Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: The Lament of Losing RBG

The Teen was playing tennis when I heard the news

My first instinct was to text her and tell her

but I didn’t want to upset her

but I also didn’t want her to find out on social media

because this was something that we shared

our feminism, our prayers for RBG

the next day we talked about what it means to us

as women who didn’t have rights

until women like RBG helped us to fight for them

tears ran down my face as I talked about what she means

to history

to us

to me

I am alive to parent my children because she fought

for my right

to make my own medical decisions

and I made sure that my daughters understood that

the fight is never over

and when warriors put down their sword

it means others have to step in and pick it up

because the oppressors love nothing more

than to oppress

and women

have had to fight hard for a seat at the table

It’s not just abortion they are coming for

Birth control too

Our rights to control our bodies

To make our own decisions

About life and death

And health

They’re coming for our bodies

And as the mother of daughters

I am afraid

I have sat in churches where they have told me

that my daughters should be submissive to a man

and I have sat in board rooms where the only man in the room

rose to power

much faster than all the women at the table

and I’ve listened to our country praise a man

and declare him ordained by God

even as he talks about assaulting women

and locks the very babies they claim to care about

in cages as they rip out

their mothers wombs

and I understand what it means that this woman

this fierce Jewish woman

was chosen to sit on a bench

that determines the fate of millions of women

every day

and I feel the loss

stunning and fierce

real and raw

deep in my bones

and the fear of losing her

rips through my veins

and I lament

this loss of life

spectacular and meaningful

and shining bright

in a world that constantly seems barely able to hold back

the darkness

for our daughters

for our sisters

for our mothers and grandmothers

for our friends

for our neighbors

those that don’t look like us or love like us

or identify like us

for RBG

we must continue to be

the light

Editor’s Note: I like to write bad poetry. I mean, I wish it wasn’t bad, but it’s the best that I can do. So today, I grieve. And write bad poetry in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She earned her rest. She fought hard and valiantly. May she be at peace.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Virtual Programs You Can Do Right Now, Part 4, by teen librarian Cindy Shutts

Teen programming looks a little different for public libraries right now because getting together in groups just isn’t safe so everyone has turned to virtual programming. You can see our previous discussions on virtual programming hereherehere, here and here. Today we have even more virtual programming ideas for you.

Virtual Pet Show

This is a program we are going to do next week. We are excited about this because teen librarians can show off their pets and talk about what makes them special. Patrons do not even need a pet, they can talk about their favorite type of animal if they don’t.

Virtual Price is Right

Earlier this year, I wrote a social distancing version of the Price is Right. We made it a virtual program with a few tweaks and it worked out well. We even were able to use a virtual plinko game my co-worker Faith found. This was one of our more popular programs that we have done.

Virtual Field Trips

This is something I have started to see libraries partner with museums. This helps get more people interested in the museum. This is something I want to try.

Virtual Test Prep

Naperville Public library has been doing virtual ACT and SAT prep. They have hired a local college prep company. This had been one of their more popular in person programs.

An Example from Geneva Public Library District: http://gpld.org/event/4395067

YouTube Tutorials

A lot of librarians are showing off their skills on YouTube from cooking to O’Neal Public Library who are doing a weekly series of Ukulele Tutorials. These videos are super fun to watch.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

Morgan’s Mumbles: My Favorite Plays Part 2, by teen contributor Morgan Randall

Today as part of our ongoing series where we give teens a platform to share themselves with us teen contributor Morgan Randall shares more of her favorite plays. You can read part 1 here.

And People All Around by George Skylar

This story talks directly on racism and the white supremacy within the United States in the 1960s (and ultimately calls the audience to no longer stay complacent in the racism that is happening in the modern-day). It follows the story of Don Tindall in the small town of Leucadia, in the south. The Redeemers (a nod to the KKK) is a group that is very alive within this town, and that a majority of the authorities who run the town are apart of it. Don, is not, and he becomes really conflicted as a COFO Center is established in their town. He is outraged by the bigotry and hate but is unsure what to do for fear of his own life and comfort. It follows him as he grows close to the people that are at the COFO Center and begins to experience life with them. This story is based on real events, known as the Mississippi Burning and while not all the characters are the same as they were in real life there are a lot of parallels.

The Trojan Women by Euripides

This is a Greek Tragedy, that is well known it follows the women of Troy after the Trojan War. It talks about the challenges they face as they exist in their once homeland with the Greeks now occupying their home. Their husbands have been killed in the war and they are all being taken as slaves or to be forced, brides. It mainly follows the Queen and Princess as they try to cope with losing their family and nation, but also with the grief as they try to support and provide light to the other women.

Never The Sinner by John Logan

Never The Sinner is based on Leopold and Loeb, two men who kidnapped and killed a teenager named Bobby Franks in May of 1942. This story was all over the headlines as the two men were apprehended and tried for their crimes, and their sexual relationship was exposed to newspapers. This story depicts not only these two men living in a world where sexuality isn’t accepted but also deals with the concept of manipulation and how the two men’s ideas and thought impacted each others actions. 

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is one of the most well-known plays by William Shakespeare, it follows the story of a Scottish general who is told his destiny by three witches. His destiny tells of his future glory, and how he will become the King of Scotland. It shows how ambition blinds and consumes him, and greed and glory can completely change who a person is. The show follows Macbeth and how his actions impact his family, friends, and all of Scottland.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Another one of Shakespeare’s most well-known shows is Hamlet, a story that follows a prince whose Father recently passed away. His Mother re-married very quickly after, to his Uncle, and it is all having a very heavy toll on Hamlet’s psyche as he admired his Father very much. At the start of the show the King’s ghost is appearing, almost as if haunting Scottland, however it is revealed that he has come back to ask Hamlet for a favor. He needs Hamlet to avenge his death, so blinded by rage and revenge Hamlet begins his quest to kill his Uncle inorder to avenge his Father.

Book Review: The Art of Saving the World by Corinne Duyvis

Publisher’s Book Description:

One girl and her doppelgangers try to stop the end of the world in this YA sci-fi adventure

When Hazel Stanczak was born, an interdimensional rift tore open near her family’s home, which prompted immediate government attention. They soon learned that if Hazel strayed too far, the rift would become volatile and fling things from other dimensions onto their front lawn—or it could swallow up their whole town. As a result, Hazel has never left her small Pennsylvania town, and the government agents garrisoned on her lawn make sure it stays that way. On her sixteenth birthday, though, the rift spins completely out of control. Hazel comes face-to-face with a surprise: a second Hazel. Then another. And another. Three other Hazels from three different dimensions! Now, for the first time, Hazel has to step into the world to learn about her connection to the rift—and how to close it. But is Hazel—even more than one of her—really capable of saving the world? 

Karen’s Thoughts:

This was a fun read with touches of interesting real world insight. Hazel lives with a bizarre rift in her home that she is somehow attached to, and it seems like the government is keeping a ton of secrets. On her 16th birthday the rift breaks open and she finds herself face to face with several different dimensional versions of herself and a task to save the world. It’s a wild ride, without a doubt. And such a unique concept.

Corinne Duyvis is the creator of the #OwnVoices hashtag as well as a participant in the Disability in Kidlit website and she takes an opportunity to enrich this story with lots of depth, including introducing a character who identifies as asexaul, talking realistically about mental health, and providing the first character that I am aware of in YA lit that struggles with endometriosis and painful periods.

Also, there is a dragon. I feel like everyone should know there is a dragon. And the dragon is really cool.

This was a unique concept with strong characters and some insightful discussion. It’s interesting to see how different Hazel and her life is in different dimensions and yet how alike it is in many ways. Like most teens Hazel is trying to figure out who she is and what her place is in this world, she just has to do it with several different versions of herself while literally trying to save the world from a dimensional rift that somehow seems tied to her. It’s a wild ride that I really recommend.

This book releases on September 15 from Amulet books.

The Classroom Isn’t Meant To Be Political, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

There is a time and place for political discussion, but the classroom is not one of those place. Maybe when it’s in a government class or a debate class, but Calculus is not the place for it.

A few days in my AP calculus my class had finished our lesson for the day. There had been political discussions in this class before, but I make a point of staying out of them because I am the only democrat in a room full of republicans. I have no problem listening to people talk about their beliefs because I don’t need to get involved in that in a place where I’m trying to figure out derivatives. But, this day the students somehow found a way to drag me into their political talk.

I was sitting in my class, just working on solving some practice problems as the conversation around me was getting into politics. I wasn’t really listening until someone decided to ask, “are there any libt***s in here?” I looked up, but I wasn’t about to say that I was a democrat in this room full of people who clearly would think me to be stupid for my beliefs. Apparently, it didn’t matter what I wanted because as soon as I looked up another person responded, “yea, Riley is.”

At this point, everyone is looking at me, the odd one out. Thankfully, the teacher decided that she was going to start trying to control the environment. So, she says, “let’s not use that word.” The political talk kind of dies down and everyone is back to minding their own business, but then the class is nearing an end.

Now, it gets worse. I’m just sitting their trying not to get angry because obviously I’m insulted, so the teacher decides to talk to me. In front of the whole entire class. She says, “Riley, I’m sorry if that upset you. I don’t want you to feel singled out, so if anything we says offends you please tell me. I will put a stop to the political talk immediately.”

Clearly, there is a lot of things wrong with the situation. First, she is very much so singling me out at that moment. Second, I don’t know how she expects me to tell her that I’m offended in front of all the people who just offended me. Third, I’m not sure why she didn’t stop the political when one of her students was obviously uncomfortable. And, finally, this should have been a private conversation.

I was saved by the bell at last, or at least I thought I was. As I’m sitting in my next class I get a text from the person who decided to tell everyone that I was a democrat. He goes on in this long paragraph about how the class had been “unprofessional” and I was “always welcome despite differences” and that I shouldn’t let this “stunt my talent.” Such a lovely text that quite literally made my blood boil. It was even more funny when I remembered that I had him in my next period. You know, where he could have apologized to my face like a decent person would have done so.

But no, he didn’t apologize to my face in that next period. Instead he acted as though nothing had happened. I guess he thought that maybe he was forgiven because I didn’t respond to his infuriating text. In reality though I didn’t respond to his text because I probably would have said some very rude things that he definitely deserved to hear.

Then, in the next period I do respond just to make sure that he knows that we will have problems if he does something like that again. Naturally his response is that he didn’t mean it, but “it just happened.” This was very similar to the email my teacher sent me in reply to me telling her that the way she handled the situation was not super great.

In the email I sent my teacher I essentially told her everything that had made things worse. I believe the word I used was unprofessional. I feel like that was a fitting description of what happened, but I doubt she liked that very much. In her reply she said that she knew as she was addressing me in class that it was the wrong thing to do, but she just couldn’t stop herself. I know that sometimes people make mistakes, but it’s hard to be sympathetic when the problem should never have even been a problem.

This whole situation could been avoided if calculus class had stayed calculus class. I was there to learn derivatives and get my grade. I was not there to have my political views criticized. So, now I think calculus is going to stay calculus. The way it should have been in the first place.

Puppets! They’re Not Just for Storytime: Creative Digital Media Fun, with a Shark Puppet

I am a huge fan of teaching teens how to engage with digital media and I am also super into instant photography, which I have posted a lot about here. I’m even in a instant photography group, which is where this idea comes from. A member of that group posted a picture they had taken with a shark puppet, making it look like they were being attacked by a shark, and I thought: THIS IS GENIUS AND FUN! So I ordered a shark puppet (It was $10 off of Amazon). And then the fun began and my programming brain started spinning into full gear.

Thing 2 is shocked to see a shark nearby

So here’s what I’m thinking.

As a library we can buy a variety of hand puppets to circulate. There aren’t just sharks, there are dinosaurs and unicorns and so many more. OR, we can make grab and go/make and take kits with the materials to make your own hand puppet. Either option would work.

Make your own puppets grab and go kits would be a great way to clean out those supply cabinets and inspire creativity in our tweens and teens. You would need to include something like felt pieces to make a higher quality hand puppet. Then a bunch of random things like googly eyes, pipe cleaners, yarn, etc. Pretty much anything you can think of to make a hand puppet. This could also be a good tutorial for teaching basic handsewing (which you will need to provide the supplies for as well because I believe we should never assume that someone has what they need at home to supplement a make and take kit.) Here’s a great tutorial on DIY hand sewn puppets: http://www.oneacrevintagehome.com/felt-hand-puppets/

Then you challenge tweens and teens to take fun photos of their hand puppets and share them online. You see a lot of these types of photo challenges everywhere, especially on Instagram. All you really need is an idea and a hashtag. I know that I’ve seen some libraries doing photo challenges during the pandemic, how fun would it be to add a prop?

You could make it open ended or do a daily challenge model. Here’s an example of a daily challenge outline that I found doing a quick Google search:

I would definitely avoid any challenges that asks kids to reveal personal information or space, like the where you sleep challenge in the example above.

One of the things that I did with my shark puppet is I wanted to learn how to make it look like it was wet and in the water while it was no where near the water, and there’s an app for that.

Then I decided I wanted to try and make it look scarier and like it was in a black and white movie. At one point I even added red filters to try and make it look bloody. But it was fun to use an app to explore digital media, photo manipulation and my creativity. A lot of tweens and teens are already using Insta and Snap, so they have ready access to a variety of filters. There are also a variety of fun and free apps that they may be using. And don’t forget, a shark puppet would be so cool in a Tik Tok.

There are some problems and limitations with this idea, of course, because it means that our tweens and teens have to have access to a device to take and share their pictures. A lot of them do, but there are always exceptions which we need to keep in mind. And one day when our library doors fully reopen and our makerspaces are safe, it would be a fun MakerSpace digital media station and challenge.

Puppets, they’re not just for storytime!

Though I love and use a wide variety of photo apps, all the pictures in this post were made using PhotoShop Express on an iPhone.

Morgan’s Mumbles: My Favorite Plays, by teen contributor Morgan Randall

One of the things that being a theatre mom has taught me is that teens are engaged with wrestling with story and literature in so many more ways then we often give them credit for. For many teens, theatre is home. It’s a way to take on new skin and explore lives and wrestle with deep thoughts and emotions. Today teen contributor Morgan Randall, another theatre kid, shares some of her favorite plays with us. Never underestimate a teen, they are thinking deeply and wrestling with the world in so many profound ways.

Medea by Euripides

This show is a classic Greek tragedy, if you know Greek Mythology you are most likely familiar with Jason and the tale of the Gold Fleece. This story takes place not long after that in Corinth, where Medea and his two children lived with him. However, at the start of the show, Medea is informed with the terrible news that Jason is to be married to Glauce, the daughter of the King of Creon. The story follows Medea’s rage towards Jason and how that affects both her and her children, along with Jason and his new family.

Eat! It’s Not About Food by Linda Daugherty

This show tackles a very big issue in society, it talks about eating disorders and their impact on all different people. It talks about the toxic culture around body image and dieting, as well as discussing multiple stories of people dealing with different disorders and also informs the audience of facts about eating disorders. The story follows multiple people, specifically the people around Amy (her friends, kids at school, family, and then eventually people who are in recovery). It follows their struggles with their bodies and how their eating disorders impact not only their health but also their relationships. It also tackles the problem with the lack of discussion about eating disorders, in general, but also specifically with males.

Morgan and Riley behind the scenes and on the stage

Girl In The Mirror by Jacoby

I was really lucky to be able to direct this show with my best friend a few years back, it is another pretty heavy show as it talks about suicide. It follows a girl named Susan, who recently committed suicide, while in a coma between life and death she gets to choose if she lives or dies. In order to make this decision, she leaves her body and a Speaker takes her through her memories. The things she had experienced that made her want to commit suicide, then halfway through the show, it switches. They are looking into the future and what will happen to the people around her if she ends up dying.

Lafayette No. 1 by Mandy Conner

This story follows a young girl named Lizzie Landry, and the orphans (known as the Forgotten) as yellow fever sweeps the streets of New Orleans. The story follows these orphans and Lizzie, as they try to band together against the local law enforcement and leaders of the town to make them aware of the most vulnerable citizens in New Orleans. This story is absolutely amazing, it gives me chills even just reading it. I adore the emphasis on friendship and the power that is obtained when people fight together for what is just.

Shipwrecked: An Entertainment, The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont by Donald Margulies

This is the only comedy on this list because I enjoy the deeper meaning behind the show as it brings into question how far we as people are willing to go in order to tell an engaging story. Louis de Rougemont breaks the fourth wall in order to tell us his incredible tale of bravery and how he has risen to popularity. While the story is engaging, parts are obviously exaggerated and some are just straight-up lies. The show also has a lot of really cool pops and ensemble, if you ever get the chance to watch it.

Morgan RandallTeen Contributor

Morgan recently graduated high school and is currently enrolled to attend college in the fall getting her BA in Theatre and Dance with an emphasis on Design and Technology. She loves theatre, writing, reading, and learning. But something that has always been important to her is being a voice for those who feel like they don’t have one, and being a catalyst for change in any way possible.

Cindy Crushes Programming: 11 Tips to Help Us All During Pandemic Programming, by librarian Cindy Shutts

Here are some tips I am doing with myself and my programming.

  1. Be kind to yourself: This is easier said than done. Everything is hard and draining. You have to realize you will not get the same amount of work done as before because you are working through basically an active trauma.
  2. Do not make programs too hard: This is really important because you do not want to overwhelm the teens or yourself. Having programs that are too hard can make you and the teens feel like failures if you both do not get the desired result.
  3. Do programs you care about within reason: This makes the work easier. I got back into Animal Crossing this year which made my life easier. I was able to do a whole series of programs around it. I add within reason because you want to make sure the teens are interested also.
  4. Look at social media to see what teens are interested in: I got a tik tok over the time I was sheltering in place and saw a lot of things that teens are following such as the resurgence of Twilight, Animal Crossing, plants, crafts, and a lot of social activism. This is giving us a chance to see what teens care about. I will warn you not to be creepy. Please keep healthy boundaries between you and your teens.
  5. Keep costs low: Right now attendance is very different than it was before. You have no idea what the attendance of programs will be. We can not hold ourselves to standards that are pre pandemic.
  6. Put Yourself First: This is very hard for people in our profession. We want to help everyone and do everything we can to help our patrons. You can not do your job if you do not keep yourself first. When we came back to work I had a lot of questions for our supervisors and thoughts. They allowed me to help me make my own way back to work. I work on my safety first. If I have concerns about my safety or feel like something is going wrong. I talk to my supervisors. This has been very helpful. I feel much more in control by setting boundaries
  7. Try New Things: You are having a chance to start fresh. Try new program things that you have always wanted to do but could not. We used Kahoot for trivia last week and it was super fun. We have always thought about doing virtual programs and this time has allowed us to use new platforms such as Roll 20, Jackbox Game, and of course Zoom.
  8. Be prepared to have changes: We are working on doing programs that if we had to work from home we could run them. We do not know what the next few months will bring so be prepared to change how you do your program. You have to be flexible when the time comes. My county just got more restrictions and our positivity rate is going up so we are looking at upcoming programs to see if we can adapt them if things get worse.
  9. It is okay to cancel a program: Sometimes things do not work out how you planned them. It is okay.You might have thought your craft was going to be in person but now it is a take and make and it does not work as a take and make. Cancel. You can not control the pandemic.
  10. Let yourself have feelings: It’s okay to be disappointed a program did not work out or no one came. You can feel that. It does not make you weak. This is a horrible year. I am just going to say 2020 is the worst. Your feelings are valid. You are in an active trauma.
  11. Protect Your Teens: There are new dangers in the virtual world. Make sure you practice kicking people out of your virtual program. Use a setting that lets you be in control of the room so that you can protect the teens from harassment. Zoom booming could happen so we use a waiting room and we are using our patron policy in the virtual space. Learn from others who have had issues. We require registration to come to most of our programs.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

Morgan’s Mumbles: A Poetry Perspective, by teen contributor Morgan Randall

Some time ago, I decided to give teens a voice here in this space. I wanted to not just advocate for teens, but to give them space to share the truth of who they are with us and hoped that in doing so, we would see how rich and complex and full teens are. Though I imagine if you’re here, you already know that. But I love getting glimpses into the inner lives of teens to help us better serve them. Today Morgan is talking with us about poetry.

Recently, I have been getting back into poetry, and I would love to recommend some pieces that I have been really absorbed in.

  1. Tickled Pink by Kevin Kling

This poem is the one that got me back into poetry, we recently read it for my Power Of Story class. I love the way that this poem tackles the topic of terrible things that can happen in a blink of an eye, but then also discusses the beauty of growing after that. My two favorite quotes from this poem include: “Knowledge is not cheap” and “Every scar is a monument to a battle you survived.”

  1. A Poison Tree by William Blake

This poem discusses what happens to our souls, and those around us when we harbor anger within us. It talks about how it manifests and grows from a seed of anger to a poisonous tree. I love the imagery used by Blake to create a piece of poetry that can easily be related to anyone, as anger is something that everyone experiences. My favorite quote from this poem is: “And I waterd it with fear” because it shows what really causes anger grows.

  1. O Captain My Captain by Walt Whitman

As I tried to decide between which of my favorite Walt Whitman poems to include I ultimately decided on this one, in all honesty (partially), due to the fact I adore the movie The Dead Poets Society. But, that isn’t the only reason. I also love how he was able to create such a vivid scene without many words. I genuinely appreciate the fact that the poem is more than it appears at face value, and has a deeper historical meaning as the captains’ death represents the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the emotional state of the United States as the news was announced. My favorite quote from the poem is: “The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, it’s voyage closed and done.”


  1. Fairytales by Nikita Gill

I love Nikita Gill’s work and how she is unafraid to discuss sides of stories that are overlooked or forgotten. This poem is no exception, she talks about sides of Fairytales that were never taught to those of us who watched the Disney versions. She also is unafraid to make social claims in this poem, as she demands that girls are shown woman role models who are realistic and flawed. My favorite quote from this poem is: “Let’s raise girls who don’t just wait to be rescued, but take destiny into their own hands.”

“We have all taken turns / being Red Riding Hood / and we have all been the wolf,”

  1. Who Would Remember by Erin Hanson

In this poem Erin Hanson tackles something that I think is often to deep for a lot of people to think about, she discusses the fear of death and goes on to talk about how maybe death isn’t what we fear. We fear being forgotten, she does so by talking about the small things that we do every day to make sure our name is placed on things. My favorite quote from this poem is:

“The hope they’ll stumble on the stories

We have love, worn down with age,

That there they’ll find what we have left,

Our name on the cover page,

And for just that fleeting moment

It’s as though we’ve beaten death,”

  1. “Hope” is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson

During my freshman year of high school, my English teacher had us read this poem because it was one of her favorites. And, honestly, it resonated with me because I loved this idea of hope being something that exists and never ceases no matter where we are or what is happening. It is something that exists separately from us and doesn’t ask anything of us but rather just is constantly providing a joyful noise. My favorite quote from this poem is:

“Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.”

  1. Daffodils by William Wordsworth

This poem was one of the main ones we focused on my senior year of high school, it was one of my favorite poems to read because I loved the idea of floating away from everything here and then being able to be only in the company of nature. I loved the possibility of imagining what it would be like to travel the world from that perspective and all the stories you would be able to hear. While I love the poem as a whole, my favorite quote would have to be:

“Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.”

  1. Caged Bird by Maya Angelou

This poem is probably one of Maya Angelou’s most famous works, and it is absolutely amazing. The poem is written in a manner that allows it to be interpreted and applied to any situation that the reader may currently be in, or could have been in in the past. It shows the feeling of being caged, and isolated from the rest of the world but promises that there is hope and more outside of the cage.

My favorite quote, while hard to decide, is ultimately:

“for the caged bird  

sings of freedom.”

Morgan RandallTeen Contributor

Morgan recently graduated high school and is currently enrolled to attend college in the fall getting her BA in Theatre and Dance with an emphasis on Design and Technology. She loves theatre, writing, reading, and learning. But something that has always been important to her is being a voice for those who feel like they don’t have one, and being a catalyst for change in any way possible.FacebookTwitterShare

Book Review: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Publisher’s Book Description:

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

Karen’s Thoughts:

When I read a book, I can’t help but read it with multiple hats. One hat is me, a person who reads for pleasure and enlightenment. The other hat is me, a librarian who serves teens. Although both recognize a good book, the reasons are often not the same. This is a great book, for all of the reasons.

Told in verse, this is a quick but moving read. Poetry was the exact perfect form for this novel. It captures the essence of this far too common tragedy and related it in stirring, beautiful verses that have perfectly chosen words, format and sometimes even visuals. As I read it I couldn’t help but think of what a perfect book this would be to help teach kids about poetry.

This is also a powerful story about the healing and expressive powers of art. That is one of my favorite topics.

This is also a story that has a Muslim main character and talks about things like prayer, belief and family. Although there is growing Muslim representation in YA lit, it is very few and far between and under-represented.

This is also an insightful look into juvenile incarceration. At one of my library jobs I used to visit a juvenile detention center and have always felt that there should be more YA that investigates the life of teens behind bars, wrongly convicted or not. Monster by Walter Dean Myers is another book on this topic that hopefully everyone has read. We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss is a recent book that looks at a teen who is not only incarcerated but on death row.

That is the librarian hat.

As a reader, this is a moving, powerful and important book. I’m actually old enough to remember the Central Park Jogger case and have been following the story of the Exonerated Five for some time. I recently saw Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam talk about this book as part of the SLJ Summer Teen virtual event. And as our nation, our world, continues to wrestle with topics of racism, policing and incarceration, this is a much needed entry into that discussion made all the more powerful because of the very true perspective that Yusef brings to the narrative.

This book is moving, powerful, thoughtful and important. It’s profoundly well written and emotionally impactful. It is without a doubt a must have for all and will be a classic. Highly recommended. You will be moved by the story of Amal and his efforts to keep hope in a system that is designed to steal it from you.

Releases tomorrow, September 1, 2020, by Balzer + Bray