Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Using Picture Books with Teens to Develop Media Literacy: Facts vs. Opinions. vs. Robots by Michael Rex

Picture books are just for kids, right? Wrong! My friend and fellow librarian Amianne Bailey has long been a proponent of using picture books with teens. In fact, she has written about that on her blog and shares a list of books that she recommends sharing here. She has a thriving group of young readers at her high school and though they read a lot of great YA, they’re not afraid of a picture book.

SLJ: Not Just for the Pre-K Crowd: Picture Books for Tweens and Teens

This past week I came across one of the most perfect – and timely – picture books to share with teens.

There’s a lot of political discourse happening in our world right now and some of it boils down to this: not everyone seems very clear on what the difference is between a fact and an opinion. But do not fear! These super cute robots are here to help us figure that out.

Which robot is the most fun? Well, that would be an opinion. And if we have a difference of opinion on this subject, that’s okay. We can still be friends. I mean, I still love my teenage daughter even though she had the audacity to proclaim that Foo Fighters music was trash. I thought about disowning her, but then I remembered that a difference of opinion doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. Or family.

Facts, however, are different. And I think it’s important that we talk about facts, where to find them, how to cite them, and how to talk about them with others. Granted, not all of that information is in this book. But this book is a really solid starting point for that conversation.

There are also a lot of fun things you can do with this book, because robots are cool. You can do a tech take apart program and make new robots using the pieces. You can even then make your own digital media version inspired by the Michael Rex book.

If that seems to complicated, you can do a simple exquisite corpse robot using a sheet of paper and markers. To make an exquisite corpse, you fold a sheet into thirds and have three people each drawing a section of the robot without seeing the other sections. You can find some examples and instructions here. This is also a great poetry month activity as each person can add a line to a poem in the same fashion.

You can make robots and use them to make stop motion movies, take photos of your robots use digital media to create memes, or just decorate your classroom or teen area. Playing on the idea of robots, facts and opinions would be a lot of fun.

And since this is an election year, you can take your robots to the polls. Vote for robot president. Or is it overlord? Robots probably have overlords, that sounds more dramatic. Ask your tweens and teens to pose the same types of questions about their robots that you find in the book and keep talking about facts vs. opinions. Because this is a really important conversation.

Understanding the basic premise of what, exactly, is the difference between a fact and an opinion is the cornerstone of developing media literacy in our tweens and teens. When introducing this topic, this picture book would be a really great thing to share.

Youth Media Literacy Toolbox

But let me end this discussion by saying something really important. It seems on the surface that this conversation is a no brainer, but the reality is that we are living in a day and age when science and expertise is being regularly ignored and debased. I think it’s also important that we acknowledge that some opinions are, in fact, less valid than others because no human being should have to defend their right to exist or their basic civil rights.

So while I think this book is a fun and necessary introduction to important conversations and I think that everyone should be reading it, I hope that the conversations don’t end there.

Post-It Note Reviews: Picture books, graphic novels, memoirs, and more!

IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, Carolyn Choi, Ashley Seil Smith

The brainchild of three women-of-color sociologists, IntersectionAllies is a smooth, gleeful entry into intersectional feminism. The nine interconnected characters proudly describe themselves and their backgrounds, involving topics that range from a physical disability to language brokering, offering an opportunity to take pride in a personal story and connect to collective struggle for justice.

The group bond grounds the message of allyship and equality. When things get hard, the kids support each other for who they are: Parker defends Kate, a genderfluid character who eschews skirts for a superhero cape; Heejung welcomes Yuri, a refugee escaping war, into their community; and Alejandra’s family cares for Parker after school while her mother works. Advocating respect and inclusion, IntersectionAllies is a necessary tool for learning to embrace, rather than shy away from, difference.

Featuring gorgeous illustrations on every page by Ashley Seil Smith, as well as powerful introductions by activist and law professor Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality,” and Dr. Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, author of Intersectionality: An Intellectual History.

(POST-IT SAYS: A lovely little book advocating acceptance, inclusion, and community. Extensive back matter defines concepts further and provides a lengthy discussion guide. Ages 5-9)

Sunny Rolls the Dice (Sunny Series #3) by Jennifer L. Holm, Matthew Holm (Illustrator)

From the award-winning duo of Jennifer and Matthew Holm comes the sequel to the bestselling Sunny Side Up — full of heart, laughs, and adventure!

Too cool for school . . . or the least groovy girl in the grade?

Sunny’s just made it to middle school . . . and it’s making her life very confusing. All her best friend Deb wants to talk about is fashion, boys, makeup, boys, and being cool. Sunny’s not against any of these things, but she also doesn’t understand why suddenly everything revolves around them. She’s much more comfortable when she’s in her basement, playing Dungeons & Dragons with a bunch of new friends. Because when you’re swordfighting and spider-slaying, it’s hard to worry about whether you look cool or not. Especially when it’s your turn to roll the 20-sided die.

Trying hard to be cool can make you feel really uncool . . . and it’s much more fun to just have fun. Sunny’s going to find her groove and her own kind of groovy, with plenty of laughs along the way.

(POST-IT SAYS: I eagerly awaited this book! Love the Sunny series. Graphic novels about all the changes that come with middle school are really having a moment. Light on dialogue/words, but a great read. Ages 8-12)

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, Wendy Xu (Artist)

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

(POST-IT SAYS: Likes: Cute art. Quirky and adorable characters. Both are queer and Asian American. Tam is nonbinary, Nova wears hearing aids. Could use improvement: Character development and plot. I felt like I was missing a lot of details. Uneven but good.)

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, Kaylani Juanita (Illustrator)

When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl. His parents gave him a pretty name, his room looked like a girl’s room, and he wore clothes that other girls liked wearing. After he realized he was a trans boy, Aidan and his parents fixed the parts of life that didn’t fit anymore, and he settled happily into his new life. Then Mom and Dad announce that they’re going to have another baby, and Aidan wants to do everything he can to make things right for his new sibling from the beginning—from choosing the perfect name to creating a beautiful room to picking out the cutest onesie. But what does “making things right” actually mean? And what happens if he messes up? With a little help, Aidan comes to understand that mistakes can be fixed with honesty and communication, and that he already knows the most important thing about being a big brother: how to love with his whole self.

When Aidan Became a Brother is a heartwarming book that will resonate with transgender children, reassure any child concerned about becoming an older sibling, and celebrate the many transitions a family can experience.

(POST-IT SAYS: A lovely, affirming, and important book. Full of love and hope as well as the message that there are so many ways to be a child of any gender. Really great. Ages 5-8)

Turtle and Tortoise Are Not Friends by Mike Reiss, Ashley Spires (Illustrator)

Two sworn enemies learn that they have more in common than meets the eye, and it’s never too late to make a new friend—even if it takes decades!

Ever since they were little hatchlings, Turtle and Tortoise decided that they’d forever be separated due to their different shells.

As years and years go by, the two reptiles stay on opposites side of the pen and embark on their own adventures, while holding an everlasting grudge. Until one day, Turtle and Tortoise get into a bit of pickle and need each other’s help!

This hilarious and heartwarming picture book from Merry Un-Christmas author Mike Reiss and The Most Magnificent Thing creator Ashley Spires is perfect for fans of unlikely pairs such as Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel, Duck and Bear from Jory John’s Goodnight Already!, and Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman.

Turtle has a smooth shell.

Tortoise has a rough shell.

Goodness gracious! How can they possibly be friends?!

(POST-IT SAYS: Really I’m just sharing this to say this is one of my favorite books of the year. Funny, strange, and charming, this is a great read aloud choice. Ages 5-8)

Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj

An uplifting story, told through the alternating voices of two middle-schoolers, in which a community rallies to reject racism.

Karina Chopra would have never imagined becoming friends with the boy next door—after all, they’ve avoided each other for years and she assumes Chris is just like the boys he hangs out with, who she labels a pack of hyenas. Then Karina’s grandfather starts tutoring Chris, and she discovers he’s actually a nice, funny kid. But one afternoon something unimaginable happens—the three of them are assaulted by a stranger who targets Indian-American Karina and her grandfather because of how they look. Her grandfather is gravely injured and Karina and Chris vow not to let hate win. When Karina posts a few photos related to the attack on social media, they quickly attract attention, and before long her #CountMeIn post—”What does an American look like? #immigrants #WeBelong #IamAmerican #HateHasNoHomeHere”—goes viral and a diverse population begin to add their own photos. Then, when Papa is finally on the road to recovery, Karina uses her newfound social media reach to help celebrate both his homecoming and a community coming together.

(POST-IT SAYS: While the narrative voices of Karina and Chris didn’t really grab me, this compassionate look at standing up against racism and hate is a valuable addition to all collections. Ages 10-13)

Rise Up: Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories by Amanda Li, Amy Blackwell (Illustrator)

From surviving a plane crash in the jungle to striking against climate change, you won’t believe the incredible stories of the challenges these brave kids from around the world have overcome! 

Rise Up: Ordinary Kids in Extraordinary Stories features 29 tales of amazing young girls and boys who have achieved the unimaginable. The stories range from triumphing over illness and injury to overcoming bullying. Entries include Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, whose youth climate activism sparked a global movement, and Pakistan’s Ayesha Farooq, who became Pakistan’s first female fighter pilot at age 25.

Each incredible story is narrated in an exciting and engaging style, and is combined with visually stunning illustrations by Amy Blackwell. Children can lose themselves in the remarkable true-life tales of ingenuity, courage, and commitment. Practical tips and skills accompany each story, from how to tie useful knots to send coded messages, and how to be more environmentally green to how to survive a shark attack. This useful information provides a springboard for children to apply this knowledge in their own lives. These empowering stories show that no matter who you are, how old you are, and what you do, you can rise to the challenge.

(POST-IT SAYS: Absolutely gorgeous book—full color pages with lots of variety in graphics and layout. I hadn’t heard of most of these kids! An inspiring and educational read. Would make a great gift! Ages 9-13)

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace by Ashley Bryan

From celebrated author and illustrator Ashley Bryan comes a deeply moving picture book memoir about serving in the segregated army during World War II, and how love and the pursuit of art sustained him.

In May of 1942, at the age of eighteen, Ashley Bryan was drafted to fight in World War II. For the next three years, he would face the horrors of war as a black soldier in a segregated army.

He endured the terrible lies white officers told about the black soldiers to isolate them from anyone who showed kindness—including each other. He received worse treatment than even Nazi POWs. He was assigned the grimmest, most horrific tasks, like burying fallen soldiers…but was told to remove the black soldiers first because the media didn’t want them in their newsreels. And he waited and wanted so desperately to go home, watching every white soldier get safe passage back to the United States before black soldiers were even a thought.

For the next forty years, Ashley would keep his time in the war a secret. But now, he tells his story.

The story of the kind people who supported him.
The story of the bright moments that guided him through the dark.
And the story of his passion for art that would save him time and time again.

Filled with never-before-seen artwork and handwritten letters and diary entries, this illuminating and moving memoir by Newbery Honor–winning illustrator Ashley Bryan is both a lesson in history and a testament to hope.

(POST-IT SAYS: A stunningly lovely multimedia look at Bryan’s time in the Army. Powerful, passionate, and achingly emotional, this memoir is a true work of art. Ages 10+)

Jake the Fake Goes for Laughs (Jake the Fake Series #2) by Craig Robinson, Adam Mansbach, Keith Knight (Illustrator)

For fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate comes the second book in the side-splitting series about a class clown faking his way to comedy stardom from comedian and film star Craig Robinson, #1 New York Times bestselling author Adam Mansbach, and NAACP History Maker recipient and cartoonist Keith Knight.

“An absolute riot!” —LINCOLN PEIRCE, author of the BIG NATE series

Jake cracks up the crowd as a budding comedian at the Music and Art Academy talent show, but his new ego is no laughing matter. And when he starts blowing off his friends to pursue his “art,” Jake’s big head becomes a huge bummer.

Plus, being the funny man is way tougher than it looks. Luckily, Jake has his mentor Maury Kovalski, a retired comedy showstopper, to teach him the ropes about humor—and humility—before Jake loses all his biggest fans and best friends!

Featuring more than 200 illustrations, Jake the Fake stuns again with even greater gags and giggles than before!

(POST-IT SAYS: I love this (and the first book in this series). Wacky and truly hilarious, with enough art to help speed the story along. Such an easy one to recommend widely! Ages 8-12)

The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy

From award-winning actor Maulik Pancholy comes a hilarious and heartfelt middle grade debut about a gay Indian American boy coming into his own. Perfect for fans of Tim Federle’s Nate series.

Rahul Kapoor is heading into seventh grade in a small town in Indiana. The start of middle school is making him feel increasingly anxious, so his favorite person in the whole world, his grandfather, Bhai, gives him some well-meaning advice: Find one thing you’re really good at and become the BEST at it.

Those four little words sear themselves into Rahul’s brain. While he’s not quite sure what that special thing is, he is convinced that once he finds it, bullies like Brent Mason will stop torturing him at school. And he won’t be worried about staring too long at his classmate Justin Emery. With his best friend, Chelsea, by his side, Rahul is ready to crush this challenge…. But what if he discovers he isn’t the best at anything?

Funny, charming, and incredibly touching, this is a story about friendship, family, and the courage it takes to live your truth. 

(POST-IT SAYS: Strong characters, great humor, and an uplifting and affirming message about identity and self-acceptance. Wonderful representation of multifaceted identities. Ages 9-13)


Crash Course: Recent picture books on community, caring, inclusivity, and connections

I currently work in an elementary school library. I’ve bounced around over the years: bookseller at a children’s indie during graduate school at Simmons; children’s librarian; a few years in a high school library; a stint at a large public library doing teen programming and reference stuff. This year when not at the elementary library, I’ve kept busy with lots of other projects. I presented on Social Justice and Activism at Teen Lit Con, did a giant project for School Library Journal on nonfiction series for grades K to 12, served on School Library Journal’s Best Books committee, wrote reviews for SLJ, wrote a billion posts for TLT on YA literature and advocacy, and worked on my own novels. I believe in being busy and in variety. All that’s to say that if you know me through TLT you may not know I spend my days with little kids, and if you know me from my work with little kids, you may not know that it’s just one of the hats I wear. I like my skill set to be like a Swiss Army knife of knowledge—I can bust out a book recommendation for any age and any situation. I don’t have many talents, but I do have that going for me.

TLT may be focused on teens, but I like to include books and information for other ages, especially because so many of us work with various age levels or have kids of all ages in our lives. Also, many books can hold appeal for ages well beyond their “recommended” age range.

Whether you’re looking to just keep current, or read TLT a lot but actually work with younger kids, or need some ideas for gifts for people in your life, this short Crash Course series I’m going to do over my next few posts will give you lots of info. The topics I’m very broadly looking at here—community, caring, inclusivity, and connections—are ones teachers at my school are always looking for and are ideas that my coworker and I in the library are always looking to promote.

Have other suggestions to add to this list? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter!

Be sure to check back for the four more posts coming in this series this month!

One of my favorite recent books!

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (2018)

A young dino is super excited to go to school, but learns her new classmates are children… which are delicious. Themes of friendship and getting along.

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee (2018)

The things are the other side of the wall are perceived as threats, but the little knight character learns his side is not what he thinks and that the other side may be safe and welcoming.

All of Us by Carin Berger (2018)

Themes of friendship and community show that we are stronger together.

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, Frank Morrison (Illustrator) (2018)

Elevates children’s voices and shows them as important activists. Themes of civil rights, segregation, activism, and change.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, Suzanne Kaufman (Illustrator) (2018)

Yay for diversity and inclusion! Everyone is welcome at school! A look at how we learn, grow, and share our traditions.

Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung (2018)

Colors move to separate spaces but then eventually two get together to create a baby/new color. Themes of prejudice, segregation, tolerance, and acceptance.

Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller (2018)

Seriously. Don’t do this. Don’t touch ANYONE’s hair.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, Zeke Pena (Illustrator) (2019)

Excellent father-daughter relationship and look at community.

Try a Little Kindness: A Guide to Being Better by Henry Cole (2018)

Kindness is always a big theme at school. Animals show kindness here in various ways, like sharing, helping, and being polite. Themes of friendship and helping.

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (2018)

Instead of offering solutions or suggesting how the character should feel or react, the rabbit just listens and provides comfort through that simple but important act. Themes of emotions, loss, and processing feelings.

Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh (2018)

A young Iranian Muslilm girl is excited to be going to Coney Island but misses the ice cream from back home. Compares life in Iran versus life now in Brooklyn. Themes of friendship, connection, immigrants, and cultures.

I Like, I Don’t Like by Anna Baccelliere, Ale + Ale (Illustrator) (2017)

Looks a privilege and poverty through the Right to Play.

Marwan’s Journey by Patricia de Arias, Laura Borras (Illustrator) (2018)

The journey of one young immigrant boy filled with uncertainty and hope. Themes of immigrants, refugees, courage, and home.

Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex (2017)

Poor Orange is left out of all the rhyming fruit fun. Themes of loneliness and friendship.

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller, Jen Hill (Illustrator) (2018)

Explores just what it means to be kind and shows that small acts can be meaningful. Themes of bullying, kindness, helping, friendship, values, and feelings.

Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna (2018)

At a new school in a new country, the main character’s fear dominates everything until she makes new connections and realizes everyone has fears. Themes of emotions, friendship, and worries.

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde, Peter H. Reynolds (Illustrator) (2018)

Understanding universal feelings like hope, hurt, happiness, and sadness. Themes of compassion and empathy.

When You Are Brave by Pat Zietlow Miller, Eliza Wheeler (Illustrator) (2019)

Facing new things can be scary. Themes of courage, fears, and overcoming obstacles.

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders, Jared Andrew Schorr (Illustrator) (2018)

Teaching young students to RESIST! Themes of politics, activism, and peaceful protest.

First Laugh–Welcome, Baby! by Rose Ann Tahe, Nancy Bo Flood, Jonathan Nelson (2018)

About Navajo families and the First Laugh ceremony.

I Love My Colorful Nails by Alicia Acosta, Luis Amavisca, Gusti (Illustrator) (2019)

A young boy loves to paint his nails, and has a supportive family, but is teased at school. Eventually, his peers come around. Themes of gender expression, gender noncomformity, bullying, and friendship.

I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoet (2018)

Wordless. All it takes is one brave and kind child to show others how to behave and include someone who has been bullied.

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (2018)

Wondering why she has so many names, Alma learns about her ancestors.

Not All Heroes Wear Capes by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos (2019)

Looks at the ways we can be kind and help and shows people in our community at work. Themes of volunteering, helping, and building community.

Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds (2019)

You can make a difference! Themes of action, injustice, multiculturalism, and speaking up.

It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn, Noah Grigni (Illustrator) (2019)

A wonderfully inclusive and important look at gender identity. I love this book.

Under My Hijab by Hena Khan, Aaliya Jaleel (Illustrator) (2019)

A little girl observes the different way women wear their hijab and their hair.

Home Is a Window by Stephanie Ledyard, Chris Sasaki (Illustrator) (2019)

A great story about family, home, and dealing with change.

The Buddy Bench by Patty Brozo, Mike Deas (Illustrator) (2019)

A class builds a buddy bench where classmates can wait to be invited to play. Themes of inclusivity, friendship, and loneliness.

Does your school have a buddy bench? Mine does!