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Graphic Novels for Middle Grade Readers, a contemporary reading list

Graphic Novels are having a moment, and rightfully so. Every tween and teen I know is reading graphic novels. I’ve talked a lot about them recently in terms of the benefits for readers with dyslexia, but the truth is that every middle grade reader I know is reading graphic novels. Particularly, every middle grade reader I know is reading Raina Telgemeier and the Real Friends series by Shannon Hale. So last week I went on Twitter and asked for Reader’s Advisory help. I specifically asked for recommendations of middle grade graphic novels that feature a contemporary setting that focuses on friendship or family for fans of Telgemeier and Hale. This is what was recommended to me.

You can read all the replies in the Twitter thread here:

Raina Telgemeier has a thread on Twitter of recommended reads as well.

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, so let’s get started

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and I want to take a moment to talk to you about Dyslexia. I have been a librarian for 26 years and I have never heard us talk about dyslexia in libraries. We did not talk about dyslexia in any of my MLS classes, even the ones that focused on youth. We have never talked about it in youth services meetings or at conferences or at any of the places where people who talk about getting youth to read talk about, well, getting youth to read. I think that we – and here I’m using the greater we meaning the library community as a whole, your mileage may vary – have done our community a disservice by failing to talk about dyslexia, how it impacts our youth and how we as libraries are under-serving our communities by not paying enough attention to dyslexia and other learning disabilities. So let’s start working right now to change that.

About 1 in 5 children has dyslexia and mine is one of them. I talk about her here at TLT as Thing 2. There is a lot I wish I had known about trying to raise a reader who has dyslexia and the learning curve has been hard, for her and I both. I had no idea what it meant to be dyslexic, to raise a child with dyslexia, and what the long term impact on our lives would be. I did not know how hard I would have to fight for her. I did not know that everything I thought I knew about raising a reader would turn out to be entirely wrong. We are two years into our journey and this October I’m here to tell you that chances are if you work in a school or public library then you need to better understand dyslexia in order to properly serve the almost 20% of your patrons of all ages that have it, including kids just like mine.

It is only in the past year that my daughter has finally read a complete book and she will be 11 in November. She likes graphic novels (all things Raina Telgemeier), the Here’s Hank books by Henry Winkley and Lin Oliver (which are written specifically with dyslexic kids in mind), the Magic School bus chapter books, and the Black Lagoon series by Thaler. What these books have in common is that they have short sentences, short paragraphs, graphics to help her decipher the text and a lot of white space on the page. There are some specific things to look for in books that can help people with dyslexia read and that includes using a more legible font (sans serif fonts are recommended), providing more spacing between words and line height, having more white space on the page, and having shorter blocks of text. Visually what you want is to create a page that makes it harder for words and letters to run together. This article on 6 Surprising Bad Practices That Hurt Dyslexic Users is a really good resource.

Most people think of reversing letters when they think of dyslexia and this is definitely part of it. My child will do things like reverse her bs and ds, which is pretty common. However, dyslexia is about more than just reversing letters because it has more to do with how the brain receives and processes information. For example, when my child reads she has a tendency to skip sentences, which can be common for children with dyslexia. She usually has to use her finger or a ruler to help her read the entire text because everything just blends together. Dyslexia is about processing information and it effects more than just reading. There’s a really good article about that here: https://time.com/4608060/dyslexia-reading-disorder/.

In library land we often talk about “reluctant readers”. Sometimes these kids are reluctant to read because they have dyslexia, and it is important for us to understand that. When children with dyslexia are diagnosed and given proper intervention, they are often taught a unique system of decoding information that involves using a multi-sensory approach. Unfortunately, most schools don’t even begin to diagnose dyslexia until the second or third grade and by the time these children have failed so many times and fallen so far behind that their self-esteem, their interest in school, and their foundations are already damaged. It is vitally important that parents and schools are aware of dyslexia and what it looks like so that intervention can happen early.

We’ve all heard the importance of reading levels and third grade. This information has told us time and time again that children who can’t read on or at level by third grade are less likely to graduate and are more likely to end up in prison. And yet, we don’t even test until 3rd grade in a lot of states. This needs to change if we want to help get kids reading by 3rd grade.

Because the brains of children with dyslexia work differently, the task of reading can make them physically tired. It’s literally draining their energy and it’s important for people who work with kids to understand this. They will often read in short bursts in part because they have problems concentrating, but also in part because the process is just exhausting. Read that again: for many of our youth with dyslexia, reading is quite literally physically exhausting and unenjoyable. But we can help them.

Dyslexia can have such a negative impact on a child’s self-esteem. I have heard my child call herself stupid so many times. What’s worse is I have had to hold her as she cried because the kids at school have called her stupid. Watching your child struggle with dyslexia means watching your child struggle to love herself in a world that is designed to cater to only one type of brain and trying to find ways to help her love herself. It is a great source of stress and heartache for families. Nothing has made my heart ache more then watching my child struggle to be a reader.

When we talk about reluctant readers or kids not liking to read, I’ve learned that it is important to remember that reading isn’t the same for everyone and some of our children have real struggles regarding reading. But with some care and knowledge, we can help them. I am here to tell you that on the whole, school and public libraries have not done enough to educate staff about issues surrounding dyslexia and other learning disabilities. And we have not done enough to be actively engaged in making sure that we provide accessible signage and services to our patrons with dyslexia. I did a quick search and I did not find a lot of libraries who were actively providing and marketing services to patrons with dyslexia. Upper Arlington in Ohio engaged in services to children with dyslexia. IFLA has some great discussion about services to patrons with dyslexia as well.

Today, I am here to ask us all to learn more about dyslexia and to implement specific services to our patrons with dyslexia. During the month of October, I will be posting every week about the topic of dyslexia. I will be sharing book lists. I will be sharing an infographic I have created about how libraries can better serve youth with dyslexia. And I will be talking about specific formats that help youth with dyslexia and discussing why they can help our youth become better readers. Please join me and let’s make our libraries more accessible for our youth with dyslexia. Let’s do our part to help ALL the children in our communities learn to love reading, even the ones with dyslexia. And make no mistake, with the proper support and tools, all people with dyslexia can and do learn to read and many of them even grow to love it.

Additional Information

Here are some infographics that help explain Dyslexia. You’ll note in this link that some of the infographics are about ADHD and that’s because it’s very common for dyslexic kids to also have ADHD. Mine does.

Here are a couple of lists curated by dyslexic organizations of books that help parents understand their child’s dyslexia.

21 Helpful Books About Dyslexia for Parents and Educators

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

Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a Child with Dyslexia http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2018/11/sunday-reflections-being-a-librarian-did-not-prepare-me-for-parenting-a-child-with-dyslexia/

How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Dyslexic Child Hate Reading and Why I Pushed Back http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2019/04/sunday-reflections-how-misuse-of-the-40-book-challenge-made-my-kid-hate-reading-and-why-how-i-pushed-back/

Middle Grade Graphic Novels That a Middle Grade Reader Really Loves http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2019/07/collecting-comics-middle-grade-novels-that-a-middle-grade-reader-really-loves/

So You Want to Raise a Reader? I Have Some Tips for You http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2019/09/sunday-reflections-so-you-want-to-raise-a-reader-i-have-some-tips-for-you/

Friday Finds: September 27, 2019

This Week at TLT

What to Read if You Like The Prom, The Musical, a guest post by Teen Librarian Maisie

What to Read if You Like the Musical Dear Evan Hansen, by Nicholas Mitchel

The Building Blocks to Change, a guest post by Nancy Richardson Fischer

What to Read if You Like Mean Girls the Musical, by Cindy Shutts

Revolteens: This is what happens when chicken has a moment and teens are given a voice, by Christine Lively

Books for fans of Hamilton: an American Musical, a guest post by Maisie

Maybe He Just Likes You: #MeToo Comes to Middle Grade, a guest post by Barbara Dee

Take 5: All the World’s a Stage and Music is Its Language, books that feature teens involved in musical theater

Why Teens Need the Arts for Self-Expression; OR, Creating a Successful a Social/Emotional Workshop for Teens a guest post by author Rayne Lacko

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

Around the Web

Chicago Teachers Are Ready To Strike

Down With Dewey

‘NYT’ Shifts Its Lists Again

Hundreds of thousands of people read novels on Instagram. They may be the future

Moving On Up: ‘The 57 Bus’ Takes Local Route to the Top

What to Read if You Like The Prom, The Musical, a guest post by Teen Librarian Maisie

In case you haven’t heard, we’re talking about Broadway musicals this week at TLT and today we have a list of YA books you might like to read if you like The Prom, the musical.

The Prom is the latest Broadway show to get the YA novel treatment! The musical follows Emma, a lesbian teen growing up in a conservative town in Indiana. All Emma wants is to take a girl to the prom, but when the PTA catches wind of this, they cancel it. Help comes for Emma’s cause comes from the most unexpected of places—a group of slightly washed up Broadway actors who want to tie their brand to a cause to prove their relevance. Comedy, first heartbreak, and some big voiced classic Broadway style show tunes ensue!

This musical certainly didn’t get as big as others, but it has a solid cult following, especially of LGBTQ+ teens. Read-a-likes for this title focus on the prom as a setting, promposals and their inherent drama, and LGBTQ+ romances! Check the list out below:

The Prom: A Novel Based on the Hit Broadway Musical by Saundra Mitchell

Seventeen-year-old Emma Nolan wants only one thing before she graduates: to dance with her girlfriend at the senior prom. But in her small town of Edgewater, Indiana, that’s like asking for the moon. Alyssa Greene is her high school’s “it” girl: popular, head of the student council, and daughter of the PTA president. She also has a secret. She’s been dating Emma for the last year and a half. When word gets out that Emma plans to bring a girl as her date, it stirs a community-wide uproar that spirals out of control. Now, the PTA, led by Alyssa’s mother, is threatening to cancel the prom altogether.

Enter Barry Glickman and Dee Dee Allen, two Broadway has-beens who see Emma’s story as the perfect opportunity to restore their place in the limelight. But when they arrive in Indiana to fight on Emma’s behalf, their good intentions go quickly south. Between Emma facing the fray head-on, Alyssa wavering about coming out, and Barry and Dee Dee basking in all the attention, it’s the perfect prom storm. Only when this unlikely group comes together do they realize that love is always worth fighting for. 

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

High school junior Leila’s Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates at Armstead Academy, and if word got out that she liked girls life would be twice as hard, but when a new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual, so she struggles to sort out her growing feelings by confiding in her old friends.

How  (not) to Ask a Boy to Prom by S.J. Goslee

Nolan Grant is sixteen, gay, and very, very single. He’s never had a boyfriend, or even been kissed. It’s not like Penn Valley is exactly brimming with prospects. Unfortunately for him, his adoptive big sister has other ideas. Ideas that involve too-tight pants, a baggie full of purple glitter, and worst of all: a Junior-Senior prom ticket.

 Tessa Masterson Will Go To Prom by Emily Franklin 

Feeling humiliated and confused when his best friend Tessa rejects his love and reveals a long-held secret , high school senior Luke must decide if he should stand by Tessa when she invites a female date to the prom, sparking a firestorm of controversy in their small Indiana town.

Leah On the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

The sequel to Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda, this book follows his best friend Leah.  With prom and graduation around the corner, bisexual and plus-sized senior Leah Burke struggles when her group of friends start fighting.

Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

Elouise (Lou) Parker is determined to have the absolute best, most impossibly epic summer of her life. There are just a few things standing in her way: She’s landed a job at Magic Castle Playland . . . as a giant dancing hot dog. Her crush already has a girlfriend, who is literally the Princess of the park. But Lou’s never liked anyone, guy or otherwise, this much before, and now she wants a chance at her own happily ever after. Her best friend, Seeley, the carousel operator, who’s always been up for anything, suddenly isn’t when it comes to Lou’s quest to set her up with the perfect girl or Lou’s scheme to get close to Nick. And it turns out that this will be their last summer at Magic Castle Playland-ever-unless she can find a way to stop it from closing. 

Kings, Queens, and In-betweens by Tanya Boteju

After a bewildering encounter at a local festival, Nima finds herself suddenly immersed in the drag scene on the other side of town. Macho drag kings, magical queens, new love interests, and surprising allies propel Nima both painfully and hilariously closer to a self she never knew she could be— one that can confidently express and accept love.

Social Intercourse by Greg Howard

Told from both viewpoints, Beckett Gaines, an out-and-proud choir member, and star quarterback Jaxon Parker team up to derail the budding romance between their parents.

A Really Nice Prom Mess by Brian Sloan

Gay high school senior Cameron Hayes endures a disastrous prom night when forced to take a girl as his date, and after fleeing the dance in disguise, he finds himself involved in a surprising on-stage performance, a high-speed police chase, and unexpected revelations.

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Paul’s simple high-school life is confused by his desire for another boy who seems unattainable, until Paul’s friends help him find the courage to pursue the object of his affections.

It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It) by Julie Anne Peters

Told in separate voices, Azure, who is a lesbian, and Luke, who is bisexual, help plan an inclusive senior prom while Luke is writing and producing a musical about his life, both are working through the crush they have on their friend Radhika, and all three are dealing with problems at home.

Promposal by Rhonda Helms

Camilla hopes her secret crush, Benjamin, might ask her to prom but feels pressured into accepting the invitation of a casual acquaintance, and Joshua has worked up the courage to ask his best friend, Ethan, to be his date when Ethan asks his help in crafting the perfect “promposal” for another boy.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Maisie is a teen librarian for the White Oak Library District who loves musicals, bogs, and Diana Wynne Jones novels. They live with two fat cats and way too many plants. 

What to Read if You Like the Musical Dear Evan Hansen, by Nicholas Mitchel

Broadway week continues with a list of YA reads that fans of the musical Dear Evan Hansen may like.

“You will be found” is the foundation that the musical Dear Evan Hansen is built on, holding out a hand to anyone that feels like the world is collapsing in around them. It is a show that explores heartbreaking circumstances but also tells an uplifting story of healing and connection. I was instantly drawn to this show from my own experiences and feel that many people may have also had feelings similar to Evan’s but never felt like they could voice them. This is a musical that connects to that and to let you know that you aren’t alone. 

This great read-alike list was created by and graciously shared with us all by Nicholas Mitchel, a teen librarian at White Oak Library-Crest Hill Branch.

What to Read if You Like Mean Girls the Musical, by Cindy Shutts

Our look at all things Broadway inspired continues today with a list of books you may like to read if you like Mean Girls, the musical. This list was prepared by regular TLT contributor Cindy Shutts.

This is a cautionary tale
about corruption and betrayal!” Janis and Damian.

The musical Mean Girls is based on the movie of the same name. Cady Heron moves to a suburb of Chicago from Kenya where her parents are scientists. Her world changes as she is thrust in to the world of popular teens and realizes this world can be dangerous. She at first befriends outsiders, Damien and Janis, but then the means girls pick her to join them. Cady at first is excited to have friends and be popular, but she very quickly realizes that the queen bee Regina George can make her or break her and Cady will take her down first.

The musical is a great take on the classic teen film. The soundtrack is available for purchase wherever you buy you music or streaming. It will start touring around the United States this fall. I am hoping to see it when it comes to Chicago that is near where I live.  If you like the movie and you have the chance to see it I would recommend it. The soundtrack is great!

So You Love Mean Girls, Here Are Some Fetch Books!

Mean Girls by Micol Ostow

Cady lived in Africa with her parents who are scientists, but now is moving to America to attend high school and has no idea what to expect. She is sucked into the world of the popular girls and very quickly realizes the head mean girl Regina George has the power to crush her.  Cady decides to bring her down first.

Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials by Rosalind Wiseman

Charlie is sick of dealing with the popular kids, but when her former best friend moves back to town and he becomes popular she  realizes she is being pulling into the drama and does not know what to do.

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

Four popular girls are pulled into a mystery after their former friend Alison has been missing for three years. They are receiving notes from someone who clearly knows a lot about them and their dark secrets and they wonder could Alison be alive after all this time?

The List by Siobhan Vivian

Every year at school the hottest girls and ugliest girl at school are ranked by a list that appears anonymously. The girls on this list are left to deal with the consequences.

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian

Mary, Kat and Lillia all have someone they want to take down, but they will have to work together to achieve their goals.

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Five students walk into detention and only four walk out. The fifth student was Simon, who had a peanut allergy and was murdered. They will have to find out who the killer is because they all had secrets to hide.

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

The year is 2118 and there is a large thousand floor building in New York. Avery lives on the 1000th floor and everyone thinks she is perfect but she has secrets of her own.

The Takedown by Corrie Wang

Kyla Cheng is on her way to being valedictorian and now she is at the top of her school class, but then someone appears to be trying to ruin her life.  She is going to work on finding out who she has hurt and betrayed in her years of being a mean girl.

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Gigi, Bette, and June are top students at their fancy ballet school in New York. These three dancers have worked hard to be at the top of their class and did what they needed to reach their goals.

Revolteens: This is what happens when chicken has a moment and teens are given a voice, by Christine Lively

For today’s Revolteens moment, librarian Christine Lively tells us what happened when a teen seized on the popularity of Popeye’s chicken and about a group of Indigenous teens running a blog to amplify the works of Indigenous writers.

Working in a high school, every school year has a familiar pattern of activity and excitement. The new school year starts with every possibility still available to every student and staff member. Anything can happen. There is a whole new class of students, and the returning students always seem markedly different after their summer break. We all can see endless opportunities and achievements during the first month. High school is the most student powered level of school. At my school, student government officers and representatives are being elected and starting their work. School clubs are holding their first meetings and planning their school year activities.

Soon though, many teens find that the confines of the school administration, the school day schedule, and their status as minors hold them back from really making changes they want to see. That’s when they often decide to revolt outside of their school world and make changes in their communities and the world.

One teen who seized the opportunity to revolt and make change is David Ledbetter of Charlotte, North Carolina. Mr. Ledbetter is 17 years old and is concerned about what is happening in his community. When social media started a craze with reporting on Popeyes chicken sandwiches, many people rushed out to find long lines and grumpy people waiting for their orders. Mr. Ledbetter saw an opportunity to change his community. Though he is not old enough to vote yet, he believes that voting is the best way to cause change. He grabbed a clipboard, and canvassed lines at his local Popeyes to register people to vote. According to WCNC TV, Ledbetter registered 16 voters alone on the Saturday that he canvassed the line.

‘”I decided to register people to vote after I saw there was a lack of young people politically involved,” Ledbetter said.

“I believe that it is our duty to vote as American citizens and it would be wrong not to exercise our political voice,” Ledbetter said.’

His initiative and drive will bring more voters to the polls in his community and shows how teens make a huge difference in political participation. He decided to seize an opportunity to reach out  to his community and invite them to get out and vote in upcoming elections. Voting is an excellent form of revolting. He even earned a twitter shout out from President Barack Obama!



Another place that many teens take action outside of school is online. I learned of an incredible blog run by teens that does just that. Dr. Debbie Reese told me about the incredible work of Indigo’s Bookshelf which is written and run by a group of Florida Indigenous teens. I think their own description of their blog is better than anything I could try to explain.

“We are a group of Florida Natives–Miccosukee, Seminole, Black, Latinix, queer and disabled–from the ages 12-20, who are passionate about kidlit and yalit.

We believe in the power of books to reflect, entertain and enrich our lives from the time we are young ones. We enjoy books in digital and bound copies, with texts and/or graphics.

We have experienced the bitter disappointment and danger of widespread Native misrepresentation, theft, cruelty and lies in books for all young readers.

This blog is dedicated to reviewing Native #ownvoices. To us, that means books written from an inside perspective by Native authors, with proper research, respect and authorization, first and foremost for young Native readers, but also to educate other young readers and their families.

We join our elders in calling to replace harmful, stereotypical texts in libraries, schools and homes.

This blog is named after our friend Indigo, a Q2S sixteen-year-old who took her own life in 2018.

Her beauty, courage and truthfulness still guides our actions and beliefs.”

Their blog posts are enthusiastic and critical reviews and reflections on Native #ownvoices books and they’re fantastic. The teens are thoughtful, smart, and youthful in their reviews and write in their distinct voices, which I love to read in contrast to the sometimes sterile reviews written by adults. Any teacher or librarian would be wise to read these teens’ views, feelings, and analysis about the #ownvoices books they review. Their perspective is so desperately needed.

By sharing their reviews of these books, the teens who write for Indigo’s Bookshelf are changing the world outside their communities and schools by educating others far and wide about the books they love and the stories that are important to the people in their Indigenous Nations. I’m a huge fan of their work and I’ve added many of the titles that they’ve reviewed to my school library.

As the school year starts, so many teens are looking for places to belong and opportunities to change their world. We should share the stories of teens like David Ledbetter and the great reviewers and writers at Indigo’s Bookshelf with the teens in our lives to show them the change that they can make when they take on the world outside the confines of school and translate their passion into action.

Take 5: All the World’s a Stage and Music is Its Language, books that feature teens involved in musical theater

No one was more surprised than me when The Teen announced in the 7th grade that she was going to take musical theater. From that moment on, our life has been very different and I am amazed every day at what this girl has the courage to try and how very talented she is. So this week, in coordination with some other musical theater loving librarians, we’re going to be talking about musical theater. Today, I am here to share with you a Take 5 list of my favorite books that feature tweens and teens involved in theater or musical theater.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Publisher’s Book Description: PLACES, EVERYONE!

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Publisher’s Book Description: Will Grayson meets Will Grayson. One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers are about to cross paths. From that moment on, their world will collide and lives intertwine.

It’s not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chicago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets. When fate delivers them both to the same surprising crossroads, the Will Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurtling in new and unexpected directions. With a push from friends new and old – including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theater auteur extraordinaire – Will and Will begin building toward respective romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most awesome high school musical.

The Fourth Wish by Lindsay Ribar

Publisher’s Book Description: Here’s what Margo McKenna knows about genies:

She’s seen Aladdin more times than she can count; she’s made three wishes on a magic ring ; she’s even fallen head over heels in love with Oliver, the cute genie whose life she saved by fighting off his archenemy. But none of this prepared her for the shock of becoming a genie herself.

At a time when she’s trying to figure out who she wants to be, Margo is forced to become whomever her master wants. Everything she’s taken for granted—graduating from high school, going to college, performing in the school musical, even being a girl—is called into question. But she’s also coming into a power she never imagined she’d have.

How will Margo reconcile who she is with what she’s becoming? And where will she and Oliver stand when she’s done?

Barnes and Noble Books Tagged Musical Theater

You in Five Acts by Una LaMarche

Publisher’s Book Description: It’s always been you—you know that, right?

Five friends at a prestigious New York City performing arts school connect over one dream: stardom. For Joy, Diego, Liv, Ethan and Dave, that dream falters under the pressure of second semester, senior year. Ambitions shift and change, new emotions rush to the surface, and a sense of urgency pulses among them: Their time together is running out.

Diego hopes to get out of the friend zone. Liv wants to escape, losing herself in fantasies of the new guy. Ethan conspires to turn his muse into his girlfriend. Dave pines for the drama queen. And if Joy doesn’t open her eyes, she could lose the love that’s been in front of her all along.

No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman

For our last book on this list, I’m going to go way back to one of the most absurd musicals I’ve ever seen on the page. It includes a teenage rebellion against books in which the dogs always die, roller skates, disco, and a musical.

Publisher’s Book Description: Nobody understands Wallace Wallace. This reluctant school football hero has been suspended from the team for writing an unfavorable book report of Old Shep, My Pal. But Wallace won’t tell a lie — he hated every minute of the book! Why does the dog in every classic novel have to croak at the end?After refusing to do a rewrite, his English teacher, who happens to be directing the school play Old Shep, My Pal, forces him go to the rehearsals as punishment. Although Wallace doesn’t change his mind, he does end up changing the play into a rock-and-roll rendition, complete with Rollerblades and a moped! 

Why Teens Need the Arts for Self-Expression a guest post by author Rayne Lacko

In the Young Adult section of your library a teen is searching for stories about high-schoolers who’ve unlocked answers to deeply personal concerns — about life, family relationships, friends, school, body image, dating, the future, gender issues…the list feels endless. One area of concern may be causing more stress than others, or maybe ten different stressors are battling it out. The library is a safe and familiar place to find answers from trusted sources, even if the advice comes from a fictional character.

Increasingly, public schools are turning to counseling and outreach to alleviate the epidemic of anxiety and depression affecting adolescents nationwide. Community support raises awareness and helps educate teens about the importance of self-care.

However, there’s a fun and effective solution to managing fluctuating teen emotions and mental health that is proven in countless studies, and is relatively easy for budget-minded libraries to implement: the arts.

Creating space for teens to express themselves using their inherent creativity is a proven method of relieving stress and significantly decreasing anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts — while helping to improve students’ interest in school and overall happiness. It’s well-documented that music students tend do better in math, and that drama club kids have the best attendance records. But let’s look at the whole person, that teen in your Young Adult section and the adult she may one day become.

How Does Engaging in the Arts as a Young Person Improve Your Library’s Future Community?

In a recent study published by Arts.gov, Arts Education and Positive Youth Development:

Cognitive, Behavioral, and Social Outcomes of Adolescents who Study the Arts, visual arts students reported significantly higher levels of school attachment than did non-visual arts students, and for every year of arts study, there was a 20% reduction in the likelihood that an adolescent would ever be suspended out-of-school. It’s fair to interpret this stat as library-goers becoming more engaged, respectful of property, and just plain caring. Even better, adults who had taken arts coursework were 26% less likely than those without high school arts coursework to have ever been arrested. Each additional year of arts coursework was associated with a 9% reduction in the risk of being arrested. But do the arts only benefit the “artsy” people?

 Keith Sawyer, Ph.D., professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Education, says,

 “It’s a myth that creativity is just something you’re born with or that lands as one brilliant aha! The reality: Creativity is a way of thinking and acting that we can all get better at.”

That teen in your Young Adult section is struggling to express her feelings, and creativity is her innate language. There has never been a better time to establish a social-emotional program for young people, but you may be wondering how. You, dear librarian, are an artist, and with the right tools you can facilitate a break-through program that will create a positive and lasting shift in your community.

What I’ve Learned About Facilitating Creativity With Teens

I work with many creative teens, and continually observe how making art alleviates pain. Writing, drawing, and listening to music help you realize what is going on inside, especially when you pause to examine your own creations. It also bonds you with others, because when you dare to share your art, you give others an opportunity to care about you, satisfying Jungian needs to feel loved and have a sense of belonging.

Now that I’ve name-dropped Jung, please let me clarify: facilitating a social/emotional workshop does not require special training. I chose to earn certifications to teach youth in juvenile detention to write poetry, and to provide Teen Mental Health First Aid. But what’s become clear to me is that first aid is only necessary when a young person refuses to speak of what is going on in his/her/their heart and mind.

What’s dangerous is when pain is unexpressed. Shining a light on one’s own feelings, finding the exact words or images to articulate pain, trauma, disappointment, or fear relieves it of its power. Editing it, rewriting it, giving it over to a made-up character who is stronger, smarter, faster, and maybe has wings and a secret hiding place doesn’t hurt either.

Each person has an individual approach to self-expression, so it’s important to offer a mix of creative opportunities in one program. In the self-guided workbook, Dream Up Now, which I co-wrote with Lesley Holmes, we offer creative activities including writing, acting, poetry, drawing, dancing, making music, meditation and movement — even decorating. We refer to all creative expression as “art.”

How Does Art Heal Pain?

Art is born of the very human need to express who you are. Art gives you the words you may find impossible to say. Art gives you a language all humans can understand. Art allows you to play, and play is how we all first negotiated with the big, unknown world before we could put a name to our feelings.

Art gives you an opportunity to take an ugly, painful memory and pluck it out of your head and stick it on the page (or in a song, or a drawing, or even blow it away with your breath.) Once that ugly scene is out, and all the emotions tied to it come out as well, it loses its power to hurt you.

Art gives you freedom to use your hands; hands are always looking for something meaningful to do. Creating something that represents a portion of your inner world is probably the most rewarding thing you can do with them.

Structuring a Writer/Artist Workshop

• Announce the time, place and age range of your safe, inclusive workshop welcoming writers, graphic novelists, scriptwriters, songwriters, doodle-sketchers and other creatives at all levels and in every genre.

• Introduce yourself and give context about how you are an artist: You may be a margin doodler, playlist curator, or baker of pies; or you may be a poet, painter, or sculptor. Simply highlight an activity that makes you feel playful and creative! Give each participant a moment to say his/her/their name, and area(s) of creativity.    

• Introduce the Summation Word (a single word to represent the participant’s current state. It may be a color, a symbol or just an adjective). Participants can offer theirs, or quietly become aware of how they feel in that moment and boil it down to a single word.

• (Optional) Micro Goal-Setting – What do the participants want to aim for in the next 24 hours? 

• Introduce a creative activity(is) that allows emotional expression. If you choose to confront difficult topics, be sure to have a complementary activity to transition into feelings of strength, wisdom, freedom, and growth.

• Creativity time – Allow the participants to safely explore their emotions. Focus on finding the heart of the problem. Then, look for the hope that comes from greater understanding, any perspectives of others involved, and/or a path to greater self-esteem as a result of the participant’s resilience. If the participant isn’t satisfied with what they’ve drawn or written, the best solution is to make more art. 

• Circle Time – All participants leave their tables and chairs and gather in a circle on the floor to share whatever they created that day. It isn’t mandatory to share. Uphold the rule of kindness: participants are welcome to say what they like, what stands out for them, or ask a question.

• Revisit the summation word. Has it changed? Have the participants take a moment for personal reflection. Invite everyone to share their word with you and/or the group. This debriefing helps the participants build self-awareness and finish with positivity and motivation. 

As your workshop becomes established, ask your participants to watch for repeats. Are there any topics, or people, or events they keep mentioning? What words do they tend to use the most? Which emotions trigger the most discomfort, and which emotions are they working the hardest to feel more often?

Be sure to bring all your activities every time. Because emotions show up, disappear, and then return again, each activity can be revisited. As circumstances change and insights are discovered, feelings change. It’s worthwhile to review completed activities from previous workshops and ask: Is it still true? If the participant created another piece of writing or art, would the results be different now?

Results Matter: Ingredients of Successful Social-Emotional Workshops for Peers

You’re probably familiar with Robert Frost’s famous quote, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Include a box of tissues in your workshop budget, and be prepared to let your participants experience their authentic feelings.

It is essential that every workshop includes closure. What this means is that every activity aimed at opening a safe place for emotions to emerge must also include a constructive, uplifting activity to release them. A successful workshop ends with participants feeling lighter, wiser, and freer than when they walked in.

When confronted with someone who is struggling with difficult emotions, most of us rush to remove the discomfort, or try to “make it all better.” For the workshop, put aside that heartfelt urge and allow feelings to come however they may. Talk about the creative process and how art springs from humanity — and humans feel. It’s why art moves us. Trust the goodness that comes from honest examination of one’s own life. That said, it’s important to set boundaries to limit the time spent exploring darker emotions before switching gears to finding insight and release.

I recently led a two-hour workshop on the topic of loss and grief. There were three parts: the first to recall an experience of deep change, loss, or grief and write or paint a scene outlining the details. Next, the group completed a list poem, mentioning 10-20 lines beginning: I forgive you for_______. By insisting on at least 10 things to forgive, the participants needed to dig deep and uncover all the details about the situation that needed letting go, and attach forgiveness to each one.

This process revealed an unexpected surprise for me when we moved to the third phase.

For part three, the participants were asked to write or paint another scene depicting how the experience had helped them grow, become stronger, wiser, or gentler. Many of the participants chose to write a letter or poem to another person involved in the event, promising to stand by them through their own struggle. Without any prompting from me or their peers, these teens realized how others involved in their grief were also hurting, and it gave them such profound compassion and generosity that, rather than write about how they’d grown, they chose to reach out to the other and support them in their pain. I was deeply moved by the maturity and insight and growth of the participants, and I sensed they had let go of the burdens of that hurt.

Click here for a three-part exploration of loss and grief. (See link: https://raynelacko.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/grief_loss_lettinggo.pdf)

The single most important ingredient in a successful workshop is Circle Time, when all the participants leave their tables and chairs and gather in a circle on the floor to share whatever art piece(s) they created that day. It isn’t mandatory to share, and we uphold a rule of kindness; participants are welcome to say what they like, what stands out for them, or ask a question, nothing more.

I believe Circle is so meaningful because it’s coded peer therapy. Whether they produce a piece about a princess and a potion, or a car chase and a murder, the underlying conflict is always recognizable: the characters are wrestling with a problem that echoes familiar conflicts with parents or social groups; issues of gender identity or body image; or thoughts of suicide. No one calls the artist out on the underlying truth. Instead, the other participants (who may not otherwise have been the artist’s friend) suggest what the characters might do to resolve the conflict and, unwittingly or not, help the artist deal with the very real conflict inspiring the story.

Adolescent emotions are deeply relatable to other adolescents, but if they are not shared, the young person believes they are the only one experiencing them. Circle chips the isolation away by celebrating each artists’ point of view. While we only have time for a handful of participants to share, part of growing is listening to others, problem-solving in partnership, and encouraging one another to always create more art.

If You’ve Ever Been a Teen, You Can Do This

You are an artist. Your library community is made up of artists. You were born to create. Your daydreams, your deepest wishes, your choice of books to read, songs to listen to, and preferred routes to walk from one place to another, are all tiny revelations of your self as an artist. Creating a safe space for teens to create will help improve and sustain the future of your library, and your community.

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


Photo: Susan Doupé Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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