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Middle School Monday: Short Stories + Book Covers = Creativity


I love short stories. I love them as a reader* and I’m excited at their potential for us as librarians. Short stories give us an accessible way into ELA classrooms with a bite-sized unit that we can connect to the curriculum by exploring figurative language, plot devices, or vocabulary. Using excellent short story collections like Flying Lessons (Oh, 2017) or Open Mic (Perkins, 2013) are a double—and necessary—win as we can introduce #ownvoices authors into the classroom…and the literary canon.

From Open Mic, I’ve been reading Under Berlin by G. Neri with both 7th and 8th grade classes. Under Berlin is a warm, engaging short story in verse that underscores issues of prejudice in a humorous and unexpected way.

It takes us only one class lesson to read [with some background discussion on the city of Berlin]. During the next class, we move to designing book covers.

Bor-ing, you may be thinking. Perhaps you’ve been including the option of creating book covers as a culminating project choice on your novels for years.

I’m standing by this lesson! Here’s why—and why I was excited about how this lesson worked.

  1. Individual short stories typically HAVE NO cover, so there is a completely blank slate. Students have no preconceived version of what the cover for a short story should look like.
  2. We began by looking at a sampling of covers from books I brought to the classroom. What did they have in common? What was the book ‘selling’? Which covers were the most successful? Why were some author names SO BIG? We talked about images. Fonts. Colors.
  3. To create our covers, we used Google Drawings, which I think sells itself short with its own name. I told my students to think of it as Google Design instead. After a lightning quick tutorial [The best way to learn a digital tool? Play with it yourself.], each student got to work. I mean, play.
  4. The finished covers were fascinating. Besides an obvious affinity for the Permanent Marker font and atmospheric subway photos, the covers were structurally different. Most focused on the setting, but I loved how several students were intent on finding a family or female teen [the narrator] to include on the cover that was reflective.
  5. My favorite part? The students who I felt had the strongest covers were not students who usually were receiving top grades in ELA. While I displayed all the covers, I separated the strongest covers under a Bestseller List tag.


We need to continually provide alternate access points for students to connect with literature and language besides simply writing about it afterwards [or annotatingshudder]. Hopefully, this mini-project worked in this way. In fact, every time I do a short story with students, I think I will include this activity, at the very least as an option for a culminating mini-project. The options for digital tools are vast. [Canva would be an exciting choice.]

*I grew up despising short stories. They were so depressing! Recent collections have changed my views on the format. Please don’t only use the short stories we were taught in school. [Another, bigger shudder.] Go get a class set of the wonderful Flying Lessons instead!

I’m Julie Stivers at @BespokeLib—have a great week!

Friday Finds: February 17, 2017

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Muslim Voices

Middle School Monday: Spy on History Blog Tour and Giveaway

Book Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Dr. Bully, a guest post by M.G. Hennessey

Everything, Everything Movie Trailer is Here!

TPiB: 3 cheap and easy after school programs

#SJYALit Hello, I’m Your Social Justice Librarian, a guest post by Perlita Payne

Book Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Around the Web

12-Year-Old Marley Dias Signs Book Deal To Write Kids Activism Guide

21 YA Books For Black History Month

Young Adult Author Nina LaCour on Why You Shouldn’t Talk Down to Your Readers

Philip Pullman to Release First Volume in New ‘Book of Dust’ Trilogy

The 2016 Cybils Winners!



#SJYALit Hello, I’m Your Social Justice Librarian, a guest post by Perlita Payne

sjyalitI became the Social Justice Librarian at Alameda County Library in September. I had gotten my MLIS the year before while working for many years at a health center in an urban high school. After graduation, I was an hourly Reference Librarian at a couple of public library systems including the one that I now work for full-time. I have always worked to create safe and welcoming spaces for those at the intersections of marginalized communities be they young people, those who have been incarcerated or detained, people of color, immigrants, women, LGBTQ, and people with disabilities. I am also a proud member of these communities.

Alameda County is the seventh largest county in the State of California with 14 incorporated and unincorporated cities and a population of 1.5 million (“About”). At Social Justice Services (SJS), we provide library services and programs at the adult jails (Santa Rita and Glenn Dyer), Juvenile Justice Center (JJC), Camp Sweeney (minimum security residential program for young men), and three social services sites that are part of our Pop-Up Library Services for Everyone (PULSE) Program. At the adult jails, right now, we have bookcarts and/or bookshelves at each housing units that we replenish throughout the month. Inmates can also fill out request forms for books and magazines that they would like and we fulfill them as appropriate. We also have a family program called “Start With a Story” (SWAS) during visitations on the weekends. Our SWAS volunteers give brand new picture books to and do storytimes with the children waiting to visit their incarcerated parents and/or guardians. At juvenile hall and Camp Sweeney, we have a library at each of these sites with a Librarian on duty providing scheduled services every week. Similar to the adult jails, we also have bookshelves at each of the housing units that the Librarian replenishes. We also have a poetry writing program at Camp Sweeney run by library staff.  At each of our Pop-Up Library Services (PULSE) sites, we have a book vending machine that holds over 200 books at any given time and these are replenished by staff throughout the month. Our PULSE patrons suffer from chronic homelessness and for many reasons they find it challenging to get to a brick-and-mortar library and sign up for traditional library services, and so we bring the library to them via our book vending machines.

I am charged with creating programs and events for all of our sites. For the sake of TLT, I will just talk about my work with teens.

The Juvenile Justice Center (JJC) is a detention center for up to 358 minors. Camp Sweeney is a rehabilitative, minimum security, residential program for up to 50 young men 15-19 years old (“Probation”). With changes in sentencing laws and options other than detention (e.g., electronic monitoring), the number of teens have gone down at each of these sites.

At JJC, I meet monthly with the probation officer in charge of programs and our embedded Librarian to discuss programs and needs. We are very fortunate to be located in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there are many organizations and individuals who volunteer at JJC to carry out programs ranging from yoga to beats-making classes. There is a school at JJC and the teens attend classes during the week. The probation officer in charge of programs has access to the school calendar and I work closely with her to schedule the programs during the school day.

In December, she had requested a program during intersession. Using a vendor from the County Art Commission, I was able to bring a pop-up greeting card program to JJC. Although the date that the art vendor had available was after Christmas, the skills that the teens picked up can still be used to make other kinds of greeting cards throughout the year. Every performer and artists need to fill out a Visitor’s Request form that get processed by JJC. For the art vendor, I also needed to get her materials approved. She sent me a list of the items that she would like to bring. I also asked her to hold on to this same list and check it when the class ends to make sure she has all of them. If there’s anything missing, of course, there will be a search and that’s never anything we would want. For card making, we were allowed to bring kids scissors with rounded ends, colored pens, ink stamps, and a selection of shape punches. The vendor put in a last minute request to bring one pair of scissors with a pointed edge for her personal use only. I emailed the probation officer with fingers crossed and thankfully, this was approved.

Crafting was a big hit for the teens and also the officers assisting that day. Outside of shadowing Andrew, our embedded Librarian, while he made the rounds through the housing units, this was the first time I had been with the teens for an extended amount of time.  And you know what? Teens are teens wherever they might be. They came shuffling in looking uninterested, bored and left with finished pieces that I almost mistook for the art vendor’s samples. They crowded around the punches to make shapes like stars, horses, and crowns, all the while exclaiming how “tight” their pieces were going to be. For an hour and a half we were all in an art class and their creativity was limitless. I heard much laughter and banter among the teens. Of course, when class was over, we were back to reality: we had to count the materials to make sure what we had was exactly what we came in with. Everything counted out right and the teens left after we thanked them for participating. I heard from the probation officer that the teens were really proud of the cards they made and some of the officers who were there that day showed the teens in the housing units that didn’t get to attend how to make the cards. All of these were heartening to hear. And I have since booked the art vendor to come back for three more classes! We need more opportunities for art everywhere but especially at JJC.

In February, at JJC, we will be celebrating Black History Month by having Kirk Waller, a local storyteller, to perform to four housing units which can mean up to 80 teens attending. I also have scheduled Aya De Leon, a spoken word artist and Dr. Joseph Marshall, an author who’s been at the forefront of violence prevention conversations in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the Summer, we will be working with Dave Egger’s non-profit, Voice of Witness and 826 Valencia on a memoir writing workshop at all of our sites as a way to give space to and amplify marginalized voices. I am currently taking a MakerSpace workshop class and I have plans on creating a MakerSpace at JJC. I don’t know what our MakerSpace will look like yet but Andrew and I have been talking about teaching podcasting and starting a podcast with the teens. I’m also looking at bringing in Girls Who Code because they rock and why not? I have a lot cooking here at JJC and I’m so very excited about every bit of it.

I’ve been thinking about books that might be helpful for folks who do not work with patrons who are in detention. The truth is, many of our patrons may have been in detention when they were young or know someone who is or has been in detention. Their stories have been made invisible because of shame and the stigma of having been incarcerated or detained. When I accepted my position, I read Jimmy Santiago Baca’s autobiography “A Place to Stand”. Growing up, Baca was in and out of jail and spent 5 years in prison for drug charges. His accounting of life in prison as a young Latino is harrowing. I have noticed that many juvenile hall libraries carry this book because it is inspiring that during Baca’s time in prison, he was able to teach himself how to read and became the great poet that he is now. I also read Richard Ross’s “Girls in Justice” which is a photo book focused on young women in detention around the country (the County that I work for is featured in it). It is a sobering, heartbreaking book with pictures that are meant to be pored over slowly so as to be respectful of the teen in detention brave enough to be part of the project. I’ve also read “Pushed Out” by Monique Morris which is focused on the effects of the school to prison pipeline on African-American girls. This book goes well with Marc Lamont Hill’s “Nobody” which covers police shootings in Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement. And I have to include Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between The World & Me” because the author wrote it with so much sincerity to his teenage son. It is a kind of manual on how to thrive as a Black Man in American in spite of racism and State violence. I also found books about queer and trans people in prison, one is by Dean Spade’s “Normal Life” and the other is “Captive Genders” edited by Eric Stanley. I found particularly powerful Wesley Ware’s article about the struggles of queer and trans youth in juvenile halls in Louisiana. It is such a great time for publishing right now and so many excellent books are coming out. These are just mere starting points.


“About Alameda County ”

“Probation Department”

“Social Justice Services”

Middle School Monday: Spy on History Blog Tour and Giveaway

Mary Bowser - blog tour banner

We are pleased to be today’s stop for the Spy on History blog tour! Here is the question put to me: If you could go back to anytime or place in history, where would you put your spy skills to use?

sohThis is such a difficult question! So many times in history would be fascinating to take part in – but which ones could really use me? If I have to choose, I’d like to go back to the United States during the late 1930’s and infiltrate the lives of government officials who made decisions that excluded Jewish refuges from entering the U.S. In light of recent current events, I’ve been thinking about this part of our collective history quite often. We can look back on that time and see what a horrible mistake we were making – but it doesn’t seem that enough of us have learned that lesson.

Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring is an engaging read, with enough detail to really get a feel for the time and place. While it would be a good way to introduce a study of Civil War history, it also would be a great inspiration for a writing project. I enjoyed the first entry in this series, and would recommend them for use with third through sixth grade students.

More about the book:

Book Summary: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring introduces an exciting interactive series for middle grade readers—Spy on History, where the reader gets to experience history in a whole new way.

Meet Mary Bowser, an African American spy who was able to infiltrate the Confederate leadership at the highest level. Enigma Alberti dramatizes Mary Bowser’s suspenseful story—how she pretended to be illiterate, how she masterfully evaded detection, how she used her photographic memory to “copy” critical documents.

Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope inside the book, a canny reader will be able to discover and unravel clues embedded in the text and illustrations, and solve the book’s ultimate mystery: Where did Mary hide her secret diary?

Author: Enigma Alberti is the nom de plume of a secret cadre of authors who are each writing a book in the Spy on History series.

Illustrator: Tony Cliff is the author and artist behind the New York Times bestselling Delilah Dirk graphic novel series. Find more on Tony at and @TangoCharlie on Twitter.

If you’d like a chance to win three Workman titles (Spy on History, Who Wins?, and Boss Babes) please leave a comment below with your Twitter handle.

Friday Finds: February 10, 2017

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Dear World, Here’s What We Want You to Know about Teen Girls

Middle School Monday: It’s All About the Memes

#SJYALit Reading Lists: Disability in YA Lit, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis

Book Review: At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

Love and Justice: What I’ve learned from those seeking refuge in the U.S., a guest post by author Marie Marquardt

“Nevertheless, She Persisted” A Take 5 List, plus 1

Book Review: Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Nicole Lemon

Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Around the Web

Reaction To DeVos Vote Is Swift, And Divided

The power of story

16 Young Adult Novels To Read In 2017, According To YA Authors

Author Libba Bray nails it

Librarians react to the DeVos confirmation


Middle School Monday: It’s All About the Memes

MSM1This is going to be another one of those posts where I’m almost embarrassed to share this idea because it is so EASY. SIMPLE. But, who among us wouldn’t like some shared, simple ideas for library engagement? I ALWAYS want some! [That means: bring ‘em on, people!]

Over the summer, I had hung up some large write-on/wipe-off boards [that you can find at Lowe’s back in their building supplies section for very cheap]. My original intention was just to have some spots where students could draw, write, doodle, etc. [At the end of last year, we were literally writing on the walls and I LOVED THAT and didn’t want it to stop.]

meme usain

Like many of us last August, I was in full-Olympics-swoon mode and I loved looking at images from the gamestwo of my favorites being Usain Bolt pulling away from the pack with that glorious smile and Michael Phelps with his ‘game face’ before a race.
meme phelps

I wanted to somehow bring the Olympic games into the library and so I had the idea to set up meme boards. In the continual effort to think of our libraries more as KITCHENS than GROCERY STORES, this allows students to write and flex their creativity in an extremely accessible [and quick way].

I thought they might be fun for a couple of weeks and then after that, I would use the boards for some other purpose. Well, it’s February and the meme boards are going NOWHERE. They are still going strong. The students have completely taken ownership of themwhich I love. They find the pictures now and decide when it’s time to change them out. [They know to bring me the pictures to give a once over before they get put on the board. I also ensure that the pictures aren’t just of white people. The wonderful thing is that now, they just KNOW this and the pictures they bring reflect a wide range of genders, race, ethnicity.]
I’m Julie Stivers at @Bespoke Lib and I’m loving our meme boards. I’d love to hear how you’re making creative expression a part of your libraries!

Friday Finds: February 3, 2017

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: My Fellow Americans, You’re Breaking My Heart

Cover Reveal: 27 HOURS by Tristina Wright

Middle School Monday: What We Say—and Don’t Say—Matters

Book Review: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Book Review: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

So You’re a Librarian (or Library), What Do You Do Now? Librarianing in the Time of Political Turmoil

January #ARCParty – A look at some new YA lit releases

#MakerSpace: Typewriter Fun

Recently in Book Mail

Take 5: A List of YA Lists on Refugees

Around the Web


Kwame Alexander: Take a knee

Jeff Zentner’s Morris Award Acceptance Speech for The Serpent King

New Guidelines Urge Schools To Rethink Recess

ALA opposes new administration policies that contradict core values

Boy Scouts Will Admit Transgender Boys

Gene Luen Yang Launches Annual Reading Without Walls Program for Young Readers


Middle School Monday: What We Say—and Don’t Say—Matters


Our students are listening to us. Being neutral—or quiet—is also being registered by our students. They are noticing what we say. What we do. They also notice the silence.

Every one of us is on a different spot on our journey of cultural competency.* I was thinking this weekend about what is going on in our country and I’m just going to say it: unless you are resisting human rights violations and hateful rhetoric that is coming from the current administration, you are not moving forward on your cultural competence journey. To move forward is to RESIST. Not just resisting in our heads, but with our words and actions.

*This month’s YALS journal from YALSA is centered on issues of Cultural Competency. Full disclosure: I wrote one of the articles, centered on building relationships. In addition to talking about issues like reflective literature, pushing back against the notion of color-blindness, and building a diverse PLN, I put out a call—a question: Are we on the right side of contemporary civil rights issues? Are we? Are our libraries? Are you?

It’s not about politics. It’s about human rights. It’s about caring for our students—in a meaningful way.

I came in this morning and made this display.

safe display

Is it going to change the world? No, of course not. I didn’t do it to change the world. Will it matter? I don’t know. I just know this: it’s true. It’s real. [And we have to be intentional every day making sure it’s true and real. We have to constantly improve.] And, it’s a sentiment and a reality that is necessary to make our libraries and schools safe spaces.

Otherwise, why are we here?

I’m Julie Stivers at @BespokeLib and I believe that the best school libraries = safe spaces.

Friday Finds: January 27, 2017

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: This is Why I Marched

Here We Are: Feminism & Social Justice In Action by Kelly Jensen (#SJYALit: Social Justice in YA Lit)

Book Review: Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen

Book Review: The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World – Kelly Jensen talks with contributor Alida Nugent about social justice, feminism & finding and using your voice

My Voice is Louder Now: HERE WE ARE editor Kelly Jensen talks with Brandy Colbert about Feminism

Book Review: Racial Profiling: Everyday Inequality by Alison Marie Behnke

Feminism is for Everyone: HERE WE ARE editor Kelly Jensen interviews contributor Daniel Jose Older

What’s New in LGBTQIA+ YA January 2017 and February 2017

Around the Web

8 ways you can empower girls to learn coding

2017 Best Fiction for Young Adults

2017 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults

Roxane Gay Pulls Book From Simon & Schuster In Response To Milo Yiannopoulos Controversy


The New York Times Stops Showing Comics Love, Suspends Graphic Novel Bestseller Lists


Friday Finds: January 20, 2017

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Greater words than ours

Middle School Monday: Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri

Book Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

#SJYALit: How does real life and research fit with LGBT young adult lit? A guest post by Alex B

Video Games Weekly: Why You Should Buy a WiiU for Teen Game Nights Soon!

Talking ALL AMERICAN BOYS with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely for the Social Justice in YA Lit (#SJYALit) Project

Recently in book mail

Around the Web

A Diverse Reading List for Betsy DeVos

President Obama on What Books Mean to Him

Take a peek at the Children’s Book Week poster

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s CCBC Choices 2017

Can schools make the American Dream real for poor kids?