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Book Review: Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration edited by Rose Brock

Publisher’s description

hope nationHope is a decision, but it is a hard one to recognize in the face of oppression, belittlement, alienation, and defeat. To help embolden hope, here is a powerhouse collection of essays and personal stories that speak directly to teens and all YA readers. Featuring Angie Thomas, Marie Lu, James Dashner, Nicola Yoon, David Levithan, Libba Bray, Jason Reynolds, Renée Ahdieh, and many more!

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”—Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We all experience moments when we struggle to understand the state of the world, when we feel powerless and—in some cases—even hopeless. The teens of today are the caretakers of tomorrow, and yet it’s difficult for many to find joy or comfort in such a turbulent society. But in trying times, words are power.

Some of today’s most influential young adult authors come together in this highly personal collection of essays and original stories that offer moments of light in the darkness, and show that hope is a decision we all can make.

Like a modern day Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul or Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for TeensHope Nation acknowledges the pain and offers words of encouragement.

Authors include: Atia Abawi, Renee Ahdieh, Libba Bray, Howard Bryant, Ally Carter, Ally Condie, James Dashner, Christina Diaz Gonzales, Gayle Forman, Romina Garber, I. W. Gregario, Kate Hart, Bendan Kiely, David Levithan, Alex London, Marie Lu, Julie Murphy, Jason Reynolds, Aisha Saeed, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Jeff Zentner, and Nicola Yoon.


Amanda’s thoughts

Let me first just say that I really wish the summary for this book didn’t compare this to inspirational books like Chicken Soup or Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. For one, I’m not sure how relevant those comps are for actual modern teens, and for another thing, I see those things and immediately think, GACK, no thank you. While this is a book focused on hope and encouragement, it, to me, is nothing like those titles. It is far better. Thank goodness.


With the exception of Levithan’s fictional piece based on being at the Women’s March in Atlanta, the rest of this collection is essays from a wide variety of authors. Libba Bray writes about the car accident that changed her life and the hope she finds, loses, and learns will come around again. Angie Thomas discusses the current political climate, the publication of her book The Hate U Give, and three particular encounters after its publication. Ally Condie talks about, among other things, depression and the things and people that help with hope. Marie Lu writes about moving from China to America and survival and adaptation. Jeff Zentner talks about the hope that lies in young Book People and the power of stories. Nicola Yoon recounts the challenges of being an interracial couple. Kate Hart explores her combative relationship with hope. Gayle Forman takes on the topics of travel, hope, and life after 9/11. Christina Diaz Gonzalez talks about baseball, being the only Hispanic girl in her small North Florida town, and her Cuban grandmother. Atia Abawi writes about her dream of being a journalist, persistence, roadblocks, and believing in yourself. Alex London talks about the 90s, prom, drag, and the gender binary. Howard Bryant writes about his newspaper internship in a small Pennsylvania farm town and the lessons he learned there. Ally Carter reveals how long she kept her desire to be a writer a secret. Romina Garber recalls her move from Argentina to the US as a child and what it meant to be an immigrant. Renee Ahdieh  talks identity and how it shaped her. Aisha Saeed writes about apologies and being an American Muslim. Jenny Torres Sanchez discusses growing up afraid of her father and the abuse that he suffered as a child. Nic Stone talks about being African American in this post-2016 election era. Julie Murphy finds home and hope in unexpected places. I.W. Gregorio shares how a repressed teen grew up to become a urologist, and discusses breaking taboos and getting rid of awkwardness. Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely have a conversation about their tour for All American Boys and the conversations and kids who have stuck with them.


My favorite thing about anthologies has always been finding new authors to explore, and this collection, that offers so many personal stories and chances for readers to connect on a variety of shared experiences and interests, will surely point young readers toward new names. I am automatically repelled from anything billed as “inspirational” (it’s just how I’m built), but this look at hope and connection will show readers that they are not alone in their experiences, feelings, or concerns. Definitely worth picking up, even if just read to the pieces by your favorites. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781524741679
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 02/27/2018

Book Review: Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! by Marley Dias

Publisher’s description

In this accessible guide with an introduction by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay, Marley Dias explores activism, social justice, volunteerism, equity and inclusion, and using social media for good. Drawing from her experience, Marley shows kids how they can galvanize their strengths to make positive changes in their communities, while getting support from parents, teachers, and friends to turn dreams into reality. Focusing on the importance of literacy and diversity, Marley offers suggestions on book selection, and delivers hands-on strategies for becoming a lifelong reader.

Amanda’s thoughts

marleyMarley Dias, creator of the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign, talks to young readers about social activism and what YOU can do in this engaging, visually striking new book.

The book looks at Marley’s backstory and the things that led to her creating a social action movement. As a fifth grader, she was disgusted that their reading list consisted of the same old tired classics featuring lots of white boys. She wondered where were the books with kids like her, with black girls, and thus the movement was born. We learn about her parents and their backgrounds, moments from Marley’s life that have shaped who she is (like a trip to Ghana and her involvement in the GrassROOTS Community Foundation), her fashion sense (including her glasses and her hair), her social media presence (and tips for managing a safe, sane life on social media), and so much more. Her book offers tips on how to be woke (and help others to be, too), how to make a difference in your community, how to be an activist, how to be a better reader, how to find books featuring minority characters, and how to effectively do book talks. The book ends with a handy list of about 500 books for middle grade and YA readers featuring black girls. For people who don’t live on Twitter and didn’t see this all unfold in real life, or who have somehow missed all of the media attention surrounding Marley’s project, this will be an especially inspiring read. Young readers will love seeing someone their own age make such a big impact and will be able to walk away from this book with plenty of ideas on how to undertake their own projects. Nicely laid out with lots of fantastic, colorful pictures of Marley and moments from her life, this book focusing on activism, literacy, and diversity is a must-have for school library collections. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338136890
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 01/30/2018

#ReadForChange: Confronting Racial Injustice with Justyce in Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, a guest post by Marie Marquardt

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Nic Stone join us for a conversation about racial injustice and Stone’s phenomenal debut novel, Dear Martin


It’s so amazing to be living in this time of great change. It’s hard. It’s complicated. It’s not always pretty—I’m thinking about … protests going on because of Eric Garner and Ferguson and Treyvon Martin—the lists go on—but people are angry and done! —and with anger and done-ness comes change. So it may not always look the way we want it to look or sound the way we want it to sound but it’s change nevertheless. We have to be like water, ready to move with it. 

—Jacqueline Woodson (SLJ interview, January 2015)


“Ready to Move with It”

dear martinUnflinching. This is the word that comes to mind when I reflect on the experience of reading Dear Martin. Nic Stone weaves together a story that draws us in deep and refuses to let us turn away from the heartache, the confusion, the sorrow, and the violence – physical and emotional – of growing up black and male in the United States.


In Dear Martin, we follow Justyce McAllister – a kind, thoughtful, young black man – through his senior year as a scholarship student at an elite Atlanta prep school. We begin in the parking lot of a FarmFresh grocery store where Justyce, trying to come to the rescue of his wasted ex-girlfriend, is physically and verbally assaulted by a police officer. We see, through his experience, the dawning realization that, no matter how smart he is (incredibly smart), no matter how he dresses, no matter how he tries to stay out of trouble and be “more acceptable”, in his own words: “the world is full of people who will always see me as inferior.” His mom sums it up when she asks him, rhetorically, “It’s hard being a black man, ain’t it?”


But in the pages of Nic Stone’s novel, Justyce rolls like water…. Struggling to make sense of all that he experiences and wanting so much to do the right thing, Justyce writes a series of letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Here’s how he ends his first letter: “You faced worse shi—I mean stuff than sitting in handcuffs for a few hours, but you stuck to your guns… well, your lack thereof, actually. I wanna try to live like you. Do what you would do. See where it gets me.”


Justyce’s year of trying to live like “Martin” takes him, and us (the readers who root so hard for him) to places that are morally complicated and heartbreaking – places that challenge many of us to re-think what we thought we knew about the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and the racially-charged times we live in now.


Through the eyes of Justyce, Nic Stone helps readers see the many nuances of racial injustice, and what it must feel like to arrive at that moment of being, in the words of Jacqueline Woodson “angry and done”!  And, as Woodson reminds us, once our eyes are opened, “We have to be like water, ready to move with it.”


“Step One is Always Opening Your Eyes and Ears”: A Conversation with Nic Stone

StoneSmileMARIE: Tell us about the moment when you knew that this story had to be written, and that you needed to be the one to write it.


NIC: Dear Martin was a response to three things: the myriad shooting deaths of unarmed African American teenagers since 2012, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to these deaths, and the invocation of Dr. King in opposition to this movement—which didn’t sit right with me knowing what I knew about Dr. King and his M.O. So I decided to explore current events through the lens of his teachings to see what would happen. I have two little boys, so it’s really my ode to them and my way of figuring out how to approach the stuff I’ll eventually have to teach them about being black and male in America.


MARIE: What are some of the things you’re doing to create the world that you want your sons to live in?


NIC: In a word: writing. Books are hugely instrumental in shifting perspectives and opening minds, and it’s a huge honor and privilege to get to create them—and by default, influence minds—for a living.


MARIE: What’s your message for readers who want to take action, themselves?


NIC: Step one is always opening your eyes and ears. Getting a thumb on the pulse of what’s actually going on. Read. A lot. Write to process. Talk to people. Then, when it comes to the fight against systemic injustice, the next step is to find the people who are already doing the work. There are a lot of… legs to this issue—there’s police accountability, criminal justice reform, immigration reform, you name it—so figuring out where to focus one’s attention is important. Then use your gifts. Write if you write. Talk if you talk. Got a finance background? Use it.


“Read. A lot.” (And Listen!)

DearMartin GiveawayOkay, folks.  Time to follow Nic’s advice: Here’s a short list of non-fiction books that would be great companions to Dear Martin – they can help us “get a thumb on the pulse of what’s actually going on” and also inspire us to take action.


Black Lives Matter by Sue Bradford Edwards and Dutchess Harris – Written specifically for middle and high schoolers, the book explores the historical events and movements framing the tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, and the contemporary resistance movements that have emerged in their wake.


Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe – A deep look into the 1955 murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, the trial and acquittal of his white murderers, and the horrific event’s role in shaping the Civil Rights Movement.


March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell – A three-volume graphic memoir of the extraordinary Congressman John Lewis (who I’m incredibly proud to say is my own representative in Georgia’s 5th District!). An inspiring reminder of teenagers’ crucial leadership in the Civil Rights Movement.


Some more challenging reads that are absolutely worth the effort:

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward

We had Sneakers, They had Guns: The Kids who fought for Civil Rights in Mississippi  by Tracy Sugarman


And, a podcast, for when you’re taking a break from that stack of fabulous books:

Pod Save the People hosted by DeRay Mckesson, an activist involved in shaping the Black Lives Matter movement. It features weekly conversations on culture, politics, and social justice that offer practical ideas for how each of us can make a difference.


The Next Step: “Find the People who are Already Doing the Work”

Ready to take action?  Here are a few recommendations straight from Nic Stone – movements and organizations already doing the important work of fighting for racial justice.


RJOY: Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth – works to interrupt cycles of violence and incarceration of kids of color – using a restorative model of justice to repair harm and heal communities.


Color of Change: designs campaigns to “end practices that unfairly hold Black people back” and “champions solutions that move us all forward.  Until Justice is real.”


Black Lives Matter: A movement for “healing justice” and “rigorous love”: “We affirm our humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”


Then use your gifts…

Nic Stone Book Launch (1)

In October, I had the pleasure of being at Nic’s book launch event for Dear Martin, where she put her own remarkable gifts to work. Nic chose a format that wasn’t typical, but it was the perfect way to send Justyce’s story into the world. We gathered at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, where, instead of talking about the book or reading from it, Nic asked a panel of three young black men questions about their own experience, their perceptions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy, and what they want to see change in our society.


When asked what we can do to help create change, one of the panelists offered this simple advice: “Read a book. It gives you a different perspective on people.”


Let us go forth and #ReadForChange!

Hoping to go forth and read a free signed copy of Dear Martin? Head on over to the Rafflecopter link to enter the giveaway. US only! We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt February 1!


Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season (available 2/20/18). A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

2018: A Year to #ReadForChange, a guest post by Marie Marquardt

Teen Librarian Toolbox is excited to announce that we’re partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Here’s some more about the initiative! 


Hello, 2018. Hello, Change.

Throughout 2017, I traveled around the United States talking with students, librarians, teachers, and other YA and MG authors. And, wow.

T.C. Williams High School, Alexandria, VA

T.C. Williams High School, Alexandria, VA

From Bowling Green, Kentucky to Santa Monica, California; from Tappan Zee, New York to San Antonio, Texas, I heard the same inspiring message: Now, more than ever, readers want books that give us all the feels and open our eyes, hearts, and minds to important social issues. And now, more than ever, authors are stepping forward to give us those stories.

Tappan Zee High School, Orangeburg, NY

Tappan Zee High School, Orangeburg, NY

So many young readers seek novels that offer new ways of looking at the world, challenge them to ask tough questions, and motivate them to take action. And YA and MG authors share their passion.  That’s why I’ve decided to dedicate 2018 to building connections between readers and authors, with the goal of inspiring action for social change.

Writing the Resistance Panel, Yallwest 2017

Writing the Resistance Panel, Yallwest 2017


One Year, Twelve YA & MG Books of Cause

Throughout 2018, I will find and share the best-of-the-best YA & MG books that bring attention to important issues and causes, and I’ll connect readers with the incredible people who write them. I’m calling the initiative #ReadForChange, and the first newsletter will arrive right here at Teen Librarian Toolbox on January 20, 2018.

Here’s what to expect:

On the 20th of each month, #ReadForChange will introduce readers to a book of cause, and each month the theme will be new. I’ll recommend a YA or Middle Grade novel that’s an awesome read and also a great window into a social issue that matters now. Whatever the theme for the month, I’ll also link readers to groups and movements that are taking action. So, after being inspired by the story, readers can find good information and get involved. I’ll work hard to connect readers with organizations and movements led by teens, since we all know that teens are doing amazing things to change the world!


I’ll also bring authors into the conversation. You’ll hear from featured authors why they want to make change, what they’re doing about it, and what they hope you’ll do. Each month, readers will get a chance to enter a giveaway for the month’s YA or MG Book of Cause, signed by the author (and maybe even some free SWAG to sweeten the deal).


Get ready to connect to a year of incredible stories!

Curious to know which great novel is first in the lineup? I’ll be sharing updates, previews, and bonus content on Twitter  (@MarieFMarquardt) and Instagram (marie_marquardt). To get the monthly #ReadForChange newsletter direct to your email inbox, you can subscribe here:


Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of Us, Dream Things True, and Flight Season (available 2/20/18). A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

Why That Book Isn’t in the Library; or, no starting your own small press isn’t always the answer to diversity


Earlier this week, The New York Times posted an article about sensitivity readers that prompted a heated discussion on Twitter. Because of the holidays I didn’t follow all of the conversations happening, though I did see that author Joyce Carol Oates suggested that historically marginalized authors start their own small presses and literary magazines to help fill the gap.

Besides the fact that this is being done, I recognized immediately what a huge problem this suggestion is, mainly because I know how books get in to our libraries. So let me explain to you why an author starting their own small press won’t help the problem of not enough diversity in publishing from a library perspective.

A library is a business, it’s a non-profit business but it is still a business. So like any business, we have processes and rules and regulations. In fact, because libraries involve spending public money, we are heavily regulated. In the state of Ohio, for example, we are regularly audited by state auditors and we have to be able to show where all of our monies were spent and that we followed all of the rules and regulations. Buying books for the public library is not the same as buying books for your home, there are a variety of rules and processes in place and, unfortunately, they often put small and independent presses at a huge disadvantage when it comes to buying books for our school and public libraries.


Most libraries work with specific vendors. This involves POs, which we will talk about in a moment, and vast discounts. Vendors like Baker and Taylor, Ingram and Follett allow libraries to purchase large quantities of books at a steep discount, making our dollars stretch farther. These vendors specialize in library distribution so they have built targeted programs that make putting together large book orders quick and easy. They work with librarians to develop interfaces and do things like built specific carts, find professional reviews in one place, and download catalog records. And I mentioned the discounts, right? The discounts are just as important as the technology. Many libraries will only buy books through their vendor. If a book isn’t offered by the vendor being used by the library, then it can’t be purchased. A lot of small press titles are not distributed by vendors, so being published by one of the big publishing houses eliminates a HUGE stumbling block to getting a book on the shelves of the local public and school library.

Purchase Orders

In every library I have worked at, you have to have a purchase order approved by administration before you can make a purchase. And in many libraries, you can only get a purchase order from a set of pre-approved vendors. Some libraries will approve purchase orders for a local brick and mortar store or for an online retailer like Barnes and Noble or Amazon, but some will not. This depends on the local library and their fiscal officer. The necessity of POs presents yet another stumbling block for getting small and independently published titles into our public libraries.

Catalog Records

Every book that comes into the library must be cataloged. Many libraries used to have large technical services departments that spent the time cataloging each and every book that comes into the library. But as library budgets shrank and technology changed, the cataloging process has changed as well. Today, most libraries purchase the catalog records through the vendor and do very little original cataloging. So for a title to be added to the collection, it has to have a catalog record. I sound like a broken record at this point, but again, this is a stumbling block for small and independently published titles.

Positive Professional Reviews

Public and school libraries often face material challenges. This means that a member of the public objects to having a particularly title in the local library. In order to help address any potential material challenges, libraries go through the process of developing concrete collection development policies and materials challenge procedures. Every library has a policy in place for their book selectors and they often will state that a book must have at least one and sometimes two positive professional reviews before a title can be purchased. Please note it is always professional reviews, which usually means from a professional review journal like School Library Journal, Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus or Booklist. Blogs, Goodreads, etc. typically don’t count as professional reviews. This need for professional reviews again means it is harder for a small or independently published title to get even in front of the eyes of a selector, let alone past one of the gate-keeping measures that libraries must use to build their collections.

With the growth of small and independently published titles, some libraries have taken steps to help incorporate these titles into their local libraries, but not all. Not a lot, in fact. Many libraries will take donations of small and independently published titles by local authors and build local author collections, but this doesn’t help book sales and it doesn’t help get authors on the shelves. And we can debate whether or not these are good policies on the part of libraries for days, but the reality is that libraries have to have operating procedures, they have to be accountable for public monies spent, and they have a responsibility to get the most bank for their buck to best serve their local communities. This need must be balanced with the need to build inclusive collections and provide access, but the reality is that for a lot of library systems, small and independent presses are hard to incorporate into their purchasing routines.

Small and independent presses are a possible solution to help solve the lack of diversity and inclusion in publishing, but they are not the only answer and if we want to help libraries build more inclusive collections, they aren’t the best answer. The truth is that this lack of diversity in publishing is a systemic, multi-faceted problem that needs to be addressed in a variety of ways. One of those ways is that we need for the big publishing houses to start publishing more diverse and inclusive titles. Big publishing houses have done the work of building up marketing and distribution channels, they have the funds to promote the titles, and they have systems in place to get those titles in front of the largest number of eyes possible to start changing the world. Starting your own small press is great, but it has to have the time to be nurtured and developed, and it has to have the funds. I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from starting their own press or literary magazine if that is what they want to do, but that isn’t the right answer to the question of how do we help make our public libraries more diverse today.

Doing a YA Diversity Audit: Answering some follow up questions, including “What about the Conservatives?”

On posts, in tweets, and in my mailbox, one of the questions we – TLT – get asked a lot is “What about the conservatives?” Because we post regularly about GLBTQAI+ literature, talk about advocacy, etc., some are left with the impression that we do not care about meeting the needs of the more conservative parts of our population, which is in no way true. This question came up multiple times regarding my recent series of posts on doing a collection diversity audit.


To begin, some background, both personal and professional: I have worked in libraries for 24 years. 4 different library systems in two different states. Personally, I am in fact a Christian. I have an undergraduate degree in Youth Ministry from a conservative Christian college. I live and work in conservative towns. I can assure you, the conservative view point is in no way under represented. In fact, doing a collection audit will help you have the factual information you need to help address these concerns.

Also, I want to address the question of what does it mean when someone says that libraries are liberal and don’t respect conservatives. By definition, public libraries should be inclusive which means they should have books on their shelves representing every point of view. That makes us default liberal, I suppose. But what do people mean when they ask about the conservative viewpoint? They could mean politically conservative, fiscally conservative, dealing with religious beliefs, or just wanting what is commonly referred to as “clean reads”. Often they mean from a Christian or political point of view, but even in non-Christian religions there are both more progressive and conservative points of view. When we talk about religion in the public library, it is vitally important that we stop operating from a Christian point of view.

Because I work with teens, I have found they are most frequently talking about 1) this concept of “clean reads” and 2) the inclusion of GLBTQAI+ literature. I’m not going to debate the basic humanity of any marginalized people, so the inclusion of GLBTQAI+ literature in a library isn’t up for debate. An individual can choose to read or not read, but a public library can not choose to buy or not buy.

I find the concept of “clean reads” to be troublesome because 1) it’s very personal, 2) it implies that other types of books are by definition dirty or less than and 3) unless a person has read every single book in their collection (and no librarian ever has or ever will), this can be a very difficult question to answer. So, what I find to be a “clean read” might be different than what the person I am talking to considers to be a clean, or let’s use the word appropriate because what they are in fact looking for is a book that is appropriate for them or their child. Doing an extensive RA interview can help answer this question, but it’s not foolproof. So I always try to add caveats and give the person I am talking to tools to do further research themselves. This includes teaching them how to use the online catalog and subject headings, finding reviews, etc.

So from the get go, the idea of how do public libraries serve and include the conservative point of view isn’t as straightforward as it is presented. Another issue with the question is that the conservative point of view often works from the standpoint that non-conservative points of view shouldn’t be in our public libraries at all, which is by the mission and definition of a public library an incorrect point of view. Many conservatives, and I know this as a member of the conservative Christian community, believe that any point of view that is contrary to their own should not be permitted because it is offensive. The public library is not there to represent only a portion of the population, it is there to serve and represent the whole, although I would argue that there are in fact some exceptions. For example, works that advocate against the basic humanity and safety of any population group would be considered hate speech and should not be purchased because they put a segment of the population at harm. My POC or GLBTQAI+ teens should be able to come safely into the public library and not have their very existence threatened by the books in my collection.

The reality is that the very thing many conservatives fear is the answer to the question of how are they being served: inclusive collections. Inclusive collections mean that conservatives, whether they be politically or religious conservatives or just readers wanting the appropriate book for them, are best served by truly inclusive collections.

amishreads3 amishreads2 amishreads1

The library that I currently work at, The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, has a large, dedicated Amish fiction collection. This is, of course, in part because we serve a large Amish and conservative population. We understand our local community and work hard to meet its needs in inclusive ways. I have worked at other libraries with large Chinese and Vietnamese collections because there was a large, local Chinese and Vietnamese population. Every library works to understand and serve their local communities in a variety of ways.

I would argue, however, that building inclusive (or diverse) collections, is part of that service. For one, even if it represents a small percentage of your local population, that small percentage still deserves to be represented respectfully in their local library. Their existence is not up for debate, their worth and their rights aren’t either. Secondly, reading diversely is part of the educational value of a public library, the whole “walking in another person’s shoes” and developing compassion for your fellow human beings. We fail our local communities in that aspect of service if we don’t actively build inclusive collections. Even if you serve a local community that is 99% white and conservative, building inclusive collections is part of your mission statement, or at least it should be, because reading outside of one’s own experience is part of a holistic education experience. We are not helping our local communities become educated citizens if we neglect the reality that we live in a diverse world.

We must also never forget that what a person reads ultimately comes down to personal choice. However, our patrons can’t make choices to read diversely if we don’t provide them access to diverse collections. What they ultimately choose to read is on them, but what we provide them access to is on us. If we take away their choices because we presume to know what they want because of a set of very specific and local statistics, then we are failing our local communities.

That’s what inclusive collections are about: ACCESS and CHOICE. That is also why librarians make the statement that if you don’t find something offensive in your local public library, then they are doing it wrong. Take politics out of the mix for a moment and let’s examine another topic: baby care. Not everyone agrees on the topic of baby care. If you have had a baby or listened to people who have tried to raise babies, you will recognize the truth of this statement. Should you let a baby cry it out and sleep train or should you respond to a baby’s every cry and practice kangaroo care? You can find people who will advocate, and quite passionately, for both sides of this coin. And you should be able to find books in your local public library that represent both of these arguments. The person who bought those books might have an opinion on the matter – I certainly do – but that personal opinion doesn’t matter when building a public library collection. We buy authoritative, well reviewed books to represent all points of views. If you walk up to your religion and politics collections, you should find the same: a well balanced collection of titles that represents multiple points of view on a variety of controversial topics.

The truth is, when libraries start doing the work of actively building inclusive collections, it can seem to the majority groups that marginalized groups are taking over. This is part of the fear that comes in equality because those groups that have historically held a position of power are being asked to give up that power in the name of equality, and they almost never want to. For example, men, white cishet Christian men in particular, have historically made up the bulk of the publishing world and there has been a real push of late for publishing to include more diversity and for libraries to build more inclusive collections. And I hear the men saying, well we don’t get to have a voice any more. Which is still statistically not true. I do a diversity audit of my monthly book orders and I can categorically with facts and data prove that this is not true. And even with a very targeted attempt to build a more inclusive YA collection, a thorough audit of my YA collection also reveals that this is not true. Even with targeted, intentional purchasing, my collection is still over 70% white and over 93% straight.


One of the questions I get asked repeatedly when I talk about my collection audit and the journey I have taken to build a more intentional and purposeful YA collection is about community push back. I have worked in two fairly conservative communities and have experienced book challenges in both. This is where it’s important that we have up to date collection development policies and make sure that we have trained our staff, and trained them well, to talk about the role of the public library and the value of inclusive collections to our patrons. And if we truly have built inclusive collections, then we should be able to say, “this book may not have been for you, but we have others in our collections that may fit your needs, let me help you find those.”

The truth is, building inclusive collections isn’t about excluding anyone, it’s about including everyone.

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: Understanding Your Local Community (Part 1)

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: The How To (Part 2)

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: Resources and Sources (Part 3)

Diversity Audit Outline 2017 with Sources

#SJYALit: Walk A Mile In Their Shoes, a guest post by Christina June

sjyalitWhen I was in grad school, a required course for my degree was Multicultural Counseling.  An assignment in that class was to do something outside “your box” so you could experience what it feels like to be uncomfortable, maybe even upset, at what was happening around you.  It could be something as small as watching a movie or going to a restaurant.  My professor, an African-American woman, even offered to take any of us who wanted to go to her Baptist church.  One of my peers, a young white Morman guy, took her up on it.  She told us whatever experience we chose was to help us learn empathy for those who were different from us.  So we would be able to put our own biases aside when helping clients or students who came from different backgrounds.


At 22, I took that message with me not only during that assignment, but for every assignment, every client session, every interaction, then and now.  Though I’d been lucky to grow up in a fairly diverse area of the country, I’m aware that not everyone has the opportunity to interact regularly with people who are different from them.


With the chaotic political climate of the US, it’s hard not to see the cracks that have always been present widening into canyons.  The differences in philosophies on life are staggering and frankly, for me, confusing.  I think back to that class in grad school all the time and wish more people could get out of their boxes.  They way I see it, it all boils down to this:


  1. Some people are selfish.
  2. Some people are not selfish.


Sounds harsh, I know, but hear me out.  When I say selfish, I don’t mean a little kid who doesn’t want to share his toys.  I mean someone who puts their personal interests first, before the needs of the masses.  Someone who lacks empathy and compassion.  Someone who is unable to put themselves in the mind and body of someone else for a little while.  I’ll admit there are times when acting on one’s own behalf is important, but most of the time, when we think about the greater good, everyone wins.  Seems pretty simple, yeah?


But what if you’re not there yet?  This is where books can make a huge difference.


Books magically allow a reader to put themselves in the head of a narrator for several hours and feel what they feel.  They allow a reader to experience different ways of life—try them on for a little while—which can lead to greater understanding of others.  And once we realize that experiences are universal, it’s easy to see we’re more alike than not.


hate-uHave you lost a friend to tragedy?  Pick up THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas.


Is your romantic relationship complicated by your family dynamics?  Try IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET by Misa Suguira or GIRL MANS UP by M-E Girard.


Feel like you’re the only one hiding something?  Check out THE THING WITH FEATHERS by McCall Hoyle.



It’s much easier to fight for your friends than strangers, right?  If you know someone, what they’ve been through, the specifics of their life and their struggles, you’re more likely to go to bat for them.  You’d probably think that fight was worth your time.  Books can help kids make new friends that’ll stick with them for their whole life and inform which battles they’re willing to walk into.  And the earlier they learn these lessons, the better off all of us will be.


Teachers, librarians, booksellers, mentors—they are all magicians.  They have the unique and tremendously important ability to put books in the hands of kids who need something.  Maybe they need that new friend.  Any book has the potential to change—or even save—a life.  Books can have a ripple effect for years and years and it is my sincere hope that the amazing books that are being written right now will make long-lasting impressions on young readers.


I don’t expect—or want—all my neighbors to look like me, love like me, or believe like me.  Many agree with me, but many do not.  However, I’m optimistic that the more we learn about others, the more we will consider them in our decisions.


Make new friends.  We’re all in this together.  There’s no I in Team.  Walk a mile in their shoes.  Together we stand, divided we fall.


We’re better when we lose the selfish and work to make sure everyone feels supported.  Books are a great starting point.


Meet Christina June

View More: June writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor.  She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters.  Christina is a voracious reader, loves to travel, eats too many cupcakes, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland.  She lives in Virginia with her husband and daughter.  Her debut novel, IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE, was released in May 2017, and a companion, EVERYWHERE YOU WANT TO BE, will be available in 2018.


About IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE by Christina June

goodbyeSixteen-year-old Tatum Elsea is bracing for the worst summer of her life. After being falsely accused of a crime, she’s stuck under stepmother-imposed house arrest and her BFF’s gone ghost. Tatum fills her newfound free time with community service by day and working at her covert graphic design business at night, which includes trading emails with a cute cello-playing client. If Tatum is reading his emails right, her virtual Prince Charming is funny, smart, and talented—and he seems to think the same about her. Too bad he’s spending his summer across the ocean in Ireland…not that Tatum would be allowed to go on a date anyway.

But over the course of the summer, Tatum will learn that sometimes going after what you want means breaking all the rules. And when Tatum discovers she’s not the only one in the house keeping secrets, she finds she has the chance to make amends with her family and friends. Equipped with a new perspective, and assisted by her feisty step-abuela-slash-fairy-godmother, Tatum is ready to start fresh and maybe even get her happy ending along the way. A modern play on the Cinderella story arc, Christina June’s IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE will appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, and Jennifer E. Smith.


Book Review: The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian

Publisher’s description

ra6The Authentics is a fresh, funny, and insightful novel about culture, love, and family—the kind we are born into and the ones we create.

Daria Esfandyar is Iranian-American and proud of her heritage, unlike some of the “Nose Jobs” in the clique led by her former best friend, Heidi Javadi. Daria and her friends call themselves the Authentics, because they pride themselves on always keeping it real.

But in the course of researching a school project, Daria learns something shocking about her past, which launches her on a journey of self-discovery. It seems everyone is keeping secrets. And it’s getting harder to know who she even is any longer.

With infighting among the Authentics, her mother planning an over-the-top sweet sixteen party, and a romance that should be totally off limits, Daria doesn’t have time for this identity crisis. As everything in her life is spinning out of control—can she figure out how to stay true to herself?


Amanda’s thoughts

authenticsDaria, the main character, and her friends Caroline, Joy, and Kurt feel like they are the only ones that are being their authentic selves all the time. Daria is an agnostic Iranian-American; Caroline is a lesbian performance artist; Joy is Nigerian American and raised by strict parents; and Kurt is super into astrology. They feel like they’re real in ways their peers are not, but a whole bunch of different revelations (both big and small) force them to rethink what’s real, what their identities are, and what it even means to be seen as authentic.

An assignment in English class about family trees and the journey of many students’ families to the United States propels the Authentics (which, yes, they rather insufferably refer to themselves as) to do a cheek swab DNA test to see what they might learn about themselves. Daria gets back information that she doesn’t understand, pushing her to do some digging into her family’s past, uncovering secrets that she can’t believe. While on a mission to reconnect with someone from her past, she meets Rico, a tattooed Mexican artist, who captures her interest (even though there are some very good reasons she should not see him as a potential love interest). As she begins to put together the pieces of her family’s past, Daria also learns that not everything is as it seems for all kinds of people in her life.


Examining culture, identity, and family, The Authentics is a compelling look at what happens when everything you thought you knew is suddenly uncertain. A good read full of memorable characters with diverse identities. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062486462

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/08/2017

ALA Recap: Libraries are Not Neutral Spaces (Things I Never Learned in Library School)

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolThis past Sunday I had the honor of presenting with a panel of fabulous librarians about how libraries are NOT neutral spaces. Like most librarians, I spent a major part of my career proclaiming that we were. But over time, I have come to realize that we are, in fact, not. For example, if during the month of December you put up a Christmas tree or a Christmas display but don’t acknowledge that any other holidays exist, you are making a non-neutral statement and highlighting certain faiths and traditions over others. Did you choose to avoid putting up a Black Lives Matter display? That was not a neutral decision. This month is Pride, did you put up a Pride display? Whether you answer yes or no to this question, your answer is not a neutral decision. Every decision to do or not do something in our libraries is not a neutral decision, and it often reflects our own personal, cultural or institutional biases.

You can find the slides to our ALA Presentation here (a log in is required)

You can read tweets about the presentation under the #CritLibAla17 at #ALAAC17

It has been a process for me to learn how to examine and break down my personal biases in considering everything I do in my library, from putting up a display to deciding when, where, and how to program. The work of being inclusive and advocating for my teen patrons – ALL of my teen patrons – is ongoing and never done. It takes some intentionality on my part and I am working on training my staff to have that same type of intentionality.

In fact, for me, displays and collections are a big part of how I try and be intentional and inclusive. I didn’t have a term for it until this weekend thanks to someone one Twitter, but I regularly perform diversity audits of my YA collection. I will sit down monthly with some type of topic or focus in mind and go through my collection to make sure I have a well represented number of titles and authors that represent that topic. For example, with Pride approaching, I spent the month of April going through every single letter in GLBTQAI+ to make sure that I had a good representation of titles for each letter in my collection. And when doing so I go through and make sure that they include as many POC, LatinX, Native American, Asian and more authors as possible. I don’t want to just be diverse in having GLBTQAI+ titles, I want to make sure that those titles are as diverse and representative as possible.

I recently went through the process of re-writing my display policy and procedures for my staff to help achieve this same goal. I want to make sure that every display we put up is inclusive. If we do a fantasy display, my staff is reminded to go through and check to make sure that there are books by diverse authors featuring diverse characters on that display. A display that solely features cis-het-white male authors is not acceptable in my department, but building them takes dedicated work on all levels. It means that I have to make sure I am building good collections for my staff to pull titles from and it means that my staff has to do the work of looking at the display daily to make sure they have a good balance of titles to choose from.

#SJYALit: Making a Social Justice Book Display that Engages Teens

Storytime Underground Libraries are Not Neutral Spaces Handouts

I discuss displays more here: The Display Must Go On. In the future I hope to add a statement to my display policy, which is included in the link, specifying that 50% or more of the display must feature diverse authors and main characters. And since we have a display notebook where we are making note of past displays so that we have good notes for future displays, I would like to create a form where we list the titles put on display and the theme of the display. This not only will provide us good info for doing RA or creating/repeating future displays, but it will help us do those diversity audits so that we can make sure we are being inclusive not just in our collections but in our displays.

sjyalit#SJYALit (2017)

The Social Justice in YA Lit Project/Discussion, using YA literature to discuss a variety of social justice issues including own voices, representation, discrimination, education, poverty and more.

Although I talked a lot about displays, many others on the panel talked about other good points and I highly recommend that you check out the slides and read the work of those I had the honor of speaking with. I learned a lot from my peers. For example, I have never processed what it means that Christian creation stories are catalogued in religion while Native American creation stories are catalogued as folklore. This was a profound moment of realization for me that finally helped me more fully understand what settler colonialism means. Doing the work means being engaged in the professional community and learning from your peers. It’s important to follow and read from librarians from different backgrounds.

I want to make one final note about holiday programming, which comes up frequently when we talk about libraries as neutral spaces. Many libraries engage in Christmas programming in their libraries and there is an ongoing argument that this is what our communities want and that Christmas is a secular holiday. For me, as a Christian, Christmas is a profoundly religious holiday and I decided when I had children not to discuss or introduce the concept of Santa to my children because I did not want to dilute the sacredness of this day. So no, our communities, even our Christian communities, don’t all want us to be doing holiday or Santa programming at the library. Even some of the fundamental beliefs we have about what our communities want may be wrong.

As I mentioned, this was truly an important and enlightening discussion for me. I continue to learn and grow as a librarian and appreciate every opportunity to talk with my peers, challenge my beliefs and make sure that I am heading in the right direction as a librarian for myself, for my teens, and for my community. I want to keep doing the good work, and sometimes that means changing what I think I know, what I believe, what I do, and the how and why of how I do it. It’s often uncomfortable, but I keep doing the work anyway.

Thank you to my co-presenters:

Nicole Cooke

Assistant Professor / Director of the MS/LIS Program, School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois

Cory Eckert

Librarian, The Post Oak School

Kendra Jones

District Manager, Youth & Family Services, Timberland Regional Library, Washington

Jessica Anne Liddell

Branch Manager, Grand Rapids Public Library

Debbie Reese

Founder and Editor, American Indians in Children’s Literature

Spotlight on Salaam Reads

salaam-readsLast year it was announced that Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing would launch a Muslim children’s book imprint called Salaam Reads. From the S&S website, a Feb 24, 2016 post says this about the imprint: “Salaam Reads will introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families, and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works. The imprint, which takes its name from the Arabic word for “peace,” plans to publish books for young readers of all ages, including picture and chapter books, and middle–grade and young adult titles.

Salaam Reads will reside within the larger Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers imprint, led by publisher Justin Chanda and executive editor Zareen Jaffery. The imprint plans to publish a minimum of nine titles per year for all ages.”


To read more about this great imprint, check out the following articles and blog posts:

Simon and Schuster Launches Muslim Imprint for Children’s Books (Publishers Weekly)

Simon & Schuster launches Muslim kidlit imprint Salaam Reads (YA Interrobang)

Salaam Reads: A Q&A With a New Publisher Imprint for Muslim Children (Education Week)

Salaam Reads Aims to Publish Muslim YA Stories (Teen Vogue)

Read an exclusive excerpt from Hena Khan’s new book, Amina’s Voice (Entertainment Weekly)

Read an exclusive excerpt from Karuna Riazi’s debut novel, The Gauntlet (Entertainment Weekly)

Cover Reveal: SAINTS AND MISFITS by S. K. Ali (YA Highway)


You can also follow their social media accounts and check out their website: Website, TwitterInstagramFacebook


These are the books that have been announced so far (summaries from the publisher):


amina's voiceAmina’s Voice by Hena Khan (ISBN-13: 9781481492065 Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/14/2017)


A Pakistani-American Muslim girl struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community in this sweet and moving middle grade novel from the award-winning author of It’s Ramadan, Curious George and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.



gauntletThe Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi (ISBN-13: 9781481486965 Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/28/2017)

A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.

When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.

Under the tutelage of a lizard guide named Henrietta Peel and an aeronaut Vijay, the Farah and her friends battle camel spiders, red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats as they prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari, the man behind the machine. Can they defeat Amari at his own game…or will they, like the children who came before them, become cogs in the machine?



Ali - Saints and MisfitsSaints and Misfits by S.K. Ali (ISBN-13: 9781481499248 Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Publication date: 06/13/2017)

Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?


yo soyYo Soy Muslim by Mark Gonzales, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (ISBN-13: 9781481489362 Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Publication date: 08/29/2017)

From Muslim and Latino poet Mark Gonzales comes a touching and lyrical picture book about a parent who encourages their child to find joy and pride in all aspects of their multicultural identity.

Dear little one,
…know you are wondrous.
A child of crescent moons,
a builder of mosques,
a descendant of brilliance,
an ancestor in training.

Written as a letter from a father to his daughter, Yo Soy Muslim is a celebration of social harmony and multicultural identities. The vivid and elegant verse, accompanied by magical and vibrant illustrations, highlights the diversity of the Muslim community as well as Indigenous identity. A literary journey of discovery and wonder, Yo Soy Muslim is sure to inspire adults and children alike.



salam aSalam Alaikum by Harris J, illustrated by Ward Jenkins (ISBN-13: 9781481489386 Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Publication date: 09/05/2017)

From “the Muslim Justin Bieber” (NPR) Harris J comes a picture book that celebrates spreading peace, love, and happiness throughout the world, using the lyrics of his international YouTube hit of the same name.

Salam Alaikum means “Peace be upon you.” It is the greeting that Muslims around the world use to say “hello” and “good-bye.” International music sensation Harris J has taken that greeting and created a call to action.

Spread peace on the earth…
Treasure the love, let it surround us
Always be kind, always remind one another
Peace on the earth every day

Using the lyrics to the hit song of the same name, and accompanied by heartwarming illustrations that depict the power of paying it forward, this sweet and charming picture book celebrates kindness and community.