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Book Review: The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy (reviewed by Teen Reviewer Lexi)

“If you hunt for monsters you’ll find them”


Twelve years ago Stella and Jeanie vanished while picking strawberries. Stella returned minutes later, with no memory of what happened. Jeanie was never seen or heard from again.

Now Stella is seventeen, and she’s over it. She’s the lucky one who survived, and sure, the case is still cloaked in mystery—and it’s her small town’s ugly legacy—but Stella is focused on the coming summer. She’s got a great best friend, a hookup with an irresistibly crooked smile, and two months of beach days stretching out before her.

Then along comes a corpse, a little girl who washes up in an ancient cemetery after a mudslide, and who has red hair just like Jeanie did. Suddenly memories of that haunting day begin to return, and when Stella discovers that other red-headed girls have gone missing as well, she begins to suspect that something sinister is at work.

And before the summer ends, Stella will learn the hard way that if you hunt for monsters, you will find them.

Lexi’s Review

This book is spooky good! The whole read had me on the edge of my seat flipping pages to see what mysterious thing would happen next.

The main thing that stood out to me about this whole wonderfully written book was the characters. There was not one character you didn’t like in some way. For me my favorite character was Sam. He seemed like a young boy with an old soul. He would be every teenage girl’s dream guy in the way he is the utmost gentleman. In the story his role is very crucial. He is the key to Stella’s character development. Stella’s character development was the main reason why this book made such an impact on me. She is relatable in the way that you can see how she struggles with being herself and being who she thinks everyone else wants her to be. Which I feel as a teen in high school this struggle is felt everyday. We want people to like us but we are afraid that people won’t like who we are and so we pretend to be something we are not. Stella portrays this struggle in such a way that I felt it was me facing the obstacles. With a best friend like Zoey, Stella felt like she had to be this certain type of girl, but as I was saying about Sam being a key in her change, he helped her realize how far she had gone from who she once was. This could also be put on the fact of having such a traumatic childhood experience. From what I read I concluded that the only reason she chose Zoey when given the ultimatum between Zoey and Sam was because she developed abandonment issues from just recently having her mother leave her and her father. Her mother is also a peculiar character in this story. Unlike most separations it was the mother who left the child and father in this story. I found this strange and it made me question if this had to play a bigger role in the book itself. What I came up with was that it gave Stella more of a reason to lean towards Zoey since she had such a strong feminine personality. But it could have just been to mix things up a bit.

I also really loved the suspense. How you weren’t sure if it was one person or another or not a person at all. Being so close to Halloween (well, like a month which is like right around the corner) this book is perfectly set. The eeriness of the killings had me paranoid after I read it. I just love when a book freaks me out like this one did.

This book had me on a rollercoaster of emotions as well. Every scene had me either laughing, crying or mentally cursing at the characters. Their actions clearly spoke of actions made by teens. You can tell their age by the writing and this is what a handful of young adult novelist seem to miss when writing their story. Teenagers aren’t adults. We don’t always think logically. We let our emotions lead us astray and we sometimes need someone to help us get back on track.

So,4 out of 5 jack-o-lanterns would recommend this book to every Halloween lover and non Halloween lover who really enjoys a good thriller.

Happy Hunting!

Published in August 2015 by Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 9781481418867

Video Game Weekly: Terraria

This week, I planned to review Super Mario Maker for the Wii U (which I am extremely excited about), but my copy has yet to arrive in my mailbox! So, I am reviewing an older game that I have played for over 100 hours (believe it or not, this is pretty normal for hardcore gamers). It is like Minecraft’s distant cousin.


Platform: This game is available on many platforms, including some of the older game consoles, and it’s pretty cheap (pricing and pruchasing info at the end of this post)!

Rated: T for Teen. There is mild blood, and the game has cartoon violence. For example, when your character dies, your character does kind of explode into body parts. Also, there are some “adult” references that may or may not go over teens’ heads. For example, you can craft ale that will give you character boosts, and there are jokes about licking mushrooms for stamina.

I should also mention the world has a “Hell” area, which is accessed by digging as far down as possible. You can fight demons in Hell, mine “hellstone”, etc.

Single or Multiplayer: Both! The game is way more fun when playing with friends.

Quick Synopsis: Terraria came out for the PC in 2011 when I was in undergrad, and I spent many weekends playing it with friends instead of doing my homework. After its initial release in 2011, Terraria became so popular that it was revamped for other platforms.

Terraria is a survival side-scrolling game with a sandbox feel (if this sounds like gibberish, you can view my definitions post from last week. You begin Terraria by creating a 16-bit character (male or female), and you can personalize everything from their hair to skin color. Each color is selected on a rainbow spectrum, so theoretically, you can have a female character with red hair and purple skin.

After you are done creating a character, you can choose the size of the world you want to explore as well as your difficulty. “Softcore” mode means when your character dies, you only lose half of the money in your inventory, do not lose any of your items, and you will respawn at your home base. “Mediumcore” mode means your character will lose all of the money and items in your inventory, but you will respawn at your home base. “Hardcore” mode is the most difficult mode, because when your character dies, you cannot respawn. Your character becomes a ghost, and will be deleted when you exit the game. I am a wimp and only play on “Softcore” mode, because I like NOT losing everything in a cave.

You can also select the size of the world, and what biomes you want. There are many different biomes and layers to the world, which means there are different enemies, resources, and bonus items.

After you are done selecting a world and difficulty, you are dropped into a forest biome with only a copper pickaxe, copper axe, and copper shortsword. You also have a computer character known as an NPC, who helps you figure out the controls and crafting items.

There isn’t a goal in the game per se, other than survive and kill boss enemies. Players begin with these three tools as a way to start collecting resources from the world. As you collect resources, players can create items ranging from bricks, furniture, swords, shields, armor, potions, etc. The idea is the more resources you gather, the easier it is to make better stuff.

Controls: Terraria is a 2D side scrolling game. This means that your character can only run left, right, jump up, or dig down. The controls vary because it depends on what platform you are using. I play Terraria on my computer, which means I use my keyboard to move my character and activate items in my inventory while I use my mouse to click on objects.

When I say “activate” my items, what I mean is you can only “hold” one object at a time, like a sword or a potion, but you can have “activated” items that affect your character’s health and strength. Take a look at this picture below:

This is a sceenshot of a player’s “inventory”. The top row functions like a shortcut. For example, if I want to hold that awesome pink sword in the top left hand corner, I only have to hit “1” on my keyboard. This is useful for when you are fighting enemies like giant floating eyeballs, and you have to quickly change from holding a sword to holding a health potion.

STEM Appeal: This game is very similar to Minecraft where there is some STEM appeal, but it not as obvious as Minecraft. For one thing, Minecraft lets you download modifications (also called “mods”), which means you have a lot more flexibility to create a STEM focused world for teens to play in (or download it from MinecraftEdu link: http://minecraftedu.com/) . You can download mods for Terraria on the PC, but I personally have not done this. You cannot download mods on other platforms.

Like Minecraft, teens can learn a variety of STEM skills like geometry, circuits, engineering, strategy, teamwork, communication, and physics. While there is no “goal” in Terraria, players often build elaborate home bases both for fun and to protect themselves from enemies. Take a look at this giant castle that I found on Google.

In order to build something this elaborate, players have to collect resources from their world in order to craft “better” objects. So, this castle probably took forever to build because the players had to gather the appropriate resources to create bricks, walls, doors, furniture, etc. Or, they used cheats, but let’s pretend they didn’t.

The one huge difference between Terraria and Minecraft is the inherent reliability on teamwork in order to progress in the game. If you are playing with other people in Terraria, you absolutely have to work together in order to survive fighting enemies and collect resources. Although you don’t have to work side by side in the game world, you naturally communicate your goals, actions, and findings to your teammates. This is what makes Terraria fun to play with friends!

Verdict: I highly recommend purchasing this game for Teen Game Night programs if your teens are tired of Minecraft. Teens will still learn STEM skills like they do in Minecraft, but it has a different world environment that is fun to explore with friends. I also recommend this as a core purchase for video game collections.

by Alanna Graves

Pricing and Purchasing Options:

Available on PlayStation 3 (digital code only) $19.99 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Terraria-PlayStation-digital-game-download-card/dp/B00L2FGTA2/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1442671282&sr=1-1&keywords=terraria+playstation+3

PlayStation 4 $19.99 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Terraria-PlayStation-4/dp/B00MEXP5BK/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1442671328&sr=1-1&keywords=terraria+playstation+4

PS Vita $19.99 on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Terraria-PlayStation-Vita/dp/B00XR3Z7W8/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1442671454&sr=1-1&keywords=terraria+ps+vita)

Xbox 360 $19.54 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Terraria-Xbox-360/dp/B00IXMF5CU/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1442671561&sr=1-1&keywords=terraria+xbox+360

Xbox One $19.88 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Terraria-Xbox-One/dp/B00MEXP5KG/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1442672010&sr=1-1&keywords=terraria+xbox+one

Apple Store $4.99 https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/terraria/id640364616?mt=8

Google Play Store $4.99 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.and.games505.Terraria&hl=en

PC Download on Steam $9.99 http://store.steampowered.com/app/105600/

Recently in Book Mail

IMG_5235Something new I’m trying to do is write frequent blog posts about all of the fantastic books that appear in my mailbox. As I’ve shown you in the Houghton Mifflin Fall 2015 Roundup post and the Macmillan Fall 2015 Roundup post, I get a lot more than I can/choose to review. Here are the things that have arrived in recent weeks. Keep your eyes out for reviews of many of these titles.



last nightLast Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin (ISBN-13: 9781467774895, Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group, Publication date: 09/01/2015)

Olivia, Bertucci, and Codman are a trio-an impenetrable triangle of friendship. Beyond friendship, they share a love of the Circle Cinema, a once thriving movie theater now facing the wrecking ball, about to be forgotten forever-which is, as far as Olivia and Codman can tell, what’s going to happen to them after graduation.

Bertucci convinces Olivia and Codman to spend their last night before graduation locked inside the Cinema’s concrete walls. None of them can open the box before sunrise. The trio is then forced to face each other, the events of the past year, and whatever is to come when the new day dawns.


A 52-Hertz Whale by Bill Sommer and Natalie Tilghman (ISBN-13: 9781467779173, Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group, Publication date: 09/01/2015) 53 hertz

Fourteen-year-old James is worried that the young humpback whale he tracks online has separated from its pod, so he emails Darren, the twentysomething would-be filmmaker who once volunteered in James’s special education program. Of course, Darren is useless on the subject of whales, but he’s got nothing but time, given that the only girl he could ever love dumped him. Predictably, this thread of emails leads to a lot of bizarre stuff, including a yeti suit, drug smuggling, a graveyard, damaged echolocation, choke holds, emergency dentistry…and maybe ends with something like understanding. See, the thing that binds people together most is their fear that nothing binds them together at all.


Ritter_BeastlyBones_jkt_COMP.inddBeastly Bones (Jackaby Series #2) by William Ritter (ISBN-13: 9781616203542, Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Publication date: 09/22/2015, Ages 12 up)

“I’ve found very little about private detective R. F. Jackaby to be standard in the time I’ve known him. Working as his assistant tends to call for a somewhat flexible relationship with reality . . .”

In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the supernatural.

First, members of a particularly vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens. A day later, their owner is found murdered, with a single mysterious puncture wound to her neck. Then, in nearby Gad’s Valley, dinosaur bones from a recent dig go missing, and an unidentifiable beast attacks animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Policeman Charlie Cane, exiled from New Fiddleham to the valley, calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, a nd a murderer.

Beastly Bones, the second installment in the series, delivers the same quirky humor and unforgettable characters as Jackaby, the book the Chicago Tribune called “Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”


Madly by Amy Alward (ISBN-13: 9781481443784, Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, Publication date: 09/29/2015) madly

Samantha may be falling for the beloved of the princess she is sent to save in this start to a hilarious, adventurous, and sweetly romantic trilogy.

When Samantha is summoned to the royal court of Nova for a secret mission, it’s her chance to put her training to the test: Princess Evelyn has taken an illegal love potion with disastrous effects, and Samantha, like her ancestors before her, is great at mixing potions. She may not be one of the naturally Talented—those who can heal or transform at the wave of their hands—but she is skilled nonetheless, and determined to find an antidote and cure Princess Evelyn.

The problem? Princess Evelyn took the love potion to make her best friend Zain fall for her—and it’s Zain who Samantha keeps encountering on her hunt for antidote ingredients. As forbidden sparks between them fly, Samantha is forced to wonder: will curing Princess Evelyn doom her own chance at love?


if you're luckyIf You’re Lucky by Yvonne Prinz (ISBN-13: 9781616204631, Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Publication date: 10/20/2015, Ages 14-17)

Is Georgia’s mind playing tricks on her, or is the entire town walking into the arms of a killer who has everyone but her fooled?

When seventeen-year-old Georgia’s brother drowns while surfing halfway around the world in Australia, she refuses to believe Lucky’s death was just bad luck. Lucky was smart. He wouldn’t have surfed in waters more dangerous than he could handle. Then a stranger named Fin arrives in False Bay, claiming to have been Lucky’s best friend. Soon Fin is working for Lucky’s father, charming Lucky’s mother, dating his girlfriend. Georgia begins to wonder: did Fin murder Lucky in order to take over his whole life?

Determined to clear the fog from her mind in order to uncover the truth about Lucky’s death, Georgia secretly stops taking the medication that keeps away the voices in her head. Georgia is certain she’s getting closer and closer to the truth about Fin, but as she does, her mental state becomes more and more precarious, and no one seems to trust what she’s saying.

As the chilling narrative unfolds, the reader must decide whether Georgia’s descent into madness is causing her to see things that don’t exist–or to see a deadly truth that no one else can.


Don’t Feed the Geckos (The Carver Chronicles #3) by Karen English and illustrated by Laura Freeman don't feed the(ISBN-13: 978-0-544-57529-5, Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Publication date: 12/1/2015, Ages 6-9)

Carlos isn’t sure how he feels about the news that his cousin Bernardo will be joining his class at Carver Elementary. But when Bernardo comes to live with him temporarily, taking over Carlos’s top bunk, his spot on the school soccer team, and even his Papi’s attention, Carlos knows he isn’t happy. Worse, Bernardo starts messing with Carlos’s pet geckos! Carlos tries to see past his cousin’s annoying ways, but Bernardo sure doesn’t make it easy. Will Carlos—and his geckos—survive Bernardo’s visit? Can he keep the peace for his family’s sake?     Emerging and newly independent readers are sure to recognize themselves in this humorous school and family story.




murphyBreakthrough!: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy (ISBN-13: 978-0-547-82183-2, Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Publication date: 12/8/2015, Ages 9-12)

In 1944 an unprecedented surgical procedure repaired the heart of a child with blue baby syndrome—lack of blood oxygen caused by a congenital defect. This landmark operation opened the way for all types of open heart surgery. The team that developed it included a cardiologist and a surgeon, but most of the actual work was done by Vivien Thomas, an African American lab assistant who was frequently mistaken for a janitor.


This Raging Light by Estelle Laure (ISBN-13: 9780544534292, Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Publication date: 12/22/2015, Ages 14 up) this raging

Can the best thing happen at the worst time?

Her dad went crazy. Her mom left town. She has bills to pay and a little sister to look after. Now is not the time for level-headed seventeen-year-old Lucille to fall in love. But love—messy, inconvenient love—is what she’s about to experience when she falls for Digby Jones, her best friend’s brother. With blazing longing that builds to a fever pitch, Estelle Laure’s soulful debut will keep readers hooked and hoping until the very last page.




radioactiveRadioactive!: How Irene Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling (ISBN-13: 9781616204150, Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Publication date: 01/05/2016, Ages 12-17)

The fascinating, little-known story of how two brilliant female physicists’ groundbreaking discoveries led to the creation of the atomic bomb.

In 1934, Irène Curie, working with her husband and fellow scientist, Frederic Joliot, made a discovery that would change the world: artificial radioactivity. This breakthrough allowed scientists to modify elements and create new ones by altering the structure of atoms. Curie shared a Nobel Prize with her husband for their work. But when she was nominated to the French Academy of Sciences, the academy denied her admission and voted to disqualify all women from membership. Four years later, Curie’s breakthrough led physicist Lise Meitner to a brilliant leap of understanding that unlocked the secret of nuclear fission. Meitner’s unique insight was critical to the revolution in science that led to nuclear energy and the race to build the atom bomb, yet her achievement was left unrecognized by the Nobel committee in favor of that of her male colleague.

Radioactive! presents the story of two women breaking ground in a male-dominated field, scientists still largely unknown despite their crucial contributions to cutting-edge research, in a nonfiction narrative that reads with the suspense of a thriller. Photographs and sidebars illuminate and clarify the science in the book.


Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn (ISBN-13: 9781250075963, Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Publication date: 01/05/2016) firsts

Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time-the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy – so far. Her mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn – or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her own reputation -and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn‘s Firsts is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.


assassin's masqueAssassin’s Masque (Palace of Spies series #3) by Sarah Zettel (ISBN-13: 978-0-544-07408-8, Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Publication date: 1/12/2016, Ages 12 up)

Things are turning around for seventeen-year-old Peggy Fitzroy, a once-orphaned spy. Her father is back from the dead, and her unwanted engagement has been called off for good. But when a mysterious veiled woman shows up, Peggy uncovers a fresh slew of questions about her past, present, and future.
Now Peggy is back at the palace, unsure of the loyalties she thought she held. With the Jacobite uprising stalking ever closer to the throne, it’s imperative that Peggy discover who she can really trust. Can she save herself and the royal family, or is she doomed as a pawn in this most deadly game?



sanctuarySanctuary Bay by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz (ISBN-13: 9781250051363, Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Publication date: 01/19/2016)

When Sarah Merson receives the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the most elite prep school in the country-Sanctuary Bay Academy-it seems almost too good to be true. But, after years of bouncing from foster home to foster home, escaping to its tranquil setting, nestled deep in Swans Island, couldn’t sound more appealing. Swiftly thrown into a world of privilege and secrets, Sarah quickly realizes finding herself noticed by class charmer, Nate, as well as her roommate’s dangerously attentive boyfriend, Ethan, are the least of her worries. When her roommate suddenly goes missing, she finds herself in a race against time, not only to find her, but to save herself and discover the dark truth behind Sanctuary Bay’s glossy reputation.

In this genre-bending YA thriller, Sanctuary Bay by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz, Sarah’s new school may seem like an idyllic temple of learning, but as she unearths years of terrifying history and manipulation, she discovers this “school” is something much more sinister.


Games Wizards Play (Young Wizards series #10) by Diane Duane (ISBN 13: 978-0-547-41806-3, Publisher: games wizards playHoughton Mifflin Harcourt, Publication date: 2/2/2016, Ages 12 up)

Every eleven years, Earth’s senior wizards hold the Invitational: an intensive three-week event where the planet’s newest, sharpest young wizards show off their best and hottest spells. Wizardly partners Kit Rodriguez and Nita Callahan, and Nita’s sister, former wizard-prodigy Dairine Callahan, are drafted in to mentor two brilliant and difficult cases: for Nita and Kit, there’s Penn Shao-Feng, a would-be sun technician with a dangerous new take on managing solar weather; and for Dairine, there’s shy young Mehrnaz Farrahi, an Iranian wizard-girl trying to specialize in defusing earthquakes while struggling with a toxic extended wizardly family that demands she perform to their expectations.

Together they’re plunged into a whirlwind of cutthroat competition and ruthless judging. Penn’s egotistical attitude toward his mentors complicates matters as the pair tries to negotiate their burgeoning romance. Meanwhile, Dairine struggles to stabilize her hero-worshipping, insecure protégée against the interference of powerful relatives using her to further their own tangled agendas. When both candidates make it through to the finals stage on the dark side of the Moon, they and their mentors are flung into a final conflict that could change the solar system for the better . . .or damage Earth beyond even wizardly repair.


In Real Life by Jessica Love (ISBN-13: 9781250064714, Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Publication date: 03/01/2016) InRealLife1

Hannah Cho and Nick Cooper have been best friends since 8th grade. They talk for hours on the phone, regularly shower each other with presents, and know everything there is to know about one another.

There’s just one problem: Hannah and Nick have never actually met.

Hannah has spent her entire life doing what she’s supposed to, but when her senior year spring break plans get ruined by a rule-breaker, she decides to break a rule or two herself. She impulsively decides to road trip to Vegas, her older sister and BFF in tow, to surprise Nick and finally declare her more-than-friend feelings for him.

Hannah’s romantic gesture backfires when she gets to Vegas and meets Nick’s girlfriend, whom he failed to mention. And it turns out his relationship status isn’t the only thing he’s been lying to her about. Hannah knows the real Nick can’t be that different from the online Nick she knows and loves, but now she only has one night in Sin City to figure out what her feelings for Nick really are, all while discovering how life can change when you break the rules every now and then.


original fakeOriginal Fake by Kirstin Cronn-Mills and E. Eero Johnson (ISBN-13: 9780399173264, Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group, Publication date: 04/19/2016, Ages 12 up)

In this Banksy-inspired illustrated novel, an escalating sibling rivalry train wrecks and vengeance is a street-art act of war

Introvert Frankie Neumann hates his life, and understandably so. He’s got a weird, tutu-wearing sister, Lou, and even weirder parents, Bridget and Brett—Frank Sinatra and Dr. Frank-N-Furter impersonators, respectively. And, he’s just the guy who makes pizza at Pizza Vendetta. Though he has secret artistic aspirations of his own, his over-the-top family makes him want to stay in the background. But Frankie’s life is about to change—becoming way more interesting, even a little dangerous, but definitely cool.

After his shift at the pizzeria one night, Frankie meets David and Rory, cousins and errand runners for the mysterious Uncle Epic, a legendary anonymous street artist and Frankie’s absolute idol. Little could Frankie dream that his new adventures with Uncle Epic would lead to the perfect opportunity to strike back at his insufferable sister for a lifetime of torture. But things go haywire quicker than you can say “street art kicks righteous ass,” and the lines are suddenly blurred between art and Frankie’s real life.

(Learn more about this book in our previous post with the cover reveal)


App Review: Aviary (The quest for the perfect photo app continues)

Last week we got the final approval to make some big changes at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH) where I am working as the YA Services Coordinator. Namely, my proposal to move the YA fiction collection out of an enclosed space to a new location and to turn that enclosed space into a MakerSpace was approved (I’ll be writing more about that soon). I am beyond excited because I think it is a great use of the space for our patrons current needs. And in anticipation of this change we (the Assistant Director and I) have been investigating some tech for the space. And since one of my programming goals is to help teens use our technology to make their own memes and artwork, I have been investigating photo apps. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for my teens.

So in the course of my investigation I found multiple references and recommendations for a photo app called Aviary. Here are the basics:


  • It’s for the iPhone or an iPad
  • You must have IOS7 or later
  • It is basically free but there are in app purchases (more about this in a moment)
  • It combines a wide variety of features that I have been using multiple apps to perform

Overall, I really like this app and can see why it has gotten all the accolades. As I mentioned, it combines a lot of great features into one app where in the past I have used multiple apps.


Here’s a picture I manipulated of Thing 2 in the Aviary app. It allowed me to use a vignette and to resize it so I could cut out the outside stuff and focus the attention on her face. Then I was able to use a simple sticker that said “This is Love” to put on the bottom. I printed it out and it looks great.


This is a picture I took of a bunch of crowns at the DUMPLIN’ (by Julie Murphy) release party at the Irving Public Library. I was able to use a vibrant filter and add this text and create a great pic that pays homage to the book.


This photo is a Star Wars Lego Minifigure posed in front of a piece of scrapbooking paper that has like a galaxy theme on it. I then ran it through some filters and added the text.


In addition to the various stickers and frames, Aviary also has some overlays you can use. here is a picture of the moon a friend took (used with permission) and I added the whimsical overlay border you see at the top and bottom of the picture. Normally, I would have used something like this in the A Beautiful Mess app and then used another app to finish my picture. I was able to do this all in one place.


And here’s a picture of The Teen and The Bestie from a recent trip ice skating. Simple filters and a “Friends” sticker made it a great photo.

So, here’s what I like:

In addition to the normal photo manipulating techniques in most photo apps like crop, brighten, sharpen, etc., Aviary has a variety of filters (also called effects), frames, overlays and stickers you can use to enhance your photo.

You can easily add text to your photo where before I would use an app and then save the photo and use the Over app to add text. Having everything I want and need available in one app is definitely a bonus.

It has a “Meme” feature that easily lets you add text to the bottom and top of your photo to create a meme. It has less functionality then the text feature but it is quicker if this is your end goal.

It has a “Draw” feature that allows you to free hand draw or write onto your photos. It also has an erase in case you make a mistake. I don’t have the skills to successfully use this feature, but it is cool that it exists in the app.

What I Don’t Like:

Although the app is technically free, you only get a handful of filters (effects), frames, overlays and stickers with the initial download. After that, you have to buy additional packages at 99 cents each. And there are a lot of additional packages to buy organized by themes. In the end, the app could end up costing you a lot of money depending on how happy you are with the standard components. For example, I wasn’t super excited about the filters/effects which are included. Though for that additional 99 cents you can get some cool ones like fireworks, fade, etc. I counted 48 effects packages, so you would have to pay over $40.00 to get all the effects for this app. And then you would have to do the same for the frames, stickers and overlays. You’ll also want to be careful because not all packages are created equal. The censored sticker pack, which would be cool for Banned Books Week, has 17 stickers while the fashion sticker pack has 38 stickers.

Although you can add text to your picture, there are only 10 font options and as far as I can tell you can not purchase additional font packages. I would like to see more font options available and don’t understand why they don’t sell these packages since they sell so many other packages.

In addition, there are only 22 color choices for your text where some other apps have more.

Bottom Line:

It’s definitely a great app and I highly recommend it with caution: it’s kinda free but not really and be careful or you can spend a lot of money. In future upgrades I would like to see them add more functionality to the text feature. Overall, Aviary is definitely a great one stop place for most of your photo manipulation needs.

How about you, what photo editing apps and online programs do you like? Let me know in the comments. For more app reviews check out Tech Talk.

Middle School Monday – The Shrunken Head (Curiosity House #1)

23277166We all feel, sometimes, as if we a re living in a house full of freaks; in this case it’s true. Philippa, Thomas, Sam and Max are all orphans living in and working for Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders in the New York City of the 1930’s. Owned and operated by Mr. Dumfrey, who also serves as the children’s guardian, the museum is staffed and peopled by a collection of sideshow-like performers: a fat lady, a little person, alligator boy, elephant man, giant, etc. Additionally, the museum houses a collection of artifacts and wonders from around the world, each with a fascinating (if often manufactured) provenance. The four children add their particular skills to the performances, and use them to their advantage throughout the story. Philippa is a mentalist, although she has only developed her powers to reliably read the contents of other people’s pockets. Thomas is a contortionist; he is part of multiple acts, but spends most of his time traveling through the museum’s ventilation shafts and eavesdropping on conversations. Sam is a strong man (or boy) whose superhuman strength is a disadvantage at times. Max is a knife throwing phenom who is also a gifted pickpocket.

When Mr. Dumfrey comes into the possession of a ‘shrunken head’ – “Straight from the Amazon! Delivered only yesterday!” – he has high hopes that it will generate renewed interest in the museum, whose ticket sales have seen better days. Even better, a local newspaper reporter (Bill Evans of The Daily Screamer) comes to the unveiling and is both impressed with Philippa’s abilities and drawn to the shrunken head (which causes one elderly visitor to faint.) Later that evening, Evans visits to interview the elderly woman and finds her dead, having hurtled over the edge of a balcony. He immediately claims the shrunken head has a curse, much to the delight of Mr. Dumfrey, who enjoys a good bit of free advertising through sensational journalism. Unfortunately, the shrunken head is stolen, and more deaths follow its path. The children are curious as to who may have stolen the famous artifact and investigate, overhearing snatches of conversation, finding bodies, and running afoul of the law. Evans takes advantage of their curiosity to grill them for a follow up story which attracts the interest of local ‘do-gooder’ Andrea von Stikk, who wants to take the children away from what she sees as a vey unfit home. It looks like she may have a chance, too, when Mr. Dumfrey is arrested for murder!

Lauren Oliver has created a completely engaging work with The Shrunken Head (Curiosity House #1). Although the story is told in third person, the narrator’s focus shifts equally between all four of the main characters, revealing their thoughts, concerns, and interests. Each is a fully developed individual with unique strengths and weaknesses that work together to compliment the whole. The adult characters, while not as fully realized, are also not the focus of the story. Oliver has been careful to make each an individual, though, and not fallen into the trap of stereotype. I do love the fact that Phoebe, the ‘world’s fattest woman’ is a marvelous dancer – and that when she leaves the woman who auditions to replace her is found lacking for not being fat enough, and advised to “consider adding more carbohydrates to your diet.”

Although each of the children has reservations about being a ‘freak’, it is clear that they both love and are loved by every one of Mr. Dumfrey’s performers. It’s obvious that each of the children and adults in his employ has value to Dumfrey and is more than just an oddity to be enjoyed, but a family member to be loved. Complete with a fun twist at the end, this novel proves to be the auspicious start to a wonderful new series. I highly recommend purchasing it for your middle grades readers.

Want to win a copy of the book? That’s great! We’re giving away a copy to two separate winners in the U.S. this week. Do the Rafflecopter thingy below to be entered to win. I mentioned it was open to U.S. residents only right? And you have until Saturday at Midnight to enter to win.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday Reflections: Yes, Teens Still Read! Texas Teen Book Festival Recap

I have been told by some readers that my Sunday Reflections always make them cry, to which I must say I’m sorry. So today I bring you a Sunday Reflection full of joy. Yesterday, The Teen and I (and Thing 2, though she had much different feelings about it then us) drove down to Austin, Texas for the Texas Teen Book Festival 2015. We met up with the super awesome Mary Hinson (@knoxdiver on Twitter if you for some reason are not following her) and hung out.

Mary and The Teen stopped by the Star Wars themed photo booth.

Maria Manzano from Sesame Street gave the keynote address. She talked about growing up in poverty and in a home with a continuous cycle of domestic violence. She also talked about all the testing kids today have to take and the value of reading:

One of our main goals for the day was to get our ARC of EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING signed by Nicola and David Yoon. As you may know The Teen (and I) loved this book and she has said it is definitely in her top 5 of 2015.

Finally, we unlocked that achievement. Nicola and David Yoon were incredibly kind and gracious to The Teen.

But the main take away I want everyone to have from the Texas Teen Book Festival is that teens DO IN FACT STILL READ BOOKS. I know, many people say teens don’t read! Books are dying! Etc., etc., etc. But the truth is, there were copious amounts of teens standing in long lines to talk about books and meet their favorite authors. There were loving and supportive teachers and parents who took them and gave them money to help make their dreams of meeting their favorite authors and getting their books signed come true. So next time you hear someone says teens don’t read and books don’t matter, just know that they are wrong.

See, no tears this Sunday Reflection. And if for some reason you did cry, I hope they were tears of joy at seeing all those teens loving books.

Friday Finds – September 24, 2015

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Be a leader. Be a troop leader.

TPiB: DIY Chalkboard Fun

Middle School Monday – Color Coding and the Tweenage Brain

Book Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

TPiB: Locker Crafts

Video Games Weekly: Video Game Genres 101

Back to School with BRUTAL YOUTH by Anthony Breznican

Circulating Maker Kits Update

Fighting for Phoenix

Around the Web

Gendered dress codes

Good tips for writing outside your experience

Do you love author Kiersten White yet? How about now?

Save the Libraries

Crisis Text Line

Fighting for Phoenix

I know that this is a blog about serving teens, but I need to talk to you about Phoenix. You see, Phoenix is a 7-year-old boy who tried to take his life, and sadly this is not the first time. If I’m remembering correctly, Phoenix was 5 when he tried the first time, though possibly 6. Though that difference seems miniscule at this point.

Phoenix is the son of a friend of mine, we were pregnant together and fought through the evil battle that is Hyperemesis Gravidarum in order to bring our children into this world. Phoenix was born a girl and named Phoebe. But early on in life Phoenix began to exhibit some profound unhappiness with life. He struggled with depression. He tried to take his own life. He was hospitalized. He went to counseling. And after counseling the counselor looked at his mother and said, “Do you think he may be transgender?” And then one day Phoebe, as she was identified at that point, said that she wanted to die when people called her a girl because she was supposed to be a boy. And my friend said, I could have a dead child or I could accept that I have a transgender child and she supported Phoenix as he stepped on the path that would bring him better peace inside his own skin.

The struggles, of course, did not end there. It’s not as if embracing the transgender journey is not fraught with its own unique challenges. For one, Phoenix has to go to school with school children who are not always kind. He still struggles with identity and depression and other issues. Even with a loving family, a good counselor, and the freedom to identify as he feels most comfortable, this is still a difficult journey, especially for a child so young.

Life has not been an easy journey so far for Phoenix. And he is only 7. The same age as my Thing 2 (well 4 months older). I can’t imagine her being in such a dark place at this age. And as I have shared, I spent a part of my summer dealing with my own issues of depression and suicide ideation. It was terrible and traumatic and difficult at my adult age – I can’t imagine it happening at the age of 7, when most kids are trying to figure out how to stay up a few minutes later and how to sneak a cookie when no one is looking.

You can read Phoenix’s story here: https://www.facebook.com/fightingforphoenix. Scroll down to the bottom to read from the beginning.

Last night the TLTers and I were discussing what we could do for Phoenix. Amanda MacGregor shared that they had just discussed some of the challenges that transgender children face on MPR: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/09/22/bcst-discussion-challenges-of-transgender-kids-and-families.

We also discussed some books we would recommend. If you want to do something – I know that I want to do something – please consider buying one or more of these titles and donating them to your local public or school library in support of Phoenix. Also, you can tweet a message of support for him at #Fight4Phoenix. I am trying to compile them and send them to him as a reminder that his life has value and that people care.

transgender1Gracefully Grayson by Amy Polonsky

Publisher’s Book Description: Alone at home, twelve-year-old Grayson Sender glows, immersed in beautiful thoughts and dreams. But at school, Grayson grasps at shadows, determined to fly under the radar. Because Grayson has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body.

The weight of this secret is crushing, but leaving it behind would mean facing ridicule, scorn, and rejection. Despite these dangers, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Strengthened by an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher who gives her a chance to step into the spotlight, Grayson might finally have the tools to let her inner light shine.

Debut author Ami Polonsky’s moving, beautifully-written novel shines with the strength of a young person’s spirit and the enduring power of acceptance.

transgender2George by Alex Gino

Publisher’s Description: BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen


Publisher’s Description: Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together…and they’re not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! (Heather Booth informs me that in issue 17 two characters come out as transgender)

transgender4It Gets Better by Dan Savage

Publisher’s Book Description: Growing up isn’t easy. Many young people endure bullying that makes them feel they have nowhere to turn–especially LGBT kids and teens who often hide their sexuality for fear of being bullied. Without openly gay mentors, they don’t know what the future may hold. After a number of suicides by LGBT students who were bullied in school, syndicated columnist Dan Savage uploaded a video to YouTube with his partner, Terry Miller, to inspire hope for LGBT youth. The video launched the ‘It Gets Better Project’, initiating a worldwide phenomenon. This is a collection of expanded essays and new material from celebrities and everyday people who have posted videos of encouragement, as well as new contributors. We can show LGBT youth the happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will have if they can get through their teen years. “It Gets Better” reminds teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone–and it WILL get better.

transgender5Some Assembly Required and Rethinking Normal

Publisher’s Book Description: Two teens. Two struggles. Two unforgettable stories. Now available in one ebook, Arin Andrews and Katie Hill share their personal journeys of undergoing gender reassignment in two inspiring memoirs: Some Assembly Required and Rethinking Normal.

About Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen:

We’ve all felt uncomfortable in our own skin at some point, and we’ve all been told that “it’s just a part of growing up.” But for Arin Andrews, it wasn’t a phase that would pass. He had been born in the body of a girl and there seemed to be no relief in sight…

In this first-of-its-kind memoir, Arin details the journey that led him to make the life-transforming decision to undergo gender reassignment as a high school junior. He also writes about the thrill of meeting and dating a young transgender woman named Katie Hill—and the heartache that followed after they broke up.

Some Assembly Required is a true coming-of-age story about knocking down obstacles and embracing family, friendship, and first love. But more than that, it is a reminder that self-acceptance does not come ready-made with a manual and spare parts. Rather, some assembly is always required.

About Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition:
Have you ever worried that you’d never be able to live up to your parents’ expectations? Have you ever imagined that life would be better if you were just invisible? Have you ever thought you would do anything—anything—to make the teasing stop? Katie Hill had and it nearly tore her apart. Katie realized very young that a serious mistake had been made: she was a girl who had been born in the body of a boy.

In this first-person account, Katie reflects on her pain-filled childhood and the events leading up to the life-changing decision to undergo gender reassignment as a teenager. She reveals the unique challenges she faced while unlearning how to be a boy and shares what it was like to navigate the dating world and experience heartbreak for the first time in a body that matched her gender identity.

Told in an unwaveringly honest voice, Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of “normalcy” to embody one’s true self.

For other books, please check out this SLJ post on evaluating transgender picture books.

Circulating Maker Kits Update

circulatingmakerkit1Several of you have asked me to keep you updated on the Circulating Maker Kits that we started in late July and early of August 2015 at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH).

To date we have 16 kits and yesterday 6 of them were checked out.

To date the 16 kits have circulated 25 times.

The most popular kit seems to be the Stop Motion Animation kit. It was returned on Tuesday and I went to look for it Wednesday on the shelf because I needed something in it, it had already been checked out again. It has circulated 3 times total.

One kit already seems to be overdue and we fear it may not be coming back. However, we expected there would be some loss just as there is with all of our other material types.

We did have to tweak some of the table of contents to make it easier for the staff to check the kits in and out and make sure all of the items were present in the kits.

All in all, the Circulating Maker Kits appear to be doing well for us.

And just for fun, here’s a picture of The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County’s library director John Chidester checking out one of the Circulating Maker Kits for his grandson.


You can read more about the Circulating Maker Kits at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and some of my other MakerSpace posts here.


Back to School with BRUTAL YOUTH by Anthony Breznican


With school back in session, the artist Cassandra Siemon has created new illustrations to accompany excerpts of Anthony Breznican’s dark coming-of-age novel Brutal Youth, which is new in paperback.

One of the chief antagonists in the book is Ms. Bromine, a guidance counselor at St. Michael the Archangel high school who has become unhinged with bitterness. She was once a popular student at the school, but each year takes her farther away from those glory days.

In this scene, she encounters two boys she has already decided are examples of the sad state of her beloved school: Noah Stein, who has a mysterious burn scar on his cheek, and Peter Davidek, who is well-meaning but deeply unlucky.

Bromine first tangled with them in the opening scene of the book, when an out-of-control student seizes control of the school’s roof and begins pushing statues over onto the students below. Stein and Davidek ran out to save a fallen classmate, but Bromine grabbed them and wouldn’t let them proceed – until Stein distracted her with a surprise Bugs Bunny-style kiss that allowed Davidek to run free.

Ms. Bromine was ignored when she complained at the time. Now she has vowed not to let that humiliation go unpunished.

Sometimes when you feel completely alone and ignored, it’s easy to lose your way.



First class of the day: Religion.

Lorelei entered the classroom and found a seat in the center of the front row, placed a notebook and pen on the desktop, and crossed her ankles under her chair.

Her new classmates shuffled in behind her, and the boy who took the seat next to hers had a web of thin pink scars running from the corner of his eye, right down to his jawline. But he was still kind of cute. It made him look strong somehow, to be damaged.

“Can I ask you . . . ,” she said, tracing a finger near her own eye. The boy instinctively touched his scar. “Are you blind in that eye?” she asked.

The boy leaned in conspiratorially, smiling. “If I was, I’d have sat on the other side, so I could still see you.”

Lorelei groaned. “I get it. So you’re the guy who flirts with every girl in class?”

The boy with the scar shook his head. “No,” he said. “Just the prettiest ones.”

The chatter in the room was cut off by the slam of a door. Ms. Bromine stood with her hand clenched on the knob, in case she needed to slam it again. “Good morning,” she said sweetly. She walked to the podium beside the teacher’s desk. After more silence, she said: “Aren’t you going to wish me a good morning?” which was followed by a disjointed response of “Good morn-ing, Miss-us Bromummum . . .”

“Bro-myne,” the teacher corrected them, dashing her name on the chalkboard. “I am the school guidance counselor, and I also teach this class on Catholic catechism. This is not church, but it’s about church, so I expect you to behave ac—” That’s when she noticed the scarred boy. Their eyes locked. The lips on which he had once planted a mocking kiss pursed. “Do you have a problem, young man?”

Stein looked behind him. Bromine said, “I’m talking to you. What is it you have there on the side of your face? Some kind of . . . rash?” As every eye in the classroom penetrated him, the teacher adjusted her little Ben Franklin glasses and said, “Oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that was just . . . well, how God made you.” She put a hand to her mouth to cover a small smile and coughed to clear her throat.

“You should see the other guy,” Stein said. “And it wasn’t God.” The kids in the class chuckled, but Ms. Bromine no longer had a smile to hide. “Let’s not talk out of turn,” she said, unable to think of a better comeback.

“In any case, where was I?” Bromine said. “Oh, yes. This class is where you learn right from wrong. This is not a place for you to sit around and discuss what you believe is right, or what you don’t feel is wrong. ‘Believing’ and ‘feeling’ aren’t welcome in a mathematics course, and they’re not welcome here either.”

Bromine had them go to a table in the back and pick up a textbook,

Exploring Modern Faith— or, as some of them had been vandalized by past students, Exploding Modern Farts. As the kids returned to their desks, the classroom door opened. Bromine looked over at the new arrival. Good Lord Jesus. The other one, too?

Davidek, his hair and blazer still dripping with rain, wandered in nervously, raising a freshly printed class schedule like a talisman to ward away evil. “The secretary gave me a sophomore list by mistake . . . ,” he said.

“It’s always somebody else’s fault with you, isn’t it?” Bromine said. She folded her arms. “Take a seat,” she said. “And congratulations.”

“For what?” Davidek asked, hunching toward the empty desk on the other side of Lorelei.

“For collecting the first detention of the year,” Bromine said. “And in the first class of your first year, in the first minute you enter. You should be in the record books.”

Davidek sank into his seat. Stein leaned forward to tip him a friendly salute that Davidek didn’t feel energized enough to return.

“You’ll need to get a textbook,” Bromine said. When Davidek stood up, she snapped: “Play catch-up on your own time. You’ve already distracted me enough. Let’s go around the room, and each of you say your name. And don’t go changing seats after today. I can’t remember who’s who if you keep shifting around.”

Bromine barely heard any of the kids saying their names. She was focused on the two hooligans, evidence of how things had changed for the worse around here since the days when she had worn the St. Mike’s uniform. When the scarred kid introduced himself as “Noah Stein,” Bromine raised her pencil-sketch eyebrows. “Noah, eh?” she said. “So, where’s your ark?”

She basked as the class chuckled, but Stein shot back: “Where’s the second animal who matches you?” It was a reflex from a lifetime of dumb “Hey, Noah, where’s your ark?” jokes.

Bromine’s eyes went wide. “You,” she said, “have earned yourself the second detention of the school year.”

Stein shrugged. Bromine started scribbling the punishment slips at her desk. She didn’t bother listening to the rest of the students’ names.

About BRUTAL YOUTH by Anthony Breznican

Three freshmen must join forces to survive at a troubled, working-class Catholic high school with a student body full of bullies and zealots, and a faculty that’s even worse in Anthony Breznican’s Brutal Youth

With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michael’s has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal — so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies.

To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive. (Paperback ISBN: 9781250067890)

You can see another piece of original artwork and read its accompanying excerpt at HYPABLE.

Karen’s Take

BRUTAL YOUTH by Anthony Breznican was one of my favorite books of 2014. It’s dark, it’s compelling, and it’s sympathetic. Check out what I had to say previously at 5 Thought I Had While Reading BRUTAL YOUTH. Seeing the artwork makes me really want a graphic novel. And honestly, I would love to see this made into a movie.