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Top 10: ‘Cause You Gotta Have Faith (a flashback post)

Happy Easter! For many people, today is an important religious holiday. So today I thought I would share this flashback post on the spiritual lives of teens with you.  Have a great holiday, however you choose to celebrate it.

Faith is a tricky business. As a child and teen, your parents want you to adopt their faith, which makes sense because it is what they believe in their heart of hearts to be true.  And yet, teens are on the pathway to individuality and adulthood and forming their own identity, which includes determining what they think about their faith.
Faith, or spirituality, is a journey.  It’s not even a straight line journey but a journey full of peaks and valleys and forks in the road.  To help guide them on their journey, many people choose to read Inspirational (sometimes called Christian) fiction.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s review of Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams, I have always found it personally difficult to read Christian fiction.  With the emphasis being on the Christian message – and being “appropriate’ – it often fails to develop accurate, complex characters.  The message can over take the story and the plot in heavy handed ways.  As a reader, I prefer nuance over anvils. (Caveat: this is not always true, just a generalization.)

One of the most profound spiritual experiences I have had this year as a reader has actually been while reading the GLBTQ book Ask the Passengers by A. S. King.  You can read about it here.  But what you don’t know is that I e-mailed A. S. King after reading this book and told her personally about how it spoke to me about my faith and the nature of God and how it reminded me how much God loves every person.  Every. Single. One. Of. Us. I was so thankful to read this book and be enriched not only as a human being, but as a person of faith.

That is also part of the beauty of Waiting.  Here are people that have supposedly done everything right and out of a deep abiding faith, but their lives spiral out of control and in the end they have to decide how this unravelling fits in with their spiritual beliefs.  They must also decide whether or not they can come back to that belief, even if it is in different ways.

Here is where it behooves us to remember that some of the greatest books about faith and the spiritual life were not written and published as “Christian fiction” or “Inspirational fiction”, but as science fiction, fantasy and more.  Think of writers like C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle and Chaim Potok (My Name is Asher Lev).  The truth is that although our faith and spirituality may be the underpinning of who we are and how we live our lives, we still must live our lives in the context of a very real world.  (One of the best nonfiction titles I have ever read is Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle, I highly recommend that you read it.)

And of course we must remember that when we discuss faith and spirituality, we are talking about more than just the Christian faith.  And sometimes, in the end, our main characters decide that they have no faith at all – just as some of our teens do.  And that is where authors take us on a real spiritual journey, when they are honest about the reality in which our teens live and understand the nuance of daily living.

So today, I bring you a Top 10 list of books that talk about faith and spirituality but are not necessarily labeled as “Inspirational fiction”.  This list was compiled with help from teen librarians on the Yalsa-bk listserv.

“‘Dear Jesus, dear Jesus.’ This is a sincere prayer. ‘Please let my brother hear me.’ I tell Zach everything.  It’s a repeat, these words, a cry of loneliness.” – Carol Lynch Williams

“Same thing with water towers and God. I don’t have to be a believer to be serious about my religion.”  – Pete Hautman

“To look at the world as it is, study it with the mind God’s given you, and believe: that’s faith. But to hide from hard facts, or hide them from others, because you’re afraid of where they might lead you . . . that’s just ignorance.” – R. J. Anderson
Book 2 in the Faery Rebels series by R. J. Anderson

“Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, but sometimes it’s hard not to get a jump on it yourself.”  – Robin Brande

“I know a place called New Beginnings, but I don’t think it works quite like that. You can’t just erase everything that came before.” – Sara Zarr

“Belief means nothing without actions” – Rande Abdel-Fattah

“I don’t care if you care, I retorted. But in my religion, we’re taught to admit our mistakes and to apologize for them…Oh, and there’s one other thing I’m sorry about, I added. I should’ve spit in your eye and called you a szhlob weeks ago.” – Amy Fellner Dominy

God’s will. How many times have I heard someone declare their understanding of this thing I find so indefinable?”  – Rae Carson

“What matters more: the high school social order or getting to know someone extraordinary?” – from Goodreads summary

“Could the boy who terrorizes her at school be behind it all? And how can she save the family she is actually growing to love when her fear always leaves her quaking?” – from the Goodreads summary

Some other contenders include:
Armageddon Summer by Jane Yolen
My Name is Not Esther by Fleur Beale
The Island by Gary Paulsen
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson
Running Out of Time by Margaret Petterson Haddix
Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
Irises by Francisco X. Stork
Days of Little Texas by R. A. Nelson
Shine, Coconut Moon by Nisha Meminger
Thou Shalt Not Roadtrip by Anthony John

What are we missing? Please let us know in the comments.

Sunday Reflections: The sacred & the profane

To many of us, for many teens, the library can be a sacred space.  A place of refuge and quiet contemplation.  A place where the everyday expectations and pressures of life are lifted and teens are allowed to be themselves more genuinely, more authentically, more freely than they might be allowed to express at home, in school, or with friends.  We strive to provide this kind of safe space for creative and personal expression.  Sometimes, this sacred refuge will mean quiet, peaceful reflection.  Sometimes the sacred refuge will mean letting inner thoughts rise to the surface through expressive, even profane, language.

Recently, TLT received a reader request to address an issue related to this notion of sacred and profane that a lot of us have contemplated.  Megan writes:

I was hoping you could do a post on TLT on the topic of profanity in teen library programs. What can and can’t be done in teen library programs? What rules (both spoken and unspoken) do people follow when setting their guidelines?

We have a lot of teens here who make their own beats and write their own raps, and I would love to have a talent show program where they can share their music with each other. However, these kids have really rough lives and I know their lyrics are going to be equally rough. We also have an open mic night where teens are invited to share music, art, drama, and writing. It can be their own work or works that they enjoy. Restricting profanity in these creative situations seems wrong to me.

Sometimes, the library might need to be a refuge from the profanity.

Then again, sometimes the profanity and focus on difficult topics is going to be a necessary part of a teen’s cathartic expression.

How do we balance these dueling demands within one library, one space, or one program?

Balance is the key.  Just like it would be unworkable to ban and punish any and all profanity, allowing a no-holds-barred free for all is just as unworkable.  We need to consider the audience, the location, the purpose, the people.

Is harsh language necessary to express pain or despair in a poem or theatrical piece during an open mic?  Is it necessary to express annoyance in general conversation during a gaming program?

Should you allow teens in your writing group to use whatever strong language they need to express their feelings and experiences?  I believe you should.  The creative process is sometimes improved by providing boundaries – you need look no further than poetic forms to see how this works – but this might need to come later, after you have already established trust and respect for the teens, their issues, and their words.

On the other hand, should we be condoning a liberal use of four-letter-words in an open teen center or a less personally charged program?  I would argue that this should be curtailed.  Our open spaces are just that – open – and should feel that way and sound that way.  Curating a space that allows anyone to feel welcome often means editing (You recall the saying about sex, religion, politics, and polite conversation?) and this is something that we can help our teens learn.

We need to remember, as our reader Megan later mentions, that profanity and strong language is not always going to be conducive to providing a comfortable place for all of our teen patrons.  Just because they hear it everywhere, they read it in teen literature, and they see it in movies doesn’t mean that all teens appreciate or use profanity, and it doesn’t mean that we should endorse the use of rough language when the setting doesn’t warrant it.

As this season of diverse religious holidays should remind us, sacred spaces and connections vary from person to person.  What is sacred about the Library – our appreciation of the individual, our dedication to lifelong learning, our drive to connect people with what they need – will look different from teen to teen depending on the needs and interests he or she brings to us.  Getting back to balance, profanity, and safe spaces, I invite you to share your own guidelines – institutional or personal – for profanity and self expression with teens.  How do you deal with a mixed group of teens with diverse backgrounds, needs, and styles of language? 

Karen’s Two Cents: In programming, my program space is declared a “Safe Place.”  Although I love how Heather refers to it as sacred.  So when in a teen program, I do ask that my teens keep their hands to themselves, that they respect the feelings of others, and that they watch their language and the types of things that they talk about.  What is comfortable for one is not always comfortable for another, and learning to be in community with those that are different from us is a really important life skill.  I think that is one of the great things about amazing literature, it helps us to walk in someone else’s shoes and develop a compassion towards them, and I ask that my teens be aware of those around them in a programming environment in the same way.  Teens should be able to come to a library program, have fun, and feel safe.  Balancing self expression and being in community with others is one of life’s great challenges, and that is no different in a teen program.

TPiB: Peel Away Book Quote Art (guest post by Erinn Batykefer from The Library as Incubator Project)

2005-03-10 03.01.18Whew! National Craft Month is drawing to a close, and I’m a little sad, frankly. As I said in my last post about Story Terrariums, I’ve really enjoyed test-driving craft ideas for this year’s Beneath the Surface theme for the Teen Summer Reading Program– there are just SO MANY good YA books that explore the idea of another world just barely contained within “reality.”

Last time, we focused on Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone; this week I’m re-visiting a HUGE favorite of mine with a movie tie-in coming up this summer: Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones. I have a pretty good feeling about the teen craze that’s going to surround this release (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is slated to open on August 23rd), so why not capitalize on that energy and promote the book at your library? This craft is just one way to let your teens engage with the story by making something, and the technique is great for all kinds of craftiness.

Here’s my picture tutorial for Peel Away Book Quote Art:


Once again, I started at my local thrift shop, where I found not one but TWO completely heinous canvases. I brought ’em home and covered them with gesso, because I was an art major and I still have a gallon pail of perfectly good gesso. But you can use whatever you’ve got (spray paint is cheap, works well, and has a certain badass appeal for teens…and also me. Just make sure you plan to do this outside, or in a REALLY well ventilated area). Or, just find a really cool canvas and skip this step entirely.



 I’ve thought about the imagery in City of Bones a lot since I first read it 4 years ago, when I was living in Lewisburg, PA (shout out to The Public Library of Union County, where I first found it on the shelf!). I always pictured the NYC setting as a kind of bleak, industrial facade that is crumbling away to reveal something far more alluring, elegant, and dangerous. A beautifully crafted weapon, for example.

A seam of golden imagery is shot through the entire story, especially in reference to Jace: he’s all blond hair, sleek skin, and gold eyes, and he and his world of magic, angels, and demons are deeply compelling to Clary, something she both wants and fears.

So obviously I wanted my “reveal” color to be gold. I mixed up some of my favorite shiny acrylics and covered the canvas with them, making the base a bit mottled and messy, like pounded metal.



Here’s the catch: If you’re doing the layered look, like I chose to, there’s some waiting time involved.
I had to let my gold layer dry before moving on. If that’s not in the cards for your craft time, consider skipping this part by starting with ready-to-cover base layers (like LP covers or posters). Otherwise, plan on this being a 2-day craft.

Once things were nice and dry, I chose a quote from the book that I liked: All the stories are true. I was considering something pithy from my all-time favorite supporting character, Magnus Bane, but “Not even for you, biscuit” is probably less recognizable, am I right? I had a ton of contact paper on hand, so I printed out my quote and cut the peel-away letters from that. Then, I placed them on the board.


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The last part was super-fun, and what I had been looking forward to from the beginning: SPRAY PAINT. I got plain white spray paint (now I’m thinking that graphite gray or black would have looked cooler with the Shadowhunter theme), and covered my canvas. Once things were all dry, I peeled away my letters to reveal the shimmering gold underneath!

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The technique definitely worked, but I have to say that contact paper would not be my first choice if I had to do this again. I’d go with something that creates sharper lines, like painter’s tape. But I am in LOVE with the way the quote itself catches the light and seems to shimmer in the midst of all that boring, flat white.

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Cool, huh?

Here are a few hacks you can use to customize this for your library and budget:

  • BYO canvas is a big money saver.
  • “Canvas” can also be interpreted loosely: old records, foam-core mounted posters, and other flat, sturdy surfaces will work, and you won’t have to paint over them! Check out this DIY tutorial for Song Lyric Wall Art, which inspired this project.
  • Consider different base layers. You can lay down a decoupage collage or make a spray paint painting that will be revealed once you apply your quote and topcoat and then peel the quote away. Like I said, spray paint lends a bit of rebellion to the whole project, but you have to plan ahead for a multi-day project, and do your spraying outside.
  • Consider using painter’s tape or masking tape instead of contact paper. I used what I had, but if I had to do it again, I’d go for painter’s tape; I think it would make cleaner lines.

Want More?

All March, we’ve been delighted to partner with our friend Karen Jensen of Teen Librarian’s Toolbox to share Teen Summer Reading Program craft ideas for National Craft Month. Here are all of our links to help you kick-start your “Beneath the Surface” plans:

Even More!

Are you planning any awesome “Beneath the Surface” crafts for your Teen Summer Reading Program? Share with us in the comments and on social media!

Dear Cassie Read Along and Twitter Chat with author Lisa Burstein

From author Lisa Burstein: I’ve never done one of these before, but I thought it would be fun to host a read-along for Dear Cassie. I am lucky to have both: http://www.thebookishbabes.blogspot.com/& http://www.booklovingme.com/to help me with this as facilitators.  
Our event will end with a live Twitter chat with author Lisa Burstein as part of our upcoming Entangled Teen Week here at TLT.
Entangled Teen Week
April 29 – May 4
Book reviews, book lists, author posts and more! Plus, we’ll be giving away a mini-collection of Entangled Teen titles for your personal or favorite library.
So what does a read along mean? It means you and other people read Dear Cassie at the same time on a schedule. Maybe you’ve already read it. Maybe it’s been waiting on your shelf or e-reader, or maybe you’ve been meaning to read it. Whatever the case- now you can read it and WIN PRIZES and HAVE FUN!
How do you participate? Lots of ways.
  • You can comment on discussions on the book page on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1267371-dear-cassie-read-along
  • You can tweet you favorite lines, passages, characters using #CassieReadAlong or take photos of favorite passages/quotes, or of where the book is while you read, etc.
  • You can shout-out your daily F word count, or favorite use of swear word.
AND, that’s not all, each tweet you send or discussion you start or respond to enters you to WIN your 
choice of 5, 3 or 1 – Entangled Teen Digital Books!
3 Lucky Winners!
It all ends with a twitter chat hosted by Teen Librarian Toolbox on April 30th, where you get to tweet with other readers and ask me questions!
Week of April 1st– Chapters 1-7
Week of April 8th– Chapters 8-15
Week of April 15th– Chapters 15-22
Week of April 22nd– Chapters 22-29

Week of April 29th– Chapter 30

The Twitter Chat Review: Diversity in Legend by Marie Lu, cohosted by author David James

So, I read (actually I listened to) Legend by Marie Lu for last night’s Diversity chat hosted by author David James.  You always hear great things about this series, but I had not yet read it.  To be honest: It was amazing. 

The Goodreads synopsis of Legend states: What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Legend is a superb example of storytelling where the details slowly unfold and you are stunned time and time again by the reveal.  In addition, the world that Lu creates seems not only possible, but a likely outcome if we continue on our current trajectory.  She takes class warfare to new, extreme levels and terrifies with this all too possible vision of what some people will do for power.  And in the midst of it all, she creates strong, rich characters full of complexity and emotion.  Definitely chech this one out.

Below are some of the Tweets from last night’s Twitter chat.

There was one area in which there was some disagreement, diversity about character sexuality.

More on Diversity at TLT:
Racial Stereotyping in YA Literature
Race Reflections, Take II
Building Bridges to Literacy for African American Male Youth Summit recap, part 1
Friday Reflections: Talking with Hispanic/Latino Teens about YA Lit

Book Review: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

“All right,” Ada says, “I want you to listen very carefully.” She moves around the room with the confidence of an ER Doctor, opening panels on the walls, setting dials. The thakerak hums and purrs.

“Whoa!” Gamary yells as a sword jabs through the door.

“Open up!” a voice orders. The sword jerks up and down but, lodged in the wood, it can’t get far. From the size of it I know it’s Officer Tendrile’s.

“Hurry up!” Gamary pleads.

“Peregrine.” Ada takes my hand. “You have to go back to cdamp and kiss Anna Margolis, do you understand? We’ll find Mortin in Granger Prison.”

“How? You’re trapped here.”

“I have a service exit,” Gamary says, “if you two don’t get us killed by dawdling.”

“If you don’t kiss her, you won’t free the princess, and the dark shroud of violence that you see will continue to befall us.: She holds up the silver figure. I look into the princess’s eyes. The thakerak sparks, and I sear, for a second, the princess winks at me.

“Why can’t we free her here?”

“Excuse me?”

Open up!

Ophisa- he’s in the Badlands, right? We’ll get an adventuring party together and defeat him. Me, you, Gamary . . . plus we can rescue Mortin and bring him. I’ve demonstrated my worth as a warrior, right? We’ll kill the monster, free the princess, and all live happily ever after.:

“You’re saying you would rather travel to the Badlands, infiltrate Ophisa’s lair, try to avoid the poison that he spits from his unblinking eyes, run under him with a sword, and plunge it into his dark and distended heart . . . than kiss a girl in your summer camp?

“Yes! That’s exactly what I’m saying!”

“You have bowels, Peregrine, I’ll give you that, but-“

“Excuse me?”

“You’re brave. Bowels.”

“Oh. Uh . . . ” I’m embarrassed to correct her, and we are in a time-sensitive situation, but I remember what Mortin said: you should always correct a friend who mispronounces something.
“You’re thinking of a different term, Ada. It’s balls.

“Like male human testicles?

“Yes. Well. Yes.”

“That’s not fair. What do you say for a woman, then?”

Peregrine’s ideal summer of playing Creatures and Caverns disappears in smoke when he discovers that his parents are sending him to summer camp. Worried about his social skills, they’ve decided to ship him off to Camp Washiska Lake, where he’s to learn to interact with his peers and become “normal”. However, when Peregrine discovers the portal to The World of Other Normals, everything he’s learned from Creatures and Caverns and his burgeoning social skills will be needed in order to save both worlds.

Stuck in a world where his parents are divorced and dating their divorce lawyers, and only communicate through their lawyers, sixteen year old Peregrine just wants to play Creatures and Caverns. But when he’s discovered skipping class to play with a friend across town, that’s the last straw for his parents: off to Camp Washiska Lake, which is nothing like the brochures look like. With the camp confiscating his C&C materials, getting jumped in a fight within the first ten minutes, and his friend basically disowning him, Peregrine doesn’t think he’ll make the summer. But then he discovers the portal to The World of Other Normals, which is exactly like the world his C&C is based on- as it should be, as the guy he followed in is the writer of the manuals. Yet the Other Normal world has had their princess captures, and the only way to save it is for Peregrine to kiss a girl on his side of the portal- before it’s too late. Flipping back and forth between the worlds, and changing things on both sides of the lines while he does, can Peregrine save the Other Normals and his World?  Definitely a geeky and sweet coming-of-age story, with hilarious dialogue and awkward situations that make you feel for Peregrine. I’d pair it with In The Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern or even more gamer books such as Ender’s Game or Ready Player One, depending on what your reader was looking for. 3.5 out of 5 stars. As of March 22, 2013, Goodreads rates The Other Normals as 3.38 stars.

I know kids like Peregrine; heck, I think I married one. They may not be C&C players, they may be Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic players, or engrossed in Assassin’s Creed 3, but their gaming world (card, table, electronic or otherwise) may be their safe space- where they feel in control of something. This is what happens with Peregrine- out of control with his family, with his alcoholic brother, and his school, C&C is the one thing he can control. It’s his safe zone.

I really liked that The World of Other Normals paralleled Peregrine’s real world so closely; in fact, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the one-to-one relationships of the characters from one side to the other. I knew which one was Peregrine even if he didn’t, but his brother’s was a surprise. I love surprises in the book.  The ending of the book was fun as well, and sets it up for future novels as well, which I hope will come, because I have a feeling Peregrine’s story is far from over. I definitely want to know what happens with Peregrine and Ada.

Body Image and Weight Loss, from our resident teen reviewer Cuyler

We’ve talked a lot here at TLT about body image and how popular culture and ya lit can influence it.  Today, our resident teen reviewer Cuyler shares his struggle with obesity and 5 titles that deal with the issue of being overweight well.
Did you know that there’s a threat spreading around America more deadly than any flu? More dangerous than terrorism or murder? Something so insignificant as it builds inside your body, you may not even know you’re under its spell until it’s too late. And even then, you may not care enough to fix it.

There are many names for it. But we usually just call it plain ol’ FAT.

Nine million teens in America can clearly be classed as obese, and that’s just those under the age of fifteen. This is a rate that has tripled that of obese teens in 1980.

It’s swiftly becoming a common way of life, be that a deadly one. One that can wreck irreparable damage on the self-esteem of teens. Deadly thoughts of suicide can infiltrate their minds. Feelings of worthlessness prevalent in their thinking. It is a way of life, but it’s not one I wish anyone to live.

Because I have lived it myself.

I used to be an obese teenager. Not chubby. Not even fat. I was obese. I was easily the heaviest in my family, and wasn’t even old enough to drive yet. In all my school years, I was the heaviest person in class. I was the last to be picked in any sports and was constantly picked on by my classmates and those in grades above me. When word got out that I had crush on a girl, she told me that she never wanted to talk to me again. And when someone started to like me, the other kids couldn’t believe it. Because she was skinny and I was fat. Those two things just don’t compute with each other. It can’t happen.

I dreaded PE class. When we changed into our gym clothes, I was the only one to use the stalls when everyone else changed in front of each other. When I had to run laps, all I could think about was that people were staring at me, the funny-looking fat kid trailing behind the kids who’d already passed the finish line.

The two grades above mine were horrible, holding the door open for everyone else but letting it go when it was my turn. A few older students had nicknames for me like Crisco and Tubbs. Most of the bullying came from the grades above me, and with another two years of middle school, and then high school after that, I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. After my first year in middle school, I begged my parents to enroll me in a homeschool program. After the end of my sixth grade year, I never returned to public school.

You would think the torture would stop there, that somehow school was the root of all the evil, but it wasn’t. Even though I was homeschooled for the rest of my school years, the pain I felt of being obese was still with me, and grew stronger with each passing day. In public I would wear baggy clothes, hoping no one would catch a true glimpse of what lay underneath. It was so thick in my mind that I spent much more time than I should have had to picking out my clothes to wear for the day. It wasn’t a matter of what looked good, it was all about how much it would hide. I wore hoodies and sweatshirts all year round, despite the hot months of summer, because they hid my body the best. Everyone would ask, “Aren’t you hot?” I would just smile and say I was fine, even though I was sweltering underneath. I didn’t swim much, even though it’s one of my favorite things to do, and if I did I wouldn’t dare swim without a shirt on. And even then, when I got out of the pool, I made sure I did it quick and could grab the nearest towel to cover myself up. I didn’t start wearing just plain T shirts until I was nearly seventeen, because those weren’t real good at hiding things. Most of my wardrobe consisted of button-up overshirts and hoodies. I felt like Bobby Marks in One Fat Summer by Robert Lypsyte. Always focused on my being fat while everyone else was having fun.

The only solaces I found in my life was my family, who loved me for who I was and not what I was made out of, as well as countless books. Books relived the pressure that was my constant worry of me being fat. When I read, it took me to worlds where that didn’t matter how big I was. Writing did the same thing for me, creating my own stories to keep reality away for just a little while. Like a release. But even that could only keep it away for just a little while.

I had let my obesity control my life. I remember saying to myself one day that I would have to learn to be content with living by myself for the rest of my life because no one would ever want to be with this. And I was ready to commit to that. Until one day I got a letter in the mail.

That letter changed my life.

It was a letter from my health insurance company, saying that it now supported and would pay for enrollment into the Weight Watcher’s program. I’d been through so many diets, not a single one of them that worked, so initially I threw it into the “lost cause” pile. Then my grandmother gave me call. She said that if I enrolled in the program, she’d do it with me.

I guess I should say that that phone call changed my life instead of the letter, because after I hung up the phone with her, I decided I was going to give it a try.  It was the best thing I have ever done in my life. I went in, a fifteen-year old fatty at 260 pounds, and came out a year and a half later at 160. And my grandma did the same, losing a total of 50. We felt like we had conquered the entire world.

And nearly four years later, I’ve maintained a healthy weight. Though I still hold scars from the struggle, I have a much better acceptance of my body. My self-esteem is higher, I feel great, and I enjoy life much more without worrying about my weight 24 hours a day. And I realize now that it was much more than just losing the weight that had helped me. Over the course of that year and half, I came to realize that most of the torture I’d gone through was in my head. Yeah there was the teasing at school and sometimes in other places, but who was really putting myself through most of that? Me.

I don’t really know if people were constantly watching me as I ran those laps. I don’t know that people actually cared if I got out of the pool fast enough to cover myself up. And I’m sure they didn’t care if I wore regular T-shirts in public rather than a sweatshirt or a hoodie all year long. I was creating a world of torture inside my head, when in reality those things weren’t even happening. I had to realize that it wasn’t everyone else that had to accept me for what I looked like for the hurt to stop. It was me. I had to accept myself. I know that sounds unbelievably corny and fairytale-ish, but they put that kind of stuff in there for a reason. Because it’s true. This is shown in great tales like Myrtle of Willendorf by Rebecca O’Connell and Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going, both of which put much more emphasis on self-acceptance than the “you-must-be-skinny” sermon preached by modern media. Both characters Myrtle and Troy are undesirably overweight living amongst those who are skinny and don’t understand, and sometimes make sure they know it. But through the torture and teasing, they realize that they are beautiful in their own way. They begin to understand that it doesn’t matter what other people think, as long as they find the awesome in themselves, despite the weight.

And that’s what it comes down to. Sure, losing the weight is great, but unless you lose that harmful self-depreciating spirit and find the good amongst the fat, you’ll have more than just love handles haunting you.

On more than one occasion YA novels are about beautiful people. Not that that’s a bad thing, but there aren’t many out there that tell the “fat” side of things. But there are a few little gems out there that take that inner beauty into consideration more so than the outer. These are the titles that inspired me, and I think you’ll love too:

Life in the Fat Lane by Cherie Bennett
Name Me Nobody by Lois-Ann Yamanaka
One Fat Summer by Robert Lypsyte
Myrtle of Willendorf by Rebecca O’Connell
Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going

The above are wonderfully written tales of being “fat” and realizing that being fat doesn’t define you. These are still great stories that you’ll laugh with, cry about, and maybe even relate to even if the main character isn’t your typical MC hunk or beauty.

Instead of constantly wondering who’s watching, why not open up one of these good books, enjoy your life, and feel great. Do the best you can, whether it’s losing weight or accepting yourself, and do it for you,and not for anyone else who thinks you should.
More About Body Image at TLT:

Cuyler Creech is a teen author who lives in Weatherford, TX. He loves to read, spend time with his family and friends, and most of all, he loves to write. Cuyler is 18, and has been writing for many years. He’s also a published author of one novel (not in print anymore) and focuses primarily on young adult fiction. His favorite books are dystopians and horrors, and his favorite time to read is during thunderstorms. He is the oldest of three siblings, one who is diagnosed with Down Syndrome and Autism, and is going to college to become a Pediatric Occupational Therapist.

 Cuyler Creech is a teen author who lives in Weatherford, TX. He loves to read, spend time with his family and friends, and most of all, he loves to write. Cuyler is 18, and has been writing for many years. He’s also a published author of one novel (not in print anymore) and focuses primarily on young adult fiction. His favorite books are dystopians and horrors, and his favorite time to read is during thunderstorms. He is the oldest of three siblings, one who is diagnosed with Down Syndrome and Autism, and is going to college to become a Pediatric Occupational Therapist. 

In with the New: We survived our Freshman year!

From Freshman by Corinne Mucha

Being a Freshman is scary, and hard.  Here you are at the bottom of the social ladder and already people are asking you questions like, “What do you want to do with your life after high school?”  And you’re thinking, “Dude, let’s see if I can even survive my Freshman year before we start thinking about 4 years from now.”  In the spirit of Been There, Survived That: Getting Through Freshman Year of High School (written by real teens) and Freshman Tales of 9th Grade Obsessions, Revelations and Other Nonsense (by Corinna Much), we present you real tales from our Freshman year of high school . . .

I Was in a Band!
My best friend Teri and I were obsessed with a little band known as Duran Duran.  Yes, we were basically One Direction obsessed, but the band was Duran Duran.  We ran home from school one day to make sure we didn’t miss the world premiere of their newest video.  I saw them in concert – and hyperventilated.  And like any good Duranie (yes, that’s indeed what we Duran Duran fans called ourselves), we started a band named after one of their more obscure songs: Crime and Passion.  Our friend Kristi was Izzy Krime and I was Pemar Passion and we were Krime and Passion.  It’s okay, you can laugh.  I understand.  Here’s the best part: none of us sang, none of us played an instrument.  Actually, I am not sure how we even remotely qualified as a band, but we were one!!

But can you imagine my telling this story as a comic book?

Freshman Tales by Corinne Mucha are Freshman tales told in comic form.  It is a quick and fun read for reluctant readers, but will be relate-able to all Freshmen.  The synopsis says this: Annie has just started high school and she’s a mess.  Her older brother has told her that her freshman year will strongly affect the rest of her life, and if that’s true her future looks grim: She’s a loser at sports, jealous of everyone, and has totally fallen in love with her best friend’s older brother.  When she gets cast as a moaning, hunched-over old lady in the school play, she starts to forget about the rest of her life.  Now she just wants to make it through freshman year.

What Annie needs is a copy of Been There, Survived That: Getting Through Freshman Year of High School, which is written by real teens.  Been There is divided into 3 sections: Social advice, Academic advice, and Practical advice.  This is a very practical guide for not only your Freshman year, but just your middle school and high school years in general as only some of the advice would specific to your Freshman year.  The advice is real, and you can tell it is written by real teens.  What’s the number 1 thing not to do while making new friends? Fart of course.  And yet there is some real honest, raw and heartfelt advice given here: For instance, it can be really disorienting when your best friend since 3rd grade starts eating lunch somewhere else . . . But your friend’s behavior probably has very little to do with you.  Maybe he’s wanting to expand his own circle of friends. . . Friends come and go, and losing and gaining friends is all part of the experience of growing up and . . . surviving high school (page 18).

Together Freshman Tales and Been There, Survived That make a good bundle of resources for new, or about to be new, Freshmen.  You can put these titles on a resource booklist guide for starting high school and take them with you when you set up your display table at Freshman orientation.  You do go to your local high school for Freshman orientation and meet the teacher night, right?  If you don’t, contact your local high school(s) and ask them if you can set up a display table promoting your library, various resources, and – of course – these titles!

Freshman: Tales of 9th grade obsessions, revelations and other nonsense by Corrine Mucha. Published by Zest Books. ISBN: 97800-9819733-6-4

Been There, Survived That: Getting through Freshman year of high school written by Real Teens (There is a flip book inside!) Published by Zest Books. ISBN: 978-09790173707

Take 5: Awesome YA Lit that takes place during a Freshman year in High School
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steven Chobsky
Dear Friend, if you haven’t read this book you really should because it is awesome.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
What happened that night at the party?

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
What happens when you refuse to play the game?

Confessions of an Angry Girl by Louise Rozett
To say that Freshman Rose Zarelli has issues is an understatement.
Sleeping Freshman Never Lie by David Lubar 
Scott puts together a survival manual for high school.
Help incoming Freshman get ready for high school with these program ideas:
Library Bootcamp: an intense training session where teens learn how to use the library and its resources
Rock My Locker: Pimp your locker with these fun crafts  

Take 5: Out with the old . . . Great reads for those about to graduate HS

Everywhere you look our seniors are getting ready to graduate, trying to hold it together for just a few more months.  At the same time, one huge question hangs over their heads: What Now?  Nipping at their heels are the junior class, ready to jump into their place so that they can begin a year of prom, senioritis, and face that same big question.  Here are 5 amazing books perfect for seniors, those that love them, and those that remember being one – or are looking forward to being one.  Each of these novels explores that one huge question: What happens next?

Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez
Frenchie has been looking forward to graduating and moving to Chicago with her best friend, but he doesn’t know what happened; the thing that is making her so depressed.  You see, one night she ran into her years long crush BOB and went on a random adventure around town.  The next morning, she learned that after she left him he committed suicide.  What did she miss that night? Could she have stopped him?  So Frenchie finally realizes that the only way to answer those questions is to relive that night, this time hoping to see what she missed.  This is a raw, heartbreaking read. Sanchez capture the voice of Frenchie perfectly in this tale of depression and loss and confusion.  This is an early contender for the Printz Award in my book, reminiscent of the aweseomness that is A. S. King. (Full review coming but 5 out of 5 stars)

[Read more…]

Crafting: It’s not just about the duct tape

If you do craft programs at your library, you know it’s a great way to bring people in and bump up your attendance statistics.  But crafting and libraries are an ideal match for many less selfish reasons as well.  As National Craft Month comes to a close, let’s reflect on what crafts can bring to the lives of our teens and our relationships with them, and how this aligns with the mission of libraries.

Crafting builds community

“Let’s build something together” “You can build it; we can help” It’s no coincidence that slogans advertising building and creation often invoke a community effort.  Creating something is not a solitary pursuit any more than reading is.  We may do it alone, but even so, we do it within the framework of an entire community of support and shared interest.  Look at the prevalence of craft blogs and the wide network of followers these blogs attract.  Look at the popularity of knitting groups.  Look back to the traditions of quilting bees, barn raisings, and community gardens.  People want to come together to make things because making things together ties us to each other, to a place, to the process, to the product.


Crafting is learning

If you’ve ever had a craft FAIL, you know full well that crafting is not just an activity, but a process.  You try, you fail, you try, you improve, you try, you succeed.  Crafting in libraries can show teens that in an increasingly outcome oriented society, it’s the trying that counts and that trying is where the fun begins.  Contemporary libraries that are thriving are doing so by being places people come to grow and learn and succeed.  Whether this happens through using test prep databases or attending resume workshops or participating in book discussions or making digital videos and computer programs or hand puppets and duct tape wallets, libraries are providing paths to success.  Paths to success – not just one – because like our patrons and our collections, our programs need to be diverse, striving to meet the many needs of our diverse patrons.  Bringing teens together to create in the library legitimizes this activity, just like maintaining a video game, graphic novel, paperback romance, or foreign language collection legitimizes those pursuits.  It demonstrates that being creative and making things is worthwhile, and that we want to share in their discovery and creative process.


Crafting is real

When we connect crafts to novels, like making a Mockingjay pin out of polymer clay, or a Steampunk inspired journal, or use gold balloons to make Golden Snitch stress balls, we extend the fictional worlds teens love to inhabit into our real world in a tangible way.  For those teens for whom fiction holds little appeal, using hands to create real, useful, practical items may be a more logical choice.  Crafting using repurposed or found items is a creative way to inexpensively meet otherwise expensive needs, and involves the trappings and cast-offs from our real world in new and pleasing ways.  Libraries offer workshops on gardening, organizing, home cooking, and investing – why not consider craft workshops for teens as the adolescent version of these home economics themed programs?  Additionally, the need to develop and enhance fine motor skills doesn’t end when storytime ends, and crafts are one way to continue to encourage this developmental task in a fun way.


Crafting is fun

True, this is subjective.  But consider the number of programs we have, just “because it will be fun”?  LOTS!  And we have these “just for fun” programs because we know they come packaged with numerous other benefits: high attendance, yes, but they’re fun for a reason too.  They cater to interests and strengths that patrons have.  They provide a social outlet and connection for like-minded people.  They connect to materials in our collection.  They remind people that the library understands that fun is important, that learning can be fun, and that when they come to the library, we want them to enjoy themselves.


Crafting is lifelong learning

Our library hosts a knitting club.  Every other week, a group of women gathers and shares cookies and their progress and projects.  They encourage each other.  They knit for each other.  They teach each other.  Some just began knitting, but many learned in their childhood and have been honing their skills on and off ever since.  I often practice potential craft projects with my preschool aged children at home, then present them to adults, and then adapt them for an teen audience.  Crafting crosses generational lines.  One of the regulars at my adult craft group confided to me that she loves it when a craft is one that her teenaged daughter likes too because it’s one of the only things she wants to do with her mom anymore.  The storytime kids parade out of the library with faces full of sunshine and arms full of projects.  The adult crafters show off their creations as table centerpieces at holiday meals.  Making something tangible is satisfying.  Why deny teens that same satisfaction?  

Crafting is also creativity, problem solving, innovation and more.  Crafting is asset building, skills building, and confidence building.  Crafting is a great thing for our libraries.So craft away.