Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Screening The 13th: Questions to ask yourself #SJYALit

sjyalitI recently heard about how “video visits” were growing in popularity with prisons. As the details unfolded, my initial impression of interest (“Oh that’s nice – families could maybe see their incarcerated loved ones more often or from greater distances.”) turned to revulsion. The strategy is being used largely by local jails as a way to reduce the need for security staff to supervise visits.  Families still have to travel the same distance but now can’t even be in the same room as their loved one. It seems so dehumanizing to people on both sides of the bars.


After watching Ava DuVernay’s new documentary, The 13th, now streaming on Netflix, I can only believe that “dehumanizing” was by design. I am encouraging the TLT readership to make viewing The 13th a priority by the end of 2016. It’s essential viewing for our times. Another reason to shuffle this to the top of your queue: The other day I spotted this tweet in response to a request for permission to screen the movie:

You guys get what a big deal this is, right? Offering free public screenings of new films by award winning directors like DuVernay is not something that happens every day. Do you have a film discussion group at your library or another way to, as the director encourages, “show + share”?

Should you incorporate this into your teen programming? Let’s talk about this.

What’s it about?

From IMDB: An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.

This is a comprehensive, statistic and history packed documentary about the evolution of the prison system since the 13th Amendment’s abolition of slavery and how federal and local policies and institutionalized racism work to feed Black Americans into the system at a much higher demographic rate than is represented in society at large. It is not light viewing. It’s not pleasant, it’s not easy, it’s not fun. It’s not supposed to be. This is a challenging film on many fronts.

A TV-MA rating*?

Yep. Sure is. As we all know, teens are living lives every day that people say they shouldn’t be allowed to read about or watch. This is a powerful movie with difficult content. But it’s not the language–as in the prevalence of the n-word–or nudity–in the form of brief prison security camera footage from Kalif Browder’s three years at Riker’s Island–that is the most difficult. It’s the 911 calls and cell phone videos that captured the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner that are played as the film, step by crushingly methodical step, takes the viewer decade by decade through the politics and consequences that lead directly to those heartbreaking, devastating moments.

Yes, this is a film for mature audiences in the most literal sense of the word. It is sobering and requires maturity. It’s also a good time to think about who gets to have the privilege being considered too immature to remain unaware of the realities of the film.

Questions to ask yourself

This is not a simple film for screening or discussion. Expect big feelings. Expect challenging reactions. Expect a lot of questions. Most importantly, expect to hold a conversation after the film. I feel that screening this–especially with a teen audience–and not hosting a discussion afterwards would be a disservice to the viewers and to the message of the film. Before you embark on a screening, consider the following:

  • Have you watched the film yourself at least twice? Watch it once, immersing yourself in the narrative. Then watch it again with an eye to detail and quotes. Take notes. Mark timestamps of specific elements that you want to emphasize in conversation so you can be sure you got them right.
  • Have you read/listened up on the surrounding issues? If this is your first introduction to the topic, don’t let it be your last. See the suggested titles at the end of this post for some book suggestions. Other jumping off points:
  • Who will come to the event? Think about the teens in your community: do you know who’s going to show up? Do you have a hunch? Who will be in the room and what experiences and emotions will they bring to the conversation? Who will you invite? What kind of balance will you seek between demographics like age, race, or gender? What ages will be welcome and how will your library or school address the rating, keeping in mind that TV ratings are voluntarily assigned by networks and producers are and not legally binding? What situations has your community or your teen patron base at large been involved in that relate to the subjects of the movie that they will bring with them to the viewing?
  • How heavily moderated will the conversation be? Will you steer the discussion to specific points? Will you allow or encourage discussion of specific politicians? Specific policies? Specific incidents? Or will you strive to keep the conversation more general? What is your plan for maintaining courteous discourse between the participants? What will your ground-rules be?
  • Are you equipped to handle the political and emotional complexity of conversation? It’s ok if you’re not the right person to lead the conversation. Who else in the community could you call on? Are there teachers, community leaders, local clergy, or organizers who the library could partner to facilitate a productive discussion?
  • How will you answer the inevitable question, “So how do we fix it?” This film doesn’t end with a tidy answer or any direct suggestions for ways to remedy the enmeshment of social, economic, and political issues that result in the imprisonment problem. I feel that it’s important to offer options and solutions to teens. My suggestion: share with your teens DuVernay’s own words from an interview last month with The Atlantic and invite them to respond with their own ideas:

    I believe in fortification and I believe that at this time, we should be fortifying ourselves through knowledge, through self-care, through community. All of these speak through art. It’s really about rallying around this moment and taking in a totality of what it is, and making it internal in whatever way that means to you. If you know all this stuff, great. Pass it on. If you don’t know it, know it. You need to know it. Because at this point, after you see 13th, silence in this case is consent. You know all of this. You’re a forward-thinking person, you care about it. You can’t just walk out into the night after you see the movie or put down your iPad after you see it on Netflix and do nothing about it.

    I’m not saying you have to join a march. I’m not saying you have to push for legislation. I’m saying what this film talks about is the very way that we deal with each other in the everyday. It’s about our relationship to each other as it deals with race. So there’s a lot there to be done. I’m stepping out of the conversation as it relates to this film. I’m doing two weekends talking to people and kind of giving birth to it and putting it out into the world. And then I’m going away because it’s not mine anymore. This is out in the world. I don’t want my voice clouding the conversation. I want people to be having their own conversation about it. That’s my great hope.

    Show + share, indeed.

Book tie-ins

YA Fiction

book cover: All American Boys by Reynolds and KielyAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Rashad Butler is a quiet, artistic teen who hates ROTC but dutifully attends because father insists “there’s no better opportunity for a black boy in this country than to join the army.” He heads to Jerry’s corner store on a Friday night to buy chips, and ends up the victim of unwarranted arrest and police brutality: an event his white schoolmate Quinn Collins witnesses in terrified disbelief. Quinn is even more shocked because the cop is Paul Galluzzo, older brother of his best friend and Quinn’s mentor since his father died in Afghanistan. As events unfold, both boys are forced to confront the knowledge that racism in America has not disappeared and that change will not come unless they step forward. Reynolds and Kiely’s collaborative effort deftly explores the aftermath of police brutality, addressing the fear, confusion, and anger that affects entire communities. Diverse perspectives are presented in a manner that feels organic to the narrative, further emphasizing the tension created when privilege and racism cannot be ignored. Timely and powerful, this novel promises to have an impact long after the pages stop turning. (SLJ Review by Ashley Turner)

Cy in Chains book cover by David L. DudleyCy in Chains by David L. Dudley

Cy Williams, thirteen, has always known that he and the other black folks on Strong’s plantation have to obey white men, no question. Sure, he’s free, as black people have been since his grandfather’s day, but in rural Georgia, that means they’re free to be whipped, abused, even killed. Almost four years later, Cy yearns for that freedom, such as it was. Now he’s a chain gang laborer, forced to do backbreaking work, penned in and shackled like an animal, brutalized, beaten, and humiliated by the boss of the camp and his hired overseers. For Cy and the boys he’s chained to, there’s no way out, no way back.
And then hope begins to grow in him, along with strength and courage he didn’t know he had. Cy is sure that a chance at freedom is worth any risk, any sacrifice. This powerful, moving story opens a window on a painful chapter in the history of race relations. (Publisher description)

Rikers High book cover by Paul VolponiRikers High by Paul Volponi

Martin was sitting on the front stoop of his apartment building minding his own business when he was arrested for something he didn’t even mean to do. Five months later, he’s still locked up on Rikers Island, in a New York City jail. Just when it seems things couldn’t get much worse, Martin is caught between two warring prisoners, and his face is slashed. Now he’ll be forever marked with a prison scar. One good thing comes from the attack: Martin is transferred to a different part of Rikers where inmates are required to attend high school. If Martin opens up to a teacher who really seems to care, perhaps he’ll learn a lesson more valuable than any taught in class. An award-winning author, Paul Volponi is uniquely qualified to tell Martin’s story because he taught on Rikers Island for six years. He originally wrote Rikers for an adult audience. The book has been revised for young adults and is being republished as Rikers High. (Publisher’s Description)

book cover: X by Ilyash ShabazzX by Ilyasha Shabazz with Kekla Magoon

Cowritten by Malcolm X’s daughter, this riveting and revealing novel follows the formative years of the man whose words and actions shook the world. X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.
Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s a pack of lies—after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer. But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion—and that he can’t run forever. (Publisher’s description)


book cover: Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In a series of essays, written as a letter to his son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives. Thoughtfully exploring personal and historical events, from his time at Howard University to the Civil War, the author poignantly asks and attempts to answer difficult questions that plague modern society. In this short memoir, the “Atlantic” writer explains that the tragic examples of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and those killed in South Carolina are the results of a systematically constructed and maintained assault to black people–a structure that includes slavery, mass incarceration, and police brutality as part of its foundation. (Publisher’s description)


book cover: True Notebooks by Mark SalzmanTrue Notebooks by Mark Salzman

Wanting to add life to a cardboard juvenile delinquent character in the novel he was trying to finish, Salzman (Iron & Silk; Lying Awake) visited a juvie lockup for high-risk offenders where his friend taught a writing class. Despite entering the facility wishing “we could tilt L.A. County and shake it until everybody with a shaved head and tattoos falls into the ocean,” Salzman ended up teaching a class himself. The remarkable results are detailed in this wonderful book. Salzman found students who took writing more seriously than the college kids he’d taught. Both selections from the boys’ writing and Salzman’s taut storytelling give us multidimensional images of teenagers thrown into a justice system concerned only with punishment. Early in the book, a friend of Salzman’s complains that there are no good books about juvenile delinquents. Well, there’s one now–one that examines a broken system with grace, wit, and gripping storytelling. (Booklist review, John Green) 

book cover: The New Jim Crow by Michelle AlexanderThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crowchallenges the civil rights community — and all of us – -to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America. (Publisher’s description)


book cover: Slavery by Another Name by BlackmonSlavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black American from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon

A Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the “Age of Neoslavery,” the American period following the Emancipation Proclamation in which convicts, mostly black men, were “leased” through forced labor camps operated by state and federal governments.

Using a vast record of original documents and personal narratives, Douglas A. Blackmon unearths the lost stories of slaves and their descendants who journeyed into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation and then back into the shadow of involuntary servitude shortly thereafter. By turns moving, sobering, and shocking, this unprecedented account reveals the stories of those who fought unsuccessfully against the re-emergence of human labor trafficking, the companies that profited most from neoslavery, and the insidious legacy of racism that reverberates today. (Publisher’s description)

*Again, I’d like to remind everyone that TV ratings are voluntarily assigned and overseen by a panel made up no small part by corporate representatives. TV ratings are not laws. (For more on the problems in the movie rating industry, see the 2006 This Film Is Not Yet Rated.)

My Teen Daughter Gave Me Permission to Write about her Eating Disorder, ARFID By Stephanie Elliot

MHYALitlogoofficfialMy daughter has an eating disorder and it’s unlike the usual suspects. Everyone is familiar with bulimia and anorexia nervosa, but what my daughter has is called ARFID, which stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

ARFID, simply put, is the fear of eating – extreme picky eating; the fear that if you try something new, you might very well die. It sounds completely unbelievable, but this is the mind-thought of those who have the disorder. It has nothing to do with feelings of self-esteem or image issues, and almost everyone who has it suffers from depression, anxiety, and other social issues. It is most definitely a mental disorder and is listed in the DSM-5. Children and adults with ARFID will gag or vomit if new foods are introduced to them. They restrict foods, only eating a bank of small ‘safe’ foods, and distant themselves from friends and family. The disorder can get so bad that some turn to self-harm and have suicidal ideation.

My daughter McKaelen is 17 and she’s had ARFID for almost her whole life, but was only diagnosed when she was 15. For years we knew something was wrong – she was an extremely picky eater, she became reclusive, avoided friends, was distant with us, and didn’t participate in any family occasions that involved food. Doctors and therapists had no answers for us. She was healthy, growing at an above-average pace, and appeared normal. Only when we found a specialist in ARFID who could properly diagnose her did we find a way to recovery.

While McKaelen was in a 20-week outpatient program to learn to get better, I was writing a fictional account of her experience. This was therapy for me. We had been dealing with her eating disorder for years and years and I was learning so much. If I could write about her experience, and share the knowledge I was gaining about this mental disorder in order to help others learn, then I was going to do it. About halfway through her intense therapy, I knew I had to tell her I was writing about her experience. If she felt uncomfortable about it, I would stop. Instead, she embraced the idea and I kept writing.

sadperfect_09eWhile Sad Perfect is fiction, the symptoms of ARFID, and the accompanying anxiety, depression, and social distress in the book are true to what my daughter personally experienced. With McKaelen’s permission and thoughtful input, I share her story so that other teens going through something similar will be able to read this and know they are not alone.

I want struggling teens to know that their disorder has a name. They need to know that they’re not an anomaly, they are not the only kid who can’t try a food, and that it’s okay. These kids need to know that when they sit at the dining room table and they feel threatened, paralyzed, and incapable of doing the simple everyday task of eating a meal, it’s because they may have ARFID. They also need to know that it is a disorder that is not very well-known yet, but people in healthcare are finally talking about it, there is help available, and they can get better, with the right care and treatment plan.


Stephanie Elliot is the author of Sad Perfect (FSG, 2/28/17) and is an advocate for ARFID, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband and her three children.

For more book information please visit http://www.stephanieelliot.com.

For more information on ARFID, please visit http://stephanieelliot.wixsite.com/arfid.

Embracing Content Creation Queries – Guest post by Lynette Pitrak

“I want to design a Gandalf figure to print on the 3D printer.”

“How do I insert text over my video in iMovie?”

“I want to take pictures of the fall leaves on the trees in my neighborhood… but it’s really cloudy today.”

I’m paraphrasing here, but all three of the above are questions I’ve received from teenagers over the past week. When confronted with complex content creation issues, I usually find myself having two thoughts simultaneously:

“I have the best job EVER— teenagers are so cool!!!”

“OMG I have no idea how to do that—  I am the worst librarian in the world!!!”

Maybe some of you can relate? If you’re anything like me, you had a specific major in college (for me— art history/painting) and then completed an MLS or MLIS degree to become a librarian. I didn’t study computer science/filmmaking/music editing/photography in college or graduate school. But still, patrons ask me questions about all of these things (and much more :)) on a regular basis.

And to make things more overwhelming, I want to give the right answer! Librarians are people pleasers; we got into this profession because we LOVE helping people and want to add value to their lives– whether that be in connecting someone with a new favorite author, finding a historical stock price a patron needs when filing taxes, recommending a great gluten-free cookbook, or helping a teenager capture a photographic image. Sometimes, it can feel to me like content creation questions are more daunting than any other kind, because in that situation, a teen is trying to make something that is dependent on the help I am giving them. Luckily though, as a librarian, I have some pretty awesome training and resources to rely on:

  1. LIBRARIANS CREATED THE REFERENCE INTERVIEW! This is one of the first things we probably all learned in library school, and still so important. This is usually the first thing I will try to remember when helping a teenager who has a content creation query. For example, when working with the teenager who wanted to design a Gandalf figure to print on the 3D printer, it was very helpful for me to ask a few background questions. The first of these was, “What program are you using the design the figure?” By asking this, I was able to have a great conversation with this teen. I realized she hadn’t ever coded anything before and wasn’t sure what kind of program to use. She just wanted a Gandalf figurine! This was awesome because first, I could direct her to a program called Thingiverse. This program contains pre-designed 3D images which can be downloaded and then printed on a 3D printer. Natalie was able to get her Gandalf figurine easily this way. Even cooler, she was really interested when I was explaining about how use a program like Tinkercad to code a design that could later be printed on the 3D printer. So we set up a future appointment so that I can teach her to use this program to do some basic coding! She’ll learn some new skills to gain confidence for designing her own figures (and, over time, maybe build up to coding something as complicated as a Gandalf).
  2. LIBRARIANS ARE SURROUNDED BY BOOKS AND THE INTERNET! When working at the library, I am literally surrounded by books and computers with internet access. The librarians who order in our 000s area have built and maintained a wonderful collection of books focused on effectively using technology. It has been important for me to remember that there is no reason why I should feel awkward grabbing one of those books to look up how to do a specific thing, such as laying text over video in the iMovie program!! This is exactly what I did when working with Sam. I consulted our copy of My iMovie by Craig Johnston and Cheryl Brumbaugh-Duncan and used the table of contents to locate the section that discussed text overlays. Sam didn’t think I was unintelligent for having to look up the answer to this question! He was just so happy that I was excited to help him, and that I was able to work with him to try out the techniques recommended in the book until we ended up with what he wanted to do in his film. Next time, he’ll not only know where we keep our resources for computer help, but he’ll also remember that the librarians are always willing to help him. I also use YouTube videos all of the time when answering questions like this. This super easy-to-follow and informative video is just 3 minutes long, and answered all of the questions we had about text overlay in iMovie. Videos such as this one were created by regular people to help viewers do particular things that the creators of the video have also struggled with, and they are in abundance on YouTube!
  3. LIBRARIANS KNOW HOW TO PLAY AROUND! When Chicago Public Library opened their first YOUMedia space, they centered the space around the HOMAGO (Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out) philosophy. One aspect of this model is that hands on, playful exploration leads to real learning. Working with content creation equipment and software is enhanced by being willing to experiment and play. When Jade asked me how to best take photographs that would emphasize the colorful falls leaves without becoming too dark (because the day was overcast), this was an opportunity to play with the library’s DSLR camera. A rule of thumb is that when shooting on a cloudy day, traditionally the camera’s aperture should be set to f/2.8 to f/4. However, other factors are also important to consider, such as depth of field, balance of shadows and light, and image clarity. Trial and error is key, and it is important to take a lot of bad pictures before finding the right combination. After consulting our library’s amazing IT Department assistant manager (shout out Jason!) for recommendations, we just played with the camera. I showed Jade how to use the DSLR camera’s menu settings to change aperture and shutter speed, how to check the light meter, and how to zoom in and out with the camera’s lens. Some pictures were totally washed out and some were blurry, but when we discovered a combination that worked (f/2.8, 1/100—tripod needed!), the results were beautiful! And now Jade feels confident that she can mess around with the DSLR to teach herself, which was the best part of that experience.
Too much light

Too much light

Not enough light

Not enough light

Good combination of aperture and shutter speed

Good combination of aperture and shutter speed

I hope these examples of some of the experiences I have recently had have been helpful for you!! Next time you a  re approached by a teen with a complicated content creation question, just take a moment to breathe and recall your librarian training… And recognize how lucky you are to have such amazing teens asking you for help!!! 🙂


Read more about Lynette’s work with teens in a creative makerspace setting:

View From Behind The Lens

View From Behind The Lens, It’s a Wrap!

View From the Director’s Chair

View from the Director’s ChairP It’s a Wrap!

Take 5 Community Reads for YA

Thinking about doing a community-wide read for teens? You could create a list of companion books for teens inspired by an adult selection like the St. Joseph County Public Libraries did, you could select a book specifically for your teens, or you could encourage the whole community to dive into teen lit by selecting a YA market book for everyone to read. There are lots of options. Check out these five titles that have been used around the country to create conversations, build community, and involve books and programming around books in teens’ lives in a big way.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

A contemporary realistic title with broad age appeal can open conversation to a wide audience on a variety of current issues that impact the daily lives of teens.

Selected by Goodnow Library, Sudbury, MA


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

A book with a strong fan base will make promoting the event a lot easier – readers who love the book will be your best advertisement.

Selected by Lenape Regional High School District, Shamong, NJ


Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Pull in so-called “non readers” by thinking beyond novels. Graphic novels and nonfiction appeal on topic and delivery in a way that gives you a great jumping off point for conversations and programming.

Selected by Newton South High School, Newton, MA

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Look to nonfiction about current issues with an engaging delivery to involve high school aged teens and adults for conversations that impact all of us in modern society.

Selected by Fairfield, CT

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

A well loved classic that offers lots of programming potential and builds on the nostalgia factor. Reading it again as a teen might bring surprising realizations for those who skimmed over bits when they were younger.

Selected by Westmont Public Library, Westmont, IL


Mirrors and Windows

BOOK COVER SHOWS MULAN WEARING ARMOR ATOP A HORSELast year, my second grader came home one day and started telling me about Malala. Her teacher had used a biography of the recent Nobel Prize winner as the example book at the beginning of their biography unit. This week, my now third grader came home with assignment inspired by The Ballad of Mulan by Song Nan Zhang as they discuss perseverance and challenges. And there you go — it can be just that easy to begin to incorporate diverse books into a curriculum. The assignment reads:

Dear Parents,

This week we have been reading the folktale The Ballad of Mulan. In the story, Mulan overcomes stereotypes, proving that women can also be strong and courageous in war. Throughout the unit, we will be talking about overcoming challenges.

Have your child conduct an interview with a woman in their life who has overcome a challenge, obstacle, or broken barriers. Think of a family member, grandmother, aunt, teacher, or role model who has overcome something throughout their life through determination and strength. Think outside of the box and look around, you will be surprised how many women have overcome some sort of challenge throughout their life! The questions on the following page should be used to guide the interview, any other questions that come up through conversation are always encouraged! After the interview they can draw a picture of their special woman.img_20160927_220445

I’m so pleased that all of the kids in my daughter’s grade are being introduced to heroic figures from around the world, that they’re being inspired to connect a book to the world around them, and that they’re encouraged to take another look at the women they know, learning about and acknowledging their challenges and triumphs. Not only that, but they’re looking to a the attitude and accomplishments of a woman from Chinese history (and not even the Disneyfied version of it) as their inspiration. Books are mirrors, they are windows, and here they are both. My daughter knows women who have overcome poverty, loss, childhood abandonment, language barriers, abuse, discrimination, and more. This weekend she’ll get to sit down with some of them and hear their stories. And so will the boys in her class.


Sunday Reflections: Where’d you go, VOYA?

Some awful things are being said by an organization that I idolized. I first discovered VOYA in the LIS Library at the University of Illinois in 2001 and reported back to my Young Adult Literature Class as if I’d just struck California gold.

Did you know? I asked, Did you know there’s a journal called Voice of Youth Advocates and it’s all about teen services?” 

I pored over the articles. In those months overwhelmed by reading assignments, I checked out back issues and read just because. I saw names that I committed to memory. Names of authors to seek out when considering collections. Names of librarians doing good work. Names of libraries with vibrant teen services and spaces. Though I never wrote for VOYA, it felt like it was mine. It was a journal that was solely concerned with the field of librarianship in which I worked. Unlike Booklist or School Library Journal which reviewed YA titles and included some content pertaining to YA librarianship, or the YALSA journal which was connected to ALA and had to hove to the priorities of a larger organization, it had a singular and piercing focus.

It felt a little bit radical.

Then I read about its founders, Mary K Chelton and Dorothy Broderick, and was in awe that such a powerhouse presence in the YA library world got its start from two people and $400 in donations. It made me feel like good, big things can happen when people believe in them enough. That was a long time ago now. The founders retired, Dorothy Broderick passed away, new editors have taken, then passed the reins, and that brings us to the present.

The awfulness started in earnest on Thursday. On Thursday, I got angry about the attitude and disregard thrown at individuals, Tristna Wright in particular, who pointed out aggression and hurtfulness in the review of Kody Keplinger’s Run. We at Teen Librarian Toolbox released the following statement:


Then it didn’t get better. It got worse. Much worse.

I was angry that people weren’t being heard, that people weren’t listening, and that teens were potentially viewing this all unfold minute by minute on social media, watching professionals who stand under a banner of youth advocacy slinging invective about sexual orientation, gender identity; employing marginalization, tone policing, and othering in their responses.

There is a lot to be angry about. A lot of people heard a lot of awful things said in awful ways. If you’re still angry, I can stand with you in your anger and validate that feeling because that feeling is valid.

But I’m not angry anymore, I’m sad.

I’m sad that a legacy founded in part because of the exclusion of teen services from the library conversation is now tarnished by creating an atmosphere of exclusion.

I’m sad on a very practical level that the most efficient tool I had in my collection development drawer is now in peril and I worry about how that will impact my ability to serve my population well on my limited time.

I’m sad that GLBTQIA folks in general and bisexual, genderqueer, gender nonconforming folks in particular have been treated like little more than Googlable curiosities, and that their identities are being conflated with sexual activity when it comes to age ratings. There are plenty of venues to turn to if you need to “shield” your patrons or children from content that doesn’t jive with your worldview. VOYA, and other professional library review sources, should never be the place for that. We pinned our faith on VOYA being the journal that we could count on to put teen readership at the forefront of their reviews, taking into account literary quality and popularity in equal measure, regularly featuring teens themselves as columnists and reviewers. How did we get here? Because it’s not where VOYA came from. Roger Sutton was right: they may be in the midst of this awful, dismissive, unprofessional conduct, but once upon a time VOYA was groundbreaking:


And VOYA was right about one thing: it doesn’t define their past. But it is defining their present and it will define their future.

This is a pivotal moment for the journal, the ethic, the movement, the advocacy organization that so many of us have relied upon. It’s an opportunity for evaluation, change, renewal, regeneration, and a harkening back to its origins: a focus on the needs of teen librarianship and a dedicated space for authentic and accurate reviews of the books teens want, need, and deserve.

I don’t delight at this miasma of out of touch messages and social media misfirings. It’s embarrassing for those of us who have considered VOYA as a partner in our work and for those who have been proudly affiliated with the journal in its better days. It’s disappointing that they’ve given us ample reason to mistrust their editorial judgement. It’s sad that our field has lost a voice that we counted on.

It will take a lot [seriously a lot] of work to regain the trust lost, but for a journal that began with its mission being dismissed as one with “nothing to say” I believe–I hope–that in the right hands, it can overcome this. And if not, I’m encouraged that in the same spirit of carving out space for teen advocacy, new voices are emerging and will continue to emerge and rise to the challenge.

Links of interest:

Amanda reviews Run by Kody Keplinger for TLT

Teens Review Kody Keplinger’s Run Suspense and More in SLJ

Bisexual Books has been following the issue on their site

Getting Called Out: How To Apologize on Youtube

Flickering the Gaslight: Tactics of Organized Online Harassment from Model View Culture

TPiB: Locked in the Library! Hosting an escape room program at your library

tpibPuzzles, mystery, a darkened library, a time limit, and the ominous feeling that a ghost just might be looking over your shoulder? Yes, please!

My library is this gorgeous 80+ year old building that’s been expanded thoughtfully so that the original building–a one-room stone space with tall windows, a fireplace, and impressive oak doors–has been preserved as a reading room. It’s not a place teens have much opportunity to enjoy unless they’re quietly studying for finals all alone. It’s quiet. It gets dark. The doors close behind you, and then…..

It becomes an ideal spot to try out a locked room/escape room program.

We hosted this escape room as an after-hours program. Teens entering 6th-10th grade arrived at the library before closing to register and get matched into teams. The meeting room was the designated “holding pen” where we provided board games and snacks while the teams waited their turn to be called into the puzzle room. Each team was given 15 minutes to solve a series of puzzles that would ultimately lead to the key that opened the door. It was a blast, and we’re in the process of planning another similar program for the fall.

two padlocks secure a weathered wood doorThings to know

You cannot do this program alone.

Logistics alone required us to have two staff members because the teens were in two different spaces in the library. On top of that, it’s really bad practice to host an after-hours program by yourself in case emergencies arise. Fortunately, one of my coworkers is an escape room enthusiast and was a tremendous help in getting this program off the ground. Plus, it’s just fun to plan with someone else!

You don’t have to come up with all of the puzzles on your own.

Breakout EDU logo: a left pointing arrow extending from an open boxGuys! There is this FANTASTIC resource out there that you can use for free to help you plan your escape room, but shhhhhhh–don’t let the teens know! Breakout Edu has pre-assembled kits to purchase and open-source plans to follow, so you’re able to use their resources even if you are doing this program on a shoestring. They also have a very active Facebook group with a dedicated cadre of educators and puzzle enthusiasts who are ready to help.  We used The Mighty Pen game from the site, but modified it to fit the time constraints we had.

You might want an actual camera

I have no photos to show you from this awesome program because I used my phone to time the groups… which precluded me from using my camera app. Bring a camera so that you can snap photos at a moment’s notice while still updating the teams on their time.

Tweens and Teens are just different

Two of our teams were in 6th and 7th grade, two were in 8th-10th grade. The way the younger groups approached the puzzle was dramatically different from the way the older groups did. If you have mixed age groups, expect the tweens to need more clues and have less focus than the older teens. When I do this with a younger group in the future, I’m considering numbering the clues so that they’re able to more clearly see what they have yet to find. The older groups worked more efficiently and did more creative problem solving, but wanted to hang out in the meeting room and play games less.

Practice makes perfect

Plan far enough in advance that you can have a test group–family, friends, coworkers–run through the puzzles before the big day. It will help you with timing, help you iron out any glitches, and see what kinds of rules and guidelines and clues you will need to provide

It’s a heck of a lot of fun!

This is one program that was well worth the effort. It brought in teens I’d never seen in the library before, teens I hadn’t seen in years, and our stalwart fans as well. It was fairly inexpensive, creative, engaging, and everyone involved had a blast.

No room for a Makerspace? Try circulating tech tools

makerspacelogoI work in a beautiful stone building with historic significance, much beloved in the community. But, like anyone who works in an older building will tell you, the beauty and ambiance come at a definite price: space, connectivity, and quirks. My library doesn’t have a Makerspace, and chances are, we won’t have one anytime in the near future. But just like we find workarounds for the sub-optimal placement of electrical outlets, we’ve found a workaround for this gap too.

Our circulating technology collection debuted at the beginning of the year, and while it’s always had some devoted fans, this summer has seen a big increase in its use. The collection, cataloged as “YA Tech Tools” allows teens (and others!) to check out an item and experiment with it at home for three weeks at a time. I’ve found that most items don’t stay out for the full checkout period. Kids play around with them, get excited about the possibilities, then return them to check out another tool!

What’s in the collection?

Initially I sought to include items that could be used in creative ways that embraced STEAM (yes, with the A for art) without any additional equipment. This meant items like:

  • littleBits
  • wooden figure models
  • 3Doodlers
  • an Artograph projector
  • Geomate geocaching GPS
  • extra hands for small detail work

Then I added in items that can be used with computers or require a smartphone or tablet, like:

  • Sphero robots
  • Finch robots
  • Scribbler II robots
  • Edison robots
  • Makey Makeys
  • Green screen
  • Wacomb drawing tablet
  • a DJ Mixing table
  • an audio mixing setup including a microphone
  • a digital audio recorder

Each item circulates with an instruction sheet and a review sheet. The review asks brief questions and has given me some good ideas for how to improve the collection.

These items are stored in a locking cabinet on wheels that can be rolled into a program space when needed, or can sit in a section of the Teen Lounge at other times. I’d really love for the items to be out and touchable, but we just don’t have the staff coverage for that, so there’s a BIG sign at the case that tells people to ask for the cabinet to be unlocked whenever they want to play. A low table is positioned near the cabinet so that people can easily gather around and experiment together.

Are you in a library without a makerspace too? What are your workarounds and methods for feeding this important and growing way of interacting with information?

On Keeping Secrets and the Power of Stories: a guest post by Michele Bacon

woman covers her face with her hands

At 17, I was madly in love with a clever, playful, adorable boy. I loved him fiercely. And—to my utter surprise—he loved me. Together, Michael and I did theater, marching band, and speech team. Over three (mostly) blissful years, we shared everything: our most cherished dreams, our ugliest failures, our triumphs, and our personal insecurities.

I say this not to induce envy (or eye rolling), but to emphasize how serious our relationship was.

About six months after we broke up—when I was 21—I confided in him: I had grown up in an abusive household. Michael was stunned that I’d never told him.

I had never told anyone.

During my parents’ messy divorce, I spoke with the judge, lawyers, and a therapist I adored. My father didn’t like that therapist’s analysis, so we saw another therapist. We were dug into our church at the time, so I spoke with my minister, too.

Those adults were keen to help me, but I never divulged what my father had done to me and to my family. The horrors I experienced, heard, and saw were too embarrassing and shameful. I was broken, and I thought sharing my abuse would taint people’s opinion of me. And, in a way that is now difficult to understand, I was terrified that telling would get me in trouble.

Until a few weeks ago, I had told only three or four friends. But now I’m saying it (to the Internet, no less): I grew up in an abusive household.

Being hurt—physically, psychologically, or emotionally—changes a person.

It made me feel that I was less something than everyone else. I started believing emotionally or physically abusive relationships were okay. That heavy, awful feeling, defined how I viewed my place in the world.

It still does.

Now, let’s be honest, we all have at least one ugly secret that devours us from the inside as we try desperately to conceal it. Perhaps you pretend to not be dyslexic. You don’t talk about your twin who died at birth. You conceal your gender or sexuality. You are poor. You are passing. You’re losing your hearing. You’ve left your religion.

book cover: Life Before. Dirty red sneakers sit in front of a backpackIt doesn’t matter what it is; everyone has something. And we all have the right to keep parts of ourselves private. And I have, for a long time.

Last month, I admitted to a room full of people that I had grown up in abuse, and that my greatest childhood fear was that my father would murder my mother. After I spoke, several women told me, privately, that they had the same secret. Or the same childhood. Or the same fear. Me too echoed around me, and several people said they’d never told a soul.

That is the power of stories: Me too.

Imagine how my life would be different if I’d had that moment at 13. Or 17. Or 19. During my teen years—that amazing intersection of opportunity, energy, and idealism—Me too could have changed my life.

In the last month, I’ve shed the fear that everyone would reject me if I revealed my ugly secret, and I’ve realized that hiding what I perceive as shameful parts of myself doesn’t make them any less a part of me. In the last few weeks, stories have poured from the hearts of readers. They’ve said me too. This shouldn’t have happened to any of us, but it did. For the first time in my life, I am not ashamed. I am done keeping secrets. And I am sharing my story, and the ugly parts of me.

Stories are powerful, and sharing stories makes us stronger. These days, I walk into author talks at schools and libraries knowing someone might ask personal questions. I feel vulnerable, but I’m doing it, and I am encouraging other people to tell the stories they can bear to share. Your story might come at just the right time. Someone who is hiding in the dark shadows of shame may hear “Me too” and step into the light.


author photoAbout Michele Bacon 

Michele writes fiction for adults and young adults. She lives in Seattle with her family. Her first novel, Life Before, publishes June 7th, 2016. She loves hearing from readers, fellow writers, and anyone who would like to say #metoo.
You can find her:
Via email at writer(at)michelebacon(dot)com
On Twitter @michelebacon,
On Instagram as WriterMicheleBacon
On Tumblr as michelebacon


About Life Before

book cover: Life Before. Dirty red sneakers sit in front of a backpackFor seventeen years, Xander Fife has been keeping secrets. (Almost) no one knows about his abusive father. If he can get through this summer, he’s off to college, where real life finally begins.

What’s more, the summer before college will be amazing: lots of pick-up soccer, long days hanging out with friends, and an epic road trip. Xander also is banking on some long overdue nights with his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.

Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. When Xander’s mother is murdered, his family’s secrets are thrust out into the open, and Xander must confront his greatest fear.

Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. Hundreds of miles from home and in danger, one thing is clear: Xander’s real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn’t enough.


Enough: A #MHYALIT guest post by Katie H.

TLT is honored to present the following personal essay submission to the #MHYALIT series by Katie, a guest contributor and senior in high school.

MHYALitlogoofficfialOn some days, when I feel inadequate, I write on my wrist in small letters, “enough,” reminding myself that I need not be any different than who I am in that exact moment. On other days, I get lost in the “to-do’s” and “should-be’s,” forgetting entirely that I am an imperfect being. I compare myself to others, trying to measure up to deeply ingrained societal expectations. In this thought, I dismiss the unconditional love and acceptance others have for me.

Upon examination, I realize that these thoughts are rooted in distortion–the distortion that I must meet certain benchmarks to prove my worthiness. Unconditional love is not based on inconsequential standards.

My sister, who scrambles out of the door to class in the morning, wearing her hair in a messy bun; who comes home late at night looking only for something to fill her exhausted body, bent between family and education, is enough.

My father, who works countless hours to provide a home for his family, ensuring that they have a quality of life that was better than his, is enough.

My mother, who raised two girls into adulthood, teaching lessons of compassion and self-expression rather than societal expectations; who traded the bottle for support groups after realizing that her disease had landed her in a place she did not want to be; who rode motorcycles for the thrill and studied flowers everyday; who felt that her mental illness disqualified her from being the mother, the wife, the friend who she was to others, was enough.

enoughI didn’t fully comprehend this concept until the day I rushed home to find my sister’s eyes flooded with tears, and a policeman telling me that my mother had taken her own life. In that moment, I only wanted to hug her and tell her how much she meant to me. When I look back, I realize that every single one of her efforts was enough. From waking up in the morning with heavy eyelids, to sitting silently through meals and celebrations, to lifting only one finger because she had not enough energy for two, she was enough.

Love connected her to a world without standards. The illusion that my mother’s efforts were inadequate stole her from my life. Now, I crave her simple presence. I crave the way that her motherly hugs engulfed me with love. I crave her patience in the way that she willingly listened to my troubles. Though depression took the first person I ever knew, I gained an appreciation for the value of all individuals, including myself. I understand that each and every person navigates the world to the best of their abilities, and I need not compare one life to another.

A book that my sister has read to me several times states, “When a rose and a lotus are held side by side, is one more beautiful than the other?” Each person possesses an individual and unique beauty that connects them to the surrounding universe. In this statement, I remember that there is no one to compare myself to. I have learned to accept struggles, pain and happiness as a part of life.


About the author: Katie H. is an 18-year-old from Illinois who has a passion for music and writing. She plans to expand her understanding of human interactions through the study of Neuroscience as a freshman in college in the fall of 2016. She accredits much of her wisdom and strength to her older sister, Sara’s, love and guidance.