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Abortion in YA Literature: Beyond the Issues, a guest post by Hilary T. Smith

There have been many recent articles written suggesting that sex in YA literature is the last taboo. I, however, would argue that just as it is in the real world, abortion remains the last taboo in YA literature. Which isn’t surprising when you consider it is the last taboo in almost all of main stream media. Although statistics indicate that by the time they are 45 one in four women will have an abortion, you can probably count on both of your hands the number of tv shows, movies and books that mention abortion. Even fewer still where the main character not only considers an abortion but goes through with the procedure. But Hilary T. Smith has written one, a YA book where a teenager not only contemplates having an abortion, but follows through with the procedure. A Sense of the Infinite is not, however, a book about abortion. It is a book where a main character goes through the process of living her life and one of the vignettes of her life includes having an abortion. A Sense of the Infinite is, in fact, primarily about relationships and finding yourself. It also is about body image issues, sexual violence and consent, eating disorders, art, and trying to figure out what to do after you graduate high school. It’s about coming of age.

Here today to talk with us about issues in YA novels is author Hilary T. Smith . . .

senseoftheinfiniteOne of the most important processes that takes place during adolescence and young adulthood is developing a sense of compassion. Our parents all communicate biases to us, whether they intend to or not: “homeless people are bad” or “other races are scary” or “girls who do that are going to hell.” These biases can prepare us to react with contempt, horror, or hostility when we meet someone who belongs to one of these categories. But the freedom of adolescence also gives us an opportunity to grow beyond these biases and develop a sense of shared humanity instead.

A big part of this growth process can happen just by chance encounters with people you previously saw as “the other”—your first conversation with a homeless person, an ex-convict, a pole dancer, or a refugee. Or it can take place when friends and family members reveal things about themselves that force you to reconsider your judgements and decide that you can love a person who belongs to the forbidden category.

But if you don’t have these encounters—if you never spend a six-hour Greyhound ride chatting with a girl your age who just had an abortion, or share a Starbucks shift with a boy your religion told you to hate, or become best friends with a person who grew up in dramatically different circumstances than you—there’s a chance you’ll carry those biases into adulthood.

Books are one way of giving teens those encounters, and encouraging the resulting sense of compassion to flower.

For me, writing a novel with an abortion thread was not about presenting an “issue” to be debated, but about making the world a safer, saner, and more compassionate place for all readers. Books about abortion, mental illness, and similar topics are not only for readers who are experiencing these situations themselves; they help us all awaken to our shared humanity, and go forward with greater wisdom, gentleness, and love.

About A SENSE OF THE INFINITE:

By the author of the critically acclaimed Wild Awake, a beautiful coming-of-age story about deep friendship, the weight of secrets, and the healing power of nature.

It’s senior year of high school, and Annabeth is ready—ready for everything she and her best friend, Noe, have been planning and dreaming. But there are some things Annabeth isn’t prepared for, like the constant presence of Noe’s new boyfriend. Like how her relationship with her mom is wearing and fraying. And like the way the secret she’s been keeping hidden deep inside her for years has started clawing at her insides, making it hard to eat or even breathe.

But most especially, she isn’t prepared to lose Noe.

For years, Noe has anchored Annabeth and set their joint path. Now Noe is drifting in another direction, making new plans and dreams that don’t involve Annabeth. Without Noe’s constant companionship, Annabeth’s world begins to crumble. But as a chain of events pulls Annabeth further and further away from Noe, she finds herself closer and closer to discovering who she’s really meant to be—with her best friend or without.

Hilary T. Smith’s second novel is a gorgeously written meditation on identity, loss, and the bonds of friendship.

Published May 19th by Katherine Tegen Books

Karen’s Thoughts:

A Sense of the Infinite is a true coming of age novel, there’s not a lot of plot but there is a lot of thinking and growing and figuring out who you are and where you fit into this world. It’s about friendship, finding it, losing it, and finding it again, though maybe with different people. It’s about mothers and daughters, this relationship complicated by the fact that Annabeth learns that she is a child born out of a college date rape. This news leaves Annabeth reeling with a sense of shame and insecurity that colors her entire view of self. It’s about love and hope and forgiveness. There is as we mentioned an abortion and it occurs without a lot of shame and guilt, a point of view we don’t often see in current discussions about abortion though statistics indicate that many people do in fact feel nothing but relief in terminating their unwanted or complicated pregnancies. It’s also about eating disorders, a subject that is handled well. But in the end, it’s really a moving portrait of Annabeth trying to find out who she really is and how she can move forward in ways after high school that will help her be happy and fulfilled. It’s a lot of heavy subject matter packed into the pages of a book, but in the end we find that Annabeth just might learn not only to love herself, but that she really is loved by the people around her. It is this look at relationships of all sorts that really make A Sense of the Infinite soar.

More Posts on Reproductive Rights at Teen Librarian Toolbox:

Take 5: Reproductive Rights in YA Literature

Abortion in YA Lit, Karen’s Take

Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters by Laurie Ann Thompson (Blog Tour)

“And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.” – author Libba Bray, quoted on page 161 (always quote Libba Bray, always.)

Teenagers often get a bad rap. They’re loud, they’re obnoxious, their selfish, they’re lazy – that’s what you’ll hear a lot in the press. And from adults: When I was a kid, if we didn’t show respect my parents would have kicked my butt, when I was a kid . . . Well, the truth is, kids today are a lot like kids have always been. And in some ways, they’re better: they have more information about the world they live in and are doing things to make it better. They don’t just sit back and say, “I wish someone would find a way to do something about pollution” – they find a way to make it happen. Sometimes they are local things, sometimes they are global things. But teens today are signing up to be real Changemakers.

What is a changemaker? They are the people around us who take the initiative to create positive social change. They are the teens who start a school garden. They are the teens that start a local recylcing project. They are the teens that see a need and work to find a way to solve it. They want to make their world a better place by starting a movement, creating a new tool, or putting new practices into place.

But being a changemaker isn’t always easy. First comes the idea, but then what do you do with it? Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters by Laurie Ann Thompson is the perfect tool for the changemakers among us. From brainstorming to team building to marketing, Be a Changemaker is a step by step resource guide that can help changemakers go from having an idea to being a force to be reckoned with. An idea in and of itself isn’t enough, changemakers need a variety of tools to take that idea and make it a reality. Some of the chapters cover topics such as running a meeting, developing a business plan, dealing with money matters, working with the media, writing speeches that spark and planning an event. Having read through the book, I have to say this is a really good tool and I like that it highlights and motivates while giving teens the tools they need to be successful changemakers. I definitely recommend it.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to bet better. It’s not.”
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Check out these 5 teen changemakers who are doing things like helping sick kids, joining the fight against bullying, and recycling to help others while saving the planet: 


Everyday Hero: Teen creates backup emergency communications system for local fire station 

This Kid Rocks: Chapel Hill teen creates nonprofit to encourage sick kids 

Arizona teen creates middle school program to combat bullying 

Chicago Teen Creates Change Through Living Gift Markets 

DC teen creates organization to collect discarded crayons from restaurants 

And if you have an aspiring changemaker in your life, here are some organizations you can help them get in touch with to address the things they are passionate about. And if they don’t see something here, they can always pick up a copy of Be a Changemaker and start their own movement. 

To Write Love on Her Arms 
Their mission statement: To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery. 

It Gets Better Project 
The message of the It Gets Better Project is simple: everyone deserves to be loved for who they are and it does get better.  They ask everyone to take this pledge: Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I’ll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I’ll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other bullied teens by letting them know that it gets better. 

The Big Help 
The Big Help is an initiative of the Nickelodeon channel that encourages tweens and teens to get involved in local projects to help their communities.  The audience definitely skews younger tween, but the way it is designed encourages local action, which is great.


Donate My Dress.org 
Donate My Dress is an initiative sponsored by Seventeen Magazine that encourages teens to donate their special occasion dresses to others in need.  The 2012 spokesperson is Victoria Justice. 

Do Something.org 
Do Something is all about encouraging teens to, well – do something positive for their world.  This is what it says under their Who We Are page: e love teens. They are creative, active, wired…and frustrated that our world is so messed up. DoSomething.org harnesses that awesome energy and unleashes it on causes teens care about. Almost every week, we launch a new national campaign. The call to action is always something that has a real impact and doesn’t require money, an adult, or a car. With a goal of 5 million active members by 2015, DoSomething.org is one of the largest organizations in the US for teens and social change. 

VolunTEEN Nation.org 
I am a huge advocate of teen volunteers, and many libraries have been using teen volunteers for years in the form of Teen Advisory Groups (TAGs).  But not all libraries have the staffing or funds to successfully incorporate TAGs into their programs.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t encourage teen volunteering by providing teens access to volunteer information.  Volunteen Nation is here to help.  Volunteen Nation encourages organizations to add volunteer opportunities to their programming and they also help teens find volunteer opportunities through their website. 

Stop Cyberbullying.org 
With the explosion of technology comes the explosion of cyberbullying, find information and take the pledge to step in and speak up here.


Tolerance.org 
As part of their ongoing campaign to promote tolerance, Tolerance.org sponsors Mix It Up at Lunch Day in November (this year it is November 13th).  On this day teens are encouraged to sit with new people at lunch.  I have gone to schools on this day with displays and just went and interacted with the teens at lunch.  Most teens like to sit in the same place with the same people, but it can really open up dialogue. 

Teens for Planet Earth 
T4PE is a social network by teens, for teens to learn more about conservation efforts and to share information about local projects. 

Greening Forward 
Profiled in Be a Changemaker, Greening Forward was started by a 12-year-old boy to address environment concerns. It is not one of the largest youth-led not-for-profit organizations. 

Project Girl 
From their about page: “PROJECT GIRL combines art, media literacy, and youth led activism. PROJECT GIRL is a ground-breaking girl-led, arts-based initiative created to enable girls to become better informed critical consumers of mass media advertising and entertainment. In other words, to become more media literate. PROJECT GIRL’s unique approach uses art as the means to educate, inspire, and create social change. . The Project Girl gives girls the structure to be the producers of their own culture, not just passive receivers of a culture that is trying to sell them something.”

Stay Teen 
Stay Teen provides information on sex, dating and birth control. 

Love is Respect 
Love is Respect talks about the positive things that love is, and highlights the negative things that it is not – including sexting and abuse. There is some good discussion under the Is This Abuse? tab. 

Break the Cycle 
Break the Cycle is also committed to helping to end dating violence and promoting healthy relationships. 

Day of the Girl 
International Day of the Girl is a movement…

to speak out against gender bias and advocate for girls’ rights everywhere. 

Teens on Trafficking 
Human Trafficking is a form of modern day slavery that is bigger than we realize.  Teens on Trafficking gives teens facts and tools to help end it. 

Love 146 
This is another resource aimed at ending human trafficking and sex crimes against children. 

Free the Children 
Profiled in Be a Changemaker, this is a group founded by a 12-year-old boy. They are an “international charity and educational partner, working both domestically and internationally to empower and enable youth to be agents of change.” 

Nerdfighters 
Here ya author John Green and is Bro join with teens to fight suck using their brains. 

Book Description:

Empower yourself in today’s highly connected, socially conscious world as you learn how to wield your passions, digital tools, and the principles of social entrepreneurship to affect real change in your schools, communities, and beyond.

At age eleven, Jessica Markowitz learned that girls in Rwanda are often not allowed to attend school, and Richards Rwanda took shape.

During his sophomore year of high school, Zach Steinfeld put his love of baking to good use and started the Baking for Breast Cancer Club.

Do you wish you could make a difference in your community or even the world? Are you one of the millions of high school teens with a service-learning requirement? Either way, Be a Changemaker will empower you with the confidence and knowledge you need to affect real change. You’ll find all the tools you need right here—through engaging youth profiles, step-by-step exercises, and practical tips, you can start making a difference today.

This inspiring guide will teach you how to research ideas, build a team, recruit supportive adults, fundraise, host events, work the media, and, most importantly, create lasting positive change. Apply lessons from the business world to problems that need solving and become a savvy activist with valuable skills that will benefit you for a lifetime! (Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, September 2014. ISBN: 9781582704647)

9781582704647
9781582704647
9781582704647

Laurie Ann Thompson comes from a family of entrepreneurs and small business owners. She has worked at IBM, Intel, and Microsoft, and she co-founded a successful internet startup. In addition, she has led a regional nonprofit professional organization and volunteered with Ashoka’s Youth Venture, which supports teens with big ideas. This is her first book. She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. Visit her at LaurieThompson.com. You can learn more about author Laurie Ann Thompson at her webpage. You can also find answers to Be a Changemaker questions at the Be a Changemaker Q & A page.

And Please visit the rest of the stops on Be a Changemaker blog tour

Tues, Sept 9 ~ at Girl Scout Leader 101 

Wed, Sept 10 ~ at Unleashing Readers 

Thurs, Sept 11 ~ at Teen Librarian Toolbox

Fri, Sept 12 ~ at The Nonfiction Detectives

   and Kirby’s Lane   

Sat, Sept 13 ~ at The Styling Librarian  

Mon, Sept 15 ~ at NC Teacher Stuff   

Tues, Sept 16 ~ at The Hiding Spot 

Wed, Sept 17 ~ at Kid Lit Frenzy   

Thurs, Sept 18 ~ at GreenBeanTeenQueen   

Fri, Sept 19 ~ at A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust

A free copy of this title was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

TPiB: Bristlebots, take II (or what happens when you give teens space to be creative)

Since the SRC was science themed this year, Christie and I knew that we wanted to do a small robot program. We did a lot of research and came up with some various ideas, but ultimately we decided to do these small robots called Bristlebots or Brushbots. It turned out there were pre-made kits you could buy so we did that.

The day before my program I put a sample together to make sure that I would know how to do it with my tweens and teens. As a general rule, I try to avoid embarrassing myself in front of them. I’m not saying it never happens, I’m just saying that in this particular instance I thought putting a demo together was a good idea. One of the things I discovered was that putting the bots together wouldn’t take much time at all. But I had my Lego Makerspace so I figured we could spend the rest of the time building racing courses and letting the teens race their bots.

The day of the program, these teens genuinely surprised me. Instead of building tracks, they began doing little experiments of their own. One kid used a mini-figurine and his bot motor to see if he could get the person to move. Another built a horse and did the same. They take a concept and ran with it.

Then they started building cars using Legos and their bot motors to race. This meant they had to experiment a lot because whether or not the car would move depended on things like design, size, and the size of the motor/battery from the bot. For bigger cars, they tried using two motors, which didn’t work as well. But they could make a variety of smaller cars, use their brush bot motors, and race.

And as they built race tracks, they found that they had to consider things like how to round the corners so that the bots didn’t get stuck in them.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CqgPcy9QJU]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbFjbSk8xOc]

And the beauty of it is that it all came from them. I gave them free reign and they allowed their minds to take them places I would never have thought of. I was very impressed and the take away for me is that in our programming sometimes it’s a great idea to leave space for creativity; we can try and control the program, or we can be open to allowing the program to go in new directions and surprise us all.

Sunday Reflections: Not All Educations are Created Equal

I was speaking to someone the other day about the issue of growing poverty in the U.S. when the friend shocked me by victim blaming kids living in poverty. The most surprising part of it all was that this friend is a social work major who is going into the field to help children. She is going to go try and help the very children whose lives she doesn’t seem to understand in any way. 


It’s easy for us, as adults, to look at other adults and see that a better education could help improve their lives. But the truth is, not all educations are created equal and many children are born into this world with incredible educational disadvantages that can be almost impossible to overcome.


To begin with, not all schools are created equal. Many schools rely on local funding, so schools in poorer communities are fundamentally disadvantaged. When we were living in the poorest county (at the time) in Ohio, you could see that reflected in the school system. Because over 80% of the students qualified for free or reduced lunch, the school district applied for and received a special grant so that every child in the area received free breakfast and lunch. Every year the school tried to pass a new operating levy and every year it failed. In the 10 years that I lived there no new levies were passed. It’s not that the parents didn’t care about education, it had more to do with the fact that the average yearly income was around $24,000 and paying additional taxes would mean going without more meals or the opportunity to fix your dying car you need to get to and from work.


In comparison, we moved three years ago due to my husband’s job. Though things are still very tight for us and the people who live in this neighborhood, the schools in Texas have a different funding structure and are doing better financially. Beginning in the 5th grade, every student in this school district gets a laptop to take home every night to do homework. I imagine there are a significant number of students who don’t have Wifi at home, but they can still use the computers to write reports or put together presentations. Due to funding laws here, when the schools recently needed an increase there was no vote necessary, the district simply raised the school taxes.


And yet even with the improvements in this school district from our previous one, I can still see inequalities when compared to the school district my nephews attend. The Tween has never been on a school field trip, because the district here can’t afford it. Primarily, it seems, they can’t afford the busing. However, my nephew has been on several field trips each year to places like the zoo and science museums. As someone who loved school field trips, it always makes me a little sad that The Tween has never been on one.


The funding inequalities of individual districts affects their ability to recruit and maintain qualified, experienced teachers. It affects the types and amount of equipment that they can have in the classroom. It affects the diversity of curriculum offerings – schools with more money can have more special classes like languages, arts, consumer sciences, etc. And it affects the entirety of after school program offerings.


These inequalities also affect the way colleges perceive applications. Because not all schools are created equal, not all diplomas are equal. If you receive a diploma from a poor or failing school district it certainly doesn’t carry the same weight as a diploma from a prestigious school with a rigorous academic program. People living in poverty seldom have access to these types of schools.


If they are accepted into a college or university, students who have lived their whole lives in poverty must find a way to pay for that secondary education. Unless they are one of the few who receive scholarships, this often means that they must limit their choices once again due to economic factors.


The myth that kids and later young adults can pick themselves up by their bootstraps and get a good education is just that – a myth. Can a teen living in poverty change their life with a good education? Yes, sometimes. But there are very real systematic barriers we need to be addressing to help increase their chances. Mobility among social classes – upward mobility – is difficult due to systemic barriers that prevent kids and teens from achieving their full potential.


When we look at high school drop out rates, which current research indicates are declining though still substantial, it is important to remember that a percentage of those students who drop out do so to get full-time jobs to help feed their families. These aren’t slacker teens, they are teens who are forced to sacrifice their futures in order to take care of very real present needs.


Parental involvement can often be limited in poorer communities as these parents must work multiple jobs with unpredictable hours, frequently leaving their children home alone after school and in the evening hours to make their own dinners and try and complete their homework without an adult to ask for help or guidance.


The community into which you are born and raised can have tremendous impact not only on your immediate life, but on your chances of future success. Yes, there are people who rise above these limitations every day, but we do a tremendous disservice to the children we serve if we don’t recognize how real and overwhelming these systemic barriers are.

In Ohio, the state supreme court ruled more than 10 years ago that the way the state funded schools was unconstitutional because it created the very real economic discrepancies described above. And yet, more than 10 years later, nothing has changed about the way the state funds schools. Every day I read article after article where adults lambast our school systems with open hostility and refuse to invest any additional monies into failing school systems. The rhetoric against teachers has grown to a fevered pitch. All the while, education is being handed over to corporate sponsors who know little about it, care little about our children, and are primarily concerned with putting more money in their pockets.

One of the things I loved about the upcoming LOVE IS THE DRUG by Alaya Dawn Johnson is the way that Johnson was able to address some of these issues in the midst of a very thrilling ya novel about a flu pandemic. The teen students themselves often are forced to grapple with all of these issues as they look at the privileged life some of them lead while scholarship students are treated much differently. And when one character is able to get her cousin into the school it makes a very real difference in his life. These teens are very aware of the inequality in the world that they live in and are forced to grapple with them every day, so I’m amazed when I encounter adults who don’t have their eyes open to these very real issues. 


I’m not a teacher. I don’t work for a school system. But I am a mom and I have seen the differences in our school systems. And as a librarian I have worked with a wide variety of tweens and teens across a wide variety of communities. I have worked in a wealthy district and in the poorest, and it is night and day difference. That difference is not just in things like the types of subjects they study and the amount of homework they do; you can see it in their eyes and in their drive. Kids growing up in poverty often lose that spark, that drive. They are hungry, not for knowledge or future success, but literally hungry. They are tired. They are world weary. We are failing these kids and in failing them, we are failing ourselves.  If you think for one moment that the growing poverty issues our country is facing won’t dramatically impact the future of our country you are dead wrong. If we really want to change our future, we need to start having serious discussions about the inequalities of our education systems and find ways to provide adequate funding that don’t involve lining the pockets of large corporations.


Social Mobility:
MSNBC
NYTimes
Washington Post


Cycles of Poverty:
Breaking the Cycles of Poverty in Young Families
Cycle of Poverty Hard to Break in Poorest U.S. City
The Cycle of Poverty and Poor Health

 
How Poverty Affects Schools:
How Poverty Affects Behavior and School Performance


Teens and Poverty Series at TLT:

Teens and Poverty: PBS Newshour Discusses Being Homeless and Trying to Graduate High School

As I thought about writing my post earlier today about teachers, I couldn’t help but think of my 4th grade teacher. I remember her name, I remember what she looked like, and I remember the intense hatred I had for her. You see, in the 4th grade my parents separated and divorced. We went from being a doing okay two-income family living in a house in the suburbs to living in two struggling very much separate apartments. Suddenly, I qualified for free and reduced lunch. I remember the burning shame each day in the cafeteria line and how you would pray that the lunch ladies would be quiet and keep it all on the down low so the other students wouldn’t know. Being labelled poor is like being forced to wear a scarlet A.

And I remember being at a parent-teacher conference where the teacher told my parents that I had no friends and she told them (this is not a joke), that they needed to buy me a pair of Jordache jeans so maybe I could fit in. We couldn’t buy me lunch, how was this even reasonable advice?

I eventually became friends with a girl whose family lived in a week-to-week low-cost hotel in a very dangerous neighborhood; one night her family simply disappeared as they moved on to another place. I was always aware that they were just one step away from the edge of what it meant to be homeless. It’s been more than 30 years and I wonder every day whatever happened to her. Life had already been so unkind to her, I hope that her family was able to turn their situation around at some point.

According to Do Something, there are 1.7 homeless teens in the U.S. 39% of the homeless population in the U.S. is under the age of 18. In addition to poverty, teens are often homeless because of abuse or because of rejection (or abuse) from their family because they come out as GLBTQ. In fact, 40% of homeless youth are homeless because of their GLBTQ status (Do Something).

And many more families are just one job less, medical crisis or other emergency away from losing it all. In many homes parents are working sometimes two and three part-time jobs trying to make ends meet while older siblings are asked to make dinner, help with homework and put younger siblings to bed at night.

As part of our ongoing focus on TEENS AND POVERTY, I encourage you to head over to the PBS Newshour for a special report on what Los Angeles is doing to help homeless teens complete high school. While reports come in offer other areas putting up “anti-homeless spikes” – and yes, this is apparently a real thing – other people are investing that money in trying to help people succeed. There are very real effects to children and teens living and growing up in poverty: it affects physical health, it affects mental health, it affects school success, and it affects the future. Not just THEIR future, but all of our future. Helping children and teen succeed makes the world better for us all.

Recently at one of my teen programs, a group of high school students were talking and someone mentioned a boy not at the program. One of the teens present said, “Yeah, he’s okay but man his teeth are jacked up. It’s like he doesn’t even brush them or anything. It’s gross.” And I mentioned to this teen that maybe his family didn’t have the money to take him to the dentist. It got real quiet and this teen remarked, “You know, he doesn’t seem to have a lot of stuff. Like, I don’t see him wearing a lot of different clothes like everyone else. Maybe he is, maybe he can’t go to the dentist.” I don’t know if this was the case or not, but I thought it was important that they take a moment to think of all of the various scenarios as to what may be going on for this young man. Far too often those that know nothing about living in poverty have blinders on to it around them. Whether that boy was living in poverty or not, there are students all around them that are.

Additional Resources:
National Coalition for the Homeless Youth Fact Sheet
Record Number of Homeless Students in the US in 2013
National Alliance to End Homelessness: Youth

Teens and Poverty Series at TLT:
Can We All Just Stop Saying the Internet Is Free Now Please? 
Rich Teen, Poor Teen: Books that depict teens living in poverty 
Working with youth who live in poverty  
Sunday Reflections: This is what losing everything looks like 
Sunday Reflections: Going to bed hungry
Sunday Reflections: A tale of two libraries 
Sunday Reflections: Poverty doesn’t always look the way you think it does
Sunday Reflections: All I Want for Christmas is the Chance to Go to College
Feeding Teens at the Library: Summer and Afterschool Meals
The Economy as Villain in The Year of Shadows by Claire LeGrand
Book Review: PANIC by Lauren Oliver
Book Review: HUNGRY by H. A. Swain

Booklists:
Barnes and Noble: Homelessness and Runaways
The Homeless Experience in YA Literature
Library Thing: Homeless Persons Fiction

About the Books You See in this Post

Tyrell by Coe Booth:

“Tyrell is a young, African American teen who can’t get a break. He’s living (for now) with his spaced-out mother and little brother in a homeless shelter. His father’s in jail. His girlfriend supports him, but he doesn’t feel good enough for her – and seems to be always on the verge of doing the wrong thing around her. There’s another girl at the homeless shelter who is also after him, although the desires there are complicated. Tyrell feels he needs to score some money to make things better. Will he end up following in his father’s footsteps?” (Scholastic, 2006. ISBN: 9780439838795)

Can’t Get There From Here by Todd Strasser:

“Her street name is Maybe. She lives with a tribe of homeless teens — runaways and throwaways, kids who have no place to go other than the cold city streets, and no family except for one another. Abused, abandoned, and forgotten, they struggle against the cold, hunger, and constant danger.”  (Simon Pulse, 2005. ISBN: 9780689841705)

See also the new title from Todd Strasser: No Place

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

“Pattyn Von Stratten’s father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run. After far too many years of abuse at the hands of her father, and after the tragic loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn is desperate for peace. Only her sister Jackie knows what happened that night, but she is stuck at home with their mother, who clings to normalcy by allowing the truth to be covered up by their domineering community leaders. Her father might be finally gone, but without Pattyn, Jackie is desperately isolated. Alone and in disguise, Pattyn starts a new life, but is it even possible to rebuild a life when everything you’ve known has burned to ash and lies seem far safer than the truth?” (Margaret K. Elderberry Books, 2013. ISBN: 9781416983286)

The Relational Reading Revolution Revisited

Earlier today author Mindy McGinnis (Not a Drop to Drink, In a Handful of Dust) and I presented at TLA on the ways that you can use social media to get teens connected with authors and invested in a rich, rewarding, and affirming reading community.  You can read the initial post here.  And here is a look at our presentation:

Some additional notes:

Some hashtags to follow on Twitter includes #yalit and #amreading

Even if your library policy prevents you from having a library or school account, set up your own accounts so you have the information and can share it with your teens. Some of the information you can find includes new book release news, cover reveals, book trailers, movie adaptation news, etc. For example, the other day Scholastic Tweeted information about the title and release date for the next The Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. When kids come in and ask for these titles, you can prove how cool you are by letting them know the news. You can also share book trailers in the library or in the classroom without having a social media account but the social media will help you know what trailers are new and hot.

19 Authors to Follow on Instagram

When teens see that there is such a vital and passionate reading community out there, they see how cool reading can be.

Talk about Sex, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

 Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sex

Let’s Talk about Sex, Salt ‘n’ Pepa

I confess. I am not a parent. I have no kids. Never had, never attempted, never will. I have nieces and nephews scattered across the country, and I am a psuedo-parent to the teens and kids that come into my library. I check homework and I will throw them back to school if they try to skip a day and show up at the library.

However, I don’t need to be having sex talks with them. I realize that I may be the person they’re most comfortable with, but in all honesty, I am not the proper person to be having this conversation. Yes, I am more than knowledgeable about how things work. Yes, I am a trusted adult, and unless there is something going on that needs reporting I will keep confidences, but this should be a parent’s duty, not mine.

Please let me tell you, your tween and teen know about sex. Really, they do. NO, the public or school librarian is not handing out the books to them to corrupt their minds, nor did the 5th grade teacher who separated the outward genders for “the talk” start all the swirling in their heads.  The sex ed course that you could have opted your kid out of did not do it either, even with the banana.



Nope, it goes with all the hormones and flirting and media and music and everything else they’re surrounded with (you had it too, don’t deny it), and it starts younger and younger. They’re hearing about it from their friends, from conversations at school, from TV and radio and commercials. And they’re coming away confused if you’re not talking to them.

Remember that scene in Kindergarten Cop?

I’ve been the recipient of that conversation.With the 5 year old. And getting a crying 9 year old to let me know that her period showed up unexpectedly, and we called her parent, while I tried to answer questions without overstepping boundaries that should be the parents’. And having a pair of 15 year olds beg me to take them to the local drug store to buy a pregnancy kit.

If you think your kids are going to be safe in whatever bubble wrap you keep them in, I hate to tell you that you might be wrong.

From the Facts on American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health (June 2013) from the Guttmacher Institute:

By age 15, the % of teens who are having sex starts doubling:
 


And while use of contraceptives is increasing with first time sex, it’s not nearly enough:


And yes, I heard that “lovely” statistic where teen pregnancy rates are going down due to Teen Mom and 16 & Pregnant on MTV.  However, take a look at where the pregnancy rates are highest- the abstinence only taught states for the most part.


So what do you do?

TALK TO YOUR KID, PEOPLE. PLEASE?!?!?! And not just a one time, awkward conversation but a real dialogue about what happens.


http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970204358004577032421571545382
Source: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970204358004577032421571545382

If you need resources there are plenty out there, even based on your own personal viewpoint:

Important facts to go over no matter what:

  • You will love your child no matter what action they choose
  • Everyone goes through changes, and what those changes are, and that this is NORMAL
  • No means no, and they are allowed to fight to defend themselves
  • Touching is only right when it is consensual- doesn’t matter if it’s hugs, kisses, or more
  • Peer pressure can be hard to resist, but it is ok to resist it.
  • Never leaving drinks unattended at parties
  • They can talk to you about anything at any time and there will be no judgement

Recommended books to share with your tweens and teens:

    Tales from the Crib: Babysitting 411 with Don’t Sit on the Baby by Halley Bondy (TPIB)

    Raise your hand if your first job was babysitting. (Karen raises hand.) Raise your hand if you had any clue what you were doing. (Karen puts hand down.)  In this post we talk about this great babysitting guide and I will share with you a step-by-step program to help give your teens the information they need to be great babyistters.  Read on.

    Beginning sometime around the 6th or 7th grade, I began my illustrious career of babysitting.  I remember the first time I babysat for this one family, their “daughter” (I put daughter in quotes because she may have been a demon, I’m not really sure) locked the TV remote control in the bathroom.  When he parents came home the dad had to take the door off of the hinges if they ever wanted to change the channel again – or, you know, pee.  Surprisingly, it was the beginning of a beautiful babysitting relationship and every Thursday night the parents would go bowling and I would sit in their kitchen, talk on the phone and watch Twin Peaks and eat all of their food while their children slept.  Don’t worry, before they slept I would do real babysitting stuff.

    Speaking of real babysitting stuff, what exactly is that?  Don’t Sit on the Baby: The Ultimate guide to Sane, Skilled and Safe Babysitting by Halley Bondy can help you with that part.  This is basically, and quite literally, the ABCs of babysitting.  Part A is the “babysitting breakdown”, Part B covers essential skills, and Part C covers the business side of babysitting.  I love that this book has a  part c and includes things like making a resume and deciding how much to charge.  Having been on the other side of babysitting now, I hate when you ask how much they charge and they are all, “whatevs”.  Not helpful.

    When you do babysitting right, you become a part of the family.  Although we started out by hiring our teen babysitter Val, we ended up adopting her.  I feel that Val, our babysitter, is not only a blessing because I get to watch an adult movie occasionally, but because she loves my girls and is no longer freaked out by the fact that the 3-yr-old with GI issues is prone to exploding.  She deals.  She nurtures. She loves.  And although this book is a handy guide, you are really lucky when you go from the business of babysitting to the art of loving and mentoring.  It doesn’t always happen, but when it does – magic happens.  Don’t Sit on the Baby can help make that magic happen.

    But back to the business of babysitting . . . I have in the past done several babysitting workshops and this book is a great basis for doing the same in your library with your teens.

    To begin with, if you can, get a grant (ask your friends group or a local organization).  Why?  Because if at all possible you really need to make sure every teen who attends your program walks out of this program with this book in your Mary Poppins “Bag of Tricks” (we’re getting to that part).  If you can’t afford to give this book to your teens in attendance, be sure to have copies available in the library and include it on a bibliography to keep in their MPBOT (which is what we shall call the Mary Poppins “Bag of Tricks” from this point forward).  Please note: I do recommend setting a size limit of around 20 teens for these hands on workshops.

    The Mary Poppins “Bag of Tricks”

    Okay, so remember when Mary Poppins comes flying in on the wind and opens her bag and inside it is every thing she needs to be Nanny of the Year?  This is the objective of our babysitting workshop.  If you can, contact your local American Red Cross and work in conjunction with them because they will cover the CPR certification and other practical aspects of your babysitting workshop (this is also another way in which a grant would come in handy).

    After the  American Red Cross does their practical bits, should you include that, we want to really help teens put together their MPBOT with some of these items:

    Making the bag: First, you can purchase plain canvas tote bags from Oriental Trading (or at local craft stores) and allow teens to decorate them with fabric markers.  The alternative is that you can purchase canvas totes (or drawstring bags) with your library’s logo on them (many libraries use these and will have them on hand).  This will be the basis for the MPBOT.

    1) Age appropriate booklists (say 5 must reads per age category), because we want to make sure we talk about reading aloud to children (we are librarians after all).  Get your children’s librarian to help you with this part and do a demonstration on doing a short storytime with kids.

    2) A handy 2-sided sheet of some finger plays and nursery songs to share (again, ask your children’s librarian for help with this if you would like.)

    3) A puppet – Teens can use a puppet to help approach shy kids, gets kids to share their feelings, or even just to act out the stories and songs in numbers 1 and 2 above.  This is a hands on craft to do as part of your program (outlined below).  While teens are making the puppet you can talk a little bit about choosing books for kids and show them how to use their puppets in storytimes with their kids.

    4) Bean bags and a list of 3 to 5 always handy bean bag games that teens can bust out while babysitting.  You can do something simple like get out colored construction paper and set up a grid and ask kids to throw the bean bag on the color square that you name.  You can also use hula hoops, bowls from the kitchen, or make a target outside using sidewalk chalk.  Bean bags can be hand sewn using fat squares purchases at a local craft store and filled with either uncooked beans or rice.

    5) A safety tube – A really important part of working with smaller children is understanding the importance of choking hazards.  Smaller objects can present dangers to children.  They make and sell tubes that can you help babysitters (and parents) make sure that kids aren’t around small objects, but you can also make one using a used toilet paper roll.  Teens can decorate the tubes and then you do a “game” where you determine whether or not various toys or safe or not safe.

    6) The Clipboard – Making sure that you have essential contact information and any special instructions – such as food allergies – is a very important part of being an informed babysitter.  Make a basic template for your teens of an emergency contact/information sheet and provide them with about 10 copies each.  Write “MASTER” in yellow sharpie on one copy for each teen so that they have a master to make copies from.  You can purchases plain clipboards for about $1.00 each from local craft stores (and probably Oriental Trading) and allow teens to decorate them.  This is a very important part of the MPBOT.

    If you can, have a follow up workshop with your teens where you help them make resumes and promotional materials for their babysitting business; this will highlight some career and technology skills.

    Back to the Book

    Confession time: When I became a mom I brought this little bundle of cuteness (and sometimes filth) home and I had NO IDEA WHAT TO DO.  None.  How do you play with a baby?  How do you change a diaper?  They probably need to eat something, right? I actually checked books out from the library about all of this.  Don’t Sit on the Baby is an easy, light, transportable book to keep with you when you find yourself at some one’s house and their before you is your first every 5-year-old.  I mean, what do 5-year-olds do?  Don’t Sit on the Baby has a brief checklist for ages 0 to 10 of normal behaviors).  They also cover essential skills and have some basic safety information.

    Don’t Sit on the Baby is a great overview of babysitting basics to put in your teen areas, and this is a great way to let teens know about ways to use some other books in your collection that may provide an in depth look at things like First Aid, baby games and even some basic baby/toddler cookbooks.  In fact, if you can, put together a little mini-bib and paste it into the back of your library book so teens that check out this book will also know other places they can look.  Or you could, of course, put together a babysitting bibliography (and display).

    Outside of the very great information in this book, there are also some fun, anecdotal stories under the heading “Tales from the Crib”.  When you have your babysitting workshop, be sure to read some of these out loud and to ask teens to share their own Tales from the Crib.  I know I have plenty to share.

    As a wrap up to your workshop, if you have the movie performance rights, you should show the movie Adventures in Babysitting.  Still a classic.  You can pick and choose elements from above for to make a shorter workshop, or do a multi-part workshop (especially if you are including the American Red Cross certification portions).  I have done this workshop with and without the American Red Cross.  And because of budget issues, I have at times had the teens pay in advance to attend the workshop to pay for the American Red Cross portion (they choose a per person fee).  The big issue that came up was when a teen who had pre-paid wanted their money back and even though all of our publicity said you must prepay and the money was absolutely nonrefundable, it was still sometimes an issue.  This is the reason that I recommend a grant if at all possible.  Or maybe you are just lucky and have a great programming budget.

    Craft Instructions

    Puppets
    How to Make a Wooden Spoon Puppet
    Sock Puppets
    Six Simple Puppets
    Hand Puppets (We used this pattern.  We pre-sewed the puppets and provided items for teens to make their own creative puppets.

    Bean Bags
    How to Make a Bean Bag (pre-sewing can help cut down on the time)
    Make a Bean Bag out of Jean Pockets

    Decorate Clipboards
    How to Alter a Clipboard
    How to Make Decorated Clipboards

    Resources
    Babysitter Information Template
    A Ton of Babysitter Emergency Contact Forms
    Every Child Ready to Read Booklists
    Preschool Fingerplays, Action Rhymes, Songs and More
    Storytimes in a Box (a great resource of fingerplays and songs)

    If doing a multi-session workshop I recommend the following:
    Session 1: Babysitting Certification with the American Red Cross
    Session 2: Doing Storytimes, Fingerplays and Games while Babysitting
    Session 3: Get Organized (where you make your MPBOT)
    Session 4: The Business of Babysitting (making resumes and flyers)

    For a fun twist, have a one day Babysitting in the Zombie Apocalypse training class.  You never know, we may need the information.

     
    Enter to Win a Mini-Set of Teen Nonfiction Titles from Zest Books

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    What Does Customer Service to Teens Look Like in the Library?

    I was recently asked an interesting question:  what should customer service to teens look like in the library?

    The truth is that customer service to teens should look the same as customer service to any other library patron looks.  Every library patron who walks through the library door should get the same high quality and friendly service regardless of race, gender, disability and yes, age.  Your library should have one and only one approach to customer service and it should apply to every one.  Anything less then consistent, quality customer service to all patrons is both discriminatory and bad for business.

    Hopefully your library has a strong emphasis on customer service and provides routine training.  If it doesn’t, discuss putting some training in place with your administration.  And as your library’s teen services representative, make sure you are a part of the planning and decision making in your library to make ensure teen teen interests are represented in the discussion.  Some library policies, like obtaining library cards and Internet use, can be more complicated with the teen audience.  You want to make that the unique challenge of teenagers are at least considered in the discussion.

    So, what should good costumer service to teens look like?

    It should be friendly and approachable

    Every patron that walks through your library doors wants to feel welcomed and valued.  Staff should be friendly and approachable.  Smile.  Interact with patrons in a professional and courteous manner.  As part of your training have staff think about their positive and negative customer services experiences.  Ask them what made those experiences stand out in their minds.  As you discuss and outline these experiences you will come up with positive and negative examples of costumer experiences.  By having staff reflect on their own experiences, it will help them realize the hallmarks of good customer service.  The golden rule of life applies to customer service: treat others as you would want to be treated.

    Remind staff the importance of good customer service because customer service is PR.  Patrons are much more likely to go out and share their negative experiences with 7 to 10 people.  This type of negative PR is very hard to counteract and your best defense is a good offense; make sure patrons walk out of your library with nothing but good experiences to share.  Today it is easier then ever to share one’s experiences.  Many teens have Facebook or Twitter accounts and all it takes is for a teen to get online and share with their 200+ friends that “Generic Public Library HATES teens”.  But we can also use this to our advantage by giving them reasons to share their positive library experiences with 200+ friends.

    It should be consistent

    A good starting point for customer service is to make sure your library has policies and procedures in place letting staff know how to handle a wide variety of patron interactions and ensure high quality, consistent services to all patrons.  The consistent implementation of policies and procedures helps both staff and patrons understand expectations and decreases the hostility that can arise from miscommunication.  Consistent policies and procedures also help ensure that the patron’s experience will be the same regardless of what staff member they are interacting with; when they come in on Friday and see staff member A they will get the same experience as when the see staff member B on Tuesday.  In addition, they will see the patrons around them being given the same high quality service and being asked to meet the same patron responsibilities.  The fastest way to create negative patron experiences is for the patron to see other patrons being given service that they are not.  Patrons – including teen patrons – like to have clearly defined expectations from behavior in the library to Internet use.

    It should be informed

    Helping staff understand teen development and your teen services goals can help to decrease staff anxiety about teens in the library.  As with all things regarding staff attitudes, communication and team building can help break down barriers and make staff feel more comfortable in serving the teen audience.  Make sure you have a clearly outlined teen services program with a mission statement, goals, and appropriate evaluation measures.  I encourage you to communicate with staff on a regular basis making sure they know about upcoming programs, new and popular books and readalikes, trends in teen literature and pop culture, etc.  With some basic information, some basic tools, in their belt staff will feel more confident when teens approach the public service desk.

    To help develop your teen services and communication model with staff check out these previous posts:

    The “Be”-Attitudes of Communicating with Staff
    Marketing Teen Services to Non Teen Services Staff, Part 1
    Marketing Teen Services to Non Teen Services Staff: A Teen Services Plan Example

    YALSA has put together a helpful presentation on Guidelines for Library Services to Teens Ages 12-18.  I recommend consulting it as you help put together your library’s customer service model and training packet.

    Reshaping Our Experiences

    So often when we walk away from a patron service desk we walk into a back office and begin sharing a story about the horrible customer interaction that we just had, forgetting that there were 90 other completely routine ones.  But those negative ones stay with us and we need to process them, to process the stress of it and state our case.  There is a catharsis in getting it out and sharing.  But what if, after we discussed our negative experience, we made it our goal to always follow the negative with a positive.  To make sure, for ourselves and others, that we share ourpositive interactions and remind ourselves that it is more often good then bad.  As I discuss in one of the above mentioned blog posts, part of your regular communication with staff should be an emphasis on positive experiences between teens and the library.  Report statistics, positive feedback, and those stories when I teen came back and told you that they loved the book you recommended.

    Reshaping Our View of Teens

    When you understand teen development, it is easier to understand why they do the things they do.  Brain research shows that they literally don’t have the biological mechanisms in place to make the same types of decisions that adults do. Again, some of this is discussed in one of the previous posts shared above. When we understand behavior, it is easier to deal with it.  I also recommend making yourself and staff familiar with the 40 Developmental Assets and your library’s role in helping teens obtain assets and grow in healthy ways.  By reshaping the way we see teens, staff can be more comfortable when the clock strikes 3 and you get the after school rush.

    Reshaping Our Staff

    As we share our knowledge of teens and teen services, we invite co-workers to be a part of our teen services program.  To be a part of the team.  Teambuilding is important because as staff become a part of the team, they become vested partners in providing quality customer service to teens.  It’s no longer you providing customer services to teens, but the library providing quality service to teens.

    You often hear teen librarians making a case for teen services by saying that “teens are our future.”  The truth is, teens are also our here and now.  Teens are members of our community with information, education and recreation needs.  They are making important decisions about who they are and who they want to become.  They are forming foundational opinions about the library and its role in their life.  They are deciding whether or not they will be library users and supporters.  If teens walk away from the library today, it will be hard to get them back later.  Today more than ever there is a lot of competition in programming, services, and informational needs.  If we fail to capture and keep our teen patrons today, it is unlikely that we will be able to do so later; make sure your teens feel welcomed and served by every staff member in your building.  And use the powerful force of social media by creating loyal teen customers that will spread positive words about your library.

    More About Good Customer Service:
    8 Rules of Good Customer Service at About.com
    The 10 Commandments of Good Customer Service at About.com
    Authentic Promotion: Giving Customers What They Really Want
    How to Create a Customer Service Plan
    What Do We Mean by “Customer Service” Anyway?

    Other tools for you to use:
    Visit YALSA.  They have a large variety of tools including some on advocacy and a bibliography of current teen related research.
    VOYA, an essential teen librarian tool, often has teen pop culture quizzes that you can use with staff.
    Frontline on PBS did a good report Inside the Teenage Brain that you may want to check out.

    “What’s the deal with zombies anyway?”

    Right now the dead have risen – both from the grave and in popularity.  There is no denying that right now zombies are, erm, hot?  Sure technically I guess they should be cold, being dead and all, but as far as pop culture trends go – they are HOT.  World War Z by Max Brooks is being made into a movie starring Brad Pitt as we speak.  Two nights ago the second season premiere of The Walking Dead aired.  Zombies have made an appearance on almost every Disney show (trust me, I watch a lot of Disney so I know).  In fact right now you can go play a Wizards of Waverly Place zombie themed game (Zombies on the 13th Floor) at Disney.com.

    On Saturday, October 15th, I went to the Dallas Zombie Walk and saw zombies of all ages – from babies to teens to grown ups – walk the streets of downtown Dallas, some of them going all out in their costumes.  That night they showed a sneak peek of The Walking Dead.  And this month the Dallas Children’s Theater is doing an all teen production of Night of the Living Dead, which I think is immensely cool.  And libraries everywhere are having zombie proms and zombie programs.  My library is even having a zombie themed event next Monday, October 24th.  And there is no shortage of awesome zombie themed reading available at your library.

     

    I have a tweenager, however, that is not necessarily on board the zombie train.  So yesterday she asked me the question I am sure that is on a lot of people’s minds: What’s the deal with you and zombies anyway?   (Note: zombie author Jonathan Maberry has a panel discussion up on his website that also attempts to answer this question.) And I wanted to give her a good answer and it went something like this:

    What I like about zombie fiction (and I think it applies to dystopian fiction, too) is the underlying discussion of good versus evil.  And the question we must all ask ourselves: who do you become in the face of extreme adversity?  After a brief discussion of what adversity is (she is a young tweenager), I think she started to understand.  You see, it is easy for those of us who are basically good people to do good when life is easy.  The question, however, seems to be will we continue to be good in the face of extreme circumstances?  Who would you, or I, become if we woke up one morning and found that there were only a few 1,000 people left on the planet and we had to spend our days scavenging for food and water while trying not to be eaten by zombies?  When the tables are turned, do we still choose to be good people?  Does what it means to be a good person change in these types of situations?

    For example, in the second season premiere of The Walking Dead (spoiler warning!!!!), our merry band of survivors find themselves stuck on a freeway surrounded by deserted cars and decide to search them to find the necessities of life.  One of the characters feels uncomfortable with this proposition because it is “grave robbing.”  In the movie Zombieland, the survivors often go in and “rob” stores.  But the rules have changed.  It’s like the age old question posed in Les Miserables, is it okay to steal to feed your family.  But pushed to the extreme, is it even really stealing if everyone else is dead?  (To be honest, I didn’t really mind the survival need to rob the store, but I was bothered by the way the trashed everything in it – although I did understand the extreme stress and release that it conveyed).

    Zombie fiction (and again, dystopian fiction) is a great spring board for discussions of ethics and compassion and humanity.  If my tweenager woke up one morning a zombie, what would be the compassionate thing to do?  Could I be the one to pull the trigger and keep her from becoming a mindless need to feed motivated monster?  (See Rot & Ruin for a great discussion of monsters vs. men.)   Can we, as educators, draw parallels between this concept and discussions regarding quality of life and euthanasia and end of life decisions?  Why yes, yes we can.  And you need look no further than your zombie and dystopian fiction for discussions on violence and society, human psychology, government structure, etc.  There is rich discussion and thought in zombie and dystopian fiction, all packaged within some fun, tense thrills and chills.

    And I think apocalyptic fiction is so hot right now in part because, well, it often feels culturally like we are in fact on the verge of an apocalypse, probably more so to teens.  You can’t help but read every day in the news a variety of stressful news stories: we are on the verge of economic collapse, we are on the verge of environmental collapse, we are on the verge of overpopulation and a deficit of adequate resources.  These are stressful and scary times for adults, they must be tremendously overwhelming for kids and teens.  Even if they don’t understand it all, they can’t help but notice that they are living in a climate of fear and stress.  And many of them are being personally affected as their parents are being laid off at worse, or at least tightening the proverbial belts and life is being lived much differently.  As a nation our spirits are worn out, and we sometimes must appear as spiritual zombies just going through the motions of life as we wait for the next shoe to drop.

    Many of these themes come up in teen fiction.  Scarcity of resources. Check.  Environmental disaster.  Check.  Good vs. Evil.  Check.  Government corruption.  Check.

    One of my favorite series in the zombie fiction is Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry.  Don’t read this next part if you haven’t read it.  You have been warned.  In Rot & Ruin, society has collapsed and enclaves have been formed behind large walls designed to keep the monsters, the zombies, out.  Resources are scarce so everyone has to start working at 15 and their rations are decreased if they don’t.  Rot & Ruin is the story of Benny, just turned 15 and his attempts to find himself in this new world.  But it is also the story of Tom, a zombie hunter with a twist.  Don’t worry, I won’t tell you the twist.  But it is also a great discussion of good vs. evil and who we become in the face of great adversity: what makes a monster and who are the monsters?

    In most zombie fiction today, zombiism (probably not really a word, but we’re going to go with it) is a result of a virus that has wiped out most of humanity and caused them to re-animate.  These are barely living dead people with no real brain function.  They are not necessarily acting so much as they are being acted upon.  But the people who live in a post apocalyptic world, the people like you and I, they are forced to make extraordinary choices in a world we could never imagine.  It is interesting to see what choices they make, how they shape both their inner selves and their outer worlds.  Can their choices make them monsters?

    In some ways, the survivors of a post apocalyptic world are like the settlers of old – they have an opportunity to build (or in this case rebuild) a new society.  Can they learn from the mistakes of the past?  What would that new society look like?  Will they strive for justice and freedom, or is there really an overwhelming tendency for societies to be greedy and corrupt and always on the brink?  What type of people rise to power?  Can ordinary people become extraordinary heroes?  These are just a few of the many questions that zombie and dystopian fiction allow us to ponder.  When we read it we get to go outside of ourselves and yet examine ourselves at the same time. 

    Plus, let’s not forget, sometimes a little scary tension is just fun.  Seriously, there have been studies here and there looking at why people like scary movies.  I personally prefer my zombies slow and shambling, that’s enough tension for me thanks.  Let me put my request in right now, should the zombie apocalypse happen please let them be the slow and shambling type so I have a chance of surviving.  Those 28 Days Later fast zombies scare me; unless I start marathon training in the next few days I don’t have a chance of surviving that type of zombie apocalypse.  I think I’ll just read about it instead.

    Zombies titles to share with your teens . . .

    Some newer titles not pictured include:
    Z by Michael Thomas Ford
    Ashes by Ilsa Black
    The Enemy (series) by Charles Higson

    Some dystopian fiction to share with your teens . . .

    Some other titles not pictured include:
    Delirium by Lauren Oliver
    the Maze Runner (series) by James Dashner
    Divergent by Veronica Roth
    Author Joni Bodart has an upcoming book dealing with monsters – including zombies – in Young Adult literature entitled They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill.  You’ll want to check it out.
    Some more discussion about zombies:
    Holly Black discusses Why zombies are better than unicorns (Be sure to check out her stories in Zombies vs. Unicorns)
    Wikipedia (shudder) has a long list of resources to look at
    Previous TLT Posts about zombies and dystopian fiction: