Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

forest with reflection in lake and man silhouette; Shutterstock ID 418079275; Title: –

Publisher’s Book Description:

Liv Fleming’s father went missing more than two years ago, not long after he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Liv has long accepted that he’s dead, though that doesn’t mean she has given up their traditions. Every Sunday, she and her lifelong friend Doug Monk trudge through the woods to check the traps Lee left behind, traps he set to catch the aliens he so desperately believed were after him.

But Liv is done with childhood fantasies. Done pretending she believes her father’s absurd theories. Done going through the motions for Doug’s sake. However, on the very day she chooses to destroy the traps, she discovers in one of them a creature so inhuman it can only be one thing. In that moment, she’s faced with a painful realization: her dad was telling the truth. And no one believed him.

Now, she and Doug have a choice to make. They can turn the alien over to the authorities…or they can take matters into their own hands.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Every once in a while, you read a book that leaves you stunned. This was one of those books for me. It is not an exaggeration when I tell you that there were a couple of moments while I was reading this book that I sat the book down and ran out to the garage where The Mr. was working and said, “Holy crud, you won’t believe what just happened.” It was mind-blowing, jaw dropping and stunningly fascinating, in truly dark and twisted ways. I’m still thinking about this book days later.

If you’re not familiar with Daniel Kraus, he writes super dark YA that is like Stephen King on steroids. Rotters is about a young boy who goes to live with his dad who is a grave robber. Scowler is about the very true terror of domestic violence. Kraus is also the man behind the middle grade Trollhunters series, which you can see on Netflix (Thing 2 has watched the entire series). So he’s not all dark all the time, but his YA is very dark. And glorious.

Liv is dealing with the loss of a father who has the distinguished honor of being the town laughingstock, having claimed to have been abducted by aliens. He’s now missing, but no one believes he has been abducted by aliens and Liv is learning to live with the truth that he is probably dead. Then she discovers a creature that may just prove her dad wasn’t crazy after all. Now in possession of this creature, Liv and her childhood friend Doug takes matters into their own hands to try and clear her father’s name and what happens next is truly stunning. And disturbing.

In Bent Heavens, Kraus explores the nature of violence and asks one of the age old questions that come up frequently in horror and science fiction: just who, exactly, are the monsters? The answer to that question involves some very truly unsettling scenes. And although the answer to that question will surprise no one, the path Kraus weaves to get us there is unlike anything I’ve read in YA for quite some time.

Like truly great literature, Kraus challenges his readers to step into the darkness and confront the bitter truths of human nature. Along the way, he weaves a visceral tale that pulls back the current on small town politics, mental health stigmas, violence, grief, and anger. It’s a wild, uncomfortable and challenging ride through the darkest parts of human nature, and it will punch you in the gut. It touches on some other important and timely topics that I can’t mention here because I don’t want to give too much away. But everything that happens does so for a reason and readers will not be disappointed. It’s some great craftsmanship and storytelling.

I need you to read it so we can talk about it. Highly recommended.

This book comes out February, 25, 2020. I read a digital arc for this review.

The Billie Eilish Readalike Playlist

Billie Eilish has been popular in my house for a while now, probably since first hearing the song Lovely back in 2018. My favorite Billie Eilish song is “You Should See Me in a Crown”, while Thing 2 seems particularly fond of “Bad Guy”. So the other day, as I watched a group of pre-teen and teen girls choreograph a dance to a Billie Eilish song, I had a moment of inspiration: I wonder if I could create a reading RA list based on Billie Eilish songs. So I sat down and started researching her various songs and what they meant. It turns out, there are websites that help you do this.

I then started getting serious about this project. I even turned it into an RA sheet for my work. So what follows is a list of a variety of YA books based on theme and song that teens may enjoy reading if they like the music of Billie Eilish. This was a fun list to create, and it is by no means complete. It only touches on a few of her songs and even on those songs there are a lot more books we could add. So if you have some titles you would like to add, please feel free to do so.

Books About Toxic Relationships

“Bad Guy”, “When the Party’s Over” and several other Billie Eilish songs are about toxic relationships, both romantic and friendships. So here are a few YA books about toxic relationships that your teens may be interested in reading.

You Should See Me in a Crown

“You Should See Me in a Crown” is inspired by the BBC series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch. In it Andrew Scott, also known as the Hot Priest from Fleabag, plays Moriarty, Sherlock’s arch-nemesis. At one point he proclaims, “you should see me in a crown.” The rest is history. The series is a lot of fun and was extremely popular, I even had a very successful Sherlock party at the time. So here are a bunch of Sherlock retellings or books that are Sherlock Holmes like that teen readers will find interesting.

Books About Mental Health and Depression

One of Billie Eilish’s early hits was a song called “lovely” that she sings with Khalid. It’s a very melancholy song about mental health and depression and it appears on the soundtrack for the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The title began kind of as a kind of sarcastic nod to how depressing the song is. While listening to it someone said, “oh how lovely” and the rest, as they say, is history. Here a few YA books about mental health and depression that your teens may like.

Dark Books about Dark People doing Dark Things

“Belly Ache” and “Bad Guy” are told from the point of view of monsters, whether that means psychopaths or literal monsters depends on the song. Billie Eilish has stated in many interviews that she likes to write songs that tell the story from the point of view from the monster under your bed. Here are several YA books that are about psychopaths and monsters.

Climate Change

Billie Eilish is an advocate for knowing and working to fix climate change. The topic of climate change appears in her most recent video “All the Good Girls Go to Hell”. Here are a few YA fiction titles on climate change that teens may be interested in reading. If you are Googling for additional titles, you may want to also search under the term “cli-fi”, which is a shortened version of climate change.

Basically Dark, Twisted and Kind of Awesome

If you had to describe Billie Eilish’s aesthetic, you might say she is basically dark, twisted and a lot of fun. So here are a bunch of YA books that are basically dark, twisted and a lot of fun. I like to think that Billie Eilish would like these books and recommend them to her fans.

Cindy Crushes Programming: March Madness Bracketology

Background: Basketball is my favorite sport. I was lucky enough to live in Joliet, IL which is just an hour away from Chicago. I grew up watching the Chicago Bulls during their prime. It was a magical time.

I also am a Kansas Jayhawk. I went to the University of Kansas for a short while and both my parents and sister went there. The University of Kansas is one of the premier basketball schools in the country. The first Kansas coach was Dr James Naismith who actually invented the game of basketball and KU houses the Original Rules of Basketball.

What is March Madness?

March Madness is the NCAA basketball tournament (Men’s and Women’s) of which the winner is the national champion. Currently the tournament includes the top 68 teams in the country. 32 of the teams are the winners of the conference tournaments held in March which get automatic bids. The rest are picked by rankings and their strength of schedule. It is always hard to figure who is in and who is out. The champion is crowned in April.

Here is the link to the NCAA page about the bracket. It has a nice video that gives more information about how the tournament runs. I also have last year’s bracket so you can get a better idea of how the bracket will look.

https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/ncaa-bracket-march-madness

How to create a program:

This is hard to program time wise. You have to wait until selection Sunday to do the Men’s Bracket. The Women’s Bracket is released the following Monday. Games for the Men’s Tournament actually start that Tuesday night. I like to have the program start on that Tuesday so I can have the participants both brackets that night.  The Women’s Bracket is not as challenging. The University of Connecticut women have won six times in the last decade. It takes away a lot of upsets. This year should be more interesting as UCONN already is projected to be a second seed instead of a number one seed. Baylor beat UCONN at home which snapped their home winning streak of 98 games. Brackets come out for the men on March 15 and Women March 16.

Steps

  1. Print out brackets.  I like to use CBS Sports Brackets because I think they usually have the best bracket or Yahoo Sports Brackets.
  2. Bring a lot of pencils. You need to make sure the teens will be able to erase.
  3. I like to talk about the history of college basketball and explain what the brackets mean. Each of the four brackets has a number one seed. These are the best teams in the country. The 16th seeds are the worst. The Number 16 team plays the Number 1 team in the first game up. Until 2018 a Number One Seed had never lost to a Number 16. In the Men’s Bracket in 2018 University of Maryland Baltimore County (16) beat Virginia(1).
  4. Explain how to fill out their brackets. Please look over the bracket before you hand them out so you know how to fill them out. For the play in the games I have them circle who they believe will win. For the rest of the games I have them write in t their winners. This part takes the most time. A lot of the teens have no idea how to fill it out. I tell them they can pick different ways. I always like the cutest mascot. It really can work well. I make sure to tell them to not always pick the higher team in the bracket because they are always upsets. I check handwriting on this part because it is really important that you can read them.
  5. I always like to end the program playing a One Shining Moment video which is the song they play at the end of the tournament.

After the program: I like to have a prize for the teen who had the best bracket. This means waiting until after the Championship Game. I do a simple scoring which I give each right answer one point but you can do it a lot of ways such as one point for round 1 and 2 and then up the points for the later rounds. This is subjective. I make them write a score for the final game to be a tie breaker but have never had to use it.  I call the winner and give them a random prize.

Final Thoughts: This was an easy program for me since I know a lot about basketball. If you are doing it for the first time, I do recommend learning more about the tournament to be prepared to help the teens. There are often questions. The teens who like sports love to do this program and try to out basketball trivia on me which is fun.

Editor’s Note: You can also use the March Madness bracket format to do a book themed program. Here’s an older post about this.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives: The Teen and I Discuss what Musical Theater Means to Theater Teens and Why Librarians Should, and Can, Care

There are a lot of different ways to tell a story and books are just one of them. No one was more surprised then me when The Teen signed up for musical theater in the 7th grade. I have no talent to pass on and this child of mine is introverted and shy so it never occurred to me that in theater, she would find herself and her people. She is now a junior and I have seen her perform in 6 musicals, 6 plays, and win 2 awards. More than that, it has been my greatest parental joy to see her happy, fulfilled, working hard, succeeding and just finding herself.

The Teen in Sweeney Todd

She is one of many teens who find themselves in theater. Theater kids are her friends and her family. And like many teens around our world, they speak a lot in musicals. Today she has put together this list of her and her friends favorite songs from the musicals that speak to them and shares what they mean to her. Want to know about teens and what they’re thinking about? Don’t forget about the theater kids.

The Teen’s Musical Playlist

A list of songs from various musicals and why they matter.

Dead Mom from Beetlejuice

This musical is very easy to relate to. A lot of people have lost someone who they loved and relied on. It can be hard for people to talk about that but this song really captures how it feels to experience a lose.

She Used to Be Mine from Waitress

This musical is truly beautiful. It talks about wishing you could go back and change the things that you did in the past because you aren’t living a happy life. As the musical progresses the main character begins to accept that she made mistakes and realize that who she has become is enough.

In My Dreams from Anastasia

This song is just so extraordinary. It sounds so amazing and the singer has a stunning voice.

Lifeboat from Heather

This song gives us insight into the life of one of the Heathers. Se talks about how she wishes she didn’t have to be the way she was but she feels like she has no choice.

I Don’t Need Your Love from Six

This musical is so fun and it actually talks about something important. This musical is about the six wives of Henry the VIII. This song is about his last wife and she sings about how she shouldn’t be known for who her husband was because she was so much more than that.

In the Air Tonight from American Psycho

This musical sounds super cool and the Eleventh Doctor is in it. It is a very violent show but if you look past that it has some really awesome music.

I Like It from A Bronx Tale

This musical is very underrated. It has some amazing music and it talks about how greed can lead to so many problems.

Mama Who Bore Me from Spring Awakening

This song has so much depth. It sounds so meaningful and it has so much heart.

Wait for Me from Hadestown

Amazing voices, amazing choreography, and amazing set. Just an all around amazing performance and show.

Rockin’ Jerusalem from Choir Boy

This may not technically be a musical but the songs are beautiful. Every voice is meant to be heard.

Turn it Off from The Book of Mormon

This song is hilarious. It is absolutely ridiculous and so fun. You can’t help but sing along.

High Adventure from Aladdin

This musical is fun and this song is even more fun. It makes you want to go on a high adventure.

Requiem from Dear Evan Hansen

This is my favorite song from the whole musical. It talks about how the sister of the boy who committed suicide can’t feel sad about losing him because he really wasn’t that good to them. It sounds so enchanting and it makes me cry every time.

One Normal Night from The Addams Family

If you love the movie then there is a good chance that you will love this musical. It really adds a fun little extra bit to the family.

City on Fire from Sweeney Todd

The Teen and cast sing City on Fire from Sweeney Todd

After doing this show I always find myself thinking about this song. It was awful to learn how to sing because it’s all over the place but it was so fun.

Tradition from Fiddler on the Roof

This musical made me mad when it ended but the opening really sets up for a spectacular show.

Think of Me from The Phantom of the Opera

All of the songs in the show are amazing and this musical will always be a classic.

Tango: Maureen from Rent

Everyone knows the opening song for this musical but this song is also amazing.

No Me Diga from In the Heights

This is one of the most funny songs from the show. It is just so fun to sing along to.

Cell Block Tango from Chicago

This song is known by everyone in theatre. It makes you want to be in jail just so you could do something like this.

A Few More Thoughts from a Teen Librarian on Public Libraries and Musical Theater

You’ll notice that she left Hamilton off of this list. Make no mistake, we went through our Hamilton phase and wore that soundtrack out. Hamilton singalongs were and are a ton of fun. I’ve even done a few High School Musical singalongs when the movie was popular. These are just a few ways you can incorporate musical theater into your teen services.

Want to know how you can incorporate musical theater into your programming and support local teens and your local schools? Start networking with your local drama teacher and ask them to do a special sneak peek of upcoming musicals at your library. They can sing a couple of songs in costume, do a meet and greet, and generate PR while you get some fun, arts based, and community networked programming. You don’t need scenes or props, just local teens in costume singing a couple of songs to generate interest and community support. On the occasions when I have worked in libraries that did this, they were tremendously successful. You have a somewhat built in audience because every kid that comes and performs will bring some parents and friends with them.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier is a fun book about teens and theater

You can also find out far enough in advance what those upcoming high school musicals are to make read-alike book lists, put up displays, and help promote community events. YA Librarian Cindy Shutts and coworkers have started a great series of Broadway Booklists to help get your started: Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, Hadestown, and Prom: The Musical. You can bundle the books on the lists with the soundtracks and the movie if they’re available and make binge kits and circulating bundles.

There are also a lot of book lists out there for tweens and teens who love musical theater. You’ll definitely want to check out the classic No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman about a young boy who turns a book report into a musical theater rock opera . . . on roller skates. Goodreads has a book list of 63 YA titles that deal with theater, not just musical theater.

You can do workshops, viewings, singalongs and more. Teach teens how to use technology to create their own playlists. Set up a music writing station as suggested by Mary Amato in this post. Circulate ukuleles. Make-up, costuming, graphic design and more are all ways that you can incorporate musical theater and theater in general into your library programming. Network with your local schools, community theaters, and your very own teens.

And Scene . . .

The Teen writing her musical playlist list for you

Before writing this post, The Teen, Thing 2 and I just finished watching High School Musical, The Musical, The Show on Disney+. The Teen cried through the last two episodes because it captured perfectly everything that musical theater means to her. It’s about the grit that is required when life throws you every curve ball, because as you know, the show must go on. It’s also about finding your family, which I am so glad happens for these kids.

Teens crave ways to express themselves creatively, they crave finding a place that they can belong and feel comfortably accepted as self, and they thrive when they are supported by the adults in their lives and their communities. Supporting the arts and bringing them into our libraries in creative ways can make all of this happen.

Book Review: Jane Anonymous by Laurie Faria Stolarz, a teen review

Publisher’s Book Description:

Bestselling author Laurie Faria Stolarz returns with Jane Anonymous, a gripping tale of a seventeen-year-old girl’s kidnapping and her struggle to fit back into her life after she escapes.

Then, “Jane” was just your typical 17-year-old in a typical New England suburb getting ready to start her senior year. She had a part-time job she enjoyed, an awesome best friend, overbearing but loving parents, and a crush on a boy who was taking her to see her favorite band. She never would’ve imagined that in her town where nothing ever happens, a series of small coincidences would lead to a devastating turn of events that would forever change her life.

Now, it’s been three months since “Jane” escaped captivity and returned home. Three months of being that girl who was kidnapped, the girl who was held by a “monster.” Three months of writing down everything she remembered from those seven months locked up in that stark white room. But, what if everything you thought you knew―everything you thought you experienced―turned out to be a lie? 

The Teen’s Thoughts:

I always love it when my teenage daughter talks with me about a book she’s read. She reads a lot, but she doesn’t always talk about the books she reads. When she does come and talk to me about it a book, it either means it’s really good or really bad. We’re very passionate people, us Jensens. The Teen talked to me at length about this book, using words like “intense”, “engaging”, and “enthralling”. She told me that she has “never read a book like this before.” And when you’ve read as many YA books as she has, that is high praise indeed.

She spent a good half hour telling me every detail about this book and it prompted a lot of good conversation for us both. We’ve talked a lot about psychology, mental health, ptsd, and more. I love it when a book becomes the basis for important and meaningful conversations. As a family that struggles with various mental health issues, this prompted a lot of important and meaningful conversation for us about mental health.

I also always note the speed at which she reads a book. A slow read means it’s not as engaging. This book she picked up and couldn’t put down. She read it in the car as we were driving to the store, stayed up late reading it, and finished it within two days. This was a can’t put it down book for her.

Highly recommended.

DIY Stop Motion Book Trailers Using Giffer

My library recently put out a call asking for staff to help promote our most circulated titles for 2019 in several categories. Seeing as how I have a deep love and devotion to YA literature, I quickly put together stop motion mini-book trailers for our top 5 circulating titles for 2019. As my library shared them I retweeted them and a lot of people contacted me to ask me how I made them and the answer is: Giffer.

The Giffer app allows you to make quick and easy Gifs which you can share on social media. You can get the Giffer Pro version for $2.99 in the App store, which is the version that I have. It does most of the work for you and it’s pretty quick and easy to learn and use. I have used it several times to make short promo pieces, Lego mini-movies, and more. I’ve tried several different options and this is my go-to app because of how quick and easy it is to use.

To make my little movies I used three things: a pad of Post It notes, a Sharpie, and my cell phone.

I looked up some of my favorite quotes from each title and wrote them on their own Post It. I then took a photo of each quote and saved it. I also took a photo of the book, which I pulled from our collection. There were a couple of titles that were checked out so I printed off a copy of the cover and used that photo.

Then I found a picture I wanted to draw for each title. For Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, I drew a turtle. I looked up how to draw a simple turtle and went through each step, taking a new photo each step of the process. It looked something like this.

For The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas I wanted to draw a rose growing up out of the concrete, as quoted in the book. It looked something like this.

After taking my photos, I uploaded them into Giffer. Giffer allows you to rearrange the order, slow down or speed up the timing, etc. You then just publish your Gif and it gives you a sharing link.

Here’s my Turtles All the Way Down by John Green stop motion promo thingy: https://giffer.co/g/xoDDzlfc.gif

And here it is tiled and filling the entire screen: https://giffer.co/g/xoDDzlfc/tiled

And here’s my The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas stop motion promo thingy: https://giffer.co/g/ZgAssZer

The sharing link gives you an option to download the Gif when you select the three dots on the right hand side of the screen. Downloading the Gif allows you to share it on social media or in a post like this so that it’s right there and your viewers don’t have to click to a separate page.

I’m obviously no artist but I like to think that it’s part of the charm. I made 5 Gifs in around 10 minutes. It cost me absolutely nothing because I already owned the app and I had fun posts to share with our readers on social media withing a half hour of being asked to help with this promotion.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to promote books, I’m a fan.

Sunday Reflections: Everything I Learned about Team Building I Learned from a Teen Theater Production

The Teen was recently involved in an all student led local theater UIL production. What this means is that at her high school 5 students put together UIL type One Act plays and competed against their peers. The production was entirely student led from start to finish, although adults were the judges. The students had to submit a vision board to have their play selected for the competition. They then cast, blocked, and directed the entire play, including doing their stage sets, music and lighting, and more. It was an amazing event to witness, especially when you consider that this was being done entirely by 15, 16, 17 and 18 year-olds.

My daughter was cast as Catherine, the lead in a play called Proof. Proof is about a young woman struggling with grief, depression and a family history of mental illness. It is also about the ways we view women in STEM fields. You see, Catherine’s father was a mathematical genius and after his death a world changing mathematical proof is found. Everyone assumes her father did the proof, but Catherine is the author, except no one believes she is capable of the work. It’s a moving and thoughtful play with a small cast, only 4 people ever take the stage.

To make this play happen, these teens rehearsed almost every day for about 6 weeks. And along the way the student director did a lot of intentional activities to help build a tight, cohesive team. These kids did PowerPoint presentations breaking down their characters. They explored costuming together. They rehearsed and then they rehearsed some more. They worked hard to make sure they understood the play itself, the characters, and every moment that was happening on the stage.

Forbes: Why Team Building is the Most Important Investment You’ll Make

But their team building went beyond just analyzing the play and included things to build up, encourage and uplift one another as people and actors. At the beginning of the play production, each team member – and the team involved tech crew as well as the actors – wrapped a piece of string around each other’s ankles while giving them a compliment. This is called a compliment web. The teens all wore these strings around their ankles for the entire 6 weeks that they were working on the project. The strings served as a reminder that they were part of something meaningful and that the people they were working with believed in them. The Teen now has the string in a memory box as it means a lot to her.

The Definitive Guide to Team Building

They also did things like compliment walks, where before rehearsals they would each compliment members of their teams. They did fun runs, where they would practice the play but in a fun way. Like everyone had to do the their dialogue with a twangy accent or with a funny walk. They’re still practicing their lines and blocking, but it’s fun and breaks up the monotony of a straight run through.

The morning of the actual competition that cast and crew met together at a local restaurant for breakfast. They didn’t go over last minute notes or rehearse their lines, they just talked to one another as human beings who were bonded over this shared project that meant a lot to them.

As a mom and a librarian who has been both an employee and a manager, I was really impressed to see how these teens seem to understand the necessity for and importance of team building. I’ve working in libraries who failed miserably at this concept and could have learned a lot from these teens. And it made a difference, I feel like these kids will have this shared, positive experience for a lifetime. It’s also interesting to note that all 4 of the cast members got awards for their performance, including The Teen who won best actress, and the play as a whole took the first place prize for this event. I can’t help but think that the team building that went on behind the scenes is just as important to their success as the rehearsals that went into this production.

And I’m not here to suggest that these are the only ways to do team building. For one, in a paid employee environment, it is wrong and in many states illegal to ask staff to do any unpaid work for their job. So team building in a professional work environment should be done on the clock, which doesn’t mean it has to be in the building or sterile. But as we go into 2020, I think we should all be thinking more about how to build our teams, how to improve morale, and how to make our work places a place where our staff feel cared for, motivated, and successful.

Here’s what I learned about Team Building from these teens:

  1. It is intentional
  2. It balances constructive feedback with compliments and affirmations
  3. It allows for fun and positive experiences
  4. It encourages a deeper understanding of not just the how but the why; the meaning and significance of a project is explored
  5. It promotes positive feelings among the team for each other and the project they are working on

Sometimes, adults can learn a lot from teens.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Hosting a Starfinder RPG, an interview with Nicholas Vidmar

We’re kicking off the new year with a fresh installment of Cindy Crushes Programming. Today YA librarian Cindy Shutts interviews adult librarian Nicholas Vidmar. Together, the two of them host a successful Starfinder program at White Oak Library. Starfinder is a role playing game (rpg) similar to Dungeons and Dragons, but with a more science fiction setting.

Background: At the White Oak Library in Romeoville we have been running an RPG (Role-Playing Game) called Starfinder. I help run this program with Nicholas Vidmar who is an adult services librarian. He takes the role of GM (Game Master) and runs the game. I help out by making the connections with our teens and bringing them to the table and I also play during the game to help make sure we can finish a scenario. Nicolas plays a variety of RPG games. He paints his own figures. We are lucky to have him because he brings a lot of his own materials to make the game run smoothly. Starfinder is a great RPG game, if you have played Dungeons and Dragons and are looking for something new.  Nicholas calls it Guardians of the Galaxy D and D.  I interviewed Nicholas about Starfinder and how librarians can add it to their programming. 

Starfinder Interview:

How long have you been playing role playing games and what are some of your favorites?

Nicholas: I was introduced to TTRPGS (Tabletop Role Playing Game Systems) about 5 years ago. There was a struggle getting into it as I played my first game in (Dungeons &  Dragon v3.5) for two very rough sessions then did not touch the genre for 6 months before I got invited to a 5th edition game that died after 3 sessions. Then I started GMing to keep games alive and have been running weekly games since. I have the most time put into 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, but since Starfinder’s release two years ago it has rapidly become my favorite. Aside from these two I also play/run Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Dark Heresy, Zweihander, and the occasional game of Kobolds Ate My Baby.

What supplies do you need for a Starfinder program at your library? About how much does the program cost?

Nicholas: This can vary greatly. If you run absolute basics, you can have everything for up to 10 players for about $20 plus some printing costs. The basics consist of a set of 7 dice per player (d20, d12,d10,d10,d8,d6,d4), a character sheet (free online), writing implement, and the rule book. Pathfinder and Starfinder stand apart from many TTRPGS because the whole ruleset, not just basic rules, is available free online because of an open game license. If you were to buy the books, still something I would recommend, they each run between $40-$60. Though a one-time investment, this cost does make TTRPGS more cost prohibitive. To move up from basics, the next recommended items are a GM screen and a battle mat. The screen gives the GM quick reference and hides his/her notes and rolls from the players. A battle mat is a one inch grid set on the table to help players visualize combat. Starfinder is unusual in that it requires both a square and hex grid. The cheapest mat is a roll of wrapping paper, many have a grid printed on the back. Once you have a mat, then you can get into minis, the most expensive and superfluous part of the game. Most of these resources are good for many games, so there are no ongoing costs except new character sheets.

How long is set up and what does it entail?

Nicholas: So TTRPGS have two layers of set up: pre game, and at the table. Before the game: characters need to be made, the rules learned, and an adventure planned. How long these take depend on the division of labor and type of GM. Players can make their own characters, or leave it to the GM if they find the rules confusing. It takes about an hour to make a fully fleshed out and kitted supplied character. Pregenerated characters are also available for certain levels. For Starfinder there are about 50 pages of tactical rules and supplements on other aspects of the game. Having a general knowledge of this content is important to keep the game running, but you can also reference the rules midgame. Lastly there is the process of planning the adventure. This can be extremely meticulous if you need to know every possible outcome of potential player actions, or a non-existent step if the GM is comfortable winging it. Generally it is agreed that a middle ground of an adventure framework with flexibility to accommodate crazy player choices is the best option. At the table the GM needs to set up the battle mat and the resources they need to run the planned game. Printed out stat blocks, minis, dice, GM screen, etc. Players just show up and get out their character sheet, dice, and a mini if they have one. Usually this takes 15-20 minutes.

What types of storylines are in Starfinder?

Nicholas: Starfinder is a Science Fantasy setting so you have aliens, spaceships and laser weapons alongside Elves and magic. This allows for a huge variety of adventures. You can go from starship combat to raiding an ancient temple on a forgotten world, to navigating the servers of a corrupt corporation to bring them to light. I personally fancy the derelict space drift where something went wrong; a little mystery, and little horror, sometimes an ethical dilemma, and often some really abominable creatures. It can also be as light hearted as playing a bunch of friendly furballs trying to make sure their boss is safe, if that sounds fun go play Skittershot, a fantastic introductory adventure published by Paizo.

What is the difference between Starfinder and Dungeons and Dragons?

Nicholas: The setting is different. It is a different world in a different time. D&D is high/epic fantasy while Starfinder is science fantasy. Overlap does exist, 5th edition has aliens, looking at you Froghemoth, and Starfinder has fantasy races. Still the focus on technology is a significant difference. Classes and mechanics are even further apart. There are minor parallels like Envoy to Bard and Solider to Fighter, but otherwise classes are entirely apart. It is a preference of flavor here. Starfinder is more mechanically complex than 5th edition, more actions have rules supporting them. They are both still d20 systems and so have inescapable parallels, but how the numbers get modified varies. 5th edition uses rerolls while Starfinder uses numeric modifiers, yes that means more math.

How did they teens like Starfinder?

Nicholas: Many loved the setting and possible character concepts, like a psionic psychedelic space walrus named Phoomph Debloomp. There was a great deal of excitement over getting to fly a starship. The teens were split on the increased complexity. Some thought it was awesome to see so many factors making them powerful, but others felt limited because they could not roll to win. Not every system is for every player, but there is an RPG for everyone.

What is your favorite part of Starfinder?

Nicholas: The setting has me hooked, and starship combat is a treat.

What would you like librarians who are trying new RPG systems to know?

Nicholas: It is a front loaded endeavor; the prep work to start is heavy. This means that one off programs are a poor choice if you are running in house. If the program is recurring it is fantastic because the cost and effort drop to very minimal levels. Eventually, players can take up the reigns and the program can become self-sustaining. It can also buff circs as the rule books are easy recommendations coming off the game. I will also caution others of the Chaotic Stupid archetype that is rampant among new players. TTRPGS are cooperative, but often new players want to be evil for the sake of evil. This is very bad for the health of the table and can quickly kill the interest of other good players and then kill the program.

What are your final thoughts on Starfinder as a whole?

Nicholas: Starfinder is great for its fun guardians of the galaxy style, colorful setting, and mid-range mechanical depth. It may not be the best system to introduce players to TTRPGS due to this depth, but the crunch will appeal to some players. There are plenty of unique aspects to get hooked on while playing.

TTRPGS have an immense breadth and while Starfinder is my personal favorite, I will always say to look beyond and see what else is out there. There are so many iterations that it may take a bit to find one that resonates with you and your patrons.

See Also: So You Want to Play Dungeons and Dragons in Your Library

The 2020 Project: Thinking About Serving Tweens and Teens with Disabilities in Our Libraries

Each year here at TLT, beginning in 2014, we’ve had an over arching theme for the year in which we take a deep dive into an issue that affects the lives of our teens and we consider what it means for us as librarians, how to best serve our teens, and explore the representation of that issue in MG and YA Lit. This year we are going to be discussing disabilities in the lives of tweens and teens, what it means for us as librarians who serve them, and what that representation looks like in the literature.

Although every member of TLT deals with disability in some form or another, we are by no means experts in this topic which is why we always host this as a large, group discussion in which we ask you to participate, sharing your knowledge and experience with us as we share ours with you.

You can see all the previous years of projects here

In 2015, fellow librarian Cory Eckert gave me a gift. I was invited by her and a few other amazing librarians to talk on a panel about diversity at TLA. The day of our presentation I looked to me left and to my right and asked Cory, why did you ask me – a white, cisgender Christian middle age woman, the very stereotype and overwhelming majority of librarianship – to be on this panel? She looked at me and said, well, because you have a disability you’ve been very open about discussing and we wanted to have that representation as well on this panel. I am here to tell you that moment was a gift and a revelation. I struggle with both a chronic illness in the form of hypothyroidism and mental health issues, depression and anxiety, which are made worse since developing hypothyroidism. Having it acknowledged that this impacted my daily life felt like a burden lifted off of me.

In the years since, it has become evident that both of my daughters struggle with their own anxiety issues. In addition, Thing 2, my youngest, has been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, which can make life very challenging for her. I know that I will talking a lot in the coming year about dyslexia, though you can see my posts from October here.

This past year, after a couple of years of very real health issues, doctors finally told us that The Mr. also has a chronic health issue that will effect him for the remainder of his life. They are still searching for a name to put with that health issue but we have been living with it for a while now. We recently sat down with our daughters and talked with them about what it meant for their dad to have a chronic illness and how we would have to work together as a family to communicate about our feelings and how we would have to work on being understanding with one another.

At the most basic level, a disability is defined as “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities ” – Google Dictionary. Disabilities can be both seen and unseen, which means you never know if the person that is standing before you is struggling with a disability or not. In my 26+ years of librarianship, I have heard very little discussion about best practices when it comes to working with our patrons that have a disability. It seems that most libraries do the bare minimum, which is try and maintain three feet of clearance for wheelchair access and if we’re being honest, some of us aren’t even doing that very well.

Our goal in the next year is to talk about disability in general, to talk about specific types of disabilities and how libraries can better serve patrons living with those disabilities, and to look specifically at disability representation in MG and YA literature. We are certainly not the first or only people doing this work, there are lots of great resources and blogs out there and we will be referring to them over the course of the next year. And we hope that you will choose to join in the conversation by writing a guest post, putting together a book list, or sharing your own favorite programs or resources.

If you would like to participate a little or a lot, email me (kjensenmls@yahoo), Amanda MacGregor (amanda.macgregor@gmail) or Robin Willis (robinkwillis@gmail). We would love to work with you to raise awareness, break down stereotypes and stigmas, and learn more about how libraries can better serve patrons with disabilities.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Reads: Karen Jensen’s Best Books of 2019

Earlier this month Amanda Mac Gregor shared her favorites of 2019, and today I’m going to share mine with you – mostly. As I am a first round Cybils panelist for this year in the speculative fiction category, I am not going to share my opinion on any speculative fiction YA titles with you at right this moment. So here’s a look at my favorite reads of 2019 sans YA Speculative Fiction.

Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

Heroine is the tale of a teen female athlete who has a terrible car accident. Over the course of her healing she becomes addicted to pain killers which eventually leads to a Heroine addiction. This book mirrors the very real opioid crisis we are experiencing here in the United States. McGinnis lives in Ohio, a state that is profoundly impacted by the opioid crisis, and she writes a realistic and compelling tale about this very real crisis with such vivid detail in part because she is living in a community so greatly impacted by it. Heroine is raw, real, poignant and cuts to the bone.

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

Mysteries are really popular right now with teen readers and this is one of my favorite series. The characters are fun, fully fleshed out and represent a lot of different personality traits. The main character is a teen girl struggling with anxiety and trying to solve an age old historical crime at a boarding school when a new crime occurs. Now, she’s got two crimes to solve, one in the past and one in the present. The friendships are meaningful, the setting is interesting, and the mysteries are complex. There is a bit of modern day politics woven into the story. This book brought The Westing Game to mind in many ways, which is high praise indeed. Start with book 1, Truly Devious, and stay until the thrilling conclusion The Hand on the Wall that comes out in early 2020. This series is so popular with so many of the teens I know, including the one I’m raising.

Spin by Lamar Giles

This is another mystery that weaves together the world of hip hop music, computer hacking and app development, and fandom. When an up and coming teen hip hop artist is murdered, her former best friend is the main suspect. She must join forces with someone she resents to clear her name and find out who really committed the crime. In addition to being a compelling mystery, I loved the way this book looked at what it means to be a female and highlighted the complexities of female friendships. Also, it gets bonus points for featuring a female hacker and app developer. I have a soft spot for YA books that highlight girls in STEM fields.

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Written entirely in verse, Shout is a memoir by YA author Laurie Halse Anderson that looks at her early life and then at her adult life as she travels the country talking with teens about the book Speak. Anderson is a survivor of sexual violence who has dedicated her life and work to not only writing amazing YA fiction, but to helping to raise awareness about sexual violence and the importance of consent education. This book makes you angry, moves you to tears, and then asks you to change the world. Every member of my family has read this book and cried. We’ve talked about it time and time again. It is hands down one of the most important books written in 2019.

Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan

What happens the summer after you graduate high school while you are waiting for the next stage of your life to begin? For many teens living in a small town, the only thing you want is to escape and college is often your only ticket out of town. In this mystery, a group of teens regroup to dig up a time capsule they swore to revisit after graduating. However, one of their group is missing, having been murdered the year before. When they dig up the capsule they also dig up a ton of secrets, about themselves and the small town that they live in. Friendships are tested, truths are faced, and nothing and no one is what they thought they were. This book gets bonus points because it’s one of the few mysteries I’ve read in a while that kept me guessing until the end.

Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz

This is the story of two teens with chronic health issues falling and staying in love. It’s a moving story that demonstrates that a story can contain disability representation without killing off the main characters and it shows what happens after you fall in love. Maintaining a relationship is challenging and could make for a boring story, but it really doesn’t. It’s a moving book with a lot of satisfying emotional moments.

Guts by Raina Telgemeier

I am not normally a fan of graphic novels, though they are starting to grow on me. This doesn’t mean I don’t think graphic are real books, because they are and I do. I have just struggled with them personally as a reader. However, when discussing graphic novels with my child who has dyslexia I have come to understand better how to read them and what the appeal factors are. Guts tackles childhood anxiety, which is a growing issue in today’s world. I am a person with anxiety raising children with anxiety, so this book was meaningful to us on a personal level. I also gave this book to a friend raising a tween who has anxiety and she’s read it 100s of times. It’s not just a good book, it’s an important book that has helped a lot of tweens and teens recognize and share their struggles with anxiety with the people who love them most. I so appreciate what this book is doing for our youth.

After the Cybils shortlist is released, I’ll share some of my favorite speculative fiction reads of 2019.