Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: Be a leader. Be a troop leader.

sundayreflectionsI’ve said it on Twitter a number of times, but I really do mean it, so I’m going to say it here again, firmly: become a scout leader. If you are interested in becoming a YS or YA librarian, or are seeking your first YS or YA librarian job, or think maybe becoming a YS or YA librarian is something you might want to do but want to get a little experience first, I highly encourage you to consider becoming a Girl Scout leader, or an adult volunteer for a troop at the very least.

Every year girls want to be a part of Scouting but are unable to for the lack of adult leaders. This means that girls in your community are likely unserved by a troop, or they have a troop with a harried leader with more girls than she intended to take on, who is going to burn out fast without another pair of helping hands. That alone is a reason to volunteer with this organization that has been a part of the lives of so many influential women. You don’t have to have a child in Girl Scouting and you don’t need to be a woman. You just need to be there.

Girl Scouting is the organization I have experience with, but I am nearly certain that many other youth organizations would offer similar benefits – Boy Scouts, 4H, Campfire, etc. But I’m going to speak to my personal experience here, and how it directly applies to my work as a librarian.

Program Planning

A scout leader, like a librarian, does program planning on both the small and large scale. On the small scale, you have your troop meetings. You’ve got to know your audience, their abilities, the time you have, the space and supplies that you have, the budget that you’re working with (and if you think library budgets can be skimpy, well, you’re in for a special treat here–at least until that cookie money rolls in next spring!), and you’ve got to hit the high marks for the program and get your larger message across. And you do all of this in about an hour once or twice a month. On a larger scale, there are Service Unit and Council events that you can help coordinate, or just be involved with, that require longer range planning: fundraising, registration, being a liaison with outside presenters or locations, promotion and more. All of this is part of the nuts and bolts of being a librarian that they don’t teach you in library school.

People Skills

You’ll learn crowd control, like how to bring the troop’s attention back to the activity at hand and still have their interest and smiling faces directed at you. You’ll learn how to talk to parents about what you need from them in the way of support to make meetings go the way they’re supposed to go. And maybe you’ll even get some experience working with girls who need a little more help than you anticipated. These are all skills that you will definitely need once you have your YS or YA librarian job, and reading an article about classroom management is only going to get you so far.

Girl Scouts, like libraries, takes all comers. That includes girls with the extreme giggles, girls who have perfected the side eye way too young, girls whose special needs you will come to understand, girls who are still learning English, girls who are older than your regular troop’s age because their best friend and ride is in your troop, and more. Not to mention parents who really want to be involved but are stretched thin with other obligations, volunteers with very clear personal agendas, and people you might never have chosen to sit in a room with if not for Scouts. But that’s the beauty of it. Because you get to experience all of these interesting people and learn their stories, and be a part of helping them have a great experience that they wouldn’t have been exposed to if you hadn’t been there. Just like in libraries.

a large circle of girls and leaders linking hands

Bureaucracy–but no, wait–it’s good!

Every organization is going to have layers. In scouting you have a troop, with it’s leader, co-leaders, parent volunteers, parent non-volunteers, cookie parents, and drivers. Then there’s the Service Unit, Council, and National organization. Learning who in this structure can help you with what, who will champion your successes, who will pull you out of the weeds, and whom you can lean on whenever you need it is a critical skill to have in your work life too.

What success looks like

I’m starting my third year as a scout leader, and I’ll be honest: sometimes it felt like I was piloting a sinking ship. But then these amazing things happen, and you never know when to expect them. Like the girls discussing how to spend their cookie money, and in the midst of a debate over whether a water park or a trampoline center would be better, they decide to donate some of it to a local animal shelter or food bank. Or that day that you realize that they have all memorized the song you taught them, or the Girl Scout Promise, and that they actually look forward to the ceremony of it all. Or seeing the girl who was in tears and hiding behind her mom the whole first month but now races into the room and gets giant where-have-you-been-all-my-life hugs from her new best friends. Or the way parents look you in the eye at the end of the year and say “Thank you. She has had a great time, and you have done so much work, and this is really such a great experience for her,” and really really mean it.

Girl scout & Bill Nye

Girl Scout Gold Award recipient meets Bill Nye at the White House Science Fair

Scouting makes a difference in the lives of these kids. And it is so incredibly rewarding to see it happen and know that you were part of it. My biggest successes in the library world have felt the same: sometimes it’s a a real slog and it’s hard to remember why you’re doing it. But you keep doing it because you get these glimmers of reward. The half head nod from the teen you helped find a book last week. The kids that came to your program last week even though you didn’t think they had fun the month before. The book you took a chance on ordering that is always checked out. And then one day, you see that teen in the grocery store and they react in a way that makes you feel like a celebrity, or a parent comes in and says, “Oh YOU’RE So-and-so, my kid talks about your programs/book suggestions/etc all the time!” It happens. But it takes work. And time. And persistance. And a fair amount of tolerance for extreme giggles and perfect side eye, and challenges you didn’t anticipate. And parades without marching bands because maybe it’s too wet for them, but nothing stops a Girl Scout or a librarian.

But it’s so worth it.

The Girl Scout year begins October 1st. They’re waiting for you!

The Beauty and the Beast Effect in YA Literature

Like a lot of book lovers, Beauty and the Beast was my favorite Disney movie. It seemed like such a no-brainer. Here was a girl who loved books and read-she even sang about it! Then later, she discovers a glorious library that we could all covet. With no hesitation I would tell you that Belle is my favorite Disney princess!

But my thoughts on this all changed one long family car trip from Texas to Ohio. Armed to the teeth with media to keep my kids, then 10 and 4, placated, I downloaded Beauty and the Beast onto our iPad for their backseat viewing. But something interesting happened on that trip as I listened – really listened – to the dialogue and didn’t have the pretty pictures to distract me. Oh my gosh, I thought! He has kidnapped her to try and force her to fall in love with him. Technically, he kidnapped her father then traded his imprisonment for hers. And we, the audience, are supposed to think that this is a good idea. It’s okay because underneath it all he is really a nice prince who has learned a valuable lesson about being kind and unselfish. Belle’s love, you see, changes him. We’re supposed to swoon and ignore the fact that she was not there because she wanted to be, she was there because he was holding her prisoner.

Later that night, when my kids had gone to sleep, I deleted the movie off of my iPad. I later had a conversation with my then pre-teen daughter. Whatever happens in life, I told her, know that you should never fall in love with a man who is willing to hold you hostage; that is abusive; that is domestic violence. Also know that if a man is not a good guy when you meet him, your love is probably not going to change him into a good guy.

Then in these past few months I read not one, not two, not three but four books in which the main female character in a YA novel fell in love (or will maybe fall in love) with a guy who kidnaps her in some form or another. If you follow me on Twitter (@tlt16) you know that I went on lots of mini-rants about this phenomenon.

The truth is, I liked most of the books. One of them I liked so much I asked The Mr. to read it. You can like problematic things, but I was immensely torn on these titles because of The Beauty and the Beast Effect.

So here is your warning: SPOILER ALERT. I AM GOING TO DISCUSS FOUR BOOKS AND BECAUSE YOU KNOW I AM TALKING ABOUT THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST EFFECT IN YA LITERATURE YOU KNOW THAT I WILL BE REVEALING SOME KEY PLOT POINTS. READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK.

In Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis, we are introduced to a kick-ass female who is surviving on a hostile planet – both in terms of environment and being surrounded by rough male characters. She makes extra money by fighting in MMA-type matches and winning. She also has strong tech skills, something which she is frequently sought out for. Basically, she is pretty freaking awesome. But then a guy shows up, knocks her out, kidnaps her, and transports her against her will across the galaxy. During this, they kind of sort of start to fall in love. I liked everything about this book except for that. Well, there was one other part that kind of bothered me. You see, Snow has already been established as a strong female character and a skilled fighter. She has fought and won against a ton of men on her home planet. But of course as she enters into possible battle this guy comes along and has to train her to be a better fighter. I can understand that realistically she might need to learn some more precision fighting skills. I just thought it was unfortunate that this previously established strong female fighter was undermined by having her taught how to fight – by of course a man. A man that is holding her hostage as a negotiation tool against a warring planet. I liked the character of Snow, I liked the vast space exploring epic science fiction saga of it all, I just hated the way the male lead chose to execute his plan by literally knocking Snow out, abducting her, and then the reader being left with the expectation that they should accept this budding love story.

In Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick, our main character is stuck in a snow storm in the mountains and she is being held captive by two men who are forcing her to help them get back to safety. They want to use her and her knowledge of the area to help them navigate the snowstorm. One or both of them are possibly serial killers. I’m sure you can guess what happens. This could have been an engaging thriller had we not been asked to accept that this girl would literally pine for a boy who not only held her against her will but possibly left her best friend for dead at one point in the story. I literally want to rip the last couple of chapters out of this book, which would make it an entirely different and more palatable story from a girl power point of view.

In Falls the Shadow by Stefanie Gaither, a young woman is misled by a male “friend” and taken to a group that holds her hostage because they want information from her. And because there is a theme happening here, you can guess what happens next.

In The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigulupi, a girl is literally held captive in a cage by a group of activists led by the male lead until she agrees to do what they ask her to do. Later, as she begins to realize that they were telling her the truth and that she wants to be on their side . . . well, again, I am sure you can guess what happens. It is this book that I found so compelling and thoughtful in its commentary on the media and publicity machines of our world that I asked The Mr. to read. The thing is, I think it is an entertaining thriller that asks teens really profound and important questions about topics that haven’t been covered a lot in YA literature: how we are marketed to, how people with money influence the information we have and put profits over people, and how government often fails to protect the very people that they are elected to serve. It is for me, as a woman and a mother, so unfortunate that the important thoughts expressed within this narrative are marred by the falling in love with your captor trope. This is thematically one of the most important and thoughtful books I have read this year, but it’s hard for me to get past The Beauty and the Beast effect here. I can’t buy into the second part of the book and this love story because I know it began with this boy putting her in a cage. That is not romantic, it is abusive. And to suggest that it is something that you can forgive or look past and go on to develop a romantic relationship is highly problematic. It’s not the type of messaging we should be sending to our boys or our girls.

The thing is, in each of these books the guys don’t necessarily seem like typical bad guys. They are often, in fact, guys fighting good causes or seeking worthwhile goals, they just choose to do so by taking away the female’s agency and literally holding her captive – which makes them bad guys by default. Even if their intentions are good, they are bad guys because they engage in abusive/violent behavior that doesn’t recognize the agency of the female characters. They kidnap, manipulate, lie, and coerce in order to achieve their goals. The girl begins as a pawn and then we are asked as readers to overlook all of this and accept their budding love stories. We, as readers, are expected to swoon.

In at least two of the narratives the authors at least have the characters acknowledge the existence of Stockholm Syndrome and question their motives for being attracted to the guy. But that possibility is quickly dismissed.

In a single story I might be more willing to overlook this troubling trope, but reading so many instances in such a short time period really made me question how we were portraying our girls in YA fiction and what we are saying to them, at least subliminally, about relationships. So while an author might argue that it isn’t their job to teach or write in a way that transforms young minds, we must also be honest with ourselves and admit that part of the reason we embrace literature and things like We Need Diverse Books is because we do in fact believe that part of how we view ourselves and the world around us is informed in part by the literature we read. We spend a great amount of time and verbiage extolling the power of reading to open minds and create empathy, which means that we believe that literature can influence our thinking. So I would like to see less books that suggest we as women should overlook the fact that a guy is willing to completely undermine a girl’s personal agency and find them in any way desirable. In my opinion, being kidnapped by another person is such a horrific offense that it should be a deal breaker. Subverting a person’s free will and personal autonomy, controlling them, manipulating them, coercion – these are all abusive practices, not romantic in any way. We need to find better ways to tell our stories that re-enforce the idea that female agency is important.

Sunday Reflections: What Malala means to me as a woman and a librarian, a reflection on women’s issues in the news

Image Source: Amnesty International

It was kind of an interesting week to be a woman.

This week, Malala Yousafzai earned the Noble Peace Prize for her efforts to fight for female and youth education in Pakistan and around the world. It’s an amazing thing. I saw this wondrous feat championed on Twitter and I celebrated. Malala is the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and she did it for a cause I can truly believe in: the rights of children, particularly girls, everywhere to receive an education. “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.” (U.N. Youth Assembly, 2012)

But at the same time, something else was happening on Twitter – #Gamergate. #Gamergate is another stunning example of the abuse that can befall women who choose to express themselves openly on social media. From what I read at Huffington Post, it sounds like at least 3 women in the gaming community were forced to flee their homes this year amidst rape and death threats against themselves and their families. Speaking out openly against systematic sexism and misogyny can make the Internet a very hostile place for women. See also: The Atlantic article The Unsafety Net: How Social Media Turned Against Women.

And in other news, Buzzfeed did an extensive story in multiple parts that revealed that in several cases where a father had abused or even killed a child, the mother often got a longer prison sentence for failing to protect the child. In one case, a man who raped his son received 15 years in prison while the mother, herself abused by this man, received 20 years for failing to report or protect her son. So the man who actually abused the child will spend less time in jail than the abused woman who failed to report it. Whatever you may think about a mother who fails to protect a child in an abusive home, keeping in mind that the woman herself is often abused, it is ridiculous to see that these women are receiving longer prison sentences than the person who is actually committing the abuse. And I feel the same if the genders are reversed.

In Egypt, freelance journalist Kimberly Adams was repeatedly asked by the local police to drop her pursuit of charges against a man who she claims was sexually harassing her on an airline flight. Why, they asked, couldn’t she just accept an apology and his promise that he would never do it again, another stunning example of how hard it can be for women to even attempt to seek out justice when they are sexually harassed by the men around them.

Also earlier this week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated that women shouldn’t ask for a pay raise but should rely on “good karma” to help bring them to a place of pay equality. Of course if good karma worked, women would already be receiving equal pay for equal work and this wouldn’t even be an issue. And it’s important to remember that very recently every single Republican senator voted against a bill that would demand gender equality in the work force. The very leaders we elect to ensure a government “by the people, for the people” failed approximately one half of the people they serve with this vote.

The irony is that all of this happened in a world that seems to be debating: do we even need feminism anymore? Because of feminists, I can vote. I can get an education. I can go to work everyday. I can open this laptop and put my thoughts out into the world and work to help make the world a better, safer, and more just world for everyone. I am thankful to the feminists who came before me and paved a way for me so that in this moment in time I could proclaim that yes we still need feminists and yes I am one. Because as Malala reminds us all: “I think that the best way to solve problems and to fight is through dialogue, is through peaceful way, but for me the best way to fight against terrorism and extremism is just simple thing: educate the next generation. “ (BBC, 2012) That’s what we’re doing every day in your library, trying to educate the next generation. In fact, we open our doors every day to try and educate every generation. And Malala is my hero.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go remind my daughters not to take their education for granted, because it comes at a great cost for so many.

The problem of relationship (and girls) in YA lit, plus 5 of my favorite titles

Check out the series About the Girl over at Stacked

If you read enough YA lit, you might start to come to a few interesting conclusions:

1. Teens only have 1 relationship, romantic ones. Especially if you are a teenage girl.

2. Relationships only have one goal, which is sex. For some reason, as Cory Ann Haydu mentions here, a large number of YA books (never all) focus on romantic relationships that accelerate quickly from kissing to sex.

But what about all the other relationships in our lives?

If you read this blog enough, you know that one of my favorite books ever is Guitar Notes by Mary Amato. Primarily because it is a book about a boy and a girl who are not romantically involved. It’s possible that if Amato were going to write a sequel they could head in that direction, but they don’t have to (and that honestly is the sequel I would like to read).

Sometimes, if you are lucky, there are friends that become boyfriend and girlfriend in very organic and realistic ways, like in books such as The Sweetest Thing (Christina Mandelski) and Until It Hurts to Stop (Jennifer R. Hubbard), which also has a strong female friendship in it as well and has a female engaged in a nontraditional activity (hiking, mountain climbing).

But the truth is, we – people – are all about a wide variety of relationships.  We have families, parents. Many of us have siblings. We have friends. We have enemies. Sometimes we are in romantic relationships and sometimes we aren’t. And yes, some teens have sex, but not all of them do. And sometimes we go through a really long process before we even think about getting to sex. Relationships are complex.

My favorite high school memory involves a new relationship with a boy named Kenny. I don’t remember how we met, but he was my first real boyfriend and I was a senior in high school. Yep, a senior. I was scared and didn’t know what I was doing and we hadn’t even held hands yet. He was on the track team. One day after school a group of our friends were hanging around and Kenny had just finished track practice. He was exhausted and sweaty. And as we all sat there and talked, without even thinking, he just leaned back in his chair and grabbed my hand. It was like, in that moment his guard was down, and he just did what seemed to come naturally to him. It is many years later and I can still remember vividly every detail of that moment. Every thing I thought, every thing I felt, and the slow, casual, exhausted way he just leaned back and gently grabbed my hand while he talked to his friends. We dated for 18 months and of all the moments that happened between us, this is the most vivid and the most significant. It spoke volumes about his feelings. It was, in a word, beautiful. Simple, meaningful, and beautiful. Okay, that’s 3 words.

The rest of my teenage years were dominated primarily by friends, including two best friends that I had who were boys and never once did we ever discuss those friendships being anything more than that. In fact, one of them went on to marry my post-high school roommate (and we are still friends).

When I was in the 11th grade, my best friend, a girl, died in a car accident. My junior year was overshadowed by the process of mourning and the sometimes guilt I felt in the wake of that loss. No romance happening there.

My point is this, we do our teens a disservice when we continue to act as if romantic relationships are the end all be all of life, that they are the only relationships that matter. I am now married to my best friend, and have been for 18 years, but I am also a mother, a daughter, a friend . . . those relationships are important to me too. They are important to the ins and out of who I am as a person, how I choose to spend my time, and the issues that I wrestle with in my dreams at night.  People are multi-faceted, including teens. We need more stories that represent the dimensionality of life and the various ways that we define and attach ourselves. Which is why as a reviewer, I am always awarding bonus points to books that highlight different types of relationships, put an emphasis on including family members, or acknowledge that life is about more than falling in and out of love, etc. Sometimes you want a good love story, and I get that, but we need stories with dimension.  This is what I keep thinking about as read the ongoing series at Stacked on ABOUT THE GIRLS (there is lots of good discussion going on there, check it out.) So I thought I would contribute a post. It’s okay, she invited us to.

Because here’s the deal, I want teen girls to know that life is about more than romance. That they have other goals. That they can and should have other meaningful relationships. That they are not defined by whether or not a boy loves them in that way.

So here are 5 of my favorite YA titles and the reasons why . . .

The Lynburn Legacy from Sarah Rees Brennan (Book 1 is Unspoken)

This has such a tremendously fun female friendship. Both girls are strong, confident, realistic, supportive, etc. It is such a positive example of both female characters and a female friendship. Also, I laughed out loud throughout the entire thing.

Guitar Notes by Mary Amato

This is a male/female relationship that shows growth with the characters inspiring and sometimes challenging each other to be more honest with themselves (and their families) without necessarily resorting to romance. Plus, it is perfectly clean and can be read by anyone, and that really does matter to some people and I respect that.

Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Frenchie Garcia is a very depressed young lady, on the verge of graduating high school and unclear as to what her future holds. She has a male and a female friend who, at times, have a hard time understanding Frenchie’s extreme depression. But you know what, they come through time and time again for her. The relationships in this book are challenged, strained, and realistic.

Fire and Flood by Victoria Scott

When we first meet Tella, we see her in the context of her family. She is there, with a very sick brother, and we see that relationship. Then she makes a decision, she enters a desperate race for a cure.  Here, she makes allies (think Survivor) and those relationships are very interesting. I was particularly struck by her relationship by a fellow female competitor who becomes her ally and the choices that they make. I also like this story because Tella is a very realistic portrayal of a typical teenage girl. Sometimes she is capable in this race but often she is not, which is in keeping with her character. And sometimes she just wants to go home and get a good manicure. I like that she is what we consider traditionally feminine and yet still strong.

The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

I gave this title a mixed review, which I sometimes regret because I love the contemporary element of this title so much. But I DO love the relationships in this book between Isadora and both her female friend Tyler (as well as Tyler’s relationship with her boyfriend Scott) and her first friends than maybe something more relationship with Ry. In fact Ry very clearly tells her that you can’t actually be in a happy relationship unless you are happy with yourself first. You can read my full review here.

I know I said five, but I want to give a shout out to Going Vintage (Lindsay Leavitt) which examines some cool sibling relationship dynamics and has a great relationship between a female and her beloved grandmother. I am also a huge fan of This Song Will Save Your Life (Leila Sales) for its leading lady engaged in an under-represented passion – DJing – and the female relationships depicted in it.

We are more than the romantic men in our lives. And romance is about more than sex. So our books should be too. I am really enjoying the discussions in this series. Thanks for letting me add my two cents and sharing some of my favorites.

A Gaggle of Squealing Girls Can’t Love Science?

Some of you may recall the great gender based assignment rage of 2013.  If not, start here.

So, here’s an update.  This year, the Tween gets to research a scientist.  She adores science.  So I asked her the other day, have you picked your scientist yet?  Apparently, she is waiting to be assigned her scientist.  But I asked her, hoping for the best, will it be any scientist or will this be another gender based assignment?  But the Mr., he raised a good point and mentioned that her female scientist options would actually be rather limited because, you know, historically science has been a very hard field for women to break into.  Which still remains true today.  When you review lists of people big in the world of science and tech, the male to female ratio is very skewed and women are significantly under represented.  And when you are talking about history, forget about it.  You probably immediately think Marie Curie and a few other big names and after that, it’s harder to come up with the names.  And to find the books to do the research, even harder.  I know, I looked last night.  (Edited because this link about the Unsung Heroines of Science JUST popped up on Buzzfeed, we’ll call it kismet.)

And then I woke up this morning and Maureen Johnson (man I love her) was raging about this:

The set up of the article is maddening:  There were a group of girls – no, a gaggle of squealing girls – in a room where they were oblivious to the fact that right next to them the big boys were doing important things : Science! Silly, squealing girls.  Real magic is happening in the room next door to you.

So, let’s just dispel a few myths:

Not all fantasy or even Harry Potter fans are girls.  I wasn’t there, but I would presume that a fair number of male Harry Potter fans were in attendance.  I have hosted many a HP program over the last few years and there are always guys in attendance.  Sometimes dressed up.  HP is universally loved and for good reason: it is some amazing storytelling.

You can like fantasy and science.  It’s a big world and the two are in no way mutually exclusive.  In fact, a lot of fantasy has science weaved into the story, which is part of the reason that Fantasy and Science Fiction are often shelved together.

I don’t really get what is wrong with being excited about something or why we must condescendingly describe it as “squealing”.  I mean, I have seen some of my male “techy” friends reaction to the announcement of the newest version of the next Apple product, it’s no different than my reaction to meeting one of my favorite authors.  There is joy and excitement and even sometime squee.  Squee is not bad.  Life is short, get excited about things.

As a mom with a daughter who loves science, I really don’t appreciate the constant barriers put up by the field and the media which tends to send the implicit message: this is not for you.  We can’t write articles saying we need more women involved in science and math and then turn around and set up barriers.  Or call them whores because they want to get paid for their work (oh wait, that was a different story).

Basically, let’s stop being condescending about girls and their interests.  Even if they are not your interests, it’s a big world, let’s respect each other.

And here is a list of books that have girls involved in some kick ass science and tech.

Also, if you want to read an interesting take on Artificial Intelligence, the focus of the New York times article, check out Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron.

Girls Against Girls {Book Review, Discussion & Giveaway}

My heart speeds up.  I see a single bead of sweat start to fall down my cheek.  Soon that bead of sweat will be a tear, but not quite yet.  She is coming.  I stand at the bus stop waiting to go to school and she is coming.  I am in the 5th grade, alternately known as hell – thanks entirely to her.  Today we are in for a special treat.  Her mother is a nurse and she has stolen a needle from her. As she plunges it into the skin of my arm over and over and over again, I know I can’t do this anymore.  So the next morning I force my little brother to walk to school with me, even though I have been told that I can not.  It is not safe where we live. We walk under the freeway overpass where in the future weeks a drunken man will grab me by the ankle.  We walk and we walk and we walk, morning after morning, because whatever dangers are out there, even the rapist they keep talking about on the radio, they don’t compare to the dangers that wait for me every morning at the bus stop.   Nothing is more dangerous than her festering hatred, and I don’t even know how I earned it.  Thank God that because of my parent’s divorce, I get to go to a different school next year.  I hope I can make it that long.

5th grade sucked for me. Truly and to its core.  There would be some other bad years, but nothing that compared to that one.  I remember when I was pregnant with my first child and The Mr. and I went to find out the sex of our baby, I wanted desperately for it to be a boy because I knew first hand how hard this world is for girls, and sadly it is often other girls making it that way. We have two little girls.  Last night the tween cried because the girl assigned to sit by her on the bus every day refuses to do so because she thinks the tween is “weird”.  Ahhhh, the glory of Girls Against Girls.  Sometimes I wonder, is there anything worse than being a teenage girl?

Girls Against Girls by Bonnie Burton is a nonfiction title from Zest Books that really challenges girls to think about why they do the things they do to one another and ways to end the cycle of girl against girl violence, which is primarily emotional and psychological but can get physical.  We all know what they say about “cat fights”.

“Hey, how long till the music drowns you out?
Don’t put words up in my mouth,
I didn’t steal your boyfriend”
Lyrics by Ashlee Simpson, Boyfriend
So why are girls so mean to one another?  Conventional wisdom has always said we are in competition.  I do feel like the world likes to put us in competition with one another.  Are we fighting for scarce resources, in this case men?  Jobs? Self respect?  Are we just born this way?  The truth is there is some truth to all of it.  We are taught to be competitive, we pass it down from generation to generation.  When you snipe at the neighbor or judge the woman on television, the children around you hear that and it becomes a model to them.  You can tell your children not to bully and judge but when they see you doing it – well, you know what they say: Actions speak louder than words.
“She’s my best friend. God I hate her.” – from the movie Heathers
Girls Against Girls is divided into 6 sections . . .
Section1: Why we hurt each other
Section 2: Methods of our meannness (Gossiping, the silent treatment, boyfriend stealing)
Section 3: Bearing the brunt of it (ways to deal)
Section 4: Calling in reinforcements (asking for help)
Section 5: Stopping the cycle (awesome section on dealing with emotions and taking responisibility for your actions)
Section 6: Teaming up instead of tearing each other down
Cyberbullying is discussed as well, a very relevant topic.  And there is a definite emphasis on dealing with the issues in positive ways and trying to stop the cycle.  The truth is, mean girls are not going to pick up this book (though they definitely should). No, it is the girls being bullied and tormented by their peers that will read this book, and it is a great resource for them.  It will help them understand that they are not really the issue.  But I would love to see every adult that works with or loves a teen read this books too.  Pair it with Queen Bees and Wannabees and look closely at what girl culture is like.  Then, put together some Girl Power programming and help girls have positive social interactions.
Some things you can do:
Have a girl power book discussion group.  Include titles like Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.
Have a “Mean Girls Movie Festival” where you show movies like Mean Girls and Heathers.
Share resources with your teens like Girls Incorporated (www.girlsinc.org), The Ophelia Project (www.opheliaproject.org), Girls for a Change (www.girlsforachange.org) and some of the youth empowerment organizations listed here.
Provide positive opportunities for social interaction with craft events and other programming opportunities.  I have two rules at my teen programs: The BIC Rule (keep your butt in a chair, one butt to chair) and the Safe Haven Rule (all my teens know that my programs are safe places and no smack talk will be tolerated at all).  I don’t care if that is your sister who got you grounded by telling your mom about your boyfriend last night, you will not talk badly to her or about her at my programs.  You will be asked to leave after one warning.  This is non-negotiable.
“Being yourself is the best revenge.” Lynn Peril, author of Think Pink
To teenage girls everywhere: Be yourself and be kind to others
This is a good and, unfortunately, necessary addition to all teen collections.  There are no supplemental reading lists included, which is probably a good thing because they would always need to be updated.  But you can run with this theme and put together current reading and movie lists. There are also no shortage of songs you can put together for a Girl Power/Mean Girls playlist.  In fact, I would love for you to help me BUILD A RESOURCE GUIDE IN THE COMMENTS.  Leave your recommendations of teen book titles, movies and songs in the comments.

Final thoughts: As my tween saw me reading this book she asked me, “We’re all the same, why would we be mean to each other?” Why indeed? (Man I love that girl!)

Girls Against Girls: Why we are mean to each other and how we can change by Bonnie Burton is highly recommended for all school and public libraries, and to everyone who loves and works with teen girls.  It is well organized, thoughtfull, relevant and has some cool graphic elements and inspiring quotes.  You know I love me some inspiring quotes.  Published by Zest Books. ISBN: 978-0-9790173-6-0.

Bonnie Burton is part of the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club which I discussed earlier.  Fun stuff.

Other relevant posts:
Youth Empowerment Resources

Girl Power/Mean Girls Booklist
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
PBS has an empowering booklist for Middle School Girls
Macmillan’s list of Girl Power books

Leave a comment and be entered for your chance to win Girl in a Fix, Girl in a Funk, Girls Against Girls and Regine’s Book from Zest Books.  Open to US Residents.  Please don’t forget to leave an e-mail or @ for Twitter so I can contact you. Contest runs through Friday, November 23rd.