Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Sunday Reflections: The Living History Museum Project Taught Me It’s Harder to Smash the Patriarchy Than I Thought

Years ago when The Teen was in the 4th grade, I was introduced to the Living History Museum Project. This is a project where the kids are asked to research a historical person, put together a presentation board, dress the like person and then act like the person as if they are in a museum.

When our family was first introduced to the project, I was livid because the girls received a pink piece of paper with their all female choices and the boys were given a blue piece of paper with their all male choices. I wrote a post several years ago about this and I’m happy to say, this year my child received a white piece of paper with several choices both male and female. That’s progress and I appreciate it. In fact, this post is not about the school or the teachers. It’s about how we internalize misogyny and the patriarchy and don’t even realize it.

So Thing 2, a space loving kid who wants to be an astronaut, choose Sally Ride. She read books on Sally Ride. She already had an astronaut costume to wear because she wears it almost daily. We were excited and ready to go. She wrote a speech, rehearsed it and then asked me to watch her give a sample presentation. She put on her costume, stood their like a statue and asked me to “push the button” so she could give her speech.

“Sally Ride was born . . . . She was the American woman in space . . . Her mission was . . . She married . . . She died . . .”

They had to give five facts and those were her five facts. When she was born, two facts about her career in space, when and who she married and when she died.

Here’s an interesting fact about Sally Ride. It is true, in 1982 she married fellow astronaut Steve Hawley. They later divorced in 1987, so they were married about 5 years. However, she later had a life partner for 27 years named Tam O’Shaughnessy. O’Shaughnessy was Sally Ride’s partner at the time of her death.

We live in a home where we talk openly and often about feminism. I feel like I have taught my daugthers a lot about thinking critically about the ways that we talk about and portray women in media. I am raising little feminists. And as feminists we’re very open and affirming of the LGBTQ community. Our dinner time conversations often involve talking about things like the news and the media we consume.

And I know that Thing 2 is listening. I recently bought her a boxed set of I Survived books and she laid them all out on the floor to look at them. “Mom, come here,” I heard her yell from the other room, “Do you see what’s wrong with these books?” I looked and then she explained, “They all have boys on the covers. There are no girls on the covers of any of these books.”

And yet, when asked to do this assignment and find five critical facts about Sally Ride to share, one of those facts involved Sally Ride being married to a man for five years. She passed over a ton of Sally Ride’s accomplishments in space and science and choose to highlight that Sally Ride was married to a man. I can’t help but thing about all the important facts she neglected in order to highlight this one fact.

So here’s the thing I keep thinking about this: there’s still a lot of work to do. My kids are intelligent, informed kids who have been taught to think critically about how we talk about and portray women, but there’s still a lot of work to do. I’m going to keep doing the work because they deserve it.

Teen Services 101: I’m just getting started with teen services, what do I need to succeed?

I frequently get asked to speak or provide staff training. Sometimes I just get email asking for help from staff who are just going into teen services. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is this: I’m just getting started with teen services, what do I need to succeed? Over time, as I have refined my answer, I think successful teen services touches on 8 specific points to some degree or another. Keep in mind, not all libraries are the same so what works at one location may not work at another. But these are, I believe, some basic elements that everyone doing teen services should look into and consider when deciding that their library wants to do teen services and do it well.

Several YA/Teen Librarians and a handful of Teens help make TLT happen
  1. Foundations
    • Administration buy in/support; if you don’t have it, you need to engage in internal advocacy to cultivate it
    • A clearly outlined budget that includes a teen space, collections, programming, staff & marketing
    • Policies and procedures (the who, what, when, where & why of it all)
    • Goals and objectives (measurable, evaluate on an ongoing basis)
  2. Staff
    • Clearly designated staff who WANT to be doing teen services
    • Comprehensive staff training that touches on adolescent development, your library’s policies and procedures, marketing, and more. You’ll want to make sure your staff understands that when dealing with teens there are firm limits about interpersonal relationships that must be maintained to protect staff and the library while creating meaningful mentoring connections with teens.
    • Ongoing professional development, but what we know about teens and the issues that affect them (and their interests) are always changing
    • Accountability tools in place; make sure you have ways to nurture your employees and help the ones who are not a good fit to move into other department.
  3. Teens
    • Understanding of basic adolescent development, challenges
    • Understanding of basic teen issues (what do we know about the current generation of teens and how does it influence our practices?)
    • Know, understand & incorporate the 40 Developmental Assets
    • Cultivate ways of fostering teen involvement and feedback, both formal and informal
  4. Collections
    • Purchasing, organizing and providing access
    • Weeding
    • Merchandising
    • Reader’s Advisory
    • Collection Audits
  5. Space
    • Distinct and separate from both children and adults, even if it’s just a few shelves
    • Examine best practices for design tips
    • Keep clean, updated and inviting
  6. Services
    • Basic customer service training for ALL staff because all staff with serve and make an impression on teens
    • Service plan/outline (see above in foundations)
    • Evaluate and incorporate online services
    • Evaluating current offerings, continual evaluations for best practices
  7. Programming
    • Investigate known best practices
    • Determine workable programs for each location dependent on size, staff, and budget but incorporating best practices.
    • Incorporate traditional and self-directed programming offerings where feasible; more variety equals more teens served
    • Ongoing evaluation by location
  8. Marketing
    • Train, empower and maintain staff to do publicity/PR for teen services
    • Outreach (school visits, local events, small programs in outside spaces where possible)
    • Investigate using social media to reach teens
    • Remember implicit and explicit messaging; everything we do sends a message to teens about how we value them and whether or not we really want them in our libraries

The good news is that you can find a lot of this information right here at Teen Librarian Toolbox. If you look under the top TLT menu you can find a lot of the how and why under the Professional tab. We talk about teen development and issues under the Teen Issues tab. There are over 100 tried, tested and true teen programs offered under the Programs tab (and even more if you click on the Teen Programming tag). In the past year we have moved more to tags as opposed to indexing, so you’ll want to explore the various tags on TLT.

This outline is just a foundational building block, a sort of Teen Services 101. In part because the details are always changing as we learn more, learn from each other, share best practices and grow. I’ve been working with teens for 26 years now and the basics have been consistent, the outline above has worked for me. But the details, now those are always changing.

What would you add to the outline above? Let us know in the comments.

Additional Resources:

YALSA Teen Services Competencies


Strategies for Successful Teen Services

What I Wish I’d Known About Building Teen Services from Scratch

Teen Librarian Toolbox


Teen Services Underground


School Library Journal


Sunday Reflections: How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Kid Hate Reading and Why (& How) I Pushed Back

Thing 2, age 10, started the 4th grade this year. We already knew she was behind in reading as she had been diagnosed with dyslexia and given a 504 plan to provide her with accommodations. I had fought tooth and nail in the K, 1st and 2nd grade to get her diagnosed and on track, and there is a lot of push back when it comes to getting our kids accommodations because of concerns about money. We’re willing every day in many ways to sacrifice the health and well being of our children for a few dollars and serving kids with special needs is no different. You can read about our struggle to get a diagnosis and what I learned about dyslexia here. But let’s jump ahead now to the 4th grade.

So the 4th grade began and I soon learned that our kids would be participating in the 40 Book Challenge, an original concept that was made popular by Donalyn Miller but has been bastardized in many ways by school districts every where. They have taken her original intent and tried to regulate it and grade it in ways that make its original goal and premises basically moot. She has even addressed her concerns about the ways that teachers incorrectly and harmfully implement her 40 Book Challenge here.

In our district, kids were challenged to read 40 books. They would read 20 books the first semester and another 20 books the second semester. They had to read a very regimented list of books and were required to keep a reading log AND to fulfill a one page question sheet for each completed book to get credit. They were graded and after the first semester, when many of the kids hadn’t read the first 20 books, they had to turn in a sheet each Friday and if they didn’t their punishment was to give up their recess to walk laps. Only two of the options each semester were free choice books, everything else was designed to make them read a variety of genres. Half of the books had to be over 80 pages in length. It was a one size fits all approach that left little wiggle room for the various types and stages of readers. It was limiting, punitive, and left little room for enjoyment or exploration. And it highly regulated our children’s freedom outside of class, which is incredibly difficult because school time is now so very regulated and regimented.

This is how that first semester went in our home. As I attempted to keep my child on task to meet the various requirements and goals, we fought. A lot. My child, already behind and feeling a lot of insecurity and resenment towards reading, responded exactly as you would expect. She cried. She fought. She procrastinated. She told me she hated reading. She told me she hated me. She told me she was stupid and a failure and that she hated herself. It was a very difficult semester in our home, for everyone. But most importantly, I worried that she wasn’t going to make it out of the 4th grade with any positive emotions surrounding herself, me or reading. It felt like everyone was being harmed and damaged.

So this semester, I took a different approach and we read. We read whatever we wanted. I ignored the sheets and the genres and the assignment and we read. If Thing 2 asked for a book, I got it for her. If she tried it and she liked it, I got her more books in that series or by that author. When she asked me to buy her a book because she wanted to own it and I could afford it, we made that happen. I gave her money for the Scholastic book fair. I checked books out from my library. I took her to the half price bookstore. And we read. We read whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. We ignored the assignment altogether and just worked on developing her personal reading skills at her own pace and on cultivating an enjoyment of reading.

When she asked me to read to her, I read to her. When she asked to read to me, I listened. I allowed her to skip a night of reading if she expressed that she wasn’t interested in reading that night. I made it my personal goal not to fight with her about reading because I recognized that a lot of things were happening in her life to give her negative associations with reading.

Over time, she started reading on her own. I can tell you based on the books she has read that she is still not reading at level. She is an insecure reader and she has to work through the fear and negative feelings before she develops confidence in her reading skills. Those fear and negative feelings are in part because she is a child with dyslexia, but also because we teach and enforce reading in ways that are negative for our children. So now we are undoing all of those things in our home.

Every night now, she goes to bed with a book and a flashlight. She takes a book in the car with her. She carries a book or two in her backpack. She asks for books. She reads books. She read me a book of poetry from another room over a walkies-talkie because why not. Just this morning she came to me with a list of the books she wanted to read next and the order she wanted to read them in. She is developing joy and confidence in reading in her own way and at her own pace.

Last week, I bit the bullet and wrote her teachers a long email explaining to them that my child would not be completing the 40 Book Challenge as outlined by them. I explained to them that it is not being implemented in the ways intended and that I thought it was doing more harm than good when it comes to developing strong, confident readers. I shared with them the research I knew as a librarian about the value and importance of personal choice when it comes to children and reading, about the recent research on the decline of interest in reading around the age of 9, and about how as a mother I felt it was more important for me to nurture my child’s life long love of reading as opposed to fulfilling this one assignment because I challenged the impact and efficacy of the assignment.

It was really hard for me to write that email because I’m a rule follower who believes in and supports teachers and public education. But in my gut, I also knew it was the wrong approach for my child. I had seen it first hand. I will also admit that I made a lot of mistakes along the way. I probably should have asked for 504 accommodations immediately. I should have spoken to the teachers much sooner. I should have stopped enforcing the rules much earlier when I realized the damage that they were doing.

Over the course of this school year, my child has now read well over 40 books. They just aren’t the right kinds of books or the right length of books. Sometimes she read a book multiple times, and that doesn’t count either. She has read 11 of the 12 Here’s Hank books (she thought the one with a zombie would be too scary), she’s read all 8 Raina Telgemeir graphic novels, she’s read several Magic School Bus and Black Lagoon books. She’s read like 20 pictures books over and over and over again. She’s read a couple of nonfiction books about space, because she’s really into space. She has read. She has grown as a reader. She is growing more confident as a reader.

We haven’t fought about reading all semester. She hasn’t cried about reading in months. She hasn’t called herself stupid or a failure in a few weeks now. She tells me she likes reading now. I have come to realize that I made the right decision for my child.

I talked about this some several times on Twitter and Facebook and last week I shared that I was saying no to the assignment. Many people asked me about the school’s response. I would like to say that it was positive, but they basically said if she turned in what she had done to date that she would probably get a 90 and with her current grade, she would probably still pass the class. That was obviously not the response I was hoping for.

If you are a librarian or a teacher or a parent I hope that we can all learn from my horrible, miserable, no good, very bad experience with the 40 Book Challenge. Implemented in the ways intended by Donalyn Miller, I believe it is and can be a good model. I recommend even more reading and following some of her newest research in Game Changer! But whatever we do, moving forward, let’s learn from the experiences of my daughter not to take the joy out of reading. A one time grade isn’t worth the long term harm we’re doing when it comes to reading.

Read Wild: Crossover Eco-fiction, When There Isn’t Enough YA Lit About Nature

For decades the argument has been made that teenagers need to spend more time outside.  They need time away from glowing screens, ringing phones, and buzzing social media alerts.  At the same time, our schools have added computers in every class, adopted BYOD policies, and cut gym classes and recess in favor of trying to raise test scores.  When I started teaching eleven years ago I realized that many of my high school students do not feel connected to nature.They are overscheduled and overworked, coming home late at night and rising early the next morning to start again.

I’m always thrilled when new YA books have an environmental bent, but it doesn’t happen often enough.  Cli-fi is getting more popular, but there’s also space for books that deal with nature and the environment in other ways.  We tend to see more of these stories for middle grade and young readers, but there’s no reason to exclude the YA audience.  Whither are the books like Barbara Kingsolver’s, but written for a YA audience? Books about nature can inspire students to spend more time outside, to connect with nature in their backyard or school yard. 

While we wait for more great YA books that deal with nature and the environment, why not check out some of the adult books on the topic with crossover appeal? Below I’ve put together a list of some of the adult books my high school students are reading and loving.  Each book deals with nature and/or the environment in some way (and they can help you check off one of the boxes in our #readwild challenge!).

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: Kya, or “the Marsh Girl” has been on her own since childhood.  The salt marsh outside her door has raised her.  This is a gorgeous, lush story that transports readers to the coast of North Carolina.  The marsh is almost a character in and of itself, with Kya serving as naturalist and guide for the reader.  A heartbreaking coming-of-age mystery, Where the Crawdads Sing is incredibly popular in my class.  It’s also popping up on AP Lit summer reading lists!

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver: All of Kingsolver’s novels deal with nature and have crossover appeal, but this one seems to catch on quickly with my teens each year. When Dellarobia Turnbow discovers millions of confused monarch butterflies overwintering in the Appalachian Mountains her world is turned upside down. Scientists, religious leaders, the media: they all have an explanation for what’s happening. Dellarobia isn’t sure if it’s a miracle or a disaster. 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: Kristin Hannah’s books have always been popular with my students, but The Great Alone is my favorite.  Leni and her parents move to Alaska after her father returns from the Vietnam War.  When they arrive and see just how off the grid their new home is it becomes abundantly clear that they are in no way prepared for life in Alaska.  Alaska in the 70s is the romantic place her parents assume it will be; it’s brutal, dangerous, and terrifying.  But it’s also beautiful and awe-inspiring.

American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee: I haven’t been to Yellowstone (yet!), but when I finished this book I was *this* close to booking a trip that day.  Nate Blakeslee chronicles the rise and tragic fall of O-Six, one of Yellowstone’s most famous wolves. While this is a true story, Blakeslee writes it like it’s fiction. It moves quickly and I couldn’t put it down. My students have been enjoying this one.

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1) by Octavia E. Butler: It baffles me that Butler’s book aren’t widely taught in high school classes.  Parable of the Sower is the first in the Earthseed series and it’s absolutely terrifying.  Lauren and her family live in safety behind the walls of her community outside LA in 2025.  Climate change has ravaged the US; Lauren and her neighbors are trying to salvage what they can.  When Lauren, a hyper-empath who experiences the pain of those around her, loses her family in a fire she is forced out into the world.  My students typically fall in love with this and quickly move through the series.

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery: The Soul of an Octopus is on the (very long) list of suggested summer reading choices for my incoming freshmen.  It’s always the most popular choice.  A warning, though: this book will make you want to have a pet octopus.  Montgomery’s experiences with specific octopuses will surprise you.  While we readily accept the intelligence of primates, dogs, and dolphins, the octopus has never really been popular with the general public.  Montgomery’s book, a brilliant nature study, will change that for readers.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer: I teach at a STEM-focused high school and I’ve been recommending this to all of my students and colleagues.  For teens interested in biology, especially botany, this is a must-read.  Robin Wall Kimmerer is a scientist and a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation.  As a result, she brings these two lenses to her study of plants.  The book is almost a collection of poetic essays and it will inspire readers to stop and take a much closer look at the plants in their own yard.

The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James: A few years ago my colleague and I added this to our senior English curriculum as part of our man vs. nature unit. This is a powerful story about elephant poaching in southern India. Told from the elephant’s point of view, the poacher’s, and a Western filmmaker’s, it presses the reader to consider multiple perspectives.  There are no easy answers in this book, no truly good or truly evil characters.  Too often poaching is presented as something done by evil people; James shows that it’s much more complicated than that.

Meet Sarah Mulhern Gross

I am a National Board Certified teacher who teaches ninth-grade and twelfth-grade English at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. I am a contributor to the New York Times Learning Network and my writing has appeared in Scientific American, Edutopia, ASCD, and The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet.  In 2017 I completed my Master’s degree in teaching biology with Project Dragonfly at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio with a focus on defeating nature-deficit disorder in adolescents through interdisciplinary work.
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Read Wild: Cli-fi, How Books Can Start Conversations and Inspire Action

According to a recent NPR/Ipsos poll, more than 80% of parents want climate change taught in schools.  And that statistic is pretty solid regardless of political affiliation, with 66% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats agreeing that climate change should be taught. Sounds great, right?  The problem is that the same poll also revealed that while teachers are very supportive of teaching climate change, more than half of those surveyed are not teaching it and almost 2/3rds said that’s because it’s outside of their subject area. 

What’s the answer to this conundrum?  Stories, of course! In 2015, Ed Maibach, director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication, said at a White House meeting on climate change that “Numbers numb, stories sell. We don’t deal well with numbers — it tends to suspend our sense of emotion — but we respond very, very well to stories.”

Cli-fi, or climate fiction, has been around for ages, though the term entered popular use in the 21st century.  It’s defined as a fictional story that includes the effects of climate change.  These stories might explore things like natural disasters, global warming, water shortages, natural resource access, fossil fuels, loss of species, or anything else related to our changing planet. Adult fiction is full of cli-fi, including The Overstory, this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize.  Luckily, children’s and YA literature are also confronting climate change head-on through cli-fi.  Sharing cli-fi books with teens is a great way to engage students in one of the biggest issues of their (and our) lifetime. 

I’ve been using cli-fi books in one of the literature circle units I run in my 9th grade English class and they always inspire passionate conversations.  In addition, they often inspire students to get involved by writing letters to the editor, joining our school’s Roots & Shoots club, and even in pursuing sustainability majors in college. 

Reading a cli-fi book is one of the #readwild challenges I’m asking readers to engage in this year, so I’ve rounded up a few of my recent favorites below. 

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman: Before reading Dry you need to understand that it is absolutely terrifying. Set in a very near-future, Dry is the story of a group of teens caught in the middle when California’s drought escalates from inconvenient to life and death. Quiet suburbs are suddenly warzones, neighbors are stealing from neighbors, and families have turned against each other. Neal and Jarrod Shusterman have crafted a terrifying story that made me have to stop reading at points.  This is great to pair with news articles about Flint and the drought history in California.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline: Dimaline’s book is set in a near future after the world has been ravaged by climate change.  Climate change has led to people losing the ability to dream, so people are descending into madness.  However, North America’s Indigenous people can still dream.  Unfortunately,  their bone marrow holds the cure for the rest of the world. With terrifying parallels to how Indigenous people were and are treated, The Marrow Thieves has been very popular with my teen readers.  It pairs well with history classes and current events.

The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser: Part Moby Dick and part cli-fi, The Beast of Cretacea is the story of a group ofteens sent to other planets to harvest resources and bring them back to Earth. Earth has been completely ravaged, so Ishmael is one of the teens sent into space.  However, he isn’t just there to enjoy the clean air and cool weather; Ishmael risks his life to help his foster parents escape from the crumbling planet Earth. Pair it with Moby Dick to talk about environmental justice

These are just a few of the YA cli-fi books out there.  Check out this great list Natalie Korsavidis posted on TeenLibrarianToolbox in 2017 for even more ideas. And don’t forget to share your progress on the #readwild reading challenge on social media!

Additional Resource:

Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference (published by the National Council of Teachers of English) is a fantastic resource for those looking for more ways to talk about climate change outside of science class. 

Meet Sarah Mulhern Gross

I am a National Board Certified teacher who teaches ninth-grade and twelfth-grade English at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. I am a contributor to the New York Times Learning Network and my writing has appeared in Scientific American, Edutopia, ASCD, and The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet.  In 2017 I completed my Master’s degree in teaching biology with Project Dragonfly at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio with a focus on defeating nature-deficit disorder in adolescents through interdisciplinary work.

Read Wild: Hosting a Bob Ross Like Painting Party

Edited to Add: Please note the comment at the end of the post about Bob Ross, trademark and how to officially host a Bob Ross themed party. If you don’t want to pursue an official Bob Ross party, you’ll have to leave his name and likeness out of the picture due to copyright and trademark rights.

Bob Ross is having quite the renaissance in popularity, especially among teens, in part because of Netflix. If you didn’t know, you can watch Bob Ross paint a lot of happy trees on Netflix and many teens find it to be a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. It’s also fun to host a Bob Ross like painting party.

Today’s program is being brought to you by Karen . . . and the Girl Scouts. Thing 2 is a Girl Scout and they also do a lot of programming that would work well in a public or school library setting, especially if you are already doing programming and have a good space for it. I’m putting this under our Read Wild heading because Bob Ross was famous for painting a variety of landscapes, including forest, trees, sunsets, and seaside retreats. If you have the outdoor space available, I recommend taking the painting outside so teens are painting nature while being in nature and breathing in some fresh air. This is a fun and creative way to get teens thinking about and connecting with nature.

Supplies Needed:

  • A painting surface, like a tile mentioned by Cindy earlier today or a canvas
  • A variety of paints (Bob Ross uses oil paints, but you can use acrylics)
  • Paint brushes
  • Paper plates (this will be your palette)
  • Paper towels
  • Water and something to keep it in for cleaning brushes
  • If you need to protect your painting surfaces, you’ll want to get newspaper or tablecloths

Before you start painting, you may want to prime your canvas by giving it a layer of white paint. If you want to speed up the process, you can prep canvases the day before your painting party. If you are using tiles, you don’t need to do any prep work.

Set up is pretty easy, just distribute brushes, paints, paper plates and water containers to each participant. If you are inside and have public performance rights, you can play Bob Ross in the background. The big thing here is to just let teens paint nature scenes and step back and let them be creative and expressive.

You’ll want to give a brief introduction to teens about Bob Ross. If you want to go with video there are several choices on YouTube or you can just read a brief introduction via someplace like Wikipedia (I know, I’m sorry, but it’s a quick resource). You could also print off examples of his work to have around the room or put together a slideshow which you project onto a blank wall or share via your in-house screens.

There are several online write ups of Bob Ross painting parties. It turns out, it’s a pretty popular party theme. You can find a few good ones here, here and here. Bonus points if you find and wear a Bob Ross wig.

When we went to the Girl Scout party, The Teen was just there by default. However, she had such a good time that she went home and painted a few more canvases. It was an obvious hit and I highly recommend it.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Tile Art

I love doing drafts with tiles. They are super cheap and it is easy to do many projects with them. I get my tiles from Home Depot, Menard’s or Lowes. I purchase the white ceramic tiles. The size depends on the price and type of tile available. I will discuss two of my favorite tile crafts below.

Book Mod Podge Tiles


  • Tiles
  • Book cover images
  • Mod Podge
  • Brushes


  1. Print out and cut book images. If you have old School Library Journal issues that you were going to recycle, they would be perfect for this craft.
  2. Position the images on the tile to see how it will look. You can do one big book cover or many smaller book covers. I love doing many book covers.
  3. Place a layer of Mod Podge under the image and then place another layer on top. Next glue all of the book images at once with another layer of Mod Podge. Then you will want to put a few layers of Mod Podge on top of the whole tile. Be very careful when explaining this step to the teens they will want to us  too much Mod Podge. Gentle layering works best for this project.

Thoughts: I love this craft for Teen Read Week. It is a simple craft and teens can celebrate their favorite books. They can make lovely coasters or a work of art.

Nail Polish Tiles


  • Tiles
  • Nail Polish (avoid glitter nail polish)
  • Water
  • Aluminum Half Size Deep Foil Pan
  • Stick


  1. Pour a layer of water into the foil pan.
  2. Put nail polish in the water. Pour it in gently. Try to swirl it when you put it in the water. Use multiple colors.
  3. Put the tile in the water, but do not submerge it. It should be just deep enough so it hits the nail polish layer that is floating on the top. Pull the tile out quickly and let it dry.
  4. Use your stick to get rid of the extra nail polish in the water so you can keep your pan nice and clean
  5. You can add a little more nail polish by hand if you missed a spot on the tile.

Thoughts: This is a really pretty craft and also super cheap. I did learn, however, that glitter nail polish does not work well on this craft.

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.

Read Wild: Award Winning Books About Nature and Why We Need Them

It’s the day after Earth Day, and day 2 of our week focusing on Read Wild, an initiative that we are beginning here at TLT to connect tweens and teens with nature. Today our guest blogger, Sarah Mulhern Gross, shares some of her experiences and inspiration and talks about some award winning books that connect tweens and teen to nature.

About ten years ago I chaperoned a field trip to a local nature center.  My 6th graders were, as expected, excited to be missing a day of school.  When we arrived, though, that changed. “Ew, there’s mud everywhere!” they exclaimed from the steps of the bus.  The short interpretative hike we went on focused on common plants and birds in our area, but my middle schoolers were too uncomfortable (the mud, the wind, the bugs, the creepy birds!)  to pay much attention.  I hoped it was just that group of students, but today I teach high school and I’m amazed at the number of students who don’t spend any time outside and can’t recognize common species in our area.  These experiences inspired me, an English teacher, to get my Master’s degree in teaching biology through Miami University and Project Dragonfly’s AIP program.  During my 2.5 years in the program, I focused on nature-deficit disorder and ways to help combat it in teens.

Packed schedules after school, rigorous homework, and extracurricular activities too often keep kids inside, bound to their computers and cellphones, rarely giving them the time to be outside. According to a 2014 survey, “82% of U.S. parents view spending time in nature as “very important” to their children’s development – second only to reading as a priority. Then there’s the fact that many people assume that “nature”=wilderness.  You don’t need to live in a rural area miles from your nearest neighbor to experience nature!  Plants, animals, weather, and almost everything else we consider “nature” can be found in urban, suburban, and rural areas. The good news is that we can use books to help kids connect with nature both right outside their window and in far away places.

There are so many incredible books published each year that highlight the environment and can inspire readers to take action. I’ve found that there is a belief among many educators that the environment is the bastion of science teachers.  However, if we want to create conservationists in the next generation, we must move environmental literacy out of science class and into the rest of our children’s lives: content area classes including English, the library, and the home.

Luckily, there are two major awards for environmental writing given each year and they each honor books for young people.  This week both awards announced this year’s winners and I’m thrilled to share them here.

The Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award honors the best in nature writing in adult nonfiction and children’s literature. The award has been given since 1991 (full list of winners here). The 2018 award was given to Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong’s Work for Sustainable Farming written by Sigrid Schmalzer and illustrated by Melanie Linden. An incredible picture book about using biological controls instead of pesticides, Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean can be used with any age group.  It would be great to pair with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring with older students.

The awards committee also honored the following books:

  • Honorable Mention
    • Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction, Nancy F. Castaldo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
    • The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science, Joyce Sidman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Notable
    • Ellie’s Strand: Exploring the Edge of the Pacific, M. L. Herring and Judith L. Li (Oregon State University Press)
    • How to be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, Sy Montgomery (author) and Rebecca Green (illustrator) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Recommended
    • Errol’s Garden, Gillian Hibbs. (Children’s Play International)
    • Hush Hush, Forest, Mary Casanova (author) and Nick Wroblewski (woodcuts) (University of Minnesota Press)
    • Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story, Lindsey McDivitt (author) and Eileen Ryan Ewen (illustrator) (Sleeping Bear Press)
  • Robert Bateman: The Boy Who Painted Nature, Margriet Ruurs (author) and Robert Bateman (artist) (Orca Book Publishers)
  • Trash Vortex: How Plastic Pollution is Choking the World’s Oceans, Danielle Smith-Llera. (Compass Point Books)

The Green Earth Book Award also announced its winning titles this week.  It is the nation’s first environmental stewardship book award for children’s and young adult books and publishes a long list each year before announcing the winners.  What I love about this award is that it focuses solely on environmental writing for young people.  They award books in five categories: picture book, children’s fiction, young adult fiction, children’s nonfiction, and young adult nonfiction. A list of all winners since 2005 can be found here.

This year’s winners were announced on Earth Day and what a fantastic list it is!

  • Picture book: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs: The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation, by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe (Chronicle Books)
  • Children’s fiction:  The Flooded Earth, by Mardi McConnochie (Pajama Press)
  • Children’s nonfiction: Trash Revolution: Breaking the Waste Cycle, by Erica Fyvie, illustrated by Bill Slavin (Kids Can Press)
  • Young adult fiction: Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman, illustrated by Jay Shaw (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Honors and recommended reading can be found here

Today I make sure my high school students get outside as often as possible.  I often collaborate with my biology colleague on field study lessons that combine nature reading and writing with his biology lessons.  We’ve also designed our summer reading around nature; our students all read The Forest Unseen by Dr. David Haskell before the year starts and we use the essays in the book to inspire field studies all year long.  The award-winning books listed here can all be used in similar ways. 

Meet Sarah Mulhern Gross

I am a National Board Certified teacher who teaches ninth-grade and twelfth-grade English at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. I am a contributor to the New York Times Learning Network and my writing has appeared in Scientific American, Edutopia, ASCD, and The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet.  In 2017 I completed my Master’s degree in teaching biology with Project Dragonfly at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio with a focus on defeating nature-deficit disorder in adolescents through interdisciplinary work.

Read Wild: Nature Deficit Disorder and its implications for teens

Today is Earth Day and we’re kicking it off here at TLT by introducing you to Sarah Mulhern Gross and her new regular feature, #ReadWild. We’re going to be having an ongoing discussion about connecting teens with nature, discussing issues like climate change, and sharing titles that help you do both. In this post, we’re also introducing you to our #ReadWild Reading Challenge and giving you some background information on Nature Deficit Disorder.

American students are stressed. Since 2013, teens have reported feeling more stress than adults, according to the American Psychological Association. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 3.1 million American teenagers (between 12 -17) had at least one major depressive episode in the last year. Constant access to technology, with its notifications and messages, often brings more stress.  A 2013 study conducted by Karla Klein Murdock of Washington and Lee University found that text messages and social media messaging left college students vulnerable to interpersonal stress, leading to sleep problems and lower levels of emotional well-being.  Yet our schools have added computers in every class, adopted “bring your own device” policies, and cut gym classes and recess in favor of trying to raise test scores. Most of my high school students tell me they spend little to no time outside on a daily basis.

Nature-deficit disorder is a term used to describe the loss that children and teens experience when they are not given opportunities to have direct contact with nature.  Journalist and author Richard Louv coined the term when researchers began to realize the impact that nature had on children’s health and ability to learn.  Students who do not spend time outdoors engaging in exploration and play often feel disconnected from nature and environmental issues as adults. Without that connection to nature there may be no conservationists in the future.

Being outside has important benefits for kids and teens.  According to the Children & Nature Network, increased time outside has public health benefits.  Time outside has been found to improve children’s sleep, boost performance in school and enhance creativity, and increase focus and engagement.   And the effects of nature are long-term: childhood nature exposure can help predict adult mental well-being.  When my own students spend time outside during field studies or on nature walks they report feeling less stressed.  Florence Williams’ book The Nature Fix highlights the fact that as few as 15 minutes in the woods has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. When nature exposure is increased to 45 minutes there is an increase in cognitive ability.

Research shows that formative experiences in nature during childhood and adolescence are the most important source of environmental appreciation later in life; adults who are active in conservation often cite childhood experiences with the natural world as one of their most critical inspirations. Yet our schools are designed in a manner that denies students the opportunity to observe the world around them. In a time when the environment is under attack from our own government officials, we need to make sure the next generation will value the world around them. 

How can we help kids and teens connect more with nature?  Through books, of course!

Over the course of the next year, I will be sharing books that can inspire readers to get outdoors.  In order to help you get more out of your reading experience (personally and professionally!), I’ve designed the #readwild reading challenge. I challenge you to build a wider repertoire of nature books and get outside more, too!  Beginning this week, I’ll share books and activities that you can do with the teens in your life.  Happy Earth Day and Happy Reading!

Share your favorite nature reads with us on social media using the hashtag #readwild!

Meet Sarah Mulhern Gross

I am a National Board Certified teacher who team-teaches an integrated humanities, science, and technology program to ninth grade students at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. I am a regular contributor to the New York Times Learning Network and my writing has appeared in Scientific American, Edutopia, ASCD, and The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet. I also help teach a middle school science enrichment program through the STARS Challenge program at Monmouth University and I serve as a board member for the curiousYoungwriters blog, which provides a platform for publishing student writing that describes a nontraditional animal model in biomed research.

TheReadingZone Blog

wilddelight blog– Focused on integrating science and English class

TLA 2019 Roundup, Part 1

This past week I attended the TLA (Texas Library Association)Annual Conference and I live tweeted a few of the sessions I went to so that I would have notes. You can follow the links below if you would like to read the recaps.

Session 1: Deconstructing the Myth of Girl Books and Boy Books

In one of my earliest sessions, I listened to a panel discuss the harm that we do when we classify books as girl books or boy books. This was one of the best conversations that I have heard and I feel it is an important topic. Thread:

Okay I’m going to be tweeting The Myth of Girl Books and Boy Books for you from #txla19. @zieglerjennifer @pacylin and more are here to talk about how all books are simply books, they have no gender— Teen Librarian Toolbox (rocks!) (@TLT16) April 15, 2019

Session 2: How to Make a Diverse Kit Lit List

Another informative session I attended talked specifically about how to go about the process of building a diverse (or inclusive) kid lit list. You’ll want to click through this to see the handout provided by Chris Barton. Thread:

For thos interested, I will now live tweet this session in How to Make a Diverse Kid Lit List at #TXLA19 pic.twitter.com/037mbND6Uh— Teen Librarian Toolbox (rocks!) (@TLT16) April 16, 2019

Session 3: Tackling Touch Topics in Middle Grade

Another informative panel I attended talked about tough topics in middle grade fiction. Many of our kids are indeed living lives that are considered “tough topics” and it’s important that we include their reality in their literature to help them process and give them hope. Thread:

Okay today I’m going to be live tweeting the session in Tackling Tough Topics in Middle Grade. It starts in about 8 minutes. @TonyAbbottBooks @JoKnowles Aidan Salazar Kate Allen and Jen Wang are the panelists.— Teen Librarian Toolbox (rocks!) (@TLT16) April 16, 2019

Session 4: Investing in Reading Lives All Year Round

Having recently gotten my hands on a copy of Game Changer! by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp, I was very excited to get to hear them speak. The laid down a lot of truths and were both very inspiring. Thread:

At this session now with @donalynbooks & @colbysharp and I will try and live tweet highlights but also I highly recommend reading their book Game Changer! pic.twitter.com/qF9XnLPoHK— Teen Librarian Toolbox (rocks!) (@TLT16) April 17, 2019

Session 5: Scholastic Lunch with A. S. King

You all may be aware that The Teen and I are huge fans of author A. S. King and her books, so I was honored to attend a Scholastic luncheon where I got to hear her speak. She spoke specifically about mental health issues and their impact on the lives of teens and highlighted that our kids are in crisis; it’s worse than we realize because so many of our kids are struggling with un-diagnosed mental health issues. I thought she said 17% but she corrected me online and it is 70%, 70% of mental health issues go un-diagnosed and untreated. Then author Kelly Barnhill pointed out that the crisis will grow exponentially because there is a shortage of qualified psychiatrists to help address the mental health crisis facing our youth.

.@AS_King: We can’t look at stuff straight on. So I like to put it in my fiction because I’m tricky.

Depression is a million different things. 17% of teens have an undiagnosed mental illness. 5-11 age group is being massively effected by mental illness.— Teen Librarian Toolbox (rocks!) (@TLT16) April 16, 2019

In addition to attending a lot of great, informative sessions, I also learned about a lot of upcoming books. I’ll try to put together a post of some of those in a part 2.