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Sunday Reflections: Sometimes You Find Yourself at The Exact Right Place at the Exact Right Time, or what happened when we went to meet Dav Pilkey

Yesterday I took Thing 2 to a big event in the Fort Worth area to met author Dav Pilkey. Here’s my deep, dark secret: I have never read a Dav Pilkey book and I haven’t really heard much about him as an author because he’s one of those authors who has really never needed my help. His books have been flying off of the shelf for years; Kids and early teens have been loving them and asking for them by name and it just seemed to be going superbly for him. So I did not know until I sat in that audience yesterday and heard him talk about having dyslexia and ADHD that he did. And to be honest if I had heard this years ago, it probably wouldn’t have meant as much to me as it did when I sat in the audience with my own child who has dyslexia and ADHD. Everything I know and think about these topics changed when I learned more about what life with these diagnosis is like for our kids.

Yesterday was one of those moments that happen in life where you find yourself in the exact right place in the exact right moment and you have no idea that it is about to happen. As regular readers know, Thing 2 and I have been struggling to navigate the world of dyslexia and ADHD ourselves. She was diagnosed with dyslexia a couple of years ago and ADHD last year, although to be quite frankly honest I was pretty sure she had ADHD from the moment she was born. She’s had a whole host of various health issues and such since birth and it’s been . . . challenging to figure out how to keep her healthy, thriving and happy.

Last year, I got a lot of email messages from teachers about her inability to focus and her tendency to rush so quickly through assignments that she just didn’t do well. Add in the dyslexia and it’s like a bomb going off when it comes to academic achievement. Last year was rough, really really rough. It’s a miracle any of us survived last year, and we have the battle scars to prove it. Unfortunately for our kids, these scars are often found on their souls and on their self-esteem, which is why we really must do better for them.

Then there are the kids who tease. They call her stupid. Because she has some GI issues she had many years where she wasn’t really absorbing the nutrients of her food and just kind of stopped growing. She went from being in the 90% for her age to the 4th%. Kids love to tease her for being so small and she basically hates it. In the second or third grade, a group of girls created a “Bully XX Club” (the XX is a stand in for her name). The 40 Book Challenge last year made her hate reading, herself and me.

This year I’ve already had to fight with the school about her intervention and her being excluded from some of the classes she wanted and I would argue needed to take. I’ve learned that when you have a child who doesn’t fit the standard mold you spend a lot of time worrying, stressing, fighting, advocating and just trying to figure out how to navigate raising a not so typical child in a world that very much wants everyone to be the same. It can be overwhelming and discouraging and just plain exhausting, for everyone.

So here the both of us sat about to meet an author that she seemed really interested in meeting. His presentation began and it was engaging and humorous and then – he started sharing with all of the kids that he himself had dyslexia and ADHD and what that was like for him. This is a man who has written bestsellers, had his books turned into movies and musicals, and now had a regular TV show on Netflix and he was sharing with my child that he was just like her and you know what, it was all okay. He was okay. He was happy and healthy and thriving and succeeding even though he had spent most of his childhood years in trouble with teachers and struggled in school.

It was inspiring and rewarding and comforting and meaningful. Every once in a while you end up exactly where you need to be even if you didn’t know that was where you were heading. I don’t think this will make everything magically better for her. She’ll still have dyslexia and ADHD and we’ll all struggle to find ways to help her be successful in school, but she has a little more hope and little less shame about it all then she did before meeting Dav Pilkey, and that means everything. Because Dav Pilkey was willing to share his truth with these kids, a lot of kids got exactly what they needed to live their lives with a little more hope and belief in themselves. Dav Pilkey is now one of my favorite people, to be honest. I saw first hand what he meant to these kids and it was powerful and transformative.

Last night as we made the long drive home my child read one of the Dogman books out loud to me from the backseat of the car. It was the best podcast I ever listened to.

If you would like to read about my journey as a parent to a dyslexic child, I have some blog posts about there here:

Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a Child with Dyslexia Sunday Reflections: Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a Child with Dyslexia — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Sunday Reflections: Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a…

How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Dyslexic Child Hate Reading and Why I Pushed Back Sunday Reflections: How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Kid Hate Reading and Why (& How) I Pushed Back — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Sunday Reflections: How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Kid Hate…

Middle Grade Graphic Novels That a Middle Grade Reader Really Loves Collecting Comics: Middle Grade Novels that a Middle Grade Reader Really Loves — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Collecting Comics: Middle Grade Novels that a Middle Grade Reader Really…

So You Want to Raise a Reader? I Have Some Tips for You Sunday Reflections: So You Want to Raise a Reader? I have some tips for you — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Sunday Reflections: So You Want to Raise a Reader? I have some tips for …

Friday Finds: September 20, 2019

This Week at TLT

New books alert: Cults, activism, a magical bookshop, deadly assassins, a rom-com, and more!

Book Review: Guts by Raina Telgemeier

Cindy Crushes Programming: Floral Fairy Crowns

Book Review: The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Crafting Community: Instax Locker Decorating

Around the Web


The Power Of ‘Just Reading’ A Good Novel

The Founders of The Latinx Read-A-Thon Share Their Favorite Books for Hispanic Heritage Month

Why aren’t kids being taught to read?

New Mexico Unveils Plan To Give Students Free College Tuition Regardless Of Income

Book Review: Guts by Raina Telgemeier


Publisher’s Book Description

A true story from Raina Telgemeier, the #1 New York
 bestselling, multiple Eisner Award-winning author of
SmileSistersDrama, and Ghosts!

Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mom has one, too, so it’s probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns to school, where she’s dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends, not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina’s tummy trouble isn’t going away… and it coincides with her worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What’s going on?

Raina Telgemeier once again brings us a thoughtful, charming, and funny true story about growing up and gathering the courage to face — and conquer — her fears.

Karen’s Thoughts

I’ll be honest with you, at this point new books by Raina Telgemeier don’t really need any promotion. I know so many tweens and teens who have been waiting with breathless anticipation for this book. In fact, when my library sent me to BEA earlier this year my one personal goal was to get a copy of this ARC for Thing 2, which I did. I didn’t really know what this book was about, I just knew that it was Raina Telgemeier and she’s a big fan and it would mean a lot to her.

It turns out, this book means a lot to us all. Several years ago, I decided that I was going to be very open and honest with myself, my kids, my family and I guess the entire Internet that I was struggling with depression and anxiety. I had my first full blown panic attack back on February 4th of the year 2006. I went to the ER because I was pretty sure I was having a heart attack. I was not having a heart attack, that’s just one of the fun ways that anxiety works for me. I get this intense burning sensation in my arms and chest, it literally feels like my heart is aching, and my whole body kind of shakes. I cry a lot. I can’t sleep. And I like to go hang out in my bedroom which I have made into a dark cave. I feel nauseous but I can’t eat. I have thrown up on occasion. I have, on occasion, had suicidal thoughts. All in all, it’s a truly horrible experience. I can not explain to you if you have not experienced it yourself how truly awful it can be. I don’t have word craft necessary to do the topic justice.

The Teen had her first panic attack in middle school. She is now a junior and it’s been a bit better for her, but the joy of anxiety is you just never know when it is going to bare its teeth and sink it into your soul. Watching my child struggle with this darkness that I know and probably shared with her is some of the heaviest burden I have to carry in this life.

So like I said, this book turned out to be really personal for my family. Thing 2 is 10 and she is aware that both her sister and I struggle with depression and anxiety. We talk about it in our home because every time things get bad for one of us, it effects the entire family. I want her to know that what’s happening to us is an illness just like any other illness and that it’s not her fault. I also want her to know about it in case it turns out she has it as well. Mental health can be genetic. Genetics are not always nice.

Because this is a book about a young girl with anxiety, it helped us have conversations about this very issue that effects our family. That’s the beauty of finding the right book at the right time. The power of story can help stir important conversations and it did in our house.

Thing 2 also has a friend who has anxiety and we let her borrow the ARC. I can not tell you what this book meant to her personally. Her mother texted me and let me know that she had read it multiple times in just a weekend and she felt safe and found and validated. That too is the power of story.

More and more children are struggling with anxiety these days. The numbers are growing and astounding.

Author Raina Telgemeier chose to bare her soul on the page and share her personal struggles with anxiety and I’m here to tell you, this is a powerful and important story. Every time we talk openly and honestly about mental health, it helps to erase the shame and stigma. More people ask for help.

So let me take a moment to tell you about the last two weeks in my house. I personally have been struggling once again with some severe anxiety. I could feel myself spiraling and I knew it was not good. Yesterday I had some real full on panic attacks and I had to leave work early. But this time was so very different from other times. I asked for help from the people I knew loved and supported me. I asked a friend to please pick up my children and bring them home because I couldn’t. My husband asked me very specifically, “what do you need from me?” I called and talked to a friend who talked to me the entire hour drive home to keep me calm and make sure I got home safely. A friend from work texted to make sure I got home safely. I felt loved and supported and validated because I chose to be honest about my mental health issues and had a support network in place that was more knowledgeable and understanding and supportive. It made a difference. I’m not sure how long this little jaunt into the mental health abyss will last. I know it won’t be the last time. I know there will be worse episodes. I know that there will be better days. I hope there will be. But man, talking about it and erasing the stigma in my home made some things better about this time.

That’s why books like Guts matter. For kids and grown ups like me who struggle with chronic health issues or mental health issues or anything outside the norm, sharing our stories helps to erase the stigma, helps to increase support and understanding, and I’m here to tell you, sometimes it literally saves lives. Far too many of our young people are wrestling with mental health issues and we need to do better for them. Guts is just one of the ways that we can help. And that’s the power of story.

Friday Finds: September 13, 2019

This Week at TLT

What’s new in LGBTQIA+ YA September 2019

MakerSpace: YouTube Channels to Help Get Your Creative Juices Flowing

Book Review: Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Book Review: The Liar’s Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson

Sunday Reflections: So You Want to Raise a Reader? I have some tips for you

Around the Web

Fall 2019’s Can’t-Miss Young Adult Books

It’s National Suicide Prevention Week

To Prevent School Shootings, Districts Are Surveilling Students’ Online Lives

Sunday Reflections: So You Want to Raise a Reader? I have some tips for you

I am both a librarian and a mother. In fact, I am the mother of two daughters, one who is a prolific reader (age 17) and one who struggles to read or enjoy reading because of dyslexia (age 10). In all of these journeys, I’ve learned a lot about what I think we do right – and wrong – in the classroom and in our homes to help or hinder our children in the quest to develop a love of reading. And make no mistake here, this is what I think our ultimate goal is: to help our children develop a love of reading so that they will continue to be lifelong readers because reading has tremendous value. It’s not just a necessary skill, it can and should be an enjoyable practice that we can choose to engage in of our own free will during any moment that has intellectual, social, emotional and health benefits. Yes, there are health benefits to reading because it can help reduce stress, among other things. So my goal here is to help us all cultivate a true intrinsic love of reading in our children to carry them through their lifetime.

Given that stated goal, I want to share with you what I believe we do right and wrong and can do better. This is a culmination of 26 years experience working in libraries, 26 years of reading professional literature on the topic, and 17 years of parenting experience. You will find a lot of this stuff in other places and often said better and with research and data to back it up, but I hope this will help us all stop and consider what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what effect it may or may not have.

So you want to raise a reader? I have some tips for you.

Do not fight about reading. Ever.

We fight about homework, making the bed, taking a shower, eating your vegetables, etc. Teachers create assignments that lead to those same types of fighting around the topic of books and reading. All of that fighting instills in our children values and perceptions regarding the topic we are fighting about. I realized at one point that my husband was fighting a lot with one of my daughters about what she was reading, and it was making her want to stop reading period. I saw this pattern repeated myself last year when I was fighting with my youngest child about reading and a school reading assignment. Fighting about reading does not help build positive feelings about reading. It becomes a source of stress, frustration and anger for all parties. We need to find ways to get kids reading that don’t result in fighting in school or at home. We need to take away all this negativity surrounding the topic of reading.

Don’t use reading as a reward or a punishment

Reading has value in and of itself and when you tie it into other things as either a reward or a punishment, you are complicating this message. Reading then is no longer about reading, but it is about other things. I once read an article that talks about how you shouldn’t use bed as a punishment, sending children to bed because they are in trouble for some totally unrelated thing, because the child will just develop negative feelings about their room, their bed, and sleep in general, which can lead to disordered sleep. This is also true of reading. If you want to raise a reader, don’t tie reading in with other things. Recognize the value that reading has and let it stand on its own. Don’t complicate the feelings surrounding the topic of reading by tying it into things it doesn’t need to be tied into.

Listening to audio books is reading

Like many people, I use to think that listening to audio books is not reading. Then I started raising a daughter with dyslexia and gained a better understanding of what living with a disability is like. I also learned that brain scans of people listening to audio books lights up the same areas as people who are reading. I also started commuting an hour to work both ways. As with a lot of things in my professional and personal life, I’ve learned a lot about audio books and my knowledge of this topic has grown and I am hear to tell you: listening to audio books is reading. For many kids, it is the best way for them to read because their brains literally process the words on a page differently.

Reading graphic novels is reading

Thing 2 loves to read graphic novels. A lot.

My youngest child will currently only read graphic novels, for a wide variety of reasons. I’ve talked to her about what she likes and the design of the pages, the layout, the pictures, the flow of the text, all help her follow the story and process the information. Plus, she just enjoys them. A lot of educators and parents turn their noses up at graphic novels and I am here to tell us all, it’s important that we embrace graphic novels because they are both enjoyable and helpful to our children (and adults) who want to read but may struggle for a wide variety of reasons. And a lot of very fluent readers enjoy them because they are, in fact, reading. So please, let’s all get over whatever issues we may have with graphic novels and recognize that reading graphic novels is reading.

Reading the same book over and over again is okay

So you know how I mentioned earlier that my husband and oldest daughter once had a summer where they fought a lot about reading? It was because she kept reading the same Diary of a Wimpy Kid book over and over again and he wanted her to read something else. But it’s fine to read a book multiple times, yes even for an entire summer. When kids read something over and over again, they are gaining mastery of the text. They are finding comfort in something related to the story. Each time, they will see new details, go a little deeper into the story, and yes, they will even learn new words. Some of us watch the same movies multiple times, because we enjoy them. It’s okay to do this with books.

Reading below level is fine. Yes, even picture books.

This book is below level for my child. I do not care. Look at her reading and enjoying it.

A lot of people are really obsessed with the levels of books that our kids read, and this is harmful. One year, after reading Fudge, my prolific reader was told that she couldn’t read Superfudge because it was above her level. This does not make a kid love reading. Some parents come in asking for books that are clearly above level for their children. This also does not make a kid love reading. I also know of a high school librarian who got rid of all the books leveled at 6th grade from her school library because they were “too low” of a level for her students, but for what students? Be careful about using book levels as a value statement because there are a lot of reasons a kid may want to read a book and this can be harmful.

Sometimes, my dyslexic child will put out a familiar picture book and read it and you know what, that’s fine. You see, for dyslexic children reading is literally emotionally and physically exhausting. Because dyslexic children have to work harder to decode the text, it takes more energy and can leave them feeling tired. And having a constant sense of failure or fear or stress around the topic of reading just drains the self-esteem and love of reading out of our dyslexic children. So yes, let them read something safe, affirming, familiar and comforting. Let them have a time and a space where reading doesn’t have to be a constant source of struggle. And this is true for all readers, not just dyslexic ones.

If you can, buy a magazine subscription

The Teen used to have a print subscription to Teen Vogue.

For years now, I have recommended magazine subscriptions to parents who have come in asking how to help their kids to be better readers. For one, everyone likes to get mail. It’s fun! Also, magazines have a lot of the same appeal factors as graphic novels and picture books. They have shorter stories, graphic elements that up the appeal, and they can just be fun. For my ten-year-old, we have a subscription to Highlights.

When watching TV, turn on the captions

We watch a lot of British shows, baking and murder mysteries are our jam. So we started using the captions because some of the actors had heavy accents and we didn’t always catch what they were saying. But then I noticed that when the captions were on, my youngest was practicing reading. Now we just watch everything with the captions on. Shark documentaries. Superhero movies. Cartoons. All of it, we use the captions and it can help with the reading practice.

Fill your home with books

One of the Teen’s bookshelves of honor.

Having books in the house at all times helps. Research shows that the more books a child has access to in the home the more likely they are to be better readers. Part of this is obviously just access. If they get bored on a Sunday night at 8:00 pm, they can grab a book off of a shelf and read. It’s there and it’s available. It also just communicates to our kids that we value reading. The simple act of filling our home with books communicates the value of reading.

I’m obviously an advocate of visiting the library. Do that and often. But also, if you can, buy books or visit free libraries. I am here to tell you that there is something powerful about owning your own books as well. Because I work in a library, I bring home a lot of books. We read and love them. But the ones we really love, we buy. Because there is something magical and powerful that comes when you own your own books. My youngest child seems more likely to read a book if she owns in and I can’t really explain it, but for some kids that ownership can be important and meaningful.

Model reading in your home

The Teen reading at a soccer game.

Let your kid see you reading. Turn off the tv and have quiet/reading time. If your kid doesn’t want to read during that time, it’s okay, just the simple act of modelling helps. When I sit and read sometimes my kid will start out on the phone and then pick up a book because she wants to be like mom. You know how they always say do as I do and not as I say, it’s because what we do is far more impactful than what we say. Your kids need to see you reading to know that you value reading and that they should to.

Set up reading spaces in your home

This is the reading nook we set up for Thing 2 under her loft bed. She reads to her stuffies.

Having a special, inviting and comfortable space in your home dedicated to reading also sends a powerful message. It doesn’t have to involve a lot of space, time or money. Stringing up a blanket fort works. A bean bag chair in a corner with a basket of books works as well. It works to serve as a reminder to our kids that we value reading in our home so much, we made a special and safe and comfortable space for it.

Carry books with you and have your kids do the same

Reading in the car.

Going in the car? Grab a book. Going on vacation? Grab a book. Going to the dentist or doctor? Grab a book. Get in the habit of grabbing a book – making sure your kid sees you doing this – and ask them to do the same. When you have a free moment, take that book out and read. Let the practice of carrying and reading books become a part of who you are and how you live your life as a family. Your kids will see that behavior and copy it. Again, you’re sending powerful messages about what you value in the ways that you choose to spend your time. This is also true for teachers.

Talk to your kids about books and reading

Tell your kids what you’re reading, what you think about it, and why. Ask them about what they’re reading. Talk about magazine articles, blog posts, etc. Do you have a teenager with a digital device? Send them articles that speak to you. Make it a practice to talk about what you’re reading and how you respond to it with your children. One, it helps build emotional connections and meaningful relationships. Two, you are once again demonstrating that you are a person and a family that values reading.

Don’t immediately discount the power of digital devices

Speaking of phones or tablets, keep in mind that a lot of what we do on our devices IS reading. There is research that shows that reading a physical book is better for younger kids than digital, but even if your kid is scrolling through Insta or texting friends, there is still often reading and writing involved when we use our devices. Moderation is key, but there are benefits. Also, as someone who spends a lot of time reading the news and blogs, I’m here to remind you that many people read on their devices. Just because you see someone on a device does not mean that you should assume they are doing nothing or aren’t being productive.

Let your child know it’s okay to stop a book they don’t enjoy

I used to be one of those people that thought you had to read every book you started all the way through to the end, which meant I spent a lot of time not enjoying reading. I was miserable because I was reading books I hated. Then I learned a secret: You don’t have to finish a book. In the book reviewing world we talk about it as DNFing a book: Did Not Finish. If you don’t like a book, you can set it aside – or throw it across a room if you want and it’s your book – and start a new one that you enjoy. It’s a gift to know that reading doesn’t have to be suffering and pain. Tell kids this secret and let them find joy in reading.

All books are for all readers

The Teen reads. A lot.

This is very important: stop telling people what kinds of books they can and can’t read. There are no boy books. There are no girl books. Books have no gender, they are literally pages bound in a cover and they lack any sex organs or chromosomes or gender. One of the reasons that we value reading is that it helps us develop a stronger world view and a more compassionate point of view. Automatically excluding a book for someone because it’s characters or authors are of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. means that you are cutting that reader off from gaining a better understanding of the world and the various people that inhabit it.

Take advantage of creative ways to engage with and promote reading when they arise

Operation BB: Books in Backpacks

Make a home or classroom reading wall. Cover your walls with reading related art: book covers, homemade signs that promote reading, etc. I love to take photos so I take photos of my girls reading and place them on our walls. I have posters about reading that I’ve picked up in places decorating my walls. When my youngest decided she wanted to start a project to help get books to kids in need, I found ways to support her. We fill Little Free Libraries with books when we can. When opportunities arise to promote books and reading, seize them if you can. Everything you can do to help create a culture and lifestyle of reading helps.

Free choice is extremely important

Thing 2 in her loft bed with a book & flashlight nearby. We added the basket for easy book access.

A lot of these ideas stated above can be simplified by saying this: study after study has shown that when kids get to choose for themselves what they read, they are more likely to enjoy reading it. And when they enjoy reading and have more positive reading experiences, they are more likely to continue to read of their own free will and become both more proficient readers and life long reader.

If I were to sum up all of my hot tips about raising life long readers it would focus on these 3 key elements: Access, Choice and Feelings. We want kids to have access to books and reading experiences in a variety of ways, and we want them to have the choices of when, how and what to read, so that they will develop positive feelings about the subject of reading by having positive reading experiences. That really summarizes everything I’ve said above really well. So whether you are a parent, a teacher or a librarian, let’s do what we can to help make this happen so that we can raise a generation of life long readers who choose to read because they enjoy and value reading. Let’s raise readers!

What other tips, tricks, strategies and successes do you have to share? Please discuss in the comments.

More on My Journey as a Parent and Librarian to a Child with Dyslexia

Friday Finds: September 6, 2019

This Week at TLT

Book Review: Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown

Cindy Crushes Programming: Splatter Painting

Book Review: Have a Little Faith in Me by Sonia Hartl

The Labor of Librarianship, a Reflection for Labor Day

Your Library and Beyond: Building Positive Relationships with Creative Teens in The Community a guest post by author Rayne Lacko

Sunday Reflections: Everything I Learned About Advocating for My Dyslexic Child I Learned by Being a Teen Librarian

Around the Web

Michigan students’ reading levels fall as school librarians go extinct

Getting Over Coco

Closing A Failing School Is Normal, But Not Easy, In Charters-Only New Orleans

The Key To Teaching College-Level Research

The Labor of Librarianship, a Reflection for Labor Day

One day last week I saw that somehow had tweeted out about how we should not call librarianship a calling because it sets us up to be asked for unpaid labor. Although I understood the sentiment about what was being stated, I bristled a bit about being told how I can and can’t talk about my feelings about librarianship. You see for me, librarianship is a calling and something that I feel very passionately about. I come from a youth ministry background, so I’ve spent a great deal talking about calling. When I first started working in libraries I finally felt that I had found both my place and my calling in this world and it has continually brought me a sense of peace and direction.

Karen playing with photo booth props & photo manipulation apps

I believe that there are several professions in which some people may feel called to. Teachers. Doctors. Artists. Writers. And yes, Librarians. That does not mean I support anyone in these professions being unpaid or underpaid. It does not mean that I feel that they don’t deserve work/life balance or reasonable schedules or manageable workloads. Speaking about life in terms of a calling has nothing to do with outcomes or compensation and everything to do with the intrinsic motivation of the person performing that labor. A calling is what the person doing the job feels, it does not in any way address outcomes.

Talking about librarianship also doesn’t mean that I feel that all of my peers should feel the same way or have the same motivation. I have worked in libraries for 26 years and I can assure you, I have worked with a lot of people who do not view librarianship as a calling, and that is fine. As long as everyone comes to work and does their best, which is true of any job that any person does, I think that is fair. You’re allowed to feel about your work however you feel. If for you it is a calling, like it is for me, I am happy that you like me to get be fulfilled by doing the work you feel called to do. And if for you it is just a job, that is also fine, as long as it is a job you are going to try your best at while you are at work.

Look, more photo booth props for some program or another

For me, librarianship is a calling. Not just librarianship, but getting to serve and work with our youth. It is also a responsibility that I do not take lightly. I have made a lot of personal choices in my career to learn more, to grown, and to serve. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize that most days are mundane, stressful, and yes, sometimes harrowing. I have felt disillusioned, overworked, underpaid, unappreciated, stressed out, over burdened and more. In 2008 I watched as hard working, dedicated staff got laid off, budgets were slashed, services were cut, and less staff were asked to do more work with less resources, less time, and for less money. Librarianship, even as a personal calling, is not without its challenges, faults, and issues.

I am also not an big advocate of doing unpaid labor or donating my time, energy or efforts to a library in which I am employed because ultimately it hurts not only me, but it hurts my fellow library staff and yes – the very youth that I am trying to serve. You see, libraries operate on budgets and those budgets dictate things like staff, programming, space allocation, supplies, materials (including books) and services (including online tutoring services, for example). If I donate a lot of time, supplies and labor, then the people in charge of creating those budgets don’t have a realistic idea of what kind of budget is needed. I am, in fact, harming my youth. And if I leave a position, I have now set the next librarian up for failure because that same admin will expect my successor to perform at a standard that they haven’t built into the schedule or budget because I failed to communicate authentic needs. No one wins, least of all the community we serve, when I do my job in unrealistic ways.

So yes, I do feel that for me being a librarian is a calling. I feel honored and blessed every day to get to be a part of something that I believe passionately about. But I help no one, including myself, my biological children who like to eat, and the youth that I serve if I don’t speak out about the very real issues in librarianship, including the tendency to have unrealistic expectations and low pay for our staff. I don’t think librarianship and libraries are above criticism, though I do ask for caution in the ways that we talk publicly about those issues because we already have a lot of negative stigmas that we are fighting against. I believe very strongly that we should talk particularly about the stress of day to day patron interactions in more private channels because we don’t want to demean, shame or alienate the very people we say we are trying to serve.

In the midst of this entire conversation is this very blog that you are reading. It takes a lot of time and energy, and I do my due diligence to make sure that the blog is always separate from my work because the blog is a personal choice I made. Make no mistake, any library that I work at has always benefited in positive ways from this blog and the networking opportunities it has afforded me, but TLT is also a personal choice that I make and I blog on my own time, which is why I’m sitting here on Labor Day writing this post. TLT brings me both deep personal and professional benefits; I’m a better and more knowledgeable librarian because of Teen Librarian Toolbox. That is also a personal decision that I have made for myself and I don’t expect or judge others who make different personal decisions about their careers.

And I guess that’s why I bristled so much when I heard others saying that we can’t or shouldn’t talk about librarianship as a calling. Because we can. If that’s what librarianship is to you, I completely understand. And if it isn’t, I get that as well. I’m not going to tell you what language to use to talk about your work or to police your feelings, and I would ask that you would extend the same courtesy to me. We can all still be professional peers and friends.

The entire Jensen family

Work and everything involved in work is a complicated issue. Labor Day is a stark reminder that we have been arguing about what place work should play in our lives and what reasonable expectations are and a large variety of issues surrounding work for a very long time. It’s a complex and complicated issue that is woven into the very fabric of our personal and national identity. We’re not going to solve the issues today, but we need to keep talking about them.

But for right now, I’m going to go outside and make another t-shirt with my kid. Because we’re all off and that’s how she’s asked me to spend it with her. Happy Labor Day everyone. Whatever work you’re doing, I hope it brings you some measure of joy and stability in your life. I know that in this moment, I am one of the lucky ones because I am in a job I love and feel called to do.

Your Library and Beyond: Building Positive Relationships with Creative Teens in The Community a guest post by author Rayne Lacko

As you’ll recall from PART I: Establishing A Teen Creative Writing Workshop, I’ve outlined a proven method to establish a committed circle of enthusiastic regulars, including “The Secret Workshop Ingredient That Changes Lives.” Teens need a safe place to discover, cultivate, and share their emerging voices. Creating a Teen Writers Workshop at your library allows young people the opportunity to grow both as writers and readers. 

Over the past four years of our monthly after-school Teen Writers Workshop, my teaching partner, author Margaret Nevinski, and I have joined forces with various local non-profit organizations, and expanded to include a week-long intensive summer camp. We’ve also established Teen Story Slam, a fundraising spoken-word event, and received tremendous support from local teachers, parents, and teen-friendly businesses. 

We attract a small but dedicated group of poets, writers and graphic novelists to our after-school workshop. But like most creatives, these teens are curious about applying their love of words to a variety of art forms. When we hosted the first Teen Story Slam (inspired by the transformational power of our workshop’s Secret Ingredient) we discovered an untapped niche of teen creatives—students who wouldn’t necessarily attend a writers’ workshop, but who share a love of the written word. We brainstormed ways to reach this wider audience and found success with the following:

Teen Creative Writing Summer Camp Many teens consider the concept of summer camp to be a bit “cringey” but we’ve managed to fill to capacity every year because the built-in rewards are both tangible and valuable. The non-tangible rewards begin by respecting their time — and sleeping habits. Our camp runs from Monday to Thursday, from 2pm to 4pm. Asking for a few hours a day over less than week is a much more attractive commitment level, but we certainly get stuff done! We offer one-to-one editorial consultations and pose challenging activities based on a theme, such as drama, literary devices or emotions, and we visit our local museum for a lesson on ekphrastic writing. The tangible reward includes a publishing credit. During our 8-hour camp, we produce a literary magazine comprised of two pieces per writer, and we vote on the mag’s title. There’s always an artist in the group who creates the cover. A copy of the mag is sent to each camper, and made available in the library for borrow. Every contributed piece must go through the formal editing process, and we celebrate our finished prose with a cupcake party and reading for parents and families at the close of our final meeting. 

Looking to make positive, mutually-satisfying partnerships with non-profit organizations in your community? Consider partnering with your:

Local non-profit art museum. We’re grateful to the education director at our local museum. An award-winning artist, Kristin Tollefson leads our participants through an in-depth, thought-provoking lesson on how to look at art. Afterward, we send our writers through the museum asking them to simply make notes on any piece that catches the eye. Then, we give them a quick lesson on ekphrastic writing and the many ways to approach writing about a visual experience. Without fail, this experience produces the most profound pieces our students write all year. It’s ground-breaking for many young writers, and an opportunity to appreciate what they perceive in a new way. **Handout??

Local non-profit theater school. Last year at summer camp, we dedicated two days of camp time to writing scripts for up to four players. Utilizing basic script-formatting cues, we focused on character, conflict, and climax. There was no limit to topic or genre; some wrote harrowing scenes about drinking and driving, others wrote comical exchanges between animals, and one paid homage to the BBC. We invited students from our local theater’s teen acting camp to come and cold-read the plays. The creative peers at acting camp gave themselves entirely to their craft by collapsing in death scenes, cross-dressing, and pulling off foreign accents. Our writers were beyond delighted seeing their work interpreted on our makeshift library stage. Tears of joy flowed, and both camps reported feeling accomplished, appreciated, and bonded as artistic peers.

Bonus: Many budding actors are also interested in writing. Solidify your newfound theater relationship by hosting a playwriting or screenwriting workshop! 

Want to raise awareness about your teen-specific library programs? Bring your creatives to the community!

Teen Story Slam 

Teen Story Slam is a spoken word event for writers in grades 7-12, and a wonderful way to build  positive relationships with students, teachers, and parents. A biannual event, we alternate venues between a local pizza place and a frozen yogurt joint. Both donate 50% of the evening’s proceeds to the library for teen writing programs. At the first Teen Story Slam, we expected a small circle of intrepid writers to show up. Imagine our surprise when teens from far and wide jammed the pizza place, filling it to standing room only! Our event caught the attention of local teachers who offered their students extra credit for reading. Some even challenged their students with special writing prompts. We were surprised how many asked to sing original songs they’d written; it has since become tradition to include short plays and songs at the Slam.

We offer a prize to every reader (a $5 gift card to the venue), and welcome all genres and levels. 

Bonus: Many teen writers also love to sing. Cast a wider net to your teen writing community by hosting a songwriting workshop.

Establishing a Teen Writing Workshop is an excellent foundation for building lasting relationships in your community, and fostering partnerships with local non-profit organizations. Creativity in writing inspires creativity in myriad other forms. To reach a wider audience and bring new young people to your library, consider growing new branches from your strongest programs. 

Rayne Lacko believes music, language, and art connect us, and she explores those themes in her novel, A SONG FOR THE ROAD (SparkPress, August 2019), and DREAM UP NOW (Free Spirit Publishing 2020)

Sunday Reflections: Everything I Learned About Advocating for My Dyslexic Child I Learned by Being a Teen Librarian

As a teen librarian and the mother of a child with dyslexia, I have had to learn to be a good advocate. I’ve been reflecting on advocacy a lot these past few days as I had to put on my advocacy armor and fight hard for my child’s education as she was recently put in an inequitable situation. And anyone who has a child with any kind of special needs is used to advocating, trust me.

Background: Thing 2 was diagnosed with dyslexia in the second grade. We had to fight long and hard to get the school to test her. When we finally did, we were able to create a 504 plan and in this school district dyslexic kids are pulled out of class for an intervention called MTA. She was supposed to be in the MTA plan from the time she was diagnosed until she completed 6th grade.

Unfortunately, due to over crowding in the schools, the district re-arranged the school system in this district and they created a 5th and 6th intermediate campus. In fact, they created two of them and this year Thing 2 started 5th grade at one of those campuses. We soon learned that while the other kids in her school would get to take an exploratory class of art, music, band and STEM, children in the MTA program would not. This means that for the next 2 years my child would not get to take art, music or STEM with her peers and she was being denied the same educational opportunities and advantages as her peers. And make no mistake, art and music education is an advantage that should be afforded to all children. It’s not optional, it’s imperative. There are a wide variety of well documented advantages to art and music education.

I had a lot of concerns regarding the lack of art and music education in my child’s curriculum. For one, as a child with special needs, she was now being put into a more rigorous intense and rigorous academic program with no time built into her schedule for creativity, calm and potential success. These kids were now suddenly going to be without a recess (another issue, for sure) and they were going to have to be fiercely and academically focused for 8 periods a day. In addition, she would be missing out on the advantages that come from having art and music to round out your curriculum, she was being singled out and left out from her peer groups. But also, my kid just really likes art and I wanted her to have an opportunity to learn more about it.

To make matters worse, I learned that the 2 intermediate campuses were not handling the MTA program the same and that the kids on the other intermediate campus were able to take these classes. So last week I once again put on my advocate hat and fought to get my child the education that she needs, deserves, and is guaranteed by law. I went through several steps that were going to talk about in a minute and in the end, the school agreed to change their approach so that my child got the MTA intervention that she needs AND an opportunity to do art, music and STEM education.

So here are 5 of my do rules when it comes to advocating for youth . . .

Do a Gut Check

I’m not going to lie, when I found out how the system was set up and how it was denying my child certain educational opportunities, I was instantly in a blindingly hot white rage. This is something that happens to me when I feel that an injustice is happening, which is why I personally always stop to do a gut check. My gut instinct says this is wrong, and in this case possibly illegal, but I wanted to be sure. So I did what I always do and called some of my peers and explained to them what I was upset about and asked them if I was right to be upset. I highly recommend having some trusted professionals in your pocket that you can reach out to in situations like these to help talk you through a situation and make sure you’re right to be concerned before engaging. This has saved me in many of my jobs. Sometimes my peers have said yes, and I’ve gone to admin and fought and sometimes they have helped me put a situation in perspective and while I vented to them, I didn’t approach the subject with my admin.

In this case, I called several teachers that I knew and explained my worries and they said yes, this was not the correct way to handle an intervention and that I was right to be upset and I should definitely pursue it. So having done that gut check and being affirmed that my concerns were valid, I pursued it. Doing a gut check always helps me to calm down and get focused, it also helps me to get to that place where I can approach a situation in a more professional manner and not get myself fired or thrown in jail.

Do Your Research

I then went onto the next stage, which for me always involves research. I got together information about what was and wasn’t legal in a 504 plan. I got together research on the value and benefit of music and art education. I found out how to contest what I thought was a special education violation. I asked my teacher friends the right terminology to use. I researched and put together a solid case that I could present that was well reasoned, supporter and clearly articulated. When I am asked to talk about an issue I’m advocating for, I want to make sure that I know what I’m saying and the most effective ways to talk about it. Using the right terminology and citing precedent or law or statistics can help your case more than most people realize. Research is a key component of advocacy.

Do Your Best Impression of a Grown Up

I put all the information together and wrote up a letter making it clear that I was not going to back down and filed a formal complaint. I was clear, articulate, fierce yet professional. So although I cussed up a storm to my husband and it was clear that I was in a blindingly white hot rage, I wrote my letter in such a way that it was both respectful and had to be taken seriously. I was calm, respectful, but fierce. How you present your case can make or break it.

At one point as I talked in person to the vice principal I even said, “I’m getting really upset so I’m going to walk away right not but I need you to know that this is unacceptable and we are not done with this discussion.” I mostly walked away because when I get really, really upset I cry or dip into the swear jar and neither one of those were going to help my case so I walked away to give myself an opportunity to calm down and collect my thoughts. There are moments in life where protest and dissent are called for, the key is learning how to gauge what approach is needed for a situation. At work and when dealing with the school system, I have found that starting out from a place of professional respect and courtesy is a good tactic. But yes, there are moments in life when you have to escalate or take something to the next level.

Do Your Due Diligence

I have found through the years when advocating that it is very important that you maintain a paper trail. I like to put things in writing as opposed to having face to face or telephone conversations for this very reason. When I write a letter or send an email, I have documentation that proves I have approached someone with my concern and helps prevent denial on their part. And if someone does talk to me about the subject, I then write up a follow-up email saying something like, “thank you for calling me and discussing the matter I emailed about on <insert date here>. As you stated on the phone, you will do x, y and z by <whatever date>.” This way, I have documented what happened in the phone call or an office visit. I have found that some times people will call because they don’t want a record so that they have plausible deniability and it is very important that you do your due diligence and create a record. Trust me, sometimes you will need it. Having a paper trail is essential.

Do Your Part with Whatever Comes Next

Whatever comes next, be sure to do your part with follow through. If the situation is resolved in a satisfactory manner, say thank you. If you have agreed to do certain things to make a resolution possible, be sure you do those things as agreed and by any end dates you have said you would do them by. Whatever happens next, don’t let the situation fall apart by not doing your part. And sometimes, that means taking it up to the next level because you didn’t get a resolution at the first phase.

Sometimes, a matter is resolved quickly and satisfactorily, and this is great. There is much rejoicing. Sometimes it’s not and you have to decide what to do next. Sometimes this means continuing to fight and going on to the next step or next higher up person, whoever that may be. Sometimes, especially in work situations, this means asking yourself whether you can live with this new policy, procedure, or task and deciding to stay or seek new employment. This is a hard thing to acknowledge but sometimes, leaving a job if possible is the right decision.

I am happy to say that in the dispute with the school district about my child’s education, I was quickly contacted by the school and my child is now going to get both her MTA intervention AND to take music and art education. I am thankful that in this instance, advocacy worked. It doesn’t always. I was setting up for a long and hard fight and I am so glad that I didn’t have to. I can breathe a moment of relief because my child is going to get the education she wants, needs and deserves.

Over the years, because I have dedicated myself to working with teens, I have found that I have had to advocate a lot for our youth. I have fought against age discrimination, I have fought against LGBTQ discrimination, I have fought against racism and sexism, I have fought against classism, I have fought against policies and procedures that I felt were discriminatory. I have fought for larger spaces and larger budgets and new materials and services. Sometimes I have won and sometimes I have lost. Advocacy is part of teen librarianship, and parenting. I never knew how important it was to both of these roles in my life, but here I am, teen librarian, parent, and professional advocate.

Let me tell you a secret: They’re all worth it.

Friday Finds: August 30, 2019

This Week at TLT

Post-It Note Reviews: YA books about toxic relationships, the history of AIDS, gun control, voting rights, and more

Let’s Talk on Twitter: Do You Want to Read a Cupcake?

Introducing RevolTeens, a new monthly column with Christine Lively

Book Review: The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu

Establishing A Teen Creative Writing Workshop a guest post by Rayne Lacko

MakerSpace: Making T-shirts with Infusible Ink

Around the Web

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The Scientific Debate Over Teens, Screens And Mental Health

What If You Could Change Your Child’s Future In One Hour Every Week?