Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Cindy Crushes Programming: Running a Virtual Dungeons and Dragons Program

Today for Cindy Crushes Programming teen librarian Cindy Shutts interviews colleagues about running a virtual Dungeons and Dragons program in the time of Covid-19.

Hello, Can you introduce yourself and let us know where you work and your job title?

Hi, I’m Krista, and I’m the Teen/Adult Services Librarian at the Wilmette Public Library.

What is your personal experience with Dungeons and Dragons?

I’ve played D&D for about three years now. I played a few other RPGs first before trying D&D, but I became interested in the game after getting super addicted to Critical Role, a popular live play D&D show streaming on Twitch (currently in semi-hiatus thanks to Covid-19). My first real campaign was Tomb of Annihilation and I’ll never forget our party being confronted by a giant feathered T-Rex that could teleport and exhale swarms of wasps from its mouth. It was eye-opening.

Were you running it at your library before the Covid-19 outbreak and how popular was it at your library?

I created my library’s teen D&D group about two years ago. Pre-Covid-19 we met once a month and eventually took up two rooms. I had five teens at my first meeting, and 12 at my second. (Only four of them had registered! Of course!) It took off mainly through word-of-mouth; I stopped advertising because I was afraid I’d get too many kids. Over the two years our meetings have had anywhere between 6-25 teens, and I recruited additional Dungeon Masters to help me run sessions. Some DMs are teens; some are adults. It’s been a very chaotic experience but a great one, too.

How did you decide to run virtual gaming at your library? Had you played virtually before or was this a completely new experience?

I’ve played D&D online a few times, but only with people I’d already met in person. I never set up any of my own games. However, my teen D&D program was the only program I could see working right away as a virtual one, as long as I could get myself educated and experienced enough with the virtual tools to make it a fun experience. I’m currently looking at doing some virtual Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. tournaments as well now

What system are you using to play and how does it work?

I’m using a combination of Roll20 and Discord. Discord is a free online chat program that allows users to set up virtual communities and talk over voice, video, and chat. You can also share pictures, do screen share tutorials and gaming, and so on. Roll20 offers a great free tabletop experience, where you can have all of the stuff you need for your RPG in one place: images, maps, character sheets, dice, etc. However, Roll20 doesn’t have great audio/video integration; it’s often really laggy. So I created a Discord community for my players to join, and we use Discord’s voice chat in combination with Roll20’s virtual tabletop and video. I let the teens decide if they will turn on video in Roll20; I think it helps to see everyone’s faces, but not all of my teens can or will do it. This makes it sound very complicated but it’s not too bad. I also use Discord as a one-stop-shop for information, because it’s primarily text-based, so I post information about our scheduled games there, pose questions to the group, encourage the teens to ask for help with their technology ahead of time, etc.

What are some of the challenges to virtual gaming and how are you working to overcome them?

There are a lot of challenges to virtual gaming and they’re going to be different for everyone. There’s challenges with your personal knowledge and the technology set-up you have at home, and then there are separate challenges for each of your players. Then you have to re-think how you play D&D a little, as well.

I had used Discord and Roll20 casually, so I had to learn a lot about both platforms in a short amount of time. Other teen librarians and other gamers have been a huge help to me there, especially on Discord communities. Roll20 is not the easiest to learn, which also makes it harder to teach your teen players. But right now Roll20 is offering some great free D&D modules (i.e., narrative adventures) that are already set up with maps and everything else you need to get started, so you don’t have to start from scratch.

Not everyone will have an adequate tech set-up to play virtually, especially teenagers. Maybe they only have a family computer and need their parents or guardians to set up things for them. Maybe they only have a smart phone and need to do everything on that. (In that case, Roll20 is not the best option. I have a back-up option where we can play just through Discord’s voice chat and using Theater of the Mind – yes, that’s using your imagination.)

Then during the game, it’s easy to get so side-tracked by problems with the technology that you end up not making a lot of progress into actually playing. My first session I spent the first hour doing tech help. One of my players couldn’t get his microphone to work, so I had to have him use the Roll20 chat feature and I read aloud what he wanted to say. Then of course, when not everyone is in the room together it’s easy for players to talk over each other so that no one gets heard. In that case, I would use a turn-based system for players to tell me what their character is doing, so that everyone gets a chance to talk.

Do you have any tips for new players for Dungeon Masters?

Honestly I think the best way to learn is to just start playing (plus you can watch actual play streams on Twitch or YouTube to get a feel for the game). D&D players are the best and I’ve found so many willing to set up introductory games for new players or answer questions. If you know one person who plays, ask them for help! Ask me for help, even! Next, visit Wizards of the Coast official D&D page for free materials to help during the pandemic. They are offering so much free content every day and keeping the links up – you can get a free starter set rulebook, pre-generated character sheets, and a bunch of free short adventures to start with. And the most important rules: have fun, use your imagination, don’t be embarrassed to get a little silly, and when your players do something crazy and you’re not sure what the rule is, make it up on the fly and look it up later for next time.

Are you seeing the same teens that would come to programming at the library or are you getting a new audience?

I had a pretty consistent group at the library, so right now I have mostly the same audience. I do have a few new teens who were never able to make our monthly Friday night game at the library before. But right now I have less kids engaging with the D&D club than were coming in person and it’s my challenge to figure out why. Do they just not know about it despite my reaching out, and how can I get word to them? Are they not doing the virtual programs because they can’t or because they don’t want to? If they can’t participate the way I’ve set it up, then what can I change to make it more accessible?

Do you think you would like to continue running virtual programming once things start to settle down and in person programming is back up and running?

For D&D, I think it might work to still have some virtual games in addition to in-person ones. It’s nice for me because I can do the program from home without having to worry about changing my work schedule around – getting substitutes for reference desk shifts so that I can do a program in the evening or on a Saturday, for example. I have an hour and a half commute on public transit to my library for work, so any time I can do something at home without that is great. And I really do think Roll20 is pretty great now that I’ve tried it out more. I think we’ll be doing virtual programming for a while, frankly, so now is a great time to learn.

What would you like to tell your fellow teen librarians who are struggling looking for ways to connect to their teens?

Don’t take it personally if you’re reaching out and your teens aren’t responding. The teens from my TAB haven’t responded to any of my emails or Remind messages. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s too low on their priority list. Many teens are struggling to transition, too, missing school and their friends and normalcy, stuck at home and maybe wanting to unplug when they’re done with remote learning for the day. Not all programs can pivot to virtual, either, despite your best intentions. Go easy on yourself. Also, brainstorm with other teen librarians. There are a lot of great ideas out there. 

Do you have any resources you would like to recommend? Or any final thoughts? Thank you so much for being here!! Stay Safe!

Aside from the Wizards of the Coast site I already mentioned, I really like Matthew Colville’s “Running the Game” series on YouTube. He makes the basics of the game and being a DM feel very accessible. I also recommend Sly Flourish’s web site and materials for playing D&D and being a DM: https://slyflourish.com/ They even have a whole article about D&D and Discord that gives you a no-frills and a more-frills option for how to use the site: https://slyflourish.com/playing_dnd_over_discord.html

Next Up we have Evan Mather

Hello, Can you introduce yourself and let us know where you work and your job title?

My name is Evan Mather. I’m a Teen Librarian at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

What is your personal experience with Dungeons and Dragons?

I first played Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition about 8 years ago with a group of friends who were all pretty new to the game. I’ve been playing as a Dungeon Master in 5th Edition for the past 5 years, both running published campaigns and a couple of homebrew adventures with friends.

Were you running it at your library before the Covid-19 outbreak and how popular was it at your library?

Our first real experience with RPGs at AHML was last summer. We have Summer Volunteer Squads for teens – groups that meet weekly over the summer to plan and execute programs or other services at the library for the community. We started one called Dice Guild, where teens learned how to play and run 3 different RPGs, and planned a program for late in the summer where they taught these games and ran sessions for other teens.

It became a monthly program, where one Friday night a month, teens would show up to play tabletop RPGs in the Hub. We’d have all the dice and papers and snacks and rules and modules printed up and ready to go, and I’d be around to help with rules questions, tips for the GMs, and other housekeeping, but it was mostly a meet up and gaming opportunity led by teens for other teens.

How did you decide to run virtual gaming at your library? Had you played virtually before or was this a completely new experience?

Once we’d determined that virtual programming was something to pursue, our first thought was to how we could replicate some of our existing programming. Our regularly scheduled Dice Guild session was on March 20, so it seemed like a good choice for foray into virtual programming.

I’d personally had minimal experience with Roll20, the online tabletop RPG game platform. I’d attempted to run about two sessions with a group of friends from all over the country, but a combination of scheduling conflicts (the true enemy of all regular RPG groups) and various folks having technical glitches on their end led to us not continuing.

What system are you using to play and how does it work?

We use Roll20 to play on. It has a shared tabletop screen, which everyone can see and the GM can fully control. There are video and audio chat windows, that can be rearranged around your screen, built-in character sheets for several game systems, automated dice rollers, and more. It’s pretty robust, but the audio and video can be a bit spotty, and like many other virtual gaming tools, its servers are becoming a bit taxed by the heavy use. We had a Dice Guild session on a Friday night where they were having a lot of issues and we did a lot of troubleshooting.

Dungeons and Dragons especially requires a lot of prep work, and there’s even more required for virtual D&D – creating character sheets, prepping maps, etc. The biggest challenge while running the actual program is the same challenge of most virtual programming – running tech support for attendees at the same time you’re trying to run the program. Everyone is working with different devices and internet services, all things that are out of your control.

It’s also been really hard to allow for the same teen-led model DIce Guild had before. I’ve been acting as DM and virtual facilitator for all of our games, which is a real time commitment. It also limits the amount of teens we can have at each session. After giving them a few weeks of experience using Roll20 as a player, we are planning on shifting our model. I’m creating game rooms prepped for other RPGs, like Kids on Bikes or Crash Pandas, as well as with several shorter D&D adventures. We’ll have one session where I demonstrate more Game Master specific tools to teens using Zoom’s screen sharing, and run a short session of one of those games. Then our future sessions will be closer to Dice Guild’s original model, with teens meeting in a video chat to decide who wants to play what games, and then breaking off into different game rooms on Roll20. I’ll be there to act as facilitator, backup, and support for everyone.

Do you have any tips for new players for Dungeon Masters?

My biggest tip is probably not to play Dungeons & Dragons for your first RPG game. It’s so rules-heavy, with hours needed to create a character, prep a module, etc. I’d recommend some of the excellent one-page RPGs out there, like Lasers & Feelings or Crash Pandas, for first timers. These can all be played on Roll20, or even on basic video chat with a virtual dice roller. They get the group playing and collaborating, don’t take hours of prep work, and are much more easily self-contained.

If everyone’s heart is really set on Dungeons & Dragons, I’d recommend using premade characters for your first go, and a short one-shot adventure like The Delian Tomb.

If you plan on going longer with a campaign, I’d recommend the adventure Lost Mines of Phandelver, from the D&D Starter Set. The first chapter of that makes a pretty good one-shot in itself, too. It’s also currently free to access on DnD Beyond.

Are you seeing the same teens that would come to programming at the library or are you getting a new audience?

Of the teens we’ve had participating in virtual Dice Guild, only 2 have been teens who didn’t attend in-person sessions before. In a virtual setting, it can be a bit more difficult to learn RPGs, where not everyone has the same rule set. Teens that don’t already know one another are also a bit more hesitant to collaborate and converse with each other about playing the game. You often need to prompt them to interact at in-person sessions, but I need to lean even more into it during virtual sessions.

Do you think you would like to continue running virtual programming once things start to settle down and in person programming is back up and running?

It’s hard to say. I don’t think there’s going to be a single moment where everyone’s doing in-person programs at the amount they once were. I think RPGs can be replicated pretty well virtually, especially if there’s already a base knowledge. I think a lot of our team’s strengths – and what our community highly values –  has been our space, as well as our in-person programming and outreach, and we’re looking at ways for those to translate into a virtual setting.

What would you like to tell your fellow teen librarians who are struggling looking for ways to connect to their teens?

I would first look at what has worked the best for you before all of this happened. What were your most successful groups and programs? How can you translate those online? For teens, I think what they most need at this developmental stage are ways for them to directly connect and interact with you and their peers. I hear that they are bored, and they are looking for things to do. Asynchronous programming can be useful if you really focus it on their & your community’s specific needs, but there has never been a shortage of things for teens to keep themselves occupied with online. Don’t try to compete with YouTubers or video game streamers. Direct interaction, hand-made accessibility, and teen-driven programming are going to be where you really meet needs.

Do you have any resources you would like to recommend? Or any final thoughts? Thank you so much for being here!! Stay Safe!

Other great virtual tabletop gaming options that aren’t RPGs are the game Bring Your Own Book, Pictionary, or Codenames over video chat. For Codenames, there’s a great online emulator at horsepaste.com. You can also do collaborative jigsaw puzzles at jigsawpuzzles.io.

Thank you so much Evan and Krista so much for being here. I am excited to hear about what other libraries are doing during the pandemic Please let us know! Stay Safe!

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

May #ARCParty: A brief look at some of the new titles coming out in May 2020

It’s time for another ARC party, where The Teen and I take a look at some of the titles coming out in May.

RevolTeens: Quaranteens – Proving Just How Incredible Teens Are, by Christine Lively

Being quarantined has been a stressful, scary, and bizarre time for all Americans. As I am writing this, nearly 60,000 Americans have died from this terrifying and new disease. The numbers continue to climb and very little is known about the virus itself. School has been canceled for the rest of the year nearly everywhere, and it all seemed to have happened in an instant. The line between our lives before and our lives after seems bright and now long ago.

In my house, I am quarantined with two teenage sons. My sixteen year old son was at first elated not to have to go to school because he doesn’t enjoy it and feels overwhelmed by the demands of the work he has to do. He has now been struggling through as his school system has been scheduling and canceling synchronous classes every day or week for a month. Their online system has only started working this week and the platform for classes has changed several times making for a whole new form of stress and uncertainty. My 19 year old son has been devastated to lose all of the friends he had made in his freshman year of college. He’s also mourning the loss of freedom now that he has to live back at home where his parents are giving him chores and where he doesn’t have a choice for what he eats at most of his meals. He’s our extrovert in a family of introverts. It’s been terrible and frustrating for him. My daughter will be coming home this weekend and will stay a week at home where we will be celebrating on May 7th. That is the day she’s been working toward for five years when she was supposed to be having a party with friends and family to commemorate her graduation from graduate school and her twenty-third birthday which were to fall on the very same day.

I am sure I don’t have to tell you that this is no fun.

And yet, amid all of this bad news, teens – QuaranTeens (what our RevolTeens are called for now this – are showing the world how amazing they are even in the face of a pandemic.

Senior citizens have been hit especially hard by the quarantine rules. So many have become even more isolated and lonely as their visitors have been banned from entering their homes or living facilities. Teens have answered their needs in heartfelt and creative ways.

‘“We are Generation Z and we are here to help.” That’s the motto on a website created to help seniors receive items they need during the coronavirus pandemic.

The site, ZoomerstoBoomers.com, was created by Daniel Goldberg, a junior at San Marcos High School in San Marcos, Calif. It has six outposts in the nation — one of which is in Greenwich.

Greenwich High School juniors Kate Rubich and Hayley Schmidt launched the local Zoomers to Boomers chapter several days ago. The service enlists high school volunteers to deliver groceries to individuals in the community who are elderly or immuno-compromised and are staying in their homes.’

According to Greenwich Time, Zoomers to Boomers has provided groceries and items to more than 300 people and as of Monday, has 40 high school volunteers nationwide. Besides Greenwich, the online service includes outposts in Santa Barbara, Calif., Denver, Miami, Honolulu and Salt Lake City.

Another group of teens has started delivering groceries to the elderly in Maryland. Here is their story from CNN 

‘Like many teenagers, 16-year-old Dhruv Pai and 15-year-old Matt Casertano have been out of school for weeks.

“We were both helping out our families, delivering groceries to our grandparents, and we thought ‘what about the people who do not have family in the area?'” Casertano told CNN.

“‘What if we started some organization to connect teens to the senior citizens and anyone who has a compromised immune system, where going outside is a substantial risk to them?'”

Dhruv and Matt are providing contactless grocery deliveries for elderly people in their communities. Their volunteers follow CDC guidelines and leave the groceries on people’s doorsteps to cut out contact, and they pick up the check or cash that their customers leave for them.  These amazing QuaranTeens already have 65 teen volunteers and more signing on every day proving that teens are eager to help and ready to reach out when given the opportunity. As the RevolTeens columns I write always emphasize, teens are underestimated and disregarded all too often. These two teens are no exception, and they know what most adults think of teens. They’ve decided to challenge that perception through their efforts.

“There is a negative portrayal of teens and I think our organization is reversing that stereotype, and people are seeing that teens can really benefit the community,” Pai told CNN. “I think there is still altruism in this generation, and we can spread that. Spreading kindness is a good message.”

The teens’ calls often go beyond just groceries.

“A lot of these seniors need someone to talk to and the opportunity to connect for a bit,” explained Pai. “It inspires me that we might be able to bridge the generational gap.”

Hailey Wilson from Montgomery County, Maryland has been working to help elderly people in her community to get connected and stay connected with their families and friends for a lot longer than the COVID-19 crisis has been around according to WJLA TV  The high school sophomore signed up for an entrepreneur class at her high school at the beginning of this school year and decided that her target market would be seniors. She launched The Ethel Project named for her beloved grandmother. She has been visiting a local assisted living and memory facility where she donated iPads and has taught the residents how to use Skype to stay connected with their families.

“They loved it! She made a lot of friends here when she was able to come in the building,” said Tom Clarke, the Executive Director at Spring Hills Mount Vernon.

Hailey also has a GoFundMe fundraiser page where she is working to raise $50,000 to expand The Ethel Project into more communities to help many more seniors to get more connected to their families and friends.

Teens are finding ways to help younger people as well. QuaranTunes was founded by sixteen year old Julia Segal after watching her ten year old sister getting frustrated with being cooped up on quarantine. Julia decided to teach her little sister some music lessons. A few weeks later as a favor for a family friend, Julia taught a group of 40 Elementary school kids. Seeing the kids enthusiasm for learning music and having something fun to do inspired Julia to ask her other musical friends if they’d like to help expand the lessons to more kids and so QuaranTunes was born. All money raised by QuaranTunes is donated to the CDC Foundation which is fighting the virus that is keeping all these kids at home. 

According to The Mercury News Stanford-bound Naama Bejerano, a 17 year-old senior at Gunn who plays the flute and has performed in Carnegie Hall, is the chief operating officer at QuaranTunes.

“Definitely the start of it was small scale and it’s sort of grown globally,” said Bejerano, noting that some students who take lessons hail from the East Coast, Europe and India. “It doesn’t matter where you are around the world, you can participate in this either as a teacher or the student just because it is a strictly online platform.”

Of course, there are technical challenges as well as musical ones, but these teens seem to have that covered as well:

‘Bejerano is focused on the website’s automation as traffic increases.

“I didn’t expect it to happen as quickly,” she said. “But from the start, I’ve been working on simple methods for us to be able to scale up very quickly.”

The fundraising effort for QuaranTunes already surpassed $1,000.

“I think that although we may not be the ones on the frontlines fighting the virus directly, we’re all playing a really important role in helping the world fight the pandemic through what it is that we do best,” Segal said. “Which is music.”

Teens have also found meaningful ways to support each other during quarantine. LGBTQ kids across the country have lost the accepting communities that they may have had at school and among friends and many are isolated in homes where they may not be accepted or able to live the way they want.The Insider reports.

‘”We know that when school provides that kind of support young queer people thrive,” Willingham-Jaggers told Insider. “Part of what is difficult about this COVID-19 moment is that what’s needed for public health is people being physically apart from one another.”

Both the Human Rights Campaign and The Trevor Project predict separation from a queer “chosen family” at school could have a significant negative impact on the mental health of LGBTQ youth — as prolonged quarantines could also mean higher exposure to triggers like familial abuse from unsupportive guardians.

A recent report released by the Trevor Project — the world’s largest LGBTQ suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization — found queer youth might be at a higher risk for depression and suicide because of the negative impacts of physical distancing restrictions.

“What we experience is a rupture of a physical school community across our country, so that provides additional significant challenges for all marginalized kids,” Willingham-Jaggers said.’

Many Gay Straight Alliance groups created at schools are now able to meet via Zoom or other video conferencing platforms to connect and support each other.

From the Insider:

‘Online spaces like Tik Tok, Instagram, and YouTube are also popular places for young LGBTQ people to connect and build community. #Trans and #nonbinary Tik Tok is a booming place for teens to connect, talk about serious issues like gender dysphoria and unsupportive parents, and have a laugh.

Some queer teens and organizations are even using social media platforms and digital spaces like Zoom to organize rallies in support of LGBTQ rights across platforms.

On April 24, over 8,000 high school LGBTQ groups across the country, including Oliver’s and Darid’s, tuned into GLSEN’s 25th annual Day of Silence — a demonstration where high school students silently protest anti-LGBTQ bullying.‘

With students missing major celebratory milestone events, parents and others are struggling to find ways to help their QuaranTeens cope. There is so much to mourn from the loss of graduation to those last exams and sharing college acceptances. NPR reports some great advice from experts to help parents to support their teen and young adult kids.

Psychologist Lynn Bufka, spokesperson for the American Psychological Association offers a few strategies for parents. First, parents can acknowledge their teens feelings and not minimize what they’re experiencing. 

‘Parents should recognize that for many young people, “this is the biggest thing they’ve experienced in their lives,” she says. “They’re too young to remember 9/11. Collectively as a generation, this is a really big experience for them.”

When you’re young, understanding that life is just not as predictable as they might have thought can be scary, she says. Parents can help by letting them talk about it.’

Next, parents can encourage teens to stay connected with their friends and their families. Virtual meetups, phone calls, texts, social media, family dinners, and movie or game nights are all great ways for teens to maintain their social ties during this quarantine.

We can also help teens to focus on what they can control. This has definitely been a strategy that we’ve employed at our house. Though teens and young adults have lost many opportunities and events that they had anticipated for months and years, they can make decisions about what to do with their lives now and after the quarantine is over. Planning dinners, picking movies, making lists of everything they want to do with their friends to celebrate the end of quarantine are all great ways to shift their focus to what they have to look forward to rather than what they’ve lost.

Finally, Bufka suggests that we help teens to focus on the greater good which all the teens highlighted here have done. Staying at home and giving up so many of the things they love is painful, they are helping the world and so many people through their sacrifices. While they may feel like they are not able to do anything to help, doing nothing right now is an heroic act.

Bufka continues, ‘”We understand these sacrifices need to be made, and we know that we are doing our part in this, doing what we can for society,” she says.

In the end, Bufka says once young people get through this crisis, they will realize they can handle tough situations and get to the other side.

“It will make us stronger — sometimes we surprise ourselves.”

Teenagers definitely surprise us. The QuaranTeens are out in the world, confined to home and missing out on school. My teens are home finding ways to cope. They’re having good days and bad days and we are all making the best of things. The teens who are finding ways to help support each other, help seniors find groceries and say connected to families, teach kids music lessons online, and support others in the LGBTQ community are making the world better. They’re RevolTeens in extraordinary times, and I cannot wait to see what they do next.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Librarianing in the Time of a Pandemic

I have been a library worker/librarian serving youth in various public libraries for a little over 26 years now. I believe in the power and importance of public libraries. I have had the privilege of working from home and still serving my patrons for the past five weeks. Yesterday, despite all scientific advice, my governor joined other governors across the nation in announcing that we would start opening ASAP and I, despite my love of libraries, have never been more terrified. I have listened while my peers have had the conversations for weeks now, I’ve been reading the news and the science, and I have been listening to library users and community members talk about what should be happening in our public libraries. Today, I want to share my personal thoughts (not related to my library at all) about librarianing in the time of a pandemic.

A Brief History of Libraries and Why It Matters

Libraries began a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away to provide a means of sharing community resources. What makes a library a library has evolved over the years and it continues to evolve. When you think of a library you probably think about book sharing, and that is a thing that we do. In fact, the word library stems from the Latin root libre, which means books. We are a place where people share books, and that has value. Not because books in and of themselves are important, but because they are a way for us to share stories, to share information, and to learn and to grow. Books are a powerful tool for information access and sharing.

Over time libraries evolved to include things like music, movies, and more. A typical library now provides community access to paper books, audio books, movies in various forms, music in various forms, magazines, newspapers, etc. Every time a new format comes out, libraries have to make space for entirely new categories of materials, most often in the same small buildings. Each new format means everything gets pushed closer together and the building gets more full. Keep in mind, these items are picked up, put down, checked out, and returned by a wide variety of people through out the course of a day. Everything that a library is designed to share access to goes through a lot of hands.

So what you have is a collection of materials browsed by a large number of patrons going in and out of a lot of hands. In the time of a deadly viral pandemic.

In the 1990s libraries started adding public Internet access computers. Remember, this is another way we had to take a new service that required a lot of equipment and put them in already full and growing even more full buildings. When you walk into almost any public library in the United States, you will find a large number of patrons sitting shoulder to shoulder and waiting in line to access public computers. Sometimes, they are even in small enclosed rooms. That’s a lot of people sitting closely and sharing resources. In the time of a deadly viral pandemic.

At this same time, public libraries began to recognize growing community needs and added more seating and group seating for things. They also began hosting small and large group programming for families and various age groups. Children’s storytimes, teen programs, adult book discussions, makerspaces and more. These are events and spaces designed to bring groups of people together in social groups to interact with each other and shared spaces and tools. In the time of a deadly viral pandemic.

Browsing collections. Circulating materials. Public access computers. Small and large group programs. Everything that a library is and is designed to offer is counter to what scientists seem to be suggesting is best practices in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic. Public libraries are a shared space with shared resources, a viral outbreaks dream. This should give us all pause.

What Happens When Libraries Are Closed

In March, public libraries everywhere closed their doors. But staff didn’t stop working. Public libraries did what they always do and they evolved; they learned, they grew, they pivoted, and they developed best practices to meet the current needs of today’s patrons in a way that ensured the health and safety of their communities, which includes patrons AND staff. Public libraries are long standing institutions because we have become good at adapting.

Most libraries already had digital collections in place through services like OverDrive and Hoopla, and they increased their collections here. They started offering online storytimes, virtual programs, and ways for their patrons to connect to staff via phone, email or Internet to get questions answered. In short, like everyone else, we punted. So while the changes for public libraries are very real, the response has been amazing.

It’s not a perfect solution. Like what we are seeing in our public schools, virtual services are a system that privileges those of means that have a way to virtually connect with libraries. It leaves out some of our most vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed patrons. No library worker I know is happy with this end result, except for the part where we know that we are keeping our staff and patrons safe. In the midst of a deadly viral outbreak, health and safety must be our primary goal. Let’s not kill each other through casual contact is arguably the highest community standard in a time when we can literally be killing one another without even knowing we are doing it. I like not killing my patrons. I like not being killed by my patrons.

So while I don’t think what’s happening right now in our libraries is normal best practices, I think it is best practices in a time that is so far removed from normal there is no real playbook.

What Happens to Libraries in 2020?

The short answer is: I don’t know. I am not a scientist. I am not a politician. I am not in a decision making or leadership position. I am, however, a librarian. I am a citizen. I am a daughter, a wife, a mother, a friend, a human. And I am afraid.

I am afraid of going back to work in a building in which people come in and out and items come in and out. A building which was designed to bring people together and share resources. A building which encourages groups to gather. A building which any staff member will tell you is full of shared germs, close contact, and a lot of human interaction.

Here’s another fun fact about public libraries. We are community funded at some level, either local, county or state. It’s true, your taxes pay our salary. It’s also true that like most publicly funded entities, we are often under funded and don’t have the financial means or access to get the supplies that we would need to keep our buildings virus free for you, our patrons, and for our staff. I mean, I haven’t seen cleaning supplies at my local grocery store since this all began. And if we could get our hands on enough to operate a large building with a ton of foot traffic, that means we would be taking it out of the supply for local hospitals, police, fire, etc. In terms of pandemic prioritizing, I don’t think public libraries comes before hospitals.

Here’s another fun fact. Books are hard to clean. So are magazines. And there’s a lot of conflicting information out there about how long the virus lives on what types of services, what best practices are, and what safety measures libraries should take. This is new and no one has good, scientific information yet to know what it is we should be doing. Every day what we think we know about Covid-19 and what it does and what it means seems to be changing. To use a popular sports ball metaphor, the goal posts keep moving and we don’t know what we don’t know. This is new.

Many libraries are contemplating curb side service. I have done the thing where I placed an order, drove up to a store and had someone place those items in the trunk of my car. Let me tell you why it’s hard for a library to do this. You’ve probably noticed that right now you can’t return items to a store. Bought the wrong kind of beans? Too bad, they’re yours now. This is to help prevent the flow of items in between people so the virus has less chance to pass between people. This doesn’t work for a public library, we take our items back so that we can lend them to the next person. It’s literally out standard operating procedure. This is not best practices in a viral pandemic that has killed 50,000+ Americans in about 6 weeks.

Grocery stores remained open because eating is a necessary component of survival. Eating food is not something we can stop doing for a bit. Though I love reading and believe strongly that access to information is a great democratic equalizer, I recognize that it’s not essential to survival in the same way as eating is. Although imperfect, we do have virtual ways to meet a large number of community needs without endangering them. I’m a book and pop culture nerd so outside of a pandemic I would tell you books are essential; inside of a pandemic, surviving takes precedence. I’m voting for survival every time.

I think it is dangerous for public libraries to re-open their building without more information and lowering death toll numbers. Our numbers in the United States are not going down, not yet. That matters. This is important data for decision making.

Even when the numbers start going down, this virus won’t be done. Most scientists are saying this will come in waves and cycles, possibly for the next 12 to 18 months. Fun fact: More Americans died in the Flu epidemic in the second wave when everything “went back to normal”, in part because they tried to go back to normal too early. We can learn from history and science and make different decisions for our communities. Opening too early will cost many more lives than necessary.

When I hear my peers talking about what this year will look like, I hear things like:

  1. We will have to no longer allow patrons to browse our physical collections until we know a lot more. I know libraries who are planning on opening later in the summer or fall once more data is known who plan on allowing patrons to place holds and do pick up only.
  2. At first, we will have to do curbside pick up, but not too early. Again, we need more information to adopt best practices to keep our patrons and staff safe. The biggest issue we will have is when is it safe to accept returns.
  3. We’ll have to figure out how and when we can begin to accept return items. This means we need to know when and how to clean and sanitize items. This also means we need to know when we can safely buy the materials we need to do this without taking them away from the first responders who need them more immediately.
  4. Eventually, we’ll have to rethink public computer access. If we provide it in 2020, we should spread them out a lot more and clean them with extreme vigilance between each patron.
  5. Programming should continue to be virtual for all of 2020 or until we have more facts. When in person programming does resume, we’ll need to have smaller groups, more space, and less shared tools. I’ve read recommendations that say no programming in 2020.
  6. After virtual programming but before we go to full in-person programming, some libraries might and should provide things like make and take kits that DO NOT RETURN. Think craft kits where staff provide all of the supplies that get consumed by the patron provided in bags that we don’t want back.

I think like the rest of the world, you will see permanent changes in public libraries moving forward way beyond when this pandemic is over. Which, again, is not going to be in the year 2020. I think public libraries will have to re-think their spaces and hygiene practices. I think they will have to re-evaluate what types of materials they offer, how much, and how much floor spaces they will dedicate to them. I imagine there will be a lot of discussion about creating more open spaces for more social distancing as a general practice.

I also think many libraries will realize the benefit of virtual services and create and maintain dedicated teams to reach library users and supporters who will engage with us online but never step foot into our buildings. Digital collections will continue to be areas of focus, as will virtual programming. In an ideal world, public libraries would have both an in-house and virtual programming team. They would be separate teams that coordinate and communicate but have the time and resources dedicated to reaching their intended audience in effective and meaningful ways.

I don’t think physical buildings will permanently close. When this is over, people will be in more need than ever and we know through data that when the economy grows worse, public library use goes up. And after months of isolation and quarantine, people will need affordable places to be social, and this is something that libraries have always excelled at. There will come a time once again when our doors will safely open and what we have to offer will be exactly what our communities need. This may not be that time, but it is coming.

Libraries are always evolving and changing and we are witnessing that happening right now in very real ways. This is not the end of libraries, but the beginning of our next evolution. I don’t know what happens next. I do think that for now, it’s best that our doors remain closed and we do the thing we do best: seek out and find authoritative and reliable data to help us make best practices decisions to keep our patrons and staff healthy and safe while doing our best to serve our communities. The rules are changing right now, and it feels terrifying. Pandemic planning was not covered in library school

As I write this, public libraries everywhere are laying off staff. We know that budgets are being slashed because tax revenues have fallen way short due to sheltering in place. This is an overwhelming moment to be in a profession designed to do everything that seems to make this virus thrive. I hope that everyone out there making decisions about our health and safety will do so with the gravitas this moment requires.

In this moment, everything is changing. None of us were prepared and none of us know what comes next. But libraries will do what we always do best, change to fit the changing world. And thrive.

*Please note, this blog is not associated with any current or former employer and represents no one’s opinion but mine. Also, I do know that librarianing is not a real word.

Novels in Verse for National Poetry Month, Week 4 By Lisa Krok

This year’s National Poetry Month has certainly been different than usual, but poetry is still here for you, even while quarantined! Writing poetry can also be very cathartic. I have been posting a verse novel on Twitter @readonthebeach each day, along with a corresponding poetry activity. Click here for my previous post about using my book, Novels in Verse for Teens to reach marginalized and reluctant/striving readers, and here for the round-up from week one ,  week two, and week three. On to the final post for National Poetry Month, week four.

Day 22: House Arrest by K.A. Holt


Tim never thought he would be on house arrest for the next year. He thought probation was something that happened to other kids, not to him. As he checks in weekly with both a therapist and a probation officer, he keeps a journal. After his father leaves, Tim takes it upon himself to assist his mom financially and help with his sickly baby brother, while chronicling his thoughts in the journal.

Poetry journal activity:

Writing in a journal can be a way of releasing stress on the page. Tim attends therapy as part of his probation, and keeps track in a journal. “A journal is a place to express yourself, to record your thoughts, feelings and observations, and to cultivate your poetic style. The cool thing about your journal is that it’s yours. You can keep it secret or share it with your friends and family. You might even read some of your poetry out loud at a talent show or poetry jam. Whatever you decide to do with it, a daily poetry journal will keep you writing. And the more you write, the better writer you become!”, (Nesbitt, 2019). See Kenn Nesbitt’s suggestions for writing in poetry journals : https://www.poetry4kids.com/lessons/how-to-start-a-poetry-journal/

Day 23: Up From the Sea by Leza Lowitz


On a disastrous day in March 2011, Kai loses almost everyone and everything he cares about when a tsunami devastates his Japanese village. Ten years later, he is offered a trip to New York City to meet kids who lives were affected by 9/11, and he realizes he has the chance to find his estranged American father while there. On the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, Kai visits Ground Zero and decides the way to make something good come out of something bad is to return home and help rebuild his own town.

Although a work of fiction, the author was in Tokyo, Japan when the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami hit on March 11, 2011. Fortunately, from her relatively close but “safe” home, her family was all okay. Her idea of a boy who loves soccer was inspired by a boy she met in the disaster zone.

Haiku activity:

Japanese Haiku pairs well with this book.


Day 24: For Every One by Jason Reynolds


Jason Reynolds is a self-professed dreamer. He has been working to make his own dreams come true, but they take time…not just for Jason, but For Every One. Kids who may be scared to dream, or don’t even try because they have never seen one of their dreams come true: Jason wants you to know that just having the dream is the spark you need, and to take a leap of faith from there.

Dream poetry activity:

Poet Langston Hughes was also a dreamer. First, share his poem Dreams, (1926). https://poets.org/poem/dreams

Encourage teens to explain what they think the poem means. Next, share Hughes’ poem Harlem, (1951).


Foster discussions debating the differences between these two poems, and the messages and moods they convey.

Reynolds narrates the audio version of this book himself. Play that for the group to listen to while they are writing their own dream poems. Since dreams are personal and very open ended, teens select their form of choice for this activity. This can also evolve into spoken word poetry for those who are inclined.

Day 25: American Ace by Marilyn Nelson


After Connor’s grandmother dies, a letter is found with a confession that shakes up their close Italian American family. Connor’s grandpa, the man who raised his father, is not his birth father. When the only clues to the identity of this man are a pair of pilot’s wings and a class ring, Connor decides to investigate himself. What he discovers will change the understanding of identity and race within their entire family:

his biological grandpa was actually a Tuskegee Airman.

Identity poetry activity:

Nelson’s poem Beyond Skinon page 117 in American Ace takes on identity and what it means to each of us. What does it mean to be a descendant of a Tuskegee Airman? What is Nelson trying to say in “Beyond Skin”? Identity can encompass a variety of designations for a single person. I may see myself as librarian, author, daughter, sister, friend, White, short, blonde, smart, Irish, and Hungarian. Someone else may see my identity a different way, depending on whose point of view it is, or in what context they know me (or don’t know me). Encourage teens to think about what they know about their own identities. Do pieces from your past affect who you are today?  Teens write poems in free verse about their own identities. This could be the identity they feel themselves, or how they think others perceive them.

Day 26: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee


After his father commits suicide, Will begins walking…and walking…and walking. But walking doesn’t take away his urge to recreate his dad’s famous cornbread recipe, which he just can’t seem to get right. When he learns his friend Playa has been raped at a party, he decides to do some good in the world to avoid his own sadness. He begins leaving small gifts for people in his life, from the homeless guy “Superman”, to neighborhood kid “Little Butterfly Dude”, to his dear friend, Playa. By helping others, he begins to move past his own trauma. This novel in verse is told in 100 poems of 100 words each.

Penny poetry activity:

Alison McGhee’s poems are brief but mighty in this book. Adding one deliberate word at a time, she doles them out like pennies until she gets to 100 on each page. The number 100 has significance in multiple ways in this story: there are exactly 100 poems of exactly 100 words each, one dollar (100 pennies) is the cost of each item that Will buys to give others. This activity is open ended in that it is free verse, but specific in that penny poems must be 100 words each. Advise students to choose wisely, and to use a thesaurus to substitute words or phrases as needed so they reach exactly 100. Ninety-nine won’t do it. No change given, so don’t go over one dollar! 

Day 27: Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes


Wesley Boone sparks an interest in reading poetry aloud when he goes first at school. The weekly poetry sessions soon evolve as an outlet of sorts for the group, as they reveal their inner thoughts about each other and themselves. In doing so, they uncover what lives behind the eyes, beneath the skin, and beyond the masquerade.

Cypher poetry activity:

Mr. Ward’s school assignment evolves into poetry via open mic, and Wesley’s classmates bring their own topics and concerns  to the mic. The emotions presented in open mic poetry sometimes progress into poetry slams.

A cypher is a group of poets who take turns picking up and adding on to the poetry from the person before them. Or, in a poetry slam, a circle of poets who take turns reciting poems, which can expand into a hip-hop freestyle battle. Cypher poetry is very open ended and can be written or spoken. The key is to keep going and not break the circle. Pass the paper or pass the mic. Try it on paper first to become comfortable and create a rhythm of sorts, then advance into an open mic version.

See this example of a cypher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFyBURoUSE4

Day 28: They Call Me Guero by David Bowles


Guero is a pale skinned boy living on the border with his loving Mexican American family. He is wise beyond his years, wondering things like if he is Catholic and his friends are Mormon and Christian, how can everyone be right? After the death of his dog, his sister’s Quinceanera provides the family with a bright ray of sunshine. Guero’s teacher buoys his writing, telling him, “Poetry is the clearest lens for viewing the world.”. Together with his Bookworm Squad friends, Los Bobbys, he manages a bottle rocket fiasco and attempts to get the girl he is crushing on hard.  When he encounters the school bully, help comes from an unexpected place.

Couplet poetry activity:

Guero uses couplets to describe his days in the poem “Sundays” on page thirty-eight.

A couplet is two lines of verse together that are linked by both rhythm and rhyme.

The quick pacing and concise language of couplets are used by poets to make their poems grab the reader’s attention. A couplet is considered closed when the two lines form a bound unit of grammar, like a sentence. Have teens choose a day of the week to write about. First, they brainstorm a list of rhyming pairs that come to mind about their day of choice. Next, they sequence the pairs and write couplets. Some may be closed, while others may continue to the next stanza of lines. Remind students to use a thesaurus for help finding synonyms and antonyms to fit their rhymes.

Day 29: Saving Red by Sonya Sones


As part of her community service requirement for school, Molly Rosenberg volunteers to participate in the annual homeless count in Santa Monica. When she meets Red, Molly is determined to reunite the spirited homeless girl with her family in time for Christmas. This is easier said than done, as Red is tight lipped about her past, while Molly has her own things from the past she won’t discuss. When she realizes Red is exhibiting signs of being mentally ill, she desperately tries to keep her safe until she can figure out how to get Red back to her family.

Homelessness poetry activity:

Homelessness in the U.S. is on the rise and this complex issue impacts people from of all ages and backgrounds. Read below to learn more about homelessness and how you can respond to it with your words—and your actions.


Remember that teens have the right to privacy and may not want to share their poems, but use it for their own self-awareness and catharsis. This activity is meant to look within or to dig deep to think about ways to advocate for others, not out anyone or make them uncomfortable in any way. Since homelessness and mental health can be very personal subjects, free verse is a recommended option for this activity.

Day 30: Finding Baba Yaga by Jane Yolen


You may THINK you know the story of Baba Yaga…but you do not. When Natasha gathers her strength to leave her harsh, controlling father, she comes upon the magical house in the woods…the legendary one that walks on chicken feet with a fairy tale witch inside. The theme of a young woman discovering the power to take control of her fate and speak up is both timely and timeless.

Imagery poetry activity:

Imagery is the process of using vivid, descriptive words to give the reader a detailed picture of what is going on in your writing so that they can easily picture, or visualize, it in their own mind. Page 417 introduces what happens after a knock, knock at the door:

“I see the bony hand first,

knuckles broken on the wall of time.

Dirt under long fingernails,

It signals me in.”

Use the first line as a writing prompt to create creepy poems using imagery and personification.

-Lisa Krok

Find these activities and much more in Novels in Verse for Teens, available now.

Buy from Barnes & Noble

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Request it at your Indies.

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the adult and teen services manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians, available now from ABC-CLIO. Lisa’s passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. She was appointed to the 2019-2020 YALSA Presidential Advisory Task Force, served two years on the Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s team, and is serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA 2021) committee. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

Kicky’s Post It Note Reviews: Elysium Girls, Verona Comics and a lot of April Henry Novels

It’s a pandemic and we’re sheltering in place, which means that we should have all the time in the world for reading, right? I am personally one of the ones who through a combination of anxiety and illness, have not really been able to read. The Teen, however, has been reading like normal. So she joins us today for another installment of Kicky’s Post It Note reviews. You may recall that she wants to be a forensic scientist so she’s been reading a lot of April Henry books lately. Let’s see what she’s reading and what she thinks about it. Here’s what a teen reader thinks about some of the YA lit she’s been reading.

Publisher’s Book Description:

In this sweeping Dust Bowl-inspired fantasy, a ten-year game between Life and Death pits the walled Oklahoma city of Elysium-including a girl gang of witches and a demon who longs for humanity-against the supernatural in order to judge mankind.

When Sal is named Successor to Mother Morevna, a powerful witch and leader of Elysium, she jumps at the chance to prove herself to the town. Ever since she was a kid, Sal has been plagued by false visions of rain, and though people think she’s a liar, she knows she’s a leader. Even the arrival of enigmatic outsider Asa-a human-obsessed demon in disguise-doesn’t shake her confidence in her ability. Until a terrible mistake results in both Sal and Asa’s exile into the Desert of Dust and Steel.

Face-to-face with a brutal, unforgiving landscape, Sal and Asa join a gang of girls headed by another Elysium exile-and young witch herself-Olivia Rosales. In order to atone for their mistake, they create a cavalry of magic powered, scrap metal horses to save Elysium from the coming apocalypse. But Sal, Asa, and Olivia must do more than simply tip the scales in Elysium’s favor-only by reinventing the rules can they beat the Life and Death at their own game.

Post It Note Review: I really enjoyed this book and I loved all of the relationships.

Karen’s Note: One of the draw backs of this review format is that sometimes it really under sells a book. We talked a lot about this book and she really found it quite enthralling. You should check out The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough as a similar read.

Publisher’s Book Description:

From the author of Hot Dog Girl comes a fresh and funny queer YA contemporary novel about two teens who fall in love in an indie comic book shop.

Jubilee has it all together. She’s an elite cellist, and when she’s not working in her stepmom’s indie comic shop, she’s prepping for the biggest audition of her life.

Ridley is barely holding it together. His parents own the biggest comic-store chain in the country, and Ridley can’t stop disappointing them—that is, when they’re even paying attention.

They meet one fateful night at a comic convention prom, and the two can’t help falling for each other. Too bad their parents are at each other’s throats every chance they get, making a relationship between them nearly impossible…unless they manage to keep it a secret.

Then again, the feud between their families may be the least of their problems. As Ridley’s anxiety spirals, Jubilee tries to help but finds her focus torn between her fast-approaching audition and their intensifying relationship. What if love can’t conquer all? What if each of them needs more than the other can give?

Post It Note Review: I didn’t finish this book but it was sweet.

Karen’s Thoughts: Dugan is the author of Hot Dog Girl, a book The Teen really liked. She didn’t finish this book and I think it may have to do with the fact that an important relationship of hers ended during this time, but Amanda loved it.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Sixteen-year-old Cheyenne Wilder is sleeping in the back of the car while her stepmom fills a prescription for antibiotics. Before Cheyenne realizes what’s happening, the car is being stolen.

Griffin hadn’t meant to kidnap Cheyenne and once he finds out that not only does she have pneumonia, but that she’s blind, he really doesn’t know what to do. When his dad finds out that Cheyenne’s father is the president of a powerful corporation, everything changes–now there’s a reason to keep her.

How will Cheyenne survive this nightmare?

Post It Note Review: This book was really interesting. I didn’t want to stop reading it.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Cheyenne sets out to save her former captor in this much-anticipated sequel to Girl, Stolen.

Six months ago, Griffin Sawyer meant to steal a car, but he never meant to steal the girl asleep in the backseat. Panicked, he took her home. His father, Roy, decided to hold Cheyenne―who is blind―for ransom. Griffin helped her escape, and now Roy is awaiting trial. As they prepare to testify, Griffin and Cheyenne reconnect and make plans to meet. But the plan goes wrong and Cheyenne gets captured by Roy’s henchmen―this time for the kill. Can Cheyenne free herself? And is Griffin a pawn or a player in this deadly chase?

Post It Note Review: I learned a lot of new things from this book and I loved it.

Publisher’s Book Description:

What happens when someone who’s only ever wanted to be a hero becomes a suspect?

When a woman’s body is found in a Portland park, suspicion falls on an awkward teen who lives only a few blocks away, owns several knives, loves first-person shooter video games, and doodles violent scenes in his school notebooks. Nick Walker goes from being a member of a Search and Rescue team to the prime suspect in a murder, his very interest in SAR seen as proof of his fascination with violence. How is this even possible? And can Alexis and Ruby find a way to help clear Nick’s name before it’s too late? 

Post It Note Review: I read this book so fast because it kept me guessing so much.

Karen’s Thoughts: As I’ve mentioned, The Teen wants to be a forensic scientist. Hooking her up with the April Henry books was a genius move on my part. She’s really enjoying them and I get to feel like I’m supporting her scientific and professional interests. It’s a win all around.

Novels in Verse for National Poetry Month, Week 3 By Lisa Krok

April is National Poetry Month, so here we go with week three of novels in verse!  I have been posting a verse novel on Twitter @readonthebeach each day, along with a corresponding poetry activity. Click here for my previous post about using my book, Novels in Verse for Teens to reach marginalized and reluctant/striving readers, and here for the round-up from week one and week two.

Day 15: Inside Out & Back Again by Thannha Lai


Ha’s father left for a navy mission nine years ago and was captured. Her family has moved south to get farther away from communism and are living in poverty. They flee to Guam, and are then flown to another tent city in United States, living with a sponsor in Alabama. The entire family start new schools and jobs, and work on learning English. Ha has always been very smart, but she doesn’t feel smart now at school as she learns a new language. This story mirrors the author’s own experiences growing up, and things she has noticed in her own nieces and nephews. Grief and healing via family are themes that resonate.

Found poetry activity:

Ha has always been smart, but she struggles when her family moves to the U.S. from Vietnam. Found poetry can be a great way for English language learners to create poetry. Found poetry is a type of verse created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole sentences from other sources and reframing them by altering the sequence, adding or deleting text, changing spacing, etc, to construct new meaning. Think of found poetry as a collage of sorts, but with poems instead of pictures. https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library/teaching-strategies/found-poems 

Day 16: Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga


When things become volatile in war torn Syria, Jude and her mother take refuge in Cincinnati, Ohio with relatives, while her father and brother stay behind. Jude finds she has a new label of “Middle Eastern” in the United States, and she struggles to adjust at first. As she begins to make new friends and get to know her new family better, she realizes that she can be herself after all.

Empathy poetry activity:

Thirteen-year-old real-life Syrian refugee, Amineh Abou Kerech has gone through some experiences similar to the protagonist, Jude, in Other Words for Home. After fleeing first to Egypt from Syria, Amineh and her family eventually found refuge in England. This of course meant navigating a new culture and also learning a new language, much like Jude. Amineh used poetry to express herself, which encouraged others to have empathy. She wrote her prizewinning poem, “Lament for Syria”, half in English, and half in Arabic. Try writing a poem in a style of your choice that evokes empathy as Amineh did: https://vimeo.com/237486658 

Day 17:  Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge


Many recognize Mary Shelley’s name as the author of Frankenstein. However, what most people don’t know is that before the age of twenty, she had already been disowned by her family and was living with a married man in a scandalous arrangement. She survived losing two babies just after their births, before pouring her anguish into the book that was first published anonymously. Years later, Lord Byron made public letters that proved Mary Shelley was in fact the anonymous author of Frankenstein. Free verse is paired with haunting black and white watercolor illustrations in this unique biography in verse.

Mental health advocacy poetry activity:

Mental illness is clearly a theme throughout Mary’s Monster. Did you know that one in five people will suffer from a mental health issue at some point during their lifetime? That means some of your friends and family, including you, may be struggling with one right now. Read the action guide linked below for facts about mental health, and to learn how you can use poetry to address mental health in your life and community.


Day 18: Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank


Two girls share a hospital room and an illness, in very opposite ways. Where one quiet, the other is loud. Where one is polite, the other is rude. One screams in pain, while the other silently tolerates it. As their friendship slowly grows, the curtain separating their hospital beds opens, but is one is getting better while the other declines?

Exquisite corpse poetry activity:

The unique thing about this book is the format of the line running down the middle of the pages, which is a metaphor for the curtain between the girls in their hospital room. This has a similar feel to a parlor game created in the 1920-1930s during the Parisian Surrealist Movement.  Exquisite corpse poetry actually has nothing at all to do with corpses, but the name is certainly intriguing to teens! Exquisite corpse is a collaborative poetry game played by several people, each of whom writes a word on a sheet of paper, folds the paper to conceal it, and passes it on to the next player for his or her contribution. It is a good idea to have participants agree on a sentence structure before beginning. An example might be adjective, noun, verb, adjective, noun. Small adjustments like verb tenses and articles can be configured after the poem has been written by the group. The only real hard and fast rule is that each poet cannot see what the others have written. This can produce a surprising, hilarious, and sometimes completely absurd poem. See https://poets.org/text/play-exquisite-corpse for more details.

Day 19:  Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough        


After her mother passes away when Artemisia was only twelve, she had two choices: become a nun in a convent or work for her father grinding pigment for his paint. She chose the paint. Surrounded by misogyny and sexual abuse, Artemisia was one of the most talented painted of the time, but no one knew her name. Biblical parables of Judith and Susannah are interspersed in this hybrid of prose and verse.

Ekphrastic poetry activity:

Ekphrastic poems that describe works of art are a perfect pairing for this book. Use the following tips to guide writing an ekphrastic poem:

• Find a painting or sculpture that you find interesting. This could be a piece you see in real life, or find a photo online.

• Look at the artwork, from different angles. Be mindful of how it makes you feel. Take notes about your thoughts and use multiple senses to help describe them.

• Who do you see in the painting/sculpture? What are they doing? What might they do afterwards?
• Be creative with your poem! Try writing as if you were in the art, speaking to someone viewing it- or write about a conversation the people might have with each other. Imagine a story written about these people by the artist. Compare the art to something else, such as another statue or a busy day downtown. The possibilities are endless!

Day 20: Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall


As the oldest of eight children of Mexican American immigrants, Lupita is forced to grow up fast when Mami is diagnosed with cancer. During the course of illness, poverty, death, and grief, Lupita emerges resilient and determined.

R.I.P. poems: how to write a poem about death

As it in inevitable for us all, death is a universal experience that affects every single person. Dealing with such intense pain can be hard to manage. While no words can do justice to a life that is lost, poetry is a tool that can help you process the loss and is extremely effective as a coping mechanism during difficult times of mourning or grief. It is an avenue of self-expression where all your pain, loss, and suffering take written form, and the completed product is one of severity and truth. This tip guide will further assist you in writing poetry about death and grief:


Day 21:  Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes


Garvey’s dad wants him to be athletic like his sister and into sports, but Garvey prefers Star Trek, books, music, and math.

He feels like a big disappointment to his father, until they uncover their common love of music and singing, and are then able to make a connection.

Tanka poetry activity:

The Japanese tanka is a poem written in thirty-one-syllables, traditionally in a single unbroken line. Tanka translates as “short song,” and is better known in its five-line, 5/7/5/7/7 syllable count form. Grimes uses the ancient Japanese poetry form, tanka, in this book. The word tanka also translates to “short poem” in Japanese. A line-by-line syllable count can vary in modern English versions, but the number of lines in a basic tanka remains the same, at five lines long. Not every poet follows a syllable count, but Grimes approaches the syllable count like a puzzle, where she tries to find the piece that fits best. Tanka poems can often focus on mood, and also may include telling a story, like in Garvey’s Choice. Try this modern form of tanka as Grimes did in this book. Using a thesaurus is helpful in finding synonyms to fit the number of syllables you need for each line.

-Lisa Krok

Find all of these activities and much more in Novels in Verse for Teens, available now.

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Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the adult and teen services manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians, available now from ABC-CLIO. Lisa’s passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. She was appointed to the 2019-2020 YALSA Presidential Advisory Task Force, served two years on the Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s team, and is serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA 2021) committee. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach. FacebookTwitterShare

Sunday Reflections: It’s Okay to Not be Okay During a Pandemic

She is standing in front of the sink crying.

I can see her shoulders shaking.

Tears are streaming down her cheeks.

It’s been a rough week.

On Monday, she learned that her favorite teacher had passed away.

We fought about virtual learning. Several times.

She hasn’t seen her friends for over four weeks now.

And school was just cancelled for the remainder of the school year. No goodbyes. No signing of yearbooks. No end of the year party.

It’s just more of us sitting at home and trying to pretend that life is normal when it most definitely is not.

We were in California for Spring Break when it became clear that something serious was going on in our world. It was the worst Spring Break ever, full of difficult emotions and new realities and a lot of staying inside and planning what happens next. There was a brief moment when I wasn’t sure that we would make it home before they shut everything down and I really just wanted to pandemic in the familiarity of my own home with my husband, who had stayed behind because he was still working.

We’ve done a lot to try and make everything as normal as possible for our girls. We’ve Zoomed and Facetimed with family and friends. We’ve put up shamrocks and chalked the sidewalk and went for family walks. We’ve taken every precaution while still trying to be positive, upbeat, engaged and as normal as possible.

But this week genuinely kicked our butt. The Teen, already prone to depression and anxiety, hasn’t been coping well. Then came the news of our teacher’s passing. Some other things happened that aren’t my story to tell and some of them my kids just want to keep to themselves, which is fair.

And we are one of the lucky ones. Right now, I’m still lucky enough to be working from home although all around the country my fellow librarians – my peers, my colleagues, my friends – are being furloughed and laid off. Every new announcement from my city or admin leaves me with fear as I wonder if today will be the day that I join them. I’ve talked with friends with fear in their voices as we wondered if we would be laid off but equally afraid that our libraries would open to soon and we would now be placed in close quarters with the general public. After all of this we would find ourselves taking the virus we’ve worked so hard to avoid back home to our families.

On Thursday we stood outside as a family and looked at the stars in honor of our favorite teacher’s memory. He sponsored the Space Club and it was a fitting honor. Earlier that day we listened to his memorial service online because I guess that’s what we do now. It’s all just . . . a lot. A lot of new. A lot of different. A lot of sad. A lot of fear. A lot of stress. More than I ever imagined as a parent I would have to help my kid navigate at one time. I mean, a pandemic is a once in a lifetime event – I hope.

So yesterday she stood at the sink and cried and the only thing I could do was hold her close and tell her that I love her. I don’t know when this will end and I fear it will take longer than we think. I don’t want to make any false or empty promises. We’re running out of toilet paper. We miss our friends and family. And the truth is, this isn’t any where close to being done and I have no idea how bad it will get before it’s over.

It’s already unfathomably hard for millions of families. We are among the privileged and we know it.

And still, I wanted to stand at the sink and cry with her. I get it.

I hope you are all doing well and staying healthy. This is hard. It’s okay to not be okay in all of this. If you are in a position to help others during this time, please do so in whatever you can. If you need help or support, please don’t hesitate to seek that out in your area.

Resources to help children in the Covid-19 Pandemic

Every Library Institute HALO Fund for Library Staff in Need

Sourcebooks Fire Week: How to Eat an Elephant or Write About Books Based on The News, by Helene Dunbar

For our final post for Sourcebooks Fire week, we are excited to share this post with you by author Helene Dunbar. Dunbar discusses her books including her upcoming book, Prelude for Lost Souls.

Anti-apartheid and human rights activist Desmond Tutu once wisely said “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” Not much different from writing a book, really. Letters become words become sentences become paragraphs become pages become chapters, and so on.

It’s all too easy though, to focus on the whole elephant rather than those smaller pieces, when plotting a story. Unintentionally, all my books have themes connected to news stories. My first, These Gentle Wounds developed out of a freelance story I wrote about matricide and a desire to explore childhood PTSD, What Remains played with the idea of cellular memory (and whether organ recipients retained any traits of their donors), and Boomerang flipped the story of kidnapped teenagers upside down.

In working to capture the early days of the AIDS crisis for my most recent book, We are Lost and Found, I truly faced a “how do you eat an elephant?” question. Did I focus on someone who was sick? Did I focus on someone with an older relative who was sick? Did I focus on the child of someone affected? The friend? And how, I asked myself, do I do this through a YA lens?

I found my answers by focusing on the questions that I and my friends – teenagers ourselves – faced in 1983: How do you risk falling in love when you’re afraid it could kill you? How do you handle that type of fear when growing up can already be a pretty frightening thing? Is this the end of the world?

Having found the “bites” I then needed to create characters to tell those stories. My main character Michael is trying to simultaneously fall in love and save his fractured family. His older brother, Connor, has already been kicked out of the house for being gay and Michael doesn’t want the same to happen to him. He and his best friends James and Becky are already navigating some pretty stormy waters even without the growing storm of the AIDS crisis.

Because I wanted to tell a story about fear, I had to look at the various types of fear that needed to be represented. I gave Michael and Connor a homophobic father who is afraid of everything he doesn’t understand. Their mother is afraid of rocking the boat. Connor is afraid of being alone and of missing out on the full life he’d given up everything for. James is terrified of getting sick and not leaving meaningful art in the world. Becky is afraid she can’t save her friends. And when Michael does meet someone he could fall in love with, he’s afraid that Gabriel is keeping the sort of secrets that could prove fatal.

I knew I wanted New York City to be more than a setting, it needed to be a character in the book. I wanted the news of the day to drive the timeline. I wanted the music to mean to the characters what it meant to me at the time, a lifeline, a soundtrack to everything I was feeling. Each of these was a bite-sized piece of the elephant.

My next book, Prelude from Lost Souls, began when I heard about Lily Dale, New York, a town of Spiritualists and mediums, where everyone talks to the dead. I studied the town, spiritualism and ghosts. I reacquainted myself with my tarot cards and rune stones. And then I started to ask: What sort of people live in a town where everyone talks to the dead? What does that sort of life do to you? What if you could talk to any ghosts except the ones you really wanted to talk to? I was nibbling around the outside of the elephant.

Surely, I figured, some teens don’t want to live in my fictional town of St. Hilaire. And so, Dec Hampton, the only son of talented mediums who, after the death of his parents would rather do anything other than kowtow to the town leaders, came into being. And his friend, Russ Griffin whose mother, a medium in denial, abandoned him and his father when Russ decided to spend his life in St. Hilaire and has high aspirations to rise to the top of the town’s government. And Annie, a piano prodigy who wanders into town by coincidence, if there is such a thing, and can view the town as a sort of outsider. And Ian Mackenzie, a talented young medium, now ghost, who…well, you’d have to read the book to find out.

I realize Desmond Tutu probably had things other than writing on his mind when he talked about eating an elephant in bites. But in viewing large and often uncomfortable topics, I’ve found that seeking out the bite-sized piece that represents the heartfelt experience of an individual, can make a large meal, much more easily digestible.


For readers of Nova Ren Suma, Maggie Steifvater, and Maureen Johnson comes a spellbinding tale about choosing your own path, the families we create for ourselves, and facing the ghosts of your past.

In the town of St. Hilaire, most make their living by talking to the dead. In the summer, the town gates open to tourists seeking answers while all activity is controlled by The Guild, a sinister ruling body that sees everything.

Dec Hampton has lived there his entire life, but ever since his parents died, he’s been done with it. He knows he has to leave before anyone has a chance to stop him.

His best friend Russ won’t be surprised when Dec leaves—but he will be heartbroken. Russ is a good medium, maybe even a great one. He’s made sacrifices for his gift and will do whatever he can to gain entry to The Guild, even embracing dark forces and contacting the most elusive ghost in town.

But when the train of Annie Krylova, the piano prodigy whose music has been Dec’s main source of solace, breaks down outside of town, it sets off an unexpected chain of events. And in St. Hilaire, there are no such things as coincidences.

Meet the Author

Called the “queen of heartbreaking prose” by Paste Magazine, Helene Dunbar is the author of WE ARE LOST AND FOUND, which has been optioned for film by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s production company, Ill Kippers, and PRELUDE FOR LOST SOULS (Sourcebooks Fire, August a, 2020) as well as BOOMERANG, THESE GENTLE WOUNDS, and WHAT REMAINS. Over the years, she’s worked as a drama critic, journalist, and marketing manager, and has written on topics as diverse as traditional Irish music, court cases, and theater. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter.

Sourcebooks Fire Week: Some Advice for my Teen Self While Social Distancing by Alyssa Sheinmel

Today for Sourcebooks Fire week we are honored to have author Alyssa Sheinmel with us talking about her newest release, What Kind of Girl. She also discusses why sheltering in place is different than working from home and gives teens advice about social distancing. What Kind of Girl is an important book that addresses the topic of teen dating violence in meaningful and thoughtful ways.

I should be an expert on working from home—I’ve been doing it for years.  I have know plenty of writers who prefer to work at coffee shops and writing-rooms; or who write with friends, motivated by the sound of their colleagues’ fingers on the keyboard.  Not me—I get up each morning and sit at my desk in my apartment, happy to have my dog as my only co-worker.  Even when my writing group meets twice a month, we usually meet at my apartment. 

I was the same way as a teen.  While most of my friends and classmates preferred to work at the library, in our dorm’s common areas, or to get together for study groups at coffee shops—I always studied in my room, heading to the library only when absolutely necessary. 

As I write this, my family and I—along with most of the country, and much of the world—have been practicing social distancing for over a month.  Like so many Americans, I’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude that my loved ones and I are able to stay home, and I’m awed by the heroism of our health care workers and those that are working to keep our grocery stores and pharmacies stocked and their doors open.  I’m filled with worry for those who have lost their income due to this pandemic, and fear and grief for those who have fallen sick. 

So of course, working from home right now feels different.  Everything feels different.  There’s this feeling in the air like—you’re home every day, you should be writing, Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine!—but my usual writing routines aren’t quite working.  Normally, I read for twenty minutes before I start writing for the day; now, I find myself checking the news instead.  Usually, when I sit down to write, I put my computer into airplane mode and (try to) leave my phone in the other room; now, I feel compelled to keep my phone close by, in case anyone calls or texts.  This is a small problem, I know, in light of all the troubles we’re facing right now.  But it feels strange—I feel strange—to have trouble concentrating on my work each day.

I can only imagine that studying from home as a teen would feel as different as everything else right now.  I’d be worrying about the world and missing my friends terribly.  I’d be missing school—like many of my characters, I was one of those kids who loved school, who worried endlessly about grades and college applications.  I know I’d be anxious to keep up with my schoolwork—and yet, I think I’d struggle to stay still long enough to finish my assignments.  Which would only make me more anxious.  And then I’d feel terrible for worrying about grades at a time like this.  And then I’d feel anxious all over again.

While I’ve been at home over the past few weeks, I’ve been on deadline—working on the final round of edits for my upcoming novel.  There are mornings when I wake up, thinking it will be impossible to concentrate that day.  But then, I sit in front of my computer.  I put my computer into airplane mode, just like I usually do.  I start with one sentence.  I feel myself getting distracted, stopping to check the news, wanting to clean my kitchen (again!), text my friends and family, or just be with my dog.  But then I read another sentence.  The distractions fade, just a bit.  One more sentence, then another.  I start to get sucked in, interested in my characters and their world, instead of thinking about my own, and I feel so grateful to have the job I do.

And I don’t know about you, but the same thing happens when I pick up a book to read.  A few weeks ago, I thought I’d at least make a dent in my TBR list this month, but these days, I’m reading more slowly than I ever have.  Every time I pick up my current read, I feel distracted, restless.  I put the book down and check my phone, turn on the news.  But then I read another sentence, another paragraph.  Sometimes I put the book down, but sometimes, I stay still and keep reading.  Writing and reading are always a way of taking a break—even if it’s just a short one—from the world around us, and I appreciate that magic now more than ever. 

So, if I could, I’d encourage my teen self to write a story—even a terrible story that ends up not making any sense at all, one that she’d be too embarrassed to share with her teachers—just to get sucked into another world for a little while.  I’d encourage her to pick up a book she’s read so many times she can practically recite it, and eat it up like comfort food.

None of us has ever lived through a time like this, so none of us actually knows how to do it.  Maybe someday, I won’t remember the plots to any books I read during this period, and maybe I’ll want to rewrite every word I wrote.  (Including this blog post!)  I’m so very thankful for reading and writing—but there are days when it’s hard to do either, and I’m trying to accept that.  I hope someone would tell my teen self that it’s okay if she’s having trouble finishing her homework, or writing a story, or reading a novel.  But I think she would keep trying, over and over again. 

After all, that’s what my grown-up self is doing.


“Both timely and timeless, a powerful exploration of abuse in its many forms, as well as the strength it takes to rise up and speak your truth.”—AMBER SMITHNew York Times bestselling author of The Way I Used to Be

What kind of girl stays after her boyfriend hits her?

The girls at North Bay Academy are taking sides. It all started when Mike Parker’s girlfriend showed up with a bruise on her face. Or, more specifically, when she walked into the principal’s office and said Mike hit her. But her classmates have questions. Why did she go to the principal and not the police? Why did she stay so long if Mike was hurting her? Obviously, if it’s true, Mike should be expelled. But is it true?

Some girls want to rally for his expulsion—and some want to rally around Mike. The only thing that the entire student body can agree on? Someone is lying. And the truth has to come out.

From New York Times bestselling author Alyssa Sheinmel comes an unflinching and resonant tale that examines how society treats women and girls and inspires the power to claim your worth.

Praise for What Kind of Girl:
“A poignant, thought-provoking novel that will resonate deeply.”—Kirkus
“A rallying cry.”—Booklist
“I immediately saw myself in this book, which so thoroughly explains the thought process when coming to terms with victimhood and survivorship. I felt understood.”—Chessy Prout, author of I Have the Right To
“Important, raw, timely, and ultimately hopeful…demands readers discuss the trauma of teen dating violence and how girls are so often taught—even expected—to internalize their victimization.”—Shannon M. Parker, author of The Girl Who Fell and The Rattled Bones

Meet the Author

Alyssa Sheinmel is the New York Times bestselling author of several novels for young adults, including A Danger to Herself and Others and Faceless. She is the co-author of The Haunting of Sunshine Girl and its sequel, The Awakening of Sunshine Girl. Alyssa grew up in Northern California and New York, and currently lives and writes in New York City. Follow her on Instagram @alyssasheinmel and Twitter @AlyssaSheinmel or visit her online at www.alyssasheinmel.com.