Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Helping to Normalize Wearing Masks with Tweens and Teens During a Global Pandemic, with fun programming ideas!

The Teen, Riley Jensen, wearing a face mask

We are now months into this global pandemic and the science seems to be clear: wearing a mask can help decrease the spread of transmission of Covid-19 and we should be wearing masks out in public to help protect one another. Unfortunately, there is a lot of messaging out there that is putting people at risk by indicating that masks are a freedom issue (even though you are required by law to wear a shirt and shoes into a public building for public health reasons) or that the virus itself is a hoax. But the science is clear: wearing a face mask can help slow the community spread of Covid-19.

Masks, even cloth masks, retain the biggest droplets and those nasty medium sized droplets. Only the small droplets that aren’t very infectious can get through. When an infected person wears a mask, and remember that you are most infectious before you even start to feel sick, the total volume of virus floating around in the air that we share is dramatically reduced. Because 80% of infections come from droplets floating around in the air, the simple act of wearing a mask is enough to stop the pandemic spread. How I wish we had known that in March.

This is from one of the better arguments on this topic that discusses the nature of science and how what we know about the virus changes as we learn more. You can read Dr. Malcolm Butler’s entire piece here: https://www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/coronavirus/opinion-dr-malcolm-butler-it-s-the-air-you-share/article_998e2394-b5a1-11ea-b609-27e947f1e3fe.html

And as public libraries open for limited services, whether they should or not is an entirely different question, and schools begin to discuss with some urgency what the next school year will look like, it’s really important that we do what we can to help inform the public about the latest science regarding masks and to help normalize face masks for our tweens and teens. We all have a moral imperative to keep one another safe – and this includes staff and patrons – when faced with a virus that is spread from person to person. This isn’t a personal health matter because we are talking about a deadly virus that transmits from person to person; it’s a public health matter. These are the moments when we as a society have a responsibility to one another. One of the ways that we can help keep each other safe right now is to wear a face mask.

Teen and Collection Development Librarian Karen Jensen wears a face mask

So here are some things we can do to help promote face masks.

One, require face masks in your buildings

I won’t debate here whether or not libraries should be open to the public (they shouldn’t be) because each state is at different stages. But if you are opening your building to the public, please require and enforce patrons AND staff wearing face masks. There is a financial cost to this requirement so you should make them available to your staff and have some PPE on hand for patrons who try to come into the building but don’t have their own. If you’re going to be open, you have a responsibility to make face masks available to help keep everyone safe.

Librarian and TLTer Ally Watkins wears a face mask

Two, share information on where to buy or how to make your own face masks

Public libraries everywhere are struggling to find content and ways to stay engaged with patrons during this time, so this is a good way to do that. Use your social media to keep your local community in the know about current science regarding face masks, current laws or mandates regarding face masks, and the availability of face masks. Pushing out information via our webpages and social media is the bare minimum of the information services we should be providing right now as the community information resources during a deadly global pandemic.

TLTer Amanda MacGregor wears a face mask

You can go a step further and take a moment of your virtual programming to demonstrate to your patrons various ways they can make their own face masks. There are many tutorials out there you can share or you can make your own. The Fort Worth Public Library created this tutorial as a part of its virtual programming early in the lockdown phase for its patrons.

Three, provide free masks AND make it a fun program

If you can, make or purchase plain white masks and have them be a grab and go kit with your curbside service. Tweens and teens can color or tie-dye masks at home. I would recommend providing any additional tools they might need with the kits to make this happen, like fabric markers. Be sure to include good instructions as well, such as how they need to wash the face mask after coloring or tie dyeing and at what temperatures.

Amazon sells a pack of 50 reusable white cloth face masks for $30.99

If you have staff or volunteers making face masks you can buy color your own pillow cases and turn them into color your own face masks: https://www.amazon.com/eatsleepdoodle-Butterfly-Pure-Cotton-Pillowcase/dp/B07PHH4Z9M/ref=redir_mobile_desktop?ie=UTF8&aaxitk=mnircwvK5XqgbRI-VD8rvA&hsa_cr_id=8596798370401&ref_=sbx_be_s_sparkle_mcd_asin_0

Though I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before Oriental Trading is selling these in bulk. But you don’t need anything more than a plain face mask to make color your own face mask kits.

TLT RevolTeens contributor Christine Lively wears a mask

There are even instructions out there for no sew face masks:


Or you can cut up and use old t-shirts or pillow cases to make a face mask and introduce the concept of upcycling:


There is more than 1 way to make a face mask:


If you want to get more branded merchandise out into the world, you can have logo printed face masks made and pass those out as well.

TLTer Cindy Crushes Programming contributor Cindy Shutts wears a mask

You’ll also want to search the CDC for handouts that you can include with your face mask kits about how to wear them properly (your mouth AND nose should be covered) and why they can help reduce the infection rate. A simple Google search will also direct you to other examples of signage and flyers that you can adapt for your library.

As information resources for our community, this is our moment. Our communities need us now more than ever to help them get accurate scientific information to keep themselves safe and healthy and to decrease community spread. And if you’re looking for programming ideas anyway, you might as well incorporate masks and make it fun and engaging while keeping your tween and teen patrons safe and healthy.

Morgan’s Mumbles: What High Schoolers Need in a Library, by Morgan Randall

Today we are excited to introduce you to a new, recurring teen contributor named Morgan Randall. Morgan just graduated from high school and will be sharing her thoughts about teens, libraries, and bringing the two of them together here on Wednesdays.

One of my fondest memories as a child is going to my town’s “public library” over the summer, and getting my first ever library card. I remember being so proud of it and feeling so empowered to be able to browse the shelves of the library choosing what I wanted to read, from what felt like endless options. I felt empowered by the freedom I had to educate myself with, what felt like, endless resources. Sadly, this memory wasn’t a longed live one. My town’s “public library”, was one of our high schools libraries which was opened to the public. This made it difficult to get to during the school year, as I had classes to attend when it was opened. Of course, I still had access to my school library, but in both middle and high school, we never had a time built into our schedule to go to the library. Which made it hard to access, since after school I was preoccupied with theatre and before school, it was always full of students talking and playing games.

One thing I had loved about the library growing up was the atmosphere, it was quiet but not because it was empty. It was quiet because everyone there had mutually agreed to focus on learning. I loved the environment of being surrounded by other people choosing to further their education, it felt magical as we were all there physically together but mentally we were all in different worlds with different lives. This was something that my library at school had lacked. In high school, my library had become more of a place where classes were watched if they didn’t have a sub. It was loud, and there were always people playing games, like Jenga (which is a great game but not exactly a quiet one).

While I do agree, there should be a space within schools for teenagers to play games together and hangout. I think by making this place your library, you remove the library as a resource and escape for those who find comfort in it. This past school year I was a senior in high school and one thing that was hard for me was never being able to find a quiet place to study or escape to. I feel like, and it may just be the idealist within me, this should have been a library. I wish I would have had a library to go to study for my classes, but also to be able to have an escape and a quiet place to just read.

Another thing I wish my library had was resources for me to research colleges, scholarships, and even application resources. Being the oldest child of my parents, I had to figure out a lot of application stuff alone and do all my research alone. It wasn’t that my parents refused to help, they were just equally as confused, and honestly, it led to more fights than it was worth. I wish that I had a library to access after school hours, that would provide resources for college applications, resume writing, portfolio creating, and help on writing college application essays.

I think not having access to these resources harmed me a lot in my application process as I tried to navigate college websites and applications. But I think limited resources are far deeper than just the lack of informative text that should be available. Many people around the world are censored on what they can read, in my small town there were books that are viewed as classics that I was never allowed to read in school because of content. I think not having access to a library that was not censored effected not only my resources but also my knowledge of the worlds as a whole and effected my cultural lens. Growing up in a small town the lack of perspectives made me feel limited and didn’t give me room to discover who I was and develop my own thoughts, however, I think uncensored reading allows for individuals to research into all different thought patterns and ideas to develop their own individual opinions on the world and life in general.

So as a recap, as a recent high school graduate, things I find vital that I lacked growing up include:

  • A library that provides extended hours for students and those who need it.
  • Library’s, and other spaces, for individuals to be able to study, read, and learn in peace.
  • Resources within public and school libraries for college searching. Along with researching scholarships and resources on how to apply to these things.
  • This also applies in the same sense for those wishing to enter the workforce, there should be resources to create resumes and other important things for job interviews.
  • A public library, separate from the school, that allows for uncensored reading.

I think libraries are being used less and less not because they aren’t important, but because they lack the resources that they need to have or because they do not provide the same comfort and security as they should. Libraries should be able to be something that everyone has a fond memory of, and I think it is important to start reforming them into the resources they need to be.

Morgan Randall, Teen Contributor

Morgan recently graduated high school and is currently enrolled to attend college in the fall getting her BA in Theatre and Dance with an emphasis on Design and Technology. She loves theatre, writing, reading, and learning. But something that has always been important to her is being a voice for those who feel like they don’t have one, and being a catalyst for change in any way possible.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Five Virtual Programs You Can Do Right Now Part 3, by Cindy Shutts

Teen programming looks a little different for public libraries right now because getting together in groups just isn’t safe so everyone has turned to virtual programming. You can see our previous discussions on virtual programming here, here, here and here. Today we have even more virtual programming ideas for you.


My Co-Worker Faith Healy came up with allowing the teens to write a blog post about what is going on in their lives during this timer whether they are part of a protest or just dealing with living through a pandemic. This will go on our blog once we have enough posts. We want to encourage teens to use their voice. We will give them a half hour credit for each post.

Online Book Club via Zoom

One of the Teen’s bookshelves of honor.

We are going to have our first zoom book club at the end of the month. One thing we are not going to do is assign a book for our online book club
because we know it would be hard for members to have access to the same book since services are so limited at our libraries right now. We hope to move to having a teen picked reading theme for each month.

TAG (Teen Advisory Group)

We also planned our first district TAG meeting. We hope to get more input into what teens would like to be doing for virtual programs. We will also
give them an hour for community services. For all of our zoom events we are going to require sign up ahead of time for safety so we know who is coming. We want to avoid having an issue. For each of our virtual programs we plan to have two librarians at least so we can monitor the chat for safety.


My Co-Worker Faith again has some great ideas. She is making a mini trivia quiz for some of our programs to use as an advertisement such as Animal Crossing and putting a link to sign up for our virtual Animal Crossing event. She is also working on special trivia events we can do as separate programs.

How to Host a Virtual Trivia Night

How to Host a Zoom Trivia Night

Virtual Talent Show

The Plainfield Library is working on doing a virtual talent show.
They are using zoom to coordinate. Teens are going to work on their talent all summer and it will come together in a virtual show at the end of the program series.

How to Host a Virtual Talent Show

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

DIG Author A. S. King Receives the Printz Award, Virtually

Last night, Riley and I watched A. S. King receive her Printz Award virtually. Long time readers know that we are super huge fans of Amy (can we call her Amy?) and she did not disappoint with her acceptance speech. Though I am sad that I did not get to go to ALA and celebrate with A. S. King in person, I was wowed by her acceptance speech. You can view all the acceptance speeches online. A. S. King’s speech which tackles white privilege, racism, and more begins at 30:30. But please watch all of the speeches and celebrate with all the honor winners as well. Congratulations to everyone!!!

“We are now in generation of 15 in America” King reminds us as she talk about generational trauma, enslaved people, the whitewashing of history and the mental health of our youth. “You didn’t make the white supremacy we live in, you are only its willing caretaker. You may resign at any time.”

The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Part Two by Riley Jensen

At the beginning of this year The Teen, Riley Jensen, shared a musical theater playlist for teen librarians wanting to learn more about the musicals that teens are listening to. In the midst of this pandemic she’s had a lot of time to listen and talk musicals with her friends so today she is sharing another playlist.

Someone Gets Hurt from Mean Girls

I honestly like the musical better than the movie. It really adds so much depth to each character and this song is sung with such power and emotion.

I’m Breaking Down from Falsettos

This song is so dynamic and it never fails to make me laugh.

Not Your Seed from The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals

A nice little angsty teen song.

A Summer in Ohio from The Last 5 Years

This song is so cute and it sounds so nice.

Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now from Hairspray

This song is just always so fun to sing and it’s my favorite song from Hairspray.

Hopelessly Devoted to You from Grease

It just sounds so pretty and you just want to get up and sway along with the music.

I’d Give My Life for You from Miss Saigon

The relationship between the mother and son is so strong. This song is haunting. Overall this musical is just remarkable.

Cousin’s Cousin from Ever After

Another song that makes me laugh every time. This song is so chaotic that it’s hilarious.

Agony from Into the Woods

I mean, who doesn’t want some princes being absolute fools because they’re trying to one up each other? It’s just a chaotic mess.

Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) from Mamma Mia

This is my favorite Mamma Mia song. I just want to get up and dance whenever I hear it.

Head Over Feet from Jagged Little Pill

A jukebox musical of Alanis Morissette songs. It just sounds so beautiful. All of their voices mix so well.

God, I Hate Shakespeare from Something Rotten

This song is just so humorous. I love making fun of Shakespeare.

Only for You from Love Never Dies

It’s just so whimsical and playful.

The Witch from Big Fish

This song is so foreboding. It sounds dangerous but in a fun way.

We Got Work to Do from Fire Bringer

I relate to this song basically everyday.

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me from Ain’t Too proud- The Life and Times of the Temptations

I just want to melt into their voices. It’s just so perfect and the harmonies are so good.

I’m Here from The Color Purple

This song makes me cry. It’s so beautiful and powerful.

Maria from West Side Story

This song may be the most repetitive song in the word but it’s still good.

Waiting for Life from Once on This Island

This musical just makes me feel good. Her voice is just so uplifting and I could listen to her all day.

So Much Better from Legally Blonde

I love a good “I don’t need you anymore” song. This is another musical that I like better than the movie.

Sunday Reflections: This is What Happened the Time I Didn’t Call the Police at the Library

Once upon a time, there was a teen librarian who was the sole teen librarian in a medium sized library. At this point in her career she had worked with teens for a little over ten years. That librarian is me. Hi.

One day, as she was sitting at her desk buying YA books or planning her next teen program, she got a call that a staff member had caught a group of teens doing graffiti on the outside of the library building. Although most of the teens had escaped, one unlucky teen now sat outside the library director’s office and he was asking me to come in and talk to him. Not the teen, the director.

The director wanted to know what I though he should do. He wanted to call the police and file a report. But I asked him to hit the pause button and did a little exploring.

For the sake of this story I feel that it is important to point out that this teen was not white but Latinx. And we lived in a town which had tremendous amount of ire and wrath pointed at the Latinx population because a young undocumented Latinx man had killed a police officer who was pursuing him. I mean, it was like 10 years prior to this incident but I’m here to tell you, the community was incredibly racist against the Latinx community and cited that incident as the source of justification for their racism.

First, it turned out that the graffiti in question was written in pencil on a brick building. This would actually be pretty easy to clean up.

Second, there was some question as to whether or not the young man who sat in the chair outside his office was the perpetrator or just a guy who chose crappy friends and didn’t run fast enough so he was the one getting caught.

Conversations happened and it was agreed that the young man in question would return the next day after school and that I would stand outside and make sure that he scrubbed all the graffiti off of the side of the building. Both of those things happened quite successfully. You would think that would be the end of this magical tale, but it is not. Though if it were, it would be a satisfying end in and of itself.

But you see, as the young man in question scrubbed the grafitti off of the side of the building, him and I talked. A lot. We talked about his life. We talked about mine, mostly about what happens in the library. And he learned that every Tuesday afternoon after school I had a sort of coffeehouse, for want of a better name, where teens came after school and hung out. We also played video games and it turns out that he really liked playing Guitar Hero and he was kind of good at it.

No, scratch that. He LOVED playing Guitar Hero. And he was GREAT at it. Like, he could seriously put the guitar behind his back and play it without looking and still kick everyone’s butt at Guitar Hero. I know this because he then spent the next 3 or 4 years coming to the library every Tuesday after school.

This kid turned out to be an amazing kid who just did a stupid thing, which a lot of kids do. But he started coming every Tuesday on the reg to my after school coffeehouse in which I never served coffee because I didn’t drink it and didn’t know how to make it. He became one of my greatest advocates and program marketers. Towards the end of the program as interest began to fizzle out, which always happens because all programs have a shelf life, he would walk into an empty room, want someone to play with, and then text all his friends and tell them to get to the library ASAP. And they did.

Here are some things you should know about this young man. Though he would become a program regular and he would become a great voice and advocate for the library, I happen to know for a fact that those 4 years in high school he never checked out and read a library book. Not for school. Most definitely not for pleasure reading. But he was there. He was enthusiastic. And both of our lives were changed by that relationship.

I eventually left that job and moved away. He would contact me as an adult to tell me that one of our regulars had died by suicide and we grieved together. For a very long time, we were friends on Facebook and I had the honor and privilege of learning more about the young man I had helped him become. He entered community college and finally read a book that excited him so much he contacted me to talk about it.

I could have told my director that day to go ahead and call the police. That would have been the easiest route for me. It would have been someone else’s responsibility. And I’m not going to lie, I have called the police on teens before and after that incident.

But that one time, I didn’t call the police. And that decision made all the difference for that young man and I. My teen program was more successful because I gained an ally among the teens in my library system. He gained the respect of an adult who valued him and a regular place to engage successfully in an activity that he loved.

Right now, our country is actively engaged in discussions about policing and policing in libraries. I share this story with you because I implore you to understand, calling the police is not always the right answer. That moment changed everything for everyone involved in this story and it would have gone very differently if the decision to call the police had been made.

Years later, I would read the YA book Uninvited by Sophie Jordan and gain an even better understanding of how over policing and incarceration can make crime worse. Uninvited is set in a future where the geneticist can pinpoint the DNA that may make you prone to violence. The main character has been training to be a professional cellist (violinist? maybe?) player and is about to be accepted into her dream school when she is flagged as having the gene. She is then put into what is basically jail for others who have been flagged, and some of them are in fact quite violent. So in an effort to survive, she has no choice but to become violent, in a self fulfilling prophecy. It is very much a cautionary tale that illustrates how incarceration can make potential or small time criminals into violent offenders. There are lots of great nonfiction titles on this topic and I invite you to use your Google skills and seek them out and read them.

Our Black and brown teens are policed in ways that are vastly different than our white teens. They are charged more, locked up more, and often given longer sentences. And yes, they are more likely to be killed by the police. If you work with teens, you need to know and understand this verifiable truth and it should inform how you choose to work with your teens and if, when and how to involve the police. One simply phone call can change a life forever.

I’m glad every day that I didn’t call the police on that young man. Both our lives were changed forever, in positive ways.

RevolTeens: Being the Change and Leading the Way by Christine Lively

Often when I sit down to write this column, I have only a vague idea of what teens may have been up to in the last month to shake things up and fight the system. I usually search through articles and posts to see what has been happening and keep reading until a pattern emerges to be woven into a column.

This month is different. Teens are making headlines and are at the forefront.

As I have written before, so much of the major change and revolution of thinking in this country has started with the young – teens and young adults whose passion compels them to take a stand and use their voices to be heard. These teens have thrown aside the low expectations that adults have for their activism and have ignored the rules around who gets to be heard. They’re not waiting for the world to change, they’re charging ahead and demanding that the world change now. These are the RevolTeens, and they’ve been busy, brave, and successful this month.

Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests erupted across the country and they continue today. The passion of the protesters has not faded. The protests against police brutality against Black Americans and against racist policies, monuments, and violence haven’t just happened in big metropolitan areas. These protests have happened in towns large and small and many of them have been not just attended by RevolTeens, but organized and led by them as well.

In Nashville, Tennessee, six teens organized and led the largest protest in the area in recent memory. Jade Fuller, Nya Collins, Zee Thomas, Kennedy Green, Emma Rose Smith and Mikayla Smith who range in age from 14 to 16 all met on Twitter. They realized they had a shared desire to speak out after the murder of George Floyd and decided to form Teens4Equality through a group chat and then on Instagram. Soon after that, they reached out to other organizations to form a coalition and organize a protest. The Black Lives Matter Nashville helped organize the protest, but gave full credit to the RevolTeens who made the protests possible.  As Zee Thomas explained to the Huffington Post, “As teens, we are tired of waking up and seeing another innocent person being slain in broad daylight,” Thomas said in a speech during the event, according to Nashville Scene. “As teens, we are desensitized to death because we see videos of black people being killed in broad daylight circulating on social media platforms. As teens, we feel like we cannot make a difference in this world, but we must.”  These young organizers didn’t let their age hold them back from having their say. “We wanted to show people that no matter how old you are you have a voice and can make a change,” Emma Rose Smith told HuffPost.

Sixteen year old Stefan Perez got off a city bus in Detroit and joined up with a group of protesters who were heading to Police Headquarters. By the end of the night a few nights later, he had emerged as the leader of the protests, raising his fist and calling out for calm and safety as the protesters took a knee with police officers around them. Later, someone handed Perez a phone. When he answered, he found that the Mayor of Detroit Mike Duggan was calling to tell him how amazed he was at Perez’s leadership and that he brought tears to his eyes.

After speaking with the mayor, Perez said: “That was amazing. … I didn’t think I was gonna make it to 16. … The fact that people follow me … and the fact that the mayor just spoke to me, the fact that the Detroit police didn’t shoot. And they could’ve. It’s just amazing. I’m glad I’m not a statistic, because I could be.” The Detroit Free Press reported. Perez didn’t wait for permission, a degree, or any membership in a group. He saw what was happening and turned his passion into action and leadership by revolting against injustice.

Video of Stefan Perez in Detroit


Finally, teens are speaking out in writing. The Gothamist  has this to share, “Our photographers have been out documenting the historic moment, which is part of a larger national, youth-driven movement working to defund the police and end systemic racism. With hundreds of photos, we asked New York City teens to choose one that resonated with them, and write about it. Below is a piece from Tevelle Taylor, a 17-year-old from Brooklyn, who attends Benjamin Banneker Academy. You can follow him @tevelletaylor


I Am That Fast-Paced Heartbeat At The Encounter Of Police

I Am That Shock Welcomed Into The Mind Of The Majority When The Black Man Can Pronounce His Words Correctly

I Am That Last Breath Taken By George Floyd

I Am That Anger Aroused At Every Melanated Achievement

I Am That Unopened Pack Of Skittles & Arizona Drink


I Am Suspicion When Two Or More Black People Are Gathered Together

I Am The Loss Of Gravity That Compels The Arms Of Black Men To Float, In An Effort To Cease Intimidation

I Am That Relief After Hearing The Metal *Click* Of The Handcuffs Cutting Off The Circulation Of Every Innocent Black Man’s Wrist

I Am The Sorrow Felt By The Little Black Boy When His Parents Tell Him That He Can’t Play Cops & Robbers


I Am The Slowing Down Of Black Body Movement When Being Spoken To By The Men In Blue

I Am The Confusion Awakened After Seeing A Black Man Knowledgeable In His Rights

I Am The Sharp Pain, Inflicted By The Cops, Giving Him A Reason To Shoot A “Resister”

I Am The Gravitational Force That Sinks The Hearts Of Black Mothers When They Hear That Their Son Became A Gun Target

I Am The Unfinished Jog

I Am The “Strange Fruit”

I Am The Antonym Of Privilege

RevolTeens are taking up the charge. They are changing the world, and we are lucky enough to follow them to the future.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

Three YA Titles That Talk About Black Lives Matters and Protests

For the past several weeks the United States – and the world, really – has been wrestling with our deep and unrelenting history of racism with a series of global protests. As a white woman, I have seen a lot of my teens and friends wrestling with what this moment means in history. I’ve also seen a lot of important conversations about what protests can and should look like, with some pretty profound discussion about things like tone policing. One of the comments I have seen over and over again is that white people like me don’t get to tell Black people how to feel or respond to the justified anger they have about history, policing and racism in general. Today I want to share with you some excellent books by Own Voices Black authors that tackle this topic that is relevant reading, especially for white readers who are looking to engage in anti-racist reading.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Publisher’s Book Description:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice. 

Karen’s Thoughts: This book has been on the New York Time’s Besteseller List, usually in the #1 spot, for over 2 years now. It has also been made into a major motion picture which you should watch, but only after reading the book. I read this book with an adult book club I am in. The members of my book club are all white women in their 30s or higher and range from liberal to very conservative. This conversation was one of the ones I was most tense about having but it went surprisingly well. This book really focuses on its main character, Starr, trying to find her voice when her friend is killed by a police officer while she sits in the car next to him. It’s stark, haunting and should move everyone to anger. Part of Starr’s voice comes in choosing to participate in local protests.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Publisher’s Book Description:

Rashad is absent again today.

That’s the sidewalk graffiti that started it all…

Well, no, actually, a lady tripping over Rashad at the store, making him drop a bag of chips, was what started it all. Because it didn’t matter what Rashad said next—that it was an accident, that he wasn’t stealing—the cop just kept pounding him. Over and over, pummeling him into the pavement. So then Rashad, an ROTC kid with mad art skills, was absent again…and again…stuck in a hospital room. Why? Because it looked like he was stealing. And he was a black kid in baggy clothes. So he must have been stealing.

And that’s how it started.

And that’s what Quinn, a white kid, saw. He saw his best friend’s older brother beating the daylights out of a classmate. At first Quinn doesn’t tell a soul…He’s not even sure he understands it. And does it matter? The whole thing was caught on camera, anyway. But when the school—and nation—start to divide on what happens, blame spreads like wildfire fed by ugly words like “racism” and “police brutality.” Quinn realizes he’s got to understand it, because, bystander or not, he’s a part of history. He just has to figure out what side of history that will be.

Rashad and Quinn—one black, one white, both American—face the unspeakable truth that racism and prejudice didn’t die after the civil rights movement. There’s a future at stake, a future where no one else will have to be absent because of police brutality. They just have to risk everything to change the world.

Cuz that’s how it can end.

Karen’s Thoughts: This is such a great book and I highly recommend it. This book tells a compelling story which is told in alternating points of view, with both a Black and white main character. The internal dialogues of both characters and how they wrestle with the police shooting and whether or not they want to get involved in the protests is profound. Like The Hate U Give, this book is essential reading.

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely on NPR

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Publisher’s Book Description:

“An absolute page turner, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight is a compelling and powerful novel that is sure to make an impact.” —Angie Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of The Hate U Give

An NAACP Image Award Nominee, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight follows two teen girls—one black, one white—who have to confront their own assumptions about racial inequality as they rely on each other to get through the violent race riot that has set their city on fire with civil unrest.

Lena has her killer style, her awesome boyfriend, and a plan. She knows she’s going to make it big. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to keep her head down and get through the year at her new school.

When both girls attend the Friday-night football game, what neither expects is for everything to descend into sudden mass chaos. Chaos born from violence and hate. Chaos that unexpectedly throws them together.

They aren’t friends. They hardly understand the other’s point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they’re going to survive the night.

Karen’s Thoughts: I listened to this audio book just yesterday while shelving books in a new branch that my system is hoping to open soon. Like All American Boys, this book also is told with two alternating point of view with both a Black and a white main character. There is mention of Black Lives Matter and protests in this title, but this book also most explicitly talks about and uses the word riot. This is a town that has obviously been struggling with racial tension for quite some time. There is discussion about how when the police show up the situation escalates, there is very specific discussion about white privilege, and many other nuanced conversations about race take place within this story. I highly recommend this book for everyone.

Also, please check out author Kimberly Jones talking about the Black Lives Matter movement in the videos below.

Riley’s Post It Note Reviews: A Wicked Magic, Goddess in the Machine and Havenfall

Editor’s Note: I have previously referred to my oldest child as both The Teen and Kicky (her nickname) on here, but as she is about to be a senior in high school and 18 years old, she is choosing to go by her real name. So let me introduce to you my oldest daughter, Riley. She’s an avid reader of YA and has been reviewing here for 7+ years. She loves musical theater, murder books (both fiction and nonfiction), and she wants to go to college to be a forensic scientist after high school. So here’s what she’s been reading and reviewing for you.

Publisher’s Book Description:

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The Craft when modern witches must save teens stolen by an ancient demon in this YA fantasy-thriller debut.

Dan and Liss are witches. The Black Book granted them that power. Harnessing that power feels good, especially when everything in their lives makes them feel powerless.

During a spell gone wrong, Liss’s boyfriend is snatched away by an evil entity and presumed dead. Dan and Liss’s friendship dies that night, too. How can they practice magic after the darkness that they conjured?

Months later, Liss discovers that her boyfriend is alive, trapped underground in the grips of an ancient force. She must save him, and she needs Dan and the power of The Black Book to do so. Dan is quickly sucked back into Liss’s orbit and pushes away her best friend, Alexa. But Alexa has some big secrets she’s hiding and her own unique magical disaster to deal with.

When another teenager disappears, the girls know it’s no coincidence. What greedy magic have they awakened? And what does it want with these teens it has stolen?

Set in the atmospheric wilds of California’s northern coast, Sasha Laurens’s thrilling debut novel is about the complications of friendship, how to take back power, and how to embrace the darkness that lives within us all. 

Post It Note Review:

Extremely fascinating. A great story about friendship in a very unique way. Very enjoyable. Also, a very cool cover. Recommended.

Coming July 28 from Razorbill

Publisher’s Book Description:

When Andra wakes up, she’s drowning.

Not only that, but she’s in a hot, dirty cave, it’s the year 3102, and everyone keeps calling her Goddess. When Andra went into a cryonic sleep for a trip across the galaxy, she expected to wake up in a hundred years, not a thousand. Worst of all, the rest of the colonists–including her family and friends–are dead. They died centuries ago, and for some reason, their descendants think Andra’s a deity. She knows she’s nothing special, but she’ll play along if it means she can figure out why she was left in stasis and how to get back to Earth.

Zhade, the exiled bastard prince of Eerensed, has other plans. Four years ago, the sleeping Goddess’s glass coffin disappeared from the palace, and Zhade devoted himself to finding it. Now he’s hoping the Goddess will be the key to taking his rightful place on the throne–if he can get her to play her part, that is. Because if his people realize she doesn’t actually have the power to save their dying planet, they’ll kill her.

With a vicious monarch on the throne and a city tearing apart at the seams, Zhade and Andra might never be able to unlock the mystery of her fate, let alone find a way to unseat the king, especially since Zhade hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with Andra. And a thousand years from home, is there any way of knowing that Earth is better than the planet she’s woken to?

Post It Note Review:

Super interesting concept that never got boring. There was always something unexpected coming and it never stopped being surprising. Highly recommended.

Coming June 30th from Razorbill

Publisher’s Book Description:

A safe haven between four realms and the girl sworn to protect it—at any cost.

Hidden deep in the mountains of Colorado lies the Inn at Havenfall, a sanctuary that connects ancient worlds—each with its own magic. For generations, the inn has protected all who seek refuge within its walls, and any who disrupt the peace can never return.

For Maddie Morrow, summers at the inn are more than a chance to experience this magic firsthand. Havenfall is an escape from reality, where her mother sits on death row accused of murdering Maddie’s brother. It’s where Maddie fell in love with handsome Fiorden soldier Brekken. And it’s where one day she hopes to inherit the role of Innkeeper from her beloved uncle.

But this summer, the impossible happens—a dead body is found, shattering everything the inn stands for. With Brekken missing, her uncle gravely injured, and a dangerous creature on the loose, Maddie suddenly finds herself responsible for the safety of everyone in Havenfall. She’ll do anything to uncover the truth, even if it means working together with an alluring new staffer, Taya, who seems to know more than she’s letting on. As dark secrets are revealed about the inn itself, one thing becomes clear to Maddie—no one can be trusted, and no one is safe…

Bestselling author Sara Holland pulls readers into an enchanting world where both power and peril lurk behind every door. 

Post It Note Review:

Great story and a great read. I enjoyed the characters and the interesting settings. Recommended.

This book is out now.

What if paying library staff and teachers to read IS part of the anti-racist work we could, and should, be doing?

Background, Part 1: No, in fact, we don’t get paid to read

One of the things I most often hear when I tell people that I’m a librarian is this: I wish I got paid to read all day. Fun fact: As a librarian I have never, in fact, gotten paid to read. In fact, most of the libraries that I have worked at have expressly forbidden reading while on the clock and then demanded that library staff be well read because part of our jobs is helping patrons find books and doing good reader’s advisory. Funny how that works.

This dynamic means one of two things. One, you have library staff that don’t read because they would have to do so on their own time, which means that all of the book knowledge they have comes from whatever they read in school or casually on their own time. Spoiler alert, whatever they read in school was most likely predominantly written by a white male author and is part of the traditional cannon, whichever age group they were reading and studying. And two, if you do have well read library staff, that means that they are reading on their own time and the library or school is benefiting from the unpaid labor of their staff. Librarianship and education are two of the professions which benefit a lot from both the unpaid labor of their staff and staff spending their own money on materials to help enhance the program. Libraries and schools are wildly underfunded and many of these professionals end up using their own time and money for ongoing professional development and even basic daily supplies.

Background, Part 2: The Overwhelming Whiteness of Librarianship and Education

Graphic Source: The Unbearable Whiteness of Librarianship at The Feral Librarian

Librarianship is a predominantly white occupation. To be more specific, it is predominately a white female occupation. Upwards of 80% of librarians are just like me, a white woman in her 40s (Source: ALA). This is also true for education; over 80% of teachers in 2016 were white (Source: Department of Education). Someone asked recently on Twitter how old you were before you had a Black teacher and neither I, my husband or my two children have had a Black teacher. I went all the way through graduate school without ever having a Black teacher. And my husband and I went to primary school in Southern California, arguably one of the more diverse states in our country.

There is a lot to unpack and discuss regarding the barriers to entry into these professions and the inequities that make them continue to be so largely predominantly white, and those conversations are happening. They are important conversations and it is very important that every aspect of librarianship and education diversify and become more equitable. I encourage my fellow white librarians to read more on the overwhelming whiteness of librarianship, why it matters, and how we can and should help to deconstruct that.

Background, Part 3: The Canon

Those of us in librarianship and education, the people who are buying, reading, teaching and promoting books, often rely on the books we know and feel most comfortable with. The Canon, as it is often called, is and has historically been written predominantly by white males. There are, of course, exceptions, but those are few and far between. Most of what we learned in our own education was built on a foundation of white texts. Lord of the Flies, Shakespeare, The Great Gatsby, John Steinbeck, to name just a few.

And even if you got your degree in the last 10 years from an accredited college or university and studied youth literature, you still probably read primarily books written by white authors because as the statistics tell us, white authors continue to dominate what’s published (Source: CCBC, Lee and Low). This means that a majority of our reading of foundational texts has centered whiteness. For more on this topic, check out the discussions on Decolonizing our Libraries/Bookshelf and Disrupt Texts. These are both initiatives that ask us all to look at what we’re reading and hold ourselves accountable for reading and teaching more diverse texts. You’ll also want to listen and follow the discussions surrounding #OwnVoices.

The Argument

Library and education staff need to be continually reading to keep themselves updated on newer works and to decenter the white experience which has traditionally been emphasized in education. Because this is a vital part of both of these jobs, libraries and schools should pay staff for time spent reading because it is, in fact, vital professional development.

Right now, libraries and schools everywhere are sharing lists of anti-racist reading. But what good are those lists if our own employees don’t even have the space or the time to do the reading? Yes, we could all choose to do the reading on our own time. And many of us will. But requiring staff to provide us with unpaid labor is an unethical practice. It also means that far too many of our staff aren’t, in fact, doing the work because they can’t, or won’t, for various reasons.

Let me be clear on this: In a profession that demands that people be well read in order to either stock library shelves or do good reader’s advisory or to choose and teach meaningful works of literature to kids and adults, we should always have been paying our staff to read. But in this time where we are talking more and more about the importance of reading and knowing diverse literature and doing anti-racist work, we should be paying our staff to do the work to help us better serve our patrons and better educate our communities. We have always needed to be reading and to be reading diversely, but we should definitely do this in meaningful and intentional ways moving forward if we want to cultivate a better read staff and to better take care of our patrons/students.

Please note, I’m not just talking about having staff read anti-racist nonfiction, which we should also be paying staff to do. But paying staff to read board books, pictures books, easy readers, middle grade, YA and adult fiction by BIPOC. That’s the work. Knowing our collections is a very important part of the work so that we can select, share, promote, teach and recommend diverse books to our patrons and in our classrooms.

We can and should have arguments about how one would make sure that if we pay staff to read we can make sure they are reading diversely. There are various ways you could implement this. And this is another benefit of paying staff to read, since you are paying staff to read you can, in fact, implement ways to make sure they are reading diversely. This could mean having staff track reading and auditing their reading. Or it could involve assigning various books. It could mean putting staff into accountability groups. What that can and should look like can and should vary, and that’s not the focus of this post. Here, I simply want to say this: paying staff to read new and updated books is part of professional development and if we implement it in meaningful ways it can be an important part of doing just a small fraction of the anti-racist work we should be doing in our professions. It won’t solve all of the issues, but it’s an important part of the work we need to be doing.

We should have always been doing it, so let’s not make any excuses for ourselves or our professions moving forward. Let’s do the work – and pay our staff for their time doing it.