Teen Librarian Toolbox
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You want to put WHAT in my YA?

June is National Pride Month.  As today is the last day of June, my co-worker and fellow teen enthusiast Christie Gibrich presents a wrap up of her presentation from the 2012 ALA Conference on GLBTQ trends in teen fiction.  Don’t forget to check out TLT blogger Stephanie Wilkes Top 10 list of GLBTQ titles.

GLBTQ books started out as pulp fiction passed around after WWII much like you might have snuck around to read the Harlequin romances your mom had stashed away in the bedroom. From there, they moved to small presses and self-published works. Large publishers released books with gay and lesbian characters, but it was much like Brandon from the movie Easy A: a side character, easy forgotten, and often not necessary. And unlike Brandon, who got his dancer in the end, all of the gay and lesbian characters had a bad end – death, madness, loneliness – no one got past the first kiss. It wasn’t until John Donovan’s “I’ll Get There, It Better Be Worth the Trip” (1969) that someone survived, and even then, it wasn’t really the fairy tale of happy ever after. It was as if publishing decided that mainstream wasn’t ready for GLBTQ population to have their Disney Cinderella ending, so it shouldn’t be published.

What publishing says seems to go. While we as a profession are making a difference in getting GLBTQ materials to our patrons, we are fighting an uphill battle. As librarians, we have to find these books, which is an issue when they are not being cataloged or tagged by the publishers as GLBTQ. We have to source reviews from publications, which are few and far between. When we do get them in the collections, they are oftentimes challenged or the books themselves are censored, such as in the public library in Kansas City or the Shawnee Mission School District, or most recently in Davis County, Utah.
But when we are successful, the benefits are immense. Statistical estimates suggest that 1 out of every 10 people is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, and those are just statistics that can be gathered by those who report it. Throw in teenagers who are questioning everything they know, and the number is sure to skyrocket. And like all teens, they’re looking for models in reading: something to escape in, but also something to let them know that they’re not alone, that there are others out there like them. They may not be able to come out to their families, or their friends, or their teachers- but they may be able to find their answers in books. And, if you’re the person who can give them that peace, they may feel comfortable enough to come back and talk to you. That’s why it’s so important to have not only books with GLBTQ material in them, but also a quality and well rounded GLBTQ collection.
YA in general is very fickle and faddish and has terminal ADD, and once something is determined to be “popular” you get a bazillion knock-offs. There weren’t a ton of vampire books until Twilight got popular, and now you’ve got at least 10 series with more on the way about vampires and werewolves. Then it was angels and fallen angels –very popular. Post-apocalyptic/dystopias and zombies are huge since the end of the world predictions have come around again. It cycles like crazy, faster than a merry-go-round on fast forward. With a library’s ever dwindling collection budget, you have to be careful, or in two years, all you’ll have is vampire dystopias, and teens will have moved on to empowering faith fiction.
GLBTQ books mirror not only the YA publishing in general but also the topical news cycle. There were books on gay bashing and bullying, but in 2010 when the first cluster of gay suicides hit national news media, the major publishing houses took note, and then we got tons of bully books…and we still have them coming.
There have always been relationship books in GLBT YA, and there always will be because there are relationship books in YA. On the bright side, we’re getting further with those relationships, because publishing has decided teens need things edgier. Something new is that we’re getting more bisexual interests, and love triangles, and trans relationships in there – I AM J was a HUGE leap forward. Boyfriends with Girlfriends. Positive romances like Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy. Positive friend relationships like Sister, Sister. Modeling in the books that a GLBTQ teen can find if they want it, without the cover shouting out IT’S A QUEER BOOK!!!!!! Another trend that’s starting to show up is the straight members of families dealing with their not-so-straight siblings and parents. That’s right, mom/dad has come out of the closet! Now what?
As for non-fiction for YA, it’s non-existent unless it’s separate but equal. Dealing with your two mommies. Your two daddies. How to date gay. That’s lovely, but that’s not working with anymore with teens and tweens- they DON’T SEE IT THAT WAY. Want to help erase the stigma of being gay? BE INCLUSIVE! We need biographies about GLBTQ pop stars that are relevant, not the same age as their parents. We need books on the GLBTQ movement written on the YA level – they’re not there. We need dating and GLBT chapters in the sex ed books that are published for girls/guys.
GLBTQ YA material has come a long way from its birth in 1969, but still has so much room for improvement. With each generation, we’re getting closer to the point where GLBTQ is simply part of the norm, so why shouldn’t publishers do the same?   
Looking for recommended GLBTQ YA materials?
Rainbow List: a joint project of the GLBT-RT and SRRT of ALA, this committee publishes a recommended booklist every Midwinter Meeting of new books for birth through 18: http://glbtrt.ala.org/rainbowbooks/
Lambda Literary: Giving out an award every year in a variety of categories including LGBT Children’s/Young Adult, Lambda Literary is also an excellent source for reviews: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/
Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Award: founded in 2010, this awardrecognizes an English-language children’s book “of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered experience.” :https://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/rts/glbtrt/stonewall/honored/index.cfm

Friday Fill-Ins: Contemporary

Since today we are talking Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein and Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr, I thought our Friday Fill-In could be about contemporary titles as well.
Fill In the blanks in the comments
My favorite contemporary title is ________________ by ________________.

Why YA? The Story of a Girl (Sara Zarr) as discussed by Lisa Burstein

It was only earlier this year that I read Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr.  I was touched by the fact that it was a simple yet raw coming of age story about a teenage girl.  There were no bells and whistles, no magical powers or arena fights to the death – just raw, unbridled emotion.  Then, a couple of months later, I read and reviewed a book called Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein.  When I finished I wrote my review and said that Pretty Amy brought to mind Story of a Girl.  Today, in our ongoing Why YA? feature, author Lisa Burstein discusses Story of a Girl and does a brief interview with one of her writing heroes, Sara Zarr.
“A lot of people can change you – the first kid who called you a name, the first teacher who said you were smart, the first person who crowned you their best friend. It’s the change you remember, the firsts and what they meant, not really the people.”  – Sara Zarr

My mother and I had what would have been described as a strained relationship when I was in high school, but that was really a nice way of saying that I hated her and she didn’t understand me. I understood then that she tried to understand me, but because I was in high school I did not have the capacity to explain the emotions I was dealing with. I couldn’t tell her that it had nothing to do with her that I broke curfew, tried alcohol and drugs, and skipped school. That all of that had to do with what was inside me. The uncertainty, the low self-esteem, the need for acceptance from anyone but her and my father. Of course, I couldn’t tell her any of this. I didn’t want to and honestly I didn’t really realize it all myself at the time.

When I think about the many reasons why adults should read YA, the strongest argument I can come up with is to help them understand their teenagers. Not all YA books can do this. It is a special, meaningful, true book that can. Story of a Girl is such a book.

I read Story of a Girl for the first time a year ago. I was thirty-five and very far away from high school, but reading it brought me back to the confusion, emptiness and uncertainty I felt during that time. Deanna’s story was very different from mine, but the way she reacted to her surroundings, the way she kind of gave up on herself and everyone around her, was very, very familiar. So familiar that reading it was like reading my journal from the time.

Would I have let my mother read my journal? No way. But she could have read Story of a Girl. She could have given it to me to read (if it had been published at the time). We could have attempted to talk about it. Because we were not talking about anything during that time, we were yelling and fighting and not talking. I believe that something as simple and beautiful as a book could have opened a door.
What Deanna says when she talks about the stories she writes in her journal could have opened a door: “Personal feelings I did not want to feel, I gave to her.” This encapsulates what I think so many teen girls go through. Sometimes they even sort of become another person. Angry, rebellious because that is easier than letting people see the person they really are. They are afraid to be who they really are.

Zarr is a brave enough writer to present the deepest, darkest parts of a teen’s mind. The things they hide from their friends, parents, sometimes even from themselves. I cannot tell you how many times, I thought this, “What if everyone got another chance after making a big mistake?” That is how being a teen feels. Everything you do brands you. If you lie to your parent’s once, you are a liar, get caught smoking in the bathroom you are a dirt-bag smoker. You do not have the opportunity to redeem yourself, so you keep falling deeper and deeper into the person everyone thinks you are anyway. There is no way I could have explained this to my mother, but if she would have seen Deanna say it, it may have made her think.

If she had seen Deanna say, “I Deanna Lambert, belong to no one and no one belongs to me. I don’t know what to do.” She might have just given me a hug instead of screaming at me when I came home smelling of alcohol.

Story of a Girl is a book that has the power to open doors between parents and children. It is a book that could help a parent understand why their child feels like an outsider when all the parent wants is for their child to let them in. I knew when I was a teenager that my mother still loved me, but it certainly didn’t feel like she liked me. Zarr captures this effortlessly when she writes, “The girl started to wonder if anyone would look for her.” My mother didn’t seem like she wanted to help the me I was in high school, it appeared that she wanted to help the me I used to be and that hurt most of all.

As a formerly troubled teen, as someone who thought daily what Deanna thought about her own life, “How, how am I supposed to find my own way out?” I would advocate that parents search out books like Story of a Girl when they feel like they don’t know where else to turn. Your teen probably thinks “My life is a question mark,” just like Deanna does when you ask them why they do the things they do. Books like Story of a Girl have the power to help you know your child, which even if they don’t admit it, is all they really want.

While talkinga bout Story of a Girl should be enough to make you want to go out and read it right now, Sara Zarr agreed to talk to us about it as well.  How awesome is that?  Below are just a few of me and some of my Twitter followers had for her.

What YA book do you think adults would benefit from reading?

There isn’t one specific book for all adults, but I encourage people to spend some time browsing the young adult section of the library or book store. I think people who only hear about YA through the mainstream media think all of YA is The Hunger Games, Twilight, or Harry Potter. In truth, it’s a huge, huge category of publishing, with something for everyone.

What did you intend readers to take away from Story of A Girl when you wrote it?

My intention is always just to tell the story that’s in my head, and do it the best I can, and hope that readers connect on some level while they’re reading it. With all my books, I’m just trying to tell a story. I do think there’s lots to take away if people are open to it, but I only hope they enjoy the book at whatever level organically happens for them.

What did readers take away from Story of a Girl that you didn’t expect?

There’s been some discussion that the story is partly about the double-standard (for girls vs. boys) when it comes to sexuality, that I didn’t really expect. And also some comparisons to The Scarlet Letter, which I’ve never read!

What was the best compliment you’ve received from an adult who read Story of A Girl?

One of my aunts, who is in her 70s, said that the emotions of Deanna’s struggle with herself and with her dad felt real to her experience, though her adolescence is over 50 years behind her and was in a very different time. This upholds my theory that the personal experience of moving from childhood to adulthood stays pretty much the same – it’s the context, the language, the accessories that change.

How did you get the idea for Story of a Girl?

It’s been so long now that I can’t totally remember. But I know this particular book started with characters. Deanna sort of came to me fully-formed, and she was tough but vulnerable and I wanted to know what that was about, where it came from.

When you completed Story of a Girl did you know how resonant it would be?

Virtually everything in my career has been a huge surprise and blessing. When it first came out, I just hoped more than ten people would read it. I think every writer fears his or her book won’t connect. It’s a relief when it does, and it makes you grateful.

You blogged once that you were considering giving up writing. What were your reasons for that, and how do you feel now?

Funny – I don’t remember saying exactly that. I think what I probably meant was not giving up the act of writing itself, but the career of “being a writer”, which is a different thing. Whereas once that felt vital to my identity, I think now I could see myself finding satisfaction making money other ways. For me, writing under contract and deadline is not my favorite thing. I am, right now, taking a little break from that, and it feels good.

How do you think you achieve such an authentic voice?

That is a nice question – thank you, to whoever asked that! I don’t know the answer. I know that I’m an extremely picky and critical reader, and am easily pulled out of a reading experience if I don’t “buy” the character’s words or emotions. So I’m picky and critical with myself, too, and always do a lot of cutting in my final drafts in attempts to get rid of anything that rings false to me, especially emotionally. It’s a tough call sometimes, though. (For the record, Karen J from TLT is the one who asked this questions – just saying.)
Meet Lisa Burstein
Lisa Burstein is the author of PRETTY AMY a book that Girls’ Life Magazine called “a must read for anyone who’s felt like they don’t belong.”; and The New York Journal of Books said has “a lot of wonderful snark that will make grownups laugh out loud.”
Please also check out Lisa Burstein’s Dear Teen Me letter.  It is an honest, powerful, bold and necessary reminder to girls everywhere that no means no.

Lisa Burstein

Book Review: Of Poseidon by Anna Banks

Galen, a Syrena prince, searches land for a girl he’s heard can communicate with fish. It’s while Emma is on vacation at the beach that she meets Galen. Although their connection is immediate and powerful, Galen’s not fully convinced that Emma’s the one he’s been looking for. That is, until a deadly encounter with a shark proves that Emma and her Gift may be the only thing that can save his kingdom. He needs her help–no matter what the risk. (from Goodreads.com)

Mermaids are popular this year. Very.  And the other day I read my first entry into this genre, Of Poseidon by Anna Banks.


Emma is spending the summer at the beach with her BFF when the two of them are attacked by a shark. (Bonus points for a shark attack!)  When the merprince Galen goes to intervene, he is too late, but not too late to see something truly amazing: Emma seems to be able to talk to the shark.

Galen packs up and lives life on dry land to figure out what he can about the mysterious Emma, and they both uncover secrets that they could never have  imagined.  And it seems that they may be falling in love;  although if Emma is who Galen thinks she is, she is destined for another.

Anna Banks creates a well developed underwater world with complex rules, well developed structures, and a lore that tweaks what you think you know about mermaids and makes it both fun and intruiging.

Emma is a strong female character who thinks for herself, challenges the merpeople conventions – which are  frustrating for a girl like Emma – and wrestles with a variety of complex emotions, including the grief and guilt she feels about the death of her best friend over the summer.

Galen was a frustrating character for the feminist in me because this is a character that is part of a society ruled by tradition and structure, some of which is not very forward thinking – especially when it comes to people in positions of royalty determining their own mate. So it is interesting to see Emma, a typical American teenager, suddenly being told that she is someone other than who she thinks she is and does not have the freedoms that she is used to.  Galen and Emma butt heads multiple times as he tries to tell her what to do (seriously – don’t go into the water). This is an interesting concept because it allows for us to have thoughtful conversations about respecting other cultures in very abstract terms.

Teen readers looking for romantic tension will not be disappointed here, although some people who raise valid criticisms about the Edward/Bella relationships may find themselves making the same types of criticisms about Of Poseidon. For example, when Emma goes on a date with another young man, Galen insists that Emma leave with him and will not take no as an answer. To be fair, there are a lot of these same types of conventions in most fantasy fiction presenting royalty, it just was highlighted more because here we have people who are basically strangers telling this young lady who she had to be. And to be equally fair, she was really being assertive and standing up for herself.

I think some of the relationship problems are discussed really well in the review by Katya in Goodread so give it a read. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12425532-of-poseidon

This was an entertaining read and the first part of a new series. There are a couple of interesting twists which should make for a compelling book 2.  I haven’t read any of the other new mermaid themed books coming out to compare and contrast them, but I think this will be popular with teen readers and I recommend it.  3 out of 5 stars.

Librarians Talk 10: You Tell Us

Librarians are all about sharing, so come share your experience and passion with us. Answer any or all of the questions in the comments and join in on the conversation.

1.  How did you become a teen librarian?

2. What is your favorite teen read (book or author)?

3.  What is one thing you wish your co-workers, administrator or community knew?

4.  What is the one thing you wish your teens knew?

5.  What has been your best program to date?

6.  What do you wish there was more of in teen fiction?

7.  What teen fiction trend are you so over?

8.  What is your least favorite (or most challenging) part of being a teen librarian?

9.  What is your favorite part of being a teen librarian?

10. What do you think is the biggest challenge for the future of teen librarianship?

Top 10 Apocalypse Survival Tips I Learned from YA

Post apocalyptic fiction is very popular these days in YA lit.  It can include zombies, or not.  There is often some vast government control – I’m talking to you Hunger Games, Delirium and Matched. Or simply a society that has devolved into utter chaos where it is every person out for themselves.  So here are my Top 10 Apocalypse Survival Tips I learned from reading YA lit.

Small groups are better than big groups.
Small groups are easier to protect, can fly by the radar undetected, and have less power struggles.
If you are going to be trapped, go to a big mega store or school.
There they tend to have some food stored up. And other things you may need, or even just want for comfort.
If someone is banging on the door outside, never ever let them in because they are always a crazy, psychotic, murderous, rapist dirt bag.
Do not ever have unprotected sex.
Would you really want to bring a baby into this world? Also, pregnant women have a harder time running away from crazy, murderous rapy dirt bags and brain eating zombies. Do. Not. Get. Pregnant.
Make sure you set up a place for everyone to go potty far away from where you are living. Have we learned nothing from the plague years?
Have short hair, otherwise you’ll get head lice. Also, long hair is easy to grab.
It’s not just pirates that get scurvy, so make sure you eat healthy food.
If you find a camp or town that looks safe, it probably isn’t so keep on walking. You know that saying “some deals are too good to be true”, there’s a reason people say it – there is a lot of truth to it.  Also, see rule 1: small groups.
The government has no idea what to do in the event of an apocalypse either, so good luck.  Also, some people in positions of power are evil and will take advantage of the situation in ways that are not good for human kind.
You too can be a cannibal, though probably not a fine young one (although the apocalypse will probably drive you crazy).
And the final thing I have learned from all the post apocalyptic ya I have been reading: there is a darkness in many, many people. Which leads me back to small groups.
Now it’s your turn: what are your survival tips from reading YA? And what book did you learn them from?

World Book Night 2012

On April 23, hundreds of thousands of people joined together to spread their love of the simplest of items: the book.  World Book Night is an annual celebration, started first in 2011 in the UK, which exists simple to spread the love of reading and books from person to person.  This year, WBN made its debut in the United States and I felt honored to be one of the WBN givers this past month!  

Basically, I saw a tweet online about joining a group to hand out free books and so my little librarian heart went pitter patter and I went and signed up.  When you signed up, you were able to chose from a list of 30 different titles.  When I saw The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, I immediately chose it as my first pick.  I mean, it’s the freaking Hunger Games…and I’m a YA librarian.  I’m only human!
Then, the week of April 16, I got to go and pick up a box of books: 20 shiny new paperback copies of The Hunger Games all ready to be distributed into the world.  Now, one of my dilemmas was choosing where I would be giving these books out.  You’re asked to give the books out to non-readers and so giving them out at the library really wasn’t an option.  I wanted to go out into the community and spread my love to those who were not usually within the four walls of a library.  I did take library card applications, bookmarks about library services, and a letter that invited them to stop by the library or email us if they liked the book and I place all of that information into the books.  Just making sure I pass on good library info like a good little librarian!
My mother, she is still protective, was worried that I would drive into a gang fight and try to pass out books (and she is probably right), so I asked a friend who is a professor at the local university to come with me. 
So, Shalanda and I set off to conquer the world with our books.  At first, I thought we’d stop by a gardening program at another library and found out that someone had already been by there with books for WBN!  We quickly jumped back in the car and decided to drive down a strip mall area known as Antique Alley to see if we could find random walkers.  There was an older woman and her husband loading plants in the car and she gladly took a book and then commented on how she had heard about the book and wanted to read it.  
That was fun but we wanted to try to step it up a notch so we stopped by a Laundromat.  Inside was a mother and her two tween/teen daughters.  When we asked them if they wanted a FREE copy of The Hunger Games, the girls’ eyes lit up.  You would have thought that we were giving them a pony.  Then, we gave the Mom a copy as well, and while she hadn’t heard of it, she seemed very excited to get a copy of a free book.
Next stop?  The hospital.  We went to the pediatric ward and there were no kids in the hospital (yay!) but the nurses all had to have a copy.  Then, they told us that there was a mother there with a sick baby so Shalanda delivered the book to her.  Her quote was something like, “Oh good…I needed something to do while I am here.”  On the elevator trip back downstairs, spied an older gentleman who was carrying a book but I decided to offer a copy anyway.  The man said, “My daughter was telling me about this book and that I needed to read it.”
With only a few books left, we decided to travel over to the ER waiting room because we have all been to the ER and flipped through the copy of People magazine where Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt are still married and Bill Clinton is still President.  It was EASY to pass out books there.  And one boy sat reading with his mother.  She looked up and said, “OH! The Hunger Games…for free?”  When we walked away, the shy boy looked up and you could see in his eyes that he was PUMPED. Now that is a good feeling.
Then, our last stop?  The Chick-Fil-A Drive Thru.  We gave our last three books to the girls working the drive thru.  They were stunned but very thankful.  And then…we were done.
Overall, this was one of the most fulfilling programs I’ve ever done.  It makes a difference to get out in your community and spread the love of reading.  And why wait for World Book Night?  Take those leftover ARCs that we all have hiding on your bookshelves and plan one evening to go to a hospital and pass a few books out.  
Later that night, I got an email from the man in the elevator.  It said, “Thank you so much for the book.  Tonight, I called and talked to my 35 year old daughter for an hour about the book and it gave us an opportunity to connect in a way which we haven’t ever done before.  I will pass this book on when I am done and hope it does the same for them.”
That’s what it’s all about.  Spreading the love of reading.  Don’t wait for April 23, 2013…start today. 
If you’re interested in World Book Night, visit http://www.worldbooknight.org/ and sign up on the mailing list to find out more about the program and to hear early when they are taking applications for the 2013 WBN!

The Geek Girls Guide to ALA

ALA Anaheim continues, but I am back because I have to work and feed small children. But it was an AMAZING experience . . .

First, I met the lovely Miss Stephanie in the flesh.  We hung out a lot and had a great time. We made a race car. We fangirled over books. We made witty commentary about stuffs. You’ll just have to trust me on that one.

Stephanie Wilkes of TLT, making a car in Downtown Disney


After hanging out with Stephanie, I went to the Simon and Schuster dinner with Kenneth Oppel and Neal Shusterman, where I got copies of Such Wicked Intent and Unwholly, and completely convinced Kenneth that I was probably not winning any mother of the year awards.  Apparently, it is not considered normal to stay up watching Jaws with your 3 year old on Christmas Eve.  I didn’t get to talk a lot to Shusterman, although I did get to tell him how much I love the book Bruiser (really, go check it out) and how I thought it didn’t get the book love it deserved.  Oppel was just a delight to talk to, even if he did mock me.

My next stop was the Little, Brown party at the House of Blues – which I may not have technically been invited to.  It turns out when you say I am supposed to go to a dance party that sometimes there is more than one.  BUT, I got to see Libba Bray seriously get down to Word Up and feel like perhaps I could die a happy person.  Later, at the Random House party, I actually got to talk to her and thanked her not only for writing good books that get my teens reading, but for speaking out boldly about women’s health issues.

Saturday was the day of the Exhibit Hall.  Here is where the madness truly begins.  Before I talk about the ARCs, and I know that is what a lot of you want to hear about, I want to talk about Graphic Novel Alley.  This was so truly amazing!  There were row upon rows of graphic novel publishers, artists and more.  They even had a stage set up where you could sit and hear some cool talk.  My first geek out moment of ALA came not from meeting an author, but from meeting Robin Brenner of No Flying, No Tights fame.

Kill Shakespeare and Robin Brenner

She rode in my car after the S&S party and I was stoked to meet her.  We met up again at GN alley and she introduced me to one of the artists of Kill Shakespeare as “her friend.”  Yes, yes I am THAT girl.

As you know, I printed a list of around 15 ARCs that were my MUST HAVES, and I managed to get 9 of them.

ARCs I got:
Unwholly by Neal Shusterman
Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
Shadows by Ilsa J Bick
The Futre We Left Behind by Mike A. Lancaster
Flesh and Bone by Jonathan Maberry
Crewel by Gennifer Albin
Ask the Passengers by A. S. King (Stephanie got me a signed copy)
Butter
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

I also got a copy of Entice by Jessica Shirvington.  It was fun to stop by the Sourcebooks booth and talk about the fact that when I came home from ALA, Embrace was the first book out of all of my ARCs that The Mr. choose to read.

While visiting the Running Press booth I stubmled across the coolest thing.  Please, check out this promotional display for The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez.

You see what’s cool about this, right?  Look! They quoted me.

At the Exhibit Hall I also met the 2012 Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley.

Karen Jensen of TLT and 2012 Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley

Later that evening Stephanie and I went to the Random House party.  This is where my first HUGE geek moment occurred: I MET DANIEL KRAUS. I didn’t even know he would be there. I just looked up, there he was – and I may have squeed just a little bit.  He was standing next to David Levithan and Libba Bray.  I only moderately embarrassed myself and despite what Stephanie says, I left without any restraining orders – that I know of.

Karen Jensen of TLT and Daniel Kraus

Then Stephanie and I were off to the EgmontUSA party where I spent a lot of time talking to the one and only Michael Grant.  It was hands down one of the coolest moments of my life.  Not like giving birth to my children cool, but having a great discussion about books and teens and libraries with one of your favorite authors.  We even talked a little bit about my review of BZRK. I also got a chance to tell Michael about how the tween and I had just finished reading his wife’s fabulous book The One and Only Ivan out loud together, and I hope he passed along the information.

Karen Jensen of TLT and Michael Grant

At the dinner we also met and had some good discussion with Lex Thomas, the author of Quarantine: the Losers, who are in fact two people.  It was interesting to talk with them about their experience writing as a team.

I met a lot of the librarians, bloggers and authors that I talk to online, which was an amazing experience.  It is always nice to talk to other teen librarians and talk about what you are doing that works, what your system is struggling with (usually time and money) and more. I love ALA!

Building Bridges to Literacy for African-American Male Youth: A Summit Follow Up (Pt. 2)

So, for those of you just tuning in, this is final post concerning the Building Bridges to Literacy for African-American Male Youth which I attended and presented at earlier this month.  If you haven’t read the previous posts, you may feel a little confused, so I entourage to start here, go here, and then come back to us here at part three. 

I hope that many of you did think about your textual lineage and envision your departments and libraries and make sure that your areas are engaging and empowering.

 I found the exercise to be pretty fulfilling and by this time, we had only made it to lunch on the first full day, so you can imagine how mentally exhausted (in a good way) we were.  We also got to hear from researchers and professors in the field of work with either educators or librarians or even the youth themselves while they showed us the research gaps and gave us some cold hard facts.  For an extensive overview of those facts, please take time to read the Council of the Great City Schools’ report, “A Call for Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools”.  We also heard from practitioners in the field (myself included) and the opportunities and challenges that exist in meeting the literacy needs of African-American male students as well  as what changes needed to be made to ensure success of library programming for these students.

One of the best moments of the entire summit was the next day when a panel of African-American high school and college students came to talk about their experiences as readers, library users, and students in general.  They all talked about their favorite books, ranging from African-American biographies to Harry Potter, and then they talked about their ideal library.  What did I gather that the ideal library for a young male would entail?  Well…the following:

  • Food
  • Food
  • Food
  • Free space to hang out
  • Technology that you can move around
  • Food
  • A place to hang out with your friends and be loud

I think we all kinda knew that was coming.  One thing that they did mention was that they felt judged by staff in the library, as if staff were automatically suspicious of their activities.  I know that is the case at my own library with some of the staff, so much so that the teens actually prank the staff members.  And these teens mentioned the same thing.  Just always remember that judging one’s intentions by their appearance is a sticky subject.  Clothing worn by African-American males may be viewed as disrespectful by some but sagging pants?  Just a way that young black men identify with other black men.  It doesn’t mean that they’re packing heat and about to do a drug deal in your library.

As the summit wrapped up, we were all invited to share what we felt was necessary to keep this discussion open and keep the ball rolling towards starting a nationwide initiative for the library community to step up and work on this issue.  Some of the key words that we all felt were action steps are emulated in the Wordle at the top of the second post.  Community, love, collaboration…just to name a few.

But basically, it is our job, as library practitioners, to ensure that we are recognizing that there is a huge issue and challenging ourselves to come up with small scale, or large scale, solutions.  If you have had a successful literacy program at your library, share in the comments field OR EVEN BETTER, contact either Karen or myself so that you can do a guest post called Teen Program in a Box or a TPIB.  It doesn’t have to be difficult and if you want one of us to write up what you do, we’d be glad to.

Please check out more of the information at the summit’s official website: Building Bridges to Literacy for African-American Male Youth or at the blog where you can read articles that many of the summit attendees are putting together.

Book Review: Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown

I am a reader and a librarian, but I am also an aunt.  My sister-in-law has 4 boys, 3 of whom are autistic.  I remember once taking the “typical” sibling to a pizza place for dinner and he looked around in awe and wonder; it was almost like he had just entered Disneyland for the first time.  It was then that I realized that even though he was now in the 3rd grade, this was in fact the first time he had been to a pizza place because when you have 3 autistic siblings – your life is different.  I think often what it must be like to grow up in a home with a sibling (or siblings) that has any type of issues (in part because one of my children has some chronic digestive issues and food allergies).  And earlier this year, TLT teen reviewer Cuyler Creech wrote about his experience being the older sibling to a brother with Down’s Sydrome and Autism.  And this question, this idea of what it is like growing up in a home – under the shadow often – of a sibling with issues is the core of what Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown is about, and she captures it perfectly.

We all knew what Grayson’s “Difficulties” were.
Grayson’s difficulties dominated his life.
and Mom’s and Dad’s. And mine.
Sometimes it felt like especially mine.
(Back jacket copy of Perfect Escape)

Kendra is in the middle of her junior year when her life begins to unravel in new and gloriously complicated ways.  It’s not like her life as ever been easy; how can it be when your older brother has OCD and a variety of anxiety disorders?  But the things that are happening to her now – well, they are entirely her fault.  She has always been the perfect child, trying to overcompensate for all of Grayson’s imperfections.  But what will happen when everyone finds out what she has been up to?
“We could, I thought. We could get away.  The two of us.  Neither of us could go home and pretend life was wonderful. Both of us knew it never would be, even if it was for entirely different reasons.”
(from Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown)
In a split second decision, Kendra decides to take off with her brother across the country to California to see an old best friend, Zoe.  Years ago Grayson’s difficulties made Zoe’s family leave, but Zoe promised they would never forget one another.  Surely that promise still holds true, and Grayson always seemed the most at peace with Zoe.
As Kendra and Grayson set off across the country, Kendra comes to realize many truths about herself.  There are so many thoughtful discussions about family, sibling relationships, living in the shadow of a sibling – any sibling – and the expectations we put upon ourselves.  There are a couple of those glorious moments that you expect to find in a road trip novel, but this is road trip like no other because this one involves Grayson (more on this in a minute).
Along the way Kendra and Grayson pick up a teen mother named Rena, fleeing with her baby from an abusive older husband.  Like Zoe before, it sometimes seems as if Grayson is slightly better in the presence of Rena.  But none of them have any idea how gloriously Garyson can really melt down, until he finally does and Kendra is the only one around to help him.
Perfect Escape is a thought provoking, touching, well written contemporary novel that touches on some very basic themes.  It also does a tremendous job of providing insight into what it can be like to be the sibling of a person with mental health issues.  This is one of several books that I have read this year dealing with the topic of OCD (The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, for example), although this is the only one that presents a sibling point of view. 
Perfect Escape takes the classic concept of the Road Trip, and puts a unique spin on it by adding all of Grayson’s quirky complications and rituals.  It is hard to drive across the country when you have to walk in and out of a door 36 times (always an even number) and your mind can imagine every health hazard that lays upon the hotel room beds.  It is even harder to have a road trip where you are trying to run away from your problems when those very problems seem to define every moment of who you are and how you have to live your life.  In the end, Kendra realizes that it is not so much that she can cure her brother or run from her own problems, but that she can learn to maybe accept who they both are and try to just go on from there.  Just like real life, there are no neat and tidy resolutions wrapped in pretty packaging and tied with a bow.
There are a couple of interesting things that happen here.  One, our main character, Kendra, is often not a likable character and is even aware on some levels that what she is doing is completely selfish and self destructive – but I found that I somehow cared.  But more importantly, throughout the course of the story she grows and often allows herself to be honest.  In those honest moments, you get a glimpse of just how difficult it has been for her.  It is interesting, too, to hear Grayson discuss that it has been equally hard for him growin up in his sister’s shadow, knowing that he was so completely imperfect and costing his family so much while she was the perfect child he could never hope to be.  The truth is, siblings, no matter who they are and how much they may love each other and be loved at home, can’t seem to escape the comparisons that come from being united by blood and parentage.  Sibling relationships are complicated in the most basic of situations and there is never any escaping the pain and glory that comes from having siblings, whoever they turn out to be.
Well written, emotionally raw, and completely honest, Perfect Escape is the road trip you didn’t know you wanted to take.  The characterization is spot on, the dialogue is sharp, witty and sometimes cuts to the quick like the conversation in most families, and the moments of insight are moving.  If you have a sibling that you haven’t talked to in a while, you will want to pick up the phone when you are done.  And maybe, just maybe, teen readers will take a look up from their book and pause for just a moment as they consider their own siblings.  4 out of 5 stars for the rich emotional journey that is Perfect Escape.
Topics discussed in Perfect Escape include OCD, siblings, cheating in school, loss of friendship, running away, teen moms and perfectionism.  Every library should purchase this book because it touches on important topics (OCD is often a co-diagnosis with Autism, both of which are growing in incidence among today’s youth) and presents an important POV, being the sibling of an individual with mental health issues.  Perfect Escape will be published in July by Little, Brown School (978-0-316-18557-8)