Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

A Secret Corner, a guest post by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Tehlor Kay Mejia's debut novel.

Tehlor Kay Mejia’s debut novel.

It was before a girl treated my heart like a catch- and-release fish. Before newly-blue-haired courage sent me across a parking lot to compliment the patches she’d sewn on her jean jacket. It was before I felt like myself, the awkwardness of sixteen still sitting heavy on my skin, and the house was empty, and the library was open until nine.

 

Back then, the teen section was upstairs and in the back, away from the computer banks and the prying eyes of people my mom might know. I dropped my heavy backpack next to the chair in the corner every day while cooler kids got in cars to haunt the steps of pizza places and their parents’ business-trip-empty condos. I looked for books that looked like people might kiss in them.

 

I watched people more than I talked to them, the way their hair fell in these intentional looking waves, the way they seemed to know what to do with eyeliner. The way they just locked together, effortlessly, like there weren’t a million tiny miracles between not-holding-hands and holding hands. Not-kissing and kissing.

 

So far, none of those miracles had happened to me.

 

I was obsessed with kissing, because I’d never done it. Not unless you counted that awkward “see what this is all about” thing in the backyard with my best friend on my thirteenth birthday. But I didn’t. I was a lifetime from thirteen now, taller and weirder and quieter. I pined after boys I would never talk to from afar. I waited for my miracle.

 

In the library, I browsed the sparsely populated teen shelf looking for something I hadn’t already read on a hundred other nights like this one. But on this particular day, I found a book with a perfect cover. It was a sunshiney thing, the main image two hands with their fingers interlocked. It looked cheesy and summery and I wouldn’t have been caught dead reading it in front of my debate team friends – who were on an Ayn Rand kick – but in the secret corner of the library no one knew I was haunting, I let myself take it anyway.

 

That night, the librarian had to tap me on the shoulder to tell me they were closing. But by then I had read enough. Empress of the World was about a girl like me. Smart, awkward, a little thorny, so the world believed she was mostly friendless and unkissed by choice. I had read other books about girls like her, but those girls had kissed boys in the end and I had been fascinated but not always moved.

 

This time, the awkward girl did not grow closer to a popular boy who sees her beyond her glasses. This time, the awkward girl kissed a blonde, beautiful preacher’s daughter. A dancer who was a friend before she was more. I read it with my heart pounding, this sleepy summer camp book, and when I walked out into the world again, fluorescent lights turning off in my wake, the air felt different on my face.

 

It was a book I couldn’t have picked up at the bookstore. A book I wouldn’t have been brave enough to read on the bus, or the cafeteria, or the living room, or even my bedroom. It was a book I left behind, my library card unused in my wallet. But I came back to visit. I learned the code words in the cover copy like they were a secret language. I found other books like it, and in the safety of that secret library corner I read until the lines around me were a little darker, the colors inside them more filled in.

 

There was a long way to go before I’d cross that parking lot to tell a girl with a mohawk I liked her jean jacket. Before I’d stop feeling left out and unkissable and weird (let’s be honest, I still feel that way sometimes). There was a long way to go before I’d realize the things I was scribbling in my notebook margins were poetry, or that I’d collected enough of the secret code to write a book of my own.

 

But when I finally found I had enough, I went back to that corner. I sat in the chair where I’d discovered Nicola and Battle, and two hands intertwined on a cover that my friends would have teased me for reading. I thought about the holes I’d fallen into in those stories, the patchwork of myself I’d tried to make out of all their pieces. All the things that had been missing from them that I’d had to find myself out in the world.

 

There were so many people on my mind and in my heart when I wrote We Set the Dark on Fire, but first and foremost it will always be for that lonely, mixed up girl, looking for keywords in cover copy, jumping and hiding the book every time she heard feet on the library stairs.

 

The one who found a home in a library corner when the world wasn’t quite ready for her brand of magic.

 

The one who found her own words there.

 

 

Meet Tehlor Kay Mejia

tehlorTehlor Kay Mejia is an author and Oregon native in love with the alpine meadows and evergreen forests of her home state, where she lives with her daughter. We Set the Dark on Fire is her debut fantasy novel. She is active in the Latinx lit community, and passionate about representation for marginalized teens in media. Her short fiction appears in the All Out and Toil & Trouble anthologies from Inkyard Press, and her middle grade fantasy debut, Paola Santiago and the Drowned Palace, is forthcoming from Rick Riordan Presents/Disney Hyperion. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @tehlorkay.

 

 

 

About WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE

 

In this daring and romantic fantasy debut perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Latinx authors Zoraida Córdova and Anna-Marie McLemore, society wife-in-training Dani has a great awakening after being recruited by rebel spies and falling for her biggest rival.

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.

Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.

And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.

Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

(SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE.)

 

ISBN-13: 9780062691316
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/26/2019

Sunday Reflections: Muslim Voices

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

If you know me at all, you know I am quite fond of my library minions. And when I say “my library minions,” I mean the teens and young adults I have gotten to know over the past many years working in high school and public libraries in central Minnesota. I’ve since moved and am not currently in a library, but I formed lifelong bonds with those minions. We talk and text. They come visit me. I’ve written college recommendations for them, and scholarship letters, and been a job reference. We’ve had endless lunches and dinners and coffee dates. They turn to me for advice. I am honored that many of them consider me a mentor. I love these kids. Fiercely. 

 

 

The flag of Somalia.

The flag of Somalia.

A large portion of my beloved minions are Muslims from Somalia. Minnesota’s Somali population is the largest in the United States. The area I lived in for the past decade, St. Cloud, has a HUGE Somali population. My young friends are amazing. They’re college students, tutors, grad students, volunteers, activists, med school students, writers, artists, and history-makers. They want to be doctors, lawyers, judges, authors, teachers, and therapists. As you might guess, when the travel ban was issued, I started furiously texting with some of my friends. A few of them sent me their thoughts, which I share with you here today.

 

 

From Sahra:

I feel like Trump has yet to comprehend that immigrants are an asset to society. In fact, they have always been. From early settlement in the thirteen colonies, to the era of industrialization, we have learned that it was foreigners who built the U.S.A from the ground up.

This country was established by people who escaped religious persecution in Europe and here we are denying immigrants access to a new life simply due to their religion.

We keep hearing “It’s not a Muslim ban, it’s not a Muslim ban,” but what do you call it when the only thing the 7 countries have in common is that (an astonishing majority) believe that “There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed (Peace and blessings be upon him) is his messenger”?

Fun fact: The immigrants I have had the pleasure to meet are so eager to start working as soon as they step foot in this country. I mean surely if they are working they are also paying taxes, and if they are paying taxes surely the government is benefiting.

But hey, what do I know?

Aside from that, I’m flabbergasted that a man with so little values, so little support, and so little common sense has become the president of the United States of America. At this point, we are lucky if we make it out alive by the time he gets impeached.

 

From Saido:

Do you know what it is like living in fear? Looking at everything from a different perspective. Analyzing every movement a person makes and thinking, what do they mean? Are they bullying me? I live like that every single day. I live in fear that someone might jump out of nowhere and attack me for no reason. It’s sad we live in a society where people are afraid to be themselves, and if they decided to become themselves, they become the target of a hate crime.

When I first heard about the ban, I thought it was a joke. Then I saw it on the news—people who were actually being held in the airport because they come from a country that the president thinks is a threat to this nation. I am a person who is from one of the countries the president now bans from entering the United States. I feel sad because I am an individual who has lived in this country for twelve years and I have not seen or heard about the threat my people are causing to this nation. It took me awhile to process this because,I have never heard of crimes that these countries that were put a ban have committed. On the other hand, I am glad to see people who are standing up for the rights of the refugees and also for the rights of those who are mistreated. I am a proud American citizen and I am thankful for the opportunity this country has given me.

 

From Khadija:

As citizens of the United States of America we enjoy a rare privilege. One that is not available to many people around the world. This is a privilege that I am acutely aware of at all times as a citizen with the freedom to express her thoughts and fight for what I think is right in the form of peaceful protests without fear of repercussions or violence. I want people who are oppressed to have the opportunity for a better life regardless of what religion they follow. It is my responsibility not just as a US citizen, but as a citizen of Earth to fight for peace and a world without violence and ignorance. Our best shot at unity is to advocate for peace.

So You’re a Librarian (or Library), What Do You Do Now? Librarianing in the Time of Political Turmoil

Sometimes inspiration comes in the strangest moments. Yesterday on Twitter I was thinking about what it means to me now to be a librarian. So I started tweeting and ended up with a long string of tweets highlighting the things that I think we – and that we includes me – can do now in light of current events. These thoughts are inspired in part by my mentor who asked me the other day, “okay, so now what do we do?” This question was asked in part because, if we’re being honest, a lot of not normal things are happening at this moment and people are concerned about privacy, about civil liberties, about the quality of and access to information. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about that. So here are some of my thoughts. You probably has some great ones as well, so please add them in the comments.

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschool



  1. So my fellow librarians, here we are. What can we do:
    1) Print off or create an evaluating media sources page & put it everywhere


  2. 2) Buy diverse books. A lot of them. Put them everywhere. Flood your library with them.
    3) Host diverse or dystopian book discussion groups


  3. 4) Make a super easy bookmark for your local community. Put contact info for reps/senators on it. Websites. Understanding how govt works.


  4. @TLT16 4.) Use a canary for government requests about borrower records.
    5.) Delete all borrower records when the material is returned.


  5. 5) Go right now & make sure your collection is balanced left/right, progressive/conservative Christian, etc. Order accordingly asap.


  6. I mention #5 because as a progressive Christian I can almost guarantee you your collection skews overly conservative.


  7. 6) Don't pretend kids/teens don't know/care about what is happening. Put up a so you want to understand govt. page/display/booklist


  8. 7) Make sure all staff knows phone #/web addresses for things like ACLU, be ready to answer reference questions for help & referrals


  9. 8) Train staff ASAP - again - about freedom of information, censorship, collection development, patron privacy, what to do if records


  10. are requested or books are challenged.
    9) Don't keep patron records. It's a privacy issue.


  11. 10) Don't have a collection development policy or materials challenge policy? Get on that ASAP.


  12. @TLT16 6.) Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Kids need to understand data collection and surveillance.


  13. 11) Remind staff AND public the value, duty and role of the public library. Stress Democracy, education, freedom of information.


  14. 12) Make sure staff knows who to refer public/media questions to, what they can/can not say. Write out a script. Bad info hard to retract.


  15. 13) Keep business cards of PR person and/or director well stocked at every public desk. Tell staff to refer all questions/concerns there.


  16. Our goals:
    Patron access to info
    Patron privacy
    Patron safety
    Library, patron, information advocacy




  17. Remember, education of local communities doesn't mean protecting people from info, it means providing it. How democracy thrives.


  18. @TLT16 Don't forget historical fiction!! We protest today because we know what happened when people didn't in the past.


  19. @TLT16 Community discussion focusing on historical works and why history and historical memory are important. Create oral history projects

 

Sunday Reflections: Saying Goodbye to My Book Club Minions

sundayreflections1I’m down to the last few days at the library. In a few weeks, we move 90 miles away to just outside of St. Paul. I’ve been ready to move for a long time. A looooong time. But as ready as I am to go, I’m not ready—not even a little bit—to leave behind my library minions.

 

 

APOLLOIn 2010, after a few years of being home with my son, Callum, I decided I was ready to go back to work. I’d been a children’s librarian before staying home, and really wanted to get back into a library. When a position opened up for a media para at the high school closest to my house, I applied. I was thrilled to find out, once I started working, that I got to do pretty much all of the librarian things. I got to order books, create displays, weed books, help teachers, do book talks and library tours, and check books in and out. I was pretty much left alone (my favorite way to work) and loved getting to be around teenagers all day. Before long, word got out that I actually read YA, knew how to recommend books, and that I respected teenagers. At first, it was just a few kids who hung around all the time (shout-out to Naimo, Nimo, D’Shawn, and Ryuda). But before long, my desk with thronged with teenagers hanging out all day. I ended up working at that library for three years. Most of my day was spent with teenagers hanging around and chatting with me, trading book recs, and listening to problems. I loved every minute of it.

 

Then my dad was killed in a car accident. And I spent 11 months as the executor of an incredibly messy, contentious estate. And I was in a constant state of verge-of-nervous-breakdown. I was so grateful for the teenagers distracting me all day long, but the endless work of settling the estate was so much. Too much. And, of course, there was the whole “holy crap, life is fleeting” thing that happens. And while I adored my library minions, that adoration was not enough to keep me at the school I was at. So I quit. I wanted to spend more time with my kid. I didn’t want him to go to daycare every day after school. I didn’t want to come home from work grumbling about the increasing irritations of my workplace. I had gone as long as I could saying to myself, “But I stay at this job for the kids. I’m needed here.” It wasn’t enough anymore.

 

bookclub3I wasn’t entirely abandoning my minions. My second year at the high school, I had worked with some of the public librarians to start a teen advisory board at the downtown library. For a very long time, that board consisted solely of kids from my high school. It grew to include teens and young adults from other area schools, and to include homeschooled kids, and unschooled kids. It was diverse, inspiring, and a great way for me to stay in touch with everyone. Also there was Facebook. And texting. And meeting up for coffee. It wasn’t the same, but it was something.

 

After two years at home, I got antsy to be in a library again. While I was home, I’d certainly kept busy. I wrote for VOYA, SLJ, and The Horn Book. I started working for Teen Librarian Toolbox. I did lots of random freelance stuff, the biggest project of which was writing supplemental curriculum material for a textbook company (sounds boring, but it totally was not). I wrote a novel. And revised it. And revised it again. And once more.

 

BOOKCLUBSo when a long-term sub job opened up at the public library, and that job also involved getting to do all the teen programming, I jumped on it. I liked the people who would be my supervisors, having worked with them on the teen advisory board. I liked the other staff. I loved the library. The added bonus of my job was getting to see so many familiar faces from the high school—kids who were never part of my clubs or boards but had been frequent visitors to me at the high school library. They’d hug me, update me on their lives, remember our little inside jokes. And those minions, my core group? Most were now in college, but they remained loyal TAB and book club members. The best few hours of my month were the ones I got to spend listening to their brilliance.

 

BOOKCLUB2Over the years, I have shared bits and pieces of my teens’ insights here on TLT and on Twitter. If you have missed these posts, I highly suggest checking them out. Those teens have lots of smart things to say. We had a fantastically deep and important discussion about sexual violence in YA literature. We talked about mental health in YA literature. We’ve talked about their likes and dislikes in YA. We talked about school violence. Both Abby and Rose have guest posted for TLT. These kids are all smart and unique and I can’t wait to see what wonderful things everyone goes on to do.

 

 

ANNABOOKCLUB4For 6 years it has been my absolute honor to watch these young adults grow, learn, and lead. I’ve written scholarship letters, college recommendations, served as job references, had them babysit Callum, gone out to endless meals with them, heard relationship woes, offered up advice, and been their friend—and they’ve been mine. We’ve shared laughs, tears, and incredibly deep and personal conversations. I feel so lucky that they’ve let me into their lives and kept me around all these years. Books have given me so many things. They’ve given me not only entertainment and enjoyment, but bigger things. They’ve given me my education, my career, and my husband (there are worse places to meet your partner than working together at a bookstore). Books also gave me these wonderful teenagers. 

 

IMG_8430They have treated me as their friend and confidant and have been more meaningful to me than any part of any job ever has. I’m so, so grateful for all of you, my library minions, and won’t ever forget the impact you’ve had on my life. Saido, Khadija, Amiro, Anna, Abby, Ashleigh, Ryuda, Emada, Ekran, Fadumo, Ashley, Asiya, Amina, Rose, Sequoia—you’ve made me a better person. Thank you for sharing your lives with me. I am immeasurably thankful to have gotten to know you. 

 

Signal Boost: Rainbow Boxes and Connecting LGBTQIA Books to Readers

rainbow boxesIf you’ve spent any time at all on Twitter recently, you’ve probably seen tweets about the Rainbow Boxes project. YA authors Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta have put together this fantastic project to send a box of 15 books to one library and one GSA or LGBTQIA homeless shelter in every state. From their fundraiser site: “We want these books to reach teenagers who need to see themselves in stories. We also want to push back against the notion that these stories hold no interest outside of the LGBTQIA community. Inclusive fiction is for everyone!” At the time of this blog post, their goal is $26,000 and they are already 25% funded. Their campaign will run for 60 days, ending on September 4, 2015.

 

Each Rainbow Box will include the following books:

Magoon, Kekla. 37 Things I Love (In No Particular Order).

Lo, Malinda. Huntress.

Cronn-Mills, Kirstin. Beautiful Music for Ugly Children.

Sharpe, Tess. Far From You.

Saenz, Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

LaCour, Nina. Everything Leads to You.

Farizan, Sara. If You Could Be Mine.

Levithan, David. Two Boys Kissing.

Duyvis, Corinne. Otherbound.

Charlton-Trujillo, e.E. Fat Angie.

Gregorio, I.W. None of the Above.

Polonsky, Ami. Gracefully Grayson.

Albertalli, Becky. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Konigsberg, Bill. Openly Straight.

London, Alex. Proxy.

 

Amy Rose Capetta was nice enough to take some time to share more information with me about the Rainbow Boxes project. I asked her how they will select what libraries, GSAs, or shelters receive the books. “We’re choosing the libraries/shelters/GSAs through a mixture of research, referral, and inquiries from people who hear about our mission. Because we’re looking to reach readers in all 50 states, we worry about relying on a simple application system. Some states would be vastly over-represented, while others might not apply at all! We need to be somewhat proactive in seeking these places out.”

 

I was curious how Capetta and Cori McCarthy came up with this project and how long they’ve been working behind the scenes on this campaign. “We came up with the idea in large part because of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. It was so inspiring to see a team of authors and people in the YA world take action. We got in touch with them before we launched Rainbow Boxes and they have been so supportive!”

 

“Cori and I have been working on this project for six months, while we revised novels and ran around doing book events. We love writing, but we also wanted to do something to give back, and to nudge this movement toward more inclusive stories–writing them, celebrating them, finding a way to connect them to readers who need them for so many different reasons. Many LGBTQIA teenagers have never seen stories with protagonists that reflect some of their major truths. Other readers might not pick up these great books until they’re more widely available. We really do believe that inclusive fiction is for everyone. When people give to Rainbow Boxes, they’re supporting that idea.”

 

So how can you help? If you are in a position to donate financially to the project, awesome. Their Indiegogo site allows you to donate in any amount. “We have suggested donation amounts that come with little perks (such as having your name in a specially designed Rainbow Boxes bookplate!) but with Indiegogo flexible funding you can donate any amount,” says Capetta. Can’t swing a monetary donation right now? They suggest the following ways of support:

  • Share! If you like what we’re doing, share it on any and all social media platforms, talk about it with people or at events, share within the literary community, the LGBTQIA community, and beyond!
  • Indiegogo has helpful share tools that you can use to make spreading the word about Rainbow Boxes quick and easy.
  • If you’re a writer, consider writing a message to your readership to let them know that you support Rainbow Boxes and LGBTQIA books!

 

To contribute and to learn more about this phenomenal project, visit their Indiegogo site. To keep up with their campaign, follow them on Twitter @RainbowBoxesYA. And before all of that, watch their video. Here’s to hoping this extremely worthwhile cause breaks its fundraising goals!