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Sunday Reflections: Wrestling with A Birthday Cake for George Washington as a Mother and a Librarian

birthdaycakeChances are you are not unaware of the controversy surrounding the book A Birthday Cake for George Washington, which was recently recalled by Scholastic Publishers. If you need some context, you can begin here, here and here. If you Google, and I recommend that you do, you will find a plethora of posts presenting many different opinions and points of view on this title. Although this book does not necessarily fall under the purview of our umbrella here at TLT, I have decided to share some of the thoughts I have been having about the discussion because I am the mother of a small child and a librarian.

The basics in case you are unfamiliar: Scholastic published the book A Birthday Cake for George Washington which many people are calling a “happy slave narrative” in that it whitewashes the history of slavery by presenting us with a story about a slave, Hercules, serving as George Washington’s chef. It presents us with this story that suggests that Hercules had it better than many other slaves and was honored to have this position of higher respect, although it does go on to note in an end note that Hercules did eventually runaway, I believe ironically on George Washington’s birthday.

A Happy Slave Narrative Diminishes the Profound Impact of Slavery

As people we often put stories into a personal context to help understand their meaning, and this is what I keep going to. You see, the year I was in the 8th grade, I was repeatedly abused by someone. That abuse was traumatizing and horrifying and it colored everything that happened that year; it shaped who I was and who I was to become. When not immediately in the abusive situation, I worried and stressed about when it would happen again. I lived in a constant state of anxiety and stress and fear.

Were there moments of happiness during my 8th grade year? Yes, there were. But if someone was going to write my life narrative I would not want them to depict my 8th grade year as a happy year, or to even highlight those happy moments, because that is not the truth of my story. Also, I wouldn’t want them to let me abuser so easily off the hook. The events of those years shaped who I am, they changed the course of my life, and they caused me intense struggles at times with anxiety, depression, self esteem and physical intimacy. To suggest otherwise is not only dishonest, but it does a tremendous disservice to me and all victims of abuse.

And what I went through during that year doesn’t even compare to slavery. For centuries in human history and yes, American history, black people were considered not fully human and were owned by other people. Slave owners dictated every moment of their life: when they could sleep, where they could be, what they could do, what, when and how much they could eat . . . and they often used physical violence and emotional manipulation to make all of this happen.

Were there “good” slave owners? Um, I guess there were less abusive slave owners. But slavery in itself is both immoral and unconscionable, so even if you are doing it better than others, it’s still an evil act in and of itself. A slave owner or slavery supporter is suggesting that one human being has the right to own and deny the basic humanity of a fellow human being. There is no sugar coating that. Even in the best of situations, it is still evil.

Contradictory Messages and the Cognitive Development of Early Childhood

As a parent, I’m a big advocate for teaching children self-autonomy. I believe this is a strong, solid foundation to help kids learn that they and they alone have the rights to their body and that this help prevent childhood sexual abuse. Self autonomy and mutual respect is the cornerstone of teaching consent. I don’t force my child to hug anyone, not even me. And the corollary to this is that we must respect each other: You demand respect for your body, but you must also give others that same respect for the bodies of others. I remind my child constantly that they can’t touch another person without their permission. Respecting others is, I believe, a foundational concept to teaching kids basic human rights, both theirs and the rights of others.

To me, anything that might suggest that slavery was in any way okay, or that there were good slave owners, or the idea of a happy slave, undermines our attempts as parents and educators to teach children the basic concepts of basic human rights, basic respect for others, and self-autonomy. It’s also why as a parent I have chosen never to hit my child why saying, “we don’t hit others.” Young children don’t have the cognitive or emotional skills to understand nuance, what they see is a conflicting message which negates what you are trying to teach.

There’s also a trust issue involved. If children can’t trust the adults in their life to teach them honest truths, then how do they develop any meaningful trust with either the adults in their life or the concept of education itself. How do we teach children that slavery is bad while showing them smiling slaves? And how do they trust us to teach them if they feel we are sending them confusing or outright dishonest messages? And once trust in education is broken, just as with any trust, it can be so hard to regain.

Unlearning Later What We Learned Wrong the First Time

I happen to be the parent of a 7-year-old. I spend a lot of time having to teach her the truth about things she hears, primarily from peers, throughout the course of her day. Knowledge is about building blocks. We learn a concept or an idea and they we build on it, or expand it. For example, when Piaget discusses childhood stages he talks about accommodation and assimilation. Very young children learn the word puppy and then, when they see a new furry animal, they call it a puppy; they put it into a box they already have a label for. Over time, as their cognitive skills grow, they begin to understand that not all furry animals are puppies and begin putting these different animals into more and more accurate boxes: puppy, kitty, bear.

I think of it also in terms of math. Each year in math you learn harder math skills and your ability to be successful at them can be greatly impacted by how successfully you learned the correct math skills in the year before. If somewhere along the line you learn something incorrectly, it can be harder in more advanced stages because you misunderstand a fundamental at a lower stage.

Now imagine trying to teach high school and college age students about the truth of American history and slavery when they have been taught at an earlier age the idea of the happy slave and good slave owner. As their instructor tries to teach the true horrors of slavery they are countering this lessons with arguments of “but there were good slave owners and happy slaves.” They can’t dismantle these constructs learned early in childhood enough to understand the truth behind slavery.

Grappling with the idea of slavery is hard. Acknowledging our history means that we have to admit a lot of horrible things about who we really are as a nation and the human capacity for evil. But being honest about slavery is important because we don’t get to rewrite history or downplay the horrors of our history so that we can feel comfortable today. If by definition slavery is evil, and I believe that it is, than we owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to our future to be honest about that evil.

Honoring the Dignity of ALL the Children in Our Midst

My children are white, which means they come into this world without having to understand the reality of racism. And whether we like it or not, racism is still a very real thing that we must grapple with as humans. When my neighborhood was canvased by the KKK a little over a year ago, my first thought was not about my child, but about the little girl down the street, her friend. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for this little black girl to walk outside and find these flyers everywhere, how much it would hurt her and cause her to fear living in her own neighborhood, in her own home. And I couldn’t imagine as a parent what it might be like to have your child come in and ask you what this flyer meant. And although as the mother to two little girls I have had to fight a lot of sexism and sexist messages, I have not and will not have to teach my child about racism in the same way that the parents of a child of color will.

But as librarians and educators, people entrusted by our communities to nurture and raise their children, we have a responsibility to not only educate, but to respect and value all the children in our communities. We owe it to our children with disabilities to provide our communities with accurate representations of life with various challenges. We owe our children with mental health issues accurate representations of mental health issues without harmful stereotypes. And we owe it to our children from various ethnic backgrounds to provide accurate representations of life both past and present for various groups. It’s not just about representation, because yes of course children deserve to see themselves reflected in the media they consume. It’s also about being honest about history so that we can start breaking down those harmful stereotypes and creating environments where marginalized groups are respected and cared for by the whole community. I teach my children the dignity and basic humanity of others by making sure they read stories that open their world view, expand their knowledge of life outside their little bubble. I believe this is one of the primary purposes of literature, books are both windows and mirrors. And if we want our children to grow up healthy and happy and respecting both themselves and others, then those windows and mirrors have to be honest.

So What About Censorship

I am not a fan of censorship; though by definition this is not censorship. Censorship is when the government intercedes and forbids the publication or distribution of information. This is a product producer making an informed market decision based on consumer feedback. It’s no different then when someone sees that Abercrombie or American Apparel has produced a sexist or rape culture t-shirt and they get vocal about it and the distributor decides to pull the t-shirt. That’s how the free market works. It is also, I would argue, how Democracy works. The public spoke up, they made a public vote with their voices, and the creator of the content, Scholastic, decided to pull their book. I think it was the right decision.

Content creators do have a responsibility for their message. In my opinion, the message of the happy slave – especially directed to young children who are just learning basic foundational concepts like respect and human rights – is not a responsible message. But more than that, it is a message that suggests that the publisher isn’t aware of basic child development and how negligent this message is at this critical time period of cognitive development. The book not only hurts the African American community, but in my opinion it hurts the reputation of the publisher who has branded itself as someone who is an authority on child development and a trusted source for producing developmentally appropriate books for kids. In my opinion, recalling the book was a smart market decision for several reasons, one of which is that it helps to restore the public trust in this very image that Scholastic has worked so hard to cultivate. Plus, alienating a part of your consumer base is just a bad economic practice, which is why I can’t figure out why Marvel and Disney continue to act like girls don’t care about or have an interest in the superhero franchise.

I do understand why libraries that have already purchased and added the books to their library shelves have a harder time considering withdrawing the book in question from their collection. As a librarian and advocate for intellectual freedom, I am woefully hesitant to remove any book for any reason. And trust me, I have been asked to many times. Part of the reason we as librarians are so hesitant to remove items from the collection because once you start, it’s so hard to know where to draw the line. If I withdraw a book that the Native American community declares is harmful to the native population, then do I also have to remove all the GLBTQ books that the conservative population declares are harmful to the conservative community? Why is one argument valid and the other is not? Those are hard arguments to make when the people standing before you are arguing from a place of sincere belief and asking that you respect those beliefs.

In the case of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, I do think libraries can remove the book on the principle that it was recalled by the publisher of the book. If we had some other item in our libraries, say chairs, that were recalled by the seller of those items for safety reasons, we wouldn’t hesitate to remove the chairs and in fact might be considered financially liable for any injury should we fail to do so. So what type of responsibility do we have when a publisher withdraws a book? In my 22 years as a YA librarian, this is new territory for me and it is certainly a question I am wrestling with (although for the record, the library that I currently work in does not own the title in question and I am not in charge of that collection).

So What Can We Do Right Now?

One thing we should all definitely do it to take a moment right now to analyze our collections. Do we have good diversity happening in our collections? If not, we should work on orders right this moment to help fill any collection gaps that we have. And we should turn to reliable sources to fill those gaps. Make sure that you are purchasing titles with POC characters written by POC authors, because we need diversity at all levels. Our kid readers need to know that they can grow up to be writers as well as readers.

Consider your sources and make sure you are buying well reviewed titles not just from the professional journals, but from members of the community that is represented in the work. For example, look for reviews of literature with Latino characters from the Latino community and see if they mention anything about harmful stereotypes or cultural inaccuracies.

Don’t just put the books on the shelves, but put them on display. But not just in Diversity Displays, just in displays in general. For example, if you do a display on dystopian titles, make sure you have dystopian titles by POC authors and featuring POC main characters. If you go to do say a mystery display and find you don’t have any diverse titles to add, then fill those holes.

Be active in the library community. Listen to the conversations others are having. Be open to changing your mind. But also be willing to advocate: for kids, for books, for libraries.

As I said at the beginning, this is a conversation I have been paying attention to, as a librarian and as a mother. I have strong opinions on parts of it and am still wrestling with questions for other parts of it. But as a human and as a person who believes in the power of story to shape a mind, I do think what stories we tell and how we tell them are important. I believe that words matter and that stories can inform who we are and what we believe. That’s why this conversation matters.

Please Note: These are my opinions alone and do not represent School Library Journal, the library where I work, or any other member of TLT.

Friday Finds – January 29, 2016

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Thinking About Flint

Middle School Monday – Me and Miranda Mullaly by Jake Gerhardt – Guest Post and Review

How Libraries Can Help Teens, by Librarian Dawn Abron

Life Lessons from Gayle Forman

Book Review: The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin

10 Things I Wish You Knew About OCD, by author Tamara Ireland Stone and C

Video Games Weekly: Animal Crossing Amiibo Festival

Author Tamara Ireland Stone Interviews a Teen Called C about OCD

Book Review: Burn by Elissa Sussman

On Narrative Expectations and the Reflection of Truth, by author Stephanie Kuehn

Around the Web

From Latinos in Kidlit: Winning the Newbery When Diversity Matters

Tiny Libraries

Somewhat more diverse Barbies

Teen creates video to help with Autism understanding/awareness

Aristotle and Dante sequel!

Be a Witness

More ridiculous dress code news

#MHYALit: On Narrative Expectations and the Reflection of Truth, by author Stephanie Kuehn

project2Our goal for the month of January was to have a post a day on Mental Health in YA Lit, which we basically met thanks to the help of a lot of intelligent, creative and amazing people. Today is our last post for January, but it is not the end of the #MHYALit Discussion, we have posts scheduled throughout the remainder of the year and are very open to new posts. We want to cover as much as we can, but we are indeed limited by our own knowledge and experiences. But keep watching TLT and the #MHYALit hashtag because we do have more discussion lined up for you throughout 2016. And today we are honored to host YA author Stephanie Kuehn. You can read all the #MHYALit posts here.

Kuehn's 4th YA novel, The Smaller Evil, will be released by Dutton Books for Young Readers on August 2, 2016

Kuehn’s 4th YA novel, The Smaller Evil, will be released by Dutton Books for Young Readers on August 2, 2016

I was excited to be asked to write this blog post for the MHYALit project—mental health advocacy is near and dear to my heart—but I struggled a bit in figuring out exactly what it was I wanted to say. My original intent was to write about a child therapy intervention known as mutual storytelling and to explore the ways in which this technique is mirrored through the act of reading, especially in stories having to do with trauma. But that topic felt distancing somehow. Or didactic. And in considering why it was I felt this way, I came to realize that what I really wanted to discuss was the idea of context and audience, and the ways in which narrative expectations can shift depending on who a book is for and who it’s about.

Some of my thinking around this issue was sparked through a twitter discussion with author Amy Rose Capetta. With regard to the place that mental illness has in literature, Amy noted that the reality of mental illness “resists a lot of our traditional narrative structures…our trad. narratives often turn it into something it is NOT.”

This statement resonated with me in a lot of ways. We talk often about mirrors in literature, in what it means to see yourself reflected on the page, to have your identity and experiences validated. To know that what you think and feel are real, despite a world that strives to tell you otherwise. And yet, inherently there are expectations in the medium of literature that ask us to fit our stories into certain kinds of packages. Effects must have causes. Beginnings must have acceptable endings. Clarity, change, meaning, insight, all must be delivered. To this end, when we write about mental illness, our narrators are deemed unreliable. Their stories are regarded as harrowing or affecting or brave. Even better, important. Their words and worlds are valued for what the non-mentally ill can glean from them, not for those whose truths they reflect.

Are they still mirrors at this point? Or does the necessary distortion that comes from fitting a non-normative experience into a normative frame turn it into something else?

***

A second thing that happened recently was my reading of Tabitha Suzuma’s duology A Note of Madness and A Voice in the Distance. These books are two contemporary novels about one young man, Flynn Laukonen, who is an ambitious concert pianist attending a music school in London and who is diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder.

suzamabig

After enjoying and finishing the first novel, I admit I wasn’t sure why there was a second. It’s a fairly quiet and self-contained story about Flynn, his talent, his illness, and his small group of friends. But as I dove into the second book, which jumps ahead a bit and follows Flynn through his final year at music school, it started to make sense. The second book is still a quiet story with the same characters and conflicts, but by stretching it out over two books and a span of years, you get a genuine sense of the reality of what it’s like to adapt to a diagnosis that requires ongoing management and treatment—and which likely isn’t going away.

Living with bipolar disorder isn’t about the drama of a single moment of crisis, and Suzuma clearly knows it would be disingenuous to tell Flynn’s story that way. So rather than end with his diagnosis—the emotional climax of the first book—by continuing his narrative the way that she does, the author is able to show that for Flynn, his diagnosis is really the start of his journey. There’s so much more that comes after. His emotional adjustment and acceptance isn’t immediate; he doesn’t really understand what bipolar disorder is nor does he want to. He has real moments of anger, despair, boredom, passion, resentment, and hope. His medications have side effects and they take time to work—and sometimes they fail. He goes to therapy. He has people around him who love and support him, but who also struggle to understand what he’s going through and how to maintain their own emotional boundaries. He and his girlfriend must navigate what it means and what it looks like to have an equitable relationship with another person when you’re worried about their mental health. Above all else, Flynn is a very talented and ambitious musician, and his process to integrate his illness and his music in way that will ultimately work for him is a large part of his story. And despite my initial reservations about the format the story was presented in, my final takeaway was that these books were written exactly as they were meant to be. They’re for Flynn. Not just about him.

***

In summary, I guess what I want to say is this: The essence of mental illness is pain. It hurts.

One of the most powerful things I read last year was Mark Lukach’s essay “My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward.” It’s long, but I recommend reading it, the whole thing. Because it’s not about the tragedy of his wife falling ill, it’s about how her illness and his love for her has forced him to push past his desire to protect her at all costs and to consider mental illness and mental health treatment in a different way—a way that not only keeps her safe, but which also maintains her humanity and respects the integrity of her personhood.

For myself, I know that when I sit down to write, I don’t intend to be a therapist. Or a teacher. Or to fulfill any role that is didactic or directive other than to generate empathy. In honesty, I’m not even thinking about whether what I’m writing is for or about or anything like that. My only goal is to say this is what it feels like.

But for those of us who don’t know what it feels like, maybe it’s time to stop asking others to fit a narrative that makes us comfortable. Or one that fulfills our expectations of how a story’s meant to be told. For what it’s worth, sometimes what seems wrong is exactly the point. That’s the mirror. And by sitting with our discomfort, by being willing to honor and bear witness to pain that may not be ours and which we may not understand, isn’t that how we humanize others? Isn’t that how we teach ourselves to really see them?

For what it’s worth.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

kuehnbwStephanie Kuehn is the critically acclaimed author of four young adult novels, including Charm & Strange, which won the ALA’s William C. Morris Award for best debut novel. Booklist has praised her work as “Intelligent, compulsively readable literary fiction with a dark twist.” She lives in Northern California and is a post-doctoral fellow in clinical psychology. Learn more at stephaniekuehn.com.

 

 

 

About The Smaller Evil

Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.

17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to “evolve,” as Beau, the retreat leader, says.

Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman’s not sure, but more than anyone he’s ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.

The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he’s failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.

And then, in an instant Arman can’t believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.

As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he’s always trusted the least: himself.

Book Review: Burn by Elissa Sussman

Publisher’s description

burnBurn is the thrilling companion to Elissa Sussman’s masterful and original fairy tale, Stray. This engaging and imaginative continuation of the original fairy tale begun in Stray will appeal to readers of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and fans of the musicals Wicked and Into the Woods.

After helping to rescue Princess Aislynn, Elanor has finally rejoined the rebel camp she calls home. Stolen from her parents at a young age and forced into service by the Wicked Queen, Elanor now wants nothing more than to see the queen removed from power. But Elanor has secrets, mistakes she’s spent years trying to forget, and the closer the rebels get to the throne, the harder it is for Elanor to keep her past hidden away. Booklist said of Stray, “Sussman delightfully mixes dystopian tension with retold fairy tales, and the result is something wholly original.” Includes a map.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

As the description up there tells you, this is a companion novel. The main character from book one becomes a secondary character in this book. This can pretty easily be read as a stand alone novel, though it might take the reader a bit to catch on to what is happening. Elanor and the other Orphans have lived for years in a hidden camp behind a barrier of magic. Now, with huntsmen getting near their border, it appears that the evil queen (the one who stole and abused all of the Orphans) is looking to expand her rule. When Ioan, Elanor’s brother, is captured by the queen’s men, she goes to rescue him, also bringing home Matthias, a young man who was part of the caravan they had just robbed. Elanor and the others come up with a plan to attack Josetta, the queen. We learn in bits and pieces about Josetta’s terrifying rule, her abuse of the Orphans, and Elanor’s experiences while working as Josetta’s servant, where her main role was to taste her food for her. Once they successfully get into the castle, they learn that not everything is as it has seemed. By the story’s end, we know a lot more about what has been happening and what may happen going forward, but it’s clear that another book (or books) will need to answer all of the new questions.

 

The characters in this book are wonderfully diverse. There’s Dimia, who has very little hearing and communicates via sign language. The Orphans have remade themselves into families, so Elanor’s mom, Tasmin, is her adoptive mother, and her brother, Ioan, isn’t her brother by blood. It’s clear that family isn’t about blood ties but about love. There are many small details that indicate many of the characters are not white—Bronwyn’s dreadlocks, Tasmin, Rhys, and Matthias’s brown skin, etc. We learn that Heck has one leg, that Brigid is in love with Linnea. Heck and Ioan have a bonding ceremony and pledge their love to one another. Elanor and Brigid have a revealing conversation.

“You like princesses?” The look on Aislynn’s face spoke to her confusion. “And Matthias?”

“I like who I like,” said Elanor. “Same as Heck.”

 

 

There are many particularly great passages, such as this one:

Elanor loved her body. She loved the muscles in her arms and her legs. She loved the thickness of her thighs and the width of her shoulders. She loved that she could climb a tree faster than anyone else and nearly outrun Dagger. She loved that her stomach had a softness to it, a roundness owed to Tasmin’s food…. She loved what her body could do. It was strong and it was soft and it was capable.

 

I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but I really enjoyed this story. There are a lot of interesting things going on here with power—only the girls and women have magic and men try to use/steal/abuse this magic for their own purposes. I wanted to know more about all of the characters–both their pasts and how they now relate to one another. This is a quick and satisfying read filled with diverse characters and led by lots of strong (if sometimes rash and foolish) girls and women. It will be easy to recommend this one to fantasy fans.

 

Review copy courtesy of the author and the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062274595

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 01/19/2016

 

#MHYALit: Author Tamara Ireland Stone Interviews a Teen Called C about OCD

Today as part of the #MHYALIt Discussion author Tamara Ireland Stone presents an inteview with C, the teenage inspiration for the book Every Last Word. Yesterday, C shared with us 10 Things I Wish You Knew About OCD. Thank you to Tamara and especially to C for sharing her experiences.

My newest novel, Every Last Word, is about a girl with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who discovers a secret poetry club that changes her life in unexpected ways. It was inspired by a family friend who was diagnosed with OCD when she was 12-years-old. I call her C.

I wrote this book for her, and with a great deal of help from her along the way.

C has learned a lot about managing her mental health over the last five years. She’s eager to share her experience in hopes of helping those who are struggling with mental illness feel less alone, and to encourage others to see the people around them through a kinder, more compassionate lens.

About Every Last Word

everylastwordIf you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear. (Disney-Hyperion, 2015)

Meet Author Tamara Ireland Stone

tamarairelandstoneTAMARA IRELAND STONE is the author of the New York Times bestseller, EVERY LAST WORD, a story about a teen with OCD who discovers a secret poetry club that changes her life in unexpected ways. Stone is also the author of TIME BETWEEN US, which has been published in over twenty countries, and its companion novel, TIME AFTER TIME. The series follows a teen time traveler from present day and a girl in 1995 he can’t seem to leave in his past. Listen to playlists and learn more about her books at www.tamarairelandstone.com.

You can read all the #MHYALit posts here.

Video Games Weekly: Animal Crossing Amiibo Festival

This is the second Animal Crossing that I have reviewed! If you want to read an introduction about the series or about the 3DS game Animal Crossing: Happy Home Academy click here. I bought this game for myself because I haven’t dabbled with Nintendo amiibo yet, so half of this post will be talking about amiibo in general and the other half will be about the game.

Amiibo: Amiibo (even the plural form is “amiibo”) are objects you can buy to unlock characters and special content for Nintendo games. Amiibo come in two forms: a card or a figurine. An amiibo card has a picture of a Nintendo character. Amiibo figurines are tiny replicas of Nintendo trademarked characters. The characters are on stands that can be scanned on a Wii U GamePad or a 3DS amiibo reader.

So, why do gamers buy amiibo? Some gamers like to collect them purely because they love Nintendo characters and want to have them as a decoration (kind of like why people buy Funko Pop! Vinyl characters). Also, amiibo customization is a popular hobby. People like to repaint their amiibo to blend fandoms, give their character a new costume, or just add a little pizzaz! Here’s a neat Tumblr to see some neat projects.

The other reason why gamers buy amiibo is because they can play as their favorite character in many different Nintendo games. Players can even compete against their amiibo figurine like in Super Smash Brothers. Your amiibo character levels up as you play either with them or against them in games (up to level 50) and you can unlock other game content. However, an amiibo cannot be used in every single Nintendo game. Here’s a link to a nifty chart to see what amiibo can be used for which games.

Amiibo and libraries: So, do amiibo have a place in library collections? I’m not so sure. On one hand, some games like Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival will require an amiibo in order to play the game, especially games that are getting released in later in 2016. On the other hand, the idea behind amiibo is one gamer levels up their amiibo as they play games. Also, what happens if an amiibo gets lost, or never gets returned to the library? If an amiibo is lost, that could mean that the companion game is no longer playable, and to me that seems like a waste of money.

I think a way to meet in the middle is if you have a Teen Game Night program, you can have a “Teen” amiibo that stays in the library. I actually saw a librarian post in ALA Think Tank that he bought a Link amiibo, trained him up to level 50, and challenged his teens to try to beat the amiibo. That’s a really cool idea that I’m probably going to steal this coming year :)

And now, my experience with my very own amiibo!

Platform: Wii U

Rated: E

Single or Multiplayer: Both up to 4 players

Controls: When you purchase Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival, it actually comes as a package with a set of two amiibo figurine and three amiibo cards. The amiibo are Digby and Isabelle, who are two characters from the Animal Crossing world. Each player selects an amiibo to play as, but if you have more than 2 players, not everyone has to play as an amiibo. In order to roll the dice, you swipe the amiibo on the NFC reader spot on the GamePad.

Board Game: The heart of Amiibo Festival is supposed to be a party game, but if I am going to be honest, it isn’t all that engaging. First, you choose what month you want the board game to take place. This is an homage to past Animal Crossing games, but unlike previous versions, the game does not take place in real time. Instead, a day “ends” after all four players have taken a turn rolling the dice. You play as a character with three other players, and you race around a board game trying to collect the most “Happy Points” by the end of the month when the game is over. You can also get bells (money) by investing in turnips and landing on bell spaces. There are other special events that happen over the course of the month, like “Toy Day” in December, or a visit from the fortune teller Katarina.

In short, the board game very BORING. Like, dosing on my couch boring. Unlike many other video game board games/party games, there are no mini games after each round. This is a fatal flaw, because it means the only exciting thing you get to do is roll the dice with your amiibo figurine, then take a risk at buying turnips when the market is slow. Even the amiibo figurine gets annoying after a while, because I would tend to set it down somewhere on my couch then forget where I put it. You absolutely have to swipe the amiibo otherwise you can’t roll, which means if I lose my amiibo, then I can’t play the game.

When you finish a board game, your amiibo levels up. Your amiibo can wear different outfits, and the more you play with your amiibo, the more you unlock. You can also redeem 100 “Happy Points” for “Happy Tickets” which unlock decorative items, board game elements/decorations, and minigames.   Maybe this is cool, but I wouldn’t know because I was so bored with the game that I only managed to play through three board games total. \_(ツ)_/¯

Mini Games: Yes, you heard me, minigames. You can’t play minigames while playing a board game, but you CAN unlock up to 8 mini games and play them solo. These mini games utilize the three amiibo cards that came in the package. I unlocked two, and they weren’t that impressive. The mini games are meant to be one player, because you have to scan one of the three cards on the GamePad in order to do something in the mini game. You can, however, cheat by giving a card to another player, and together try to score the most points in a minigame. It still isn’t fun, and I only played each mini game like three times.

Crossover with Happy Home Design: Okay, the only cool part is you can upload homes that you created and linked to an amiibo card from Happy Home Design. HOWEVER. I didn’t even know you could do this when I played through the game. I found out about this online, which is terrible.

Verdict: Don’t buy it. First, it requires an amiibo to play, so unless you plan on circulating Animal Crossing amiibo (I should add that you can ONLY play with Animal Crossing characters, not something like Mario), you can’t play the game. 2) It’s boring.

I might, however, purchase a tiny little Blathers amiibo when it is released in the US only because he’s my favorite Animal Crossing character, and he would look super cute on my desk.

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian

Pricing

$29.99 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Animal-Crossing-amiibo-Festival-Bundle-Wii/dp/B00ZSHRPN0/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1453509063&sr=1-1&keywords=amiibo+festival

#MHYALit: 10 Things I Wish You Knew About OCD, by author Tamara Ireland Stone and C

My newest novel, Every Last Word, is about a girl with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who discovers a secret poetry club that changes her life in unexpected ways. It was inspired by a family friend who was diagnosed with OCD when she was 12-years-old. I call her C.

I wrote this book for her, and with a great deal of help from her along the way.

C has learned a lot about managing her mental health over the last five years. She’s eager to share her experience in hopes of helping those who are struggling with mental illness feel less alone, and to encourage others to see the people around them through a kinder, more compassionate lens.

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TEN THINGS I WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT LIVING WITH OCD

By C, the inspiration behind the novel, Every Last Word

 OCD starts with intrusive thoughts.

Many people equate OCD with being a “neat freak” or with repeated actions, like obsessively checking the lock on your door or washing your hands. Some people have those compulsions. But many people like me, only have obsessions. Either way, all OCD begins with an intrusive thought we can’t control.

Thoughts hit me out of nowhere. They often lead to an overwhelming negative emotion, like fear or shame. Where most people would quickly dismiss the thought as odd or irrational, my mind tends to latch on to it and won’t let go. I try to distract myself with positive, healthy thoughts like, “I’m in control,” or “I’m bigger than this,” and I try to convince myself that the thought isn’t real, but sometimes, the thoughts are stronger than I am.

Mental illness is also physical.

My OCD overlaps with my anxiety disorder. It’s physically hardest for me when they both hit at once.

During an anxiety attack your digestive system shuts down.  You feel lightheaded, your palms sweat, and you feel like you’re going to throw up. I’ve now had so many anxiety attacks, that even if I feel slightly nauseous, my mind tells me I’m having an anxiety attack and I if I can’t talk myself out of it, I find myself spiraling into an actual anxiety attack when I probably just had an upset stomach.

I hate being afraid of my mind.

I didn’t sleep in my own bed until I was 12. I just couldn’t. I was scared all the time. When I was little, I was afraid of ghosts or someone being in my room, and even though I knew they weren’t really there, I still couldn’t talk myself out of it. I was just overcome with fear.

But I was most afraid of the fact that I couldn’t control my own mind.

I know my thoughts are irrational. That doesn’t make them go away.

Intrusive thoughts hit me out of nowhere; I never know when one is coming. I might have a test coming up or be in a fight with a friend or my boyfriend—totally normal things—but I obsess and obsess and obsess over these worries. I know they’re not rational. I know I’m overthinking. I know I need to find a distraction, to focus on the positive and not obsess about things I can’t control. I get it. But I still can’t stop the thoughts.

I’m jealous of those of you who aren’t stuck in your heads the way I am. It’s exhausting.

I need therapy and medication. And that’s totally okay.

I honestly can’t tell you where I would be without medication and therapy.

When I was first diagnosed and learned my treatment was going to revolve around both, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that; I was only 12-years-old. But looking back, the combination is what’s kept me going.

I can’t say enough about my therapist. I’ve been seeing her once a week for the last five years, and our relationship has evolved so much over that time. She knows me much better than I know myself and it’s powerful and transformative to have her as a sounding board. Even when I’m not with her, she’s the voice in my head… she helps me think more clearly and to see myself with a more positive perspective.

Healthy relationships are really important to me.

A huge source of my OCD and anxiety has always centered on relationships. I obsess over when people think about me. I’m afraid of getting too close to anyone. Sometimes I’ll fixate on something someone’s said or done, even if they meant nothing by it. I know that’s unfair. That can make me hard to be around. I know I haven’t always been a very good friend.

But it’s important to me to have strong, healthy relationships built on trust. I’ve actively created relationships with people who get me, and I’ve let go of the toxic ones that make me doubt myself. I’m lowering my walls, inviting people in. I want to be in relationships with people where we impact each other’s lives. I wish it wasn’t so hard for me to trust people.

It means a lot to me when you make an effort to learn about how my mind works.

My mom didn’t understand at first, but she worked hard to understand what was happening to me and she has always been on my side. My closest friends know about my mental illness, and they’ve been incredibly supportive. My boyfriend has learned exactly what to say to me when I’m having an anxiety attack; he knows how to help me get through it.

My disorders have left me fascinated by the human mind; that’s why I plan to be an adolescent psychologist. The more I understand about my brain, the less afraid I am of it.

Ask me. I want to tell you what I’ve learned.

I wish there wasn’t such a stigma around mental health.

My closest friends know that I have four mental illnesses — OCD, anxiety disorder, ADHD, and depression. I’d love to be a vocal advocate and speak more openly about mental health, but I feel like there’s too much at risk. I’ve worked hard to gain control over my mind, but it takes effort, and that’s something colleges and future employers might not understand.

I’m anonymously speaking up today, but I believe I’m still helping to chip away at the stigma around mental illness. Hopefully one day I won’t have to keep it a secret.

I am not alone.

Mental illness is so widespread; Even if you don’t have mental illness, you probably know someone—possibly even someone close to you—who does. There are so many teens with anxiety, OCD, ADHD, depression, and other disorders that happen entirely in our minds. That makes them easy to hide and makes us feel alone, like no one else out there understands us.

You never know what’s going on with someone. Treat everyone with kindness.

You are not alone.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, I urge you to find people you can talk to. Talk to your parents. Find friends you can trust. Find a teacher at school or a coach or a counselor at school. There are people who really want to help—people who are rooting for you. It’s so easy to tell yourself that you’re completely alone—that nobody understands what you’re going through—but I truly believe that’s impossible. There’s someone who will help you through it.

About Every Last Word

If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear. (Disney-Hyperion, 2015)

Meet Author Tamara Ireland Stone

tamarairelandstoneTAMARA IRELAND STONE is the author of the New York Times bestseller, EVERY LAST WORD, a story about a teen with OCD who discovers a secret poetry club that changes her life in unexpected ways. Stone is also the author of TIME BETWEEN US, which has been published in over twenty countries, and its companion novel, TIME AFTER TIME. The series follows a teen time traveler from present day and a girl in 1995 he can’t seem to leave in his past. Listen to playlists and learn more about her books at www.tamarairelandstone.com.

You can read all the #MHYALit posts here.

Book Review: The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin

Publisher’s description

the year weIn the tradition of Sarah Dessen, this powerful debut novel is a compelling portrait of a young girl coping with her mother’s cancer as she figures out how to learn from—and fix—her past.

Few things come as naturally to Harper as epic mistakes. In the past year she was kicked off the swim team, earned a reputation as Carson High’s easiest hook-up, and officially became the black sheep of her family. But her worst mistake was destroying her relationship with her best friend, Declan.

Now, after two semesters of silence, Declan is home from boarding school for the summer. Everything about him is different—he’s taller, stronger…more handsome. Harper has changed, too, especially in the wake of her mom’s cancer diagnosis.

While Declan wants nothing to do with Harper, he’s still Declan, her Declan, and the only person she wants to talk to about what’s really going on. But he’s also the one person she’s lost the right to seek comfort from.

As their mutual friends and shared histories draw them together again, Harper and Declan must decide which parts of their past are still salvageable, and which parts they’ll have to let go of once and for all.

In this honest and affecting tale of friendship and first love, Emily Martin brings to vivid life the trials and struggles of high school and the ability to learn from past mistakes over the course of one steamy North Carolina summer.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Sometimes I absolutely judge a book by its cover. Don’t you? Don’t lie—you do it, too. So here was my thought process: Oh, hey, this book kinda sorta has a cover that makes me think of Pete Hautman’s The Big Crunch.  God, I loved that book. I’ll read this book, too. Yep: librarian, book reviewer, master’s degree in children’s lit, TOTALLY JUDGE BOOKS BY THEIR COVERS ALL THE TIME. So, anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, writing a review.

 

That publisher’s description up there pretty much nails all of the plot points. Harper has hooked up with some random guys in fits of seeking some drunken distraction from her heartbreak over what went on with Declan, her lifelong friend and, briefly, her boyfriend. She doesn’t love the person she’s become, but she mostly embraces this new version of herself. Declan wouldn’t want her back, anyway, right? May as well pass the time with these losers. And speaking of losers, her newish best friend, Sadie, is no gem. She happily urges her down the path she’s on–one of lying to parents, drinking a lot, and hooking up with any boy who seems interested. It’s not that those things are terrible or so out of the ordinary for teenagers, but they’re not choices that Harper is actually really happy that she’s making—which doesn’t stop her from making them over and over. But things are different now, this summer before senior year. Declan is back and Harper wonders if maybe, just maybe, things could go back to, well, probably not entirely how they were, but something close to it. Maybe back to friendship, since anything else seems impossible to imagine. They start hanging out again. Their little summer group consists of Cory, who is their mutual best friend, and Mackenzie and Gwen, two girls from the summer photography class Harper and Declan are both taking. Declan and Harper do terrible jobs of seeming uninterested in each other, but they also do terrible jobs of being honest with each other (and themselves) and making great choices that lend themselves to repairing their fractured relationship. Because they’re teenagers. No—because they’re people. They make mistakes (often the same ones) and get in their own way a lot. Readers will root for them to work it out, but will doubt if it’s even possible after everything they’ve put each other through.

 

While this is a romance, it’s also very much a story about friendship, loss, grief, choices, reputations, and forgiveness. Declan and Harper’s story takes center stage, but their story isn’t simply about romance. Martin nicely pulls together the many pieces of this story to show how everything affects Declan and Harper. They have a history together. It’s also really nice to see how the new friendship between Harper and Gwen and Mackenzie develops, especially at a time when Harper is the victim of so many rumors and so much slut-shaming, and really could use someone in her corner. Martin’s book is an easy recommendation for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, Jenny Han, and Miranda Kenneally.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781481438414

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 01/26/2016

 

Life Lessons from Gayle Forman

tumblr_inline_o0ng47RW7E1qlsm8v_500I was excited to be invited to help celebrate the paperback release of Gayle Forman’s I Was Here by sharing some of my favorite quotes from her books. I feel a special connection to I Was Here. You see, seven years ago I lost my best friend as well. While I didn’t have quite the same experience as Cody, who loses her best friend Meg to an incomprehensible suicide, I do feel that her experience of grief is universal and that Forman captures that reality in amazing and poignant ways.

Part of the experience of grief involves feeling like you’ve been completely unseated from reality. Or, as Cody puts it:

Shocked is not the word for it. Shocked is when I finally got Tricia to tell me who my father was, only to find out that up until I was nine, he’d been living not twenty miles away from us. What happened with Meg is something altogether different; it’s like waking up one morning and finding out you live on Mars now.

Meg’s parents ask Cody to travel to Meg’s college to pack her belongings, and the scent of Meg lingers there like a presence.

I’m not sure what to do about her bed sheets because they still smell like her, and I have no idea if her scent will do to Sue what it’s doing to me, which is making me remember Meg in such a real visceral way — sleepovers and dance parties and those talks we would have until three in the morning that would make us feel lousy the next day because we’d slept like hell but also feel good because the talks were like blood transfusions, moments of realness and hope that were pinpricks of light in the dark fabric of small-town life.

I am tempted to inhale those sheets. If I do, maybe it will be enough to erase everything. But you can only hold your breath for so long. Eventually, I’ll have to exhale her, and then it’ll be like those mornings, when I wake up, forgetting before remembering.

Dreaming that my bestie is still alive and the waking up and ‘forgetting before remembering’ doesn’t happen to me much anymore, but it is one of the most devastating parts of losing that person to whom you felt the closest connection in the world.

Finally, I feel like Forman really captures one of the eventual outcomes of experiencing grief – it prepares you to help others live through theirs.

He introduces me to a group of groovy-looking girls in cute dresses and cool shoes — Meg people. They’re all about a decade older, but that wouldn’t have stopped her. When Ben explains who I am, one of the women embraces me in a spontaneous hug. Then she holds me at arm’s length and says, “You’ll get through it. I know it seems like you won’t, but you will.” Without asking anything more, I get that she, too, has been through this, has been left behind, and it makes me feel less alone.

If you’d like the opportunity to win a complete set of Gayle Forman’s paperbacks, enter the Rafflecopter giveaway now through February 15th.
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#MHYALit: How Libraries Can Help Teens, by Librarian Dawn Abron

Today an experienced teen librarian shares with us some of her tips for helping teens who want to investigate mental health issues with anonymity navigate the library.

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As a teen librarian, we get to know a large number of teens. Many of the teens in our library see us as a nonjudgmental confidant and they come to our office and to talk about their home life, their friends, and their relationships. Through observation and conversation, we’ve learned that several of our teens suffer from depression.

Two years ago we learned that one of our teen regulars and volunteer was in the hospital. We later learned that it was a suicide attempt and that she was currently on anti-depressants.  When she was well enough to return to the library, we didn’t ask her about it; we instead offered her a safe place to hang out and talk.

It’s been two years since her diagnosis and I’ve heard her talk to other teens about her suicide attempt so I was comfortable asking if books helped her deal in any way and what she said was eye opening.  She said that during that period in her life, she read upbeat books because books about depression made her feel worse.  Now that she is open about her mental illness and her suicide attempt, she likes to read more serious books especially books about abduction.  At the time of our discussion, she was checking out Bone Gap by Laura Ruby and Pointe by Brandy Colbert.

My degree is in recreation and I was new to the library world when I started six years ago.  I thought working with teens in a library would be programming and reader’s advisory. Little did I know that I would meet teens with such “adult” problems.  However I’ve learned that working with teens in the library means being a soundboard and a friend.  When teens come to us, we don’t sensor their speech and we don’t offer advice unless we’re asked. What we do is listen.

Other things we do in our library to help teens deal:

1.  We have an infographic on the YA stack that list social sciences and their call numbers. These issues include sexual assault, drug abuse, bullying, and mental health.  The infographic also informs teens that they may use the self check out for confidentiality.
2.  We have a reader’s advisory binder in the stacks that include fiction books about specific mental health issues including OCD, depression, schizophrenia, etc
3.  We have a poster on the door of our office, which is in the teen room, that contains various hotline numbers. See example here.
4.  Do no not allow harmful speech in our teen room such as gay, retarded, stupid, etc

You can read all the #MHYALit posts here.