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Book Review: Where We Go From Here by Lucas Rocha

Publisher’s description

An absorbing debut novel about three gay friends in Brazil whose lives become intertwined in the face of HIV, perfect for fans of Adam Silvera and Bill Konigsberg.

Ian has just been diagnosed with HIV.

Victor, to his great relief, has tested negative.

Henrique has been living with HIV for the past three years.

When Victor finds himself getting tested for HIV for the first time, he can’t help but question his entire relationship with Henrique, the guy he has — had — been dating. See, Henrique didn’t disclose his positive HIV status to Victor until after they had sex, and even though Henrique insisted on using every possible precaution, Victor is livid.

That’s when Victor meets Ian, a guy who’s also getting tested for HIV. But Ian’s test comes back positive, and his world is about to change forever. Though Victor is loath to think about Henrique, he offers to put the two of them in touch, hoping that perhaps Henrique can help Ian navigate his new life. In the process, the lives of Ian, Victor, and Henrique will become intertwined in a story of friendship, love, and self-acceptance.

Set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this utterly engrossing debut by Brazilian author Lucas Rocha calls back to Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys series, bringing attention to how far we’ve come with HIV, while shining a harsh light on just how far we have yet to go.

Amanda’s thoughts

TL; DR: GET THIS BOOK ON YOUR ORDERS AND TBR LISTS.

Originally published in 2018 in Brazilian Portuguese, this powerful look at three young men and the different stages they are at in dealing with and accepting their own HIV statuses and those of people they love stands out because of the complicated feelings of its main characters.

Those feelings easily transfer to the reader. When Henrique and Victor get involved, Henrique doesn’t disclose his HIV positive status to Victor, even when they sleep together. Henrique justifies this choice because they have protected sex and because his viral load is undetectable at this point, meaning he can’t transmit the virus. Unsurprisingly, Victor is upset at this revelation, and still goes to get tested, to be on the safe side. It’s there at the clinic he meets Ian, who just found out he is HIV positive. He connects Ian with Henrique, knowing that even though he’s currently upset with Henrique, he will be a good shoulder to lean on as Ian grapples with his new status.

It’s reductive to say that this novel is just about processing feelings regarding HIV, but in this very character-driven story, it really is about learning, understanding, working through, sharing, and accepting these feelings. Ian feels guilty and stupid and scared. Henrique is still reeling from a horrible betrayal from a former boyfriend. Victor feels betrayed by Henrique and at one point has a melt down, telling Henrique that his HIV status is his fault, that it’s a consequence for his choices, for not being “careful.” Friends in the boys’ atmosphere are supportive, loving, reassuring, and accepting. Throughout the story, Ian and others are reminded that HIV is no longer necessarily a death sentence. Readers learn about the virus, with lots of talk about treatments (now generally much simpler than in the past), side effects, self-care, futures, and precautions. Though initially Ian encounters a medical practitioner who doesn’t exactly make him feel reassured about any of this, for the most part, doctors and therapists are great, providing information and hope. Even a very ugly incident regarding someone exposing one of the characters’ HIV status is handled in a way that emphasizes the love, support, and acceptance these characters are fortunate to have (despite not necessarily seeing that love from their families of origin or even sharing their status with them).

This emotional read shows that already complicated relationships can become more complicated when HIV is involved, but that that diagnosis doesn’t spell doom and gloom for the characters. Rocha lets his characters make mistakes, learn, fight, grow, change, accept, hurt, heal, and love. An educational, affirming story full of hope and love.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338556247
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 06/02/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

RevolTeens: A Letter of Apology to the Class of 2020, by Christine Lively

Dear Class of 2020,

On behalf of adults everywhere, I would like to apologize. As adolescents, teens, emerging adults, your time between childhood and adulthood has been horrible, and it’s our fault. Your adolescence has been marked by terrors from the time you were born right around September 11, 2001 until your graduation now 19 years later, our country has been at war. You have attended schools that are falling apart structurally, and you have faced the terror of school shootings while also experiencing the terror of practicing being a potential victim of one every year growing up. You’ve been subjected to the incredible and unrelenting stress of high stakes testing every year in school. And now that you’ve survived all of that, your celebration of making it to the end has been canceled, and you’ve been cut off from seeing your friends, teachers, coaches, and anyone else who is not your family without any kind of warning. It would almost be funny if every single part of your growing up didn’t require you to face the possibility of death. It’s our fault, and I am sorry. 

I started writing the RevolTeen column and reading young adult fiction because I really like teenagers. I think teens are some of the funniest, most creative, most passionate, and most interesting people I’ve ever met. I believe that working with teens helps me to think through my own adolescence and give it some perspective. I think that many other adults, however, get to their high school graduation and think, “My God, the last six years have been horrible, but I made it and I never want to think about it again!” This is where the problem lies.

I heard a graduation speech this year that really brought this problem into perspective to me. The speaker may have been trying to be funny, but they weren’t. They told the graduating seniors: Now that you’ve graduated, you can spend the rest of your life working to forget how terrible high school was and move on to your “real” life.

What kind of garbage is that? Yet, I think that most adults feel this way, and it’s an attitude that we really need to change.

Basically, adults have accepted that life between the ages of 12 and 18 is horrible. We’ve also decided, “Look, it was a terrible time for me, so it’s just going to be terrible for my kids, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Sorry!”

So, what do adults get out of this attitude? Well, we get to commiserate. “Oh man, you think your middle/high school years were bad? Let me tell you what I went through!” We share these stories as if we survived battle, and for a lot of us, that’s what it felt like. We also get out of trying to help you with your problems. I mean, if we’ve all decided that being a teen sucked for us so it’s going to suck for you, we can just ignore your complaints. We can answer any pain you tell us about as an unavoidable trial of growing up. What do you want us to do about it? We’ve set you up in a no-win situation. If you try to talk to us about what you’re going through we can put you off with, “Of course you’re miserable! Everyone’s miserable at your age!” You see, we’ve crossed that graduation threshold and listening to you would just force us to relive the pain of our own adolescence. We’ve graduated, so we don’t want to talk about it. We’re trying to forget all about it. We also get to stay comfortable by not doing the hard work of changing systems. The middle school and high school experience has remained the same for generations in America. There have been incremental shifts and more accommodations for students with different abilities, learning styles, and talents, but the basic structure is the same. Changing entrenched structures and systems is hard. If we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that it just “can’t be changed,” then we don’t have to actually do anything but keep things the way they are.

Class of 2020, we have failed you.

I write every month about “RevolTeens.” I love to highlight the teenagers who don’t accept adolescence as a time to be merely endured or survived. I want them to know that we adults see them and are in awe of their optimism and stubbornness. They’re the characters in every great teen coming of age story who fights back against the bullies, or goes out and stays weird in the face of rejection and judgment, or makes the football team when all the kids and adults at their school think they’re worthless. We all cheer for them.

But teens aren’t revolting for the romance of it or to become stars. They’re revolting because we tell them from the time they enter Middle School until the day they graduate high school, “Nobody likes Middle or High School. You just have to live through the next six years, and then your ‘real’ life can start.”

I have three young adult children of my own, and I work every day in a high school library. I talk with other parents and teachers and we’re all drained. My parents used to hope that my brothers and I would be successful enough in high school to get into college and have a good start in life. My parent and teacher friends now spend our sleepless days and nights just hoping our kids and the kids we work with will live to see their graduation. These are dreary days.

Class of 2020, you have survived. You may be holed up at home. You may be sick of logging into your laptop to find your schoolwork for the day. You didn’t get your graduation. But you have survived. You are the greatest RevolTeens of them all. Living is a revolution. You’re revolting against hopelessness, against stress, against anxiety, against depression, against generations of adults who didn’t make adolescence better for you than it was for us. You are a wonder.

Adults, we are revolting. Surely we can do better.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

Tween and Teen Programming Ideas: Online Scattegories is the Word Game You Need

Word games have always been my favorite kind of games, which is why I love Scattegories. It’s an older game that involves making word lists using specific prompts and a designated letter. For example, your letter might be S and then you’re given 12 categories for which you must come up with something that starts with the letter S. So for a fruit you might say “strawberries” It sounds easy but with a timer putting pressure on you and the challenge to come up with something that everyone else won’t, it’s a lot harder than you might think. You have to think fast and be creative because if someone else uses the same word as you, it counts for neither of you.

I was super excited when I found that there is a way to play virtual Scattegories over Zoom or whatever online group meeting format you may be using. If you follow this link the virtual game does almost all of the work for you: https://swellgarfo.com/scattergories/.

To play, you will need a small group of people to play as individual players or on teams. Please note, you could use this in person as well as online. But if you use it online to do virtual programming, you will need a virtually meeting platform like Zoom which gives you the ability to share your screen so everyone can see the word list. But you could also use this in a regular program (when it is safe to do so) and project the categories onto a large screen using a projector. The online Scattegories generator doesn’t have to be for virtual gaming.

If you are playing virtually, I recommend hosting a private room with a password to help make sure that you don’t get Zoombombed. You’ll want to create a safe online experience for your participants by using as many safety precautions as you can.

So let’s play . . .

Your initial screen looks like this on a PC:

or this on a handheld device:

Participants will need to have a piece of paper and pen nearby to play. When everyone is ready you push play, the categories are revealed and the timer begins counting down.

For this round everyone will be trying to think of words that start with the letter S to fill in the categories below. Remember, your participants will write their answers down on a sheet of paper numbered from 1 to 12 to correspond with each category.

Participants will write their answers on a piece of paper and then when the timer is done, the fun begins. As the host you will ask each participant to share their answers down the list. If two or more people get the same answer, that answer does not count. What you want here is to come up with something unique so that you don’t get cancelled out by another player or team. At the end of each round keep a total of how many each player or team got for a round and that will give you a total score.

I played this last night with a group of 5 families and found it easier just to have everyone hold up the correct number of fingers at the each of round to let me know what their score for that round was. We played 5 rounds total and at the end of those 5 rounds I totaled everyone’s score and declared a winner. They won bragging rights and everyone had a good time.

Thankfully, the virtual Scattegories interface allows you to make some personal adjustments. You can make it child friendly. You can increase or decrease the total number of categories that appear on the screen. You can even remove categories and add your own, which means you could make a totally bookish themed virtual Scattegories game. All of this customization makes this a really fun and innovative platform for library programming for tweens and up.

The customization means that if you are hosting a Teen Book Club, you can make all your categories YA lit related.

This was fun and easy to do and I recommend it. There are so many fun programming possibilities to be had with this tool, both online and in person.

Post-It Reviews: Nonfiction about protests, refugees, activism, the water in Flint, and more

You’d think with reality being so unappealing these days, I’d be leaning more into fiction, but I have been reading a lot of nonfiction lately. My reading in general is slowing down—juggling distance learning and working and overwhelming amounts of anxiety really cuts into my reading time.

All descriptions from the publishers. Post-it note review follows the description.

Into the Streets: A Young Person’s Visual History of Protest in the United States by Marke Bieschke (August 4, 2020)

This lively book guides readers through the art and history of significant protests, sit-ins, and collective acts of resistance throughout US history. Photos, artwork, signs, and other visual elements highlight the history of social action, from American Indian resistance to colonists through Black Lives Matter and Women’s Marches.

Into the Streets introduces the personalities and issues that drove these protests, as well as their varied aims and accomplishments, from spontaneous hashtag uprisings to highly planned strategies of civil disobedience. Perfect for young adult audiences, this book highlights how teens are frequently the ones protesting and creating the art of the resistance.

(POST-IT SAYS: Visually engaging with just enough info to educate without overwhelming. Represents a wide array of protests, both peaceful and violent, showing the long history of people exercising this right. Eye-opening. Ages 13-18)

In Search of Safety: Voices of Refugees by Susan Kuklin

Five refugees recount their courageous journeys to America — and the unimaginable struggles that led them to flee their homelands — in a powerful work from the author of Beyond Magenta and We Are Here to Stay.

“From 1984, when I was born, until July 16, 2017, when I arrived in the United States, I never lived in a place where there was no war.” — Fraidoon

An Iraqi woman who survived capture by ISIS. A Sudanese teen growing up in civil war and famine. An Afghan interpreter for the U.S. Army living under threat of a fatwa. They are among the five refugees who share their stories in award-winning author and photographer Susan Kuklin’s latest masterfully crafted narrative. The five, originally from Afghanistan, Myanmar, South Sudan, Iraq, and Burundi, give gripping first-person testimonies about what it is like to flee war, face violent threats, grow up in a refugee camp, be sold into slavery, and resettle in America. Illustrated with full-color photographs of the refugees’ new lives in Nebraska, this work is essential reading for understanding the devastating impact of war and persecution — and the power of resilience, optimism, and the will to survive. Included in the end matter are chapter notes, information on resettlement and U.S. citizenship, historical time lines of war and political strife in the refugees’ countries of origin, resources for further reading, and an index.

(POST-IT SAYS: Painful, frustrating, and essential reading. The obvious content warning: many discussions of trauma, violence, and abuse. A powerful and gut-wrenching look at people seeking better, safer lives. Ages 14-18)

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World by Todd Hasak-Lowy

A stirring look at nonviolent activism, from American suffragists to Civil Rights to the Climate Change Movement

We Are Power brings to light the incredible individuals who have used nonviolent activism to change the world. The book explores questions such as what is nonviolent resistance and how does it work? In an age when armies are stronger than ever before, when guns seem to be everywhere, how can people confront their adversaries without resorting to violence themselves? Through key international movements as well as people such as Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Václav Havel, this book discusses the components of nonviolent resistance. It answers the question “Why nonviolence?” by showing how nonviolent movements have succeeded again and again in a variety of ways, in all sorts of places, and always in the face of overwhelming odds. The book includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

(POST-IT SAYS: My only complaint is that the format is unappealingly dense-appearing and lacking in pictures/color. Content is thorough and inspiring with an eye to the future and youth activism. A useful look at power, conflict, and social changes. Ages 10-14)

Out Now: Queer We Go Again! edited by Saundra Mitchell

QUEER WE GO AGAIN!

A follow-up to the critically acclaimed All Out anthology, Out Now features seventeen new short stories from amazing queer YA authors. Vampires crash prom…aliens run from the government…a president’s daughter comes into her own…a true romantic tries to soften the heart of a cynical social media influencer…a selkie and the sea call out to a lost soul. Teapots and barbershops…skateboards and VW vans…Street Fighter and Ares’s sword: Out Now has a story for every reader and surprises with each turn of the page!

This essential and beautifully written modern-day collection features an intersectional and inclusive slate of authors and stories.

(POST-IT SAYS: Great diversity of reps, styles, genres, and voices. Not a dud in the bunch, but I super enjoyed pieces by Roehrig, Winters, Locke, and Sim. I wanted to read more of so many of the stories. Hopefully this will lead readers to a new favorite author! Ages 14-18)

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson, Nina Mata (Illustrator)

From Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Award winner Renée Watson comes the first book in a young middle grade series about Ryan Hart, a girl who is pure spirit, kindness, and sunshine.

Ryan Hart has a lot on her mind—school, self-image, and especially family. Her dad finally has a new job, but money is tight. That means some changes, like selling their second car and moving into a new (old) house. But Ryan is a girl who knows how to make sunshine out of setbacks. As her brother says when he raps about her, she’s got the talent that matters most: it’s a talent that can’t be seen, she’s nice, not mean!

Ryan is all about trying to see the best in people, to be a good daughter, a good sister, a good friend. But even if her life isn’t everything she would wish for, when her big brother is infuriating, her parents don’t quite understand, and the unexpected happens, she always finds a way forward, with grace and wit. And plenty of sunshine.

Acclaimed author Renée Watson writes her own version of Ramona Quimby, one starring a Black girl and her family, in this start to a charming new series.

(POST-IT SAYS: I adore this book and look forward to more in this new series. Ryan is sweet, spirited, and strong. She’s learning how to adapt to change and uncertainty while dealing with friendship and family stuff. Technically middle grade but skews much younger. Ages 7-10)

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea meets Frankenstein in Frances Hardinge’s latest fantasy adventure

The gods are dead. Decades ago, they turned on one another and tore each other apart. Nobody knows why. But are they really gone forever? When 15-year-old Hark finds the still-beating heart of a terrifying deity, he risks everything to keep it out of the hands of smugglers, military scientists, and a secret fanatical cult so that he can use it to save the life of his best friend, Jelt. But with the heart, Jelt gradually and eerily transforms. How long should Hark stay loyal to his friend when he’s becoming a monster—and what is Hark willing to sacrifice to save him?

(POST-IT SAYS: If you’re not familiar with Hardinge, you are missing out. This dark and sinister story has great world-building and an unforgettable setting. Full of adventure, danger, manipulation, and stories. A strange and wonderful tale of power, friendship, and monsters. Ages 13-17)

Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation by Candy J. Cooper, Marc Aronson

Based on original reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist and an industry veteran, the first book for young adults about the Flint water crisis

In 2014, Flint, Michigan, was a cash-strapped city that had been built up, then abandoned by General Motors. As part of a plan to save money, government officials decided that Flint would temporarily switch its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Within months, many residents broke out in rashes. Then it got worse: children stopped growing. Some people were hospitalized with mysterious illnesses; others died. Citizens of Flint protested that the water was dangerous. Despite what seemed so apparent from the murky, foul-smelling liquid pouring from the city’s faucets, officials refused to listen. They treated the people of Flint as the problem, not the water, which was actually poisoning thousands.

Through interviews with residents and intensive research into legal records and news accounts, journalist Candy J. Cooper, assisted by writer-editor Marc Aronson, reveals the true story of Flint. Poisoned Water shows not just how the crisis unfolded in 2014, but also the history of racism and segregation that led up to it, the beliefs and attitudes that fueled it, and how the people of Flint fought-and are still fighting-for clean water and healthy lives.

(POST-IT SAYS: Really thorough look at the crisis. Examines the history of Flint to put the tragedy in context. Full of quotes and pictures, and many voices of young people, readers will leave this book understanding more about environmental racism and justice. Be ready to be infuriated. Ages 13-18)

Join us for a Parent & Teen Virtual Book Club to Discuss THE BURNING with Laura Bates

Earlier this year The Teen and I both read a profoundly moving feminist novel titled The Burning that touched on a wide variety of issues that we are both very passionate about. So we are excited to get to host this online Virtual Book Club with the author, Laura Bates. It’s a free virtual event, but please follow this link to make reservations: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-burning-parentteen-book-club-with-author-laura-bates-tickets-105979304954

Please leave us a comment if you have some specific questions you would like us to ask.

About this Event

An important book for readers of all ages in the #metoo era

Read The Burning together with your teen and then join Laura Bates, internationally renowned feminist and founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, for a book club discussion.

The discussion will be moderated by YA librarian Karen Jensen of School Library Journal‘s Teen Librarian Toolbox, and her teenage daughter.

The Burning is a powerful call to action, reminding all readers of the implications of sexism and the role we can each play in ending it.

Praise for The Burning:

“A smart, explosive examination of gender discrimination and its ramifications.” – Publishers Weekly

“A haunting rallying cry against sexism and bullying.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Will take readers on an emotional roller coaster.” – School Library Journal

What Makes Writing Teen Fiction as a Teen Special a guest post by Lauren Trickey

Writing teen fiction as a teen is different than as an adult. Even at twenty, barely an adult, I can see the difference in my writing from when I was fourteen, and not just skill wise. There’s quite a few scenes in Jack of All Trades that make me cringe now, that make me think ‘oh god! Why would you ever do that?’ But I wrote it when I was the same age as the characters, and apparently the decisions they make seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. If a real-life teenager thinks it makes sense, then surely a fictional one must, too.

I started writing simply because I was daydreaming. All the time. It’s not that I didn’t like school, in fact I love learning, I just couldn’t help myself. I zone out of conversations all the time, not because whoever I’m speaking to is boring, usually they say something that somehow sparks inspiration and suddenly I’m thinking about what I could be writing, instead of focusing on the conversation I’m currently having. 

A lot of what I daydreamed about stemmed from being bullied. I was bullied through all thirteen years of school, sometimes by girls I called my best friends, and sometimes by girls I had no choice but to be around because they were friends with my friends. So, I started thinking, what if could be like Valkyrie Cain in Skulduggery Pleasant, or Clary Fray in the Mortal Instruments? What if there was something about me that made me special, something that I could remember whenever these girls were trying to make me feel worthless? And I daydreamed about it, and then because of the support of friends I made online, I started writing it. 

A big part of my novel ended up focusing on the fantastical being close to home because of this. Most children and teen fiction has characters either going to a magic school, or someone being able to get out of going to school with no repercussions. They go on these epic adventures and leave their normal lives behind, but that meant the magic was somewhere I couldn’t be. I wanted it where I was. In school. Throughout Jack of All Trades, the main characters are still attending school. Their trainer, Shadow, takes them out of class and teaches them inside the school grounds. The magic happens where they are, right under the noses of their classmates, something I endlessly wished for. 

Part of what made writing teen characters as a teen was that some of the problems they face weren’t imagined, but based on my real experiences, however trivial they seem to me now. 

Their struggles were my struggles. Aelana wishes for something to make her unique, special. Growing up, my parents instilled in me the value of being an individual and not following a trend just because it’s a trend. However, growing up with social anxiety, it was hard to be who I wanted when that also meant having other peoples’ attention on me. Aelana’s anxiety centres around her friends; she doesn’t care so much about being the centre of attention, but she knows that by branching out she risks alienating herself from her friends. She is stuck between wanting to be unique, and wanting the acceptance of her friends. 

Skylar and Phoenix, on the other hand, have that thing that makes them unique already. And are continually bullied for it. Though what they experience is dramatized for the purposes of the story, the intent behind it is the same: jealousy. Or at least, I like to tell myself that’s what it was. it’s nicer than thinking that I was just an easy target. Out of the two, Skylar is the easy target. She doesn’t want to fight back, prefers to pretend its not happening or its not a big deal, while Phoenix stands up for the both of them. 

Ash deals with the breakdown of friendships, the awkwardness and arguments that come with it. Something I’ve, unfortunately, had to deal with more than once. Though for myself, it was never clear who started it, Ash is definitely at fault in her situation. And she has to live with that; live with the fact that delving into the world of magic made has made her a different person.

Jade is no longer the perfect student she has been. While I was never a perfect student, I did well enough in school. Until the last couple of years. Ironically, when I tried to focus in class and stopped daydreaming about the adventures my characters could be going on, was when my grades were the worst they had ever been. In Jade’s case, she loses focus, stops keeping track of her school work and lets it fall by the way side.

With these struggles, Mercury, then, is what they aspire to. She has the confidence Skylar lacks, the self-assurance Phoenix tries to hide that she lacks. She is still attending school even when going on adventures, she isn’t afraid of being judged, and has a solid group of friends supporting her. Each of them can find something in her that they wish to emulate. She has all these qualities as a result of what I wanted to be, the kind of person I wanted to grow up to be. 

First and foremost, I write for myself, not just the stories I want to read, but the stories I want to be a part of. Its what made me start writing, and its what continues to fuel my writing. The most important thing for me to achieve through my writing is not to make grand statements about the world or my ideals, but simply to provide teenagers with the escape that I craved at that age. If nothing else, I hope my writing can help them to figure who they are and what kind of person they want to be, just as my favourite stories did for me. 

About Lauren Trickey

Lauren Trickey is an author living in Sydney, Australia. She was inspired to write her first novel, Jack of all Trades, at the age of 13 and published it at age 20. When she is not writing, she loves to dance and listen to music.

Past as Present, Present as Past, a guest post by J. Anderson Coats

When I was fifteen, I got busted sneaking into a university library.

The security gate slowed me down, but I looked enough like a college student with my backpack and ratty jeans that I breezed right through—past the information desk, up the stairs, and deep into the stacks.

Ten minutes later, a librarian found me sitting on a stepstool in the medieval history section with a book open on my knees. She asked to see my student ID, and when I told her I’d left it at home, she said I’d have to leave.

“But I’m researching my novel,” I protested, “and you have books here that I can’t get anywhere else.”

She raised one eyebrow in a pointed oh really sort of way.

“No, see, I’ll show you.” I reached into my backpack, pulled out a folder, and fanned out my notes, along with a half-finished chart detailing the particulars of medieval criminal law for a scene in my sprawling, extensively researched but somehow still deeply inaccurate historical novel set in the thirteenth century about a Scottish girl who found herself in Wales and had to figure out her place in the community. A girl who’d had bad things happen to her, but was slowly—slowly—finding her way forward.

“I’m not here to make trouble,” I insisted. “I just need these books.”

The librarian was quiet for a long moment. Then she said, “Today only. It can’t happen again. That’s what interlibrary loan is for. Got it?”

I stayed till the building closed.

By seventeen I’d filled five binders with collected research that fueled six complete novels, including the one about the Scottish girl that ended up at an opulent 400K words. My research into the middle ages had long since expanded beyond any particular novel, though. I wanted to know just for the knowing.

Each binder was rigorously subdivided, organized, tabbed, and coded— region, topic, subtopic, chronological date. I collected maps, drawings, family trees, and accounts, and I made hundreds of charts, graphs, lists, and sketches. No one taught me to do this. Hardly anyone knew about it. But I could and did spend hours paging through what I’d made. Adding. Updating. Minutely rearranging.

I liked worlds I could control.

My interest in the past made me incomprehensible to most kids my age. I liked how they kept a cautious distance, not quite sure how to make fun of me if I already knew I was a freak. I liked how knowing uncommon, arcane things gave me power over almost any interaction I was likely to have. My charts and lists made me feel unusual, mysterious, and untouchable.

Becoming anything is hard. Rebuilding when the pieces are shattered so small is a whole different way of becoming.

I am thirteen. It’s my first week of middle school, and the boy I’m made to sit next to in art class is explaining in vivid detail how he’s going to trap me in the bathroom and feel me up. His language is emotionless and precise. He makes eye contact in the kind of intense, disturbing way that makes me certain he means it.

“I may not stop there,” he says. “I haven’t decided yet.”

The art teacher doesn’t look up from his newspaper. He refuses to let me change seats. He tells me to sit down and do my assignment and stop trying to get attention.

“You won’t know exactly when it’ll happen,” the boy goes on. “It’ll be the best thing that ever happens to a pig like you, though.”

I am thirteen, and I have no idea how to make him leave me alone. The guidance counselor gives me a secret, girls-only smile and says, “It’s probably because he likes you.” My mom reminds me that bullies will find another target if you ignore them.

I am thirteen, and I have no idea how to make them listen. How to make them understand what it costs me to walk into that classroom. Sit in that seat. Let it all happen.

Things just get worse.

Four of my binders have survived. They have endured two transcontinental moves and countless hours of flipping. They have almost—but not quite—been entirely supplanted by the internet.

The best part of the binders now is turning the pages one by one, remembering how each new entry, each photocopied map or genealogy table laboriously typed into some early version of Word is one more step I took out of the darkness.  

It was stories that finally coaxed me to breathe and look up, and because the present was so bleak, I looked to the past, because the past is nothing but stories we tell ourselves to make sense of things that happened.

The binders were a way to step into that past and make it my own. They were a way to imagine a future with something like potential, then construct one through fiction. To that end, I collected everything for my binders, even things I didn’t need at the moment. My research books came from libraries across the country through the magic of interlibrary loan, and I knew I might never have access to them again, so nothing was beneath my notice.

The whispers of Spindle and Dagger are here. Another story about a girl who’d had bad things happen to her, who could slowly—slowly—find her way forward. Tucked away amid the maps and charts, waiting till I was ready to come full circle.

Meet J. Anderson Coats

J. Anderson Coats has received two Junior Library Guild awards, two Washington State Book Awards, and earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, the Horn Book Review, and Shelf Awareness. Her newest books are Spindle and Dagger, a YA set in medieval Wales that deals with power dynamics and complicated relationships, and The Green Children of Woolpit, a creepy middle-grade fantasy inspired by real historical events. She is also the author of R is for Rebel, The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming, The Wicked and the Just, and the forthcoming middle-grade fantasy, The Night Ride (2021).

Social:

Web: http://www.jandersoncoats.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jandersoncoats

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jandersoncoats

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jandersoncoats/?hl

Buy Links

https://bookshop.org/books/spindle-and-dagger/9781536207774

https://www.mercerislandbooks.com/book/9781536207774

https://www.eagleharborbooks.com/book/9781536207774

https://www.elliottbaybook.com/book/9781536207774

https://www.secretgardenbooks.com/book/9781536207774

About Spindle and Dagger

This rich literary novel follows Elen, who must live a precarious lie in order to survive among the medieval Welsh warband that killed her family.

Wales, 1109. Three years ago, a warband raided Elen’s home. Her baby sister could not escape the flames. Her older sister fought back and almost killed the warband’s leader, Owain ap Cadwgan, before being killed herself. Despite Elen’s own sexual assault at the hands of the raiders, she saw a chance to live and took it. She healed Owain’s wound and spun a lie: Owain ap Cadwgan, son of the king of Powys, cannot be killed, not by blade nor blow nor poison. Owain ap Cadwgan has the protection of Saint Elen, as long as he keeps her namesake safe from harm and near him always.

For three years, Elen has had plenty of food, clothes to wear, and a bed to sleep in that she shares with the man who brought that warband to her door. Then Owain abducts Nest, the wife of a Norman lord, and her three children, triggering full-out war. As war rages, and her careful lies threaten to unravel, Elen begins to look to Nest and see a different life — if she can decide, once and for all, where her loyalties lie. J. Anderson Coats’s evocative prose immerses the reader in a dark but ultimately affirming tale of power and survival.

ISBN-13: 9781536207774
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 03/10/2020
Age Range: 16 – 17 Years

Tween and Teen Programming Ideas: Nostalgia with an Online Twist

Tweens and teens are constantly participating in a balancing act of growing up but still being kids. And they like to do fun things. With everyone focusing on virtual programming right now, I thought I would share with you a few fun websites that tap into childhood nostalgia and provide some fun online programming. The best things about these websites is that you don’t need anything but a device to access them, so if your patrons are clicking through to you page or social media, then they probably have the means to access them. It’s not a perfect solution to being closed and having to practice social distancing, but it is a way to help our patrons find fun things to do during this time.

Mecabricks

Mecabricks is an online, virtual Lego like building platform. It allows you to build fully rendered 3D Lego models virtually. You can pick the style and color of brick at each step of the way. The best thing about this site is that you don’t have to have any bricks at home. When I ran a Lego club the first thing I learned was how many kids had never really played with Legos because they are very cost prohitibitive. You could share this site with patrons just for fun or run a virtual brick building club and give participants specific challenges and ask them to share or submit their creations.

Lite Brite

This online Lite Brite is the same concept as above with the virtual Legos, except it’s a Lite Brite. You make a pattern with little colored pegs and then turn it on and they light up.

Etch a Sketch

Here’s another childhood favorite brought to you online. In this one you use the arrow keys to sketch and then shake to erase your picture and start over.

Jigsaw Explorer

This website lets you do puzzles online. You can also create a custom puzzle and share it online. So turn pictures of your library building or book displays into puzzles and share them with your patrons.

Fuse Beads Picture Converter

So this one is not entirely online, you still need some additional supplies if you want to make the final fuse bead creation. But if you want to make fuse bead (also known as perler beads) crafts, you can use this online tool to turn your favorite photos into perler bead patterns. You can then print them out, place your beads, and fuse them to make your own personal fuse bead art. But I also think you don’t need to do the perler bead part if you don’t want to. It’s fun just to see what is created.

There are a ton of free online art, craft and digital media tools. If you Google you will find tons of great lists being compiled by art teachers, homeschooling parents, and other librarians just like me. There is no limit to what you can find and share. And the creative challenges that you can come up with. Please share some of your favorite online creation tools with us here in the comments.

Sunday Reflections: Advice for Graduating Seniors – It’s All Political

Last night I watched the Graduate Together special in which the class of 2020 was honored and President Barack Obama gave a commencement address. In that address he talked about how the class of 2020 would be our leaders and gave them, frankly, good advice about doing so with honesty, dignity and respect. It was, as most commencement speeches are, an inspired speech that reflected the current times – because how could you not mention them? – and asked our graduating class to go out and make the world a better place.

Online, there was push back. People were upset that President Obama made his commencement speech political. But here’s the deal, whether we like it or not, everything is political. Especially right now.

Everything is a political act.

Voting is a political act. Not voting is a political act, it’s just not a very good one.

For many of the kids graduating this month, simply having the audacity to exist is a political act.

Many of our kids have learned very early in life just how important politics is at every level. They have had to fight for the right to exist. To be safe. To be heard. To be fed and healthy.

But many of our kids do not. I know because I constantly hear friends and family say things like, “Oh I don’t get involved in politics.” Which means that they have probably never had to fight for their right to exist.

As I grow older, I am learning how very important politics is at every level. I used to be less engaged in local politics. I know, I’m ashamed of me too. But I have watched as other states have followed the advice of scientists and studied the scrolls of history and made more measured plans as they seek to respond to the current pandemic. In the meantime, my governor has thrown cautioned to the wind. Even as my state has growing death rates we are re-opening. Thankfully there are pockets where local government is choosing a different, more measured approach based on science. Because politics at every level matters.

Texas has had minimal testing for Covid-19. A couple of weeks ago residents of the county in which I live learned that a unit came to offer testing on a Sunday, but the local judge had ordered that no one tell the general public so that they would not get tested. We will never know the true numbers at any level for this pandemic because the tests we have are faulty (I’ve read they can have as high as a 40% false negative rate) and many leaders are purposely trying to keep the numbers low. It’s all political.

The Teen will be voting in her first election this fall. She has marched, mailed postcards, and done many civil acts of service up to this point. There are many ways that you can engage in politics, even before you are old enough to vote.

If I could impart any wisdom to the graduating class of 2020 it would be this: It’s all political. So make sure that you are involved in every way to help shape those politics. Start before you turn 18 and never stop.

And it’s more than voting for top leadership every 4 years. Vote in every election. Go to school board and local city council meetings. Add your local, state and national representatives into your contacts and contact them regularly. Hold them accountable for their actions. Demand transparency and accountability. Make your voice heard.

A large majority of the teens who are graduating this month will be able to vote in the 2020 presidential election. Do that. Do not let what is arguably one of the most important elections in the history of our nation in your lifetime go by without casting your vote.

You would think that voting, an important part of our government, would be easy, but it is not. Every where you turn there are road blocks designed to keep many of our most marginalized citizens quiet. Gerrymandering, for example, is still rampant. As are steps to dismantle the Voting Rights Acts. Right now, our nation is embroiled in debate about whether or not we will let citizens cast their votes by mail even though it may be the safest way to do so because we are in the midst of a deadly viral pandemic. There is a lot of push back against mail in voting even though our military has been voting by mail as far back as the Civil War and millions of other citizens vote by mail because of travel, disability, and more. People at the top work so hard to silence voters because they don’t truly want the people to be heard. Make them listen anyway.

The issues at hand are vast and complex. Institutional racism, sexism, and poverty are just some of the issues. Growing threats of authoritarianism. The Teen was horrified to learn the other day that there is a small movement to dismantle the 19th Amendment, which gives women the right to vote (specifically, it initially gave white women the right to vote. Rights for other groups of women would not come until much later.) There are roadblocks and hurdles and pushback. Fight to be heard and valued and respected.

There will be a lot of intentionally placed hurdles designed to prevent a large number of our graduating seniors from succeeding. And many of them are starting out with so many disadvantages right from the get go. The world is, sadly and infuriatingly, designed like that.

If you come from a position of privilege, fight for those who are intentionally being pushed out of the conversation. Use your power to bring other voices to the table. Learn when to speak, and when to listen. Don’t talk over or for others, but demand that they be heard. Understand that for any community to truly work, everyone has to have a voice.

Use your voice. And listen to other voices.

This is it. This is your moment. Make it as political af because you have a voice and a right to be seen, heard, respected and valued. You are turning the page into the next chapter of your book, so help write it. We need you. And I’m sorry that we have failed you.

Friday Finds: May 15, 2020

This Week at TLT

On Being Old and New, a guest post by Amanda Sellet

That’s the Thing with the Shots, Right? a guest post by Eve Yohalem

Take 5: Things to Keep in Mind While Doing Virtual Programming

Book Review: The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

Write What You Know, a guest post by Loriel Ryon

Tween and Teen Programming Ideas: Did you clean out your closet? Here are some ways to upcycle those t-shirts!

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