Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Celebrating 9 Years of TLT! (in a global pandemic)

This month, Teen Librarian Toolbox is celebrating 9 years of talking about teen librarianship, young adult literature, and the world at large. It’s been an amazing experience and I am so happy that we’re still here doing this thing that I love.

Several YA/Teen Librarians and a handful of Teens help make TLT happen

But also, what a weird time to be celebrating anything. The world is very strange right now. I’m working from home and spending a lot of time trying to help my biological kids navigate a summer overshadowed by both a global pandemic and civil rights protests. There is no handbook for this, not a parenting handbook or a librarian handbook. We’re in uncharted territory here and most days, it feels like we’re barely able to keep from slipping under water and drowning. I never imagined that I would be taking my kids to protest in support of their friends and families and yet, here were are.

Karen, Riley and Scout Jensen masking up because of the global pandemic

But through it all, there’s TLT. You have no idea how grateful I am to have this resource to work through my thoughts, share my experiences, and meet with my peers to listen, learn, grow and become a better teen and collection development librarian day by day. Who I am when I started this blog is wildly different than who I am now – and you are a huge part of what has made that happen.

And of course I can’t talk about TLT without talking about all the co-bloggers and contributors who help make TLT happen. Amanda MacGregor and Robin Willis have both been a part of TLT for 6 years or more. Ally Watkins and I began talking about Faith and Spirituality in YA lit in 2015. And this year, both of my children made the decision to become an official part of TLT, which makes my heart fill with pride and joy.

Robin Willis visiting Karen Jensen at her Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County

Lots of other awesome people help make TLT happen at this point. Cindy Shutts shares awesome programming ideas with us. Christine Lively highlights the works of teens around the globe. Lisa Krok joins us every once in a while to talk about teen librarianship. And we have had a variety of teens on our teen advisory board.

Perhaps because it’s our anniversary, or perhaps it’s because of the world we live in now, it’s hard for me not to be reflective of TLT. One of our major failings is that we are not a very diverse group of librarians here at TLT. We are and always have been a predominantly white group of middle age women and there are a lot of gaps and holes here. We have always made our platform available to anyone who would like to guest post, from other librarians to authors, and that has helped fill in some of those gaps, but it has never been enough and it is without a doubt one of our biggest shortcomings.

We’ve made other missteps and mistakes a long the way, to be honest. And I know that I have learned a lot and changed my mind about a lot of things in the course of the last 9 years. For example, I originally pushed back against the idea of a New Adult label for literature but now more than ever feel like it is very much needed and would help a lot of the current issues I see happening in YA literature. You see, YA books keeps getting aged up and real teens are being pushed out and I think that it would have helped if New Adult would have taken off years ago when the industry was pushing for it. Now, however, I see the correction taking place in middle grade. Middle grade is the new YA in a lot of ways.

As I reflect I can’t help, of course, but thing of the teens. Working with and helping teens navigate adolescence is the primary reason I became a teen librarian. And after 26 years I can tell you, I have never been more distressed about the world we are making for our youth. I worry a lot (and talk a lot) about things like childhood and generational trauma and its long lasting impacts well into adulthood. School violence, climate change, sexual violence, the eroding of LGBTQ rights, racism, increasing poverty – these are just a few of the issues that our teens are grappling with on a daily basis. These are just a few of the areas in which we, the adults in charge, are failing our youth. They were already experiencing growing mental health challenges and then – boom – deadly global pandemic. It’s a lot for anyone, but it’s especially a lot for our youth.

Last week my daughter, Riley, baked cookies and (safely) dropped them off at a friend’s house to comfort said friend as they recover from Covid-19. This friend is only one friend in a growing list of friends who are facing this new disease with unknown long term health impacts. At the same time they are now wondering what is going to happen in just a few short weeks when the school doors re-open. If more than 10 of them can get Covid-19 by attending a short summer camp together, what chances do they have going back to school a few weeks from now?

Photo of Scout taken by a friend of hers

My youngest, Scout, is worried about school for entirely different reasons. She has dyslexia and an IEP and, if we’re being honest, virtual school was not the best educational path for her. She needs the discipline of a classroom and the intervention of teachers who have been trained to help her navigate her unique learning challenges. That doesn’t mean I want to potentially sacrifice her life to make sure she gets it.

And while my children are navigating these issues, there are other children out there navigating these same issues AND having to deal with systemic racism, systemic poverty, sick parents, abuse at home, and more. All the while the adults in the room often say things like, “the youth will save us.” It’s not their job to save us, it’s our job to save them – and I’m here to tell you, we are failing.

I realize this a bummer of a celebratory post. It’s just . . . 2020 has been a rough year. For everyone. And while I do celebrate TLT and I’m thankful for every moment, every reader, every conversation . . . it’s hard not to be honest and realistic about where we are at collectively in 2020.

So many books to get organized!

So let me take a moment to share with you all some great things about TLT. Because we review books, publishers will often send us ARCs (advanced readers copies) of books. I am friends with a high school librarian who works at a Title 1 school. A Title 1 school is a school is a school that has demonstrated need because of high levels of poverty. Because of my work with TLT, I have been able over the years to donate more than 3,000 ARCs to this local high school. My friend hosts summer reading challenges and allows the teens to pick out and take these books to create a home library, which they don’t have the money to do on their own at this point in their lives. She has worked hard and created generations of readers and I have been so honored to be able to be a part of that and contribute to that based on my work here at TLT. Teens get access to books they would never have thanks to our work here at TLT.

Amanda frequently hosts giveaways and has helped stock classrooms, put books in the hands of teens, and done her part as well to help raise generations of readers. That work happens because of TLT.

And my own child, at the tender age of 10, saw this work and started her own effort called #OperationBB to help middle grade readers in need have books of their own. With your generous donations, she has given away around 1,000 books herself. And she’s only 11!

In the past 9 years I’ve created a Teen MakerSpace, started doing and promoting the idea of doing collection diversity audits, I’ve written written a professional book with Heather Booth, and I’ve written countless articles with School Library Journal, a journal I am very proud to be networked with. And as cool as all of those things are, the things I’m most proud of are the generations of teens we’ve helped to raise as readers, the friends I’ve made through this platform who challenge me every day to be a better person and better librarian, and just getting to share all of this with my two amazing daughters.

So if you are a reader of TLT – I thank you! You are a part of this journey with us. And although right now the journey feels especially hard, I’m so glad to have the honor of taking it and am thankful for everyone who takes it with us.

I hope I get to write about another celebration of TLT at 10 years, and that the world is in a better place when that happens.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Virtual Programming Failures, Tech Issues and Tips, by Cindy Shutts

Since I started doing virtual programming for teens during the pandemic, I have wanted to talk about failure. I think in a lot of ways we are holding ourselves to pandemic numbers. I could have a very full program and it would work perfectly. Now, even if I have people attend there could be technological issues.

It is okay to have a no show program

This is as true before as it is today. Sometimes you just do not get anyone to come. We had a virtual book club and no one showed. It was our first try at having a virtual program. I knew we have to realize we are building a completely different patron base. We have to have teens who have time and access to the internet. I also realized that maybe for our teens virtual book club felt like work. It is hard to want to do anything work at is related right now.

Check your tech equipment where you are running your program

You have to make sure everything works where you run your program because you do not know what the internet capabilities are. This was an issue with my Animal Crossing Program. I had been able to use a dodo code to let people on my island before but our wi fi at work was different than that at my house. I had tested it before even at work but I had someone who was my friend come to my island. I did not realize our internet at work
was Nat Type D when you need Nat Type A or B. Also make sure you can kick out someone if they break patron policy.

Your teen’s internet may be a problem

This issue also happened during our Animal Crossing Program. We had the teens get kicked off the island and we had no idea why. We then realized one of the teens did not have a strong internet connection and the was the cause. It was hard to tell the teen that was the issue.

Give yourself time

We have had two programs with zero people attending. It is okay. We are building back the patron base. They are not going to come back right away. You have to keep trying different programs and see what works. I learned that even though the Animal Crossing program had issues teens wanted to come. I am working on a virtual Animal Crossing escape room and a make and take craft.

Try all different programs

This is the one big thing we have learned about our patron base is that they want to do something fun. It is a stressful time and the programs that have done the best are programs where they did not have to think about work or what is going on in the real world. All library patrons might not want all the same type of programs.

You can see our previous discussions on virtual programming herehereherehere and here.

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.

Book Reviews, Thrillers Edition: Little Creeping Things and Nobody Knows But You

Reading during the pandemic has been hard for me. Very, very hard. But I have managed to finally finish a few books lately and I thought I would take a moment to do a quick review here.

Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso

Publisher’s Book Description and Reviews/Praise

“Chelsea Ichaso has without a doubt written the breakout thriller of the year.” —DANA MELE, author of People Like Us

A compulsively readable debut with a narrator who can’t be trusted, perfect for fans of Natasha Preston.

When she was a child, Cassidy Pratt accidentally started a fire that killed her neighbor. She’s pretty sure she didn’t mean to do it, and she’d give anything to forget that awful day. But her town’s bullies, particularly the cruel and beautiful Melody Davenport, have never let her live it down. In Melody’s eyes, Cassidy is a murderer and always will be.

Then Melody goes missing, and Cassidy thinks she may have information about what happened. She knows she should go to the cops, but she recently joked about how much she’d like to get rid of Melody. She even planned the perfect way to do it. And then she gets a chilling text from an unknown number: I’m so glad we’re in this together.

Now it’s up to Cassidy to figure out what’s really going on before the truth behind Melody’s disappearance sets the whole town ablaze.

PRAISE FOR LITTLE CREEPING THINGS
“Everyone’s a suspect, and no one is safe, in this twisty debut from a compelling new voice in YA, Chelsea Ichaso. Don’t miss it!” —KIT FRICK, author of See All the Stars, All Eyes on Us, and I Killed Zoe Spanos

“Little Creeping Things is a stunning debut in every sense of the word. From the chilling opening pages to the jaw-dropping final reveal, the pacing is relentless, the twists dizzying. Cass is the best kind of unreliable narrator, delightfully acerbic and hopelessly sincere even when she isn’t telling the truth. Chelsea Ichaso has without a doubt written the breakout thriller of the year.” —DANA MELE, author of People Like Us

“Ichaso’s debut is a riveting whodunnit… a psychological thriller worthy of mystery aficionados.”—SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Little Creeping Things, with its cast of creepy and untrustworthy characters, will satisfy the appetites of all manner of mystery fans.”—BOOKLIST

“The reveal…is both well earned and eerie.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS

Karen’s Thoughts:

I’ve been on a real run with thrillers for a while now and this one did not disappoint. There were a lot of twists and turns and every time I thought I knew what was going on, I was wrong. This is a compulsively readable book that keeps you invested. This will be a great addition to any teen collection. And for those of you who want a little bit of substance with your books, you will also find themes of childhood trauma, gaslighting, and abuse. It’s dark, but as I’ve told you before, dark is good. Put this in the hands of Karen McManus fans asap. Published in June by Sourcebooks.

Nobody Knows But You by Anica Mrose Rissi

Publisher’s Book Description:

Maybe a killer only looks like a killer in the moment just before, during, or after.

Maybe a liar, a good one, never shows it.

Kayla is still holding on to Lainie’s secrets.

After all, Lainie is Kayla’s best friend. And despite Lainie’s painful obsession with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, and the ways he has tried to come between them, friends don’t spill each other’s secrets. They don’t betray each other’s trust.

The murder at the end of the summer doesn’t change all that.

Besides—Kayla knows that the truth is not the whole story.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Yes, it’s another thriller. What can I say? Thrillers are my jam right now. Though the ending of this one was less surprising for me, it was still a pretty tight psychological thriller that teens will like. This book is about summer camp gone horribly wrong and for teens missing out on summer camp this year, it’s the perfect anecdote. Fans of Megan Miranda, Karen McManus and Lauren Oliver should be have there thirst for a good murder quenched by this summer read. Publishes September by HarperTeen.

What can I say? A good thriller or two is just what I needed to help me end my pandemic reading slump.

Morgan’s Mumbles: Sustainable and Ethical Switches by teen contributor Morgan Randall

Like most teens today, teen contributor Morgan Randall is very much aware that climate change is real and is interested in making the world a better place with ethical consumption. Today, Morgan is sharing some resources for us all to use in our libraries or share with our teens who want to do their part to create a sustainable lifestyle.

Recently, I have really been looking further into ethical and sustainable swaps that we can make in everyday life that will have a positive impact on the world around us. An important note before I get into the list is that if you have items that aren’t sustainable make sure you get the full use out of them before you throw them away and buy new ones. The point of sustainable living is to produce as little (unnecessary) waste as possible and to limit our carbon footprint on the Earth.

What to do with old clothes?

If you have clothes that you no longer wear, an ethical way to get rid of them (rather than throwing them in a landfill) is to donate them (be it to someone specific or a thrift store) or sell them. Normally, I would encourage a garage sale but due to the current state of the world, I recommend using apps like DePop or ThredUp which both act as online thrift stores.

Want to shop ethical brands?

 These are also great ways to shop when you are looking for clothes, buying from second-hand vendors is a great way to guarantee you are reducing your carbon footprint. If you have a little more money to splurge on brand new items, I recommend buying from brands that are opened about their impact on the environment and their labor sources. A great (and free app) that can help you determine how ethical brands are is called Good On You, it ranks brands on their environmental impact, animal use, and how they source/treat their laborers.

The best way for you to discover brands you like is to research, then support ones that you feel like are making a stride to create a cleaner planet and take good care of their workers.

Looking for ethical brands that go beyond clothing?

This goes further than just clothing, but also into daily products. MadeTrade is a website that sells multiple brands, all of which are ethical.

https://www.madetrade.com/

Know the Origin does this as well

https://knowtheorigin.com/

Do you know that lots of brands are trying to create a cleaner planet?

There are also brands that are making strides to create a cleaner planet through products you wouldn’t normally think about. Blueland ( https://www.blueland.com/ ) sells eco-friendly cleaning products. Pela ( https://pelacase.com/ ) sells eco-friendly phone cases, I have one and I love it.

A few more recommendations that are easy swaps are to begin to try and cut out excessive waste. This includes plastics (for example shampoo/conditioner bars are a great alternative to prevent plastic waste that comes from bottles) and also buying items that are typically one-time use. For example, cotton rounds can easily be replaced with reusable face wipes.

Try to replace paper/wood products with bamboo, because bamboo regrows really fast and often times isn’t as harsh on the environment. Glass and steel are both very sustainable, and can be recycled often. For paper products (especially loose-leaf papers or notebooks) try and buy ones made of recycled paper.

These are just a few resources that can be shared with tweens and teens to help promote sustainable living.

And for information on Zero Waste Programming, check out this older post:

Morgan RandallTeen Contributor

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

Here! Have Some Anime, by teen contributor Riley Jensen

I enjoy anime and often watch it with my friends. Here are some animes that I enjoy and want to watch that other teens may be interested in as well.

Ouran High School Host Club:

This anime is a lighthearted and playful anime. This is the kind of anime I watched after finishing a more dark anime just to get a few laughs. It follows the story of a girl who somehow ends up posing as a boy in a club where girls pay have guys flirt with them. It never failed to make me laugh.

Kakegurui:

This anime is really weird and kind of disturbing but I love it so much. It’s about a school where students earn their status by gambling and one day a new girl shows up and she begins to be targeted because of how well she gambles. There is a little bit of violence and some of the scenes are risque but the story is interesting.

Seven Deadly Sins:

This is one of the first animes I watched. I have yet to finish all of it because it is pretty long but I’ve watched a good chunk of it and it’s very fun. It’s a fantasy anime about the seven deadly sins going around a fighting basically. The story is extremely good and it has some of my favorite characters.

Blue Exorcist:

This is another anime that I have not finished but I really want to. This anime is about the devil’s son who goes around killing monsters because he’s not super excited about being related to Satan. Obviously there is violence in the anime because he kills monsters but there isn’t really anything risque. Also, it’s not too long. It’s only 25 episodes so it’s nice if you want something quick.

Madoka Magica:

I haven’t watched this anime but it’s the one that I want to watch next just because of how twisted I’ve heard it is. When looking at the cover picture and the characters it looks like a really cutesy anime about witches but if you go look at what people have said about it it’s far from that. Apparently this anime is extremely dark which makes it all the more interesting because I really don’t know how this seemingly cute anime could be so dark.

Also, all of these can be found on Netflix if you want to watch them along with many others. These are just some of the ones that I have watched or want to watch.

Sunday Reflections: They’re Sacrificing Our Poorest Children, Same as it Ever Was

As the end of July approaches, parents (and school personnel) have been anxiously awaiting to hear what we’re going to do about school this fall. This in the middle of a global deadly viral pandemic in which our numbers have started rising exponentially again. This is arguably the worst time to be thinking about how, exactly, we’re going to handle school in the fall.

When we returned from Spring Break in March of 2020 we were quickly notified that our schools were going virtual. While this worked fine for my junior who is arguably gifted and self sufficient, it was a disaster for my youngest who has an IEP for dyslexia. And by the time it was all said and done, neither one of my children wanted to touch a computer again. We are one of the many families for whom virtual schooling was a disaster.

The Teen doing virtual school in Spring 2020

This doesn’t mean I want to send my children back to school again in the fall.

Bety Devos wants schools to fully reopen but not many are listening

DeVos blasts school districts that hesitate at reopening

I live in the state of Texas, in which our numbers are rising. We’ve broken records every day for the past week and a half. At the same time, new science has come out that indicates that the virus is indeed airborne. Which means that our kids will be sitting in schools with questionable HVAC systems for hours on end and we’re going to just hope for the best. I guess.

This past week our national leaders began a huge push for in person, fully opened schools. This came from the top down and involved people like Betsy Devos indicating that only around 0.02% of our children will die. That’s right, the Secretary of Education who has never worked a day in a school has indicated that she is perfectly comfortable sacrificing 0.02% of our children to open our schools. madeline lane-mckinley @la_louve_rouge_ did the math on Twitter and that’s 14,740 children: https://twitter.com/la_louve_rouge_/status/1282344581455998976.

But let’s ask ourselves, who will these children be?

They will be our most at risk children. Our poorest children, whose parents can’t stay home with them to do virtual or homeschooling. And when we talk about our poorest children, it is important to keep in mind that our poorest children are often our most marginalized children, Black and Latinx children, rural children, and children with disabilities. That is because, like in all things, the system is designed this way. Systemic poverty and systemic racism are intertwined and designed to ignore many members of our society, including children.

TEA Issues Comprehensive Guidelines for a Safe Return to On-Campus Instruction for the 2020-21 School Year

Last week the TEA (Texas Education Agency ) announced that parents will have two options: send kids to school in person or do virtual learning. Whichever course you choose, you are being asked to commit to your track for at least 9 weeks. Though it gives each school district some leeway to make their own rules.

Early on there was a lot of discussion of hybrid scenarios. Putting kids on like an A/B schedule with them alternating between morning and afternoon classes with deep cleaning in between to minimize the number of kids and create more room for social distancing. Other scenarios seemed to discuss half the kids going to school on just a few days of the week while the other ones did virtual and then switching. All of the hybrid scenarios were designed to give everyone an equal audience in front of a teacher and equal time doing virtual schooling. While not ideal, the hybrid scenarios seemed more equitable.

Scout making a zine during Spring 2020 for a school assignment

Now, Devos and the TEA have come out with an either/or option. You can either do in person or virtual education. And then the call came out: if you can, please choose virtual or homeschooling so that the parents that can’t can send their parents to school. Do you see the inherent bias in this type of system? Because the parents who can choose to do virtual either have the financial means to have a parent stay at home to help their child succeed. They also are most likely to have the necessary tools to do virtual schooling to begin with, like strong, reliable Internet access and computers.

So our poorer children – those with parents who must work or who don’t have reliable Internet access or who don’t have laptops and tablets to successfully do their work – will have no choice but to attend in person school, putting themselves at greater risk of catching the virus and taking it home to their caregivers. Their risk is exponentially increased because their parents can’t afford any alternatives.

This doesn’t account for things like the vast disparities in our schools across the nation due to underfunding, redlining, and other issues. It doesn’t account for older school buildings without adequate heating and cooling systems to help with healthy air flow. It doesn’t account for children who can’t afford to buy their own lunches are going to be asked to show up and provide their own face masks, hand sanitizer (which I haven’t seen in a store for months), or more. It doesn’t take into account crowded hallways and cafeterias, schools that have barely had soap in the bathrooms during the best of times, or realities like busing.

I am not here trying to lambast public education or public educators. I believe in and support public education with every fiber of my being. I believe that the world is better when we take care of and educate our children. It’s a net gain. And despite the best of intentions, it hasn’t been going well for a while now in part because we have people who know nothing about education and who are actively trying to dismantle public education in charge and making decisions. And Betsy Devos is just the tip of the iceberg. Most unfortunately, educators haven’t been invited to the decision-making table for a while now at the same time that there has been a systemic campaign to try and undermine both public education and our teachers. I’m a public librarian, in no way affiliated with any type of public schools and I have been reading about and watching this play out for some time now.

But I’m also a parent, and as a parent, it makes me angry. As a citizen, it makes me angry as well. We have long known that educational success is directly tied in with things like self-esteem, accomplishments, and yes, even future crime. It is a moral and ethical imperative and a public good for us all to invest in the health and well-being of our children. Not just the children we have personally given birth to, but all children. We know based on decades of research and evidence that the health and well-being of our children is important for our economy, our safety, and our success. Not just as individuals, but as a collective whole.

I don’t have answers about what school should look like in the fall. But I am angry that so many people are so willing to sacrifice any of our children, even the smallest percentage point, because they can’t think creatively or don’t want to invest the money that would be necessary to make schools safe during a global pandemic. I’m especially angry because I can see that part of the reason that many are willing to make that sacrifice is because I understand whose children, exactly, are being sacrificed on the altar of “normal”, convenience and fiscal responsibility. It’s the same children it always has been, our poorest, our most marginalized, our most in need of our safety and protection. It’s the same as it ever was. And that should make us all angry.

Income inequality affects our children’s educational opportunities

For Teens Making a Difference: A Twist on Gun Violence By Alex Richards

Today we are honored to host a guest post by the author of ACCIDENTAL, Alex Richards.

Even before I had the idea to write ACCIDENTAL, I have been consumed by the headlines. Toddler Fatally Shoots Mom In Walmart. Toddler Shoots One Year Old Sister. Toddler Shoots Two Other Children At A Daycare. Five Year Old Looking For Easter Candy Finds Gun and Fatally Shoots Brother. I read every story. Gasped and momentarily grieved. But, then, that was it. There was no follow up, and soon another headline replaced it and I would move on.

I think I stopped being able to “move on” once I had kids of my own. The idea of a child–my child–finding an unsecured gun–picking it up with curious fingers and accidentally firing it–suddenly became a thought I couldn’t let go of. And so, I tried to find out more, almost obsessing over the tragic, heartbreaking stories of accidental gun violence involving children. Mostly, what I wanted to know was: what becomes of these kids? How do they mentally process their actions in adulthood?

Despite having spent a few years as a researcher for a crime-based daytime talk show, most of my research led me down the same path: nowhere. Which makes sense. The children who have experienced these traumas deserve as much anonymity as they can get. And yet … that in itself got me thinking, wondering, digging deeper into research about gun violence statistics and laws. At one point, when I was writing this book, I read in the Washington Post that toddlers shoot people on a weekly basis in America. Weekly. When I started drafting ACCIDENTAL in 2016, guns were the third leading cause of death among children. Now, in 2020, they are the second–and the first among Black children. Statistics continued to haunt me–from nearly a quarter of all gun owners reporting that their guns were kept unlocked in their homes, to learning that one mass shooting happens every day, on average, in America. In addition to incredibly harrowing and useful facts at Giffords Law Center, I read a morbidly fascinating book called Melancholy Accidents, a collection of news clippings and stories of accidental shootings that go back centuries. I even found a very rare and powerful follow-up interview with a man who had shot and killed his sister as a child.

I went down the rabbit hold. Deep. And when I came out, I was surprised–or maybe relieved?–that there was very little information on what happens to the children involved in accidental shootings. Because, on the one hand, of course families want to protect their children’s innocence and help them process their actions privately. What these kids have been through is traumatic, and they need therapy, not follow-up interviews and more headlines.

But, also, I started wondering if there was another explanation. Studies have shown that a child’s earliest memory can change over time, and it’s all subjective. Something remembered at age five may not be remembered by age ten. Additionally, the likelihood of remembering something is aided when that memory is reinforced. If not, childhood amnesia could affect the fate of any thought.

Which brings me to ACCIDENTAL, and the idea that it is entirely possible for a young child to not necessarily remember having fired a gun. There is a chance that, if no one were to remind them, they might forget. It was compelling to me, wondering what might happen to the often faceless and unnamed children in the headlines, and if, by some miracle, a few of these kids were raised not knowing what they had done.

I tried to imagine myself in such a situation. If my son or daughter found a gun and shot someone, would I tell them about it? If they thought it was a toy, or hadn’t fully begun to understand the concept of death, would I remind them? Or would I try to shield them from it. Facilitate the forgetting. As a mom, I know exactly what I would do, and so I wrote this book.

For me, YA felt like the right space to explore this topic. I love writing teen fiction, trying to do justice to that frustrated, passionate, lonely, hopeful, complex and funny voice. I thought it could be really powerful to tell the story from the perspective of a teenager who had grown up not knowing, and then, one day, somehow found out. I mean, how do you deal with that realization? How do you process it? Obviously shock, denial, and guilt are the first emotions that come to mind, but I really wanted to dig in and see where it might lead.

With this story, I wanted to write a character who had never really thought about guns beyond their fixture in our society. I wanted to see Johanna’s thought process unfurl and see how she chose to process the information. Would she turn to activism? Would there be pushback from other students for what she had done as a child? It was important to me to explore the nuances of how this affected not just her but the people around her. The grandparents who lied to protect her innocence, the friends who stand by her, the boyfriend who may be in over his head, and the classmates who challenge her intentions.

Like many teens, Johanna experiences a lot of self-hatred. Because it is hard to be a teenager, even if you didn’taccidentally shoot and kill someone. I wanted to write a book that helped show teens there are ways to heal. There are people in your corner, there are ways to take action, ways to grieve, and there are ways to find closure.

Ultimately, this book is about hope and awareness. Gun control is a hugely important issue in this country, and Johanna’s story adds a unique perspective. Johanna could be anyone, and she could be everyone. Right now, teens are taking initiative, taking charge. They know they are the future, and what they do matters. What they read, what they learn, and what they do with that knowledge matters. Teens are ready to be the change they want to see in the world, and it’s our job to give them the tools to do so.

Author bio:

Alex Richards is a young adult author and freelance magazine contributor. She is a terrible navigator (just ask the African jungle she got lost in) but makes up for it with a dark sense of humor and home-made horror films. Raised in New Mexico, she and her family live in Brooklyn.

alexrichards.nyc  |  @alexgirlnyc

About ACCIDENTAL:

This timely, emotionally-resonant story about a teen girl dealing with the aftermath of a tragic shooting is a must-read from an exciting new YA talent.

Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, life is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she’s being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.

Then he comes back: Robert Newsome, Johanna’s father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that’s not all he shares. A tragic car accident didn’t kill Mandy–it was Johanna, who at two years old, accidentally shot her own mother with an unsecured gun.

Now Johanna has to sort through it all–the return of her absentee father, her grandparents’ lies, her part in her mother’s death. But no one, neither her loyal best friends nor her sweet new boyfriend, can help her forgive them. Most of all, can she ever find a way to forgive herself?

In a searing, ultimately uplifting story, debut author Alex Richards tackles a different side of the important issue that has galvanized teens across our country. 

Accidental was released July 7, 2020 from Bloomsbury and it received a starred review from School Library Journal.

Praise for ACCIDENTAL:

“Richards deftly explores the myriad emotional struggles after an accidental gun death. . . Tragic, moving, and genuine.” –School Library Journal, starred review

“A valuable take on a timely issue.” –Kirkus Reviews

“[Johanna] is an admirable, convincing heroine who is determined to make things right for herself.” –Publishers Weekly

“A testament to the healing power of community, love and forgiveness. An honest, wrenching and important read.” –Sarah Holt, Left Bank Books

“A heartbreaking, powerful, essential read.” –Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks

“This book is haunting, but it is also hopeful. . . With heartfelt, brutal honesty searing every page, this is the kind of book that reminds readers that they have voices, and they can make changes.” –Ava Tusek, Second Star to the Right

Book Review: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Publisher’s Book Description: It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them. 

Karen’s Thoughts: I do love a good twisted fairy tale. And in this case I do mean seriously twisted.*

Having recently read – AND LOVED – The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, I found this to be a great next read in the girl rebel against patriarchal towns genre. It’s by no means a new genre, but this was a really fascinating take on the concept with the way that the legend of Cinderella is woven into the storyline. It is also fiercely pro-LGBTQ in ways that many other smash the patriarchy books have failed to be. And it stars a main character of color, which again is often under represented. So this book definitely helps fill a lot of gaps that are vastly under-represented in YA literature. We need a lot more books like this, books that are intersectional in their feminism.**

Every twist in this tale will delight and astound readers. I had no idea where exactly it was going to go and was amazed at the ways that Bayron could take the tale of Cinderella and use it as the base for her story and then completely change it in such creative and twisted ways. This twisted tale will challenge, delight and thrill readers. Highly recommended.

Epic Reads Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings

*When it comes to book reviews, twisted is a compliment. Less so when you are talking about horrific presidents and real life serial killers.

**For more YA with intersectional feminism check out Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, and The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang to get you started.

Morgan’s Mumbles: YA is Great, but it Isn’t the Only Game in Town

Today teen contributor Morgan Randall shares a bit of wisdom with us about allowing teens to read freely.

I went through a long period where I stopped reading and it wasn’t because I didn’t like to read or enjoy books. It was purely because everytime someone recommended a book to me it was the same storyline and concept in a YA novel. Now don’t take that the wrong way, I love me a good young adult novel. It’s what I grew up on, and even the cliches (no matter how overdone) always remind me of some of the first books I enjoyed reading.. However, no matter how weird it sounds, I have always been fascinated with classic literature and philosophical novels. I am obsessed with finding deeper meanings in simple texts, or trying to decode something that someone wrote decades (and sometimes even centuries) ago and find a way that it is still applicable in modern day.

The beginning of my junior year I went to a book store and bought Dante’s Inferno, an epic poem that had always intrigued me because of its long lasting impact on the Christian faith and how a majority of people view the concept of “Hell”. I find it fascinating that a text completed in 1320, still has a major impact on the modern world seven hundred years later. Even if someone is unfamiliar with the poem, a majority of people have at least heard of it or the concept of the Nine Circles Of Hell. Having a major impact like this on the world as a whole, along with individual people’s ideas and thoughts, amazes me and is what led me to purchasing Dante’s Inferno. Now, this isn’t a review or break down of Inferno, but something I observed after purchasing it. I bought it, read the first ten pages, and I found it interesting. But the first time I went to talk to someone about it I got the most judgmental comments and looks for reading it (especially since I did it out of my own free will).

I normally don’t take things like this to heart, but somehow I felt ostracized for being interested in classics and philosophy. This led to a drought in reading because being someone who likes to read you are already limited to who you can talk to about books, but being someone who likes to read classical literature narrows down the group of people way more. Now, I don’t think my friends thought of me differently, or would have judged me for this but I like to talk to people about the things I find interesting (which often times is what I am reading) and in all honesty unless you enjoy classic literature it is not something other people want to listen to. Because of this it felt easier just to set down Dante’s Inferno, and all other books that interested me at the time, and take a break from reading.

Now, by no means do I mean to tell you that you should begin to market Dante’s Inferno to kids in your library or class, but what I do want to tell you is when kids express an interest in reading make sure they don’t feel limited by what they are expected to read. Don’t assume every teenager who likes to read wants to read young adult, and on the flip side of this, don’t expose teenagers to only classic literature within your classroom. I think it is super important to give people freedom to read and discover on their own, however I also think it is super important that while they are doing this they are able to have open conversations with adults in their life about all types of things that peak their interest.

Young Adult novels are obviously marketed towards youth and there is a large variety within YA alone, in fact when I do read Young Adult I still enjoy it a lot because I know what I enjoy reading now. The problem is, it takes a lot of trial and error to find books that are a good fit for you, if you do not naturally enjoy reading. I think oftentimes people read one book from a certain genre and assume that it is an accurate representation of the genre as a whole, which is often untrue. This is why I am challenging you, to go out and read some form of literature that might be outside your comfort zone. Something that you assumed you would never like because of false assumptions, or because of pressure other people put on you. Know that you won’t like every genre, and you definitely won’t like every book you read, but there is something amazing about stepping outside of your “normal” within books and discovering something that you never would have thought you would have enjoyed as much as you did. It might give you new insight on what things spark your interest.

I challenge you to do both this, and also when you recommend things to people don’t just assume the genre they would enjoy. Give options of multiple genres and types of literature. Find new books, and old books to recommend across all genres. And when someone, especially youth, finds a genre they enjoy and are finally exploring literature, make sure you choose your words carefully even if the genre isn’t something you suspected. Now, I am not saying don’t encourage them to read other things as well, however it is important that youth who feel like they have finally found something enjoyable to read are encouraged to continue to do so. This will allow them to enjoy reading, whereas if someone around them that they admire (or is in a position of authority) seem to judge them for their choice of literature, it can be a huge turn-off from reading as a whole even if it was enjoyable for them.

Morgan RandallTeen Contributor

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

Riley’s Post It Note Reviews: Bent Heavens, Harrow Lake and Five Total Strangers

It’s time for another installment of Riley’s Post It Note Reviews where a teen tells us what she thinks about some of the recent Young Adult literature she has read.

Bent Heaven by Daniel Kraus

Publisher’s Book Description:

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

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

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

Post It Note Review: This book is so interesting. There was always a new surprise.

Editor’s Note: I was so excited that Riley wanted to read this book because I read it earlier and really liked it and wanted someone to talk about it with! This book is a stunning read and it’s out now.

Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

Publisher’s Book Description:

Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker – she thinks nothing can scare her. But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s swiftly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot.

The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map – and there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.

And there’s someone – or something – stalking Lola’s every move.

The more she discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes. Because Lola’s got secrets of her own. And if she can’t find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her…

Post It Note Review: This book is very creepy. I wanted to keep reading it forever. The ending is now what I expected.

Editor’s Note: This book was a wild ride. Riley talked to me a lot about all the truly bizarre twists and turns in this book. It comes out in August 2020 from Kathy Dawson Books

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards

Publisher’s Book Description:

A hitched ride home in a snow storm turns sinister when one of the passengers is plotting for the ride to end in disaster.

When Mira flies home to spend Christmas with her mother in Pittsburgh, a record-breaking blizzard results in a cancelled layover. Desperate to get to her grief-ridden mother in the wake of a family death, Mira hitches a ride with a group of friendly college kids who were on her initial flight.

As the drive progresses and weather conditions become more treacherous, Mira realizes that the four other passengers she’s stuck in the car with don’t actually know one another.

Soon, they’re not just dealing with heavy snowfall and ice-slick roads, but the fact that somebody will stop at nothing to ensure their trip ends in a deadly disaster.

Post It Note Review: This was a very captivating read. The action never stopped.

Editor’s Note: Natalie D. Richards is a solid choice for teen thrillers, always. This book was especially fascinating because Riley’s father and I once rented a car with strangers during a blizzard while stranded at an airport. We were young college kids and I’m happy to report that no one in our journey was murderous. In hindsight, I of course do not recommend anyone do this. But the book was fascinating. This book comes out in October from Sourcebooks.