Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Friday Finds: October 11, 2019

This Week at TLT

Book Review: By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Books Featuring Main Characters with Dyslexia, a discussion and a book list

Post-It Reviews: Graphic Novels Galore!

Confessions of a Dyslexic Word Nerd, By Amanda Hosch

Dyslexia Awareness Dashboard: All our Dyslexia posts and references in one place to help us all better serve youth with dyslexia

Around the Web

School Districts Sue Juul, Saying Student Vaping Drains Resources

Friday Finds: October 4, 2019

This Week at TLT

With Her Nose Stuck in a Book, a guest post by Jessica Burkhart

Cindy Crushes Programming: DIY Alcohol Sharpie Tiles

Graphic Novels for Middle Grade Readers, a contemporary reading list

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Providing a Variety of Formats is an Access Issue

How Libraries Can Better Serve Youth with Dyslexia, an Infographic

Book Review: Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, so let’s get started

What to Read if You Like Hadestown the Musical, by Cindy Shutts

Around the Web

Analysis: There’s mounting evidence that expanding Medicaid made people healthier

Hiring Teachers of Color Is Just the First Step. Here’s How to Keep Them

Support for Toxic Stress of Poverty Most Important Learning Tool for Kids in Need

Fort Worth Public Library Goes Fine-Free

Sesame Street Is Jumping to HBO Max

Friday Finds: September 27, 2019

This Week at TLT

What to Read if You Like The Prom, The Musical, a guest post by Teen Librarian Maisie

What to Read if You Like the Musical Dear Evan Hansen, by Nicholas Mitchel

The Building Blocks to Change, a guest post by Nancy Richardson Fischer

What to Read if You Like Mean Girls the Musical, by Cindy Shutts

Revolteens: This is what happens when chicken has a moment and teens are given a voice, by Christine Lively

Books for fans of Hamilton: an American Musical, a guest post by Maisie

Maybe He Just Likes You: #MeToo Comes to Middle Grade, a guest post by Barbara Dee

Take 5: All the World’s a Stage and Music is Its Language, books that feature teens involved in musical theater

Why Teens Need the Arts for Self-Expression; OR, Creating a Successful a Social/Emotional Workshop for Teens a guest post by author Rayne Lacko

Sunday Reflections: Sometimes You Find Yourself at The Exact Right Place at the Exact Right Time, or what happened when we went to meet Dav Pilkey

Around the Web

Chicago Teachers Are Ready To Strike

Down With Dewey

‘NYT’ Shifts Its Lists Again

Hundreds of thousands of people read novels on Instagram. They may be the future

Moving On Up: ‘The 57 Bus’ Takes Local Route to the Top

Why Teens Need the Arts for Self-Expression a guest post by author Rayne Lacko

In the Young Adult section of your library a teen is searching for stories about high-schoolers who’ve unlocked answers to deeply personal concerns — about life, family relationships, friends, school, body image, dating, the future, gender issues…the list feels endless. One area of concern may be causing more stress than others, or maybe ten different stressors are battling it out. The library is a safe and familiar place to find answers from trusted sources, even if the advice comes from a fictional character.

Increasingly, public schools are turning to counseling and outreach to alleviate the epidemic of anxiety and depression affecting adolescents nationwide. Community support raises awareness and helps educate teens about the importance of self-care.

However, there’s a fun and effective solution to managing fluctuating teen emotions and mental health that is proven in countless studies, and is relatively easy for budget-minded libraries to implement: the arts.

Creating space for teens to express themselves using their inherent creativity is a proven method of relieving stress and significantly decreasing anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts — while helping to improve students’ interest in school and overall happiness. It’s well-documented that music students tend do better in math, and that drama club kids have the best attendance records. But let’s look at the whole person, that teen in your Young Adult section and the adult she may one day become.

How Does Engaging in the Arts as a Young Person Improve Your Library’s Future Community?

In a recent study published by Arts.gov, Arts Education and Positive Youth Development:

Cognitive, Behavioral, and Social Outcomes of Adolescents who Study the Arts, visual arts students reported significantly higher levels of school attachment than did non-visual arts students, and for every year of arts study, there was a 20% reduction in the likelihood that an adolescent would ever be suspended out-of-school. It’s fair to interpret this stat as library-goers becoming more engaged, respectful of property, and just plain caring. Even better, adults who had taken arts coursework were 26% less likely than those without high school arts coursework to have ever been arrested. Each additional year of arts coursework was associated with a 9% reduction in the risk of being arrested. But do the arts only benefit the “artsy” people?

 Keith Sawyer, Ph.D., professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Education, says,

 “It’s a myth that creativity is just something you’re born with or that lands as one brilliant aha! The reality: Creativity is a way of thinking and acting that we can all get better at.”

That teen in your Young Adult section is struggling to express her feelings, and creativity is her innate language. There has never been a better time to establish a social-emotional program for young people, but you may be wondering how. You, dear librarian, are an artist, and with the right tools you can facilitate a break-through program that will create a positive and lasting shift in your community.

What I’ve Learned About Facilitating Creativity With Teens

I work with many creative teens, and continually observe how making art alleviates pain. Writing, drawing, and listening to music help you realize what is going on inside, especially when you pause to examine your own creations. It also bonds you with others, because when you dare to share your art, you give others an opportunity to care about you, satisfying Jungian needs to feel loved and have a sense of belonging.

Now that I’ve name-dropped Jung, please let me clarify: facilitating a social/emotional workshop does not require special training. I chose to earn certifications to teach youth in juvenile detention to write poetry, and to provide Teen Mental Health First Aid. But what’s become clear to me is that first aid is only necessary when a young person refuses to speak of what is going on in his/her/their heart and mind.

What’s dangerous is when pain is unexpressed. Shining a light on one’s own feelings, finding the exact words or images to articulate pain, trauma, disappointment, or fear relieves it of its power. Editing it, rewriting it, giving it over to a made-up character who is stronger, smarter, faster, and maybe has wings and a secret hiding place doesn’t hurt either.

Each person has an individual approach to self-expression, so it’s important to offer a mix of creative opportunities in one program. In the self-guided workbook, Dream Up Now, which I co-wrote with Lesley Holmes, we offer creative activities including writing, acting, poetry, drawing, dancing, making music, meditation and movement — even decorating. We refer to all creative expression as “art.”

How Does Art Heal Pain?

Art is born of the very human need to express who you are. Art gives you the words you may find impossible to say. Art gives you a language all humans can understand. Art allows you to play, and play is how we all first negotiated with the big, unknown world before we could put a name to our feelings.

Art gives you an opportunity to take an ugly, painful memory and pluck it out of your head and stick it on the page (or in a song, or a drawing, or even blow it away with your breath.) Once that ugly scene is out, and all the emotions tied to it come out as well, it loses its power to hurt you.

Art gives you freedom to use your hands; hands are always looking for something meaningful to do. Creating something that represents a portion of your inner world is probably the most rewarding thing you can do with them.

Structuring a Writer/Artist Workshop

• Announce the time, place and age range of your safe, inclusive workshop welcoming writers, graphic novelists, scriptwriters, songwriters, doodle-sketchers and other creatives at all levels and in every genre.

• Introduce yourself and give context about how you are an artist: You may be a margin doodler, playlist curator, or baker of pies; or you may be a poet, painter, or sculptor. Simply highlight an activity that makes you feel playful and creative! Give each participant a moment to say his/her/their name, and area(s) of creativity.    

• Introduce the Summation Word (a single word to represent the participant’s current state. It may be a color, a symbol or just an adjective). Participants can offer theirs, or quietly become aware of how they feel in that moment and boil it down to a single word.

• (Optional) Micro Goal-Setting – What do the participants want to aim for in the next 24 hours? 

• Introduce a creative activity(is) that allows emotional expression. If you choose to confront difficult topics, be sure to have a complementary activity to transition into feelings of strength, wisdom, freedom, and growth.

• Creativity time – Allow the participants to safely explore their emotions. Focus on finding the heart of the problem. Then, look for the hope that comes from greater understanding, any perspectives of others involved, and/or a path to greater self-esteem as a result of the participant’s resilience. If the participant isn’t satisfied with what they’ve drawn or written, the best solution is to make more art. 

• Circle Time – All participants leave their tables and chairs and gather in a circle on the floor to share whatever they created that day. It isn’t mandatory to share. Uphold the rule of kindness: participants are welcome to say what they like, what stands out for them, or ask a question.

• Revisit the summation word. Has it changed? Have the participants take a moment for personal reflection. Invite everyone to share their word with you and/or the group. This debriefing helps the participants build self-awareness and finish with positivity and motivation. 

As your workshop becomes established, ask your participants to watch for repeats. Are there any topics, or people, or events they keep mentioning? What words do they tend to use the most? Which emotions trigger the most discomfort, and which emotions are they working the hardest to feel more often?

Be sure to bring all your activities every time. Because emotions show up, disappear, and then return again, each activity can be revisited. As circumstances change and insights are discovered, feelings change. It’s worthwhile to review completed activities from previous workshops and ask: Is it still true? If the participant created another piece of writing or art, would the results be different now?

Results Matter: Ingredients of Successful Social-Emotional Workshops for Peers

You’re probably familiar with Robert Frost’s famous quote, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Include a box of tissues in your workshop budget, and be prepared to let your participants experience their authentic feelings.

It is essential that every workshop includes closure. What this means is that every activity aimed at opening a safe place for emotions to emerge must also include a constructive, uplifting activity to release them. A successful workshop ends with participants feeling lighter, wiser, and freer than when they walked in.

When confronted with someone who is struggling with difficult emotions, most of us rush to remove the discomfort, or try to “make it all better.” For the workshop, put aside that heartfelt urge and allow feelings to come however they may. Talk about the creative process and how art springs from humanity — and humans feel. It’s why art moves us. Trust the goodness that comes from honest examination of one’s own life. That said, it’s important to set boundaries to limit the time spent exploring darker emotions before switching gears to finding insight and release.

I recently led a two-hour workshop on the topic of loss and grief. There were three parts: the first to recall an experience of deep change, loss, or grief and write or paint a scene outlining the details. Next, the group completed a list poem, mentioning 10-20 lines beginning: I forgive you for_______. By insisting on at least 10 things to forgive, the participants needed to dig deep and uncover all the details about the situation that needed letting go, and attach forgiveness to each one.

This process revealed an unexpected surprise for me when we moved to the third phase.

For part three, the participants were asked to write or paint another scene depicting how the experience had helped them grow, become stronger, wiser, or gentler. Many of the participants chose to write a letter or poem to another person involved in the event, promising to stand by them through their own struggle. Without any prompting from me or their peers, these teens realized how others involved in their grief were also hurting, and it gave them such profound compassion and generosity that, rather than write about how they’d grown, they chose to reach out to the other and support them in their pain. I was deeply moved by the maturity and insight and growth of the participants, and I sensed they had let go of the burdens of that hurt.

Click here for a three-part exploration of loss and grief. (See link: https://raynelacko.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/grief_loss_lettinggo.pdf)

The single most important ingredient in a successful workshop is Circle Time, when all the participants leave their tables and chairs and gather in a circle on the floor to share whatever art piece(s) they created that day. It isn’t mandatory to share, and we uphold a rule of kindness; participants are welcome to say what they like, what stands out for them, or ask a question, nothing more.

I believe Circle is so meaningful because it’s coded peer therapy. Whether they produce a piece about a princess and a potion, or a car chase and a murder, the underlying conflict is always recognizable: the characters are wrestling with a problem that echoes familiar conflicts with parents or social groups; issues of gender identity or body image; or thoughts of suicide. No one calls the artist out on the underlying truth. Instead, the other participants (who may not otherwise have been the artist’s friend) suggest what the characters might do to resolve the conflict and, unwittingly or not, help the artist deal with the very real conflict inspiring the story.

Adolescent emotions are deeply relatable to other adolescents, but if they are not shared, the young person believes they are the only one experiencing them. Circle chips the isolation away by celebrating each artists’ point of view. While we only have time for a handful of participants to share, part of growing is listening to others, problem-solving in partnership, and encouraging one another to always create more art.

If You’ve Ever Been a Teen, You Can Do This

You are an artist. Your library community is made up of artists. You were born to create. Your daydreams, your deepest wishes, your choice of books to read, songs to listen to, and preferred routes to walk from one place to another, are all tiny revelations of your self as an artist. Creating a safe space for teens to create will help improve and sustain the future of your library, and your community.

Rayne Lacko believes music, language, and art connect us, and she explores those themes in her novel, A SONG FOR THE ROAD (SparkPress, August 2019), and DREAM UP NOW (Free Spirit Publishing 2020)

Photo: Susan Doupé Photography

Friday Finds: September 20, 2019

This Week at TLT

New books alert: Cults, activism, a magical bookshop, deadly assassins, a rom-com, and more!

Book Review: Guts by Raina Telgemeier

Cindy Crushes Programming: Floral Fairy Crowns

Book Review: The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Crafting Community: Instax Locker Decorating

Around the Web


The Power Of ‘Just Reading’ A Good Novel

The Founders of The Latinx Read-A-Thon Share Their Favorite Books for Hispanic Heritage Month

Why aren’t kids being taught to read?

New Mexico Unveils Plan To Give Students Free College Tuition Regardless Of Income

Crafting Community: Instax Locker Decorating

Welcome to a new guest post series called Crafting Community, with me, Stacey Shapiro. I work in a standalone library in central Jersey, but we are fortunate in that every year we can apply for a grant from Union County, the county we reside in. This year, we’re planning to use that money to create a Crafting Community. Cranford is a town with a strong downtown shopping area and lots of local businesses to partner with, so the children’s librarian, Lauren Antolino, came up with the idea of Crafting Community to pay local businesses to host workshops for our patrons. Most of the money will go towards that, but the first big expenditure was Instax cameras.

I first learned about the possibilities of crafting with Instax photos from this blog, and I’ve wanted to do programs with them since then, but haven’t had the funds. The cameras themselves are $50, plus film which you will go through quickly. Luckily, our cameras arrived in plenty of time for the first Instax program.

Instax locker decorating


  • Instax cameras (I purchased 6)
  • Instax film
  • Sharpies
  • Pens
  • Washi tape
  • Roll of magnets to cut
  • Color lenses 

Stickers and other decorations would have been ideal, too.

Step One: Show the teens how the cameras work, turning them on and turning them off. Make sure to take out the film cover prior to any programming (the first photo is always the cover).  Then let them loose! I had a limited quantity of film so I tried to limit them to two apiece, but they were quickly overrunning me. I had enough film for them to all go home with several magnets.

Step Two: Let the film develop. Instax photos don’t need shaking like a Polaroid; it’s easiest to put them down on a table and leave them. Only start decorating once they’ve developed which should be fairly quickly, or else the inks might get squeezed out.

Step Three: Cut out squares of magnets for them to stick on the backs of the photos, and voila, they have magnets to decorate their locker!

I was cautious about how receptive the teens would be to the Instax format, but several teens had their own at home, and they had their friends there and took a bunch of pictures of each other and themselves. All of the teens had fun, and really enjoyed decorating the photos with washi tape. Several didn’t develop at all, and a teen drew on them with Sharpie and took those home as well, so they weren’t wasted. Towards the end of the program, we had one picture left and a kid’s finger slipped and took an accidental, artsy shot and then we were out. But the teens were definitely interested, and they want more crafty programs like this one.

Stacey Shapiro is a teen librarian in Cranford, New Jersey, a cat mom, and a BTS fan. She was a 2019 ALA Emerging Leader and is currently serving on the Printz 2020 committee. When she has any free time, she’s playing Breath of the Wild on the Switch.

More on the Instax Mini at TLT

Friday Finds: September 13, 2019

This Week at TLT

What’s new in LGBTQIA+ YA September 2019

MakerSpace: YouTube Channels to Help Get Your Creative Juices Flowing

Book Review: Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Book Review: The Liar’s Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson

Sunday Reflections: So You Want to Raise a Reader? I have some tips for you

Around the Web

Fall 2019’s Can’t-Miss Young Adult Books

It’s National Suicide Prevention Week

To Prevent School Shootings, Districts Are Surveilling Students’ Online Lives

Friday Finds: September 6, 2019

This Week at TLT

Book Review: Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown

Cindy Crushes Programming: Splatter Painting

Book Review: Have a Little Faith in Me by Sonia Hartl

The Labor of Librarianship, a Reflection for Labor Day

Your Library and Beyond: Building Positive Relationships with Creative Teens in The Community a guest post by author Rayne Lacko

Sunday Reflections: Everything I Learned About Advocating for My Dyslexic Child I Learned by Being a Teen Librarian

Around the Web

Michigan students’ reading levels fall as school librarians go extinct

Getting Over Coco

Closing A Failing School Is Normal, But Not Easy, In Charters-Only New Orleans

The Key To Teaching College-Level Research

Your Library and Beyond: Building Positive Relationships with Creative Teens in The Community a guest post by author Rayne Lacko

As you’ll recall from PART I: Establishing A Teen Creative Writing Workshop, I’ve outlined a proven method to establish a committed circle of enthusiastic regulars, including “The Secret Workshop Ingredient That Changes Lives.” Teens need a safe place to discover, cultivate, and share their emerging voices. Creating a Teen Writers Workshop at your library allows young people the opportunity to grow both as writers and readers. 

Over the past four years of our monthly after-school Teen Writers Workshop, my teaching partner, author Margaret Nevinski, and I have joined forces with various local non-profit organizations, and expanded to include a week-long intensive summer camp. We’ve also established Teen Story Slam, a fundraising spoken-word event, and received tremendous support from local teachers, parents, and teen-friendly businesses. 

We attract a small but dedicated group of poets, writers and graphic novelists to our after-school workshop. But like most creatives, these teens are curious about applying their love of words to a variety of art forms. When we hosted the first Teen Story Slam (inspired by the transformational power of our workshop’s Secret Ingredient) we discovered an untapped niche of teen creatives—students who wouldn’t necessarily attend a writers’ workshop, but who share a love of the written word. We brainstormed ways to reach this wider audience and found success with the following:

Teen Creative Writing Summer Camp Many teens consider the concept of summer camp to be a bit “cringey” but we’ve managed to fill to capacity every year because the built-in rewards are both tangible and valuable. The non-tangible rewards begin by respecting their time — and sleeping habits. Our camp runs from Monday to Thursday, from 2pm to 4pm. Asking for a few hours a day over less than week is a much more attractive commitment level, but we certainly get stuff done! We offer one-to-one editorial consultations and pose challenging activities based on a theme, such as drama, literary devices or emotions, and we visit our local museum for a lesson on ekphrastic writing. The tangible reward includes a publishing credit. During our 8-hour camp, we produce a literary magazine comprised of two pieces per writer, and we vote on the mag’s title. There’s always an artist in the group who creates the cover. A copy of the mag is sent to each camper, and made available in the library for borrow. Every contributed piece must go through the formal editing process, and we celebrate our finished prose with a cupcake party and reading for parents and families at the close of our final meeting. 

Looking to make positive, mutually-satisfying partnerships with non-profit organizations in your community? Consider partnering with your:

Local non-profit art museum. We’re grateful to the education director at our local museum. An award-winning artist, Kristin Tollefson leads our participants through an in-depth, thought-provoking lesson on how to look at art. Afterward, we send our writers through the museum asking them to simply make notes on any piece that catches the eye. Then, we give them a quick lesson on ekphrastic writing and the many ways to approach writing about a visual experience. Without fail, this experience produces the most profound pieces our students write all year. It’s ground-breaking for many young writers, and an opportunity to appreciate what they perceive in a new way. **Handout??

Local non-profit theater school. Last year at summer camp, we dedicated two days of camp time to writing scripts for up to four players. Utilizing basic script-formatting cues, we focused on character, conflict, and climax. There was no limit to topic or genre; some wrote harrowing scenes about drinking and driving, others wrote comical exchanges between animals, and one paid homage to the BBC. We invited students from our local theater’s teen acting camp to come and cold-read the plays. The creative peers at acting camp gave themselves entirely to their craft by collapsing in death scenes, cross-dressing, and pulling off foreign accents. Our writers were beyond delighted seeing their work interpreted on our makeshift library stage. Tears of joy flowed, and both camps reported feeling accomplished, appreciated, and bonded as artistic peers.

Bonus: Many budding actors are also interested in writing. Solidify your newfound theater relationship by hosting a playwriting or screenwriting workshop! 

Want to raise awareness about your teen-specific library programs? Bring your creatives to the community!

Teen Story Slam 

Teen Story Slam is a spoken word event for writers in grades 7-12, and a wonderful way to build  positive relationships with students, teachers, and parents. A biannual event, we alternate venues between a local pizza place and a frozen yogurt joint. Both donate 50% of the evening’s proceeds to the library for teen writing programs. At the first Teen Story Slam, we expected a small circle of intrepid writers to show up. Imagine our surprise when teens from far and wide jammed the pizza place, filling it to standing room only! Our event caught the attention of local teachers who offered their students extra credit for reading. Some even challenged their students with special writing prompts. We were surprised how many asked to sing original songs they’d written; it has since become tradition to include short plays and songs at the Slam.

We offer a prize to every reader (a $5 gift card to the venue), and welcome all genres and levels. 

Bonus: Many teen writers also love to sing. Cast a wider net to your teen writing community by hosting a songwriting workshop.

Establishing a Teen Writing Workshop is an excellent foundation for building lasting relationships in your community, and fostering partnerships with local non-profit organizations. Creativity in writing inspires creativity in myriad other forms. To reach a wider audience and bring new young people to your library, consider growing new branches from your strongest programs. 

Rayne Lacko believes music, language, and art connect us, and she explores those themes in her novel, A SONG FOR THE ROAD (SparkPress, August 2019), and DREAM UP NOW (Free Spirit Publishing 2020)

Friday Finds: August 30, 2019

This Week at TLT

Post-It Note Reviews: YA books about toxic relationships, the history of AIDS, gun control, voting rights, and more

Let’s Talk on Twitter: Do You Want to Read a Cupcake?

Introducing RevolTeens, a new monthly column with Christine Lively

Book Review: The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu

Establishing A Teen Creative Writing Workshop a guest post by Rayne Lacko

MakerSpace: Making T-shirts with Infusible Ink

Around the Web

The Amazon Cannot Be Recovered Once It’s Gone

The Scientific Debate Over Teens, Screens And Mental Health

What If You Could Change Your Child’s Future In One Hour Every Week?