Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan

Publisher’s description

A timely, accessible, and beautifully written story exploring themes of food, friendship, family and what it means to belong, featuring sixth graders Sara, a Pakistani American, and Elizabeth, a white, Jewish girl taking a South Asian cooking class taught by Sara’s mom.

Sixth graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression. The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher. The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. They make good cooking partners . . . but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends? 

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the really easy way I will sell this middle grade book at my school: If you enjoyed Save Me a Seat by Gita Varadarajan and Sarah Weeks, check this out! Save Me a Seat has been a local reading award nominee so many of our older students have read and enjoyed it.

Sixth grade is a rough time. I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to survive when my kid was in sixth grade. There’s so much going on. For many, it means a new school, new friends, likely drifting apart from old friends, and often an increased awareness of family issues and the world around them. These are all true things for Sara and Elizabeth. Both feel a little out of place in their suburban Maryland middle school. Sara is new to public school after years at an Islamic school. Now she’s one of very few Muslims at her school. And Elizabeth is being ditched by her best friend, in addition to worrying about if her British mother ever intends to become a citizen or may go back to England. When the two girls meet, their friendship is not immediate. It’s not some kind of instant relief or intimate understanding of the other. They are friendly-ish, on their best days, and maybe not cut out to be friends at all, on their worst days. After all, Elizabeth’s possibly former BFF is constantly saying horrific racist things to Sara, and does she really want to be friends with someone who could call a girl like that her best friend?

But they connect over cooking, and as they begin to get to know each other beyond surface impressions and quickly hurt feelings, they begin to really like one another. Their mothers become friends, too, as they both study for the citizenship test (Sara’s mother is from Pakistan). They learn about each other’s religions (Judaism and Islam), backgrounds, and families while preparing for their schools’ international festival and a cooking competition. Both girls deal with many large issues—Elizabeth’s mother is depressed after the death of her own mother and her father is often gone for work, while Sara knows that her family is not doing well financially. Having one really good friend helps both girls feel better about life in middle school, and the adults do the work of figuring out their issues and reassuring the girls that things will be okay.

I particularly value this story for showing how complex making a new friend can be, but showing characters who push through their discomfort and hesitations to make a real connection. Another strength of this story is that secondary characters work through their own issues and learn to be better friends, showing both growth and working to unlearn what they may hear at home. A valuable look at friendship, family, and fresh starts.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780358116684
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 05/12/2020
Age Range: 10 – 12 Years

Little Gangs, a guest post by Lauren McLaughlin

I was supposed to be on a book tour right now for my YA novel, Send Pics. But, like every other author with a book hitting the shelves right now, I’m in lock down. So instead of hanging out with librarians, booksellers and fellow book nerds, I’m hunkering down with my family. Instead of reading aloud to a classroom full of teenagers, I’m homeschooling my ten-year-old daughter (using the loosest possible definition of “homeschooling”).

One of the reasons I was looking forward to getting out into the world and talking about Send Pics was because at heart it’s a story about friendship. Not just one-on-one friendship, but group friendship. It’s about the little gangs we form and how they get pressed into service in surprising ways. Friend groups are often forged in good times through shared interests (choir, sports, partying, etc), but it’s when things go awry that a loose association of buddies becomes a life raft.

Throughout my life, I’ve had a handful of little gangs, from the the neighbourhood kids I played with as a child, to the mother’s group I meet up with for dinner—and mutual support—every month. Along the way, I’ve drifted into and out of little gangs that were of such intense connection and intimacy it seems odd that they’re not all still a part of my daily life. But time, circumstances, and the natural arc of life have their way. It’s not permanence that defines these little gangs, it’s intensity.

So it was interesting, but not really surprising, when, in the midst of a global pandemic, two of my former little gangs reached out for Zoom chats within a week of each other. The first was a group of singers from my high school choir. I’ve kept in loose contact with a few of them over the years, but I haven’t hung out with the whole gang since the eighties! We span three different countries and four time zones. Staring at these familiar faces arrayed in a grid on my laptop, it felt like I was back in the high school music room. I half expected our old choir master to step in and tap on her music stand. We got each other caught up on the basics—jobs, families, etc—but there was no formality,  no politeness. We got straight into the heart of the matter, sharing our fears and frustrations, and looking for ways we could help each other. Lockdown has strained all of us in different ways, and the urge to reach out (even when thousands of miles made it physically impossible) was overwhelming. 

We could have done this at any time over the past ten years. Video conferencing is not exactly new. I think there was something about the pandemic that made us yearn for that connection, for that sense of belonging. We are a social species. For all our talk of American individualism and our tendency to worship lone heroes, we need each other.

In Send Pics, varsity wrestling captain Tarkin Shaw drugs and photographs his classmate Suze Tilman then uses the nude pictures to blackmail her into a sexual relationship. It’s a fictional story, but the crime is common enough. The ubiquity of cell phone cameras, the influence of alcohol, and the illusory sense of invincibility conspire to put teenagers (especially teen girls) in a great deal of danger. When I first came up with the idea, I dove into the data on these types of crimes. Time and again, I found parents, teachers, coaches, even law enforcement, rallying around the perpetrators while the victims were blamed, disbelieved, and, in some cases, driven out of town. I wasn’t about to sugar coat my story. It wouldn’t have been realistic to portray the town rallying around the victim when the perpetrator was a popular all-state wrestling champion. But as soon as I decided to pit Suze against the whole town, I discovered that I couldn’t bring myself to leave her completely on her own. Maybe it was a subconscious attempt to protect my own psyche from a story that would have been too dark. But no sooner did I sketch out the foundations of the story, than a little gang emerged. Of course Suze wouldn’t be completely on her own. She’d have her friends. While everyone else is conspiring to discredit and shame her, she finds shelter in her little gang of four. They may be vastly outnumbered but the strength of their bond is equal and opposite to the forces working against them. “Shields up” is their motto, their defiant stance against an unfair, unjust world they’re only beginning to understand. 

As we all hunker down in our social isolation, trying to keep the virus at bay—a virus we still don’t fully understand—don’t we need our little gangs too? I’ve read about people forming Zoom meet ups and WhatsApp groups with neighbours they no longer pass on the street since lockdown began. They just need that sense of connection, of belonging. Last week I Zoomed with my old “Happy Hour” gang, a group of New Yorkers I haven’t hung out with since I moved to London ten years ago. We’ve added spouses and children and a grey hair or two, but for all that’s changed, the group dynamic was the same. We could have been sipping martinis in the East Village. This weekend, I’m Zooming with my choir friends again. Nothing has materially changed since our last Zoom. I doubt anyone will have much in the way of news. But that’s not the point. We’re here for each other. That’s what it’s about. And even if the forces working against us are a gazillion particles of virus we can’t even see, and even if our only defence is our isolation, at least for a little while we can slip back into our little gang and say, hey, shields up. I’ve got your back.

Meet Lauren McLaughlin

LAUREN MCLAUGHLIN is the author of Send PicsThe FreeScored, and Cycler. She has also written the children’s pictures books Wonderful You and Mitzi Tulane Preschool Detective, both of which feature adoptive families. She is an adoptive mother herself. Prior to her career in fiction, she spent ten years in the film business. She produced commercials and music videos for such artists as Nas, The B52’s, the Spin Doctors, and Monie Love, then went on to write several screenplays, including Prisoner of Love starring Naomi Campbell, Specimen starring Mark Paul Gosselaar, and Hypercube (the sequel to the cult favorite Cube). She also produced American PsychoBuffalo 66, and several other feature films. She is a member of the improv comedy troupe Amorphous Horse, which performs in a variety of venues in and around London, UK. 

You can follow Lauren at:


Twitter: @LaurenMcWoof

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauren.mclaughlin.books

Instagram: @laurenmclaughlin3

About Send Pics

At Jonesville High, casual misogyny runs rampant, slut-shaming is a given, and school athletes are glorified above all else. Best friends Suze, Nikki, Ani, and Lydia swear they’ll always have each other’s backs against predatory guys—so when Suze suddenly starts dating wrestling star and toxic douchebag Tarkin Shaw, it’s a big betrayal.

Turns out, it’s not a relationship—it’s blackmail. At first, Suze feels like she has no choice but to go along with it, but when Tarkin starts demanding more, she enlists the help of intelligent misfits DeShawn and Marcus to beat Tarkin at his own game. As Marcus points out, what could possibly go wrong?

The answer: everything. And by the time the teens realize they’re fighting against forces much bigger than the Tarkin Shaws of the world, losing isn’t an option.

ISBN-13: 9781948340267
Publisher: Dottir Press
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Praise for Send Pics

“A gritty read for a woke generation” — Kirkus Reviews

A relentless and fierce thriller crossed with an incisive story of gender, class and race. It grabs and grabs and never lets go. —CORY DOCTOROW, author of Little Brother and Radicalized

McLaughlin has crafted a compelling novel that is somehow both timely and timeless: a perfect storm of topical issues affecting our society―and especially connected teens―today, but also an enduring lesson in empathy which reminds us that the truth behind the clickbait headlines often is hidden. —E.C. MYERS, author of the Andre Norton Award–winning Fair Coin, Quantum Coin, The Silence of Six, and more

Cindy Crushes Programming: Running a Virtual Dungeons and Dragons Program

Today for Cindy Crushes Programming teen librarian Cindy Shutts interviews colleagues about running a virtual Dungeons and Dragons program in the time of Covid-19.

Hello, Can you introduce yourself and let us know where you work and your job title?

Hi, I’m Krista, and I’m the Teen/Adult Services Librarian at the Wilmette Public Library.

What is your personal experience with Dungeons and Dragons?

I’ve played D&D for about three years now. I played a few other RPGs first before trying D&D, but I became interested in the game after getting super addicted to Critical Role, a popular live play D&D show streaming on Twitch (currently in semi-hiatus thanks to Covid-19). My first real campaign was Tomb of Annihilation and I’ll never forget our party being confronted by a giant feathered T-Rex that could teleport and exhale swarms of wasps from its mouth. It was eye-opening.

Were you running it at your library before the Covid-19 outbreak and how popular was it at your library?

I created my library’s teen D&D group about two years ago. Pre-Covid-19 we met once a month and eventually took up two rooms. I had five teens at my first meeting, and 12 at my second. (Only four of them had registered! Of course!) It took off mainly through word-of-mouth; I stopped advertising because I was afraid I’d get too many kids. Over the two years our meetings have had anywhere between 6-25 teens, and I recruited additional Dungeon Masters to help me run sessions. Some DMs are teens; some are adults. It’s been a very chaotic experience but a great one, too.

How did you decide to run virtual gaming at your library? Had you played virtually before or was this a completely new experience?

I’ve played D&D online a few times, but only with people I’d already met in person. I never set up any of my own games. However, my teen D&D program was the only program I could see working right away as a virtual one, as long as I could get myself educated and experienced enough with the virtual tools to make it a fun experience. I’m currently looking at doing some virtual Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. tournaments as well now

What system are you using to play and how does it work?

I’m using a combination of Roll20 and Discord. Discord is a free online chat program that allows users to set up virtual communities and talk over voice, video, and chat. You can also share pictures, do screen share tutorials and gaming, and so on. Roll20 offers a great free tabletop experience, where you can have all of the stuff you need for your RPG in one place: images, maps, character sheets, dice, etc. However, Roll20 doesn’t have great audio/video integration; it’s often really laggy. So I created a Discord community for my players to join, and we use Discord’s voice chat in combination with Roll20’s virtual tabletop and video. I let the teens decide if they will turn on video in Roll20; I think it helps to see everyone’s faces, but not all of my teens can or will do it. This makes it sound very complicated but it’s not too bad. I also use Discord as a one-stop-shop for information, because it’s primarily text-based, so I post information about our scheduled games there, pose questions to the group, encourage the teens to ask for help with their technology ahead of time, etc.

What are some of the challenges to virtual gaming and how are you working to overcome them?

There are a lot of challenges to virtual gaming and they’re going to be different for everyone. There’s challenges with your personal knowledge and the technology set-up you have at home, and then there are separate challenges for each of your players. Then you have to re-think how you play D&D a little, as well.

I had used Discord and Roll20 casually, so I had to learn a lot about both platforms in a short amount of time. Other teen librarians and other gamers have been a huge help to me there, especially on Discord communities. Roll20 is not the easiest to learn, which also makes it harder to teach your teen players. But right now Roll20 is offering some great free D&D modules (i.e., narrative adventures) that are already set up with maps and everything else you need to get started, so you don’t have to start from scratch.

Not everyone will have an adequate tech set-up to play virtually, especially teenagers. Maybe they only have a family computer and need their parents or guardians to set up things for them. Maybe they only have a smart phone and need to do everything on that. (In that case, Roll20 is not the best option. I have a back-up option where we can play just through Discord’s voice chat and using Theater of the Mind – yes, that’s using your imagination.)

Then during the game, it’s easy to get so side-tracked by problems with the technology that you end up not making a lot of progress into actually playing. My first session I spent the first hour doing tech help. One of my players couldn’t get his microphone to work, so I had to have him use the Roll20 chat feature and I read aloud what he wanted to say. Then of course, when not everyone is in the room together it’s easy for players to talk over each other so that no one gets heard. In that case, I would use a turn-based system for players to tell me what their character is doing, so that everyone gets a chance to talk.

Do you have any tips for new players for Dungeon Masters?

Honestly I think the best way to learn is to just start playing (plus you can watch actual play streams on Twitch or YouTube to get a feel for the game). D&D players are the best and I’ve found so many willing to set up introductory games for new players or answer questions. If you know one person who plays, ask them for help! Ask me for help, even! Next, visit Wizards of the Coast official D&D page for free materials to help during the pandemic. They are offering so much free content every day and keeping the links up – you can get a free starter set rulebook, pre-generated character sheets, and a bunch of free short adventures to start with. And the most important rules: have fun, use your imagination, don’t be embarrassed to get a little silly, and when your players do something crazy and you’re not sure what the rule is, make it up on the fly and look it up later for next time.

Are you seeing the same teens that would come to programming at the library or are you getting a new audience?

I had a pretty consistent group at the library, so right now I have mostly the same audience. I do have a few new teens who were never able to make our monthly Friday night game at the library before. But right now I have less kids engaging with the D&D club than were coming in person and it’s my challenge to figure out why. Do they just not know about it despite my reaching out, and how can I get word to them? Are they not doing the virtual programs because they can’t or because they don’t want to? If they can’t participate the way I’ve set it up, then what can I change to make it more accessible?

Do you think you would like to continue running virtual programming once things start to settle down and in person programming is back up and running?

For D&D, I think it might work to still have some virtual games in addition to in-person ones. It’s nice for me because I can do the program from home without having to worry about changing my work schedule around – getting substitutes for reference desk shifts so that I can do a program in the evening or on a Saturday, for example. I have an hour and a half commute on public transit to my library for work, so any time I can do something at home without that is great. And I really do think Roll20 is pretty great now that I’ve tried it out more. I think we’ll be doing virtual programming for a while, frankly, so now is a great time to learn.

What would you like to tell your fellow teen librarians who are struggling looking for ways to connect to their teens?

Don’t take it personally if you’re reaching out and your teens aren’t responding. The teens from my TAB haven’t responded to any of my emails or Remind messages. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s too low on their priority list. Many teens are struggling to transition, too, missing school and their friends and normalcy, stuck at home and maybe wanting to unplug when they’re done with remote learning for the day. Not all programs can pivot to virtual, either, despite your best intentions. Go easy on yourself. Also, brainstorm with other teen librarians. There are a lot of great ideas out there. 

Do you have any resources you would like to recommend? Or any final thoughts? Thank you so much for being here!! Stay Safe!

Aside from the Wizards of the Coast site I already mentioned, I really like Matthew Colville’s “Running the Game” series on YouTube. He makes the basics of the game and being a DM feel very accessible. I also recommend Sly Flourish’s web site and materials for playing D&D and being a DM: https://slyflourish.com/ They even have a whole article about D&D and Discord that gives you a no-frills and a more-frills option for how to use the site: https://slyflourish.com/playing_dnd_over_discord.html

Next Up we have Evan Mather

Hello, Can you introduce yourself and let us know where you work and your job title?

My name is Evan Mather. I’m a Teen Librarian at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

What is your personal experience with Dungeons and Dragons?

I first played Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition about 8 years ago with a group of friends who were all pretty new to the game. I’ve been playing as a Dungeon Master in 5th Edition for the past 5 years, both running published campaigns and a couple of homebrew adventures with friends.

Were you running it at your library before the Covid-19 outbreak and how popular was it at your library?

Our first real experience with RPGs at AHML was last summer. We have Summer Volunteer Squads for teens – groups that meet weekly over the summer to plan and execute programs or other services at the library for the community. We started one called Dice Guild, where teens learned how to play and run 3 different RPGs, and planned a program for late in the summer where they taught these games and ran sessions for other teens.

It became a monthly program, where one Friday night a month, teens would show up to play tabletop RPGs in the Hub. We’d have all the dice and papers and snacks and rules and modules printed up and ready to go, and I’d be around to help with rules questions, tips for the GMs, and other housekeeping, but it was mostly a meet up and gaming opportunity led by teens for other teens.

How did you decide to run virtual gaming at your library? Had you played virtually before or was this a completely new experience?

Once we’d determined that virtual programming was something to pursue, our first thought was to how we could replicate some of our existing programming. Our regularly scheduled Dice Guild session was on March 20, so it seemed like a good choice for foray into virtual programming.

I’d personally had minimal experience with Roll20, the online tabletop RPG game platform. I’d attempted to run about two sessions with a group of friends from all over the country, but a combination of scheduling conflicts (the true enemy of all regular RPG groups) and various folks having technical glitches on their end led to us not continuing.

What system are you using to play and how does it work?

We use Roll20 to play on. It has a shared tabletop screen, which everyone can see and the GM can fully control. There are video and audio chat windows, that can be rearranged around your screen, built-in character sheets for several game systems, automated dice rollers, and more. It’s pretty robust, but the audio and video can be a bit spotty, and like many other virtual gaming tools, its servers are becoming a bit taxed by the heavy use. We had a Dice Guild session on a Friday night where they were having a lot of issues and we did a lot of troubleshooting.

Dungeons and Dragons especially requires a lot of prep work, and there’s even more required for virtual D&D – creating character sheets, prepping maps, etc. The biggest challenge while running the actual program is the same challenge of most virtual programming – running tech support for attendees at the same time you’re trying to run the program. Everyone is working with different devices and internet services, all things that are out of your control.

It’s also been really hard to allow for the same teen-led model DIce Guild had before. I’ve been acting as DM and virtual facilitator for all of our games, which is a real time commitment. It also limits the amount of teens we can have at each session. After giving them a few weeks of experience using Roll20 as a player, we are planning on shifting our model. I’m creating game rooms prepped for other RPGs, like Kids on Bikes or Crash Pandas, as well as with several shorter D&D adventures. We’ll have one session where I demonstrate more Game Master specific tools to teens using Zoom’s screen sharing, and run a short session of one of those games. Then our future sessions will be closer to Dice Guild’s original model, with teens meeting in a video chat to decide who wants to play what games, and then breaking off into different game rooms on Roll20. I’ll be there to act as facilitator, backup, and support for everyone.

Do you have any tips for new players for Dungeon Masters?

My biggest tip is probably not to play Dungeons & Dragons for your first RPG game. It’s so rules-heavy, with hours needed to create a character, prep a module, etc. I’d recommend some of the excellent one-page RPGs out there, like Lasers & Feelings or Crash Pandas, for first timers. These can all be played on Roll20, or even on basic video chat with a virtual dice roller. They get the group playing and collaborating, don’t take hours of prep work, and are much more easily self-contained.

If everyone’s heart is really set on Dungeons & Dragons, I’d recommend using premade characters for your first go, and a short one-shot adventure like The Delian Tomb.

If you plan on going longer with a campaign, I’d recommend the adventure Lost Mines of Phandelver, from the D&D Starter Set. The first chapter of that makes a pretty good one-shot in itself, too. It’s also currently free to access on DnD Beyond.

Are you seeing the same teens that would come to programming at the library or are you getting a new audience?

Of the teens we’ve had participating in virtual Dice Guild, only 2 have been teens who didn’t attend in-person sessions before. In a virtual setting, it can be a bit more difficult to learn RPGs, where not everyone has the same rule set. Teens that don’t already know one another are also a bit more hesitant to collaborate and converse with each other about playing the game. You often need to prompt them to interact at in-person sessions, but I need to lean even more into it during virtual sessions.

Do you think you would like to continue running virtual programming once things start to settle down and in person programming is back up and running?

It’s hard to say. I don’t think there’s going to be a single moment where everyone’s doing in-person programs at the amount they once were. I think RPGs can be replicated pretty well virtually, especially if there’s already a base knowledge. I think a lot of our team’s strengths – and what our community highly values –  has been our space, as well as our in-person programming and outreach, and we’re looking at ways for those to translate into a virtual setting.

What would you like to tell your fellow teen librarians who are struggling looking for ways to connect to their teens?

I would first look at what has worked the best for you before all of this happened. What were your most successful groups and programs? How can you translate those online? For teens, I think what they most need at this developmental stage are ways for them to directly connect and interact with you and their peers. I hear that they are bored, and they are looking for things to do. Asynchronous programming can be useful if you really focus it on their & your community’s specific needs, but there has never been a shortage of things for teens to keep themselves occupied with online. Don’t try to compete with YouTubers or video game streamers. Direct interaction, hand-made accessibility, and teen-driven programming are going to be where you really meet needs.

Do you have any resources you would like to recommend? Or any final thoughts? Thank you so much for being here!! Stay Safe!

Other great virtual tabletop gaming options that aren’t RPGs are the game Bring Your Own Book, Pictionary, or Codenames over video chat. For Codenames, there’s a great online emulator at horsepaste.com. You can also do collaborative jigsaw puzzles at jigsawpuzzles.io.

Thank you so much Evan and Krista so much for being here. I am excited to hear about what other libraries are doing during the pandemic Please let us know! Stay Safe!

Cindy Shutts, MLIS


Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and, of course, reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku

Book Review: The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton

Publisher’s description

Moxie meets A Knight’s Tale as Kit Sweetly slays sexism, bad bosses, and bad luck to become a knight at a medieval-themed restaurant.

Working as a Wench—i.e. waitress—at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a Knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.

Company policy allows only guys to be Knights. So when Kit takes her brother’s place, clobbers the Green Knight, and reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. But this Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other Wenches and cast members join her quest, a protest forms. In a joust before Castle executives, they’ll prove that gender restrictions should stay medieval—if they don’t get fired first.

Amanda’s thoughts

My reading taste really comes down to two things: show me people just talk, talk, talking OR show me something unique. A contemporary story about a girl who wants to become a knight? Now that’s unique!

There is so much to really love about this book. Kit (real name—brace yourselves—Courtney Love Sweetly) works at a medieval-themed restaurant that’s run by her uncle, but that doesn’t get her any preferential treatment. The place is not great, but Kit absolutely loves her workplace family and desperately needs the job there. She and her older brother (a knight at the restaurant) live with their mom—their dad took off a couple of years ago with all their college money to feed his heroin habit. Their family is constantly worried about money. Electricity gets shut off, there’s very little food, and everything is run-down. They all three work hard, but it’s just barely enough to keep them afloat.

Kit has very real worries about college. She has had a plan for years for herself, but now that the time for college acceptances is here, it looks like that plan isn’t doable. It’s hard to readjust your thoughts and grapple with a new reality. The money just isn’t there for her to follow the path she had long ago set for herself. I appreciate this depiction of teen life so much—a teenager with a job because it’s absolutely essential to the family’s budge, a teen making the very reasonable choice to follow a different college path due to financial reasons.

It’s not all just worries and disappointments for Kit, though. She has great support in Layla, her best friend, and Jett, her other best friend. Kit and Jett decided long ago to never date, for the sake of the friendship, but that doesn’t stop Kit from having a raging crush on him and wishing they could break that pact.

Then, of course, there’s the storyline of her wanting to become a knight. She knows she’s the right girl for the job, her corporate has made it very clear that only cis men can be knights at this restaurant. Outspoken feminist Kit is done tolerating that decree. When she fills in for her brother, Jett films it and the video begins to go viral online, giving Kit a platform to push her cause. She begins to train other friends from work (including trans and nonbinary characters), but with no corporate support and an uncle vehemently against helping her agenda, it’s uncertain whether they will even get a chance to showcase their talents even one time, much less overthrow the whole system.

I was into this story just from the very basic plot: teen girl wants to be a knight at the medieval-themed restaurant she works at. But the many layers of her life made this book so engrossing. And the wonderful (and very diverse) cast of supporting characters made this such a great workplace story, too. Kit is a badass, not just because she wants to smash the patriarchy, but because she’s juggling so much in just her day-to-day life. A great read that deserves lots of attention.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624149528
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/05/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

A Moment of Radical Honesty and Talking Frankly about Modern Poverty in THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY, a guest post by Jamie Pacton

I think every writer puts a bit of themselves into the stories we tell and the characters we create. When writing my debut YA novel, THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY, I put a whole lot of myself into Kit. Her humor, her outlook on life, her flaws— all of these are mine. I based her love interest on my husband, and I even included embarrassing moments from my own life in the book (like that time I ended up inside a dumpster I very nearly couldn’t get out of; or, that time I yelled “I know CPR” when a stranger collapsed in a locker room and my friends went running for help). But, even with the amount of Jamie inside Kit’s story, there’s one element of my own life in the book that I struggle to be honest about: Kit’s poverty.

Like Kit, I’ve lived through some very lean times. Growing up, I was the oldest of ten kids, and although my parents both worked white-collar jobs (at least until I was a teenager and my dad lost his job), I’m sure feeding all of us, clothing us, and keeping the lights on was a stretch. I remember visits to food banks and a pantry full of cans long past their expiration dates. (Expiration dates were more of whimsical suggestions in my parents’ house, rather than guidelines for food safety). I also remember visiting friends’ houses and marveling at the toys, clothes, and bedroom space they had. It was all so nice and not second-hand, and I desperately wanted the same things. Even as early as elementary school, I used to beg my parents for a pair of Keds or a Guess t-shirt or every other silly material thing that seemed like it was the thing that would make me feel like I was as good as my friends.

Poverty followed me to college. Yes, I had a full scholarship, but I promptly lost it after my freshman year because I was working two jobs in order to have enough money to stay alive. After college, when I had a BA in English but no real professional skills, I worked sixteen-hour days across four jobs to pay the bills and make ends meet. I’d waitress the lunch shift at one restaurant; then, go nanny for a few hours after school; then, work a dinner shift at a different restaurant; and, finish my day by working overnight at K-Mart. I was perpetually exhausted, smoking too many cigarettes to stay awake, and somehow still poor. Even when I finally decided to go back to grad school, I couldn’t escape the shadow of poverty. I’m always embarrassed to admit this, but my husband and I were on food stamps in grad school because—thanks to the ridiculous notion that grad students can’t work outside jobs— we were both only working as TAs while supporting small children.

These days, although I’ve had many economic ups and downs in the years since my children were born, things are mostly much better. But, I wrote everything I know about being poor into THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY.

Credit: Vicky Chen (@VickyCBooks on Twitter)

My intimate knowledge of food scarcity comes out in the “Cooler of Doom” Kit’s family keeps for storing food when their power is cut off; and, it’s there in the way Kit relies on the food she can get at work to keep herself fed. My awareness of my own economic disparity in relation to my friends is apparent as Kit tries to hide her poverty from her best friends. My struggle with balancing too many jobs and still just barely scraping by lurks in the way Kit and her entire family pool their tips to pay bills. My very real knowledge of the emotional toll that working too much and always being on edge about money takes is present in Kit’s brother Chris, who is just barely an adult, but already weary of working all the time. Even the way I used stimulants like cigarettes to stay awake or to trick my body into feeling full is present in the way Kit’s mom smokes. (I read about this same impulse in Stephanie Land’s MAID and viscerally understood so much she talked about in relation to being part of the working poor).

Some of the praise I’ve gotten for THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY calls it a “frank look at modern poverty,” and that’s thrills me because that’s exactly what I wanted to do in the book. I wanted to be honest about poverty and show a character who might look like she’s economically okay—after all, Kit has a house, a job, her brother has a car, and she’s planning on going to college— but just beneath the surface lies a slippery economic slope that threatens to send Kit and her family toppling.

Even with that intention in mind, however, this is the first time I’ve written about how Kit’s poverty mirrors my own experience. In interviews, I’ve happily talked about the feminism, the romance, the friendships, and even the absurd moments from my life that I wrote into the story. But, as I mentioned above, I’m embarrassed to tell people that I’ve been as poor as Kit (or poorer, in fact). For the longest time, I didn’t want people to know that I’ve lived on the edge and that I’ve fallen off it before. I never tell people that I’ve had government assistance or that I’m always comparing what I have materially (and finding myself lacking) based on my own childhood insecurities.

But why is poverty so hard to talk about? Why is there shame associated with it? Why would I feel embarrassed to say that there have been times in my life when I needed help? Why does saying I couldn’t make ends meet feel like a dirty secret?

I think the answers to these questions lie in the way poverty is talked about in modern America and the discourse of shame surrounding the notion of being poor. Too often, poor people are seen as lazy or they’re treated like their poverty is their fault. Or, even worse, they’re viewed as worth less than others because they don’t have money/stuff/privilege. (This is something I tackle head on in my next book, LUCKY GIRL, where the main character wins the lotto jackpot and grapples with the questions of can money really bring happiness or does too much of it just make people terrible?)

While these myths about poverty abound, most of the poor people I know are working too many jobs, trying to keep their kids alive, and striving to make their lives better. But, they’re laboring within an unfair system that keeps them impoverished (and, it must be noted, this unfair system is consistently kinder to white and/or able bodied people like Kit and myself than others, and that privilege is not negligible). Healthcare is expensive; food is expensive; if you don’t have a car, you can’t get to work reliably; and, the list of ways to stay poor when you’re already there goes on and on. Many excellent non-fiction books have been written about the nearly impossible-to-break generational cycle of poverty in America, and I think it’s important to talk about this in YA fiction as well.

The notion of radical honesty contains many elements, but a core one is that you can bring about change by being honest. I try to be honest in my life and in my fiction, so, I’ll just come out and say it: I have been very, very poor at certain times in my life. I’ve taken back $10 worth of groceries so I could put gas in my car. I’ve not known where my children’s next meal was coming from or how I was going to keep the lights on. It’s okay to admit those things, and stories of modern poverty need to be told so we can battle the stigma surrounding it. I hope THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY contributes in some small way to removing this stigma, and I hope it finds a kid who is as poor as Kit is (or I was) and helps them feel better about their own life, their circumstances, and their prospects for the future.

Meet Jamie Pacton

Photo credit: Greg Pacton

Jamie Pacton is a Young Adult and Middle Grade author who grew up minutes away from the National Storytelling Center in the mountains of East Tennessee. She has a BA and MA in English Literature, and currently teaches English at the college level. While pursuing her dream of being an author, she worked as a waitress, pen salesperson, lab assistant, art museum guard, bookseller, pool attendant, nanny, and lots of other weird jobs in between. Her writing has appeared in national and local magazines, and she spent many years blogging for Parents.com. Currently, Jamie lives in Wisconsin with her family and a dog named Lego. The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly is her debut novel. Find Jamie online at www.jamiepacton.com and on Instagram and Twitter @JamiePacton.

About The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly

Moxie meets A Knight’s Tale as Kit Sweetly slays sexism, bad bosses, and bad luck to become a knight at a medieval-themed restaurant.

Working as a Wench—i.e. waitress—at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a Knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.

Company policy allows only guys to be Knights. So when Kit takes her brother’s place, clobbers the Green Knight, and reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. But this Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other Wenches and cast members join her quest, a protest forms. In a joust before Castle executives, they’ll prove that gender restrictions should stay medieval—if they don’t get fired first.

ISBN-13: 9781624149528
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/05/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

May #ARCParty: A brief look at some of the new titles coming out in May 2020

It’s time for another ARC party, where The Teen and I take a look at some of the titles coming out in May.

Friday Finds: May 1, 2020

This Week at TLT

New Books Alert: Activism, summer camp, a school shooting, a supernatural feminist novel, and more

RevolTeens: Quaranteens – Proving Just How Incredible Teens Are, by Christine Lively

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Librarianing in the Time of a Pandemic

Post-It Reviews: Some ghosts, a guide to critical thinking, folktales, Chernobyl, and more

The Power of Being Vulnerable, a guest post by Kate O’Shaughnessy

We’re Not Alone, not Even in the Middle of a Quarantine – a guest post by author Kim Oclon

Novels in Verse for National Poetry Month, Week 4 By Lisa Krok

Around the Web

The Check In: Jenny Torres Sanchez

The Secret Ally to Libraries Everywhere: The USPS

Court Rules Detroit Students Have Constitutional Right To An Education

AP Exams Are Still On Amid Coronavirus, Raising Questions About Fairness

New Books Alert: Activism, summer camp, a school shooting, a supernatural feminist novel, and more

Weird times, my friends. Usually I write a little intro here about how I get a lot of book mail and can’t possibly read it all, but after seven weeks home from work, I am in the strange position of not only being home to grab the book mail as soon as it arrives, but also now to just be home and read much of the day. It’s pretty much as amazing as I thought it would be, but I would rather we were all healthy and schools were open.

Interested in what you see here? Be sure to order from your local indie store! Two of my favorite stores are The Red Balloon in St. Paul, MN and The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline Village, MA.

As always, reminder that 100% of what I get in book mail goes back out the door to find new homes with teachers, librarians, and young readers. Keep at eye on my Twitter (@CiteSomething) and maybe you’ll see some of these books ready for new homes soon!

All descriptions from the publishers.

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World by Todd Hasak-Lowy (ISBN-13: 9781419741111 Publisher: ABRAMS Publication date: 04/07/2020 Ages 10-14)

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

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

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge (ISBN-13: 9781419743207 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 04/14/2020 Ages 12-18)

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

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

The Mystery of the Moon Tower by Francesco Sedita, Prescott Seraydarian, Steve Hamaker (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780425291870 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/21/2020 Ages 8-12)

Summer camp just became a whole lot more interesting when five curious kids accept a mysterious project: work together as a team to uncover a series of strange clues, reveal a secret path—and follow its twists and turns to a legendary treasure!

Join in the fun in this lively, clever debut graphic novel sure to appeal to fans of the Last Kids on Earth and Lumberjanes series.

Kyle is a new kid in town who likes to draw. Vic is a cool cheerleader who’s secretly a math whiz. Quiet Beth is a history buff, while goofball Harry likes performing magic tricks, with the help of his patient wingman, Nate. Five kids unlikely to form a team, for sure.

But then they’re thrown together at summer camp, where they watch a grainy old movie about the history of their town, Windrose, and one of its illustrious citizens of a bygone era: the intrepid explorer-inventor Henry Merriweather. He’s the one who established their camp. Merriweather’s Camp Pathfinders’ motto? Plus Ultra: more beyond!

The five kids soon find there is indeed “more beyond” in their pokey town with its weird weather and sudden geysers of smelly air. Deciphering a route of historical markers leads them to Merriweather’s old castle, which is lined with ornate, beautiful tiles in hallways that lead to secret rooms full of odd objects—and where time itself is warped!

Kyle, Vic, Beth, Harry, and Nate witness scenes from Merriweather’s past and realize his experiments and eccentricities are pointing toward a path—that could lead to the rumored lost treasure of Windrose.

This is the path our heroes are meant to follow, on a journey that will take them back and forth through time, through woods, and across waterways revealed by moonlight, right up to the looming Moon Tower itself—which holds Merriweather’s secret . . . and the treasure!

Out Now: Queer We Go Again! by Saundra Mitchell (ISBN-13: 9781335018267 Publisher: Inkyard Press Publication date: 05/26/2020 Ages 13-17)


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

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

Mayhem by Estelle Laure (ISBN-13: 9781250297938 Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group Publication date: 07/14/2020 Ages 13-18)

The Lost Boys meets Wilder Girls in this supernatural feminist YA novel.

It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else.

But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.

But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

From the acclaimed author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back, Estelle Laure offers a riveting and complex story with magical elements about a family of women contending with what appears to be an irreversible destiny, taking control and saying when enough is enough.

The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg (ISBN-13: 9781250257352 Publisher: Flatiron Books Publication date: 09/01/2020 Ages 13-18)

Rear Window meets Emergency Contact in this sharp, unsettling novel about two teens who discover the secrets of their neighborhood after everyone else turns out the lights.

Ingrid can’t sleep.

She can’t remember, either.

A competitive diver, seventeen-year-old Ingrid is haunted by what she saw at the pool at a routine meet, before falling off the high dive and waking up concussed. The only thing she remembers about the moment before her dive is locking eyes with Van—her neighbor, former best friend, and forever crush—kissing his girlfriend on the sidelines. But that can’t be all.

Then one sleepless night, she sees Van out her window…looking right back at her. They begin not sleeping together by night, still ignoring each other at school by day.

Ingrid tells herself this is just temporary, but soon, she and Van are up every night piecing her memory back together. As Van works through his own reasons for not being able to sleep, they’re both pulled into a mystery that threatens to turn their quiet neighborhood into a darker place than they realized.

Fable: A Novel by Adrienne Young (ISBN-13: 9781250254368 Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group Publication date: 09/01/2020 Ages 12-18)

Filled with all of the action, emotion, and lyrical writing that brought readers to Sky in the DeepNew York Times bestselling author Adrienne Young returns with Fable, the first book in this new captivating duology.

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.

As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.

Not Your #Lovestory by Sonia Hartl (ISBN-13: 9781645670544 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 09/01/2020 Ages 14-17)

#PlaneBae meets Gilmore Girls in this hilarious and heartfelt story about the addictiveness of Internet fame and the harsh realities of going viral.

Macy Evans dreams of earning enough income from her YouTube channel, R3ntal Wor1d, to leave her small, Midwestern town. But when she meets a boy named Eric at a baseball game, and accidently dumps her hotdog in his lap, her disastrous “meet-cute” becomes the topic of a viral thread. Now it’s not loyal subscribers flocking to her channel, it’s Internet trolls. And they aren’t interested in her reviews of VHS tapes—they only care about her relationship with Eric.

Eric is overly eager to stretch out his fifteen minutes of fame, but Macy fears this unwanted attention could sabotage her “real-life” relationships—namely with the shy boy-next-door, Paxton, who she’s actually developing feelings for. Macy knows she should shut the lie down, though she can’t ignore the advertising money, or the spark she gets in her chest whenever someone clicks on her videos. Eric shouldn’t be the only one allowed to reap the viral benefits. But is faking a relationship for clicks and subscribers worth hurting actual people?

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi (ISBN-13: 9781250144577 Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group Publication date: 09/22/2020 Ages 12-18)

Returning to the dark and glamorous 19th century world of her New York Times instant bestseller, The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi dazzles us with another riveting tale as full of mystery and danger as ever in The Silvered Serpents.

They are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope.

Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost — one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumored to grant its possessor the power of God.

Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into the icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.

As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.

A tale of love and betrayal as the crew risks their lives for one last job.

Thoughts and Prayers by Bryan Bliss (ISBN-13: 9780062962249 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/29/2020 Ages 14-17)

What does it mean to heal—to feel safe—in a world that constantly chooses violence?

Claire, Eleanor, and Brezzen have little in common. Except for the fact that a year ago, they all hid under the same staircase and heard the shots that took the lives of some of their classmates and a teacher. Here is the story of what happens after the reporters leave and the news cycle moves on to the next tragedy.

Told in three loosely connected by inextricably intertwined stories, this unflinching novel is for readers of Jason Reynolds, Marieke Nijkamp, and Laurie Halse Anderson.

A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe (ISBN-13: 9781250220400 Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group Publication date: 10/13/2020 Ages 14-18)

In her debut novel A Golden Fury, Samantha Cohoe weaves a story of magic and danger, where the streets of Oxford and London come to life, and the curse of the Philosopher’s Stone will haunt you long after the final page.

Thea Hope longs to be an alchemist out of the shadow of her famous mother. The two of them are close to creating the legendary Philosopher’s Stone—whose properties include immortality and can turn any metal into gold—but just when the promise of the Stone’s riches is in their grasp, Thea’s mother destroys the Stone in a sudden fit of violent madness.

While combing through her mother’s notes, Thea learns that there’s a curse on the Stone that causes anyone who tries to make it to lose their sanity. With the threat of the French Revolution looming, Thea is sent to Oxford for her safety, to live with the father who doesn’t know she exists.

But in Oxford, there are alchemists after the Stone who don’t believe Thea’s warning about the curse—instead, they’ll stop at nothing to steal Thea’s knowledge of how to create the Stone. But Thea can only run for so long, and soon she will have to choose: create the Stone and sacrifice her sanity, or let the people she loves die.

RevolTeens: Quaranteens – Proving Just How Incredible Teens Are, by Christine Lively

Being quarantined has been a stressful, scary, and bizarre time for all Americans. As I am writing this, nearly 60,000 Americans have died from this terrifying and new disease. The numbers continue to climb and very little is known about the virus itself. School has been canceled for the rest of the year nearly everywhere, and it all seemed to have happened in an instant. The line between our lives before and our lives after seems bright and now long ago.

In my house, I am quarantined with two teenage sons. My sixteen year old son was at first elated not to have to go to school because he doesn’t enjoy it and feels overwhelmed by the demands of the work he has to do. He has now been struggling through as his school system has been scheduling and canceling synchronous classes every day or week for a month. Their online system has only started working this week and the platform for classes has changed several times making for a whole new form of stress and uncertainty. My 19 year old son has been devastated to lose all of the friends he had made in his freshman year of college. He’s also mourning the loss of freedom now that he has to live back at home where his parents are giving him chores and where he doesn’t have a choice for what he eats at most of his meals. He’s our extrovert in a family of introverts. It’s been terrible and frustrating for him. My daughter will be coming home this weekend and will stay a week at home where we will be celebrating on May 7th. That is the day she’s been working toward for five years when she was supposed to be having a party with friends and family to commemorate her graduation from graduate school and her twenty-third birthday which were to fall on the very same day.

I am sure I don’t have to tell you that this is no fun.

And yet, amid all of this bad news, teens – QuaranTeens (what our RevolTeens are called for now this – are showing the world how amazing they are even in the face of a pandemic.

Senior citizens have been hit especially hard by the quarantine rules. So many have become even more isolated and lonely as their visitors have been banned from entering their homes or living facilities. Teens have answered their needs in heartfelt and creative ways.

‘“We are Generation Z and we are here to help.” That’s the motto on a website created to help seniors receive items they need during the coronavirus pandemic.

The site, ZoomerstoBoomers.com, was created by Daniel Goldberg, a junior at San Marcos High School in San Marcos, Calif. It has six outposts in the nation — one of which is in Greenwich.

Greenwich High School juniors Kate Rubich and Hayley Schmidt launched the local Zoomers to Boomers chapter several days ago. The service enlists high school volunteers to deliver groceries to individuals in the community who are elderly or immuno-compromised and are staying in their homes.’

According to Greenwich Time, Zoomers to Boomers has provided groceries and items to more than 300 people and as of Monday, has 40 high school volunteers nationwide. Besides Greenwich, the online service includes outposts in Santa Barbara, Calif., Denver, Miami, Honolulu and Salt Lake City.

Another group of teens has started delivering groceries to the elderly in Maryland. Here is their story from CNN 

‘Like many teenagers, 16-year-old Dhruv Pai and 15-year-old Matt Casertano have been out of school for weeks.

“We were both helping out our families, delivering groceries to our grandparents, and we thought ‘what about the people who do not have family in the area?'” Casertano told CNN.

“‘What if we started some organization to connect teens to the senior citizens and anyone who has a compromised immune system, where going outside is a substantial risk to them?'”

Dhruv and Matt are providing contactless grocery deliveries for elderly people in their communities. Their volunteers follow CDC guidelines and leave the groceries on people’s doorsteps to cut out contact, and they pick up the check or cash that their customers leave for them.  These amazing QuaranTeens already have 65 teen volunteers and more signing on every day proving that teens are eager to help and ready to reach out when given the opportunity. As the RevolTeens columns I write always emphasize, teens are underestimated and disregarded all too often. These two teens are no exception, and they know what most adults think of teens. They’ve decided to challenge that perception through their efforts.

“There is a negative portrayal of teens and I think our organization is reversing that stereotype, and people are seeing that teens can really benefit the community,” Pai told CNN. “I think there is still altruism in this generation, and we can spread that. Spreading kindness is a good message.”

The teens’ calls often go beyond just groceries.

“A lot of these seniors need someone to talk to and the opportunity to connect for a bit,” explained Pai. “It inspires me that we might be able to bridge the generational gap.”

Hailey Wilson from Montgomery County, Maryland has been working to help elderly people in her community to get connected and stay connected with their families and friends for a lot longer than the COVID-19 crisis has been around according to WJLA TV  The high school sophomore signed up for an entrepreneur class at her high school at the beginning of this school year and decided that her target market would be seniors. She launched The Ethel Project named for her beloved grandmother. She has been visiting a local assisted living and memory facility where she donated iPads and has taught the residents how to use Skype to stay connected with their families.

“They loved it! She made a lot of friends here when she was able to come in the building,” said Tom Clarke, the Executive Director at Spring Hills Mount Vernon.

Hailey also has a GoFundMe fundraiser page where she is working to raise $50,000 to expand The Ethel Project into more communities to help many more seniors to get more connected to their families and friends.

Teens are finding ways to help younger people as well. QuaranTunes was founded by sixteen year old Julia Segal after watching her ten year old sister getting frustrated with being cooped up on quarantine. Julia decided to teach her little sister some music lessons. A few weeks later as a favor for a family friend, Julia taught a group of 40 Elementary school kids. Seeing the kids enthusiasm for learning music and having something fun to do inspired Julia to ask her other musical friends if they’d like to help expand the lessons to more kids and so QuaranTunes was born. All money raised by QuaranTunes is donated to the CDC Foundation which is fighting the virus that is keeping all these kids at home. 

According to The Mercury News Stanford-bound Naama Bejerano, a 17 year-old senior at Gunn who plays the flute and has performed in Carnegie Hall, is the chief operating officer at QuaranTunes.

“Definitely the start of it was small scale and it’s sort of grown globally,” said Bejerano, noting that some students who take lessons hail from the East Coast, Europe and India. “It doesn’t matter where you are around the world, you can participate in this either as a teacher or the student just because it is a strictly online platform.”

Of course, there are technical challenges as well as musical ones, but these teens seem to have that covered as well:

‘Bejerano is focused on the website’s automation as traffic increases.

“I didn’t expect it to happen as quickly,” she said. “But from the start, I’ve been working on simple methods for us to be able to scale up very quickly.”

The fundraising effort for QuaranTunes already surpassed $1,000.

“I think that although we may not be the ones on the frontlines fighting the virus directly, we’re all playing a really important role in helping the world fight the pandemic through what it is that we do best,” Segal said. “Which is music.”

Teens have also found meaningful ways to support each other during quarantine. LGBTQ kids across the country have lost the accepting communities that they may have had at school and among friends and many are isolated in homes where they may not be accepted or able to live the way they want.The Insider reports.

‘”We know that when school provides that kind of support young queer people thrive,” Willingham-Jaggers told Insider. “Part of what is difficult about this COVID-19 moment is that what’s needed for public health is people being physically apart from one another.”

Both the Human Rights Campaign and The Trevor Project predict separation from a queer “chosen family” at school could have a significant negative impact on the mental health of LGBTQ youth — as prolonged quarantines could also mean higher exposure to triggers like familial abuse from unsupportive guardians.

A recent report released by the Trevor Project — the world’s largest LGBTQ suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization — found queer youth might be at a higher risk for depression and suicide because of the negative impacts of physical distancing restrictions.

“What we experience is a rupture of a physical school community across our country, so that provides additional significant challenges for all marginalized kids,” Willingham-Jaggers said.’

Many Gay Straight Alliance groups created at schools are now able to meet via Zoom or other video conferencing platforms to connect and support each other.

From the Insider:

‘Online spaces like Tik Tok, Instagram, and YouTube are also popular places for young LGBTQ people to connect and build community. #Trans and #nonbinary Tik Tok is a booming place for teens to connect, talk about serious issues like gender dysphoria and unsupportive parents, and have a laugh.

Some queer teens and organizations are even using social media platforms and digital spaces like Zoom to organize rallies in support of LGBTQ rights across platforms.

On April 24, over 8,000 high school LGBTQ groups across the country, including Oliver’s and Darid’s, tuned into GLSEN’s 25th annual Day of Silence — a demonstration where high school students silently protest anti-LGBTQ bullying.‘

With students missing major celebratory milestone events, parents and others are struggling to find ways to help their QuaranTeens cope. There is so much to mourn from the loss of graduation to those last exams and sharing college acceptances. NPR reports some great advice from experts to help parents to support their teen and young adult kids.

Psychologist Lynn Bufka, spokesperson for the American Psychological Association offers a few strategies for parents. First, parents can acknowledge their teens feelings and not minimize what they’re experiencing. 

‘Parents should recognize that for many young people, “this is the biggest thing they’ve experienced in their lives,” she says. “They’re too young to remember 9/11. Collectively as a generation, this is a really big experience for them.”

When you’re young, understanding that life is just not as predictable as they might have thought can be scary, she says. Parents can help by letting them talk about it.’

Next, parents can encourage teens to stay connected with their friends and their families. Virtual meetups, phone calls, texts, social media, family dinners, and movie or game nights are all great ways for teens to maintain their social ties during this quarantine.

We can also help teens to focus on what they can control. This has definitely been a strategy that we’ve employed at our house. Though teens and young adults have lost many opportunities and events that they had anticipated for months and years, they can make decisions about what to do with their lives now and after the quarantine is over. Planning dinners, picking movies, making lists of everything they want to do with their friends to celebrate the end of quarantine are all great ways to shift their focus to what they have to look forward to rather than what they’ve lost.

Finally, Bufka suggests that we help teens to focus on the greater good which all the teens highlighted here have done. Staying at home and giving up so many of the things they love is painful, they are helping the world and so many people through their sacrifices. While they may feel like they are not able to do anything to help, doing nothing right now is an heroic act.

Bufka continues, ‘”We understand these sacrifices need to be made, and we know that we are doing our part in this, doing what we can for society,” she says.

In the end, Bufka says once young people get through this crisis, they will realize they can handle tough situations and get to the other side.

“It will make us stronger — sometimes we surprise ourselves.”

Teenagers definitely surprise us. The QuaranTeens are out in the world, confined to home and missing out on school. My teens are home finding ways to cope. They’re having good days and bad days and we are all making the best of things. The teens who are finding ways to help support each other, help seniors find groceries and say connected to families, teach kids music lessons online, and support others in the LGBTQ community are making the world better. They’re RevolTeens in extraordinary times, and I cannot wait to see what they do next.

About Christine Lively

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

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Librarianing in the Time of a Pandemic

I have been a library worker/librarian serving youth in various public libraries for a little over 26 years now. I believe in the power and importance of public libraries. I have had the privilege of working from home and still serving my patrons for the past five weeks. Yesterday, despite all scientific advice, my governor joined other governors across the nation in announcing that we would start opening ASAP and I, despite my love of libraries, have never been more terrified. I have listened while my peers have had the conversations for weeks now, I’ve been reading the news and the science, and I have been listening to library users and community members talk about what should be happening in our public libraries. Today, I want to share my personal thoughts (not related to my library at all) about librarianing in the time of a pandemic.

A Brief History of Libraries and Why It Matters

Libraries began a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away to provide a means of sharing community resources. What makes a library a library has evolved over the years and it continues to evolve. When you think of a library you probably think about book sharing, and that is a thing that we do. In fact, the word library stems from the Latin root libre, which means books. We are a place where people share books, and that has value. Not because books in and of themselves are important, but because they are a way for us to share stories, to share information, and to learn and to grow. Books are a powerful tool for information access and sharing.

Over time libraries evolved to include things like music, movies, and more. A typical library now provides community access to paper books, audio books, movies in various forms, music in various forms, magazines, newspapers, etc. Every time a new format comes out, libraries have to make space for entirely new categories of materials, most often in the same small buildings. Each new format means everything gets pushed closer together and the building gets more full. Keep in mind, these items are picked up, put down, checked out, and returned by a wide variety of people through out the course of a day. Everything that a library is designed to share access to goes through a lot of hands.

So what you have is a collection of materials browsed by a large number of patrons going in and out of a lot of hands. In the time of a deadly viral pandemic.

In the 1990s libraries started adding public Internet access computers. Remember, this is another way we had to take a new service that required a lot of equipment and put them in already full and growing even more full buildings. When you walk into almost any public library in the United States, you will find a large number of patrons sitting shoulder to shoulder and waiting in line to access public computers. Sometimes, they are even in small enclosed rooms. That’s a lot of people sitting closely and sharing resources. In the time of a deadly viral pandemic.

At this same time, public libraries began to recognize growing community needs and added more seating and group seating for things. They also began hosting small and large group programming for families and various age groups. Children’s storytimes, teen programs, adult book discussions, makerspaces and more. These are events and spaces designed to bring groups of people together in social groups to interact with each other and shared spaces and tools. In the time of a deadly viral pandemic.

Browsing collections. Circulating materials. Public access computers. Small and large group programs. Everything that a library is and is designed to offer is counter to what scientists seem to be suggesting is best practices in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic. Public libraries are a shared space with shared resources, a viral outbreaks dream. This should give us all pause.

What Happens When Libraries Are Closed

In March, public libraries everywhere closed their doors. But staff didn’t stop working. Public libraries did what they always do and they evolved; they learned, they grew, they pivoted, and they developed best practices to meet the current needs of today’s patrons in a way that ensured the health and safety of their communities, which includes patrons AND staff. Public libraries are long standing institutions because we have become good at adapting.

Most libraries already had digital collections in place through services like OverDrive and Hoopla, and they increased their collections here. They started offering online storytimes, virtual programs, and ways for their patrons to connect to staff via phone, email or Internet to get questions answered. In short, like everyone else, we punted. So while the changes for public libraries are very real, the response has been amazing.

It’s not a perfect solution. Like what we are seeing in our public schools, virtual services are a system that privileges those of means that have a way to virtually connect with libraries. It leaves out some of our most vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed patrons. No library worker I know is happy with this end result, except for the part where we know that we are keeping our staff and patrons safe. In the midst of a deadly viral outbreak, health and safety must be our primary goal. Let’s not kill each other through casual contact is arguably the highest community standard in a time when we can literally be killing one another without even knowing we are doing it. I like not killing my patrons. I like not being killed by my patrons.

So while I don’t think what’s happening right now in our libraries is normal best practices, I think it is best practices in a time that is so far removed from normal there is no real playbook.

What Happens to Libraries in 2020?

The short answer is: I don’t know. I am not a scientist. I am not a politician. I am not in a decision making or leadership position. I am, however, a librarian. I am a citizen. I am a daughter, a wife, a mother, a friend, a human. And I am afraid.

I am afraid of going back to work in a building in which people come in and out and items come in and out. A building which was designed to bring people together and share resources. A building which encourages groups to gather. A building which any staff member will tell you is full of shared germs, close contact, and a lot of human interaction.

Here’s another fun fact about public libraries. We are community funded at some level, either local, county or state. It’s true, your taxes pay our salary. It’s also true that like most publicly funded entities, we are often under funded and don’t have the financial means or access to get the supplies that we would need to keep our buildings virus free for you, our patrons, and for our staff. I mean, I haven’t seen cleaning supplies at my local grocery store since this all began. And if we could get our hands on enough to operate a large building with a ton of foot traffic, that means we would be taking it out of the supply for local hospitals, police, fire, etc. In terms of pandemic prioritizing, I don’t think public libraries comes before hospitals.

Here’s another fun fact. Books are hard to clean. So are magazines. And there’s a lot of conflicting information out there about how long the virus lives on what types of services, what best practices are, and what safety measures libraries should take. This is new and no one has good, scientific information yet to know what it is we should be doing. Every day what we think we know about Covid-19 and what it does and what it means seems to be changing. To use a popular sports ball metaphor, the goal posts keep moving and we don’t know what we don’t know. This is new.

Many libraries are contemplating curb side service. I have done the thing where I placed an order, drove up to a store and had someone place those items in the trunk of my car. Let me tell you why it’s hard for a library to do this. You’ve probably noticed that right now you can’t return items to a store. Bought the wrong kind of beans? Too bad, they’re yours now. This is to help prevent the flow of items in between people so the virus has less chance to pass between people. This doesn’t work for a public library, we take our items back so that we can lend them to the next person. It’s literally out standard operating procedure. This is not best practices in a viral pandemic that has killed 50,000+ Americans in about 6 weeks.

Grocery stores remained open because eating is a necessary component of survival. Eating food is not something we can stop doing for a bit. Though I love reading and believe strongly that access to information is a great democratic equalizer, I recognize that it’s not essential to survival in the same way as eating is. Although imperfect, we do have virtual ways to meet a large number of community needs without endangering them. I’m a book and pop culture nerd so outside of a pandemic I would tell you books are essential; inside of a pandemic, surviving takes precedence. I’m voting for survival every time.

I think it is dangerous for public libraries to re-open their building without more information and lowering death toll numbers. Our numbers in the United States are not going down, not yet. That matters. This is important data for decision making.

Even when the numbers start going down, this virus won’t be done. Most scientists are saying this will come in waves and cycles, possibly for the next 12 to 18 months. Fun fact: More Americans died in the Flu epidemic in the second wave when everything “went back to normal”, in part because they tried to go back to normal too early. We can learn from history and science and make different decisions for our communities. Opening too early will cost many more lives than necessary.

When I hear my peers talking about what this year will look like, I hear things like:

  1. We will have to no longer allow patrons to browse our physical collections until we know a lot more. I know libraries who are planning on opening later in the summer or fall once more data is known who plan on allowing patrons to place holds and do pick up only.
  2. At first, we will have to do curbside pick up, but not too early. Again, we need more information to adopt best practices to keep our patrons and staff safe. The biggest issue we will have is when is it safe to accept returns.
  3. We’ll have to figure out how and when we can begin to accept return items. This means we need to know when and how to clean and sanitize items. This also means we need to know when we can safely buy the materials we need to do this without taking them away from the first responders who need them more immediately.
  4. Eventually, we’ll have to rethink public computer access. If we provide it in 2020, we should spread them out a lot more and clean them with extreme vigilance between each patron.
  5. Programming should continue to be virtual for all of 2020 or until we have more facts. When in person programming does resume, we’ll need to have smaller groups, more space, and less shared tools. I’ve read recommendations that say no programming in 2020.
  6. After virtual programming but before we go to full in-person programming, some libraries might and should provide things like make and take kits that DO NOT RETURN. Think craft kits where staff provide all of the supplies that get consumed by the patron provided in bags that we don’t want back.

I think like the rest of the world, you will see permanent changes in public libraries moving forward way beyond when this pandemic is over. Which, again, is not going to be in the year 2020. I think public libraries will have to re-think their spaces and hygiene practices. I think they will have to re-evaluate what types of materials they offer, how much, and how much floor spaces they will dedicate to them. I imagine there will be a lot of discussion about creating more open spaces for more social distancing as a general practice.

I also think many libraries will realize the benefit of virtual services and create and maintain dedicated teams to reach library users and supporters who will engage with us online but never step foot into our buildings. Digital collections will continue to be areas of focus, as will virtual programming. In an ideal world, public libraries would have both an in-house and virtual programming team. They would be separate teams that coordinate and communicate but have the time and resources dedicated to reaching their intended audience in effective and meaningful ways.

I don’t think physical buildings will permanently close. When this is over, people will be in more need than ever and we know through data that when the economy grows worse, public library use goes up. And after months of isolation and quarantine, people will need affordable places to be social, and this is something that libraries have always excelled at. There will come a time once again when our doors will safely open and what we have to offer will be exactly what our communities need. This may not be that time, but it is coming.

Libraries are always evolving and changing and we are witnessing that happening right now in very real ways. This is not the end of libraries, but the beginning of our next evolution. I don’t know what happens next. I do think that for now, it’s best that our doors remain closed and we do the thing we do best: seek out and find authoritative and reliable data to help us make best practices decisions to keep our patrons and staff healthy and safe while doing our best to serve our communities. The rules are changing right now, and it feels terrifying. Pandemic planning was not covered in library school

As I write this, public libraries everywhere are laying off staff. We know that budgets are being slashed because tax revenues have fallen way short due to sheltering in place. This is an overwhelming moment to be in a profession designed to do everything that seems to make this virus thrive. I hope that everyone out there making decisions about our health and safety will do so with the gravitas this moment requires.

In this moment, everything is changing. None of us were prepared and none of us know what comes next. But libraries will do what we always do best, change to fit the changing world. And thrive.

*Please note, this blog is not associated with any current or former employer and represents no one’s opinion but mine. Also, I do know that librarianing is not a real word.