Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

DIY Zines and Homemade Mini Activity Books

My library, like many other libraries, has turned to online programming during this time. One of the things to look for when sharing online STEAM activities and video tutorials is what kinds of materials and supplies they require, because not every house has a well stocked craft closet and running out to buy supplies right now does not help us flatten the curve. Which is why we have instituted family zine night at my house. Zines are a creative, fun and easy thing to make and all you need is a piece of paper, scissors, and something to write with.

Zines are small, mini books or magazines that an individual can create to educate, empower and start a revolution. Zines have a pretty interesting history and are an important part of our culture and history. They are incredibly important to feminism. The zine format was even used recently in comic book form to help educate kids about the coronavirus. Check out the short documentary about zines up above to learn more.

Throughout the year, there have been several nonfiction titles that talk about zines. Zines have also made an occasional appearance in YA literature.

In the YA novel Moxie, zines play a role in helping a group of girls stand up against the sexual assault culture of their local high school. You should definitely read it.

So making a zine is a great DIY activity to do at all times, but it’s easy to share and do with teens during these times because it has a rich history that you can share AND it’s fun and easy without requiring a lot of supplies. Here’s a brief rundown of DIY zines.


  • Blank sheet of paper, printer paper works best but really any paper will do
  • Scissors
  • Writing implements like pens, colored pencils, etc.

Here’s a quick tutorial I found and used to learn how to fold a zine:

Using the tutorial above, The Teen was able to follow the simple instructions and create her own Zine.

We found it easiest to fold our zine into the booklet shape and then write a small page number on each page before opening it up again and filling it in. This helped us keep track of which square was each page.

She then took the time to draw and write a short story for her zine.

When she was done, it looked like this:

It turns out I am completely unable to draw, so I made an activity book for Thing 2. It looked like this:

I looked up various puzzles online and used them as templates.She loved the activity book a lot and we have made several! Her favorite activity was coloring in the line shapes I made and requested that I made her a mini coloring book using that technique – which I did. I highly recommend them making zines, especially if you turn them into mini activity books to share with others.

Have a teen writing group? Zines are a great activity to share with them as well.

More about Zines: https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=middle-school-ya-zine-project-makes-kids-the-bosses

Nonfiction to help you in your pursuit of zines:

The 2020 Project: Author Beth Kephart Interviews a Teen with Marfan Syndrome

Beth Kephart’s new middle grade novel, The Great Upending (Atheneum, March 31, 2020), was written for Becca Weust, a young woman Kephart encountered during the course of her work as a writer of patient stories. The novel’s heroine is a girl named Sara. Sara has Marfan syndrome and her loving family—farmers in a drought-afflicted region—cannot afford the potentially lifesaving care she needs. Here, Kephart interviews Becca herself about the life she lives, her passion for libraries, and her hopes for all those with chronic illnesses.

Tell us something about your childhood—your fondest memories, the hopes you had as a little girl, the life your parents and sister created with you.

Oh, my mom’s side of the family has a farm and every year when I was little we would go on a big tractor-pulled hayride around the property and the little community area it was next to. Reading The Great Upending I can still smell the hay and mud, feed, and animals in a really visceral way. I hear the giggling of my cousins and my sister, feel the scratch of the hay of baling twine. I see my grandfather’s massive silhouette hauling 70-pound bags of feed not far from 70 himself. I loved being in the dirt and grass and mud and bugs as a kid, so escaping from the suburbs was a treat. To this day being out in nature and the dirt feels like family. 

What were the first hints, for you, of Marfan syndrome? 

It wasn’t so much hints as a life-changing stroke of luck. Around four I started complaining that my eyes hurt and my parents noticed that I didn’t seem to see things like a deer if it was off at a distance. My pediatrician referred us to specialists at UW Madison Children’s Clinic at my mom’s insistence that my eyes were “wiggly.” Once we got there Dr. Kushner took one look at what we would come to know as “textbook” Marfan markers. He didn’t want to scare my parents but he referred me to his colleague for testing and confirmation. I often wonder whether, if my mom hadn’t pushed my pediatrician and gotten me to a noted specialist, I would have gotten seriously injured before I’d ever heard of Marfan.

How did having Marfan begin to change the life you were living, your experience of the world?

When I was a child the biggest thing I was aware of was that I could not, under any circumstances, push myself. If I started to feel a certain way running or playing, I was to stop immediately or my medication would stop me and that would be a bad thing. I chaffed at not being able to run like the other kids, and that was my biggest complaint for a long time. As I grew older, I started to hurt a lot more, and with the hurting came fatigue and the need for long rest to recover after daily activities. I hated going to church because standing and sitting so still and upright for so long dropped my blood pressure so low that I’d start to faint. Friends wondered why I wasn’t at events or gatherings and thought I was avoiding them. I didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding to communicate what I was going through. Worse, I was embarrassed by it. I did my best to hide it because I felt like I just couldn’t keep up and that it was my fault.

You have undergone an arduous journey of diagnoses, surgeries, personal investigations into possibilities—enough to fill the pages of an entire book or more. Can you offer us a capsule glimpse?

Hmm, that’s difficult. Finding a diagnosis or treatment is chaotic. Every once in a while, the planets will align and you will find the right place, the right team, and it will feel like magic. But it’s usually a long war of persistence. For example, it wasn’t until this past year that we had any real idea of what was happening with my brain and spine—what was giving me the symptoms that have left me frequently bedridden for more than six years. Since it is difficult to get referrals, navigate insurance, and find specialists, chronically ill patients and their caregivers have to do a lot of labor if they expect a diagnosis, let alone treatment. People with chronic illnesses usually keep a careful log of what helped and hurt, their diet, environmental factors, the questions they have for specialists. We sometimes get pushback for our advocacy as being disrespectful to medical experts. But if I don’t do this kind of work, I can end up in the right department but the wrong sub-specialty, charged for an appointment that doesn’t help me, or given a recommendation for a treatment that is usually safe for the larger population but likely dangerous for me. 

How are you today?

Oh boy, I try to avoid asking myself questions like this; I usually don’t like the answer! I hurt and I’m tired and there is so much more that I want to be doing. I struggle a lot with my mental health but I’m not an ‘unhappy” person. I’m lucky to have a small group of family members and friends who love and support me unconditionally so that I’m not suffering, but things do get really difficult. I’ve learned to find the purest pleasure in simple things. I love falling down information holes about natural science or history on the internet. I am spoiled by my local library’s ecat, which keeps me sane even if I can’t stalk the stacks. (Thank you!) My greatest passions lay with the chaos that is my cat, a flakey pastry, and an interesting cup of tea. As long as I have these things I’ll keep plugging onward.

What do you want others to understand about the experience you have had, are having?

That many of the things that make chronic illness so difficult are not unsolvable. That we have the research and understanding to create better accessibility to communities and healthcare. That chronic illness and some form of disability is something that will touch every person at some point. It’s not an othering thing. It is a very human thing to have dynamic strengths and weaknesses, and it benefits us all to work on better meeting those needs. But, more personally, chronic illness is lonely, I don’t want anyone’s pity, but I cherish the friends that have stuck around and continue to reach out to me… They mean everything. Thank you, Elle. Thank you, Gina. Thank you, James. Thank you dearest Seester, Alison.

What can librarians and teachers and any caring adults do to help communicate the importance of understanding what people like you are going through?

That we have the same kinds of aspirations and hobbies as everyone else but we have to get creative in how we approach them (access, time, energy).That creativity is a great thing to cultivate but it takes a lot a work—work that we would have to do less of if public and private spaces thought more about accessibility. Activities must be accessible and safe, not just for people with mobility issues but for people with issues with things like IBS (unquestioned access to safe restrooms). Having a space for neurodivergent people to decompress is another good way to help those isolated by access issues to get out in the world. If in doubt the best way to ensure your events are inclusive is to ensure that adults with those conditions are involved in the planning process. I firmly believe that taking part in community building is the best way any two people can grow to understand each other.

What is the biggest thing on your mind right now?

The biggest thing on my mind right now is fear. Fear of time. I’ve spoken with Beth about how scared I was of ‘growing up.’ Even at seven, I knew (despite my parents sheltering) that my medical care was costly and that it was a small miracle that my parents had a plan that covered me. I had a pre-existing condition. Every birthday that came around I wondered at what point I’d be old enough that insurance wouldn’t care about me, about my life. I knew there was a cut off, and every birthday, every appointment or test brought me closer to some bureaucratic guillotine. I hate feeling that childish helpless fear again. The ACA passed while I was entering college, and though it didn’t solve everything, it lifted so much weight from my mind; I didn’t feel like I wasn’t a ticking time bomb . But with renewed attacks on SSI/SSDI and the ACA itself. It feels like a backwards slide into eugenics. I feel like I need to hide again. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m alone in that fear. 

Also dolophones pilosa! They’re spiders! That can completely flatten their bodies around a branch! My brain is still chewing on it. Don’t worry, though. Like many of the best things they live in Australia.

Beth Kephart writer/teacher bethkephartbooks.com
The Great Upending, forthcoming March 2020, Caitlyn Dlouhy, Atheneum (Simon & Schuster)

*Booklist Review: “Further plot twists lead to an unexpected ending, which readers who love good storytelling and spirited heroines will find satisfying. National Book Award nominee Kephart’s latest is ultimately as refreshing as rainfall on a dry field.”

Cloud Hopper, forthcoming October 2020, Penny Candy Press

Wife|Daughter|Self: a memoir in essays, forthcoming February 2021, Forest Avenue Press 

Novels in Verse for National Poetry Month Week 1, by Lisa Krok

April is National Poetry Month, so let’s celebrate with novels in verse! I have been posting a verse novel on Twitter @readonthebeach each day, along with a corresponding poetry activity. Click here for my previous post about using my book, Novels in Verse for Teens to reach marginalized and reluctant/striving readers.

National Poetry Month is a great time to introduce or reintroduce teens to this genre and its many forms. Here we go!

Day 1: Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes


Nikki and her sister, Carol, live with their mentally ill mother after their father leaves. When alcoholism and schizophrenia combine to make their mother unfit, Nikki and Carol are placed in foster care, and eventually separated. Three years later, mom remarries and Nikki returns to her care, which includes a new nefarious stepfather. Throughout the trials of an unstable home life, Nikki makes the library her new best friend.

Poetry activity:

Since the library was a shining diamond in young Nikki’s life, diamante poems are a perfect fit to pair with this book. Diamantes are diamond shaped poems that follow a specific form. Click on this link for details:

How to write a diamante poem  

Day 2: Solo by Kwame Alexander


Born into rock star royalty, Blade clings to his girlfriend, Chapel, in the absence of his deceased mother and addicted, unreliable father, Rutherford. When Blade is humiliated by Rutherford drunkenly crashing into his high school graduation speech, he loses Chapel and much of his hope. When a hidden family secret is unearthed, Blade travels to Ghana to unravel his own history and attempt to rebuild.

Poetry activity:

Rutherford Morrison certainly got on Blade’s nerves pretty regularly. Writing a clerihew would have likely been a good way for him to vent. A clerihew is basically a poetic way to roast someone. Follow this link for details:  Clerihew activity

Day 3: With a Star in My Hand: Rubén Darío, Poetry Hero

by Margarita Engle                          


After a farmer finds him abandoned as a small boy in a cow pasture, Ruben is adopted by his great uncle and his wife. He does not know what happened to his Mama. Self-taught to read at three years old, Ruben learns to trade rhymes for treats, and reads to improve his rhymes. Throughout falling in love, heartbreak, family secrets, natural disasters, smallpox, poverty, drinking, and travel, poetry is always where he finds hope, the star in his hand.

Poetry activity:

One type of poetry Ruben wrote was redondilla. This is a Spanish verse form in which each stanza consists of four lines, each with eight syllables, and a rhyme scheme ABBA. This means that the first and last lines will rhyme, and the second and third lines will rhyme.

Day 4: White Rose by Kip Wilson


Sophie Scholl and her brother write and distribute anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and informing their fellow German citizens. The next year, Sophie and her brother were arrested for treason and interrogated to provide information about their collaborators in this rebellion. This novel in verse reports on their lives and their brave stance against the Nazis.

Poetry activity:

Sophie Scholl and her brother passed out zines to protest the Nazi regime. Sometimes poets call them “chapbooks”, but the term zine is more common today. Follow this link to learn how to create a zine.  Zine Making 101

Day 5: Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson


Twenty years after her haunting novel Speak was published, Laurie Halse Anderson follows up with this vulnerable, compelling memoir in verse that advocates for those suffering from sexual assault. The demand for consent is explicit, and is both an acknowledgement and rally cry for survivors. Raw, spirited, and timeless, readers are urged to not just speak but to SHOUT their voices loud and clear.

Poetry activity:

Laurie says writing this helped heal her heart. Try writing a “Heal Your Heart Haiku” using 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllables each. See Laurie’s comments in this video.

Day 6: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds


After Will’s brother Shawn is shot and killed, Will knows what he is expected to do. The rules: no crying, no snitching, get revenge. With a piece shoved into the back of his jeans, he steps into the elevator. As the elevator doors open at each floor, Will is greeted by ghosts of sorts from his past who challenge his thoughts. Are seven floors and sixty seconds enough time for him to decide what to do?

Poetry activity:

Long Way Downtakes place over the course of sixty seconds. When Will steps off the elevator onto the first floor, readers don’t know his decision. Will he seek revenge as planned, or did his long way down with the visitors in the elevator change his mind? Armed with pencil, paper, and a stopwatch or timer (most phones have them) – write your own free verse ending to this storyin just sixty seconds! When time is up, flip your paper over and write a different ending in just sixty seconds. This can also be done in seven sections of sixty second intervals, to represent the seven floors as Will descends in the elevator. Be creative, this ending could take many paths!

Day 7: The Moon Within by Aida Salazar


As Celi Rivera’s body is changing, her mother is insisting on an ancestral ritual that Mima’s community has reclaimed. Celi does NOT want to participate and wants to take a stand. She is full of questions about her changing body, her best friend questioning being gender fluid, and her first attraction to a boy.

Poetry activity:

Celi has been participating in the Puerto Rican drum dance, bomba. Bomba involves a connection and a challenge between the drummer and the dancer. First, watch this bomba video . If you have a music department in your school with a drum you can borrow, do so. If you don’t have access to a real drum, improvise by using any item that resonates with a sound similar to a drum. After watching the bomba video, have students with pencils ready as the beat begins. Leader beats the drum in a myriad of rhythms for 15 seconds or so at a time, as teens write free verse poetry coordinated to that beat. Generally, faster beats will have more words of lesser syllables, while slower beats may induce verse with fewer words having more syllables. Try this first with the  leader as the drummer, then given teens a chance to be the drummer while their friends write. Alternatively, download some bomba music and write that way, although the beats will change more frequently, creating more of a challenge when writing.

-Lisa Krok

Find all of these activities and much more in Novels in Verse for Teens, available now.

Buy from Barnes & Noble

Buy from Amazon

Add it on Goodreads

Request it at your Indies.

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the adult and teen services manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians, available now from ABC-CLIO. Lisa’s passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. She was appointed to the 2019-2020 YALSA Presidential Advisory Task Force, served two years on the Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s team, and is serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA 2021) committee. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

Cindy Crushes Programming: DIY Price is Right Game, by Cindy Shutts

When my brother and I were kids, we used to love to watch and then play The Prices is Right during the summer, so I was pleased as punch to hear that Cindy Shutts had put together a version of the game while sheltering in place.

In Illinois we have been given the order to shelter in place. There are a lot of games you can play but for my family who I live with (my parents) I made my own version of The Price is Right which can easily be a program.


  • Random items to be priced
  • Notecards to write the prices on

Step One: I played the theme song from the show and did the famous “come on down your are our first contest on the Price is Right.”

Step Two: I picked a random item I had at my house and asked them what the retail price on Amazon was. The first person to get the answer closer to the price without going over wins this round and advances to the next game.

Step Three: I chose pretty easy games to play. This first contestant game I chose was high or lower. I had five books and I asked them if the list price was high or lower than the price I gave them. I had no prizes but if I did this at the library I would have given candy. My dad got three of five so he moved on to the showcase showdown.

Check out this Price is Right themed party for some decoration ideas

Pinterest Board of Price is Right Games and Ideas

Step Four: I had my mom come up to play the item game. She did well.

Step Five: The game I chose to play was a household item with the wrong price and all the numbers higher one up or one lower.

There are a lot of games you can modify to work at home or at your library.  You will need more games since I modified my home version for just two players.

Here is the list of price games: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Price_Is_Right_pricing_games

Step Six: I did not do this step since I only had two players. The wheel is one of the most iconic parts of the game. I would have used my 10 sided die to simulate the game. Roll one ten sided die then roll the same ten-sided die to get the second number. In this game the person closer to a dollar without going over goes on to the Showcase Showdown. This game is done twice in the show.

Step Seven: Showcase Showdown. I used an old receipt to make this game. I read what was on the receipt and both of my parents had to guess the price. My mom guessed only 45 cents off and won the game. One way to make the game more exciting is to pick a variety of items from Amazon and print out pictures and have them guess how much the items are in total.

Make a DIY Plinko Board

Final Thoughts: I loved this. I want to bring this to the library and I feel like this will be such a wonderful program for the teens.

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.FacebookTwitterShare

Making More Materials Discoverable in OverDrive: Curating Collections, a guest post by Kathryn King

Yesterday I tweeted that my supervisor, Kathryn King, had trained me and given me access to curate collections in OverDrive and that I was excited because I was going to take a deep dive into our Teens page at the Fort Worth Public Library to help teens find the books they were looking for during this unprecedented time. A lot of people asked me how to do this so Kathryn wrote up a tutorial for us. Thank you Kathryn for all that you are doing to help our community connect with the information they need during this time and for sharing that information with other libraries that find themselves in the same situation during this time.

As we are all facing difficult times with our physical locations closing to the public, we still want to provide excellent customer service for the products we can share remotely.  Fort Worth Public Library decided to step up their game and start actively curating collections in OverDrive.  OverDrive provides curated collections that they create but Fort Worth Public Library wanted to tailor our offerings to what our users were facing and to promote materials we had available. 

Setting up OverDrive staff users so they can curate collections:

Users must have the permission to curate assigned to them in their logins in order to create curated collections.  This permission is set in Marketplace Users under ADMIN.

Setting the permission:

Go to Admin and choose Marketplace users

Click on the pencil to edit a user’s account.

Scroll to users permissions

Choose curate and click save

This user will now have to ability to curate collections on Overdrive and Libby.

To curate a collection:

Once you are in OverDrive Marketplace

  1.  Go to Curate.  It is in the lighter blue tool bar.  You will get a drop down menu.  Choose Standard curation.

Click on the green button to Create Standard Collection

The “learn more about curation” link will take you to a very thorough help page with lots of information.

  •  Give your collection a name.  This will display in OverDrive.  You can also give it a description. This will display under the main title in OverDrive.

Click pin as main collection and hit next

  • To choose where you would like it to be published, click in the box “Publishing locations”

A drop down menu will appear and you can choose the locations you want the collection to display.

There are more options if you scroll

  •  Click on the collection you want and they will move into the main box.
  • Choose how the titles will display.  All titles, Available Only or Show all titles but show available first. This last option is the one we use most often.
  • Click Save Draft
  • You are now ready to search for titles to put in your collection.  Type in search in the search box or choose to an advanced search.
  •  When you get your results you will see the option to add it to the main collection.  Click the add to main collection button to add the title to your collection.  OR you can click the box in front of the cover art and add all the titles at once at the bottom of the list.

You must have at least 5 titles in a collection for it to display in Libby.  Our preference is to have Libby and the website offer similar experiences.  Manya uses Libby almost exclusively.

  • When you finish picking your titles click on the box for your collection.  This will take you back to the collection screen.
  1. Check over the summary and the titles that will be in the collection. 

When picking titles to highlight in a collection, you should consider the number of available copies and the holds.  In my example, I will remove The Body by Bill Bryson because we only have 7 copies but 13 holds currently.  Over the Top was a great choice because all 10 copies are available. 

To remove a title(s), click on the box in first column and then click on delete titles.

  1. Then save draft and then publish.

Click confirm

  1. You will now need to go to the tab organize published collections.  New collections are always added to the bottom of the display page.  If a page is not showing you will need to use the left hand menu to choose a page
  1. Scroll to the bottom to find your newly created collection
  1. You will get a four pointed arrow.  Click and hold the mouse button down and move your collection to the position you would like it to be in.

You can also use the up and down arrows to move the collection

  1. Your collection will display on the site within 24 hours.

Additional information:

If you want/need to edit the collection you have already published, you can click on the pencil.  This is how you can add/remove titles.  The X will delete the collection.

When you go to edit a collection you will need to first “create draft”

And then make sure to PIN your collection.  If you don’t pin the collection, when you go to add your titles it won’t let you add them to the existing collection.

After you make changes, save draft and then publish.

Using Kathryn’s instructions, I began curating the Fort Worth Public Library Teens page in OverDrive. I’m putting together a variety of thematic collections that I think will help our patrons find the books they want to read. I’m excited about what this means for us moving forward in terms of doing Reader’s Advisory in OverDrive with our patrons.

About Kathryn King

Kathryn King, Collection Development Manager at the Fort Worth Public Library, received her MLS from Texas Woman’s University in 1998. She was an AV librarian and a Children’s Librarian before moving to collection management in 2004. She has worked for a county library in upstate New York, Los Angeles Public Library, Dallas Public Library and has been with FWPL since 2006. A firm believer in data driven decision making, she has presented programs at the national, state, and local levels about using statistics in collection management and right sizing collections.

March ARC Party: A look at the new MG and YA lit coming your way in March 2020

The Teen and I had kind of gotten out of the practice of doing ARC Parties, but we thought with the current situation it would be a good time to revive the practice and share with you some books that came out in March 2020. Here’s how it works: We go through the stack of ARCs we have on hand, read the back cover description, and we give a sneak peek at new and upcoming releases. Sometimes we’ve read them and we share a mini-review. Sometimes The Teen gives her point of view just based on the cover or description. But it’s a fun, quick way to familiarize ourselves with some new and upcoming releases.

Sunday Reflections: The Story of the Tree is Our Story, a story of love and loss in the time of pandemic

At the end of February in 2011, our town in Ohio flooded. At that time, it was the most traumatic thing that had happened to us. I had to find a way to escape our flooding home through flooding, freezing waters with a two-year-old and an eight-year-old. That moment changed everything about our lives and what we thought we understood about the world. We carry that trauma of that moment with us every time it rains.

That summer, still struggling from the 2008 recession and now dealing with having lost 1/3 of our lives in a flood, we moved to Texas. We were barely able to buy a new house, having found a renter for our Ohio home and a job in Texas, before everything fully and completely fell apart for us. Our renter ghosted, we struggled to pay the mortgage and tried to sell a house in a town in a state that was devastated by the 2008 recession. Eventually, we would lose that house to foreclosure and have to spend the next seven years trying to fix our credit while standing in grocery stories crying as we tried to figure out what food we could buy as we lived – barely – paycheck to paycheck. We were like every one of our neighbors, barely hanging on and trying to raise kids in a word that was scary and fraught and unstable.

When we bought our house in Texas, besides the very low price that we could possibly afford, it was the tree that made me want to proclaim yes. This was a tree that a kid could climb and try to reach the sky. This was the tree of my childhood dreams. As a child of divorce, we lived in apartments. And as a military kid, we moved a lot. There were no trees for me to call my own, to climb and try to touch the stars or name the clouds or build a tree house full of memories. This tree was every thing my childhood heart longed for and everything my parental love wanted for my children.

Several years ago, tornadoes came through parts of Texas and tore huge limbs full of years of tales from the tree. Although the tree continued to get new green leaves each new spring, you could tell the tree was slowly dying. Once again, a storm had done immeasurable damage to our home.

The tree needs to go, The Mr. would argue. It’s dead, decaying, and the limbs are falling off. For the last few years, I fought him. There is still new growth I would proclaim, even as the trunk began to fall away and the tree became a bizarrely misshappen shell of what it used to be.

But I had already lost the home where my children’s growth had been documented in pencil on the door jam. I had said goodbye to friends I loved, traditions I held dear, and the place that I had called home. I had fought through years of depression and anxiety to finally, sometimes, be able to call this new place my home. And the tree was part of the reason that I could. I would sit on the back patio and watch my children climb this tree. I watched them tell stories, spin tales, and bask in the glory of the sky.

As The Teen became a teen, I watched her and her friends climb that tree so they could glimpse sneak peeks of the neighbor boys in their own backyard without their shirts on. They would whisper and giggle and I would pretend not to notice because I knew exactly what they were doing and why. Twelve-year-old Karen would have done the same exact thing.

It seems fitting, then, that as the world is changing once again, The Mr. and I took the time this weekend to finally take down the dying tree. It seems fitting, somehow, that these two moments in time are coinciding. The world as I know it is once again changing. We are in the midst of a pandemic, something I could have never fathomed no matter how many pandemic novels I read or movies I watched – and trust me, the answer to both of those is a lot, it was my favorite genre up until about a month ago.

Having been through traumatic events before, I know that the world will not be the same after this. I have no idea what the world will look like, but I know everything is once again changing.

The world is changing. I am changing. My children are changing. So it seems fitting that in this moment, the dying tree is finally being excavated piece by piece from my backyard.

And it makes my heart ache.

My heart aches because once again, a symbol of my children’s childhood is being wrenched from my landscape. My heart aches because once again, I know that my children will face traumatic life changing events that will change everything about who they are and what their future may be.

The Teen was born shortly after 9/11. At the age of three she almost died from a rare disease called Kawasaki disease. At the age of four her mom almost died in pregnancy and had to make the heartbreaking decision to end that pregnancy, it took me almost a year to fully mentally and physically recover from the events of that time. At the age of six her little sister was born with her own health complications. At the age of eight, our home and town flooded. At the age of twelve, her childhood friends were victims of sexual violence. At the age of seventeen, just in the year 2020, a classmate died from suicide, a fellow student brought a gun to school that was discharged, and now . . . we are facing a pandemic.

I think about my teenager and all of her fellow teens. They’ve grown up in a time of environmental crisis, post 9/11 wars, police and school shootings, a deep recession, and more. Rights of passage like prom and graduation and everything they’ve been hoping for are being cancelled. We’re all hunkering down in our houses and praying that somehow this passes quickly with as few lives lost as possible and as little economic damage as possible.

I’m not here to tell you that this is the worst time in history. I’ve learned that all times in history have been bad for someone, most often marginalized groups. And though my family has had its fair share of trauma that we carry with us in the fabric of our DNA, we still have a lot of blessings and privilege and support. I feel thankful and sad at the same time. I am already mourning as I fear once again how the world is changing around me. We are all living in a time of immense grief and uncertainty.

A tree once stood here.
A tree once stood here. That tree meant everything to me.

The grief of the world feels too large for me to carry today, so I will mourn this tree, a symbol of childhood lost in a time when our children are losing everything.

Stay safe and healthy every one.

DIY Do Not Disturb Spinner, by Kara DeCarlo

Like most of the world, The Teen has moved to online virtual learning during this unprecedented time. She spends most of her days behind closed doors in her room in online meetings and doing assignments. The other day I wanted to check on her so I knocked on the door and she had to tell me that now was not a good time because she was online with a class. So I tweeted that I now needed some type of in/out board like we have a work so I would know when it was safe to knock. Fellow librarian Kara DeCarlo came to the rescue and shared with me this DIY Do Not Disturb Spinner that she had created for her own home. This might be a fun activity to share with all of our teens now finding themselves trying to navigate in this new online virtual learning world. Thanks Kara!


  • Paper
  • Scissors & something pointy (like an exacto)
  • Pencil
  • Markers
  • Brad fastener
  • Tape (painters or washi or masking)
  • 2 round objects of different sizes

  Make a list of reasons why the door might be closed

  Trace round things on paper

  Cut out circles

 On small circle, write out things from your list

Once you have worked out the spacing of the words–you want them evenly distributed around the circle–write them in using markers. I used red for “DO NOT DISTURB” and green for “door is shut, but you can interrupt me”.

Place the small circle on top of the large circle and tape down using painters, washi, or masking tape. The tape is a temporary step, so don’t use anything super sticky!

Tape your taped circles to the window and tape them on the window WITH THE LARGE CIRCLE ON TOP.

 Find your largest word, and draw a box around it. Take your circles back to your work space and take all the tape off.

 CUT THE LARGE CIRCLE ONLY. Using your pokey thing, poke a hole in the box you just drew–just big enough to get your scissors into. Cut out the box you drew.

 Place the large circle–now with window–on top of the small circle. Line them up as best you can.

 Use your pokey thing to poke a small hole for your brad fastener to go through.

Poke the brad through and write on the large circle: Why is the door closed? Feel free to add doodles, fancy lettering, and make it your own.

 Hang on your door using 2 pieces of scotch tape on the large circle. The small circle will spin freely behind it.

Meet Kara DeCarlo

Kara DeCarlo is a School Liaison librarian for a large suburban library in northern Illinois. She’s a DIY enthusiast–a side effect from her college days in theater and art. When not at work she leads a junior high Girl Scout troop, digs in the dirt, paints and makes stuff out of metal. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram as @KaraPaints

RevolTeens: Look for the Helpers, by Christine Lively

When we’re overwhelmed by tragic and traumatic news stories, social media fills up with stories of loss and injustice – each story seemingly more upsetting than the last. We start to complain and feel that nothing good is or could happen in the world. All seems lost and terrible. Inevitably, people start quoting Mr. Fred Rogers in response to help us regain our perspective.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” Rogers said to his television neighbors, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

When it comes to teens and young adults, we don’t usually get this perspective adjustment as has been the case this month. As the Coronavirus or COVID-19 began to rage in the US, the news media and social media went into a frenzy over college “spring breakers” crowding beaches in Florida and crassly explaining that they didn’t care if they or others got sick because of it. The adults swarmed with wagging fingers, shaking heads, and outrage. ‘How could they? Those kids are disgusting, selfish and horrible!’ and on and on it went.

Though I don’t condone their behavior, of course, I found the response to it to be predictably vitriolic and all too convenient. These young faces became the emblems of privilege, cruelty, and flagrant disregard for others.

They are not, of course, the only teens. There are many more teens and young adults who are “The Helpers” whom Mr. Rogers described. I didn’t have to look too hard to find them. They are out there working to ensure that people stay safe, get what they need, and are cared for. The just aren’t receiving the same screaming news coverage that the spring breakers are.

One of the most inspiring of these teens is  17 year old Avi Schiffmann from Mercer Island outside of Seattle. According to a Democracy Now interview with Schiffmann on March 13, 2020,  the website he created https://ncov2019.live/data has been visited by “tens of millions from every country on earth. It tracks deaths, numbers of cases locally and globally, and provides an interactive map, information on the disease, and a Twitter feed. The resource updates every minute or so, and pulls information from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and elsewhere.” The website is incredibly helpful because it offers raw numbers, rates of increase, and shows trends that help you see the virus without any lens or particular point of view. Schiffmann started the site in December as a way for people to get raw and up to date information without requiring them to download information that might be out of date when they get it. It’s a remarkable way to help people. Avi Schiffmann is absolutely a teen who is revolting and helping us all take control of the information that we need to make decisions and get through this crisis. That you have probably not heard of him tells you that adults are much more interested in maligning selfish teenagers than lauding the brilliant, selfless, and hardworking ones.

Teens are also maligned as spreading, believing, and falling victim to rumors and bad information on social media. While it’s true that they do sometimes believe false stories they hear, adults do too. There’s an awesome group of teen helpers who are committed to teaching other teens how to find reliable information and identify “fake news.” MediaWise https://www.poynter.org/mediawise/ From the Poynter Institute website:

“The MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network is a group of dozens of teens fact-checking misinformation and disinformation they find on their social media feeds. These teens have continued their fact-checking work despite unprecedented challenges — school closures, classes moving online, SAT testing, grades, final exams and even delayed graduations.

The TFCN has reported on whether you can catch coronavirus by touching money (our rating: needs context), if China is seeking approval to kill patients with the virus (our rating: not legit), if wearing a mask will protect you from COVID-19 as many videos on TikTok claimed, and the teens even debunked a claim that weed can kill coronavirus.”

The Poynter Institute is committed to teaching media literacy and helping people find the difference between fact and fiction. Their Teen Fact-Checking Network is a group of eighteen fierce teenagers who are fighting misinformation where teens encounter it most – on social media. They’re creating videos to show other teens how to debunk misinformation online. This group of RevolTeens have collected their debunking information about the Coronavirus here: https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2020/how-the-coronavirus-is-creating-chaos-for-teens-and-why-theres-hope/ The article includes profiles of the fact checking teens and information to help kids learn more about the virus without bias. They have a pretty cool group of social media and traditional media ambassadors, too!

Then, there’s Shaivi Shaw from Rancho Santa Margarita, California. This 15 year old has recruited her high school friends to help her assemble 150 sanitizing kits for homeless people which include hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, lotion, and reusable masks that she bought with her parents. This RevolTeen isn’t waiting for adults to take action.

‘”It’s important for people to step in and just do whatever they can, even if it helps just one person,” she told CNN.’ https://www.insider.com/teen-makes-sanitizing-kits-for-homeless-amid-coronavirus-outbreak-2020-3

Shelters are struggling to keep up with the needs of their residents, and Shaivi’s efforts are surely making a difference. She’s launched a GoFundMe that has already raised over $17,000 to create more of these kits for the homeless in her own state of California and she hopes to expand to worldwide distribution. https://www.gofundme.com/f/covid19-sanitation-kit-for-the-homeless-community

Then there are the teens who are focused on helping the elderly who are sequestered during this quarantine period.

Cathy Free got a call she never wanted to get. Her visits to her 79 year old mother would be canceled for the next several weeks or months to protect her mother and the other residents of her Utah care center. Free took to FaceBook to write about how anxious and fearful she was about her mother’s spirits and loneliness now that she won’t have family visits.

RevolTeens took action.

Ms. Free’s high school friend is now a Middle School teacher and high school softball coach. She asked her students if they could imagine not being able to see their families for weeks and maybe months. They decided that they’d write letters to Ms. Free’s mother and the other residents in the care home and deliver them.

Each letter is addressed to “Dear Special Person,” and they are so sweet that they’ll restore your faith in humanity.

‘“I’m so sorry that you can’t see your families,” wrote Ryan Christensen, 14. “If I know one thing about humans, it’s that when they go through some bad part in their life, they are strong. I believe that you can get through this bad part in your life and will be strong all the way through.”’ The full story can be found here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2020/03/21/mom-is-stuck-inside-amid-coronavirus-outbreak-these-teens-i-have-never-met-gave-us-hope-amid-hardship/

These Revolteens and many more are “The Helpers” that Mr. Rogers’ mother told him about. Though we may be frustrated and angry at some teens’ behavior during this crisis, but when you believe in teens’ capacity for compassion, action, and thoughtful change, you just have to “look for the helpers” and there you’ll find the RevolTeens. They don’t accept the world as it is, they’re using their big brains, hearts, and resourcefulness to change the world – for the better and for all of us even in this unprecedented crisis.

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

Novels in Verse for Teens by author Lisa Krok

Librarian Lisa Krok sometimes writes posts for us here at TLT. Today, she is here to talk with us about her new professional book that is now available.

I wrote this book for teachers and librarians as a professional guide to aide them in reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through verse novels. During my two years serving on YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers committee, I found that one of the biggest reasons that teens may be reluctant or striving readers is because they have not yet found books that reflect their life experiences. I used Rudine Sims Bishop’s Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors (1990) as my personal guideline. I searched throughout the year to find books for this list that teens from all different types of backgrounds could identify with.  Teens in marginalized demographics across varying races and religions, identifying as LGBTQ+, sexual assault survivors, facing mental illness, disabilities, foster care, and more deserve to see themselves reflected in books, too. Another big reason novels in verse work well for reluctant readers has to do with the physicality of the book. With more white space, fewer words per page and font that varies in size, style, or format, they can be more appealing to teens who may be intimidated by too many words on the page. Teens who previously wouldn’t even think of reading an inch-thick book discover they can read bigger books. This in turn can help build confidence and increase their motivation to read even more.

Another important feature of novels is verse is voice. Generally, verse novels present a first- person narrative, which invites the reader into the life of the protagonist. The short lines of verse can be rhythmic, almost asking the reader to “hear” the speaker. This lends itself to addressing topics that can be deep or emotionally intense. The white space on the pages of novels in verse can be thought of as a silence to be filled in by the reader’s imagination. A favorite quote of mine, which I included in my book is from former Poet Laureate Rita Dove.  “Verse novels offer the weight of each word, the weight of the sentence, the weight of the line, the weight of white space, heightened attention to sound, and deep allegiance to silence.” Deep allegiance to silence…just take that in for a moment.

Novels in verse also provide counter-stories to singular narratives that are often told by books considered to be classics or canon. Scholars Sandra Hughes-Hassell, Dr. Kim Parker, and Tricia Ebarvia are all cited in my book for their work on the value of avoiding the single narrative through counter-stories. Counter-stories can help fight bias and hate by seeing and valuing teens who may otherwise feel erased by the dominant culture. I also recommend viewing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”.  Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” TED Talk . Counter-stories can also help build empathy by seeing another side of the story.

 So, what is in the book? I have created the layout in a way that I think is most useful for teachers and librarians. The first section is research-based information about why and how novels in verse can be used to reach all teens, especially those in marginalized communities or those who are reluctant/striving readers. Part two is a large readers advisory section hosting 53 verse novels. Each book listed includes the following: a cover image (when permissions were available), bibliographic information, grade level advisories, content tags, a brief summary, and poetry activities for teens to further engage them with the literature. Each activity is accompanied by curriculum connections (CCSS and AASL standards) to make lesson planning easier for teachers and librarians. A wide variety of poetry activities are presented throughout the book, with each exercise correlating somehow to the featured novel in verse. A glossary of poetic devices and a standard author/title index are provided. The really special part is the content tag index, which corresponds to the tags listed in the reader’s advisory section. This enables librarians and teachers to quickly find books to pair with the experiences and interests of specific students.

Available now from ABC-CLIO/Libraries Unlimited

Verse novel authors Nikki Grimes, Padma Venkatraman, and Margarita Engle have given the book rave reviews, as has professor/poetry guru/author Sylvia Vardell. I hope you will explore their incredible work, which is included in my book along with many other amazing novels in verse.

Buy from Barnes & Noble

Buy from Amazon

Add it on Goodreads

Request it at your Indies.

Meet the Author

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the adult and teen services manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians, available now from ABC-CLIO. Lisa’s passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. She was appointed to the 2019-2020 YALSA Presidential Advisory Task Force, served two years on the Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s team, and is serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA 2021) committee. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.