Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Middle School Monday – Gruesome Book Talks

It’s Friday afternoon – the last hour of the school day – and you’re about to be visited by a group of ‘too cool for school’ 8th graders, what do you do? Pull out the gruesome books; the ones whose stories will really make them squirm. First, it will hold their attention long enough to get through a book talk, and second, they might actually check out the books.

1000990I like to start with one of my favorites, Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science. A railroad employee in 1848, Gage was blasting rock to make way for a new line when an accident occurred and an iron rod shot through his skull (and part of his brain fell out – I love telling them that part.) Miraculously, he survived for a number of years afterward, but his personality was forever changed. This was disastrous to him, but a boon to our understanding of the brain. This video explains it better than I can.

I follow that with a series of books that explains the good, the bad, and the really icky parts of history –  You Wouldn’t Want To… This is a great series with its own web page. I enjoy going through the Egyptian mummification process with them. The description of prison conditions in You Wouldn’t Want to Be in a Medieval Dungeon! are especially graphic. And, as an aside, the Greek Athlete volume is helpful in explaining to the younger students (in a cartoonish and nonthreatening way) that the original Olympians competed in the nude.

croakedMost of the students have a good idea of the life and accomplishments of George Washington, but few know what happened on the last day of his life. How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous explains his last day in gruesome detail. From the multiple leechings to the poisonous beetle induced boils, they are shocked to learn that Washington was actually being subjected to the best medical procedures of his time. The fact that he would have died anyway due to the lack of simple antibiotics does little to ameliorate impact of this graphic description. There is apparently a companion volume: How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous, but I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on it yet.

And ending with a bang, I introduce the students to the Wicked History series, which I believe is up to 20 books. We talk about the famous people featured in each volume and the ruthlessness that it took (and still sometimes takes) to be a powerful ruler. But I have to say my favorite part is explaining to the that the vlad‘impaler’ part of the title Vlad the Impaler: the Real Count Dracula probably doesn’t mean what they think it does. I go on to explain what impaling meant and the type of death one experienced from it and watch as the students squirm in their seats. Because, honestly, if you can’t have fun while you’re doing book talks, what is the point?

Anyone else have titles to add? I’d love to have more for my repertoire. Add a comment below if you have a favorite gruesome book or two.

Friday Finds – February 26, 2016

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Goodbye Harper Lee

Book Review: Dreamfever (Dreamfire #2) by Kit Alloway, reviewed by teen reviewer Lexi

Middle School Monday – The Joys and Benefits of Rereading

Pushed Too Hard: Academic Pressure and Mental Health Concerns, a guest post by Cindy L. Rodriguez

The School Library Journal/Library Journal Maker Workshop

Video Games Weekly: Life is Strange

Book Review: Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah by Erin Jade Lange

A Place Where I Know: Writing About Grief, a guest post by Hannah Barnaby

Around the Web

Obama nominates actual librarian to lead the Library of Congress!

Ready Player One movie news

Jonathan Maberry and Kami Garcia to write teen X-Files Origins novels

Teen risk-taking is associated with faster learning

Diverse schools are better for everyone.

Sunday Reflections: Rebooting YA Services

sundayreflections1The other day a patron came up to the Reference Desk to tell me that the public computer they were working on was glitching and I asked them if they had tried turning it off and then back on, rebooting it. This answer used to annoy me, but 90% of the time it seems to work.

It is, in fact, the only thing I know to do: turn it off and give it a second to sit and then reboot it. It’s the magical mystery tech solution to almost every PC problem I have encountered.

But can it be the magical solution to YA services? Can we reboot YA?


There’s something about January and February that just makes you want to start over.

Perhaps it’s the weather.

Cold, dreary . . . it just makes you want to hibernate and start fresh in the spring.

In Ohio, we don’t do a lot of programming in January and February because you’re just as likely to have to cancel a program due to inclement weather as you are to have it. And even without the universe shutting down, if the temperature dips low enough you’re not likely to have a lot of attendees at your program.

So January and February are great times to really sit down and think about how and why we do what we do.

Last January, I started once again at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. And given the weather, and the fact that I was new in this position, it seemed like a good time to reboot YA services.

Pushing pause every once in a while to regroup isn’t such a bad idea it turns out.

Last year, we retooled how we approach summer reading and turned our Teen Space into a Teen MakerSpace. We thought long and hard about why we wanted to and in what ways. We made ourselves write it all down on paper so we were sure that we could articulate what we wanted to do and what we hoped to achieve in doing it. If we couldn’t give a good reason, a reason that in some way benefited teens, the community or the library, we scrapped it.

We tried new things. They mostly worked. We refined the things we were trying. We made changes along the way.

And here we are, with a rebooted YA services. And everyone – and every thing – feels fresh and re-invigorated. We feel like we are doing purposeful things in purposeful ways, so we are excited.


I’m not going to lie, this is like my 22nd year of being a YA librarian. That’s 22 years of summer reading programs. 22 years of monthly programs. 22 years of statistics and forms and budgets.

Playing with the Green Screen Studio in the MakerSpace

Playing with the Green Screen Studio in the MakerSpace

And even though last year still involved all of those things, it gave us the opportunity to really stop and question the things we were doing and to change the things we wanted to do.

We didn’t have that many teen programs last year (in fact, we had 4), giving ourselves the chance to really investigate, well, everything. We took the time to get to know our community again. We took the time to look at best practices. We took the time to experiment.

One of those experiments were our Maker Mondays, which were wildly successful and prompted a complete re-design of our teen programming approach. It was the impetus of our Teen MakerSpace.

At last week’s Library Journal Maker Workshop Showcase many people asked about funding, how could we afford to do what we did? And one of the answers is this: during our reboot, we took all of the money that we would normally have put into teen programming and invested it into our Teen MakerSpace. And for us, this turns out to be a really wise investment. Last week alone I was in the Teen MakerSpace for 4 evenings and in this 4 evenings I worked with 38 teens. We made stuff with a 3D pen, we built with Legos and more. But also, I learned their names and they learned mine. We talked. We talked about books. We had positive interactions that may just have made the difference in how they view themselves and the library. In fact, twice that week teens came in the next day and asked for me by name at the Reference Desk because they had something else they wanted to try.


On one of the days I had a very bizarre and hopefully impactful moment sitting in my Teen MakerSpace. A group of teens sat there and they were talking about doing drugs. One of the girls says, “yeah, this guy got so stoned he raped my best friend.” And then she laughed.

I was stunned. Stunned that they were so casually talking about this. Stunned that they were laughing. Just . . . stunned.

So we had a conversation. And the boy clarified that no, he hadn’t “raped” her. He had just gotten stoned and “dry humped” her. And of course he followed with, “it was just a joke.”

We then went on to have a serious conversation about how if what he said was true, he had in fact sexually harassed or assaulted her (I’m not sure what the legal definition would be) and that “it was just a joke” is never a real defense. We talked about consent and a person’s right to feel safe. We talked about sexual harassment and sexual violence and the fact that these things – not just “real rape” – were against the law.

The mood in the room became very sober, but it should have been. These teens needed to know that everything about this discussion was a problem. You shouldn’t joke about rape. If your best friend is raped or somehow assaulted, you don’t laugh when sharing that news. And if these events really happened, these teens needed to know that they were not only harmful to the young woman involved, but illegal and with very real world consequences.

This conversation happened in part, I believe, because we took the time to reboot YA services and we created a space where caring and responsible adults could spend quality time engaging with teens in meaningful ways in small groups. Large programs often don’t facilitate these types of discussions. Neither do short one-on-one booktalks in the stacks. And there is incredible value to both of those types of scenarios; I’m not dismissing the value of those at all. But in creating our Teen MakerSpace, we also created a space where one-on-one and small group learning and mentoring can take place. We created a space where teaching and exploration could happen. Sometimes that teaching is about technology, but sometimes it is about something else. This day, it was about consent and boundaries and being a friend and respecting one another’s bodies.


Playing with the Ollie robot in the MakerSpace

Playing with the Ollie robot in the MakerSpace

Last year, we turned off our YA services computer and rebooted it. This year, we realize that it has made all the difference. Our reboot was successful. We integrated hands on STEM education into our already existing teen services and collections and we created for ourselves and our teens a place where trained and caring staff can work with teens in one-on-one or small group situations to learn and grow. We increased the number of 40 Developmental Assets our teens could check off their bucket list.

Sometimes rebooting is the only answer I know, but it hasn’t failed me yet.

We Talk to Cornelia Funke About YA Lit, Mirrorworld, and Her New Publishing Company

Inkheart is one of those classic stories, a kind of love letter to readers I have always thought. Imagine if the words we read off the page in the stories we loved came to life, dripping off the page into our real world. It’s a prospect both mesmerizing and terrifying, especially when I stop to consider what some of my favorite stories really are. As a lover of the Inkheart Trilogy, I was very excited to get the opportunity to have a brief conversation with its author, Cornelia Funke, about what she’s writing now and starting her own publishing company.


1. Why did you want to start your own company?

I had thought about it for a long time as I love to do unusual projects that both challenge me as a writer and as an illustrator. Publishing though is vastly commercialized by now, especially in the US, so to do adventurous things is easier when I finance and develop myself. So when my English language publishers asked me for changes in The Golden Yarn, a book already published in German (where it received passionately positive reader reactions) I decided this is the time – and founded Breathing Books.

2. What are some of your favorite classic YA titles that have influenced you as a writer and the direction you want to take YA publishing?

I don’t really think in these categories, I admit. I never tell a story saying: oh this is for 10-12 year olds and that story is YA and this one…well, this is for grown ups. I am storyteller so I try to entertain all ages to a certain degree with each story I write. Even a picture book should be both enjoyable for the kindergarten reader and the parent or teacher who reads it aloud! As for YA readers…who exactly  are those I wonder? Is it the 12 year old who already reads John Steinbeck, is it the 45 year old who loves fantasy? If YA means Young At heart I always write YA. If it only means putting readers into another box and denying teenagers the respect to be adult in their very own way none of my books would like to be called YA.

So…are my favorite books YA? Is The Princess Bride or The Once and Future King YA? What about East of Eden, what about Henderson, the Rain King or Neverwhere?

3. What are some upcoming trends or highlights you see happening in YA?

See my answer above. I think YA can have the advantage, as I heard a young YA writer point out, that it frees writers of genre limitations and mixes them happily. But on the other hand I fear calling for example Huckleberry Finn and Treasure Island YA by now continues the sad trend of limiting stories to certain age groups and of telling readers what they should read according to their biological age – which I find very problematic. Good stories are for all ages, and some 8 year olds are much older than their parents. 150 years ago Dickens and Kipling were read aloud to children and entertained four generations with one story. A good story still can do that and I hope we don’t forget about that fact by calling books middle grade or YA.

4. Having worked with teens, what do you think they really want from teen fiction?

I don’t think a writer should think about that. As a passionate reader I want a book to both challenge and enchant me. I for sure don’t want it to contain just motives, characters and plot lines that publishers expect me to like. Each book should be as unique as the writer…and the reader. And a story should tell the writer whether it wants to sound a bit younger or older. Sometimes that choice comes as surprise to the writer. 🙂

About The Golden Yarn and the MirrorWorld Series

thegoldenyarnFunke first introduced readers to MirrorWorld in Reckless with her hero Jacob Reckless and his adventures in a fantastical and dangerous world found behind a magical mirror, which was inspired by the stories Funke grew up with: the tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The second novel, Fearless, played with Bluebeards, Mal de Mer and Puss in Boots, motives from the treasure trove of French tales. THE GOLDEN YARN, Jacob Reckless’s third journey behind the mirrors,  heads eastward, inspired by Russian and Ukrainian fairy tales, to the hut of a Baba Yaga and the Tsar’s chambers of miracles. The golden yarn that gives this story its name is the yarn that connects lovers…forever.

Jacob Reckless has to face the consequences of a desperate moment, in which he pledged to give his firstborn child to an Alderelf. His immortal enemy calls himself Spieler and when Jacob is unwilling to repay his debt, Spieler traps both him and his brother Will in his silver net .They find themselves hunted by creatures created from Mirror glass—wearing a hundred stolen faces – and play their part in Spieler’s master plan. Yet, there is someone the Alderelf did not account for: Fox, a shapeshifting woman and vixen, Jacob’s faithful companion since he saved her from a hunter’s trap. Can she change the game? Or will Fox pay the ultimate price for the debt Jacob owes?

 THE GOLDEN YARN is a story about love,” explains Funke. “Love in many forms. Love that feeds and love that makes small. It tells the story of a Fairy who wants to get rid of love, to cut the Golden Yarn. It is the story of love, that can’t be. Forbidden love. Of love between brothers. Friends. Love unexpected. Love misunderstood. Ignored.”

Vivid, engrossing, and intricately crafted, THE GOLDEN YARN, is Funke’s most impressive journey behind the mirrors yet.

About Breathing Books

New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Cornelia Funke is launching her own publishing company, Breathing Books, along with creative partner Mathew Cullen, Director of Mirada Studios. The press’s debut title will be THE GOLDEN YARN, which is the third book in Funke’s internationally bestselling MirrorWorld series and it will release on December 1, 2015. The book will be available in e-book format and there will also be a limited print run available. Listening Library, an imprint of Penguin Random House Audio, will simultaneously release a digital audiobook edition, narrated by Cornelia Funke.

Breathing Books will mainly publish transmedia projects like the acclaimed MirrorWorld App developed with Mirada Studios in 2014. However, the decision to launch Breathing Books with THE GOLDEN YARN, a traditional novel, came in response to a creative difference between Funke and her U.S. and U.K. publishers, Little, Brown & Company and Chickenhouse/Scholastic, who required certain changes be made before moving forward with publication. “I am sure they had respectable reasons,” says Funke. “And I owe a lot to my publishers all over the world, but I want my readers to get the same story whether they live in Germany or in the US. So, I decided to publish THE GOLDEN YARN unchanged – with my own publishing company—Breathing Books.”

Funke has long envisioned a more creative and imaginative platform for her books with which to connect with her readers on a more profound level. With Breathing Books, Funke intends to work more visually, telling her stories both as writer and illustrator. She intends to create a forum for stories that don’t fit traditional publishing patterns, but also for her back list books, which are either out of print or not yet translated into English.

 “Breathing Books is to be a home for creative adventure, unusual books that try new paths, and small books that may find only a few hundred readers, along with picture books, EBooks, graphic novels and whatever costume my stories wish to wear,” explains Funke. “And I can finally be, what I always tried to be: a storyteller not just for readers of young adult, middle grade, and children’s books—but for all ages.”  What Funke and Cullen are setting out to do is truly different and will bring Funke together with her readers/fans in ways not possible via traditional publishing.

About Cornelia Funke

Cornelia Funke is a multiple award-winning German author, best known for writing the Inkworld trilogy as well as The Thief Lord. The Inkworld books, which have won the 2003 Mildred L. Batchelder Award as well as the 2004 and 2006 BookSense Book of the Year Children’s Literature Awards, have gained incredible attention and Funke has been dubbed the “German J.K. Rowling” This November, she will launch her own publishing company, Breathing Books. She lives in Los Angeles, California.  www.corneliafunke.com

Want to win a copy of THE GOLDEN YARN? Do the Rafflecopter thing by Midnight on March 4th. Open to U.S. residents only please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

#MHYALit: A Place Where I Know: Writing About Grief, a guest post by Hannah Barnaby

Today I’m honored to share with you a moving post by my former coworker and fellow Simmons College alum, Hannah Barnaby. I recently reviewed Hannah’s newest book, Some of the Parts, here on TLT. In my review, I wrote, “Barnaby’s novel is a devastating and powerful look at grief, guilt, and how to survive the aftermath of something that changes who you are. A must-read.” Hannah’s post today on grief is a fantastic contribution to our ongoing series on Mental Health in YA Lit. Visit the #MHYALit hub page to see all of the posts. 


I have experienced—fought, wrestled with, submitted to, overcome—both grief and clinical depression. But I have only written about one.


The protagonist of my young adult novel, Some of the Parts, is in the throes of grieving for her older brother. Tallie lost Nate a few months before the book opens, in a car accident for which she feels entirely responsible, and she wears her guilt like a lead necklace. She can’t let go. She doesn’t think she deserves to. And then she finds out that she might not have to—Nate was an organ donor, and one of his recipients reaches out to Tallie’s parents. Suddenly Tallie sees a way to alleviate her sadness: if she can track down the other organ recipients, she can prove to herself that Nate isn’t truly gone.


Is this rational? No. But neither is grief. And neither is depression.


My first bout with depression was during my senior year in high school. My parents were getting divorced and I was overwhelmed with plans for college and homework and extra-curricular stuff. About halfway through the year, I felt myself shutting down. I came home from school every day and got in bed. I slept until dinner, did my homework in a zombie state, and went back to sleep. This went on for weeks. Finally, my parents found me a therapist. Seeing her twice a week until the end of the school year was . . . well, frankly, it was a pain in the butt. I was tired of talking about myself and I was sure that my fatigue and sadness would pass on their own. I told myself—and my therapist—that I was just sad about my parents splitting up. “That’s not what this is,” she told me. And she was right.


Clinically speaking, depression and grief look a lot alike. Both involve many of the same symptoms: sadness, fatigue, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, poor concentration, guilt, hopelessness, unbidden memories. Martha Clark Scala, a psychotherapist in San Francisco, says, “Among the bereaved, these symptoms are usually mild or temporary. But these same symptoms may be more chronic or severe among those who are clinically depressed.” Scala also identifies some additional symptoms that may be signs of clinical depression rather than—or on top of—grief: worthlessness, exaggerated guilt, suicidal thoughts or plans, powerlessness, low self-esteem, agitation, and loss of interest in pleasurable activities.


I can attest to the fact that it can be difficult to tell grief and depression apart. I did eventually emerge from my high school depression, but it found me again in college. And again after graduation. It kept coming back, like a slow tide, and I learned to recognize it and how to ask for help when I needed it. But then something terrible happened.


In 1999, I was a graduate student at Simmons College in Boston. I had just started my second semester and I was given a part-time work study job to help with expenses. I was at that job—stuffing social work school applications into envelopes—when the phone rang at the desk where I was sitting. It wasn’t my desk. It wasn’t my phone. But the call was for me. It was my father, calling to tell me that my younger brother Jesse had died the night before, in a fire at his fraternity house.


What followed, as you can imagine, was a whirling blur of confusion and sadness and difficult things. And as my grief soaked into me, I thought, “Oh, I know what this is. I recognize this.” It felt just like my senior year in high school, my sophomore year in college, my post-college year. I was almost relieved, because I knew what to expect. There had always been an ebb and flow to my depression and so I waited for it to move. But it didn’t. Because this wasn’t depression at all, and it wasn’t until I named it something else that I understood: I would have to find a whole new way to cope with this. It was grief, and it had its own landscape altogether.


Eventually, I was able to go back to school and to work, and I felt the weight of my grief lessening as I moved forward. Depression had never been like that. Depression had followed its own calendar and it had never dissipated until it was good and ready, no matter what I was doing from day to day, and I think that was because it had no source the way grief did. My depression was like a cloud of gnats that appeared and disappeared with little warning; my grief, though, was born of one very specific loss. And in a strange way, I found that comforting.


In writing Tallie’s story, I came full circle in my own grief. I revisited every part of the emotional journey I took after my brother died and I dragged Tallie through it, too. Part of me felt terrible, doing that to someone else. (Even a fictional someone.) But the rest of me felt sure and strong, because I could tell her with certainty, “There is an end to this. There is a door ahead of us. We’ll walk through it together, and you’ll see—there is hope on the other side.”


Meet Hannah Barnaby

hannahHannah Barnaby is a former children’s book editor and bookseller, and was the inaugural children’s writer-in-residence at the Boston Public Library. Her debut novel, Wonder Show, was a Morris Award finalist in 2013. She lives in Charlottesville, VA with her family. You can find her online at www.hannahbarnaby.com and follow her on Twitter @hannahrbarnaby.



About Some of the Parts

some of the partsFor months, Tallie McGovern has been coping with the death of her older brother the only way she knows how: by smiling bravely and pretending that she’s okay. She’s managed to fool her friends, her parents, and her teachers, yet she can’t even say his name out loud: “N—” is as far as she can go. Then Tallie comes across a letter in the mail, and it only takes two words to crack the careful façade she’s built up:

Two words that had apparently been checked off on her brother’s driver’s license; two words that her parents knew about—and never revealed to her. All at once, everything Tallie thought she understood about her brother’s death feels like a lie. And although a part of her knows he’s gone forever, another part of her wonders if finding the letter might be a sign. That if she can just track down the people on the other end of those two words, it might somehow bring him back.

Hannah Barnaby’s deeply moving novel asks questions there are no easy answers to as it follows a family struggling to pick up the pieces, and a girl determined to find the brother she wasn’t ready to let go of.


Book Review: Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah by Erin Jade Lange

Publisher’s description

rebelThe Rebel: Once popular, Andi is now a dreadlocked and tattooed wild child.
The Bully: Sick of being the less favorite son, York bullies everyone, especially his brother.
The Geek: Boston, York’s brother, and obsessed with getting into an Ivy League school.
The Pariah: Sam, now that her mom is sober, she just wants to get through one day at a time.

Andi, Sam, York, and Boston find themselves in the woods together when a party gets busted by the cops. Trying to run rather than get caught, they hop into the nearest car they see and take off . . . until they realize the car they’ve taken has a trunk is full of stolen drugs. Now they must rely on each other or risk their lives. Should they run or turn themselves in? Would anyone even believe the drugs aren’t theirs? Every decision could determine the rest of their lives . . . but how can any of them trust people they barely know.

In a cinematic, heart-pounding race against time, four teens learn more about one other in a few hours than they ever knew in all the years they attended school together. And what they find out isn’t at all what any of them expected . . .


Amanda’s thoughts

The story starts at the end: Sam is visiting with her mother in jail. Sam’s mom, a drug addict, has spent significant time in both jail and prison. We quickly learn bits and pieces of the story—Sam’s mom could’ve been a big country music star, but addiction stole that dream from her. Sam makes oblique references to an accident and the resulting scars all over her head. When Sam pursues Andi, a good girl gone “bad” who steals the violin Sam is hoping to buy back from the pawn shop, she has no idea what she’s in for.


The publisher’s description sums up the plot pretty well. Andi and Sam end up at a party in the woods, where they encounter brothers York and Boston. When cops bust the party, the foursome decide to hide. They witness something shady going on with some police down by the dock. They’re not really sure what they’ve witnessed, actually, but they do know that getting out of the woods is priority number one. They steal the SUV by the dock, accidentally hit a police officer with it, are shot at by someone—the good cops or the potentially crooked cops, who knows—and flee. Panicking, Boston and York direct them to a rural cabin, where maybe they can write up a statement of how this big misunderstanding happened and clear this up. Add in a million dollars worth of heroin in the SUV, someone pursuing them, and the fact that everyone but Sam is now wanted for questioning, and you’ve got quite a mess. They’re not sure who might be on the good side or the bad side in this nightmare that’s just getting worse at every turn.


Short chapters labeled “before” fill in details of all four main characters’ lives, but also interrupt the pacing and the suspense. The four teens spend most of the book being pursued and without a whole lot of resources to save themselves. We sometimes spend a bit too much time inside Sam’s head, which slows the story down, but overall it’s a fast-paced adventure. Though the four initially don’t appear to have much in common or even hardly know each other (with the exception of the two brothers), they reveal a lot about their lives, pressures, expectations, and disappointments as they try to untangle the mess they’ve gotten themselves into. It is also a revealing look at addiction and what it’s like to live with a parent who’s a drug addict. Lange really ups the tension and the action in the last few chapters, and a twist to the story will make readers reevaluate what they thought was going on. This quick read will appeal to readers who like action and adventure, and don’t mind if the story sometimes lags or feels a little implausible. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781619634985

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

Publication date: 02/16/2016

Video Games Weekly: Life is Strange

As promised, I am not reviewing a platform jumper this week! Hurray! I wanted to try something completely different, so I decided to play through Life is Strange.

YouTube Trailer:

Background: Life is Strange is an indie game that has gained a cult following since its original release in early 2015 on the PC. Life is Strange was released over the course of five “episodes” instead of all at once, which definitely helped cultivate a strong fan base. The game picked up a lot of attention at the end of 2015 when it was nominated for many Game of the Year categories. In January of this year, it was released on various consoles (all five episodes on one disc), so I played through it on my PS4.

Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Rated: M. There’s gun violence, rape, slut shaming, and lots of cursing.

Single or Multiplayer: Single

Storyline: Episode One “Chrysalis” begins with a thunderous crash. The protagonist, Max (short for Maxine), wakes up in the middle of a torrential downpour next to a lighthouse. She (and you, the player) haven’t a clue how she got there, but as she walks towards the lighthouse, she witnesses a super tornado heading straight for a town. The storm is so strong, the top of the lighthouse plunges towards Max….and then she wakes up in Mr. Jefferson’s Senior Photography class. The dream was so surreal that Max decides to use the bathroom after photography class. While in the bathroom, Max witnesses a murder, but she also learns that she can manipulate time to save the victim. Oh, and that superstorm? Yeah, that’s happening in four days, and it’s up to you to figure out what to do about it.

Image: http://www.brokenjoysticks.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Tornado.jpg

The storyline is stunning. Characters are well-rounded, literary references, hidden agendas, questionable motivations, and each episode ends with a giant cliffhanger that makes you yell in surprise and rage. You experience so many emotions that you immediately start the next episode no matter how late it is.

Game Play: The game is “choose your own adventure”, meaning that every choice you make can have small or large consequences later in the game. Choices come in a variety of ways: you have dialogue options when talking to other characters, you can either intercept arguments that you are observing or choose to sit out of the argument, or you can make small choices like what you want for breakfast. If you made a choice that will have a consequence later in the game, a pretty butterfly appears in the top left hand corner (coughcoughBUTTERFLYEFFECTcoughcough).

There are many other video games that utilize this “choose your own adventure” style but Life is Strange turns the genre on its head with the introduction of time travel. For example, when players are given dialogue options, players can make one choice, watch how the person they are talking to react, then “rewind” time and select another option for a different reaction. Players can do this infinitely, and you can use your power to really suck up to other characters in order to weasel out information. You may think this is cheating, but trust me, these choices are never easy to make even though you can rewind time. Also, the first time you play through the game, you truly don’t know the long term consequences of every action, but when you get to Episode 5, everything clicks and your brain will explode like mine did.

Okay, I’m now going to talk about the only bad part about this game. The “bad” part about this game is the lip-sync to dialogue is awful. I mean, really awful. You really have to see it to understand just how bad it is, so here is a YouTube clip of the murder in the bathroom scene that happens right at the beginning. Now, remember that the creators, Dotnod Entertainment is a small indie game development company with an equally small budget, and I’m guessing they had to make a choice (HA-HA geddit?). Either they could invest in better lip syncing to dialogue, or they could invest in really good voice actors so the dialogue sounds authentic. I think Dotnod Entertainment made the right call with investing money in voice actors because the game would fall apart if the dialogue sounded robotic. They also did players a favor by adding subtitles, so you can completely ignore the bad lip syncing by reading along with the dialogue.

One thing that I personally didn’t think was bad but many other game reviewers hated was the dialogue itself. Many complained that the creators were trying too hard to sound hip and cool, like having teenage characters use phrases like “f*ck your selfie” and “hella”. A lot of players couldn’t make it through since they didn’t think modern teenagers insert an f-bomb in every sentence, or that a teen could be as mean as Victoria (the game’s atypical bully) in real life. Well, I’ve been working with teens for over a year or so, and to me the dialog sounds exactly like how teens talk. I know “f*ck your selfie” sounds completely ridiculous to adults, but given the context in the game, I could totally see a teen bully saying it! In any case, the dialogue does get better by the time Episode 5 rolls around so if you find yourself hating it, I promise it gets better.

Audience: This game is meant for adults, but I would recommend this to junior and senior high school teens who are mature enough to handle trigger topics like rape, gun violence, and murder. I’m especially interested to hear their thoughts on the dialogue since that is the most debated part of the game.

I would also say this game is a home-run for gamers who are looking for a well-rounded female protagonist. There aren’t many games out there that have a storyline that is crafted specifically around a teenage girl!

Verdict: This is a core purchase for library collections. I also highly recommend this to librarians who do not have a lot of experience with video games but want to try them out. This game’s strength is its storyline, and the game controls are very easy to learn for beginners!

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian


$40 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=life+is+strange

The School Library Journal/Library Journal Maker Workshop

Earlier today I was invited to be a part of the Library Journal Lead the Change Maker Workshop and present a brief overview of my recent article in School Library Journal – Small Tech, Big Impact: Designing My Maker Space  The truth is, I was honored to be invited to participate because I did the Library Journal Maker Workshop last year as part of my research and preparation for the MakerSpace I created at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH). It’s an online classroom environment that allows you to upload and submit work and get feedback from your small group. My small group leader was librarian Amy Koester, who I have long admired. In addition, we had a variety of online webinars that challenged us to think more broadly about making and discussed ways to get staff by in. It was an invaluable part of my research and creation process.

If you have a chance, I highly recommend participating in one of the Library Journal Maker Workshops. They are full of a lot of information and I liked the interaction and feedback that I received. And here are the slides I presented to give you just a little idea of what it meant to me and the type of things you will do as a part of the workshop.

#MHYALit: Pushed Too Hard: Academic Pressure and Mental Health Concerns, a guest post by Cindy L. Rodriguez

Today we are glad to have Cindy L. Rodriguez, author of WHEN REASON BREAKS, joining us to talk about depression, pressure, and expectation. Visit our hub to see all of the posts in the #MHYALit series. 


MHYALitlogoofficfialI have always been a rabid overachiever.


I started kindergarten early and skipped the sixth grade, so I was only twelve when I started ninth grade and sixteen when I started my freshman year at the University of Connecticut. There, I was a good student (3.0 GPA), even while juggling a full course load every semester and more than full-time hours at The Daily Campus, the student-run newspaper, where I was a reporter, then news editor, then managing editor. In the summers, I interned at newspapers, which helped to land a job at the Hartford Courant after graduation. Three years later, I got a job as a researcher at The Boston Globe. I was working for one of the biggest newspapers in the country, for the Spotlight team, no less, at the age of twenty-three.


And then I completely unraveled.


The job wasn’t working out, and the editors wouldn’t move me into a new position. I stuck it out for as long as I could because I was grateful to be at The Boston Globe and figured I could fix this. But I couldn’t. I started to experience every symptom of depression, but I pushed on without seeking medical attention for almost two years because I thought I could fix it. I couldn’t. Depression, I would learn, runs in my family, and my experience in Boston was the trigger. But, it was just a job, right? Nope. It was my entire identity. I was a journalist. My best friends were journalists. I saw everything in the world as a possible newspaper article. Every step I took personally, professionally, academically led me to Boston, and then I hit a wall.


I was a failure with no Plan B.


I have openly discussed my depression before and my concerns about how the disease is underdiagnosed and undertreated in minority communities and young adult fiction.


Today, I want to talk about expectations, mental health, and young people. In my case, no one pushed me. My parents were always supportive and proud but never once suggested I try harder or do more. I own this. It’s who I am. I set goals and want to achieve them, and when I was young, learning something new or achieving something felt great and left me asking, “What’s next?”


I’m still like this. I set goals and want to achieve them. I always ask, “What’s next?” because I am a life-long learner and want to explore and grow until the end. But, now that I am older, wiser, and have reaped the benefits of medication and therapy, I know when I’m doing too much. I’m better at recognizing when I need to say “no” or when I need to alter my plan because it is jeopardizing my mental health.


But, as a parent and educator, I worry that we are creating and endorsing high-stakes external triggers that could harm the young people we care so much about—our children, our students.


Today, many schools choose academics over recess. We have competitive preschool programs in some communities and none in others, ensuring unequal access to educational opportunities and the continuation of the achievement gap. We expect students to read by the end of kindergarten and do hours of homework in elementary school. We separate students into honors classes by middle school. The division becomes more severe in high school, with students pushed into honors and AP classes. Many high school students graduate early and already have college credits. The collective message is that average is not good enough. Overachievement is the norm, and college is required for success. The pressure to perform is immense for all students, and many have significant, added obstacles connected to poverty. About 25 percent of high school freshman fail to graduate on time. And those who “make it?” About 45 percent of first-time undergraduates who matriculated in the fall of 2008 did not earn a degree after six years.


We are pushing young people harder than ever, and to what end?


In this New York Times article, college counseling centers reported that more than half of their clients have severe psychological problems, and that anxiety and depression are now the most common health diagnoses among college students.


I see the faces behind the statistics in my classroom, in the hallways, at book signings, and in my home. My daughter cried over math homework when she was in the first grade. At a meeting, a seventh-grade boy’s parents harped on the one B on his report card for band. A sixth-grade girl held her head in her hands during last year’s state testing. When I asked if she was okay, she stared at the screen, tears in her eyes, and said, “I don’t know how to do this.” When a young woman asked me to sign my book for her, I spotted a semicolon tattoo on her wrist. When one of my college students talked about his personal narrative essay, I spotted scars all over both of his arms.


I see myself in them. And I worry about them. And I wonder what I can do as a mother, teacher, and writer.


I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve decided on a few things. I will always stress effort, stamina, and process over achievement in my home and classroom. I will always openly talk about not being perfect, how I am average at some things, and downright horrible at others. I will always tell them about my brother, who is an auto mechanic, and my sister, who is an artist, and how there are multiple ways to be intelligent. I may even write a YA novel set in a technical school because where are those? More than anything, I will always openly talk about and write about having and managing depression so that young people realize it’s common and treatable—that they, too, can survive it, manage it, and continue to accomplish things in life without losing themselves in the process.


About When Reason Breaks

when reasonA Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her.

Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal.

Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel that is equal parts literary and commercial, with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls fighting for their lives.


Meet Cindy L. Rodriguez

cindyrodriguez2Cindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist turned public school teacher and fiction writer. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU and has worked as a reporter at The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe. She and her daughter live in Connecticut, where she teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books on 2/10/2015. She is a founder of Latin@s in Kid Lit and a member of the We Need Diverse Books team. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Middle School Monday – The Joys and Benefits of Rereading

MSM1I’ve been thinking a lot about Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird since news of her passing was announced. I actually read it in middle school, for my 8th grade language arts class, although I understand many people didn’t read it until high school.

Well, that was the first time I read it. It was a revelation. When I put the book down, it was hard to describe just what was so amazing about the story. When I picked it back up I was absorbed, living in another world – completely unaware of my own surroundings. Eventually, this experience greatly informed my understanding of what qualifies as a well-written novel. I read it again the following summer. And again, and again, returning time after time to live in the world of Scout, Jem, and Atticus. Each time I read it, I fell deeper in love with the book. Each time I read it, something new was revealed. It wasn’t a static work of fiction, but a living, breathing entity. I remember finally understanding the point of Jem reading to Mrs. Dubose during a reread in my twenties. My twenties is also also when I stopped counting my rereads (of everything.) For To Kill a Mockingbird, I got to 30.

715VLP6M-OLYou see, when I was a child, an adolescent, and even into my early adulthood, I was a chronic and joyful rereader. Each time I picked up a familiar title it was like having a good long visit with a friend who’s moved away. I sometimes refer to it as ‘comfort reading’ because that’s part of its appeal. And what I learned? So very much. I learned to appreciate the depth and complexity of good literature. I learned to understand my fellow human beings through empathizing with fictional characters. I learned so much more than simply going over the same plot repeatedly.

This is why I urge you to encourage your rereaders. The student who is on his or her 5th, 8th, or 20th reread of the Harry Potter books is learning no less than the student who picks a new novel every week. In fact, I’d surmise that they are learning more. Be generous, be kind, be thoughtful. Help these rereaders to experience the joy and benefits of rereading.