Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Read Wild: Hosting a Bob Ross Painting Party

Bob Ross is having quite the renaissance in popularity, especially among teens, in part because of Netflix. If you didn’t know, you can watch Bob Ross paint a lot of happy trees on Netflix and many teens find it to be a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. It’s also fun to host a Bob Ross painting party.

Bob Ross loved painting nature scenes

Today’s program is being brought to you by Karen . . . and the Girl Scouts. Thing 2 is a Girl Scout and they also do a lot of programming that would work well in a public or school library setting, especially if you are already doing programming and have a good space for it. I’m putting this under our Read Wild heading because Bob Ross was famous for painting a variety of landscapes, including forest, trees, sunsets, and seaside retreats. If you have the outdoor space available, I recommend taking the painting outside so teens are painting nature while being in nature and breathing in some fresh air. This is a fun and creative way to get teens thinking about and connecting with nature.

Supplies Needed:

  • A painting surface, like a tile mentioned by Cindy earlier today or a canvas
  • A variety of paints (Bob Ross uses oil paints, but you can use acrylics)
  • Paint brushes
  • Paper plates (this will be your palette)
  • Paper towels
  • Water and something to keep it in for cleaning brushes
  • If you need to protect your painting surfaces, you’ll want to get newspaper or tablecloths

Before you start painting, you may want to prime your canvas by giving it a layer of white paint. If you want to speed up the process, you can prep canvases the day before your painting party. If you are using tiles, you don’t need to do any prep work.

Set up is pretty easy, just distribute brushes, paints, paper plates and water containers to each participant. If you are inside and have public performance rights, you can play Bob Ross in the background. The big thing here is to just let teens paint nature scenes and step back and let them be creative and expressive.

You’ll want to give a brief introduction to teens about Bob Ross. If you want to go with video there are several choices on YouTube or you can just read a brief introduction via someplace like Wikipedia (I know, I’m sorry, but it’s a quick resource). You could also print off examples of his work to have around the room or put together a slideshow which you project onto a blank wall or share via your in-house screens.

There are several online write ups of Bob Ross painting parties. It turns out, it’s a pretty popular party theme. You can find a few good ones here, here and here. Bonus points if you find and wear a Bob Ross wig.

When we went to the Girl Scout party, The Teen was just there by default. However, she had such a good time that she went home and painted a few more canvases. It was an obvious hit and I highly recommend it.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Tile Art

I love doing drafts with tiles. They are super cheap and it is easy to do many projects with them. I get my tiles from Home Depot, Menard’s or Lowes. I purchase the white ceramic tiles. The size depends on the price and type of tile available. I will discuss two of my favorite tile crafts below.

Book Mod Podge Tiles


  • Tiles
  • Book cover images
  • Mod Podge
  • Brushes


  1. Print out and cut book images. If you have old School Library Journal issues that you were going to recycle, they would be perfect for this craft.
  2. Position the images on the tile to see how it will look. You can do one big book cover or many smaller book covers. I love doing many book covers.
  3. Place a layer of Mod Podge under the image and then place another layer on top. Next glue all of the book images at once with another layer of Mod Podge. Then you will want to put a few layers of Mod Podge on top of the whole tile. Be very careful when explaining this step to the teens they will want to us  too much Mod Podge. Gentle layering works best for this project.

Thoughts: I love this craft for Teen Read Week. It is a simple craft and teens can celebrate their favorite books. They can make lovely coasters or a work of art.

Nail Polish Tiles


  • Tiles
  • Nail Polish (avoid glitter nail polish)
  • Water
  • Aluminum Half Size Deep Foil Pan
  • Stick


  1. Pour a layer of water into the foil pan.
  2. Put nail polish in the water. Pour it in gently. Try to swirl it when you put it in the water. Use multiple colors.
  3. Put the tile in the water, but do not submerge it. It should be just deep enough so it hits the nail polish layer that is floating on the top. Pull the tile out quickly and let it dry.
  4. Use your stick to get rid of the extra nail polish in the water so you can keep your pan nice and clean
  5. You can add a little more nail polish by hand if you missed a spot on the tile.

Thoughts: This is a really pretty craft and also super cheap. I did learn, however, that glitter nail polish does not work well on this craft.

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.

Read Wild: Award Winning Books About Nature and Why We Need Them

It’s the day after Earth Day, and day 2 of our week focusing on Read Wild, an initiative that we are beginning here at TLT to connect tweens and teens with nature. Today our guest blogger, Sarah Mulhern Gross, shares some of her experiences and inspiration and talks about some award winning books that connect tweens and teen to nature.

About ten years ago I chaperoned a field trip to a local nature center.  My 6th graders were, as expected, excited to be missing a day of school.  When we arrived, though, that changed. “Ew, there’s mud everywhere!” they exclaimed from the steps of the bus.  The short interpretative hike we went on focused on common plants and birds in our area, but my middle schoolers were too uncomfortable (the mud, the wind, the bugs, the creepy birds!)  to pay much attention.  I hoped it was just that group of students, but today I teach high school and I’m amazed at the number of students who don’t spend any time outside and can’t recognize common species in our area.  These experiences inspired me, an English teacher, to get my Master’s degree in teaching biology through Miami University and Project Dragonfly’s AIP program.  During my 2.5 years in the program, I focused on nature-deficit disorder and ways to help combat it in teens.

Packed schedules after school, rigorous homework, and extracurricular activities too often keep kids inside, bound to their computers and cellphones, rarely giving them the time to be outside. According to a 2014 survey, “82% of U.S. parents view spending time in nature as “very important” to their children’s development – second only to reading as a priority. Then there’s the fact that many people assume that “nature”=wilderness.  You don’t need to live in a rural area miles from your nearest neighbor to experience nature!  Plants, animals, weather, and almost everything else we consider “nature” can be found in urban, suburban, and rural areas. The good news is that we can use books to help kids connect with nature both right outside their window and in far away places.

There are so many incredible books published each year that highlight the environment and can inspire readers to take action. I’ve found that there is a belief among many educators that the environment is the bastion of science teachers.  However, if we want to create conservationists in the next generation, we must move environmental literacy out of science class and into the rest of our children’s lives: content area classes including English, the library, and the home.

Luckily, there are two major awards for environmental writing given each year and they each honor books for young people.  This week both awards announced this year’s winners and I’m thrilled to share them here.

The Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award honors the best in nature writing in adult nonfiction and children’s literature. The award has been given since 1991 (full list of winners here). The 2018 award was given to Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong’s Work for Sustainable Farming written by Sigrid Schmalzer and illustrated by Melanie Linden. An incredible picture book about using biological controls instead of pesticides, Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean can be used with any age group.  It would be great to pair with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring with older students.

The awards committee also honored the following books:

  • Honorable Mention
    • Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction, Nancy F. Castaldo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
    • The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science, Joyce Sidman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Notable
    • Ellie’s Strand: Exploring the Edge of the Pacific, M. L. Herring and Judith L. Li (Oregon State University Press)
    • How to be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, Sy Montgomery (author) and Rebecca Green (illustrator) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Recommended
    • Errol’s Garden, Gillian Hibbs. (Children’s Play International)
    • Hush Hush, Forest, Mary Casanova (author) and Nick Wroblewski (woodcuts) (University of Minnesota Press)
    • Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story, Lindsey McDivitt (author) and Eileen Ryan Ewen (illustrator) (Sleeping Bear Press)
  • Robert Bateman: The Boy Who Painted Nature, Margriet Ruurs (author) and Robert Bateman (artist) (Orca Book Publishers)
  • Trash Vortex: How Plastic Pollution is Choking the World’s Oceans, Danielle Smith-Llera. (Compass Point Books)

The Green Earth Book Award also announced its winning titles this week.  It is the nation’s first environmental stewardship book award for children’s and young adult books and publishes a long list each year before announcing the winners.  What I love about this award is that it focuses solely on environmental writing for young people.  They award books in five categories: picture book, children’s fiction, young adult fiction, children’s nonfiction, and young adult nonfiction. A list of all winners since 2005 can be found here.

This year’s winners were announced on Earth Day and what a fantastic list it is!

  • Picture book: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs: The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation, by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe (Chronicle Books)
  • Children’s fiction:  The Flooded Earth, by Mardi McConnochie (Pajama Press)
  • Children’s nonfiction: Trash Revolution: Breaking the Waste Cycle, by Erica Fyvie, illustrated by Bill Slavin (Kids Can Press)
  • Young adult fiction: Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman, illustrated by Jay Shaw (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Honors and recommended reading can be found here

Today I make sure my high school students get outside as often as possible.  I often collaborate with my biology colleague on field study lessons that combine nature reading and writing with his biology lessons.  We’ve also designed our summer reading around nature; our students all read The Forest Unseen by Dr. David Haskell before the year starts and we use the essays in the book to inspire field studies all year long.  The award-winning books listed here can all be used in similar ways. 

Meet Sarah Mulhern Gross

I am a National Board Certified teacher who teaches ninth-grade and twelfth-grade English at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. I am a contributor to the New York Times Learning Network and my writing has appeared in Scientific American, Edutopia, ASCD, and The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet.  In 2017 I completed my Master’s degree in teaching biology with Project Dragonfly at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio with a focus on defeating nature-deficit disorder in adolescents through interdisciplinary work.

Read Wild: Nature Deficit Disorder and its implications for teens

Today is Earth Day and we’re kicking it off here at TLT by introducing you to Sarah Mulhern Gross and her new regular feature, #ReadWild. We’re going to be having an ongoing discussion about connecting teens with nature, discussing issues like climate change, and sharing titles that help you do both. In this post, we’re also introducing you to our #ReadWild Reading Challenge and giving you some background information on Nature Deficit Disorder.

American students are stressed. Since 2013, teens have reported feeling more stress than adults, according to the American Psychological Association. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 3.1 million American teenagers (between 12 -17) had at least one major depressive episode in the last year. Constant access to technology, with its notifications and messages, often brings more stress.  A 2013 study conducted by Karla Klein Murdock of Washington and Lee University found that text messages and social media messaging left college students vulnerable to interpersonal stress, leading to sleep problems and lower levels of emotional well-being.  Yet our schools have added computers in every class, adopted “bring your own device” policies, and cut gym classes and recess in favor of trying to raise test scores. Most of my high school students tell me they spend little to no time outside on a daily basis.

Nature-deficit disorder is a term used to describe the loss that children and teens experience when they are not given opportunities to have direct contact with nature.  Journalist and author Richard Louv coined the term when researchers began to realize the impact that nature had on children’s health and ability to learn.  Students who do not spend time outdoors engaging in exploration and play often feel disconnected from nature and environmental issues as adults. Without that connection to nature there may be no conservationists in the future.

Being outside has important benefits for kids and teens.  According to the Children & Nature Network, increased time outside has public health benefits.  Time outside has been found to improve children’s sleep, boost performance in school and enhance creativity, and increase focus and engagement.   And the effects of nature are long-term: childhood nature exposure can help predict adult mental well-being.  When my own students spend time outside during field studies or on nature walks they report feeling less stressed.  Florence Williams’ book The Nature Fix highlights the fact that as few as 15 minutes in the woods has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. When nature exposure is increased to 45 minutes there is an increase in cognitive ability.

Research shows that formative experiences in nature during childhood and adolescence are the most important source of environmental appreciation later in life; adults who are active in conservation often cite childhood experiences with the natural world as one of their most critical inspirations. Yet our schools are designed in a manner that denies students the opportunity to observe the world around them. In a time when the environment is under attack from our own government officials, we need to make sure the next generation will value the world around them. 

How can we help kids and teens connect more with nature?  Through books, of course!

Over the course of the next year, I will be sharing books that can inspire readers to get outdoors.  In order to help you get more out of your reading experience (personally and professionally!), I’ve designed the #readwild reading challenge. I challenge you to build a wider repertoire of nature books and get outside more, too!  Beginning this week, I’ll share books and activities that you can do with the teens in your life.  Happy Earth Day and Happy Reading!

Share your favorite nature reads with us on social media using the hashtag #readwild!

Meet Sarah Mulhern Gross

I am a National Board Certified teacher who team-teaches an integrated humanities, science, and technology program to ninth grade students at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. I am a regular contributor to the New York Times Learning Network and my writing has appeared in Scientific American, Edutopia, ASCD, and The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet. I also help teach a middle school science enrichment program through the STARS Challenge program at Monmouth University and I serve as a board member for the curiousYoungwriters blog, which provides a platform for publishing student writing that describes a nontraditional animal model in biomed research.

TheReadingZone Blog

wilddelight blog– Focused on integrating science and English class

TLA 2019 Roundup, Part 1

This past week I attended the TLA (Texas Library Association)Annual Conference and I live tweeted a few of the sessions I went to so that I would have notes. You can follow the links below if you would like to read the recaps.

Session 1: Deconstructing the Myth of Girl Books and Boy Books

In one of my earliest sessions, I listened to a panel discuss the harm that we do when we classify books as girl books or boy books. This was one of the best conversations that I have heard and I feel it is an important topic. Thread:

Okay I’m going to be tweeting The Myth of Girl Books and Boy Books for you from #txla19. @zieglerjennifer @pacylin and more are here to talk about how all books are simply books, they have no gender— Teen Librarian Toolbox (rocks!) (@TLT16) April 15, 2019

Session 2: How to Make a Diverse Kit Lit List

Another informative session I attended talked specifically about how to go about the process of building a diverse (or inclusive) kid lit list. You’ll want to click through this to see the handout provided by Chris Barton. Thread:

For thos interested, I will now live tweet this session in How to Make a Diverse Kid Lit List at #TXLA19 pic.twitter.com/037mbND6Uh— Teen Librarian Toolbox (rocks!) (@TLT16) April 16, 2019

Session 3: Tackling Touch Topics in Middle Grade

Another informative panel I attended talked about tough topics in middle grade fiction. Many of our kids are indeed living lives that are considered “tough topics” and it’s important that we include their reality in their literature to help them process and give them hope. Thread:

Okay today I’m going to be live tweeting the session in Tackling Tough Topics in Middle Grade. It starts in about 8 minutes. @TonyAbbottBooks @JoKnowles Aidan Salazar Kate Allen and Jen Wang are the panelists.— Teen Librarian Toolbox (rocks!) (@TLT16) April 16, 2019

Session 4: Investing in Reading Lives All Year Round

Having recently gotten my hands on a copy of Game Changer! by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp, I was very excited to get to hear them speak. The laid down a lot of truths and were both very inspiring. Thread:

At this session now with @donalynbooks & @colbysharp and I will try and live tweet highlights but also I highly recommend reading their book Game Changer! pic.twitter.com/qF9XnLPoHK— Teen Librarian Toolbox (rocks!) (@TLT16) April 17, 2019

Session 5: Scholastic Lunch with A. S. King

You all may be aware that The Teen and I are huge fans of author A. S. King and her books, so I was honored to attend a Scholastic luncheon where I got to hear her speak. She spoke specifically about mental health issues and their impact on the lives of teens and highlighted that our kids are in crisis; it’s worse than we realize because so many of our kids are struggling with un-diagnosed mental health issues. I thought she said 17% but she corrected me online and it is 70%, 70% of mental health issues go un-diagnosed and untreated. Then author Kelly Barnhill pointed out that the crisis will grow exponentially because there is a shortage of qualified psychiatrists to help address the mental health crisis facing our youth.

.@AS_King: We can’t look at stuff straight on. So I like to put it in my fiction because I’m tricky.

Depression is a million different things. 17% of teens have an undiagnosed mental illness. 5-11 age group is being massively effected by mental illness.— Teen Librarian Toolbox (rocks!) (@TLT16) April 16, 2019

In addition to attending a lot of great, informative sessions, I also learned about a lot of upcoming books. I’ll try to put together a post of some of those in a part 2.

Staff Development: When RA training and diversity training meet

Earlier this year, my immediate supervisor Kathryn King and I were asked to do some RA training for youth services staff across multiple branches at the Fort Worth Public Library system and we got to envision what that would look like. We did some brainstorming and decided that we wanted to make an intentional effort to focus on diversity and inclusion. We have now done two sessions and it has been a very personally and professionally rewarding experience. Here’s an outline of what this training looks like.

As I mentioned, we decided that we wanted to focus on diversity and inclusion, but we were also asked to specifically do traditional booktalks to help staff do RA with patrons at the public service desks. In the month of January we focused on African American literature and in the month of March we focused on Asian American literature. We will be doing some additional sessions on Latinx literature, Native American literature, and LGBTQ literature to finish out the year 2019.

Each training session is organized as follows.

The Foundations

Lee and Low have a good resource to help librarians understand the Diversity Gap in Children’s Litearature http://blog.leeandlow.com/2017/03/30/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-book-publishing-2017/

When we initially began this project, we began by discussing current diversity stats in children’s and YA lit. You can find these stats from the CBC and Lee and Low. It is disheartening to see how truly under-represented many people groups are. We shared these stats with staff because we wanted them to understand that with this type of under representation, it meant that we all had to work that much harder to make sure we are being inclusive in the books we share, promote and highlight with our communities.

Owning Our Limitations

As a cisgender white woman, it’s important for me to do some thorough background research and admit my limitations and acknowledge that I go in with implicit bias. Even with the best of intentions, it’s important for me to be aware that except for my extensive knowledge of the collection, I am not culturally the best person to be leading this training. For example, culturally we are taught to assume a white default and I have been working very, very hard to dismantle this default and change my language when training staff. It’s a process.

An Introduction and an Overview

We begin each session by outlining some basic information about the various people groups we are talking about. For example, before discussing Asian American in children’s and YA literature, we did a lot of research to make sure we understood what we were talking about. This proved to be very important because it turns out that when we say Asia and Asian American, this encompasses more than I ever imagined. We outlined countries, demographics, religions and more. I’ve never personally loved history or geography and was truly mortified to find out how narrow my understanding was and how little I truly knew about Asia.

This in depth research portion has been personally very informative and rewarding. I feel more knowledgeable about the world in general and better able to serve my patrons. I also want to serve my co-workers by being as thorough, respectful and informative as possible. I may be a white woman but not all my co-workers are and I don’t want to misspeak or cause harm while training my peers about middle grade and YA lit.

Tropes, Stereotypes and Harmful Representation

In the next part of our discussion, we use a variety of resources such as TV Tropes and multiple professional discussions to make staff aware of tropes, stereotypes and harmful representation to look for when considering using books in programming or displays. We have discussed things like a white savior narrative, bury your gays, and the tendency to focus on one type of narrative. For example, when talking about books featuring African Americans, we remind staff that we want current stories for our kids that highlight children of color engaged in every day activities because not every story needs to be a story about slavery or civil rights.

Re-Examining Old Favorites

We then go on to talk about classics and favorites that many adults and librarians use that should be reconsidered because they have problematic or outright racist elements. We have, for example, discussed the recent research regarding racism in Dr. Seuss. And before we booktalk any title at the end, we research each title to make sure that isn’t any surrounding controversy that we may not yet be aware of.

An Own Voices Authors List

We then do exhaustive research and share with staff an Own Voices author list that we hope will help staff develop a richer knowledge of the collection. For example, when we did the presentation on Asian Americans in Kidlit, we tried to research specifically each author identified with. Our hope is that we are developing as inclusive as possible collections and recommendations for our patrons. It’s important to note that no Own Voices will ever be exhaustive or thorough because authors gets to decide if, when and how they identify as own voices, but having some own voices authors and titles to discuss is better than none.


We then go on to booktalk some of our favorites. I love talking about the books I love, so this is one of my favorite parts. For example, for the upcoming LGBTQIA+ presentation, I am hoping to highlight titles that aren’t just generally LGBTQ, but that fall under each letter so that our staff can better help patrons who may more specifically ask for a book that features a bi-sexual or asexual main character. This one is still in development.

For me, this has been about getting to have a richer, more complex understanding of the collection and knowing how to better serve patrons through this knowledge. I have personally learned a lot. I have professionally learned a lot. It’s challenging and rewarding. Yes, it is taking an investment in time to do the research and make sure we are doing a good job with the subject matter, but our patrons deserve good, accurate information.

Where do younger teen readers fit in?

One of the Teen’s bookshelves of honor.

If you work with teens and ya literature, you’ve probably found yourself wondering about the ages of YA lit. In theory, YA lit has traditionally been for readers ages 12-18. It’s even defined by YALSA this way. However, as a new generation of adults have grown up reading YA, they are sticking around and some people argue that this new development has led to an aging up of YA lit. If you’ve read enough TLT or follow me on Twitter, you are probably aware that I am one of those people.

I will say this. Many, many librarians, teachers & authors have been talking for a while now about how actual teen readers are being pushed out of the YA market as it becomes increasingly focused on adults. This is not about— Teen Librarian Toolbox (rocks!) (@TLT16) April 8, 2019


Last week, discussions broke out again on Twitter from several channels and once again many YA librarians, readers and authors were asking: where do younger teen readers fit in. Andrea Sower posted a Tweet that highlighted an informal survey she had done of upcoming titles and sure enough, given a quick inventory of several titles it became clear that YA literature is definitely skewing older.

And I’m not just talking here about content, because that’s not the case. There has been a push, for example, for YA that features young adults in college. I’ve also read an increase in books being published that feature teens in their senior year or right after graduation. In and of itself, none of this is a problem. What does seem to be the problem, however, that is highlighted by the statistics Drea shared in the tweet linked above, is that younger teen readers aren’t being well represented in the current YA market.

Another trend I see as a reader is characters that I am told are teen on the page, but that show an emotional maturity and complexity that is clearly more adult. It’s interesting to note that when I stated this last week on Twitter, many authors sent me private messages and told me that they wrote their books for adults but were told by publishers to make the characters teen so it could be sold as YA because that’s what is selling. Nothing else really was changed, just the ages of the characters. This highlights the fact that not all YA is being written with teen readers in mind.

I have definitely seen a growth in the middle grade market, and feel this is in part to compensate for the age shift up in YA. But even looking at middle grade, it’s still not really telling stories that center 13, 14 and 15 year olds. Most books set in middle school seem to feature 11 and 12 years olds. And Freshman and Sophomores don’t seem to be featured in enough stories to even make a dent in the market.

All of this can, of course, be tied in some ways back to data released several years ago that suggest that 55% or more of YA books are bought by adults. What this statistic doesn’t tell us is who is reading YA. I know many adult readers who read YA, and not all of them for professional reasons. I am an adult who reads YA, but I do so for professional reasons. I am also an adult who buys YA, but I buy it for teenagers, and I don’t just mean in the library. I am raising a teen who reads YA and I buy books for her and her friends on a regular basis.

I also attend teen book festivals pretty regularly, both professionally and personally because I am taking The Teen and her friends and I am here to tell you, there are a lot of teen readers attending these festivals and connecting with authors and books. I asked The Teen and her friends recently if they felt like YA belonged to them and they mostly said yes, now that they’re older. The Teen admitted that it was harder in middle school and early high school to find books to read because everything felt too young or too old, but now she’s a pretty happy YA reader. But again, she’s 16 almost 17 and she’s pretty well represented by YA lit today. And she is, of course, just one voice among many. Which brings me back to the stats that Drea shared.

And in the end, I am reminded by some recent PEW data why it is teen librarians like me do what we do and why we keep talking about our concerns regarding younger teens not being served well by the current publishing market:

In the early 90s, libraries began a big push for YA/Teen services. People like me were hired by libraries everywhere to serve teens. We built collections. We did programs. YALSA & professional journals started advocating for teens & teen services in libraries. pic.twitter.com/NybJhCZrEo— Teen Librarian Toolbox (rocks!) (@TLT16) April 11, 2019

Whatever is happening with current publishing trends, I hope that one way or another, we will soon see more books being published for older middle school and younger high school readers. There is a really good conversation happening on Twitter and we would love to hear your thoughts here in the comments.

DIY Neon Signs, Part 2

After figuring out how to make DIY Neon Signs (see the initial posts and instructions here), I recently hosted a Teen Makerspace night where we put the program outline into practice. As you may recall, the first DIY Neon Sign The Teen and I made did not have a background and it was just kind of a wire word, and although it works and is up in Thing 2’s room, we just felt it needed a little something something. So we modified our plans and added a wooden background, which helps it hold its shape better and gives it a bit of stability that it was missing.

I have a carpenter friend who helps me with the Teen MakerSpace programs and he came with pre-cut wood, nails, hammers and wire cutters to help with background. You will recall the other supplies you need are EL wire and batteries. In the neon sign we made with no background, we originally attached the EL lights to wire using zip ties to help it hold its shape. With a background, this step proved unnecessary.

So here’s what we did.

Step 1: Write your word on a piece of paper in cursive writing. You need one continuous word for the project to be successful and it’s simply easier. The Teen provided the excellent penmanship here.

Step 2: Following the outline of the word, hammer nails into your board along the shape of the word to hold the EL wire in place. Think of it as doing string art, but with EL wire instead of string.

Step 3: You will then wrap the wire around the nails to create the word in EL wire.

The trick is to use enough nails and get the placement right to hold it all in place. If you would like, you can use glue like e600 glue to adhere the wire to the wooden background. We wrapped the remaining wire and power source around the back and held it in place with zip ties and nails. You then just tear out all the background paper and you have a pretty awesome neon sign.

This is a pretty cool project and we all really liked the final results. There is a part of me that wishes I would have pre-painted the background wood white or black, but the natural wood color is attractive as well. The big thing is that the tweens and teens in attendance all thought this was really cool.

Cindy Crushes Programming: DIY Wizard of OZ Necklaces


Our library had a series of programs that were themed around the Wizard of Oz. I worked on coming up with craft I could make when I saw my friend, Andrea Sowers, post on her Twitter account a necklace craft she had made. That’s when I realized that what I wanted to do was to make a pendant necklace.

I talked to my coworkers who loved jewelry making and asked Andrea a couple questions about how she made her necklace. I then combined everyone’s contributions to make my own process, which I have outlined below.

Step 1: Print out small images that you want to use in the pendants. Remember they need to be able to be cut in a one-inch circle.

Step Two: If you want to have glitter glue in the image, make sure to tell the teens to use very little because you want the glitter glue to dry before you attach the round cabochon. I used a tiny bit of red glitter glue for the Ruby Red Slippers. Others used silver for Glinda’s wand or green for the Emerald City. I used a toothpick to make sure that I made the glitter glue attach well.

Step three: Take the round cabochon and put a layer of diamond crystal on it and attach the image. Use a toothpick to smooth it out. Roll the toothpick on the back of your picture like a rolling pin to release any air and help it stay flat. Wait for it to dry before staring the next step.

Step four: Use the e6000 glue and put it on the front of the pendant tray. You will want to put your dried round cabochon with the image attached on the tray. I would press it gently. Let it dry completely before wearing.

Final Thoughts: This craft turned out great. I really enjoyed it and I am doing a Disney pendant craft in April. I would have gotten longer necklace cords, because people have different neck sizes and not everyone likes having a tight necklace.

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.

What are the biggest challenges in teen services in the library today?

Last week, I asked other YA/Teen Services Librarians what they thought was the biggest challenges to teen services. You can see the entire thread of responses here:

I was not surprised to see what my fellow librarians were saying in the response as it mirrored a lot of my own experiences. I think the challenges can be summed up in the following ways:


Teens today are over-programmed. School, extra-curricular activities, jobs and more – there are a lot of people making demands on teens. So it seems like when teens have a free moment to spare, they want down time to decompress. They also want the freedom to choose how they are going to spend that time. So over and over again what we see is that it is hard to get teens into the library at specific times for specific programs. And it looks like a lot of the most successful programs are those that emphasize fun, socialization, and the opportunity for teens to engage in some self directed behaviors.

The other side of the time coin is that a lot of librarian respondents didn’t feel that they had enough time to work with teens.


Related to demands on time, today’s teens are overwhelmingly stressed out.Couples with the demands on their time, it’s a stark reminder that teens today don’t have the free time or often the emotional energy to engage in free time the ways that many adults think that they are – or should be. Most of our teens aren’t looking for more programs to make more demands on their time. They are, however, looking for spaces where they can just be, whether alone or with friends.

Administrative Support

For as long as their has been teen services in public libraries, one of the greatest challenges has often been administrative support. Many respondents said that their administration didn’t support teen services because of a lack of understanding of adolescent development or perceived problem behaviors. But this lack of support can also mean not enough space, time or money to effectively engage in teen services. A lot of teen librarians are facing high demands for turn out with out the tools necessary to produce effective results.


Many respondents stated that space was their biggest challenge. Simply put, they don’t have enough dedicated teen space for the number of teens coming into their libraries. On the one hand, this is a good problem to have because it means that teens ARE coming into the library, on the other hand, it can be the hardest to address because space is often a finite resource and adding space or redesigning space is often a high dollar challenge.


There are a lot of people out there competing with libraries for their time and attention. From video games and social media to after school activities and jobs, school and public libraries are not the only entities trying to get the time and attention of teens. Many libraries find that they just can’t compete, this is especially true for smaller libraries that have more limited budgets, staff and time.

In taking this informal survey it was interesting to me to find that the challenges we are discussing today are basically they same challenges teen librarians have been discussing for at least 25 years. Don’t get me wrong, some of those challenges are more nuanced. Social media, for example, adds new layers to many of the challenges discussed above. It’s also interesting to me that the issue of marketing didn’t really come up and I personally find this to be one of the ongoing challenges that most libraries and most teen librarians face.

What are the challenges you are feeling most in teen librarianship right now? And more importantly, what are your approaches to trying to meet them head on. Come talk with us in the comments.