Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Graphic Novels involving the Refugee Experience a guest post by Kristyn Dorfman

According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world and of that number 25.4 million are refugees. The majority of these refugees are coming from the South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria. Over half of these refugees are under the age of 18. Many are escaping persecution or civil war and are fleeing for their lives. The impact is felt worldwide and while many countries are accepting refugees many more, like the current United States administration, are drastically reducing the numbers they take in. Many people have risked their lives to be caught in a limbo.


Many writers are taking into account that this is an issue experienced by many and should be shared out to the world. Graphic Novels are a popular medium by which to provide this information and help put a human face to something that seems intangible to some readers. There are several graphic novels and graphic memoirs depicting the refugee experience. Here are some of those titles with blurbs from the Publisher.



513JR8lzdGL._SX359_BO1,204,203,200_The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.


Threads: From the Refugee Crisis by Kate Evans

In the French port town of Calais, famous for its historic lace industry, a city within a city arose. This new town, known as the Jungle, was home to thousands of refugees, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, all hoping, somehow, to get to the UK. Into this squalid shantytown of shipping containers and tents, full of rats and trash and devoid of toilets and safety, the artist Kate Evans brought a sketchbook and an open mind. Combining the techniques of eyewitness reportage with the medium of comic-book storytelling, Evans has produced this unforgettable book, filled with poignant images—by turns shocking, infuriating, wry, and heartbreaking.


Freedom HospitalFreedom Hospital: A Syrian Story by Hamid Sulaiman

It is spring 2012 and 40,000 people have died since the start of the Syrian Arab Spring. In the wake of this, Yasmine has set up a clandestine hospital in the north of the country. Her town is controlled by Assads brutal regime, but is relatively stable. However, as the months pass, the situation becomes increasingly complex and violent. Told in stark, beautiful black-and-white imagery, Freedom Hospital illuminates a complicated situation with gut-wrenching detail and very dark humor. The story of Syria is one of the most devastating narratives of our age and Freedom Hospital is an important and timely book from a new international talent.


indexVietnamerica: A Family’s Journey by G.B. Tran

GB Tran is a young Vietnamese American artist who grew up distant from (and largely indifferent to) his family’s history. Born and raised in South Carolina as a son of immigrants, he knew that his parents had fled Vietnam during the fall of Saigon. But even as they struggled to adapt to life in America, they preferred to forget the past–and to focus on their children’s future. It was only in his late twenties that GB began to learn their extraordinary story. When his last surviving grandparents die within months of each other, GB visits Vietnam for the first time and begins to learn the tragic history of his family, and of the homeland they left behind.


Young Adult/Middle Grade


611DTCgMKnL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Baddawi by Leila Abdelazaq

An arrestingly drawn debut graphic novel, Baddawi is the story of a young boy named Ahmad struggling to find his place in the world. It explores the childhood of the author’s father from a determinedly boy’s-eye view. Ahmed was raised in the refugee camp of Baddawi in northern Lebanon, one of many thousands of children born to Palestinians who fled (or were expelled from) their homeland during the 1948 war that established the state of Israel. Ahmad’s dogged pursuit of education and opportunity echoes the journey of the Palestinian people, as they make the best of their existing circumstances while remaining determined to one day return to their homeland.


51EFLPnPSNL._SX367_BO1,204,203,200_Alpha: Abidjan to Paris by Bessora, Illustrated by Barroux, Translated by Sarah Ardizzone

Alpha’s wife and son left Côte d’Ivoire months ago to join his sister-in-law in Paris, but Alpha has heard nothing from them since. With a visa, Alpha’s journey to reunite with his family would take a matter of hours. Without one, he is adrift for over a year, encountering human traffickers in the desert, refugee camps in northern Africa, overcrowded boats carrying migrants between the Canary Islands and Europe’s southern coast, and an unforgettable cast of fellow travelers lost and found along the way. Throughout, Alpha stays the course, carrying his loved ones’ photograph close to his heart as he makes his perilous trek across continents.


81wQUSqlI6LThe Unwanted by Don Brown

Starting in 2011, refugees flood out of war-torn Syria in Exodus-like proportions. The surprising flood of victims overwhelms neighboring countries, and chaos follows. Resentment in host nations heightens as disruption and the cost of aid grows. By 2017, many want to turn their backs on the victims. The refugees are the unwanted.

Don Brown depicts moments of both heartbreaking horror and hope in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Shining a light on the stories of the survivors, The Unwanted is a testament to the courage and resilience of the refugees and a call to action for all those who read.


IllegalIllegal: A Graphic Novel by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin, Illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

Ebo is alone.His brother, Kwame, has disappeared, and Ebo knows it can only be to attempt the hazardous journey to Europe, and a better life―the same journey their sister set out on months ago.

But Ebo refuses to be left behind in Ghana. He sets out after Kwame and joins him on the quest to reach Europe. Ebo’s epic journey takes him across the Sahara Desert to the dangerous streets of Tripoli, and finally out to the merciless sea. But with every step he holds on to his hope for a new life, and a reunion with his family.


9781609808730Zenobia by Morten Dürr

Zenobia was once a great warrior queen of Syria whose reign reached from Egypt to Turkey. She was courageous. No one gave her orders. Once she even went to war against the emperor of Rome.

When things feel overwhelming for Amina, her mother reminds her to think of Zenobia and be strong. Amina is a Syrian girl caught up in a war that reaches her village. To escape the war she boards a small boat crammed with other refugees. The boat is rickety and the turbulent seas send Amina overboard. In the dark water Amina remembers playing hide and seek with her mother and making dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and the journey she had to undertake with her uncle to escape. And she thinks of the brave warrior Zenobia.


91u6-Cb4wnLEscape from Syria by Samya Kullab, Illustrated by Jackie Roche

From the pen of former Daily Star (Lebanon) reporter Samya Kullab comes a breathtaking and hard-hitting story of one family’s struggle to survive in the face of war, displacement, poverty and relocation.

Escape from Syria is a fictionalized account that calls on real-life circumstances and true tales of refugee families to serve as a microcosm of the Syrian uprising and the war and refugee crisis that followed.

The story spans six years in the lives of Walid, his wife Dalia, and their two children, Amina and Youssef. Forced to flee from Syria, they become asylum-seekers in Lebanon, and finally resettled refugees in the West. It is a story that has been replayed thousands of times by other families.

When the family home in Aleppo is destroyed by a government-led bomb strike, Walid has no choice but to take his wife and children and flee their war-torn and much loved homeland. They struggle to survive in the wretched refugee camps of Lebanon, and when Youssef becomes fatally ill as a result of the poor hygienic conditions, his father is forced to take great personal risk to save his family.

Walid’s daughter, the young Amina, a whip-smart grade-A student, tells the story. As she witnesses firsthand the harsh realities that her family must endure if they are to survive — swindling smugglers, treacherous ocean crossings, and jihadist militias — she is forced to grow up very quickly in order to help her parents and brother.


61Kl9CImU7LSeeking Refuge by Irene N Watts

In this follow-up to the successful Goodbye Marianne, Irene Watts explores what it is like for a young refugee girl to flee Nazi-occupied Austria alone. The poignant story is relatable to the terrible situation facing refugees in Europe and around the world today.



2013-02-23 17.27.32



Kristyn is a Middle School Librarian at The Nightingale-Bamford School in NY. She also reviews for School Library Journal. Kristyn is a native Brooklynite and the mother of two amazing little people. You can often find her behind a book, behind a cup of coffee, or singing broadway musicals off key at inappropriate times.

What’s New in LGBTQIA+ YA November and December 2018

tltbutton7It’s time for another roundup for new and forthcoming YA (and sometimes not YA) books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters.  The titles I’m including here have LGBTQIA+ main characters as well as secondary characters (in some cases parents), as well as anthologies that include LGBTQIA+ stories. Know of a title I missed in this list? Or know of a forthcoming title that should be on my radar for an upcoming list? Leave a comment or tweet me @CiteSomething. This list covers September titles. Head over to this link for the previous post (August 2018) in this series. All annotations here are via the publishers/Goodreads. I also have a 2017 master list and am working on one for 2018. I’m happy to send you the list if you’re interested. Tweet at me or email me to request the list. I’m amanda DOT macgregor AT gmail DOT com.


Looking for more information on LGBTQIA+ books or issues? Check out the hashtag here on TLT and go visit YA Pride and LGBTQ Reads, two phenomenal resources. 


November 2018


girls of paperGirls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (ISBN-13: 9780316561365 Publisher: Little, Brown and Company Publication date: 11/06/2018)

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire. 

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.



this is whatThis Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow (ISBN-13: 9780062494238 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 11/06/2018)

This tender story of friendship, music, and ferocious love asks: what will you fight for, if not yourself? You Don’t Know Me But I Know You author Rebecca Barrow’s next book is perfect for fans of Katie Cotugno and Emery Lord.

Who cares that the prize for the Sun City Originals contest is fifteen grand? Not Dia, that’s for sure. Because Dia knows that without a band, she hasn’t got a shot at winning. Because ever since Hanna’s drinking took over her life, Dia and Jules haven’t been in it. And because ever since Hanna left—well, there hasn’t been a band.

It used to be the three of them, Dia, Jules, and Hanna, messing around and making music and planning for the future. But that was then, and this is now—and now means a baby, a failed relationship, a stint in rehab, all kinds of off beats that have interrupted the rhythm of their friendship.

But like the lyrics of a song you used to play on repeat, there’s no forgetting a best friend. And for Dia, Jules, and Hanna, this impossible challenge—to ignore the past, in order to jump start the future—will only become possible if they finally make peace with the girls they once were, and the girls they are finally letting themselves be.




illusionsIllusions by Madeline J. Reynolds (ISBN-13: 9781640635630 Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC Publication date: 11/06/2018)

Dear Thomas,

I know you’re angry. It’s true, I was sent to expose your mentor as a fraud illusionist, and instead I have put your secret in jeopardy. I fear I have even put your life in jeopardy. For that I can only beg your forgiveness. I’ve fallen for you. You know I have. And I never wanted to create a rift between us, but if it means protecting you from those who wish you dead—I’ll do it. I’ll do anything to keep you safe, whatever the sacrifice. Please forgive me for all I’ve done and what I’m about to do next. I promise, it’s one magic trick no one will ever see coming.




pulpPulp by Robin Talley (ISBN-13: 9781335012906 Publisher: Harlequin Publication date: 11/13/2018)

In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.

Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.

In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words. A stunning story of bravery, love, how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go.



outrunOutrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi (ISBN-13: 9781635830262 Publisher: North Star Editions Publication date: 11/27/2018)

The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.
To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia-where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina.
As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’s second rule. She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.




December 2018


dear heartbreakDear Heartbreak: YA Authors and Teens on the Dark Side of Love by Heather Demetrios (ISBN-13: 9781250170903 Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) Publication date: 12/18/2018)

In this powerful collection, well-known YA authors answer real letters from teens all over the world about the dark side of love: dating violence, break-ups, cheating, betrayals, and loneliness. This book contains a no-holds-barred, raw outpouring of the wisdom these authors have culled from mining their own hearts for the fiction they write. Their responses are autobiographical, unflinching, and filled with love and hope for the anonymous teen writers.

With contributors Becky Albertalli, Adi Alsaid, Libba Bray, Mike Curato, Heather Demetrios, Amy Ewing, Zach Fehst, Gayle Forman, Corey Ann Haydu, Varian Johnson, A.S. King, Nina LaCour, Kim Liggett, Kekla Magoon, Sarah McCarry, Sandhya Menon, Cristina Moracho, Jasmine Warga, and Ibi Zoboi.




disastersThe Disasters by M. K. England (ISBN-13: 9780062657671 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 12/18/2018)

The Breakfast Club meets Guardians of the Galaxy in this YA sci-fi adventure by debut author M. K. England.

Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours. But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy.

Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.

On the run, Nax and his fellow failures plan to pull off a dangerous heist to spread the truth. Because they may not be “Academy material,” and they may not even get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.

Full of high-stakes action, subversive humor, and underdogs becoming heroes, this YA sci-fi adventure is perfect for fans of Illuminae, Heart of Iron, or the cult classic TV show Firefly and is also a page-turning thrill ride that anyone—not just space nerds—can enjoy.

Sunday Reflections: Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a Child with Dyslexia


When I learned I was pregnant with The Teen, my first thought was “I hope she likes Science Fiction.” I was 29 at the time and was in the final semester of my MLS program at Kent State University. At this time I had been working in YA services as a paraprofessional for almost 10 years. I was an avid reader with a strong interest in science fiction, both loves I was looking forward to sharing with my child. The Teen has always been a strong and natural reader and now that she is a teenager, we love to read and talk about YA literature. It makes my YA librarian heart happy.

Six years later I was once again pregnant, this time with Thing 2, and was thinking similar thoughts. By this time I was 35 and had been a MLS degree holding librarian for almost six years and had been working in YA services for 15 years. Little did I know of the struggle we would have in our future trying to build another enthusiastic reader.


As Thing 2 began Kindergarten, it became clear to me that she was exhibiting some of the signs of dyslexia. Dyslexia was not something we ever talked about in library school. As a public librarian, even one studying the youth services track in an ALA certified graduate program for library science, dyslexia was not something that we talked about. I could see the signs and felt a vague feeling that something was wrong in large part because I grew up with some family members who were themselves dyslexic. But more than that, there was just something going on at an instinctual level, that parental tickle at the back of the brain that lets you know that something just wasn’t right.

In the 1st grade, these concerns grew exponentially. Thing 2 often practiced mirror writing, she would write a word correctly, it just happened to be an exact mirror image. It wasn’t just that the letters were backwards or out of order, they were written so that if you held the piece of paper in front of the mirror, they would have been correct. Each letter was backwards and the order of the letters was backwards as well. Every time I saw her write that way, my concern grew.

It was during this year that my father came to visit. Thing 2 was happy to sit next to him on the couch and read to him from her book. She would see the word was and read it as saw. He looked at me as she left the room to get another book and said, “you should have her tested for dyslexia.” Having my worries confirmed by someone else without any prompting really validated my suspicions. Later that day, she would write her sisters name in sidewalk chalk in the driveway and he would marvel at how perfectly mirror like it was.

It took The Mr. and I almost 2 years to get Thing 2 tested and confirmed. We live in the state of Texas and it is one of the few if not the only state that has a cap on what percentage of students can be diagnosed as special needs. This cap puts pressure on the schools to keep their students undiagnosed so that they are in compliance with the state standards. In addition, in the first grade Thing 2 had a pregnant teacher who would miss many months of school and the long-term substitutes were not able to start the testing process in time for her to be tested in that year. At the end of the year the principal finally met with us and said that yes she there was sufficient reason to test her, but by this time it there was only two weeks before the end of the school year and we would have to wait until midway through the next year to get her tested. The next year, we had to start the process all over.

Thing 2 now participates in a special program which has helped her learn to read, though she still struggles and finds the overall process of reading unenjoyable. It is a fight each and every day to get her to read. She knows she is behind her friends in reading and often comments about how stupid she is. She will cry, rage, scream and cry as she struggles to read. As a parent, it is heartbreaking to see. My heart aches for my child.


During those first years when we struggled to get her diagnosed, she had teachers who would continually send home letters telling us our child was behind her peers and made helpful suggestions for us to help her be a better reader. Take her to the library, they said, as if my daughter wasn’t being raised in a library with an army of library staff. Make sure she has access to books, they said, as if she didn’t have shelves full of books, many of them signed directly to her by the authors and illustrators that I had brought home from conferences and read to her each night. Read to her each night, they said, as if I hadn’t been doing that from day one. There is an issue, I replied, please help us help her. At one point, in a moment of extreme frustration and in a rage after getting yet another note in her take home folder telling me I needed to read to her more, I looked at The Mr. and said, “do you think I should just send them a copy of my resume?” I didn’t, for the record.

The fight to get her tested took almost two years. In those two years I had to learn a lot about being an advocate and what the school process was and what a 504 plan was. It was a frustrating time in which I felt that I was failing my child, felt that I was a failure as a librarian, and worried that she would fall so far behind it would be hard for her to catch up.

As I mentioned, she now goes to a special program and has a teacher that she loves. She has made a lot of progress and we are encouraging and engaged every step of the way. But it has been hard. It’s hard to watch her struggle to read and feel discouraged. It’s hard to hear her cry and call herself stupid. It’s hard to know how to get her to read without fighting about reading and making reading an even more negative experience for her.


I have done many things along the way to help encourage her to be a reader, all the things that I have told parent after parent who has come into my library asking for help:

1. I take her to the library.

2. I let her choose her own books.

3. If we go to the store and she asks me to buy her a book and we have the money, I never say no.

4. If she asks me to read with her or to her, I say yes.

5. We listen to audio books.

6. I don’t fight with her about the books she chooses. If she wants to read the same book over and over again, we read the same book over and over again. If she wants to read a picture book instead of a chapter book, we read a picture book. There is already enough negativity in her life surrounding the concept of reading, her father and I try not to add to or be a source of that negativity.


We recently went to the store and I suggested that she read a copy of Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. This is a book written in verse that met the minimum number of pages for her school assignment, but many of the pages have short poems and have a lot of white space on the pages. This is only the second book she has ever finished reading and she loved it.


My co-worker recommended she read a Branches book and selected several that she thought Thing 2 might be interested in. Thing 2 selected and read Hank, a book that is written in a special font that is supposed to be easier for children with dyslexia to read. She loved this book as well.

She currently has to read 40 books by the end of the year, 20 by December. Half of these books are supposed to be chapter books over 64 pages. She has read well over 20 books, but I’m not sure we’re going to meet the 10 chapter books requirement. I’m trying to figure out whether or not I can be at peace with that. It’s a constant struggle for me as a parent to know when I should push her and when I should accommodate her special needs.

In library school and in libraries in general, we talk a lot about reluctant readers. We usually operate from the assumption that reluctant readers simply don’t like to read, that they just haven’t found the right book for them yet. What I am learning is that people are reluctant readers for a wide variety of reasons and I think we need to change our narrative. My child is a reluctant reader because reading is a challenge for her. When she looks at the words on a page she doesn’t see the same things that I do. She literally has to decode what she sees to make sense of it and that process is physically exhausting, emotionally challenging, and not really a lot of fun. It’s work for her in ways that it isn’t for other readers.


I have now worked in public libraries for 25 years and I have never worked at a library system that talked about working with struggling readers or, more specifically, children with dyslexia. I have seen my peers put together sensory storytimes and storytimes in sign language, but I haven’t really heard a lot of discussion about how, specifically, to help children and the parents of children navigate the world of dyslexia. Now that I feel like I’m coming to a space where I can breathe and we’ve had some successful reading moments, I want to challenge us all in the field to look at ways that we can provide better services to children and adults struggling with dyslexia.

Some of the things I recommend are:

1. Visit The Dyslexia Foundation website and learn what the basic signs are and take a look at this page which helps you understand the difference between what a dyslexic child sees on the page versus what a non-dyslexic child sees on the page.

2. Invite your local school district’s dyslexic specialist to come and do some staff awareness and training.

3. Learn about dyslexia fonts.

4. Find digital resources that you can help steer parents towards.


5. Consider making a booklist for kids with dyslexia at various ages and stages and include books like Hank, which is written specifically for kids struggling with dyslexia in mind.

Always keep in mind that not all people are dyslexic in the same way and not all tips, resources or tools work the same for everyone. There’s a lot of trial and error involved when you’re a parent and not an expert. Dyslexia is considered a spectrum disorder and knowing this information is very helpful. We were also told that dyslexia usually co-exists with other neurological differences, such as ADHD. So children who are dealing with dyslexia may also be dealing with other issues as well.

In just a few short years Thing 2 will be a teenager and people like me will be serving her in our public libraries. I wish that we talked more about ways to build a solid foundation for children like her and how to help them be successful readers in our libraries.

Friday Finds: November 9, 2018

This Week at TLT

tltbutton3New and forthcoming YA and MG to know about, including a middle grade debut, a dead female DJ and an epic fantasy

Cindy Crushes Programming: Hosting a Stranger Things themed Escape Room

Book Review: This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

Supporting our Latinx Readers

An Open Letter to the Middleton School District from Authors in the Latinx in Kidlit Community

Sunday Reflections: Looking for Hope and Finding My Superpowers

Around the Web

We Can Do Better: Rethinking Native Stories in Classrooms

‘We’re Bringing Education Back': Takeaways From The Election

How One Woman Is Teaching Homeless & Foster Care Children To Dream



New and forthcoming YA and MG to know about, including a middle grade debut, a dead female DJ and an epic fantasy

tltbutton7Books, books, and more books! My neighbors probably wonder what exactly goes on over here at the house where UPS of FedEx stops nearly every day. All of the books I get end up going back out the door in some fashion—to teen readers I know, to classroom libraries of friends, to my own school, or in giveaways. I can’t read/review every book I get, but it’s fun to be able to sift through boxes and see what grabs my attention, and to see what books will find loving new homes with the right reader. The following are the books that have arrived here in the past few weeks. I will be reviewing many of them in the upcoming months on TLT. See something you’ve already read and need to make sure I don’t skip? Or something you’re super excited to read when it comes out? Let me know with a comment here or on Twitter, where I’m @CiteSomething.

All descriptions from the publishers.




illusions2Illusions by Madeline J. Reynolds (ISBN-13: 9781640635630 Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC Publication date: 11/06/2018)

Dear Thomas,

I know you’re angry. It’s true, I was sent to expose your mentor as a fraud illusionist, and instead I have put your secret in jeopardy. I fear I have even put your life in jeopardy. For that I can only beg your forgiveness. I’ve fallen for you. You know I have. And I never wanted to create a rift between us, but if it means protecting you from those who wish you dead—I’ll do it. I’ll do anything to keep you safe, whatever the sacrifice. Please forgive me for all I’ve done and what I’m about to do next. I promise, it’s one magic trick no one will ever see coming.





whispersThe Whispers by Greg Howard (ISBN-13: 9780525517498 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/15/2019)

A middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.




thats not what i heardThat’s Not What I Heard by Stephanie Kate Strohm (ISBN-13: 9781338281811 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 01/29/2019)

What did you hear?

Kimberly Landis-Lilley and Teddy Lin are over. Yes, the Kim and Teddy broke up.

At least that’s what Phil Spooner thinks he overheard and then told Jess Howard, Kim’s best friend. Something about Teddy not liking Kim’s Instas? Or was it that Teddy is moving to Italy and didn’t want to do long distance? Or that Kim slid into someone else’s DMs?

Jess told her boyfriend, Elvis, that he needs to be on Kim’s side. Especially if he wants to keep her as his girlfriend. But Elvis is also Teddy’s best friend.

Now, Kim’s run out of school for the day. Jess is furious. Elvis is confused. And half the lunch period won’t talk to Teddy. Even the teachers have taken sides.

William Henry Harrison High will never be the same again!



spinSpin by Lamar Giles (ISBN-13: 9781338219210 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 01/29/2019)

When rising star Paris Secord (aka DJ ParSec) is found dead on her turntables, it sends the local music scene reeling. No one is feeling that grief more than her shunned pre-fame best friend, Kya, and ParSec’s chief groupie, Fuse — two sworn enemies who happened to be the ones who discovered her body.

The police have few leads, and when the trail quickly turns cold, the authorities don’t seem to be pushing too hard to investigate further. Only no one counted on Paris’s deeply loyal fans, ParSec Nation, or the outrage that would drive Fuse and Kya to work together. As ParSec Nation takes to social media and the streets in their crusade for justice, Fuse and Kya start digging into Paris’s past, stumbling across a deadly secret. With new info comes new motives. New suspects. And a fandom that will stop at nothing in their obsessive quest for answers, not even murder . . .




stand on the skyStand on the Sky by Erin Bow (ISBN-13: 9781328557469 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 03/05/2019)

An exquisitely written, uplifting middle grade debut by acclaimed author, Erin Bow, about a young girl who defies her family’s expectations in order to save her brother and become an eagle hunter, perfect for fans of PAX.
It goes against all tradition for Aisulu to train an eagle, for among the Kazakh nomads, only men can fly them. But everything changes when Aisulu discovers that her brother, Serik, has been concealing a bad limp that risks not just his future as the family’s leader, but his life too.

When her parents leave to seek a cure for Serik in a distant hospital, Aisulu finds herself living with her intimidating uncle and strange auntie—and secretly caring for an orphaned baby eagle. To save her brother and keep her family from having to leave their nomadic life behind forever, Aisulu must earn her eagle’s trust and fight for her right to soar.  Along the way, she discovers that family are people who choose each other, home is a place you build, and hope is a thing with feathers.

Erin Bow’s lyrical middle grade debut is perfect for fans of original animal-friendship stories like Pax and Because of Winn Dixie.



all the wallsAll the Walls of Belfast by Sarah Carlson (ISBN-13: 9781684422524 Publisher: Turner Publishing Company Publication date: 03/12/2019)

The Carnival at Bray meets West Side Story in Sarah Carlson’s powerful YA debut; set in post-conflict Belfast (Northern Ireland), alternating between two teenagers, both trying to understand their past and preserve their future. Seventeen-year-olds, Fiona and Danny must choose between their dreams and the people they aspire to be.

Fiona and Danny were born in the same hospital. Fiona’s mom fled with her to the United States when she was two, but, fourteen years after the Troubles ended, a forty-foot-tall peace wall still separates her dad’s Catholic neighborhood from Danny’s Protestant neighborhood.

After chance brings Fiona and Danny together, their love of the band Fading Stars, big dreams, and desire to run away from their families unites them. Danny and Fiona must help one another overcome the burden of their parents’ pasts. But one ugly truth might shatter what they have…




BLOODLEAFBloodleaf by Crystal Smith (ISBN-13: 9781328496300 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 03/12/2019)
A roar of a dark and luscious epic fantasy that’s layered with heady romance, bloodthirsty magic, and ghostly intrigue—an absolutely wicked delight.Princess Aurelia is a prisoner to her crown and the heir that nobody wants. Surrounded by spirits and banned from using her blood-magic, Aurelia flees her country after a devastating assassination attempt. To escape her fate, Aurelia disguises herself as a commoner in a new land and discovers a happiness her crown has never allowed. As she forges new bonds and perfects her magic, she begins to fall for a man who is forbidden to rule beside her. But the ghosts that haunt Aurelia refuse to abandon her, and she finds herself succumbing to their call as they expose a nefarious plot that only she can defeat. Will she be forced to choose between the weight of the crown and the freedom of her new life?



Supporting our Latinx Readers

In light of recent news, we felt it would be useful to many to have a list of resources as a starting point for supporting our Latinx patrons – any of the below would be a good place to start.

Latinx in Kid Lit

13 YA Novels By Latino Authors Everyone Needs To Read

15 Latinx Authors You Really Need To Be Reading Right Now


8 YA Books With Latino Protagonists We Wish We Had As Teenagers

5 Latina Young Adult Authors You Need on Your Radar

23 YA and Middle Grade Books To Honor Hispanic Heritage Month


An Open Letter to the Middleton School District from Authors in the Latinx in Kidlit Community

Last week we learned that educators from the Middleton Heights Elementary School had celebrated Halloween by dressing up as the border wall and in racist stereotypes.  Images were shared far and wide on social media. If you aren’t familiar with the incident, you can find some information about it here:


Over the weekend, I was approached by one of my favorite authors, Jenny Torres Sanchez, and asked if TLT could post the following open letter to the Middleton School District in hopes that members of the Latinx authors in the Kidlit community could make an attempt to counter the hate that was on display last week in this school district. We at Teen Librarian Toolbox are happy to post this open letter and hope that you will all read and share it widely. The best way to counter hate and bias is by speaking love, and these authors are offering to do just that. I sincerely hope that the Middleton Heights School District will take these authors up on their generous offer in an effort to undo the damage that these teachers have done to children who are developing their view of self and others and their place in our world.

IMG_0884 (1)

Superintendent of Schools

Middleton School District

5 South Viking Avenue

Middleton, ID 83644


November 5, 2018

Dear Superintendent,

We are a group of award-winning Latinx children’s and young adult authors. We are writing to you to express our love and concern for the children of Middleton Heights Elementary School. While we are disheartened and dismayed by the decision of staff to wear offensive and racist Halloween costumes, we are also writing to extend a generous offer, an offer of compassion that we hope you will see it in your heart to accept.

Children, their welfare, their education, and the shaping of the world, is our business. Many of us are or were educators in addition to being authors for children and young adults. To hear that the children at Middleton Heights Elementary School were subjected to this offensive behavior by the very people they trust and look to for education and guidance was beyond disappointing. And we feel such a drastic offence requires drastic measures to remedy.

While your teachers should know better, their actions show they do not. While we question their intentions at wearing such, in your words, “clearly insensitive and inappropriate” costumes, we are willing to accept your conclusion that they had no “malicious intent.” However, their poor decisions also clearly embraced close-minded and hateful thinking. And worse, modeled it for young impressionable minds.

All of your students deserve better than this. We are sure this was painful and confusing for many of them, and especially for Latinx students. Not only are they subjected to this kind of thinking outside of their school, but now within their school too, a place where they should feel secure and loved. Not excluded.

We take you at your word that you would like to learn from this and change. In that spirit, we would like to help you.

We are extending an offer to visit your school. We would like to talk to your students and staff about the richness of our culture. To show a positive and realistic representation of the very people this costume depicts as one-dimensional beings and implies should be kept out. To show that there is no danger in opening our hearts and minds to ALL people and displaying empathy and love to all mankind.

To this end, we propose a school visit where we will:

  1. Give a presentation to a general assembly where we will give motivational speeches to inspire students to accept, love, and respect each other as we build community in our country.
  2. Read excerpts from our books—books which we created to help children understand and treat others with love and compassion.
  3. Speak to and support your faculty and staff in a meet and greet apart from the general assembly.
  4. Bring and donate books by Latinx authors to enhance your classroom and school libraries.

We implore you to take us up on our offer. We are eager to visit your school and hope you will welcome us.


Most sincerely,

Jenny Torres Sanchez

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Angela Cervantes

Reyna Grande

Erika L. Sanchez

David Bowles

Diana Lopez

Carmen Tafolla

Jennifer Cervantes

Isabel Quintero

Lulu Delacre

Yamile Mendez

Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Xelena Gonzalez

Lilliam Rivera

Lidia Gil

Pablo Cartaya

Celia Perez

Meg Medina

Aida Salazar

Hilda Burgos

Emma Otheguy

Anna Meriano

Debbie Reed Fischer

Julissa Arce

Full Circle Literary Agency

Sunday Reflections: Looking for Hope and Finding My Superpowers


For me, it’s been in short supply since around this time two years ago.


As a survivor of sexual violence, I woke up devastated in the early morning hours after the election to hear that our nation had elected a man who openly advocated sexual violence to the office of president. Even more so, I was devastated to learn that it was fellow Christian brethren who had chosen to do so. I had spent months leading up to the election wondering why my fellow Christians weren’t speaking out about this man’s violence towards and statements about women. Every day of silence I felt my hope seeping out of my pores.

As the growing incidents and speech regarding misogyny, racism, bigotry, anti-semitism and hate for the marginalized and the poor have increased, I have felt a growing lack of hope swell within me. This lack of hope started to sink into despair, darkness, fear and extreme anger towards my fellow Christians who had spent years preaching one thing and were now openly endorsing something that did not and does not in any way align with the teachings of Jesus. But then I found hope in the writings of John Pavlovitz.

Sometimes soon after the election, I found a blog post by Pavlovitz that expressed a Christian regret that felt familiar to mine. Here was a man of faith, a minister, openly questioning the Christian church’s support of the current president. He spoke specifically about why victims of sexual violence had felt betrayal, a betrayal I felt and continue to feel deep in my bones. He called out the Christian church’s silence on growing racism and anti-Semitic speech. He openly challenged the Christian church’s support of Trump as president. He is bold, brash, and speaks directly to my own concerns.

Pavlovitz represents the type of Christianity I feel called to. A Christian faith that asks us to truly love our neighbor, to give to the poor and support the hurting, to welcome the other because the Imago Dei is in every human being. Reading the online blog of this man and several other progressive Christian women – including Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey and others – helped me to reclaim my Christian faith. You see, I had been told for so long that I couldn’t call myself a Christian if I didn’t support x, y or z that I started to believe it, even though x, y or z didn’t align with Scripture. I was hurting and lost and Pavlovitz was one of the writers that helped me find myself again and to reclaim the Christian label that was an important part of my identity.

A few weeks ago, Simon and Schuster tweeted about an upcoming book called Hope and Other Superpowers: A Life-Affirming, Love-Defending, Butt-Kicking, World- Saving Manifesto, and I was anxious to read the newest book by this fellow Christian whose blog had helped put me back on solid ground. And I really needed a little bit of hope as mid-term elections approach. The people at Simon and Schuster were kind enough to send me an advanced copy and it did not disappoint.


When I began reading Hope, my family was sitting in the living room with me. I kept reading sentences out loud to them and feeling so inspired, I just started from the beginning again and I began reading the book out loud to my husband and two children. I didn’t read the entire thing out loud to them, but I have shared with them several passages and have encouraged them to read it.

Here’s another thing you need to know about Pavlovitz: One of my best friends in the world is an atheist. Even he follows Pavlovitz and reads his blog, because Pavlovitz is inspiring, challenging, respectful, welcoming and factual. I was stunned when I discovered that we were both reading and being inspired by this same writer, especially because Pavlovitz does not hide or downplay his beliefs in any way. He is firm in his faith while being holistic and welcoming.

One of the metaphors running through this book is that of the superhero. Like many of us, Pavlovitz was obsessed with superheroes as a child and has thought long and hard about what kind of super powers he would want and why. But in Hope, Pavlovitz reminds us that we can all be superheroes. It doesn’t even have to be in big, splashy ways. Opening your home up to a stranger for dinner. Saying a kind word. Speaking up and out for truth. We all have our own super powers, we just have to find out what they are and then boldly use them for good.

Being a huge Avengers and Wonder Woman fan, I really appreciated the underlying theme of super heroes with super powers as a call to action. It works for me, though it will not work for everyone. I have a friend who hasn’t seen any super hero movies and finds the concept quite simply stupid, so even though she would agree with the main points of this book, she would find the ongoing superhero metaphor tedious and ham fisted. I love her any way.

Hope and Other Superpowers is the book we need for right now. Actually, it’s the book we needed two years ago. And in many ways I fear that right now is too late, but later is better than never. In some ways, it breaks my heart that this book is coming out on the same day as the mid-term elections as I feel it could have inspired a lot of people preceding the elections. And I fear that we will need it more than ever after the mid-term elections depending on the outcome. Although to be honest, we always need hope, and though I personally feel this book is coming out too late, too late is definitely better than never.

Pavlovitz did not disappoint with this book. It challenged, it inspired, and it calls us all to action. Some of the qualities he discusses, in the stories of superheroes of course, are compassion, sacrifice, courage, humor, humility, honesty, kindness, creativity, persistence, wonder and gratitude. He talks about archenemies and kryptonite, the self-doubt and other crippling things we have picked up along the way that stop us from seeking out our inner super-hero. He reminds us all that every hero has an origin story and that along the way there are moments of failure and regret.

operation bb

I loved reading this book. I needed Hope and, as I often do, I found that hope in the pages of a book. This past month, Thing 2 and I have been hard at work on a project that she asked me to help her do called Operation BB: Books in Backpacks. It takes time, it takes money, and it takes space in our home in which I can’t stand clutter. But when she came up with the idea, there was something in me that wanted to help her and wanted to help her succeed. We started the project before I started reading this book, but reading it reminded me that not only as her mother, but as a compassionate human being, helping her do this project was the exact right call. I could have shrugged her off with concerns about time and money, both real concerns. And we have relied on the kindness of friends and strangers to help this project be successful. But every moment that she is engaged and supported, she is being given a building block of hope and a chance to find her super power and ways that she can make a difference. She felt a stirring inside her and though she needed support, as we all do, she has pursued it. The chapter about kryptonite and archenemies really resonated with me because I know that so many of us have had those harsh and discouraging words spoken to us that makes us feel like we have nothing much to give to this world and reading Hope helped me to address them in my own life and reminded me that I was doing a good thing as a parent in helping my child by giving her positive building blocks on her journey to hope and finding her true identity.

I hope that everyone will read this book. You don’t have to be a Christian to do so as Pavlovitz is very clear that this is a message rooted in love and compassion for all and that everyone has some super power to offer into this world. I also highly recommend following him on social media and reading his blog.

I’m going to go to end this post and go to church now, a place I thought I would never be able to return to after the election. It’s a different church and I still struggle with some of the messaging, but I’m finding ways to hope again. And I keep trying to find my superpowers and use them to help bring hope to the hurting world. I hope you’ll join me.

Friday Finds: November 2, 2018

tltbutton3This Week at TLT

Book Review: Pulp by Robin Talley

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Decolonizing Our Public Libraries

Blog Roll Call: Diversity in YA Literature, a list of resources to help librarians diversify their shelves

Guest Post: Author Karen Rivers on Writing a Love Story

Book Review: This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender

What Can Librarians Do to Help Combat the Current Political Climate?

MakerSpace: Finding Inspiration in Places Other than Pinterest

Around the Web


13 Books To Read After Marathon-Watching ‘The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’

21 of November’s Best New Young Adult Books

How Americans Feel About Affirmative Action In Higher Education


Things I Never Learned in Library School: Decolonizing Our Public Libraries

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolI am a big advocate of being engaged in ongoing professional development, which is why I try and stay engaged on social media with my professional peers. Lately, I have seen a lot of librarians talk about “decolonizing your library”, a phrase that is very new to me. So I have been starting to do some research about this concept. This is me just dipping my toe into this topic and trying to find out what it means, how to go about it, and sharing this concept with you because it may be new to you as well. If it’s not, I would love to know you’re thoughts on the topic in the comments.

Let me begin by saying, I have no idea where this expression started or who all is advocating for it, so I feel like a failure as a librarian because I can’t give proper credit where credit is due here. What I can do is share with you some of the resources I have found to help us all who don’t already know about this to start to learn more. This is a new educational journey for me, come along.

Let’s begin with the basics. The average American librarian is a 45-year-old white woman, a category I fall solidly into. I could not be more of a librarian stereotype at this point if I tried. So a lot of American librarianship assumes a white point of view. More specifically, most of librarianship assumes a white, cisgender, hetero-normative, Christo-centric point of view. Everything outside of this is considered “diverse”, or other. This is true of how books are catalogued in our library catalogs. This is true of how books are purchased, displayed, and used in things like storyimes and book clubs. The phrase decolonize your library is asking us to move away from the predominantly inferred point of view that librarianship operates from.

Before we can talk about what it means to decolonize something, we need to have a basic understanding of what it means when we say something is colonized. History was never my best or favorite subject, but even I remember the basics.

stack books

America is a colonized country. European settlers came to this land, which was already inhabited, and they stole it to build their colonies. There’s that word: colonies. Colonization is the process of taking over someone’s land/country and re-writing history. To colonize something is to take it over and erase what already exists and replace it with your own government, religion, etc. In the case of America, Colonial History is a very sanitized version of the who, what, where and how the current iteration of the United States came to be. It’s very much a white-washed version. American history, American policy, American libraries are all very much colonized.

Decolonization literally asks us to withdraw from that model and restore independence. Decolonizing our thinking asks us to change the ways we think. It literally asks us to change the way we view the world and to be more inclusive. If we truly decolonize our thinking, our world view will literally change and inclusion would not be an after thought, but a natural way of being.

A great introduction to the concept of decolonization can be found in Teen Vogue:

To talk about decolonization, people need an understanding of what we are decolonizing from. Colonization is when a dominant group or system takes over and exploits and extracts from the land and its native peoples. Colonization has taken place all over the globe, through the stealing of lands; the raping of women; the taking of slaves; the breaking of bodies through fighting, labor, imprisonment, and genocide; the stealing of children; the enforcement of religion; the destruction—or attempts to destroy—spiritual ways of life. All of these things have left a psychological, spiritual, and physical imprint on indigenous peoples, and a governmental ruling system that we did not create, that was not made for us. These are the things we need to heal from, where we need to start reclaiming. This is where organizing and decolonizing comes in.

Before we can decolonize our libraries, we must be honest about the history of America (and other countries) and our public library systems. Though we now claim our public libraries to be welcoming bastions of free and equal access, the truth is that we weren’t always. Segregation and racism are a very real part of the history of public libraries. And like most of the world, many forms of systemic racism and unconscious bias still influence our libraries. And we must also acknowledge that our profession is still overwhelmingly and predominantly white. Remember that statistic I began this article with? Yeah, that’s all are part of the issue.

The phrase “decolonize your bookshelf” has been on the rise in recent years, and its meaning is fairly simple. Decolonizing your bookshelf means examining the books you keep and the books you love and considering whether/how each book has served to uphold the acts of colonialism. In addition to sifting through the works you’ve already read, decolonizing your bookshelf means actively seeking out and reading works by authors whose work has been disadvantaged by colonialism. There is an incredible wealth of literature out there that has not made it into the Western canon simply because of the circumstances in which the author lived/lives. Source: What Does It Mean to Decolonize Your Bookshelf?

Let’s talk for just a moment about colonization and cataloging. I learned a lot about this while presenting a couple of years ago with Debbie Reese, who blogs at American Indians in Children’s Literature. When I saw Debbie Reese speak, she talked about how when we catalog Christian creation and flood stories, they are placed in the 200s for religion. However, the creation stories of Native Americans are often placed in myths and legends. This is an example of colonization. After taking the land and slaughtering literal millions of its original inhabitants, we place the Christian faith as an authority and relegate Native American religion to the category of myth and legends. For further examples of this issue, just look at the sheer number of Christian titles that take up the 200s of our local collections compared to that of non-Christian religions.  The number of books in our collections and the ways in which we catalog them are an example of colonized thinking. (Adding: I found this really helpful Slideshare presentation on this topic here.)


So from what I am learning, and dear lord people please tell me if I’m getting it wrong or you can provide better clarification, decolonizing our libraries asks us to move away from the traditional white, hetero-normative, cis-gender, Christo-centric point of view and to be truly inclusive in our libraries in all ways. It means that we must stop assuming our way is the natural default. Look at that sentence, that right there is an example of colonized thinking. I said “we must stop” assuming that TLT readers are white like me. I’m still trying to decolonize my thinking. It’s a process, but I’m going to keep doing the work.

So in this time when white nationalism is gaining a stronger public foothold and patriotism is being confused with nationalism, I think it is important that public libraries do the work of exploring what it means to decolonize our libraries and then do just that.

Some Resources to Explore Further

Decolonized Librarian

Decolonizing the Classroom: Lessons in Multicultural Education

Decolonizing the Way Libraries Organize – IFLA Library

The Language of Cataloguing: Deconstructing and Decolonizing

The Decolonize Issue — YES! Magazine

Editor’s Note: Someone contacted me on Twitter to let me know that the Decolonize Your Library talks may have started with the Decolonize Your Syllabus movement, which is also new to me. Again, as this concept is very new to me, I don’t have a lot of good information yet about who started it or when. I did find find a lot of information by Googling Decolonize Your Syllabus, there is even a logo and a t-shirt. I found some additional information by Googling Decolonize Your Curriculum.

Here are a couple of additional articles of interest that I found:

Decolonize Your Syllabus, Part 1

The Art of Domination: On Decolonizing the Curriculum

It’s Time to Decolonize That Syllabus