Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Teen Services 101: So You Want to Do Teen Programming, but What About the Books?

On Monday as part of our ongoing Teen Services 101 discussion we talked specifically about teen programming in public libraries and I said something kind of controversial: It’s hard to host a successful teen book discussion group/club in a public library. Note I didn’t say it’s impossible, but I did say it was hard and I stand by that statement. But there are a lot of ways that you can tie reading and literature into programming and today I’m going to share a few of my favorites.

Popular Book/Book Character Events

I’m old enough to remember when Harry Potter parties were the biggest game in town. I’ve also hosted Rick Riordan inspired Olympians camps, Hunger Games events, and Divergent programs, just to name a few. When The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was big we literally sent a pair of blue jeans around to all the branches and had teens sign them. An Alice in Wonderland inspired mad hatter tea party is a blast! There are so many ways that you can tie books in with programming.

An Alice in Wonderland quote put into a graphic and made into a t-shirt. I told you, I’ve made a lot of t-shirts for teen programs. I did not, for the record, design this graphic.

You can find tie-in events to go with any book. Does the main character do photoraphy? Have a photo making event or paint photo frames. Does the main character sing? Have a karoake party. Take, for example, the graphic novel The Cardboard Kingdom. The title alone is a great event, just have tweens and teens create mini-kingdoms out of cardboard or have them make cardboard armor. You can use MakeDo kits to help make this happen. Find things within the book to inspire activities for your book based events.

A teen models a cardboard helmet made by Morgan, TMS Assistant at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County

If you’re feeling uninspired, you can go by the standby of trivia and viewing parties (as long as you have a public performance license). Or use the elements of the book to create your own Escape Room.

Book Inspired Crafts

I like to tie reading and the YA collection to various craft activities. For example, I’m a big fan of digital media and I have taught teens how to create their own memes and put their favorite quotes on them. I’ve also challenged teens to turn their photos into their own interpretations of their favorite book covers. You can do a lot with a smart phone and a few apps.

Almost any craft activity can be book themed if you add a quote or an image that represents a book.

Just a few of the various book related crafts you can do:

  • Put your favorite quote on a meme using digital media
  • Put your favorite book quote on a blank canvas
  • Make a triptych to describe your favorite book by taking a series of 3 pictures that represent the book
  • Use digital media to make book trading cards
  • Use stop motion or video creation software to create your own book trailers
  • Put your favorite book quote on a book tote or t-shirt
  • Make postcards inspired by your favorite books
  • Make a specific book themed photo booth. For example, you can make Harry Potter props for a Harry Potter themed photo booth
  • Or make a Book Face photo booth

Making Mini Books

There are tons of great books out there that teach you how to make your own mini books and journals. These make for fun programs that get teens thinking about books and writing. Again, you can use digital media or some other art form to put your favorite book inspired quotes on the cover.

Other Things You Can Do:

The Penguin Random House Post it Note book wall at BEA 2019
  • Make space on the wall for teens to share book recommendations via Post It Notes
  • Book spine poetry
  • Black out poetry
  • Turn book covers and graphic novel pages into buttons with a button maker
  • Use a comic book app or blank comic book pages and graphic novel panels to have teens create their own comics and graphic novels
  • Want to promote historical fiction? Host a retro party with retro crafts, games and activities. Books set in the 1980s are now historical fiction, so have fun with that!
  • Want to promote fantasy? Dragon crafts, fairy gardens and DIY crowns are just a few of the activities that you can do
  • Want to promote science fiction? Galaxy slime, galaxy jars and DIY lava lamps are just a few of the activities that you can do

There are over 100 teen programs outlined here at TLT and many of them can easily be given a book related spin. You can also browse through the Teen Programming tag to find ideas. Pinterest and other librarian blogs can also be your friend. I have a regular routine with a variety of blogs and library websites I check periodically to see what everyone else is doing.

When promoting your programs, be sure to put up a display of If You Liked, Try . . . book that go along with your theme. That’s another great way to tie books and reading into programming.

The truth is, every program we do can be tied in with books in some way and can be used to promote our collections and to help cultivate a lifelong interest in books and reading. Programming doesn’t have to be book clubs and discussions to be literary and promote reading. There is nothing wrong with book clubs and discussions, but we need a variety of programming to get a variety of people to engage with our collections. Programming doesn’t take away from our collections and it doesn’t prevent us from creating a book centered culture, it gets our patrons in the doors and reminds them that we have books that can be read and explored in a variety of ways.

I know you all have more great programming ideas that are book related, so please share with us in the comments. Link to any posts you’ve done, share your Pinterest boards, etc.

Teen Services 101

I’m just getting started, what do I need to be successful?

Foundations: Understanding Teens Today

What Do Teens Want from Libraries Today?

The Challenges and Rewards of Serving Teens Today

What Do We Know About Teen Programming

Teen Services 101: What Do We Know About Teen Programming?

Today I am ready to resume our Teen Services 101 discussion (I’ll put all the previous posts at the end of this one) by talking about Teen Programming. Programming, as you know, is an important part of teen services. Here we discuss some of our thoughts regarding teen programming. I am specifically going to share with you some things that we – and here by we I mean teen librarians who answered an online survey – have found to be true of teen programming likes and dislikes. Specifically, in broad categories, I’m going to share with you what is often most successful and what is often least successful when it comes to teen programming in public libraries. Please keep in mind that there are always outliers and exceptions, but as a general rule, this is what we find tends to work or not with teens and programming.

How this data was collated: 1) Around 50 teen/YA librarians responded to a very informal poll and discussion about what has worked or not worked for them regarding teen programming, 2) this list was then vetted by 10 of my closest peers and respected YA/teen services librarians, and 3) this has been proven true time and time again in my 26 years of working with teens. It’s a curated list of best practices presented to you with the knowledge that as with all things, it’s not a hard and fast rule, but it is a good reference point.

Things that typically prove successful with teens and programming

Programs that offer opportunities for self-expression

There is a reason that I know 22 different ways to make a t-shirt: t-shirts are a great way to get teens engaged with making and programming while also giving them an opportunity for self expression. Poetry, journals, digital media, etc – these are all programs that have been successful for me time and time again. Teens are going through a tremendous amount of identity exploration and they seem to enjoy creative opportunities where they can embrace and express who they are.

The Teen making a T-shirt bag in the Teen MakerSpace

Popular culture tie-ins

Some of my most popular and well attended programs have been Harry Potter, Doctor Who and Sherlock related. The trick is you have to pay attention to what your teens are into and strike while the iron is hot. Sometimes this means putting together a quick, last minute program. Cindy Shutts recently shared a WWE program that she did with her teens, something that would not have occurred to me but demonstrates the value of knowing your teens and responding to their interests in a timely manner. Take a few moments each day to talk with your teens, discover what they love, and tie your programming into these things. This simple act communicates respect and value while inviting your teens to have fun with you in the library.

Escape rooms

Escape rooms are fun ways to get teens into the library to work together as teams and engage in creatively problem solving while having fun. I find these to be slightly similar to interactive murder mysteries, which I have also successfully hosted in the past. There is something fun about solving puzzles, following a trail of clues, and trying to escape a room or solve a mystery.

Maker programs

You do not have to have a dedicated makerspace to host a maker program. In fact, a large amount of teen program has always been maker related. Crafting, DIY – it’s all a maker program and they are popular for a reason. The best part about maker programs is that teens usually have something to take home with them. Also, they are another way to get teens engaged in creative self-expression as mentioned above.

Craft programs

See above. Crafting is making – and it is popular. A bulk of my programming over the past 26 has involved crafting or marking of some type in large part because that is what has always been the most attended type of programming for me. Also, most people like having something fun to take home.

Gaming (tabletop and electronic)

Gaming of any variety has always been fun and popular with teens. It’s not necessarily quiet, so chose your space and time accordingly. There is a ton of research out there about the various benefits of both types of gaming and I urge you to look into it if you need to make a defense to admin about why gaming should be a part of your teen programming.

Trivia events

I love a good trivia night! Stump the librarian, popular culture trivia nights, general trivia nights – there are a lot of ways you can incoporate trivia events into your teen programming. They can be an event in and of themselve or a part of a wider themed event. For example, most Harry Potter programs usually have a trivia component to them. I highly recommend hosting trivia events with your teens.

Life size games

I was turned on to life size games when Heather Booth blogged here about Life Size Angry Birds. I repeated that program multiple times while the game was popular and it is a lot of fun. I have seen various posts about life size chess, Candy Land, Hungry Hungry Hippos and more. These games are fun because they make something little quite big and tap into childhood nostalgia.

Childhood nostalgia

When one of my previous makerspace assistants suggested that we put a perler bead station in the makerspace, I argued that it was too juvenile for teens. I was proven wrong. Time and time again my teens remind me that as they sit on the cusp between childhood and adulthood, they often like to do things that are childlike or remind them of their childhood. Sometimes teens just want a moment to dive back into the carefree moments of their childhood.


I have mixed feelings about food and programming. One in twelve people has a food allergy, some of them life threatening, and my child is one of them. I hate the way everything in our world is food based as it can exclude a lot of people. At the same time, I know that 1 in 5 children goes to bed hungry so having food at a program, even in a fun way, can be a great way to help address this situation. And food based programming is fun and popular. Cupcake Wars like events have proven popular for me, for example. What I would recommend here is to be mindful of food allergies – know what the top 8 food allergens are – and make sure and provide a variety of options so that participants can partake safely. You’ll want to make sure your advertising makes it clear that food will be present and keep all packaging so participants can look at the ingredients listings if necessary. Also, because of the prevalence of deadly peanut allergies, I highly recommend not having any peanuts or peanut butter. You’ll also want to be aware of what the food handling laws in your immediate area are before introducing food at your library.

Things that typically prove unsuccessful with teens and programming in public libraries

So what doesn’t work as well when it comes to teens and library programming? Well, we’re going to talk about that. And I’m sorry to say, I’m going to have a moment of heresy here.

Teen book clubs in public libraries (more successful in school libraries)

I feel like this is heresy to say, but in my experience it is very hard to host a successful teen book club in a public library. It’s not impossible, I know, for example, that Amanda MacGregor has hosted a successful book club both in the public and now in the school library. I have tried and failed to start three book clubs at three different locations. I know only a handful of public librarians that have led successful book clubs in a public library setting. Many respondents to my survey have also indicated that they too have been unsuccessful at book discussion clubs/groups. Those that are successful indicated that they partnered with the local school and did it on the school grounds and teachers offered extra credit for participating. Like I said, your mileage may vary, but I definitely wouldn’t start with this if you are trying to start putting together some teen programming.

So what about the books? We’re going to talk more on Wednesday about how to tie books and reading into our teen programming in creative ways.

Information sessions/lecture type programs

Again, there are always exceptions here, but on the whole, teens seem the least interested in attending information sessions or lecture type programs. I know that Heather Booth has hosted some well attended career panels, proving that this is not a hard and fast rule. Irving Public Library hosts author panel discussions that have well over 100 teens in attendance. But over the course of 26 years, my least attended programs have always been something that was more education based.

Things without a lot of personal choices involved

I have also found that the more personal choice a teen has, the more successful a teen program will be. For example, if you are going to host a craft program, consider offering a choice of five programs instead of one so that a teen can choose what they do within that time and space. Having some stations as opposed to one activity chosen and dictated by an adult seems to have more teen appeal. Whenever you can in whatever way you can, open up your teen programming to allow teens to make more personal choices within that time and space. We all like restaurants that have more on the menu as opposed to less, so think of programming in the same way.

Things that feel too much like more hours in school

The number one response I got when I asked my fellow teen/YA librarians about teen programming was this: it can’t be anything like school. By the time our teens come into the public library, they have already spent eight hours in school and the last thing they want is to be involved in anything that resembles school. I’m not saying here that programming can’t, isn’t or shouldn’t be educational, what I am saying is that it should help teens achieve educational goals in fun ways. But also, keep in mind, teens deserve recreational opportunities and downtime just as much as any other group.

And there you have it, a brief overview of what overwhelmingly tends to work and not work when it comes to teen programming in public libraries. As I mentioned in my introduction, there are always exceptions. These are not hard and fast rules, they are more here’s what we know and think based on experience and current best practices. Your mileage may vary and you should definitely do what works best for your patrons.

What tips, tricks, stories and experiences do you have to share with us? Please comment below and share your thoughts.

Teen Services 101

I’m just getting started, what do I need to be successful?

Foundations: Understanding Teens Today

What Do Teens Want from Libraries Today?

The Challenges and Rewards of Serving Teens Today

Sunday Reflections: I Could Not Stop for Death, on the emotional labor of teen librarianship


Several Sundays ago, a teenage boy died in the house next door to me. I did not know him personally, but I experienced his death the way I have experienced far too much teenage death – through the eyes of the teens that knew and loved him.

The first time I experienced the death of a teenager as a teen librarian, I opened the door for my after school program as teen after teen trickled in. That day, everything about them was different. There were teen stained faces. Bodies wracked with barely hidden sobs. A more hushed atmosphere, a subdued existence that let me know that something was going wrong. I would soon learn that the night before one of my own died in a car accident. That was the day that everything changed for me as a teen librarian.

Though this was my first experience with the death of one of my teenagers, it would not be the last. Accidents. Illness. Suicide. Violence. I have sat with teens as they have mourned one of their own. Sometimes I have known the teen, sometimes I have not. Each time I sat and experienced first hand the brutal truths of this world. Each time was a new dagger piercing my heart.

When I entered into librarianship, no one spoke to me about death. No one made sure I was prepared to sit with a group of teens and mourn the loss of a friend, a peer. No one told me to prepare for the moment when I would learn that one of my own teens that I had spent years investing in personally would just one day not show up and I would hear from others of their passing. No one speaks of death until it is too late.

There’s a lot of emotional work in librarianship that no one prepares you for. I have talked to complete strangers who have just received a death sentence diagnosis. I have combed through public records only to tell someone that the person they are searching for – perhaps an old family member or long lost high school sweetheart – appears to have passed away. I have directed women with bruised faces to the nearest domestic violence shelter. I have tried to help homeless people try and find a hot meal and place to get out of a blizzard. Every librarian could tell you story after story after story of the pain they have seen and had to sit with.

I am exhausted. I am tired of listening to my teens talk about hunger or watching them try to fix broken glasses because they can’t afford new ones. I’m tired of my teens talk to me about the abuse they have received at home, the bullying they have experienced at school. Don’t get me wrong, when I say I’m tired I don’t mean I’m tired of them, my teens. No, that’s not what I’m tired of. I’m tired that my teens have a reason to have these conversations with me. I’m tired of it happening again and again and again.

We, the adults of this world, are failing our youth in so many ways. And they are dying, sometimes figuratively and far too often literally. We are failing our children. There are adults out there trying to pick up the pieces, trying to carry the load, trying to heal the damage, but it feels like we are far and few between. And some days, we are tired.

Our kids are hungry.

Our kids are hurting.

Our kids are scared.

Our kids are searching.

Our kids are angry.

Our kids are failing.

Our kids are trying.

Our kids are begging us to do better.

I’m tired of hearing about dead teenagers, so let’s answer their call. We have to do better, be better. That’s it, that’s all I have today: do what you can to make the world a better place because I’m tired of dead teenagers.

DIY A Universe of Space Art

Regular TLT readers may recall that I have a space obsessed Tween so we are loving this year’s summer reading theme. It’s like the perfect present was handed to me on a platter in terms of arts and crafts. I do a lot of my program and craft trial runs at home and with this year’s theme I got the perfect assistant. Today I’m going to share with you five projects that fit right into this year’s A Universe of Stories theme, all of which can be modified in various ways to be done as a tween/teen program or in a makerspace.

Project 1: DIY Galaxy Painting

Thing 2 actually did this painting entirely by herself. She saw a YouTube video and knew that she wanted to do this. She found a canvas in the garage and asked if she could have it. She then watched a YouTube video, busted out the paints and turned the canvas into her own galaxy painting. Again, I think it is important to understand that this 10-year-old did this entirely on her own, that’s how easy this is. She proudly hangs it in her space themed room.

You can find a step by step tutorial here:

Project 2: Vinyl on Canvas

I have a Silhouette Cameo at home (and had one in my previous Teen MakerSpace), which I use primarily for making t-shirts. However, you can also use vinyl on canvas to make canvas art. Here we spray painted a canvas a solid cover and let it dry. I then made my image on my Cameo and used transfer tape to place it on the canvas. It’s a pretty simple design, but it’s exactly what she wanted.

Here’s a short YouTube tutorial on applying vinyl to a canvas:

Project 3: Stencil Painting on Canvas

The Mr. is an artist so he hand drew a stencil using painters tape to make the canvas you see below. You can also use a Silhouette Cameo to make a stencil. Your first step is to paint the background color of your canvas. You then lay your stencil on the dry canvas and add an additional layer of paint. Let it dry a bit and then remove your stencil.

To make the picture below, he painted the canvas gold. He then applied the stencil and painted the black parts. With the stencil still in place, he then splattered white paint over the black to make it look like stars. You can do this either as a stencil or a reverse stencil, either way works. There are some good DIY instructions here.

Remember, although a vinyl cutter helps, you can make your own stencils using just a computer and a printer (see the YouTube video below) or free hand drawing on contact paper.

Project 4: Digital Media 1

Last week, I shared with you some tools that you can use to make out of this world digital media photos. This photo comes from that post. I am in the process of transferring this photo onto canvas using this method.

Project 5: Digital Media 2, Framed Collage

Using the same digital media hacks mentioned directly above, I made Thing 2 a series of space themed photos with inspirational quotes. I then used my Instax Square printer to print four of the pictures off, which I framed. I used galaxy themed scrapbook paper in the background to bring all the photos together. Please note, you can print photos using most printers, you don’t need an Instax Square printer, I just happen to currently be obsessed with instant photography.

We have loved each and every one of these projects and I highly recommend them. Although I did these at home, I have done versions of them in library programs or in my Teen MakerSpace. The ones with paint take a little bit more time as you need to allow layers to dry a bit, but every project was done within an hour or two and then allowed to dry over night.

DIY Galaxy Rocks

For today’s episode of Cindy Crushes Programming, Cindy Shutts is going to walk us through creating our own galaxy rocks – a perfect activity for this year’s A Universe of Stories summer reading theme.

Our Summer Reading Program began at out library last week and our theme is “Read Under the Stars.” I wanted a space themed program for this week and I have always wanted to make Galaxy Rocks, so we did. Here’s a tutorial on how create your own galaxy rocks.


  • Rocks
  • Glitter Paint
  • Metallic Paint
  • Black Acrylic Paint

Step One:

Get a rock and paint it black and let it dry for about 10 minutes. Rocks dry faster than a lot of other materials.

Step Two:

Paint with the metallic paints next. There are two methods you can do one is do dots with different metallic paints or just paint with one metallic color. I liked the effect of one metallic color better but it really depends on what the teens or you want their rock to look like.

Step Three:

I used multiple types of glitter paint with a lot of layers. I try to let it dry a little before adding the next layer.

Step Four :

Let rock dry. I recommend having a paper plate for the teens to take the rocks home.

Final Thoughts: I loved this craft and the teens who came loved it too. I had low attendance but realized it was scheduled on the 8th grade graduation of both of the local middle schools, which made sense. It’s an important reminder that scheduling is everything.

Here’s a DIY tutorial on YouTube that you may find interesting:

Take 5: Things I Learned at Book Expo America 2019

This past week I was very fortunate in that my library sent me to Book Expo America to learn about upcoming releases (thank you Fort Worth Public Library!) It was my first time going to BEA and there was a lot of information to take in and lots of new upcoming titles to learn about. Here are a few of the things that I learned.

Graphic Novels are HOT!

Meg Cabot and Kami Garcia on the DC Panel at BEA 2019

In the past at both TLA and ALA, there is a graphic novel/comic book alley which is kind of separate from the main publishing aisles but that was not the case at BEA. Graphic Novels were front and center and if I had to estimate, I would say it is a good solid 1/5 of upcoming publishing. Many well established YA authors, like Meg Cabot and Kami Garcia, are jumping into the graphic novel fray with DC Comics. Several publishers are launching graphic novel lines. And the one book I wanted to get to take home to my kids was – you guessed it – a graphic novel. I got the book, by the way, and got to be the hero. In fact, Thing 2 has, who you may recall has had a difficult time with reading, sat right down and read it once I put the coveted item into her hands.

Middle Grade is also HOT!

Middle Grade panel at BEA 2019

Though I do believe a lot of the YA was saved until BookCon, which I did not attend, there was a noticeable amount of Middle Grade being offered at BEA. I have been noticing the growth in the distribution and marketing of MG for quite some time now. Booklist recently had a special MG issue and School Library Journal recently hosted the Middle Grade Magic all day webinar, similar to its annual Summer Teen event. Like with graphic novels, you also see a lot of YA authors diving into the middle grade market. There are a lot of great middle grade titles coming our way and I can’t wait to read them.

Is Young Adult publishing on the downward slope of a high peak?

Popular YA author Leigh Bardugo makes her adult debut with Ninth House

As someone who has been a YA librarian for a while now, I can’t help but notice that there seems to be a slow down of the YA publishing market after a couple of decades of real growth. I believe in housing they call this a bubble and it’s possible that the bubble has burst. Some signs of this include the fact that a lot of YA authors are moving into the adult, middle grade and graphic novel markets. There were some hot properties by established YA authors up for grabs, but there are a lot of new names on the horizon and it’s been a while since a title or series has really taken hold of the public interest globally like vampire and dystopian properties did just a decade ago. Certainly The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and a few other titles have hit hot and have had some staying power, but overall YA feels like it’s trying to find its footing again right now while publishers take a deep dive into middle grade. It’s also interesting to note that a lot of what’s being published as older middle grade right now would have been younger YA just a few years ago.

Publishers are slowly but surely starting to really diversify

Author Rick Riordan uses his publishing line Rick Riordan Presents to promote diverse authors with a middle grade emphasis

With the creation of initiatives like We Need Diverse Books and the hard, dedicated work of a wide variety of people calling for representation, this year’s upcoming titles appear to be some of the most diverse and inclusive titles I have seen in my 26 years of buying books for libraries. I saw a lot of titles with LGBTQIA+ and POC representation and I’m very excited for what I can buy for my patrons this upcoming year.

Libraries can learn a lot about marketing from BEA

The moment you walk into BEA you are hit from floor to ceiling with book culture. It’s an exciting energy that is all about books. There are large banners everywhere. There are visual displays everywhere. It’s a pretty amazing experience that can’t help but get you excited about books.

I know that we don’t have the money to recreate what I saw at BEA, but I’m here to tell you that we should do everything we can to highlight books in this way and just really create this exciting, inviting book culture in our libraries. Take a look at this Penguin wall:

It’s just a question and some post-it notes but it was powerful and impactful. Throughout BEA you could stop by anytime and see several people scouring the wall and adding their own voice. Here’s mine:

Now that I’ve shared with you some of my takeaways from BEA 2019, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of books to go order.

Digital Media: A Remix Tutorial – How an Old Photo Becomes Something New

So this week we’ve been talking about using digital media apps to remix photos. Regular readers know that I am a big fan. I used to want to be a photographer growing up, but we never had the money for good equipment and I will never know if I have any talent or skills. But now I have a smart phone and a variety of apps and I loved to create using my device. Over the years I have shared with you a variety of apps and today I’m going to take you through a walk through. Doing digital media with teens in the teen makerspace is one of my favorite activities and the teens like creating amazing images to share on their Instagram. I also use my designs to make posters for displays and to share right here on TLT.

See the background of the painting in the picture below? We’re going to turn it into something completely different. The take away here is that you can turn anything A into something completely different and amazing B. As The Teen was painting this picture, I really liked the background so I took a picture of it before she added the trees. I’m constantly taking random photos because you never know when you can use it and turn it into something different. That’s trick 1: take a lot of photos, even of the most random things, because you never know what they can become.

So here’s the picture of the background, which is our starting point.

I then uploaded this photo into the Hipstamatic camera app. This app has a steep cost to it but it has a lot of elements that I like. One of my favorite effects is the Shanghai photo effect, which I used here.

After saving my first remix, I then uploaded this image into the Word Swag app. This is one of my favorite text and font apps, but I don’t like the filters and such. I used Word Swag for text and text only, but your mileage may vary. A little cropping, a little text and viola . . . I created this.

I use my digital media apps to create icons for TLT and I’m not going to lie, the walls of my home are covered in pictures of my children I have created using the technique I just shared with you. I have no less than 3 different printers that I use to print my photos, which I discuss here. I have also turned my photos into postcards, buttons, and canvas. The Teen and friends make fun of me because they know I’m going to be taking pictures, but they also love that they have a lot of great photos that capture some of their favorite memories.

Some of my favorite apps are:

  • PS Express: for cropping photos, filters, effects and more
  • Instamag: for making photo collages
  • Word Swag: for adding text
  • Hipstamatic: for filters
  • Be Funky Pro: again, for filters
  • Comic Book: for creating comic and graphic novel pages
  • Candy Camera: for stickers
  • SuperImpose X: for blending two or more photos
  • Fotorus and Enlight are more advanced apps that I’m just learning how to use

Do you have a favorite photo app? I’m always looking for new ones to try so please share yours in the comments.

Digital Media: Using Photo Apps to Make Pride Photos

The month of June is Pride month, a time when the LGBTQIA+ community remembers the Stonewall riots and the struggle – which continues today – to ascertain basic civil rights. In celebration of Pride, I’m going to share with you how you can create Pride themed digital media effects. On Monday I shared with you some apps you can use to create space effects on photos and today I’m going to share with you some apps you can use to add rainbows or rainbow effects to photos to create signage, avatars, social media graphics and more.

You’ll need a device of some sort with the following apps pre-loaded and a way to get photos onto the app. You can set up an in-library photo booth as discussed in Monday’s post. Once you have your photos you can begin mixing them with apps to create awesome pictures, like the one above.

Be Funky Pro

If I’m being completely honest, the only app you really need for this is the Be Funky Pro app as it has a variety of rainbow effect photos and is a full photo editor. It’s one of my favorites and I highly recommend it. There is a free version, but I recommend unlocking the app by buying the $1.99 pro version. Under the effects tab there are a variety of Pop Art effects that you can choose to create eye catching rainbow hued photos. I used the app to make all of these photo effects:

As you can see, Be Funky Pro has a variety of Pop Art effects that work great for creating Pride photos. It’s quick and easy to use and because you can add text using this app, it’s a one stop app. Those of you who read a lot of posts here know that I often use a variety of apps to create one final image, so it’s nice to have a one stop app.


The PicsArt app has a couple of effects that I really liked. The initial app download is free but there are in app purchases that you can buy. It did look like it had a lot of great additional features, but it has a subscription cost and of all the app purchasing options out there a subscription fee is my least favorite. I want to buy an app and be done with it. The features I used to make the photos below are found in the Pop Art and Color Gradient features. I made the pictures below without making any additional purchases so the app was completely free to use.

Rainbow Love

The Rainbow Love app allows you to add a variety of fun effects to a photo, including simply adding a rainbow onto an image. There are stickers, filters and more. You can download the app for free and use some of the features but there are additional charges for additional features. I liked that you could add a subtle yet beautiful rainbow to an image without changing the entire photo. I made the following pic using a free version of the app.

But wait, there’s more . . .

There are a variety of other apps available to add rainbow effects to your photos out there, some specifically designed to promote Pride.

Any and all of the apps mentioned here are fine but I recommend starting with Be Funky Pro or Rainbow Effects, depending on what effect you want to create.

You have a photo, now what? After you make your remixed Pride photos, you can do a variety of fun things with them:

  • Print them off and make them into buttons if you have a button maker.
  • Change your social media avatars to Pride photos
  • Decoupage them onto a canvas
  • Print them onto photo paper and paint a frame

How a Photo Becomes an Icon

The icon that Amanda MacGregor uses for her monthly What’s New in LGBTQIA+ column was made by me, an amateur, completely on my phone in less than 5 minutes. I began with the photo of a canvas that The Teen painted for a project. The canvas background is seen here in her completed picture, I just thought it was such a pretty background that I took a picture of it before she added the trees. So the background of the painting from this picture . . .

I used an app to remix the photo – in this instance I used the Shanghai filter on the Hipstamatic camera. I then used Word Swag to create the wording. And this is the story of how a photo of the canvas you see above became our LGBTQIA+ icon for our monthly feature.

So the background from the painting in the picture above plus a few magic tricks in an app becomes this icon . . .

Digital Media: Using Apps to Take Your Photos Out of This World

This year many public libraries are participating in a summer reading program that is out of this world – literally – with the Universe of Stories theme. I happen to really love 2 things: mixing photos with photo apps and a tween who wants to be an astronaut, so I am here for your space programming needs. Today I am going to share with you how you can set up a simple photo booth station and help tweens and teens create out of this world photos with just a few simple apps.

Step 1: Set Up Your Photo Booth

You can create a photo booth anywhere in the library with just a bit of space. If you have one, you can set up an actual photo booth with a screen. If not, you can use a blank space of wall or a tri-fold presentation board setting on a table. A white background works well, but any solid color background will work. What you want is a contrast because we are going to extract some of the images. You can also use a green screen and I am here to tell you that you can use a bright green tri-fold presentation board as a green screen to do things like head shots.

There is a previous post here where I talk about some simple green screen photo tricks.

You can set up your photo booth as part of a program or if you have a makerspace set it up as part of your makerspace. You’ll also need access to an tablet or smart phone with some preloaded photo apps to mix your photos.

If you want, get creative and make photo booth props as well, though they aren’t necessary.

Step 2: Mixing Your Photos

After you have taken your photo, you’re going to use your device to mix your photos with backgrounds, filters, stickers and more. Here are are a few of my favorite apps, tips and tricks.

PhotoShop Express (PS Express)

This is a good starting app to do things like apply basic filters or turn your photo into a black and white photo. Sometimes, black and white makes for a good silhoutte that you blend with a background (more on this in a minute). PS Express also allows you to do things like enhance colors, fix lighting, etc. You can download this app for free and use a lot of the features, though there is a cost to unlock additional features.

The PS Express app also has a Beta feature that allows you to add bokeh lighting and . . . the cosmos. This is a picture of The Teen leaning over a bridge staring at a lake but thanks to the PS Express app it looks like she is looking into the Aurora Borealis. This is the only photo that I created using only 1 app.


The Mextures app allows you to mix some simple lighting and effects with a picture. I use this app to add radiance which creates the purple hue that works well for galaxy photos. The radiance feature I use is called Bonfire. The Mextures app has an initial cost of $1.99 and there are additional in store purchases you can make (I only have the initial purchase).

The photo below was created by turning a photo into black and white and then adding the bonfire radiance feature to give it the purple and blue highlights.

SuperImpose X

I have long enjoyed blending two photos together but had a hard time finding an app that did this well and was easy to use. A lot of them require you to “cut out” the part you want using a lasso feature that requires a precision I could never master. Before finding SuperImpose X, I had to use two apps to do this but SuperImpose X is so easy to use that I only use the one! This makes me happy. This app costs 4.99 but it is totally worth it.

SuperImpose X works in layers, which means that you have to layer your pictures. You always want to start with the first layer being your background picture. To make a galaxy photo, you can find copyright free background images to use as your background layer.

Your second layer is going to be your layer that has your photo of your person. You use the mask feature to cut out your person. SuperImpose X has an Auto Mask Person feature that makes everything better. Occasionally I have to fill in a few details, but for the most part it works like a charm.

After you have used the mask feature to cut out your person, you can then use the blend feature to blend your two layers together. There are a variety of options and you can mix and match until you find the balance that you like best.

Candy Camera

Candy Camera is an app I like for the stickers feature and only the stickers feature. I’ve used it many years now to make my family Christmas cards and have made some fun space themed photos featuring Thing 2 using some space stickers. (Yes, as a matter of fact, we do just happen to have an astronaut space suit laying around the house, why do you ask? LOL) This app can be downloaded for free and additional sticker packs have an additional charge.

Using a variety of apps, I was able to take pictures that each had actually 3 people in them (and I’m not showing you the original photo because I don’t have the other teens permissions to share them online) and turn them into these final photos. Beginning image after two other teens were cropped out:

Final image:

Beginning image after 2 other teens were cropped out:

Final image after mixing:

Word Swag

The final app I want to share with you today allows you to add text to a picture with a variety of fun fonts. It’s by no means the only app that does this, but I find it to be the quickest, the easiest, and to have the funnest fonts. You can literally roll the dice – there is a die icon on the bottom right of your screen – and it will show you a variety of layouts and options. This app can be downloaded for free and there are additional in app purchases that you can make, though I use the free version.

I used Word Swag to turn one of the above pictures into this great image:

After you make these images, you can do things like share them on social media, print them, or print them and then decoupage them onto a canvas if you want to take your program to the next level. I have both a Selphy and Instax Mini printer and find printing with them to be a ton of fun. If you’re going to do canvas decoupage, follow these steps.

This is a pretty easy and fun program and it gets tweens and teens thinking creatively while learning some basics of digital media. My home is full if pictures just like you see above decorating my walls.

Book Review: Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan

Publisher’s Book Description:

It’s been a year since the Catalog Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace.

Like everyone else in town, eighteen-year-old Mac Bell is trying to put that horrible summer behind him—easier said than done since Mac’s best friend Connor was the murderer’s final victim. But when he finds a cryptic message from Connor, he’s drawn back into the search for the killer—who might not have been a random drifter after all. Now nobody—friends, neighbors, or even the sexy stranger with his own connection to the case—is beyond suspicion. Sensing that someone is following his every move, Mac struggles to come to terms with his true feelings towards Connor while scrambling to uncover the truth.

Karen’s Thoughts

As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve been really into reading YA mysteries and thrillers, and this one did not disappoint.

Perfect for this time of year, we first meet our weary group of friends as they are graduating from high school and contemplating what comes next. They have met on this day to open up a time capsule as they promised one another they would do when they were all closer, but one of them is missing. Their friend, you see, was killed by the serial killer known as The Catalog Killer. And nothing has been the same since.

No one knows who The Catalog Killer was and the town has never been the same. Which means, of course, that Mac must work to solve the mystery on his own before he leaves town to start the next part of his life. And Mac’s investigation will leave him with answers he probably doesn’t want as he learns that a lot of the people that he loves and trusts in his idyllic little town have secrets better left uncovered.

This was a great mystery. Each new clue is revealed and the picture expands and I was left in awe of the character development and storytelling. The twists and turns were plenty and completely unexpected. It comes to a very satisfying conclusion. It’s just an entertaining and satisfying novel that will keep you guessing and hanging onto the edge of your seat. There is also LGBTQ representation, quality friendships, and a realistic look at small town life. The police do a few things that you know wouldn’t happen in real life, but it’s fiction so just roll with it.

Highly recommended.

This book was published Tuesday, May 21st