Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Cybils 2012

I am very excited, and honored, to be a first round panelist for the YA Sci Fi/Fantasy category for this year’s Cybil awards.  The Cybils are the children and young adult literary blogger awards.  But don’t fear, you can participate . . .

Public nominations are open from October 1st through October 15th, so please be sure to stop by the Cybils 2012 website and nominate your favorite – and most deserving – titles in the categories listed.  They have a complete FAQ to answer all your questions.

One day is not enough: Suicide Prevention Day (by Heahter B.)

World Suicide Prevention Day was September 10th, twenty days ago. I didn’t know it at the time. I found a postcard on my desk, buried in catalogs and other mail, reminding me of this fact just this morning. I have a love/hate relationship with these types of days. Part of me feels like it does a disservice to relegate awareness of these problems to just one day; it should always be on our minds. At the same time, I realize that awareness of so many worthwhile causes would fall by the wayside unless a big to-do is made about them one day a year; one week a year; one month a year. And even this one day passed me by without my noticing.

As people who can lead teens to useful information, maybe suicide and self-harm is more present in teen librarians’ awareness than others. We are sure to have up to date books on our shelves. We put out any bookmarks or posters with help lines that come our way. We smile at teens. We welcome them to our space. We help them feel important. We try. Sometimes it must work, right? But sometimes it doesn’t and though the failing isn’t ours alone, or at all, if a teen in our community commits suicide there isn’t one of us who hasn’t wished we could’ve done something to help.

Twenty days ago was the big to-do. But it’s obviously still an issue. We all remind teens to buckle up, drive safely, don’t text while driving. No one bats an eye at these constant reminders to take care of oneself. But when I think about the young lives that have ended around me, the sad truth is that it wasn’t cars or violence or disease that ended most of those lives, it was suicide.

That postcard was a reminder to me, so I’m passing it on, twenty days late or just in time. Here’s a reminder, from me to you.

What you can do:

Post information about crisis hotlines in your teen space or on your website: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetInvolved/Materials

Know the warning signs and don’t feel foolish about taking steps if you fear for the life of one of the teens with whom you work:

Check out the free course offerings from the Society of Prevention of Teen Suicide:

Look over your nonfiction offerings and make sure nothing needs to be replaced, updated, or withdrawn. Be sure to include in this review your sections on depression, coping with grief, GLBTQ acceptance, bullying, anxiety, and stress relief.

Please use the comment section to share your resources and stories of how teen librarians can be allies to teens struggling with suicidal thoughts.


Redifing the “3 Rs” for Banned Books Week

Karen Jensen, the teen librarian is:
A) A person of deep personal faith beliefs
B) A strong advocate for teens
C) A voracious reader
D) A defender of libraries
E) An outspoken defender of free speech and celebrant of Banned Books Week
F) All of the above

It was while majoring in Youth Ministry (Christian Education) at Mount Vernon Nazarene College (now Mount Vernon Nazarene University) that I became a loud mouth against censorship.  Yep, there I was at a conservative Christian college putting up an awesome display for Banned Books Week on the outside of my dorm room door (it truly was epic).  While I sat in chapel and learned how the Bible says we should be “in the world but not of it”, I also came to understand that in order for me – or anyone – to truly be a person of faith, we had to be able to have access to the information we needed to make that decision for ourselves.  Information (and the free access to it) is the cornerstone of personal, authentic decision making.

So I came up with a plan! Already working as a paraprofessional as a young adult services assistant (under the tutelage of my truly amazing mentor), I would become a teen services librarian because that WAS my ministry (radical thinking!).  And I developed a new model for the 3 Rs in the life of a teenager: Radical, Rebellious and Righteous.


(esp. of change or action) Relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.
A person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform.
adjective. fundamental – drastic (from Google.com)

I know many people are afraid of rebelliousness (especially in teenagers – gasp).  And we frown upon being radical (conformity is such a valued trait I can’t help but notice).  But when you stop for a moment and think about it, radical rebelliousness is the hallmark and backbone of America.  We exist because those English blokes (and whatever the female counterpart for blokes is) threw all the tea overboard and said No!  Then we grew a little bit more because an amazing woman sat, I imagine tired and with throbbing feet, and refused to give up her seat (you know I am speaking of Rosa Parks, right?).  Our history books and science journals are full of stories of radical people (and ideas) being rebellious.  And sometimes, there is a little rigtheousness thrown in, whether it be the righteousness of faith or the righteous indignation that causes people to stand up and fight for truth and justice (thank you Martin Luther King, Jr.)


  1. Showing a desire to resist authority, control, or convention.
  2. (of a person, city, or state) Engaged in opposition or armed resistance to an established government or ruler.
mutinous – insurgent – rebel – seditious (from Google.com)

That is what Banned Books Week is about, reminding people everywhere that it is okay for the words on the page to be shocking or questioning or – gasp – radical, rebellious born of a righteous indignation.  We don’t have to agree with them, we don’t have to like them, but it’s the basic hallmark of what we call “The American Way” that we don’t get to decide that for others.  Okay, technically parents get to decide it for their kids, but you don’t get to decide it for MY kids.  Or for me.

Banned Books Week is a reminder:  There are people out there who want to be the “thought police” (with deference to Mr. George Orwell).  And the truth is, those who control the information control the world.  Oddly enough, we need only to look at the history of faith to be reminded of this:  The church fought long and hard to keep the Bible in a language that only few could understand because that power to interpret and lord God’s wrath over the populace gave them tremendous power (and wealth).  When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door and the Bible was made available to us all, it shifted the power and gave us, each individual, the opportunity to interact with God on a more personal level and to decide what our faith means to us.  Or what faith we want to have, if any.


  1. (of a person or conduct) Morally right or justifiable; virtuous.
  2. Perfectly wonderful; fine and genuine.
just – right – upright – rightful – fair – honest (from Google.com)

We can try and control our teens and really monitor what they read.  Or . . . we can help them develop critical thinking skills, nurture a love of story, and let them be the next generation of radical thinkers who help us find a cure for cancer, write the next Harry Potter that inspires a generation, or stands on the footpath of history and challenges us to be a more humane people.  We don’t really fear the words on the page, we fear the fact that they challenge us to really examine what we think we know and feel and believe and that in the end, we may come out on the other side believing (or thinking or feeling) something different.  And yet, history has proven time and time again that is not always a bad thing (see all the examples listed above).  But think of how much stronger we are when we read those words on the page, turn the last page, and reaffirm who we are and where we stand in the world. 

I celebrate Banned Books Week and stand against censorship because I believe that being radical, rebellious and righteous is sometimes exactly what we need and is the heart of one’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

P.S., in case you haven’t figured it out.  Karen Jensen is F – all of the above!!!  Leave a comment letting me know which of the above you are and why.

Join us all week for Banned Books Week posts, including one from the author of Pretty Amy, Lisa Burstein.

What if Amy wasn’t Pretty?

Who watches the Watchers? (a guest post by Ashes author Ilsa J. Bick)

For the last two Saturdays, as part of The Sunnydale Project, I have shared with you some of my favorite Buffy read alikes.  Today, I share with you a guest blog post by an author of another amazing Buffy read alike, Ilsa J. Bick, author of both Ashes and ShadowsOne of the key characteristics of our girl Buffy is that she is a strong, independent, kick ass heroine.  And so is Alex, the main character in the Ashes trilogy.  Ashes is the story of “the changed” (the changed become zombie like in that they now eat human flesh, yummy) and Alex’s quest to survive in a new world.  The moment that the change occurs and Alex is spared marks a turning point for our heroine in much the same way that Buffy’s life is forever changed when she becomes The Chosen One, the slayer.  Like Buffy, Alex is reborn and must fight to hold back the darkness, both in the world and within herself.  You can read my review of Ashes (book 1) here and of Shadows (book 2) here.  Today, we’ll let author Ilsa J. Bick tell you why librarians, though probably not technically Watchers, rock!
The Changed will grow in numbers.  The Spared may not survive.
The Ashes trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick, published by EgmontUSA

True story: I’m on tour for ASHES, and I go to this school library in Michigan to talk to about two hundred kids.  They’re nice.  Most kids are.  So we’re talking, and they’re into it and so am I—when, all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see this big, hulking, football kid, call him Brandon, unfold from the depths of the couch where he’s been hiding.  (Really.  The kid was tucked up, head down, arms crossed, legs going in that please-God-get-me-out-of-here jiggle we all know because we’ve all done it.)  Now, Brandon is really huge, neck like a tree trunk, muscles large as cantaloupes, buzz cut.  The kind of boy a football coach would throw his grandmother under the bus to put on the team, know what I saying?  I’m not indulging in stereotypes, really, but given Brandon’s behavior, I know he’d rather have his tonsils taken out with a fork.  Except something snagged him, lured him out of hiding.

So Brandon makes this interesting circuit, walking the perimeter, scoping things out.  Counterclockwise.  (Yes, it’s the geek in me.)  Not quite making like a shark; more like a drone whose operator’s trying to decide if you’re worth the effort.  So I’m still talking, but I’m watching, see, keeping an eye on this kid, wondering what’s going on—when, from the very back, he shouts, “So, like, this book?  There’s survival stuff and an army guy and all that?  Like, and it’s not about vampires and boyfriends and in the future and crap?”   (He didn’t say “crap,” but this is a PG-13 blog.)

So, you know, I said that, no, my book was . . . blah, blah.  What I said really isn’t important.  Here’s what is: the minute Brandon said, “Dude, this is awesome,” and then marched up to sit in the front row.  (And, yes, you could see the heads turn and hear the buzz.)  Brandon even stayed after to talk until the librarian shooed him to his next class.

And here’s what else is important: when the librarian said, “Oh, this is marvelous. Brandon doesn’t read.  I’ve tried so hard to get him interested.  This is the first time I’ve seen him excited over a book.”  Thanked me for getting Brandon jazzed, and the way she said it?  Choked me up.

Now, was Brandon’s sudden interest a testament to my sparkling persona and great delivery style?  Only sort of; I’d like to think it’s the story because what this really speaks to is two-fold: a shared love for story, and a librarian’s commitment to her kids.  One almost never exists without the other because our librarians are often the ones who put the books we come to love in our hands in the first place.  That this woman knew this boy so well and tried so hard tells you, right off the bat, she cares not only about books but each kid.  She knows Brandon, and wants to share what she loves.

The best librarians are like that: people who turn an anonymous place into one where your name is known and you matter.  Where someone hands you a book and says, “I saw this and thought of you.”

Being nominated for a YALSA award is an honor and a thrill, all by itself.  Would I love for ASHES to make the Teen TopTen?  You bet.  But the nomination is also fabulous because it affirms what I truly believe.  What I write, I write out of great feeling and with care for my characters, my craft, the story.  That what I do is valued and becomes a gift?  What writer could fail to be honored?

Brandon . . . Dude, enjoy the read.

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, as well as a film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and an award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels, including the critically acclaimed Draw the Dark (Carolrhoda Lab, 2010); Drowning Instinct (Carolrhoda Lab, 2011); Ashes, the first book in her YA apocalyptic thriller trilogy (Egmont USA, 2011) and the just-released second volume, Shadows. Forthcoming is The Sin-Eater’s Confession (Carolrhoda Lab, 2013) and the last installment in the ASHES trilogy, Monsters (Egmont USA, 2013).  Ilsa lives with her family and other furry creatures near a Hebrew cemetery in rural Wisconsin.  One thing she loves about the neighbors: They’re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon.
Visit her at www.ilsajbick.com.  Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @ilsajbick.
Slayer Scavenger Hunt

Did you notice some words written in red in this post? If not, go back and take a look. You’ll want to, I can reassure you. Why? Because we are having a Buffy themed scavenger hunt! How fun is that? To find out how to participate, read the details below. And I know you’ll want to participate because we are working on getting some GREAT prizes lined up for the winners!
  • Each week on our Slayer Saturday posts look for the words highlighted. There will be 3 sets of words each weekend, so make sure to visit all three blogs (Bookish Comforts, Patricia’s Particularity and Teen Librarian Toolbox).
  • Write down the words each week (Sept. 8 – Oct. 20), putting them in an order that makes sense. All together these words create a quote from Buffy.
  • During the last week a form will be made available on all three blogs where you can turn in the quote that you have pieced together.
  • On the last weekend of The Sunnydale Project, Oct. 27, the quote will be revealed! We will then draw a winner from those who have correctly completed the quote.
We really hope you have fun with this! We’re still finalizing the prize, but it’ll be worth participating for! An announcement will be made when all details have been finalized!

But What About…? – A Guest Post from Lois Lowry

Looking Back: a book of memories
Lois Lowry, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
1998 ISBN: 978-0395895436

 Oh dear, it is happening already. And the book isn’t even officially published yet.

Two people who have read SON in an advance copy have contacted me to ask, “But what about Einar? Will he ever get together with Claire? You have to write another book!”
I’ve never written books about romance. But there is a hint of it, a smidgeon, in SON. And it is unfulfilled, apparently, at least in the minds of some readers.
It’s always hard to wrap up a book, to type THE END and feel that it is truly over. I typed THE END when I completed THE GIVER…and then found that it wasn’t.  Now there are four books, and this last one brings together all of those characters—Jonas, Kira, Gabe—and introduces some new ones, especially Claire. Then it concludes with evil vanquished and beauty restored.  It really is TNE END, this time,
But what about Einar?  The second person who asked me that was almost wailing.
I guess that if the characters seem real enough, if they connect well with the reader, if they are sympathetic, then a book can never be satisfactorily concluded. The reader will always wonder about the what-next.
But no, I am not going to write more about these people. I think if a book is well done, if the characters are well-drawn, the astute and sensitive reader should be able to perceive and imagine what is next, what will happen after the final page is turned.
As for Einar? Well, SON is in part about sacrifice. What is a person willing to sacrifice for someone they love? What will Claire sacrifice in order to find her lost son?  The answer is anything. And she does.
So does Einar, who loves Claire enough that he is willing not just to let her go…but to help her do so.
And he’s doing fine. Thanks for asking.  
Lois Lowry so graciously agreed to do a guest post for us despite her super busy schedule and we are not only jumping up and down with excitement but also honored that she took the time to contribute to our week long celebration.  Please feel free to leave her messages below and thank her for being so awesome!  Remember, you can enter to win a set of the books in either audio or hardcover HERE, courtesy of Books On Tape/Listening Library and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Thanks to everyone for reading, to our amazing sponsors for being so amazing, and to Lois Lowry for creating a world in which future generations will find themselves lost in for hours, just as we did.  

Take a step back in time with guest blogger Jennifer McGowan (Historical ya fiction spotlight)

Earlier this week I confessed that Historical Fiction is my Achilles heel (I even managed to turn a post about historical fiction into a post about epidemics – I am that awesome) when it comes to collection development – so I enlisted help! Today I bring you a guest blog post by someone who writes historical ya fiction, Jennifer McGowan.  Her ya historical, Maid of Secrets, comes out in the spring.

Why in the World write YA Historicals?

With the recent boom in Young Adult fiction series such as Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments and, of course, Harry Potter, the obvious sub-genre for an author interested in writing Young Adult novels would seem to range from contemporary paranormal to futuristic dystopian.  With novels like these, readers can explore larger-than-life magic or mythical beings or evil governments sprawling out of control… and escape into a world that just isn’t quite real. Seems like a terrific formula of success, doesn’t it?
So of course, I didn’t follow it.

Instead, not only did I choose to write YA Historical… but I wrote it about a group of fictional girls in Elizabethan England—a time period not exceptionally well known by most teen readers.  And although I was not entirely sure how my stories of Elizabethan spies would fare, I was thrilled when Simon & Schuster picked up the first two books in the series, starting with MAID OF SECRETS (debuting May 7, 2013).

As for choosing the Elizabethan time period for the setting of my novel, I blame my College History class. Under the instruction of Rev. John LaRocca, S.J. at Xavier University, I fell in love with the danger and royal intrigue of Queen Elizabeth’s court, and was awed by the incredible strength of will that she demonstrated during her extraordinary 44 year reign.  I became somewhat of a scholar on the subject of Elizabethan England, and learned that the men and women surrounding Elizabeth proved as fascinating as she was – her scheming Ladies in Waiting; the diabolical Sir Frances Walsingham, spymaster to the Queen; the shrewd strategist Lord William Cecil; and the endless round of suitors who pursued the unmarried Elizabeth for most of her life.

The Young Adult angle came later. When I decided to write about Elizabethan female spies, it seemed natural that they should be unmarried… which perforce made them younger (aged 15-18). In addition, I elected to set my tale at the very start of the Queen’s reign, when she was only twenty five years old. With that in mind, an author friend suggested that I write the story primarily for teens instead of adults, and MAID OF SECRETS was on its way.

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan
Simon and Schuster for Young Readers
May 2013 ISBN: 9781442441408
Check it out on Goodreads

But Elizabethan England isn’t the only time period that has gained publisher and reader interest recently—in fact, some recent and upcoming novels help demonstrate exactly how diverse and intriguing the world of YA and Middle Grades Historical Fiction has become:

THE WICKED AND THE JUST, by J. Anderson  Coats, set in 13th Century England, is the story of medieval teens behaving badly in English-occupied Wales.  (debuted April, 2012)

THE KEY AND THE FLAME, by Claire M. Caterer, set in a fantasy version of Medieval England, is an MG tale in which an eleven-year-old American girl and her friends travel to an alternate universe of mystical adventure. (debuts April, 2013)

A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, by Sharon Biggs Waller, set against the backdrop of the women’s suffrage movement in 1909 England, tells the story of an Edwardian teen who, after getting expelled from her French boarding school, pursues her passion for art – and for an attractive police constable – despite the restrictions of her upper-class family. (debuts Winter, 2014)  

GILT, by Katherine Longshore, set in Tudor England, is the tale of a young woman who must learn to walk the fine line between secrets and treason when her best friend marries Henry VIII … and who discovers that in the Tudor court, the price of gossip could literally be her head.  (debuted May, 2012)

THE FALCONER, by Elizabeth May, set in 1844 Scotland, is the fantasy historical tale of a young Edinburgh socialite who endures the murder of her mother by a faery… and becomes a hunter of the fae. (debuts May, 2013)

BORN WICKED, by Jessica Spotswood, set in 1890s New England, is the story of three eccentric sisters who must keep their magic a secret from the repressive Brotherhood. (debuted June, 2012)

IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, by Cat Winters, set in WWI-era America, is the tale of a teen girl mourning the loss of her first love in 1918 California, where a flu has turned deadlier than a world war, and spirit communication has become a dark and dangerous obsession, illustrated with early-twentieth-century photographs. (debuts April 2013)

EVERY DAY AFTER, by Laura Golden, set in Depression-era Alabama, is the story of a young girl finding the true meaning of family when her father leaves, her mother is lost in sadness, her best friend betrays her, and the very roof over her head is at risk.  (debuts  June, 2013)

And of course 😉

MAID OF SECRETS, by Jennifer McGowan, set in Elizabethan England, is the story of a wry, resourceful thief forced to join an elite group of spies in Queen Elizabeth’s court—to find a murderer, save the crown, and resist the most forbidden temptation of all: falling in love. (debuts May, 2013)

These books I’ve listed above are just a small sample of what YA historical readers have in store, and all of the authors are members of the brand new historical blog http://corsetsandcutlasses.wordpress.com/.  So stayed tuned, keep reading, and let’s make a little history!
Jennifer McGowan writes Young Adult Elizabethan romance fiction full of swash and buckle. Her first novel, MAID OF SECRETS, debuts May 7, 2013 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. You can learn more about her at www.jennifermcgowan.com, or follow her online at @Jenn_Mcgowan.
What’s your favorite historical fiction title for yas? And what’s your favorite historical time period to read about?  Tell us in the comments.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

photo courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

There will be two parts to this post.  The first, in which I discuss the amazing book Son by Lois Lowry, the final book in The Giver quartet.  And the second, in which I discuss why this book was so near and dear to my heart and I get super personal.  Go refill your tea/coffee/other beverage and join us.

Son will be released by October 2, 2012, and for many Lowry fans, this has been a long awaited book.  This is the story of Claire, who lived in the same community as Jonas during the events of The Giver.  Claire is a few years older than Jonas and was given the assignment of birthmother.  During her delivery, something goes wrong and she has a c-section and because of the complications, she is released from her assignment and sent to work at the fish hatchery.  But Claire’s son?  Oh Lois Lowry, you really did it this time.  Claire’s son is Gabriel.  And Claire wants him back.

For those of you who felt a little disconnected to Gathering Blue and Messenger, this book solves all of these issues and it is in this book where all the pieces of the puzzle between the three novels begin to fit together. Claire makes the decision to find Gabriel and tracks him down in the nurturing center, lying about just wanting to volunteer, just to spend a few precious moments with him.  When Jonas leaves with Gabriel in The Giver, Claire leaves the community too, stowing away on a supply ship.  Next, she wakes up after being rescued from the water near death and finds herself in a community so unlike her own that she is almost like a newborn child, learning things all over again.  Her memories have also faded and she is not sure where she came from or why she left.

Eventually, she remembers her son and sets out on a personal quest to find him with the assistance of a young man in town and the woman who took her in after she came to the community.  What happens next would be too much of a spoiler for me to feel comfortable revealing but the final pages of the book left me speechless, in tears, and distraught that no other series will EVER live up to this series in my eyes. 

This is where the posts start getting personal.  When Claire is about to have her baby, she doesn’t know really what to expect.  As expected, the community bans discussion between birthmothers about delivering their children.  So, as she begins her labor, something goes wrong and she is sedated, remembering only the feeling of being cut before waking up in recovery.  When she wakes up, she is immediately filled with the sense of something she has never known: loss.

Almost three years ago, I went in to have my son, Evan.  Expecting a normal delivery, we were shocked when 23 hours later, nothing really had happened and I started getting a really bad fever.  I was faced with the decision of having to either wait just a few hours and possibly put myself and my son in ICU or have a cesarean and risk me getting a severe infection from having surgery while having such a high fever.  It wasn’t that the choice was hard for me to make but it was terrifying.  I went into the surgery room with the thought that if something went wrong, what if I were to die?  All I could do during my c-section was stare at the letters imprinted on the surgical mask my husband wore.  And count ceiling tiles.

Then, my beautiful baby boy was born.  Completely healthy.  8 lbs and 7 oz of pure joy for me and my husband.  But here is the point where I identify with Claire somewhat.  Immediately, he was whisked away.  I didn’t get to hold him.  I just got to look at him.  The he and my husband went away to the nursery and they finished my surgery and I was sent to recovery.

I didn’t get to see or hold my son for two hours.  Those two hours were the longest hours of my entire life.  All I wanted was to hold him, to see his face, to just touch him.  But my recovery was taking longer than expected and my blood pressure was too high for me to be released to a room.  So I waited.  I spent time with my Mom and husband.  Heard stories about how cute he was and how big.  But for those two hours, I hurt with a pain that I cannot express in words.  I was happy and overjoyed but I needed him.  It felt like without him, I would not be able to take another breath.

In Son, Claire is without her son for over a decade.  She hurts for him and aches for him and decides to do everything in her power to find him.  That type of yearning is something that I have no idea how to describe but Lowry did.  And the book resonated so well and her description of her searching for her son never comes across as too mature for teen readers, as a review on another blog I read stated.  But for those of us who are mothers or who have lost someone extremely close to us, the power of this book is unbelievable.

Lois Lowry, you are an amazing author and this series is something that I will share with my children and hope that they share with their children.  It is the true definition of a classic and the true definition of one of the finest pieces of literature that I have ever read.  Nothing will come close to this and. reader, if you haven’t read this series, please take the time to do so.  You will not regret it.

Buy Son on Tuesday and support this series.  Check it out from your library.  Talk it up with your teens and with parents of the teens you serve.  Don’t let The Giver quartet be a series that is lost with time because it’s power is world changing.

Please remember that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Books on Tape/Listening Library have graciously sponsored this week of posts and they will each be giving a set of the books in hardcover and audio CD, respectively.  Make sure you enter on our first post which can be found here and for a final round of additional entries, comment below on a book that has changed your life and share with our readership the power of the written word. 

Thanks for joining us this week,


Epidemics, take II

We were talking about Epidemics on the Yalsa-bk listserv and some people reminded me of some great titles that I didn’t mention on Tuesday:

The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
The Stand by Stephen King
The Kill Order by James Dashner
Pandemia by Jonathon Rand
Earth Abides by George Stewart
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
The Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry
The Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts
The Cobra Event by Richard Preston

Also, in her book Reality Rules, Besty Fraser has a chapter on “Natural Disasters and Disease Epidemics” that includes titles like Jim Murphy’s An American Plague and Susan Bartoletti’s Black Potatoes.  And don’t forget the nonfiction title Invisible Microbe by Jim Murphy.

And so I spent this morning avoiding everything I am supposed to be doing and made an RA poster to do a display.  You can download the poster at https://www.box.com/s/qkwn20dxkut0t90zacs7

MG Moment (Book Review): Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner is a contemporary mystery with a touch of history (in the form of historical facts), just perfect for middle grade students and younger tweens.

Anna, Jose and Henry (7th graders) don’t meet each other at a special reception for THE flag that inspired the writing of “Star Spangled Banner”.  They do, however, meet each other the next day when they are all snowed in at the airport.  And it turns out they all have something in common, their ancestors all played a part in history and their family is part of a secret society that has pledged to protect important works of art and history.

While stranded at the airport the news breaks in to announce that the flag was stolen from the Smithsonian museum.  What are three resourceful – and bored – kids supposed to do while stranded at the airport?  Why try and find the flag of course.  Could the flag be at the airport? 

At the airport Anna, Jose and Henry meet a variety of characters, and potential suspects, including a senator running for president, a young boy and his very hungry dog, and a whole orchestra who played at the museum the night before.

Capture the Flag in essence becomes a locked room mystery, with an airport full of suspects and some adventure through the baggage claim area.  In tone it reminded of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (a childhood favorite).  There are touches of humor, breadcrumbs of clues, and a mild dash of intrigue.

In order to get a tween perspective (my tween is 10), my family read this book at night as a read aloud and all of us enjoyed it.  The adults figured out the whodunit and why fairly early in the book but the tween did not and it kept her guessing.  One of the biggest issues we  had was one of the characters name is Senator Snickerbottom; every time I read the name the tween started snickering and The Mr. ultimately asked me to stop reading the name out loud because he just felt it was too absurd, but the tween and I got the humor Messner was going for and felt it worked.  Wimpy Kid and Origami Yoda fans will also be tickled by some of the drawings inside the book by Sinan, a younger boy travelling with the orchestra, as he tries to learn common American sayings like “scapegoat” and “we bit off more than we can chew.”

In the past, Stephanie and I have complained about the whiteout of characters of in MG and YAlit.  In Capture the Flag, Messner presents a strong female (Anna), a Hispanic boy (Jose) and an African American boy (Henry); here is a diverse cast that reflects a large variety of our kids in healthy, respectful ways.  Jose makes mention of stereotypes about Latino characters and immigration policies, but for the most part Messner presents a well-rounded cast of characters where race is not an issue.  Each character has their own strengths and passions, including reading and playing video games, that helps the group solve the mystery.  In fact, the stereotype that most bothered me is that of the video game playing boy, but eventually even his game playing becomes an asset. My favorite part: a backpack full of Harry Potter books helps to save the day!  As a parent and librarian, I appreciated that the kids were presented as intelligent and I loved that Jose collected quotes (I do too).

Capture the Flag has a nice balance between historical facts learned, mystery elements, character development and dashes of humor.  The mystery is a slow start and could use a few more potential suspects for more sophisticated readers, but it seemed to be the perfect read for young tweens.  3.5 stars out of 5 and recommended for elementary and middle school libraries and collections.  Definitely pair this with The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin and add in some good old fashioned Encyclopedia Brown.  There is what many would consider to be a “safe” or clean read.

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner is published by Scholastic.  ISBN: 978-0-545-39539-7

Delivering the message with Messenger

photo courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I’ve never read Messenger until now.  And I literally just closed the book five minutes ago and I am completely in awe of this amazing book. 

For those of you who were left with the ambiguous ending of The Giver and felt as if you had questions to be answered, you must read Gathering Blue and Messenger.  While Gathering Blue does not answer those questions, the characters in the story play a pivotal role in Messenger and I literally did a double take when reading Messenger because for some reason, I never expected my questions to be answered.  But Lois Lowry…answer them you did.

Messenger takes place in a community six years after Gathering Blue left off.  This community is a community which welcomes all and they live in a village of no secrets, peace, and altruism.  Matty, the main character in this book, is a young man who has come to the village and lives now with an older blind gentleman called “The Seer”.  Matty helps cook for him and in turn, “The Seer” treats Matty as his own child, a beautiful reciprocal relationship that was very much missed in Gathering Blue.

Danger does exist in this book, as it did the others, by means of the Forest.  The Forest seems to be attacking villagers and entangling them in the vines and branches, almost attacking deliberately.  The Forest had never been a danger in the past but as Matty sees this Forest change, so to do the people of the village.  Some of them becoming mean and bitter and even their appearance changing.  Matty learns of the Trade Mart, where many villagers go to trade for things, such as a coveted gaming machine or for our times, a slot machine.  It seems as if people are trading more than goods though and the ominous Trade Mart is very much a dark and mysterious trade and Matty is desperate to know what is going on.

It is nearly impossible for me to give away spoilers for the previous books by telling more about Messenger.  It pains me to leave this post feeling so unfulfilled but if you are re-reading these books, you will thank me in the end.

But I will say that in Messenger, I felt as if the theme of interdependence was more heavily revealed as the community cannot function with just half of its villagers in support of one thing and because of the discord and the strife, the Forest begins to retaliate and becomes a symbol of the discord in the village.  The worse off the villagers become the more the Forest seems to be gaining on the village and ready to take over.

As always, I’m going to end this post and ask that you go here and enter our contest to win a full set of the books in either audio or hardcover from our amazing sponsors, Books on Tape and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and if you’d like some additional entries, an extra entry to all of you who comment below and let us know how you’re liking this series!