Monday, October 31, 2011

Professional Book Shelf: They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill by Dr. Joni Richards Bodart

You can't be a teen librarian and not know about Dr. Joni Bodart.  She is one of our rock stars.  Dr. Bodart is a strong advocate for teens and teen literature, having written a multitude of professional materials to help us all be better at what we do.  She is passionate about booktalking and reader's advisory and has written a variety of professional titles to help us all be better at the art of selling our wares to our teens. 

Later this year Dr. Bodart will have a new, and timely, professional title coming out:  They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill: The Psychological Meaning of Monsters in Young Adult Literature (coming out in December 2011).  Without a doubt, monsters are everywhere in teen lit.  From the widely popular Twilight series, which contains both vampires and shapeshifters, to the Vampire Diaries of old, now a hugely successful series on the CW, vampires have been a staple of teen lit.  But it's not just vampires anymore; shapeshifters, faeries, half demons and full demons and the ever present zombie are taking over the scene.  There has been a lot of discussion lately about teen lit:  Is it too dark?  In They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill, Dr. Bodart helps us understand that appeal of monsters to teens (and to us all) and provides an insightful discussion into various titles and series currently popular with our audience.

As Dr. Bodart points out in her introduction, monsters have always been there in our stories.  When humans began telling stories, they began telling of monsters.  Although many worry about an interest in monsters, the truth is that reading about monsters in the safety of a book helps us all examine ourselves and our culture in a safe environment:

They fascinate us, but we recognize their danger and we fear them as well. Books and movies let us step into their world for awhile, to see how close we can get to them without getting caught. And who hasn’t looked up from a scary story to see the twitch of a shadow, the creak of the floor in the hall, and wondered if the monster had escaped from the pages. (Bodart, introduction XX)

Psychologist Carl Jung talked about the idea of the shadow self; the idea that within us all was a monster.  Teens, no doubt, feel this more than most as their hormones kick in and their brain works differently (there is a ton of research that explains how different the teenage brain is).  And society often operates as if it fears teens; we can all probably right now list a variety of staff members who live in fear of 3:00 and the teenage rush the comes into our libraries.  In her introduction, Dr. Bodart further discusses the psychological allure of the monster construct and it is a fascinating read.

Vampires (part 1), shapeshifters (part 2), zombies (part 3) and unexpected monsters (part 4, which includes, angels, unicorns and demons) are all discussed with interesting detail and examples.  Each part begins with some history of the subgenre and a general discussion of example titles.  Then there is more specific discussion of popular titles that highlight the basic elements of the subgenre and its appeal to teen readers.

The vampire discussion starts as any good vampire book discussion should, with the classic The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klaus.  This title is still an amazing read and I appreciate that this is where Dr. Bodart chooses to begin our discussion into the land of monsters.  Other titles discusses include The Tantalize and Blue Blood series as well as The Chronicles of Vlad Todd.  All good choices of inclusion.  It is interesting to read, as noted by Dr. Bodart, the tremendous increase in the amount of vampire titles published in the last ten years. 

Again calling on the classics, Bodart's shapeshifter begins its discussion with Blood and Chocolate.  I found the discussion in this section especially interesting because I was much less familiar with the tradition of the werewolf stories and honestly haven't read many titles in this subgenre, with the exception of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Steifvater, which is included in the discussion and provides some good information.

If you are a reader of TLT, you know that zombie lit is my favorite so I was looking forward to the discussion of this monster subgenre, which did not disappoint.  Bodart begins with my favorite series, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry.  Other titles discussed include The Generation Dead and The Enemy series.

The final discussion centers around some unusual monsters, things we don't often think of as monsters: angels and unicorns.  Sure we get that demons are monsters by definition, but throughout history angels and unicorns are often depicted as creatures on the side of good.  And yet religious tradition also discusses the concept of the fallen angel jealous of humankind.  And we almost always see unicorns as beautiful kind creatures, often found with rainbows for some reason.  So this part of the discussion was fascinating as it has been equally fascinating to see the new twists on this mythology in teen lit over the past few years. 

This is a fascinating read and useful tool.  The background information on the various subgenres of monster lit and specific information about various titles, including information regarding the authors and their interest in the monsters, would be incredibly useful in doing book discussions.  Even in a less formal at the stacks or ref desk interaction, this information will help give you street cred as you can have an intelligent, meaningful conversation with fans and help guide them to read-a-likes.  Plus, the information will help you address parental, staff and administrator concerns that sometimes come up regarding these types of books.  There is meaning in the mythology and Dr. Bodart helps us all take a stand for intellectual freedom and our teens by giving us the information we need to engage in intelligent discussion about the history and psychology of monster lit.  And honestly, it is just a truly fascinating and insightful read.

Booklists are provided in addition to further reading on the various topics discussed.  I would honestly like to see more titles produced on this topic and see it become a series as there are so many other series and titles in this genre to discuss, although the titles she chooses do make a good cross representation of each subgenre.

As Dr. Bodart says, "Supernatural creatures are constructs and tools that teens can use to understand themselves and their worlds better and help them make the decisions that will guide them through those worlds. Who am I? What do I believe? What’s the right thing to do? Feeling like an outsider is a common experience for a teen (Bodart, p. 241)."  These titles are important in the lives of teens, and this is a good resource to understand why - and find more.

I highly recommend that you add this to your professional collection.  And I look forward to discussing it with my fellow librarians when it comes out.  It should make for some good discussion.  This is definitely one tool you'll want to add to your toolbox.

Edited to add this note:  One of the best features of this title, outside of the excellent discussion, is the appendix which features a comprehensive booklist on the various monsters discussed.  The booklist is arranged by monster (angel, unicorn, vampire, etc.) and lists series and stand alone titles separately.  Within each series listing is a list of each title within the series and an indication of whether or not the series is complete or ongoing.  This is a great bibliographic tool.

Check out my own discussion about zombie lit "What's the deal with zombies anyway?"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Teen Issues: Autism and Libraries

It is hard these days not to hear about and think about Autism.  Statistics indicate that 1 out of every 110 children are now diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum (ASD).  Statistics also indicate that if you look at only boys, it is 1 out of every 60 boys.  Over the years the rate has slowly been getting higher, which has tremendous immediate and long term implications for all of society, including libraries. (National Autism Association)

I am not a doctor.  I don't even play one on TV.  But I am the aunt to 3 boys on the spectrum, including 1 that is a teenager.  I am also friends to many families that have autistic children, some of whom are on the higher end of the spectrum, lower functioning.

At times lately I have heard and read about autism and libraries, and I think it is a necessary discussion and frankly we, as a profession, have probably been slower to take part in the discussion then we should have been.  But the truth is, it is a hard discussion to have.

Autism in Teen Fiction

When someone was asking recently about teen fiction titles that deal with autism, a good list was put together.  And yet, I was stirred with a strong sense of conviction to point out what I thought was a fundamental flaw with the way current teen fiction portrays autism.  You see, most of the depictions portray characters with high functioning autism or a type of autism called Asperger's (not necessarily the same thing).  These depictions do not represent the whole of the spectrum.  They fail to look at life with kids on the high end of the spectrum who are lower functioning.  Those kids that will possibly never leave their homes to live on their own.  These are not the Sheldons from Big Bang Theory (who is often discussed as possibly being on the spectrum in online articles), but more like one of our first popular culture introductions to autism, Rain Man.

I always find teen fiction with autistic characters interesting because they never seem to match my personal experience with autism; the poop smearing, running out of the house naked, will never talk and barely function in society kind (this is not my only experience with autism, it is simply the end of the spectrum that I feel is often ignored in pop culture).  Of the books that I have read, the characters are always milder on the spectrum.  I found The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Al Capone Does My Shirts to be the most informative.  I love how in The Curious Incident the main character talks about what he sees in a field compared to what other people see, and I love how he discusses his sensory issues and coping strategies.  There is tremendous to value to any and all depictions of autism in teen literature; teens need to read and understand the wide variety of personalities and challenges living on the spectrum.  It is important for us all to dive into the world of others and develop compassion and understanding and that is true of autism as well.
Teen Fiction Reading Lists: Autism
Here author Nora Raleigh Baskin discusses her title Anything But Typical about a high functioning, nonverbal 12 year old boy.
Here is a presentation on autism in various pop culture mediums including television and literature.
From a Sibling Point of View
I did appreciate getting the siblings point of view in Al Capone.  But what about the teenager living in a home with a family member that is higher on the spectrum, lower functioning?  Where are those books depicting what it is life for a teen to grow up in a home with a sibling that they can't come home from school and discuss their day?  Where they are woken up at 4 am by a sibling who can't get back to sleep and is starting to wander outside the home and they try to gently lead them by the hand back into the house and calm them down?  What is life like for a teen who can't invite their friends over after school out of fear that their sibling will strip naked, start flapping their arms out of stress, or act out aggressively?
When children grow up in homes with special needs siblings, their life experiences can be dramatically different.  A lot of time and financial resources are spent taking care of ASD kids, whether that be for unique medical needs, therapies, or simply trying to calm them down.  There is often a need for routine and predictability in ASD kids, which would put a lot of additional stress on siblings.  Family outings and social activities can become very limited.
Many people don't understand what life with a low functioning autistic child is like for one simple reason: these families can become prisoners to their child's autism and don't spend a lot of time navigating grocery stores and malls because their child can't take the difference in routine and stimulation.  Autism Speaks created a 13 minute video that tries to better explain what life with an autistic child is like called Autism Every Day.  This is a depiction of younger children, but they grow up to be teens and although there can be improvement through therapies and other interventions, there are still teens who appear higher on the spectrum.  Plus, for many teens, this is their experience of autism with siblings.
One of the things I would like to see in teen literature is more discussion and depictions of what life is like for teens living in a world impacted by more severe types of autism.  These teens need to see their experiences and feelings validated in the stories that they read.  They need to know that they are not alone.  And they need to know that what they think and feel as their lives are touched by autism is normal.
What Can Libraries Do?
Even as someone whose life has been touched first hand by autism, I recognize that I am not an expert at all and find it difficult to come up with practical ideas for libraries.  There are so many who are better trained and equipped to provide libraries with the information they need to work ASD kids and teens.  I really recommend reaching out and tapping into their expertise.
I think libraries should reach out to specialists in their communities (contact your local schools) and ask them to come in and do training with staff.  Help staff understand what autism is and to help those families that come in with children on the spectrum.  Help staff to understand that not all instances of problem behavior in the library necessarily means that bad parenting is involved; sometimes when that child is throwing themselves on the floor and throwing a fit they are experiencing an actual physical pain as they take in too much stimulation.  An essential part of serving our communities is understanding them and their needs.  People from your local community can also help you understand the make up of your local autistic community: what percentage is there, what ages, what services are offered, etc.
Check with your community to see if there are any autism support groups.  Allow them to meet in your library's meeting rooms and offering programming for teen siblings in another on site location while these meetings take place.  Siblings need an opportunity to have support, too.  And sometimes, they just want to meet with a group of peers and have fun like all teens do.  You can give them those opportunities while supporting their families.  These families are also one of the best resources to tap into for information and training as they are living it every day.
ALA has put together some training called Libraries and Autism: We're Connected.  There are a lot of resources here so please check it out.  I think this resource talks more specifically to what libraries can do for teens on the spectrum and does it well, so I won't repeat it here.  Please go check it out.
And as always, have a variety of resources available to your patrons.  Put together a list of resources in-house, nonfiction and fiction titles for family members of all ages, and some contact information for local agencies.  Toys R Us in an example of someone who does this well; they have put together a sheet online and in their stores highlighting specific toys that work well with children on the spectrum.  Libraries can create the same type of informational resources for families highlighting library resources and services that meet the needs of these families. 
April is Autism Awareness Month.  This is a good time to do displays, training and seminars to the public.  It is also a great time to do special programming for kids on the spectrum and their siblings.  Autism has tremendous impact on families and the community as a whole, so spend some time making yourself and your staff aware of this impact and learning how to meet the unique challenges presented.  You want to make sure to address everything from customer service at the front line services desks to programming and community outreach.  Autism is not going away (although I do hope they find a cure, and soon), we need to be proactive in serving our teens affected by autism.
Other Resources:
Blog post: What pop culture has taught me about autism
The Altantic: When autism stars
School Library Journal: The Voices of Autism
School Library Journal: The Equal Opportunity Disorder
School Library Journal: Remarkable Reads: Autism
Service on the Spectrum: Mediating the Information Needs of Teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Public Library
The Curious Inciden of the Dog in the Nighttime discussion group questions
Scholastic: Al Capone Does My Shirt discussion guide

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Asset Builder's Coalition support materials

I was very honored to have an article appear regarding asset building in the October 2011 edition of VOYA (page 354), the Voice of Youth Advocates.  My article was entitled Mpact: An Asset Builder's Coalition and if you are a regular reader here at TLT you know that I am a big advocate for using the Search Institutes 40 Developmental Assets in program planning and evaluation.  It also provides a good framework for communicating the importance of what you do to your co-workers, administration, and community.  It's all in the article, read it.  In this post I am going to share with you some of the support materials that didn't fit into the article.  You're welcome.

Getting the Word Out
Getting things organized is often the hardest part.  Before you can be a coalition, you need members.  So spend some time getting organized.  Develop your organizations vision, purpose and goals.  Then send out invitations to area organizations that work with youth and ask them to come and share their knowledge and resources.

Text of initial letter sent to community agencies that work with teens:

As the teen services librarian at ____________________, I am invested in helping teens meet their full potential through both educational and recreational information and services.  I would like for those of us in the ______________ community who provide services for teens to come together and share information and resources, and to engage in some joint programming through a group I am calling _____________, the area asset builder’s coalition for youth. 

Our goal, simply stated, will be to Share, Link, Promote.

As a coalition, we will work together to successfully develop a coalition of community partners who value youth, and commit time and resources for initiatives to reduce risky behaviors in teens and provide positive community experiences.  Our goals will be:

  1. To share information regarding individual organizations purpose, goals, and upcoming events.
  2. To share experiences and generate ideas for marketing and promotion, event planning, and resource sharing.
  3. To plan a yearly community event for teens 
Coalition partners will actively attended meetings and work together to form common goals that draw upon the strengths and unique offerings of each of the individual organizations that work in the community with teens.  Partners will also use this as an opportunity to learn about various area resources so they can appropriately refer teens when needs are expressed.  In addition, partners will work together to plan larger community events to provide teens with community based outlets to express their creativity, divest their individual talents and resources and expend their energy in healthy, meaningful ways.  And finally, coalition partners shepherd initiatives that fit with their community involvement and goals.

Our goal is to continue to develop relationships throughout the community in order to expand participation in coalition initiatives and generally encourage support for youth. Each coalition partner will participate in planning and strategies that find opportunities to connect with youth, parents, community leaders, law enforcement personnel, education systems and business owners in _________.

The Framework
Asset building is a framework that helps provide passion, purpose and communication when working with teens.  Your passion and your purpose, to help provide teens with positive assets through your programs and services.  And as you communicate with your co-workers, your administration and your community, you help them see how there is value in what you do, in what the library does in the lives of teens and for the community.  Successful, engaged teens developing positive assets is not only good for teens - it is good for the local community and all of society in the long term (not an exaggeration, the Search Institute has done the research to back up this claim.)

At our first meeting I shared our vision, purpose and goals while explaining the need and benefit for an asset builder's coalition:

The Model
At our meetings we discussed:
  • What are the assets and how do you use them?
  • Community organization basics:  Define the goals of your organization, basic operating information, who to contact, when to refer. (I really recommend developing a wiki to share this information and allow all participating organizations the opportunity to update and keep it current.  In addition, this is a good way to share a calendar of local events to avoid scheduling conflicts.)
  • Marketing to teens (Our local United Way marketing coordinator was involved and she shared a lot of helpful information.  United Way is really good at marketing.)
  • Social media use with teens
  • What types of past programming has been successful, and why.
  • Basic adolescent development
  • Specifics of our communities, the make up, the challenges, local history and eccentricities

Their is power in networking.  Libraries today, in fact many organizations today, face a shortage of resources including staff, staff time, and money.  Working with community organizations takes an investment in time, but it can reap bigger rewards.  Instead of being one teen librarian working to help youth, you become a network of people working to help youth.  You know the saying, two brains are better than one; by networking you increase your potential through increased knowledge and increased resources.  Plus, there is great benefit to learning what is working well for others and what doesn't as  this can help influence your decision making.  And as you share upcoming programming schedules, you help eliminate those conflicts that often arise when you set programming dates and times in a bubble.

The challenge is someone must take the first step and be willing to be the organizer.  This takes a tremendous amount of time, energy and commitment.  You have to be enthusiastic and patient; just like programming, you don't necessarily get immediate interest and success.  You have to make sure there is someone scheduled to present (cross train) at each meeting.  You need an agenda, refreshments, and the ability to keep the conversation going.  But most of all, you have to believe that what you are doing is important; we all fail without vision, but together you can create a common vision for the youth in your community.

Other TLT posts that discuss asset bulding:
Understanding the Wild Child
Don't Underestimate the Value of "Hanging Out"
Marketing Teen Services to Non Teen Services Staff part 1 and part 2

End Note: Evaluating YOUR Teen Services Program Using the 40 Developmental Assets

We have discussed using the assets to evaluate and communicate your teen services program.  At the end of each year I simply make a quick outline of the assets and make sure what we are doing accomplishes what we say we are doing.  Think of it as creating a yearly plan and then making sure at the end of the year that you met your goals.  Here is an example:

40 Developmental Assets
Through extensive research, Search Institute has identified the following 40 building blocks of healthy development that help young people grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. The _________ Public Library actively helps teens address and meet 27 of the 40 assets listed below, proving that the ___________ Public Library is essential community resource in the life of teenagers in the Marion community.

External Assets:
Support, Empowerment, Boundaries and Expectations, and Constructive Use of Time

1. Family Support-Family life provides high levels of love and support.
2. Positive Family Communication-Young person and her or his parent(s) communicate positively, and young person is willing to seek advice and counsel from parents.
3. Other Adult Relationships-Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults.
·         Library staff provides positive adult interaction to community teens and help teenagers successfully navigate the library environment. 
·         Teens who regularly attend Teen CoffeeHouse develop a positive relationship with Teen Services Librarian.
·         Through reader’s advisory and informal book discussions, many regular teens develop a positive relationship with Teen Services Librarian.
4. Caring Neighborhood-Young person experiences caring neighbors.Library resources, especially those designed especially for teens, communicate that the library community cares for teens in the community.
5. Caring School Climate-School provides a caring, encouraging environment.
6. Parent Involvement in Schooling-Parent(s) are actively involved in helping young person succeed in school.
7. Community Values Youth-Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.
·         The library provides a developmentally appropriate teen program that meets a variety of their needs and interests, including a special teen resource collection, which communicates value in the community.
8. Youth as Resources-Young people are given useful roles in the community.
·         Through regular interaction with the Teen Services Librarian, both informal and at programming, teens give input into programming, services and collection.
9. Service to Others-Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week.
10. Safety-Young person feels safe at home, school, and in the neighborhood.
·         The Teen CoffeeHouse provides a developmentally appropriate, enjoyable environment for teens in their neighborhood.
11. Family Boundaries-Family has clear rules and consequences and monitors the young person’s whereabouts.
12. School Boundaries-School provides clear rules and consequences.
13. Neighborhood Boundaries-Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young people’s behavior.
·         The acceptable behavior policy helps outline responsible behavior for teens in the library.
14. Adult Role Models-Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior.
·         All library staff and the Teen Services Librarian directly model positive, responsible behavior to teens in the community.
15. Positive Peer Influence-Young person’s best friends model responsible behavior.
16. High Expectations-Both parent(s) and teachers encourage the young person to do well.
17. Creative Activities-Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts.
·         The library’s teen services programs provides a variety of opportunities for teens to be creative, including drawing and poetry contests, etc.
18. Youth Programs-Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in the community.
·         The library’s teen services program provides a variety of programs that provide teens with opportunities to engage in developmentally appropriate programming.
19. Religious Community-Young person spends one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution.
20. Time at Home-Young person is out with friends "with nothing special to do" two or fewer nights per week.

Internal Assets:
Commitment to Learning, Positive Values, Social Competencies and Positive Identity

21. Achievement Motivation-Young person is motivated to do well in school.
22. School Engagement-Young person is actively engaged in learning.
·         Library has essential resources for teens engaging in learning
23. Homework-Young person reports doing at least one hour of homework every school day.
·         Library resources are beneficial in the successful completion of homework
24. Bonding to School-Young person cares about her or his school.
25. Reading for Pleasure-Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.
·         Library provides an extensive collection for teens reading enjoyment
·         Library provides a variety of programs and events that encourage reading for pleasure

Note about education oriented internal assets below:  The ___________ Public Library provides a variety of resources, both fiction and nonfiction, to help teens explore, develop and enhance these internal assets.  The teen collection, which has developmentally appropriate titles written specifically for teens in a manner that will engage them, is an important part of helping teens in the community address these internal assets.

26. Caring-Young person places high value on helping other people.
27. Equality and Social Justice-Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing
hunger and poverty.
28. Integrity-Young person acts on convictions and stands up for her or his beliefs.
29. Honesty-Young person "tells the truth even when it is not easy."
30. Responsibility-Young person accepts and takes personal responsibility.
31. Restraint-Young person believes it is important not to be sexually active or to use alcohol or other drugs.
32. Planning and Decision Making-Young person knows how to plan ahead and make choices.
33. Interpersonal Competence-Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills.
34. Cultural Competence-Young person has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds.
35. Resistance Skills-Young person can resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations.
36. Peaceful Conflict Resolution-Young person seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently.
37. Personal Power-Young person feels he or she has control over "things that happen to me."
38. Self-Esteem-Young person reports having a high self-esteem.
39. Sense of Purpose-Young person reports that "my life has a purpose."
40. Positive View of Personal Future-Young person is optimistic about her or his personal future

Special thanks to VOYA for the opportunity to share my passion for teens and asset building.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

TPIB: Once Upon a Time

upon a time, there were tales . . . and today, those tales are being re-told.  With a twist.

One of my very favorite fairy tales retold is Enchanted by Orson Scott Card.  It is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty; but what I really love about it is the way he portrays the magic of womanhood.  What we call women's intuition he calls magic and as he weaves his world you know that you are a part of something special.

Some of my other favorites include Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (great book, horrible horrible movie) and Beastly by Alex Flinn (ditto).  It is fun to read these twisted takes on old stories and see how they can be re-imagined.

And how can you overlook the always fantastic The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  And the movie, a perennial classic that still should work with the teen audience . . .

The Grandson: A book?
Grandpa: That's right. When I was your age, television was called books. And this is a special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today I'm gonna read it to you.
The Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?
Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...
The Grandson: Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try to stay awake.
Grandpa: Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.

Just, brilliant. (More The Princess Bride quotes at IMDB)

Soon there will be 2 shows debuting on TV that focus on retelling classic fairy tales:  Once Upon a Time and Grimm.

The zeitgeist is right to start pushing those teen fiction tales, old and new, by making displays and doing programming tie ins.  Why here's a poster to help you with your display needs.  You're welcome.

You can download the poster at
There is a pretty good list of fairy tales old and new at GoodReads.  There are also some here, here and herePublisher's Weekly also had an article in the February 17, 2011 edition that talks about a new Harlequin series.

Teen Program in a Box:

Fairy tales of all types are great for programming tie-ins.  You can be creative, and inspire creativity.  You can go big, or simply spend an afternoon reading tales and eating cookies (but don't eat too many, you never know when a witch is trying to fatten you up to put you in the stew.)

For younger teens, bead and princess themed crafts would work.  You can also do some Nerf jousting.  Build castles out of Legos.  Play capture the flag.  Life size chess (think Harry Potter) or Battleship would also work.  Do not underestimate the fun in some water fights during the summer months (outside of course).

If you are so inclined, these stories are a great opportunity to engage in some fun reader's theater activities.  Or you could have the teens make and put on fairy tale inspired puppet shows for younger kids.  John Sciezka tales would work great for that.  You could have a series of events where teens selected the pieces, wrote the scripts, discusses approach and practiced, and then presented.  This is a great idea for increasing teen involvement in your programming.

Fairy tales are ripe for creative writing and drawing exercises.  The exquisite corpse works for both storytelling as well as creature drawing.  Also, any activities that focuses on monsters, costuming (think Project Runway type challenges), and survival (let's face it - we all want to survive the evil beings that haunt fairy tale land).

You can set up a fairy tale themed scavenger hunt through your library where they have to help Little Red Riding Hood get the basket of goodies to grandma.  They collect the basket of goodies as part of the scavenger hunt.  Be sure and get a teen to play the part of the big bad wolf and create fun obstacles along the way.

Don't think for a moment that teens don't let to be pampered like a princess, so princess make-overs would definitely work.  You could decorate flip flops to be pseudo glass slippers and make bead tiaras.  And there are some great spa activities in Beauty: Things to Make and Do by Jennifer Traig.

Fairy tales are full of imagination, which makes them fun to adapt for programming.  You can find tie-ins for a variety of crafts and activities.  And the more creative opportunities you allow teens to engage in, the better.  If you don't want to do come to the library programming, you can do drawing and story telling programming in the form of contests where teens create and share online.

Whatever you do, be sure to tap into this pop culture moment and strike while the iron is hot.  And please feel free to share your programming ideas and pictures in the comments or on the TLT FB wall.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy the Capitol: Engaging Teens in Politics

For the purposes of this post, it is really important that we come together as advocates for youth and leave behind our own personal political opinions.  Really, you'll understand what I mean in a moment.

Regardless of what you may think about the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS) and it's message, I for one am glad that it is happening for one simple reason:  it is good for teens to see politics in action.  It is good for teens to see others engaging in the conversation and to know that they, too, can stand up and be heard.  The bottom line is this: It is important for teens to read, see and hear about politics in action.  They need to know and understand that they have a voice and not only can they use it, but that they should.

For years we have been hearing about low voter turn out.  And there has been a complacency on the part of America's citizens regarding the politics of our country.  We have freedoms, important freedoms like the freedom to vote and be engaged citizens, but too many of our citizens choose not to.  And as we all know, modeling behavior is a far greater message.  There is truth to the saying that children will do what they see not what they hear.  So it is good for the youth of today to see American citizens engaged in healthy discourse and debate about our future.

For a period of time following 9/11 there was an overwhelming sense of American solidarity that in some ways quashed dissenting opinions.  Unlike the Vietnam War, few spoke out in protest initially against the various wars America engaged in.  To do so seemed un-American.  Those that did speak out were often publicly disgraced so they choose instead to keep quiet.  It is important for us all to remember that the freedom to speak unpopular opinions and challenge current ideals is an important part of who we are as a nation.  It is one of the fundamental rights that our nation was built on, appearing first in our Bill of Rights.

As we enter into the 2012 election season, it is important that we find creative ways to remind teens the importance of using their voice.  We can of course put up a variety of displays, both fiction and non.  But we can also get teens engaged through things like book discussions, mock trials, and simulated voting exercises.  Mtv has been engaged for years in politically empowering young people through their Rock the Vote campaign so be sure and check there for good resources to share, too.

Get teens thinking about the importance of being involved in the political process.  Read and discuss works such as 1984 by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, or The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  The message of these, any many other titles, it clear:  what happens when government takes over and the voice of its citizens are silenced?  What happens when those citizens refuse to use their voice, either out of fear and complacency, and government is no longer for the people, by the people?  In comparison, what happens when the voice of the few rise up, as they do in The Hunger Games, and challenge a corrupt government?

Get teens started in the idea of voting by having a Mock Printz Award vote.  Or have teens vote their favorite teen fiction characters into office.  Katniss Everdeen for President!  There are so many ways you can get teens involved in mock voting activities and it is a great way to remind them to use their voice.

Many schools have mock trial contests, find out if your local schools do and ask to be involved.  If they don't, see about starting one as a part of your teen programming at your library.  You can take some popular teen fiction characters and put them on trail.  Is it okay for the kids in The Hunger Games to use violence to overthrow the corrupt government?  Put Lena on trial for falling in love in Delirium by Lauren Oliver.

Make sure you participate in Banned Books Week.

Have a Teen Advisory Group.  Let them be involved in the planning, organizing, voting, etc. of various activities.

When you share contests, links, news stories, etc. on your web or social media page, make sure some of them demonstrate teens being pro-actively involved in the political process.  You can use the poll feature on Facebook to let teens mock vote.

As long as it is civil and library appropriate, give teens a forum to express themselves and find their political voice.  Remind them that it is okay to change your mind; it is important to be open to new facts and information and grow.  That is why what we do is so important: engaged citizens must be informed citizens.  Keep providing access to a wide variety of information so that teens can learn who they are, what they think, and what their place is in this universe.

As you can see, there are a variety of ways that we can give teens a voice and remind them that using it is important not only for them, but for us all.  For every voice silenced, we may be losing the next great invention or scientific discovery.  Plus, as youth advocates, we must understand that empowering teens creates healthy teens.
Teen Fiction Dealing with Politics:
Vote for Larry (and its sequel) by Janet Tashjian
The Misfits by James Howe
Wide Awake by David Levithan
Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and most dystopian fiction
1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Mock Trial Information
NY Times Article
Lesson Plan, refers to Holes by Louis Sachar Mock Trial Script for Teens

Mock Printz Awards Example
ACPL Mock Printz

Teens and Politics Resources:
Mtv Rock the Vote
Radical Parenting 5 Tips
Teens: Politics is for you, too
Youth Noise

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"What's the deal with zombies anyway?"

Right now the dead have risen - both from the grave and in popularity.  There is no denying that right now zombies are, erm, hot?  Sure technically I guess they should be cold, being dead and all, but as far as pop culture trends go - they are HOT.  World War Z by Max Brooks is being made into a movie starring Brad Pitt as we speak.  Two nights ago the second season premiere of The Walking Dead aired.  Zombies have made an appearance on almost every Disney show (trust me, I watch a lot of Disney so I know).  In fact right now you can go play a Wizards of Waverly Place zombie themed game (Zombies on the 13th Floor) at

On Saturday, October 15th, I went to the Dallas Zombie Walk and saw zombies of all ages - from babies to teens to grown ups - walk the streets of downtown Dallas, some of them going all out in their costumes.  That night they showed a sneak peek of The Walking Dead.  And this month the Dallas Children's Theater is doing an all teen production of Night of the Living Dead, which I think is immensely cool.  And libraries everywhere are having zombie proms and zombie programs.  My library is even having a zombie themed event next Monday, October 24th.  And there is no shortage of awesome zombie themed reading available at your library.

I have a tweenager, however, that is not necessarily on board the zombie train.  So yesterday she asked me the question I am sure that is on a lot of people's minds: What's the deal with you and zombies anyway?   (Note: zombie author Jonathan Maberry has a panel discussion up on his website that also attempts to answer this question.) And I wanted to give her a good answer and it went something like this:

What I like about zombie fiction (and I think it applies to dystopian fiction, too) is the underlying discussion of good versus evil.  And the question we must all ask ourselves: who do you become in the face of extreme adversity?  After a brief discussion of what adversity is (she is a young tweenager), I think she started to understand.  You see, it is easy for those of us who are basically good people to do good when life is easy.  The question, however, seems to be will we continue to be good in the face of extreme circumstances?  Who would you, or I, become if we woke up one morning and found that there were only a few 1,000 people left on the planet and we had to spend our days scavenging for food and water while trying not to be eaten by zombies?  When the tables are turned, do we still choose to be good people?  Does what it means to be a good person change in these types of situations?

For example, in the second season premiere of The Walking Dead (spoiler warning!!!!), our merry band of survivors find themselves stuck on a freeway surrounded by deserted cars and decide to search them to find the necessities of life.  One of the characters feels uncomfortable with this proposition because it is "grave robbing."  In the movie Zombieland, the survivors often go in and "rob" stores.  But the rules have changed.  It's like the age old question posed in Les Miserables, is it okay to steal to feed your family.  But pushed to the extreme, is it even really stealing if everyone else is dead?  (To be honest, I didn't really mind the survival need to rob the store, but I was bothered by the way the trashed everything in it - although I did understand the extreme stress and release that it conveyed).

Zombie fiction (and again, dystopian fiction) is a great spring board for discussions of ethics and compassion and humanity.  If my tweenager woke up one morning a zombie, what would be the compassionate thing to do?  Could I be the one to pull the trigger and keep her from becoming a mindless need to feed motivated monster?  (See Rot & Ruin for a great discussion of monsters vs. men.)   Can we, as educators, draw parallels between this concept and discussions regarding quality of life and euthanasia and end of life decisions?  Why yes, yes we can.  And you need look no further than your zombie and dystopian fiction for discussions on violence and society, human psychology, government structure, etc.  There is rich discussion and thought in zombie and dystopian fiction, all packaged within some fun, tense thrills and chills.

And I think apocalyptic fiction is so hot right now in part because, well, it often feels culturally like we are in fact on the verge of an apocalypse, probably more so to teens.  You can't help but read every day in the news a variety of stressful news stories: we are on the verge of economic collapse, we are on the verge of environmental collapse, we are on the verge of overpopulation and a deficit of adequate resources.  These are stressful and scary times for adults, they must be tremendously overwhelming for kids and teens.  Even if they don't understand it all, they can't help but notice that they are living in a climate of fear and stress.  And many of them are being personally affected as their parents are being laid off at worse, or at least tightening the proverbial belts and life is being lived much differently.  As a nation our spirits are worn out, and we sometimes must appear as spiritual zombies just going through the motions of life as we wait for the next shoe to drop.

Many of these themes come up in teen fiction.  Scarcity of resources. Check.  Environmental disaster.  Check.  Good vs. Evil.  Check.  Government corruption.  Check.

One of my favorite series in the zombie fiction is Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry.  Don't read this next part if you haven't read it.  You have been warned.  In Rot & Ruin, society has collapsed and enclaves have been formed behind large walls designed to keep the monsters, the zombies, out.  Resources are scarce so everyone has to start working at 15 and their rations are decreased if they don't.  Rot & Ruin is the story of Benny, just turned 15 and his attempts to find himself in this new world.  But it is also the story of Tom, a zombie hunter with a twist.  Don't worry, I won't tell you the twist.  But it is also a great discussion of good vs. evil and who we become in the face of great adversity: what makes a monster and who are the monsters?

In most zombie fiction today, zombiism (probably not really a word, but we're going to go with it) is a result of a virus that has wiped out most of humanity and caused them to re-animate.  These are barely living dead people with no real brain function.  They are not necessarily acting so much as they are being acted upon.  But the people who live in a post apocalyptic world, the people like you and I, they are forced to make extraordinary choices in a world we could never imagine.  It is interesting to see what choices they make, how they shape both their inner selves and their outer worlds.  Can their choices make them monsters?

In some ways, the survivors of a post apocalyptic world are like the settlers of old - they have an opportunity to build (or in this case rebuild) a new society.  Can they learn from the mistakes of the past?  What would that new society look like?  Will they strive for justice and freedom, or is there really an overwhelming tendency for societies to be greedy and corrupt and always on the brink?  What type of people rise to power?  Can ordinary people become extraordinary heroes?  These are just a few of the many questions that zombie and dystopian fiction allow us to ponder.  When we read it we get to go outside of ourselves and yet examine ourselves at the same time. 

Plus, let's not forget, sometimes a little scary tension is just fun.  Seriously, there have been studies here and there looking at why people like scary movies.  I personally prefer my zombies slow and shambling, that's enough tension for me thanks.  Let me put my request in right now, should the zombie apocalypse happen please let them be the slow and shambling type so I have a chance of surviving.  Those 28 Days Later fast zombies scare me; unless I start marathon training in the next few days I don't have a chance of surviving that type of zombie apocalypse.  I think I'll just read about it instead.

Zombies titles to share with your teens . . .
Some newer titles not pictured include:
Z by Michael Thomas Ford
Ashes by Ilsa Black
The Enemy (series) by Charles Higson

Some dystopian fiction to share with your teens . . .
Some other titles not pictured include:
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
the Maze Runner (series) by James Dashner
Divergent by Veronica Roth

Author Joni Bodart has an upcoming book dealing with monsters - including zombies - in Young Adult literature entitled They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill.  You'll want to check it out.

Some more discussion about zombies:
Holly Black discusses Why zombies are better than unicorns (Be sure to check out her stories in Zombies vs. Unicorns)
Wikipedia (shudder) has a long list of resources to look at

Previous TLT Posts about zombies and dystopian fiction:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Resolve to Read: Helping Teens Make New Year's Resolutions that Include Reading

Believe it or not, the new year is just around the corner.  I know you are thinking, but no I am just getting ready for Teen Read Week.  And yet even as we do our current programming we must always be thinking 4 to 6 months ahead to the future; part of successful programming is making sure you give yourself enough time to plan, organize, and - most importantly - promote upcoming programs.

Here's a tip: Because most library material due dates are 3 to 4 weeks, you should always have promotional materials out 3 to 4 weeks in advance (minimum) to catch the eye of those once a month library visitors.  And of course you should avoid promoting in-house only, there you are basically preaching to the choir.  Get the word out beyond the walls of your library building, your schools are of course a great way to do this but don't forget about the community at large.  But I digress.

What is Your New Year's Resolution?
Every year at the beginning of the year people everywhere begin to make New Year's resolutions:  I will lose 10 pounds.  I will eat healthier.  I will train to run in a 5K.  I will give up (insert vice here).  How many people include resolutions about reading in their resolution making?  Well, beyond us librarians.  And what about our teens?

January can often be a slow time programming wise.  Teens are right in the middle of the school year and we are all just coming off of the holidays.  Teen Read Week is over.  We begin thinking about planning our TSRCs for the summer.  This is a great time to do some fun programming in the form of a Winter Reading Club!  So make it your New Year's resolution to help teens make it their New Year's resolution to read more.

Resolve to Read
Our children's department had decided to do a winter reading club, and to great success.  So I decided to piggy back off of their success and do a winter reading club called Resolve to Read.  My goal was simple:  encourage teens to make it their New Year's resolution to read more and then provide some fun ways for them to do that.  Your WRC does not have to be as involved as the SRC; remember your teens don't have the same amount of free time that they have during the summer. 

Amount of Time vs. Number of Books
Year after year I do surveys at the end of my TSRC and teens always indicate that they prefer reporting amount of time reading as opposed to number of books read.  This makes sense to me as it takes a lot longer to read a Harry Potter book then it does, say, the newest Orca paperback.  So I recommend picking a time unit - let's say 30 minutes a day - and asking teens to resolve to read 30 minutes a day.  Then for every 30 minutes they read, they can fill out a prize entry form and enter into a random drawing.  If you have the money, you can offer a small prize for teens once they reach a certain amount of time.

Have a Read In
As part of your programming offer a day where teens can come visit you in the library and do a "read in".  Saturday can be a good day for this.  Set up your programming room nice and cozy like (think rocking chairs, butterfly chairs and beanbag chairs) and offer teens the opportunity to drop in and read for as long as they like.  For each half hour they are there that day they get an entry form.  You can also have a bonus drawing for that day: a special prize that is only available to teens that drop in to the read-in.  Make sure you have a variety of snacks on hand throughout the day and staff to give you breaks.

31 Days of Reading
For a variation you can put together a type of bingo calendar that asks teens to read through the genres and formats.  So you can put a different activity for each day on a calendar and ask them to complete a certain number, say 2, a week for entry.  So one time you ask them to choose and read a Science fiction book and another time you ask them to read Sports fiction.  You can also ask them to read books by various authors.  Make sure you have displays set up (or end cap signage) that gives them some titles to choose in each genre).  Teens may just discover a new author or genre that they like.
A template for 31 Days of Reading
Like I said, this can be as laid back as you want it to be.  It doesn't need to include a lot of additional programming as the emphasis is on the reading and it is pretty self-directed on the part of the teens.  For you the work comes in organizing and planning and yet it frees you up to have January (and if you choose February) to work on putting together your TSRC.  Any prizes you offer can also be on a smaller scale then what you might do for your TSRC; you can offer a simple pre-paid $50.00 gift card or perhaps left overs from your supply closet that you turn into a gift basket.  Actually, a gift basket full of movies, popcorn, candy and pop would also be a good prize for this time of year.  Or see if your administration will let you give out coupons to "read off your fines" (another program I have done with great success and will write up in the future).

Happy resolving!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Put the "Read" in Teen Read Week

Every year teen librarians put together amazing programs at their library in celebration of Teen Read Week.  There are craft programs.  Zombie proms.  Sometimes there are even author events.  But how do you put the read in Teen Read Week?

Read Around the Clock
Me, I encourage my teens to read by offering incentives.  I know that there are a lot of mixed emotions (and even some research) surrounding the idea of offering rewards for reading.  I get that there is something to be said for doing something because of its intrinsic value.  We do it for Summer Reading Clubs, so why not for Teen Read Week?

In the interest of simplicity sake, I ask my teens to read 15 minutes a day.  For every 15 minutes that they read they get to fill out an entry form which goes into a Grand Prize Drawing.  If I have the money, I will give a small prize when they complete 4 entry forms, or have read 1 hour - or when they have read around the clock (clever, right).  These prizes have included the multi-lingual read and read on bracelets from Janway.  Sometimes I have gotten small food prizes donated from local eateries.The theory is, the more teens read during TRW, the greater their chances of winning the grand prize.  Don't forget that books make great prizes!

You can modify this by having "Read Ins" or "Read-a-Thons" and have specific times and locations for the teens to come and read.  Their attendance then becomes their entry into the prize drawing.  These are great things to do during Saturday or Sunday hours or as part of a lock-in event should you be so inclined to have them.  The benefit of having teens read at the library is that it cuts down on bogus entries and drawing box stuffing. (And I say this because every year staff will point out that by doing drawings like these, we know that some teens are lying.  The truth is that it happens all the time in all age groups and we just have to accept that there is a percentage of false entries and move on.)

Kick-Off Teen Read Week
My favorite Teen Read Week activity involved a sports theme.  I don't normally do sports, at all, but I will do sports for my teens.  I love them that much.

TRW Kicked-Off on Monday with a Meet the Team night.  The local high school coach was kind enough to bring the football team in and have a meet and greet.  If you can coordinate it, I recommend getting the cheerleading team to come, too.  The coach talked briefly about the importance of reading and then each player introduced themselves and talked about their favorite book.  There are a ton of people on a football team.  Then we just had an informal mingle meet and greet with some snacks and drinks.  Pretty laid back, but really helped in community building and tapped into the things that teens are interested in.  Plus, by involving the football team we had teens providing programming for teens and I love it when that happens.

Everyone who came to the meet and greet was entered into a drawing to win a free limo ride that was donated by a local provider.  Since this all tied in with Homecoming which was just around the corner - genius.

Then, for my grand prize, we provided more limo rides, make-overs and nail treatments from a local salon, and dinner gift certificates.  A lot of teen programming tends to meet the younger end of the teen audience needs, but this program really drew in the older end of the teen spectrum.  And the younger teens enjoyed meeting the older football players.

If you do a homecoming tie-in type of event and are looking for some additional programming during the week you can also do a Project Runway or Project Accessory type of craft program.  You can also do a variety of sports related crafts, such as making photo themed frames or booster posters for teens to take to the upcoming game.

Read for the Fun of It
The bottom line is that our goal during TRW is to remind teens that reading isn't all about reading Ivanhoe because your English teacher is going to test you on it on Monday morning.  Our goal is to remind teens that reading is FUN!  So our question is: How do we make reading fun?

This is a great time to bust out scary stories, especially since TRW takes place in October.  Sit around a "camp fire" with a flashlight and share some spooky tales.  Get out your joke books and have a stand up comedy night.  Have a poetry slam (or better yet, save that for April which is National Poetry Month).  Have a book discussion group and compare a movie to its book.  Make your own "Get Caught Reading" posters using your teens.  And make sure that they see YOU reading.

Put up a variety of fun displays.  Don't forget to include some of your more offbeat and fun nonfiction titles.  Reading for fun doesn't have to mean reading fiction!

Have a great Teen Read Week . . . and read for the fun of it!


Note: Some organizations, such as Pizza Hut (Book It!) and Target, already do reading related marketing as a part of their community mission.  Contact them to see if they will offer prizes for your Teen Read Week programming.