very old, young, or frail. But the Spanish flu is exceptionally violent. Soon, thousands of people succumb. Then tens of thousands . . . hundreds of thousands and more. Graves can’t be dug quickly enough.

What made the influenza of 1918 so exceptionally deadly—and what can modern science help us understand about this tragic episode in history? With a journalist’s discerning eye for facts and an artist’s instinct for true emotion, Sibert Honor recipient Don Brown sets out to answer these questions and more in Fever Year.

Amanda’s thoughts

Don Brown’s graphic nonfiction books are always an auto-read for me. Usually, I find them incredibly moving and deeply interesting. I’m bummed to say that this one was just kind of meh for me, though a meh Don Brown book is still a pretty good book. For such a dramatic event, the storytelling was kind of dry, and I’m hoping some of the repetition and clunky sentences will be cleaned up by the final copy.

Graphic nonfiction is a great way to present information to readers who may struggle to maintain interest in this material presented in other formats. I will say that the story of the 1918 pandemic is a riveting and horrifying one. I read a fantastic book on it, Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin, last winter when my school was in the throes of an influenza outbreak. Everything I learned then about the flu made our 20% absence rate and my two weeks in bed seem like nothing. Readers of Brown’s book will probably find the statistics staggering—1 out of every 3 people on the planet were infected by this 1918 outbreak, 50 million died worldwide. The disease was not yet well understood during this pandemic. Vaccines were developed quickly but proved ineffective. Transmission seemed nonsensical and so rapid that it seemed impossible to contain. There was a shortage of doctors, nurses, gravediggers, and coffins. Entire cities essentially shut down. This may not be Brown’s strongest book, but it is a concise way to present information about an event that seems almost unfathomable. My ARC only had black and white illustrations with a sample of the full-color art, which I imagine will add some liveliness to the unfortunately lackluster presentation of information.

Though a bit of a disappointment, I still think this is worthwhile to have in collections just for the fact that it makes history accessible to readers who may otherwise give it a pass and because it does a worthy job of educating readers’ on this awful pandemic.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544837409
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/03/2019