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Sunday Reflections: Talking with Teens about Charlottesville

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Yesterday I spent a lot of time talking with The Teen about the events that happened in Charlottesville. We listened to a lot of NPR and talked about what we heard. We talked about what we didn’t hear in our church (in the sermon, although the situation was mentioned, our pastor did not explicitly come out and condemn racism or white nationalism).  Today I am gathering resources to try and figure out what I am going to do in my library to help teens navigate and talk about the events of this weekend. Below are some resources that I have found. I will update as I find more. Please share what you are doing or find in the comments. Thank you.

Resources For Educators To Use In The Wake Of Charlottesville : NPR

How to talk to your kids about the violence in Charlottesville – LA Times

Teachers Share Resources for Addressing Charlottesville Hate Rally

The first thing teachers should do when school starts is talk about Charlottesville

Racial and Social Justice Podcasts for Teens – The Hub

In addition, this is a good time to remind us all that there are a lot of good, important diverse books out there that we need to make sure our in our collections.

42 Diverse Must Have YA Titles for Every Library

Although we will encourage our teens to talk about their thoughts and feelings surrounding Charlottesville, no racist or derogatory language will be permitted in our teen spaces. Full stop. This is non-negotiable. Remember that white supremacy and white nationalism is built on the foundational belief that other people groups are not equal and do not deserve equal rights. In many cases, they espouse an outright limitation of civil rights, expulsion of non white people from the United States, or complete annihilation of other races. In order to keep ALL of our patrons safe and feeling welcomed in the library, we will not permit this type of speech in the library. I can’t control what other people think or feel, but I can keep my teens as safe as possible in the library.

This post is a day late because I had to take some time to figure out what I was going to say and because I wanted to make sure and raise other voices that are more important to the discussion then mine.

Racism, Privilege, Shame, and a Book Giveaway (a guest post by author A.B. Westrick)


I had already written Brotherhood when I first listened to Brené Brown’s TED Talkabout shame. Growing up in the North as the child of Southern-born parents, I’d picked up on my parents’ sense of shame. Whether it was over our family’s complicity in the wrongs of the Confederacy or the Jim Crow laws, I don’t know, but I sensed it, and Brown’s TED Talk brought it home for me.

BrenéBrown is a Houston-based researcher who studies and writes about vulnerability and shame. She spends a lot of time listening to people tell their stories, and has come to believe that “you cannot talk about race without talking about privilege, and when people start talking about privilege, they get paralyzed by shame.” Once paralyzed, they stop talking; the shame intensifies, and the problem festers.

Brown says that “shame needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment.” Her comment reminded me of an email I got from my brother after I had blogged about the emotional seeds of my novel Brotherhood. My brother emailed to say that some of his friends were African-American, and he didn’t appreciate my announcing (via my blog) that our ancestors had owned slaves. He’d never before heard that history, and he didn’t want his friends hearing it. He wanted me to take the post down.


He sent me that email in 2011, one hundred and fifty years after the start of the Civil War, and it struck me how powerful the silence has been. He was right that our parents hadn’t talked about our ancestors enslaving Africans. I’d had to push them to get that information out of them. Their parents hadn’t talked about it, either. Nor had theirparents. Such was the genius of those who sought to interpret the Civil War as the noble Lost Cause of the Confederacy—a view that minimized the slavery issue. The institution of slavery was shameful, and white Southerners don’t talk about the things that shame them.

To be fair to my brother, he hadn’t ever shown much of an interest in our family’s history—not like I had. So maybe he hadn’t asked the questions I’d asked, and hadn’t sensed our parents’ shame. I respect him, but I didn’t take down my blog post. Removing it would feed the flames of secrecy, silence and judgment. Our society has come a long way on the racism front, particularly in the past fifty years, but American still has a ways to go.

“White privilege” is a term I first heard only a few years ago, and I’ve scoured websites to understand what it means. If you’re as unfamiliar with the term as I was, I suggest reading “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh. The article has helped me understand that simply by virtue of being white in a white-majority country, I enjoy benefits I’m not even aware of. In the aftermath of cases like Trayvon Martin’s, some of us whites are starting to get it. There is progress, albeit slow.

Brown says that the antidote to shame is empathy. When we strive to imagine how life is for others, when we listen and say, “I’m sorry,” the curtain of shame begins to lift. If we want it to lift even faster, we need to recognize privilege, own it, and talk about it. She’s says that “Jungian analysts call shame the swampland of the soul,” and she suggests that all of us will benefit from putting on some galoshes, and mucking around in it for a bit.

Brown’s research and her talks are intriguing. If what she says about privilege and shame resonates with you, check out her other TED Talk (it’s on vulnerability).

Meanwhile, if you’d like to be entered into the giveaway of one signed copy ofBrotherhood, leave a comment below. One random commenter will be chosen to win. Deadline to enter is February 8th.  Giveaway is open to U.S. residents.  Please leave a Twitter name or email so we can get in touch with you if you win.

A.B. Westrick is the author of Brotherhood (Viking/Penguin 2013), a Junior Library Guild selection. In its starred review, VOYA notes, “Great historical fiction always feels like a gift … Westrick skillfully leads the reader toward conclusions regarding racism, letting each epiphany occur organically. All the characters, dialogue, and action support each other deftly and with no filler.” For more about Brotherhood, visit the author’s website at www.abwestrick.com.

Best or Favorite? A look at the NPR “Best” Young Adult Novels list

I watch So You Think You Can Dance every week without fail.  Here is a show where you can call in and vote for your “favorite” dancer.  This favorite part is important, every year they make a point of making this distinction: it is not the best dancer, but your favorite.  Because that’s how voting works usually, it’s subjective.

Best implies perhaps the highest quality while favorite implies the most popular.  And, truthfully, if you are asking the people to vote you are going to end up with the most popular.  So when NPR puts out it’s list of the Best 100 Young Adult Novels that have been voted on by the public, what you are really getting is some combination of both the best and everyone’s favorites.

NPRs Best Young Adult Novels
http://www.npr.org/2012/08/07/157795366/your-favorites-100-best-ever-teen-novels
Did your favorites make the list?


One look at the list and you see the truth of this statement.  The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers appears at number 27.  Had the vote been taken just a few years earlier, before it became fashionable to hate Twilight, I am sure it would have appeared in the top 10.  But still, in terms of quality of writing and storytelling, even 27 seems incredibly high when you compare it to some of the other books that made the list farther down – and some of those that didn’t make the list at all.  My favorite comment on Reddit: “List totally invalidated by the presence of Twilight.”

If you are on the Yalsa-bk listserv, then last week you saw a really informative post by author David Lubar.  He took a quick moment to do a Google search and found that many authors and fans actively campaigned for others to vote for their favorite books.  As someone who spends a lot of time on the Internet, this is not surprising to me at all.  But it does remind us all that the Internet voting is not a perfect mechanism for developing lists, unless of course your goal is popularity.  So perhaps if they had just changed what they called the list, not the “best” but “favorite”, it would have been an accurate statement.

I’ll be honest, I did not vote.  Not because I don’t care, I obviously care very much about teen literature, but because as soon as I realized the mechanism they were employing to create the list I realized that it would be a deeply flawed list.  Compare the idea of the NPR Best Young Adult Books list to the Teens Top 10s put together each year by Yalsa – and voted on by the public.  The Teens Top 10 list explicitly states that it is a “teens choice” list where teens nominate and then vote on their favorite books from the previous year.  You see the distinction there?  They aren’t saying they are the best, but that the teens declare these their favorites.  Semantics are important.

If you have looked at the NPR list you probably will have noticed what Debbie Reese, Laurie Halse Anderson and others have noticed: the list is incredibly white.  I mean super white.  There are only a couple of titles that have a main character that it a person of color. I won’t talk a lot about that because the previously mentioned people have covered it so well, but it is disappointing.  And not at all reflective of the literature that I see on my shelves.  Don’t get me wrong, I think there needs to be a lot more diversity on our library shelves, but this list totally neglects longstanding popular authors like Walter Dean Myers and Sharon Draper and Jacqueline Woodson.  In fact Monster by Walter Dean Myers is a groundbreaking – and award winning – book and definitely deserves to be on this list.

I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere, but the list also doesn’t seem to include many LGBTQ titles at all.  Where is Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan? How about Annie on My Mind?  A brief look at the list shows that it includes The Perks of Being a Wallflower (without a doubt an amazing read), Will Grayson Will Gryason and the Dangerous Angels series.  Is the lack of LGBTQ and POC titles representative of who votes, what we read, or what gets published?  Whatever the issue, it is clear that we need to work harder on reaching diversity goals.  (Side note: I actually think that the problem novel, one of the classic mainstays of young adult literature, is under represented on this list as well.  I know right now that fantasy and dystopian is super popular, but where are the problem novels?  Thankfully Speak made the list.)

My other question regarding this list would be around the voting mechanism, which I can’t actually speak about because as I mentioned, I didn’t vote.  But I would have loved for them to have kept track of the age of voters and created separate lists.  What does the list look like if only teens vote?  What does the list like if only librarians and educators vote?  What does the list look like if all adults – including educators and librarians – but no teen votes are counted?  It would be interesting to compare the various lists, and I suspect there would be some major differences.

And finally, I am interested in some of the titles that they classify as young adult.  To Kill a Mockingbird is without a doubt one of my favorite books and I would say one of the best books written, but is it young adult?  I would ask the same of The Lord of the Rings series?  Something can be popular with young adults but not be actually a young adult book.  We can all look back at what we read as a teen, and look at what our teens often read now, and recognize that a lot of teens like to read adult authors, which is cool.  Just because something is popular with young adults doesn’t mean that it is in fact a young adult novel.  Of course what, exactly, constitutes a young adult novel is probably the guts of an entirely different post and is further complicated by the introduction of the New Adult genre.

Overall, I think the list is a great starting place for new readers of young adult books to begin reading; it definitely is a good look at what is popular with my teens over the last few years.  As much as I love John Green, I would knock a couple of his books off the list – leaving The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska – and add some multicultural authors.  I was ecstatic to see the Delirium series and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children on the list.  I kind of felt that Miss Peregrine didn’t get the love that it deserved when it came out.  There is some good stuff on the list.  There is some fun stuff on the list (I LOVE the Gallagher girls series).  But is this list representative of THE BEST? I guess it depends on how we are defining the best.

So here’s my question to you: If we made the list again in 10 years, what titles from 2012 do you think will stand the test of time and make an appearance?  And what diversity titles do you think should have made the cut this year?
Also, what is the most surprising title on the list for you?  For me it is The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.