Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan

Publisher’s Book Description:

It’s been a year since the Catalog Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace.

Like everyone else in town, eighteen-year-old Mac Bell is trying to put that horrible summer behind him—easier said than done since Mac’s best friend Connor was the murderer’s final victim. But when he finds a cryptic message from Connor, he’s drawn back into the search for the killer—who might not have been a random drifter after all. Now nobody—friends, neighbors, or even the sexy stranger with his own connection to the case—is beyond suspicion. Sensing that someone is following his every move, Mac struggles to come to terms with his true feelings towards Connor while scrambling to uncover the truth.

Karen’s Thoughts

As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve been really into reading YA mysteries and thrillers, and this one did not disappoint.

Perfect for this time of year, we first meet our weary group of friends as they are graduating from high school and contemplating what comes next. They have met on this day to open up a time capsule as they promised one another they would do when they were all closer, but one of them is missing. Their friend, you see, was killed by the serial killer known as The Catalog Killer. And nothing has been the same since.

No one knows who The Catalog Killer was and the town has never been the same. Which means, of course, that Mac must work to solve the mystery on his own before he leaves town to start the next part of his life. And Mac’s investigation will leave him with answers he probably doesn’t want as he learns that a lot of the people that he loves and trusts in his idyllic little town have secrets better left uncovered.

This was a great mystery. Each new clue is revealed and the picture expands and I was left in awe of the character development and storytelling. The twists and turns were plenty and completely unexpected. It comes to a very satisfying conclusion. It’s just an entertaining and satisfying novel that will keep you guessing and hanging onto the edge of your seat. There is also LGBTQ representation, quality friendships, and a realistic look at small town life. The police do a few things that you know wouldn’t happen in real life, but it’s fiction so just roll with it.

Highly recommended.

This book was published Tuesday, May 21st

Teen Services 101: Serving Teens, Challenges and Rewards

So here we are in the midst of our Teen Services 101 series. We’ve talked a bit about who teens are and what they want from public libraries. Today, we’re going to talk specifically about the challenges and rewards for serving teens in our libraries.

The Challenges


In my house, this is the last day of school and we are just counting down the days because The Teen needs a break like no one has ever needed a break before. I spent all day Saturday up at the school watching my teenage daughter be involved in 2 out of 8 plays. The next day, she returned to school for a six hour musical rehearsal. She comes home every night after 8:00 PM, having spent more than 12 hours at school, and then does another 3 hours of homework. She, like many teenagers, does not have a lot of free time to spare.

Teens go to school for 8 hours a day and then there is homework, extra curricular activities, part-time jobs, religious commitments and taking care of younger siblings. Teens don’t have a lot of free time. Then tend to have less free time than most of the full-time working adults that I know. So trying to find a time to get teens to come to a program can be a challenge, which is one of the reason why I suggest programming include self-directed programming in addition to more traditional programs that occur on a specific date at a specific time.


Recent surveys reveal that teens are experiencing increasing and dangerous levels of stress and anxiety. Teen suicide rates are rising. I know that when The Teen comes home after a long day at school and settles in for that 3 hours of homework, it’s not unusual for her to cry and lament that she doesn’t know how she’s supposed to get all of this stuff done. Our teens today are stressed and one of the greatest things we can do right now for them is to give them space and time to decompress and relax.


1 in 5. That’s the number of youth that walk into our building facing food insecurity. That means they don’t know when or where there next meal is coming. Have you ever been hangry? Some of the kids and teens that walk into our building are hangry all the time. They’re malnourished, lack focus, and their tank is running low.


I have often noticed that as kids become teens and that individuation occurs – and this is a key development at this stage – transportation becomes a growing issue. They don’t always have a way to get to and from the library. Parents may go back to work full-time now that teens can be left home alone, for example. Though younger teens are still not driving themselves. So getting to and from the library can be a challenge, especially if you live in a location that doesn’t have good public transportation and you do not live within walking distance of your library branch.


It’s easy for us to think well everything we have and do is free and we’re non-profit so there really isn’t any competition, but that is not true. We face competition for the time and attention of our community teens daily. Streaming services mean you don’t necessarily need to go to the library to check out the newest movie or video game or music cd. A lot of teens do have access to the Internet on a fairly consistent basis. Many families now order the books they need and have them delivered right to their door within 48 hours. This doesn’t mean our services are no longer valuable, it just means we have to work harder at connecting with the public and making sure they understand who we are, what we do, and how that can positively impact their lives.

The conversation about competition can, of course, differ widely because there is a lot of privilege and class tied up in this. The digital divide is real and growing. Our job is to help bridge that divide and meet a wide variety of needs for a wide variety of patrons at a wide variety of stages of their life. It’s a big mission that takes an informed and dedicated staff with a solid foundation of resources at their disposal, something a lot of libraries are struggling with.

The Rewards

So we’ve talked about just a few of the biggest challenges to serving our teens, but what are the rewards? And trust me, there are rewards.

Asset Building

We talked in the Foundations: Understanding Teens Today segment about the 40 Developmental Assets. We know that teens need as many of these assets as possible to help them be happy and healthy individuals and libraries are in the business of asset building. Even if you don’t know you are doing it, you are in the business of asset building, both formally and informally.

One of the assets, for example, is engaging in reading for pleasure a minimum of 3 hours a week. In order for that to happen our teens need access to books. Just by opening our doors and building collections we’re providing the tools teens need to check this asset off of their list.

Many of the other assets deal with things like being engaged in learning and crafts, having a safe space, and feeling like your community values you. All of these assets are helped by having a public library that actively chooses to serve teens in meaningful ways and communicates to teens that they are valued by the adults in their community. Providing quality teen services helps teens gain assets and this is important.

Healthy Teens, Healthy Communities

Public libraries are in the business of serving the local community, which by definition includes teens. And the healthier we can help those teens become, the healthier our overall communities are. When one part of the community is sick, the entire community is sick because it has ripple effects. Public library services to teens is one part of the whole when it comes to building healthy teens and healthy communities.

Current Users = Future Users

The idea of providing dedicated, specialized, quality library services to teens really started to gain momentum back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the early 1990s there was a huge push to hire dedicated YA librarians. I was one of those hires. We spent the next 2 almost 3 decades serving teens believing that if we continued the work that our children’s librarians began, we would maintain library users in the teen years and that they would grow to become dedicated library users and supporters as adults. We argued that if we lost teens as users in the teen years, it would be harder to convince them to come back in the adult years. This appears to have been solid reasoning. Recent PEW studies about millenial library users indicate that they use libraries more than previous generations despite having access to things like the Internet and smart phones and Amazon.

It’s true that millennials are facing more economic hardship than previous generations and that plays a part in their increased library use, but I believe part of the reason that they knew they could have their needs met at the library was because we demonstrated that to them consistently as teens. When they needed some place to go for access, they knew they could come to the library because we didn’t lose them as teenagers.

We begin serving patrons at birth with things like storytimes and books and programs and a focus on every child ready to read and it only makes sense for us to continue that service into the teen years. It’s hard to get someone to come back once you lose them, so consistent service at all ages and stages helps us maintain library users and supporters.

Teens Have Parents Too!

When we talk about serving children, we talk a lot about lofty goals like every child ready to read and supporting education, etc. But the truth is, when we’re being honest, we’ll also say things like kids have parents and those parents vote and we want to keep them happy. Spoiler alert: Teens have parents too and those parents vote and we should still want to keep them happy. Parents of teens are often looking for things that don’t cost a fortune to keep their teens engaged and this is an opportunity we should not let go to waste. When we’re serving teens we are also serving their parents.

Raising Readers

Have you ever seen all the benefits of reading? It’s amazing when you think about it. Scholastic put out this chart which helps us get just a glimpse of the benefits of reading.

Do you see there where it says that reading can lower stress by 68%? We’ve just talked up above about how stressed out our teens are and here’s a way we can help. Reading improves mood, memory, language, and overall health. We want to make it as easy as possible for our teens to be reading. You know who helps teens be readers? That’s right – public libraries!

So now that I have hopefully convinced that even with the challenges we should definitely be serving teens, next installment we’re going to be talking more specifically how to do that.

Teen Services 101

I’m just getting started, what do I need to be successful?

Foundations: Understanding Teens Today

What Do Teens Want from Libraries Today?

Friday Finds: May 17, 2019

This Week at TLT

Book Review: I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

Book Review: The Missing Season by Gillian French

Teen Services 101: What Do Teens Want from Public Libraries?

Book Review: Road Tripped by Pete Hautman

Teen Services 101: Foundations – Understanding Teens Today

Around the Web

A Decade of LGBTQ YA Since Ash

‘The (Other) F Word’ Is A Vibrant Anthology That Celebrates The Fat & Fierce

SAT To Score Students’ ‘Disadvantages’ To Try To Even The Playing Field

Book Review: The Missing Season by Gillian French

Publisher’s Book Description:
Whenever another kid goes missing in October, the Pender kids know what is really behind it: a horrific monster out in the marshes they have named the Mumbler.

That’s what Clara’s new crew tells her when she moves to town: Bree and Sage, who take her under their wing; spirited Trace, who has taken the lead on this year’s Halloween prank war; and magnetic Kincaid, whose devil-may-care attitude and air of mystery are impossible for Clara to resist.

Clara doesn’t actually believe in the Mumbler. But as Halloween gets closer and tensions build in the town, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there really is something dark and dangerous in Pender, lurking in the shadows, waiting to bring the stories to life.

Karen’s Thoughts:

As a kid who moved a lot in my life – military brat! – I was immediately drawn to Clara’s plight as she moved to yet another new town. And I do love a good, creepy town with spooky urban legends – at least on the page. From the moment that Clara sees the poem about the Mumbler under the bridge readers will be sucked in. Is the Mumbler real? Are they in danger? Is it supernatural, a drifter . . . or someone they know and trust?

While the urban legend is slowly being revealed and developed, Clara makes friends, goes on a prank spree, and finds her new friendships challenged by her hookup with the resident hot guy.

There is a lot to love here. Unfortunately, the pay off kind of unravels due to a very rushed third act. Right as the truth is being revealed it’s all kind of . . . just over. Teens will still want to read this, but I wish the back half had been better developed and maintained the creepiness and the tension of the beginning. It’s a satisfying and creepy read, but falls just short of being highly recommended.

Coming May 21st from HarperTeen. I downloaded a digital ARC on Edelweiss for this review.

Teen Services 101: What Do Teens Want from Public Libraries?

So we’re still diving deep into our look at Teen Services 101. I’ll put a complete listing of all the posts today at the bottom of this post today. So far we’ve outlined what the components of a comprehensive teen services plan should include and on Monday we looked at understanding some basics of teens through things like statistics, brain development and the 40 Developmental Assets. Today we’re going to ask ourselves a very important question as we think about serving teens: what is it that teens want from a public library?


The Teen and The Bestie

It’s a Monday afternoon and a teen has just walked into your library, but what is it they’re looking for? Most teens just want a space to hang out with friends (remember, teens tend to be socially oriented) and to decompress. They want a space without a lot of rules and oversight, in large part because they’ve just come from an 8-hour school day in which they’ve been very regimented and many of them will be going home to more rules and demands on their time. There is a short period of time in a teen’s day where they can have a moment to relax, catch their breath, and have more control over their time and it is in these moments that teens walk into our public libraries. So in this space our teens are looking for a space to have more independence and autonomy.

The Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County in Ohio

How Public Libraries Offer Teens Space to be Themselves

Creating Spaces Where Teens Can Thrive

What should this space look like? There is a lot of great information out there. Many libraries don’t have large budgets for fancy decorations like neon signs and a wall of video games (which I agree can be nice), so I would argue that location and feel is more important than glitz and glamour. I’ve spent enough time with teens to know that they like to talk openly so location especially is important. You don’t want them too near children or adults because we don’t want to overly police teen conversations and we want to give them space to talk about the things they want – and need – to talk about without worrying about a parent complaining because their child just overheard the F word.

At the end of the day I would argue that a teen space should be inviting, should be removed enough to allow teens the space to authentically be themselves but not so far removed that there is no line of sight or an adult working a desk nearby, and that it should communicate to our teens that we value them and this unique stage of life that they are in.


Libraries are in the business of providing access, and that is definitely something that teens want and need from public libraries. They want and need access to books, information, a variety of resources and technology. Just like any other patron, each teen is unique and what they want and are looking for may vary, so we need to make sure that we have a wide variety of resources available specifically for teens. If you have a teen area, try to have access to the Internet in that space, for example.

This teen is using technology she doesn’t have access to at home to learn how to make stop motion movies.

Think about the various tools and resources that your teens are talking about and see if providing access to those in your teen space fit within your mission, space and budget. Think about things like basic school and craft supplies to help those unprepared teens finish up last minute projects. Board and video games can be very expensive, which means that providing access can help close some gaps. We can’t provide access to everything, we do have a very specific mission and limited space and budgets, but what we do provide access to can go beyond books and computers if we think creatively and with an attitude of service.


I touched on this above, but most teens just want a moment of freedom to be themselves and take control over their time. I have found, for example, that my most successful programs have been those programs where teens have choices in what they do as opposed to having an adult tell them what they are going to do. So instead of saying come to the library on Monday at 6:00 PM where we will do this one specific craft activity, I try and offer say five craft activities so that the teen has more freedom to choose what they are going to do. That freedom to engage in self-directed behaviors has made all of the difference I have found. Teens just want a space where they get to decide what they are going to do and how they are going to spend their time. In as many ways as possible, organize your teen services around the idea of freedom and choice.


Although it may seem that the idea of providing guidance may contradict the need for freedom I just talked about above, I have found that teens value and crave some basic guidance. The caveat is that it must be consistently applied to all patrons at all times. Teens are still trying to figure out how to navigate life situations and a little bit of guidance can really help. There is nothing more stressful than going into a space and having no idea how to navigate that space. Signage, acceptable behavior policies and a friendly face can make all the difference.

Challenge cards can help teens be inspired to create

In addition, I have found that on occasion teens like very specific guidelines on things like how to do a craft or an activity. They like examples and instructions and clearly stated end goals. I used to just put out Legos, for example, and tell teens to build things. I learned that some teens need more guidance then that and will ask, what should I build? So I started using things like challenge cards or a daily Lego challenge that gave teens a specific goal to work towards.

When we talk about guidance we can’t over look the idea that teens do want and need meaningful adults in their lives and within appropriate professional boundaries library staff can be those adults in the lives of our teens. We can be mentors and advocates and help guide teens in the process of learning how to be library users and supporters. Guidance doesn’t always have to be rules and signs, sometimes it’s a listening ear that values and respects you.


At the end of the day the one thing that all people want is to walk through this world and be respected. This is true of our teen patrons. For me, one of the most frustrating parts of working with teens in our public libraries is realizing how many staff members – how many adults – in our world have outright animosity for teens. It’s always fascinating to me because over the course of 26 years my most difficult, my most terrifying, and my most negative patron interactions have always been with adults. But we live in a society that holds tremendous prejudice against teenagers and against normal adolescent development. I believe part of our job is to help confront that bias in our staff and to make sure that all of our patrons are receiving amazing customer service.

The single most important thing that must occur in our libraries is that our patrons, including our teen patrons, must walk out of our buildings having had a positive experience. If we want them to come back we must do everything in our power to make sure that they have a positive experience. Creating a culture of respect for teenagers is one of the most important things we can do in our libraries if we want to retain them as library users.

Teen Services 101

I’m just getting started, what do I need to be successful?

Foundations: Understanding Teens Today

Teen Services 101: Foundations – Understanding Teens Today

I’ve been working on doing some training in various avenues with staff that are new to working with teens in public libraries. I recently outlined what I think is necessary to make a comprehensive and successful teen services plan here, and now I’ve been working on pulling out some of those pieces and fleshing them out. Today I’m going to be talking about understanding who teens are, the foundations. I believe when we understand who teens are, break down our personal biases and truly flesh out what motivates teen behavior, we better serve them. In subsequent posts I will be talking about what teens want from public libraries, the challenges we face in serving teens, and going over some programming fundamentals. We’ll wrap up with a brief overview and timeline of YA literature – I’ve been working on an inforgraphic! But for today, let’s delve into the life of teens and see if we can serve them well by understanding who they are.

The Teen working on some digital media

The Foundations: Understanding Teens

Basic Stats

In general, teens make up around 13.2% of the population. Though that number is expected to decrease in the next few years, the overall number of teens will still grow because the population is growing. A failure to serve teens and serve them well means that we are failing more than 10% of our local communities. And like any population, teens are not a monolith, they are diverse and complicated and always changing. Knowing some basic statistics about teens helps us better understanding who they are and how to serve them. Some things we know:

  • 46% identify as a person of color and that percentage will keep growing
  • 10-20% identify as LGBTQIA+, though recent polls suggest that number may be much higher
  • Around 1 in 5 faces food insecurity, meaning they aren’t sure where there next meal is coming from and they often go to bed hungry
  • Around 1 in 6 teens of all genders will be the victim of sexual violence by the age 18
  • Around 1 in 4 struggle with a mental health issues

These are just a few of the statistics that help us identify who our teens are. More importantly, what they remind us of is the fact that in one way or the other, in ways that we often will never know, our teens are struggling with a wide variety of issues that can influence behavior. It never hurts to have compassion for the teens walking through our doors.

You can find more statistics here: see http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2015/01/serving-full-t-i-l-t-making-the-case-with-demographics/)

Basics of Adolescent Development

In addition to having some basic statistical knowledge, we know that adolescence having their own unique challenges in terms of development. When we talk about adolescent development, here’s what we know:

  1. Teens are social and relationship oriented
  2. Identity formation is an important task during this period
  3. Teens are working on gaining independence and often straddle two worlds and receive conflicting messages about who they are and what is expected of them.
  4. Hormones and body changes take a lot of physical energy and teens often need a lot of sleep
  5. Teens are under intense pressure, literally & peer pressure

For more information on adolescent development, see

Teen Brain Science

We now know through teen brain science studies that the adolescent brain functions differently then an adult brain. In fact, young adults don’t begin to think like adults until the age of 24 or 25. Teens don’t utilize their frontal lobes in the same ways that adults do. Since the frontal lobe is responsible for things like complex decision making, impulse control and understanding potential consequences, we find that teens are often impulsive and act in ways that don’t make sense to most adults, especially those who have forgotten what it is like to be a teenager. It is critical that those working with teens understand how the teen brain differs from an adult brain and adjust their expectations accordingly.

For more on teen brain science see:

The 40 Developmental Assets

Research from the Search Institute focuses on a concept known as The 40 Developmental Assets. These are 40 assets, or attributes, that researchers have identified that benefit teens and help them to grow into healthy, successful people. The more assets a teen can check off of the list, the less likely they are to engage in risky behavior. Risky behavior is defined as things like drug use, drinking, unprotected sex, etc.

You can read more about the 40 Developmental Assets here: http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2015/02/serving-teens-full-t-i-l-t-asset-building-101-how-using-the-40-developmental-assets-can-help-us-plan-and-evaluate-teen-programming/ and https://www.search-institute.org/our-research/development-assets/developmental-assets-framework/.

Understanding Generation Z

Defined: Born between 1995 – 2014

Largest group of teens yet: Roughly 60 million

Life Defining Moments: 9/11, Recession of 2018, Today’s group of teens have never lived in a time when the United States was not involved in multiple wars in other countries


•Digital Natives – Multi-taskers, visual, less focused (average attention span is 8 seconds)

•Entrepreneurs (want to turn interests into $, but they are bargain hunters)

•Prefer quality over quantity and do most of their shopping online •Socially conscious and engaged (March for Our Lives, Little Miss Flint, Climate change protests)

•Like making money but saving it (they are bargain hunters)

•Although they are online, they care about privacy and personal contact

•More diverse and accepting than previous generation

For more information on Generation Z, check out these 5 Infographics on Gen Z.

What else do you think we need to know about teens today? Drop us a comment and add to the discussion. Next Time: What do teens want from public libraries?

Friday Finds: May 10, 2019

This Week at TLT

Post-It Note Reviews: Books for younger readers featuring graphic novels, a handbook for being awesome, middle school woes, and interdimensional demon-slaying

Book Review: The Haunted by Danielle Vega

Cindy Crushes Programming: Cindy’s Favorite Tabletop Games

Dear Society: Sheltering Teenagers Helps No One (Thoughts from a Young Adult), a guest post by Zack Smedley

Amanda MacGregor: Social Justice Presentation at Twin Cities Teen Lit Con

Cordelia Anderson : Harnessing the Power of Story to Promote Libraries

Sunday Reflections: The Living History Museum Project Taught Me It’s Harder to Smash the Patriarchy Than I Thought

Around the Web

What We Know About 2018 Graphic Novel Sales

Five teens who changed the world

Trump May Redefine Poverty, Cutting Americans From Welfare Rolls

13 Recommended #OwnVoices Reads for Ramadan

After Backlash, Rhode Island School District Rolls Back ‘Lunch Shaming’ Policy

‘This Is Not Who We Are,’ Colorado Officials Say After Deadly School Shootingg

Post-It Note Reviews: Books for younger readers featuring graphic novels, a handbook for being awesome, middle school woes, and interdimensional demon-slaying

Now that I work in an elementary library, I’m reading a lot more titles for younger readers. It’s been super interesting to me to see what the students (grades K-5) check out. I’ve spent so long completely in the world of YA and am glad for an opportunity to work with younger readers and to read all of the great picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books I’ve missed out on!

Post-It Note reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary.


New Kid by Jerry Craft

Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Gene Luen Yang, New Kid is a timely, honest graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real, from award-winning author-illustrator Jerry Craft.

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

(POST-IT SAYS: SO enjoyable. We definitely need more graphic novels featuring black kids. Fantastic full-color art enhances this story of racism, privilege, day-to-day middle school issues, and fitting in. Ages 9-14)

The Breakaways by Cathy G. Johnson

Quiet, sensitive Faith starts middle school already worrying about how she will fit in. To her surprise, Amanda, a popular eighth grader, convinces her to join the school soccer team, the Bloodhounds. Having never played soccer in her life, Faith ends up on the C team, a ragtag group that’s way better at drama than at teamwork. Although they are awful at soccer, Faith and her teammates soon form a bond both on and off the soccer field that challenges their notions of loyalty, identity, friendship, and unity.

The Breakaways is a raw, and beautifully honest graphic novel that looks into the lives of a diverse and defiantly independent group of kids learning to make room for themselves in the world.

(POST-IT SAYS: Great look at finding your people. Diverse cast including queer, questioning, and trans characters. Only downside is so much packed in here. Would’ve been great as a series. Easy wide appeal. Ages 9-12)

You Are Awesome by Matthew Syed, Toby Triumph (Illustrator)

(Comes out July 9, 2019)


It’s not as impossible as you might imagine. If you’re the kind of person who thinks …

  • I need a special type of brain to do math
  • You’re either good at sports or you’re not
  • I don’t have a musical bone in my body

Challenge the beliefs that hold you back! Whatever you want to be good at, the right mindset can help you achieve your dreams.

Times journalist, two-time Olympian, and bestselling author Matthew Syed demonstrates how grit, resilience, and a positive mindset can help in every aspect of your life—from school to friendships to sports to hobbies. Using examples of role models from Serena Williams to Mozart, You Are Awesome shows how success is earned rather than given, and that talent can be acquired through practice and a positive attitude.

Practical, insightful, and positive, this is the book to help you build resilience, embrace your mistakes, and grow into a more successful, happier YOU!

POST-IT SAYS: An encouraging lesson for the middle school set on determination, confidence, and failure. The appealing layout and upbeat, conversational tone will engage readers. Great messages about attitude, mindset, and motivation. Ages 10+

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Winner of the 2019 Newbery Medal

Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

(POST-IT SAYS: A moving and funny book about middle school, friendships, family, and bullies. Readers experiencing their own complexity and transitions will especially love the strong and vulnerable Merci. Ages 10-13)

Game of Stars (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond Series #2)
by Sayantani DasGupta

Saving the multiverse is no game in this New York Times bestseller!

When the Demon Queen shows up in her bedroom, smelling of acid and surrounded by evil-looking bees, twelve-year-old Kiranmala is uninterested. After all, it’s been weeks since she last heard from her friends in the Kingdom Beyond, the alternate dimension where she was born as an Indian princess. But after a call to action over an interdimensional television station and a visit with some all-seeing birds, Kiran decides that she has to once again return to her homeland, where society is fraying, a terrible game show reigns supreme, and friends and foes alike are in danger. Everyone is running scared or imprisoned following the enactment of sudden and unfair rules of law.

However, things are a lot less clear than the last time she was in the Kingdom Beyond. Kiran must once again solve riddles and battle her evil Serpent King father — all while figuring out who her true friends are, and what it really means to be a hero.

(POST-IT SAYS: Just as good as book one in this series. Kiranmala is my favorite interdimensional demon-slayer! Hilarious and full of action, this Bengali folktales-inspired romp through the multiverse is supremely enjoyable. Ages 10-14)

Book Review: The Haunted by Danielle Vega

Publisher’s Book Description:
From Danielle Vega, YA’s answer to Stephen King, comes a new paranormal novel about dark family secrets, deep-seated vengeance, and the horrifying truth that evil often lurks in the unlikeliest of places.

Hendricks Becker-O’Malley is new in town, and she’s bringing baggage with her. With a dark and wild past, Hendricks doesn’t think the small town her parents moved her to has much to offer her in terms of excitement. She plans on laying low, but when she’s suddenly welcomed into the popular crowd at school, things don’t go as expected. 

Hendricks learns from her new friends that the fixer-upper her parents are so excited about is notorious in town. Local legend says it’s haunted. Hendricks doesn’t believe it. Until she’s forced to. Blood-curdling screams erupt from the basement, her little brother wakes up covered in scratches, and something, or someone pushes her dad down the stairs. With help from the mysterious boy next door, Hendricks makes it her mission to take down the ghosts . . . if they don’t take her first. 

Karen’s Thoughts:

I’m going through a bit of a terror/horror/thriller binge right now – I have a lot of new books to tell you about – and this one fit right in to my current reading trends. I’m not going to lie, a combination of the cover and the title sucked me right in. I have previously read and liked, but did not love, Survive the Night by Danielle Vega. I liked it enough to try another title by her, which is mostly successful and is genuinely pretty terrifying.

Hendricks’ parents are house flippers and because of a crisis in their old home town that involves a dating abuse/stalking subplot, the family moves to a new town quickly and takes up residence in a house that has a history of being haunted. Soon after, the bumps in the night start and Hendricks begins to question whether or not the house is haunted or her old ex is messing with her head. I liked the straight horror elements of The Haunted. I understand what Vega was trying to do in raising awareness of teen dating abuse, which is a very real problem, but I felt that trying to suggest that some of the early events that happened in the house were because of her abusive ex didn’t always make sense in terms of plot. I know that this was also to build tension and make the reader question if this house haunted or not, but again, because those elements didn’t make sense, I felt that they fell short.

I do feel that Vega dealt with the issues of teen dating violence and stalking sensitively and realistically and that it communicated to teens that these things in a relationship are unhealthy and unacceptable. Hendricks trauma was real, valid and authentic. There was a lot of good discussion in here about this topic. I also appreciate that the parents believed and cared about their daughter and were going through great lengths to keep her safe. There were a lot of good family dynamics here in the Hendricks household, especially when you consider what the family had already been through and what they were now going through.

Hendricks meets and catches feelings for a neighbor boy who is clearly not in with the in crowd. At the same time, she also has possible feelings for another local boy. However, Hendricks feelings are complicated here because of her past history of dating violence and I thought that this was important as well. She questions and doubts herself a lot, which seemed very realistic.

As the tension builds and things get creepier, I couldn’t put this book down. I wanted to know what was happening and why. And there were a few twists at the end that I was not expecting that were both somewhat stunning and satisfying. Underlying all of this is a an older town secret/mystery and this is where the real satisfaction comes.

The Haunted is genuinely creepy and engaging. There are a few misses here and there plot wise, but overall I found this to be a satisfying read and I think teens will as well. The creep factor was astounding and well done, so teens looking for a fright will find this very satisfying.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Cindy’s Favorite Tabletop Games

I love tabletop gaming with the teens at my library. Tabletop games offer the social interaction that a lot of teens are craving and there are a lot of great games out there. Of course, we play the classic games such as Uno, Life, and Clue, but I love teaching them new games. Here are a few of my favorite games that my teens also enjoy.


Gloom is a classic storytelling game. Each player gets a family and they are supposed to make them as sad as they possibly can be before they die. The opponent is trying to make your family as happy as possible. Once a family member dies their point total is final. Whoever has the saddest family by the end of the game wins. This game works because it appeals to the teens’ morbid side and also helps them become creative. As a bonus, this game asks teens to use their verbal storytelling skills.

Here is a video of the game being played on Will Wheaton’s YouTube tabletop channel. I watched this and it helped me prepare to play with the teens.  


Tsuro is a game where you become a flying dragon and your mission is to avoid falling off the edge of the world or flying into another dragon. You have a game token and you must follow the path on the cards. Each player gets three cards at a time until the cards run out. The winner is the surviving dragon.

Here is a video of the game being played on Will Wheaton’s YouTube tabletop channel. I watched this and it helped my preparation to play with the teens. The video also includes Zombie dice, which is a popular game with my teens.


My last game is Meow. This is such a simple game, but it is very popular. Meow is a bluffing game. Each player draws a card and the card can say meow or not meow. The point is to find out who is bluffing. If you successfully call not meow you win but if you make a mistake and call not meow and they player had a meow card you are eliminated.

These are just a few of the games that my teens are playing and loving. What’s popular with your teens when it comes to tabletop games? Let us know in the comments.

For More Tabletop Games, see:

DIY Games: Get Teens Creating Their Own Tabletop Games

Take 5: Five Tabletop Games Teens Will Love to Play