Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

New Horror to Read This Summer; By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Here’s a look at some horror published in 2021 that you may want to check out. I’m a fan of some good horror and mystery/thriller/suspense, so I thought I would share some things on my TBR list.

The Woods Are Always Watching by Stephanie Perkins

A traditional backwoods horror story set–first page to last–in the woods of the Pisgah National Forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Two girls go backpacking in the woods. Things go very wrong.

And, then, their paths collide with a serial killer.

This one comes out on August 3, 2021

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould

The Dark has been waiting for far too long, and it won’t stay hidden any longer.

Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and all fingers seem to point to TV’s most popular ghost hunters who have just returned to town. Logan Ortiz-Woodley, daughter of TV’s ParaSpectors, has never been to Snakebite before, but the moment she and her dads arrive, she starts to get the feeling that there’s more secrets buried here than they originally let on.

Ashley Barton’s boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, and she’s felt his presence ever since. But now that the Ortiz-Woodleys are in town, his ghost is following her and the only person Ashley can trust is the mysterious Logan. When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who—or what—is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness.

This title also comes out on August 3, 2021

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

Divided by their order. United by their vengeance.

Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance.

Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.

Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths they will go to win this game.

This one came out in April 2021 and it’s a dark fantasy

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky

New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends.

To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own.

When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past.

Editor’s Note: I just listened to this on audio and it’s really good. Lots of discussion of horror movies and horror tropes. Please note, it does deal with sexual assault for those who need to know.

This one came out in April 2021

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.

To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

This one cam out in April 2021

Tech Tip: A Quick and Easy Way to Make 1.25 Buttons

Regular readers know that we make a lot of buttons in our various tween and teen maker activities and one of the most popular sizes is the 1.25 size button. These are great for backpacks and are super popular with the youth. And if you go into a place like Hot Topic, you can buy them there for all your fandoms for about $1.00 each. But if you have a button maker, you can make your own! Although I will of course, always caution you about copyright. So consider yourself cautioned.

Thing 2 and I (age 12) are both super into instant photography and photo printing at home. In fact, we have moved a way a bit from the true instant photography because you don’t have great control of your final outcome (and we are just maybe not that good at it). So we have started printing our own photos onto instant paper, and there are several printer options. I have tried many versions and they all have their pros and cons. I’m particularly a fan of the Polariod square instant printer. HOWEVER, I came across the Canon Ivy printer and want to recommend it to those of you that make 1.25 buttons FOR ONE VERY SPECIFIC REASON:

The Canon Ivy printer has sticker paper that works perfect for the 1.25 button maker. So you can format and print your photos using their app and print them onto stickers, like this:

Those stickers work perfectly in the buttons:

Our placement is a little bit off in the picture above, but we eventually worked it out and it’s amazing!

The great thing about this process is that:

  1. You can make original buttons using your personal photos quickly, you no longer have to worry about copyright and you can make very personalized buttons.
  2. Using a smart phone and various apps gives you much more control over what those photos look like, and then you can print them and print them again, whenever you would like.
  3. The Canon Ivy stickers fit perfectly in the 1.25 button size and who doesn’t love a quicky, easy, personalize button.

With a smart device, a printer, some sticker photo paper and a button maker, you can walk tweens and teens through the complete button making process in a program or makerspace setting. You can make fun giveaways to take home after the program. And honestly, it’s just really cool.

The Canon Ivy printer is around $100.00 and the photo paper is around $24.99 for 50 sheets. That’s about $.50 cents per sheet, and two stickers per sheet. So you’re looking at $.25 per sticker and it’s another $.10 per button piece, so it’s about $.35 per button after your initial investment of the printer and the button maker.

So if you want a quick and easy, and relatively inexpensive after initial investments, way to make personalized buttons, this is a great way!

Sunday Reflections: In Which I Say Thank You, by Riley Jensen

In March of this year, as we were waiting to see if family we loved would survive Covid and after surviving a horrific storm here in Texas, we received Riley’s financial aid package for her dream school with her dream forensic science program at Ohio University. That was the moment our dreams were shattered and we learned that unless she went into such extreme debt, that she would not be able to make this happen and we, as her parents, could not make this happen for her. Then in May, one week before he was supposed to fly out to attend her graduation, my Dad died from a car accident. He had survived a few years bout with cancer and a few months bout with Covid just to die suddenly in a car accident. To say that we were devastated is an understatement. TLT readers have given us so much support over the years and so many of you reached out to us with love, support, prayers and more. Your friendship, prayers and shares stories have sustained us during difficult battles and anxious moments. And then several sent messages telling me that we should do a Go Fund Me to help pay for Riley’s college, so we did. We set a goal of $5,000 as that is what she needed above and beyond what she is eligible for in college loans to make her Freshman year happen. And you all have so generously donated and we met that goal. We didn’t tell Riley about the Go Fund Me at first, in case we didn’t meet the goal. We didn’t want to give her false hope. But we have met the goal, we have shared the information with her, and she has been moved beyond measure. Today for our Sunday Reflections, she wants to say thank you in her own words.

In Which I Say Thank You, by Riley Jensen

When I received my financial aid packet from Ohio University I didn’t know how I was going to be able to come up with all of the money that wasn’t covered. I applied for so many scholarships and even asked for extra ones from the school directly. I didn’t get much more money from that, so going to college was starting to seem less and less likely. My family and I even made multiple back-up plans in case this wasn’t possible at all. We talked about me going to a less expensive college or doing community college, but I really didn’t want that. It really didn’t seem like this year could get worse.

Then, it did get worse. After my grandfather died I kind of stopped thinking about college. I didn’t realize it, but his death had more of an effect on me than what I thought. When graduation came I had barely even looked at what I needed to do for college because it was so strange that my grandfather wasn’t there to watch. Even after graduation I still hadn’t done much. I was busy with rehearsals and grieving, so college wasn’t really my focus.

Now, with theatre done and nothing else to do, I have to think about college. That was when my parents told me about all the money I had received. I don’t know if they told me about it earlier, if they did I don’t remember. But, it was a lot of money and it made college seem more attainable. I remember thinking that I was going to go into so much debt trying to pay for this, but now I may not have to worry so much.

This year has been so stressful, but knowing that there’s so many people who want to help me succeed is so comforting. I don’t know what I would do without all of the people helping, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Sincerely, Riley Jensen

Sunday Reflections: Our Journey to Graduation with A. S. King

It was a Mother’s Day weekend in 2012 when I read my first A. S. King book and it changed my life. After reading Ask the Passengers, I took a walk and saw a small yellow flower and wrote a letter to A. S. King in my head, which I eventually posted on this blog.

To this day, when I see small yellow flowers peeking out of the ground, I think of Amy.

At the time, Riley was only 10 years old and had not read a King book yet, but that would soon change. Now, she has read them all, many of them multiple times. And as I reflect this Mother’s Day and in the month in which Riley finally graduates high school, I can’t help but thing that in many ways, Amy helped me raise this beloved child of mine.

So it seems fitting that we end Riley’s high school career with a new A. S. King young adult novel, SWITCH. Switch comes out on Tuesday and yes, we’ve both read it. And yes, we both loved it.

The heart of Switch is a simple idea repeated over and over again by our main character, Truda: the world would be a much better place if people just gave a shit about other people. And here we are in the midst of a global pandemic, and it’s clear that this issue is at the heart of what the world is really wrestling with. How much different would this past year have been if people just gave a shit about each other? I think Truda might be on to something.

Switch is a surrealist novel that takes place right after time has stopped, for reasons unknown. And like all King’s novels, Switch asks us to dive into the muck and the mire of the adolescent struggle with identity and mental health and it’s not always an easy read. And I don’t mean easy as in word counts and Lexile levels, I mean it’s not easy because it deals with hard truths about dark facts that we need to shine a light on. This was, for us both, one of the hardest reads in part because it was not just real and raw and honest, but because it was so timely. Here was sat reading a book about time literally stopping and a teen protagonist trying to unbox hard emotional truths during a year in which it seemed that time had literally stopped and we were all trying to unbox hard emotional truths. It was like an Amy from the future had come back in time and given us this timely book and we were in awe of her wisdom and insight.

The thing about reading an A. S. King book, well at least one of them, is that they sit with you long afterwards. Riley and I have conversations at random moments about A. S. King novels. In fact, the book we have talked about the most is the one that she says she likes the least, The Dust of 100 Dogs, and we talk often about the mother/daughter dynamic and parental guilt and manipulation and becoming your own person. The book she has re-read the most is I Crawl Through It, the one that I like the least (sorry Amy). I think Still Life with Tornado and Dig are her other top favorites. But to be honest, that sometimes changes.

So here I sit on another Mother’s Day thinking about the books of A. S. King and how they have changed my life, changed me. I can not tell you how blessed I feel that my teenage daughter also loves these books and we got to share this reading journey together. I feel that in some ways, A. S. King is a thread that has woven us closer together as mother and daughter, her words the thread and her book spines the backbone. As I think about Riley graduating, I can’t help but be grateful for every blessed moment with her. And to share something that you both so deeply and profoundly love: unspeakable joy.

The first time I met A. S. King in person was at a librarian conference in Texas. I cried. I have met A. S. King in person at several conferences since then and I cry every time. Riley makes fun of me when I go to a conference, saying if I see A. S. King there don’t cry. And each time I do, I call and tell her that I cried and she says, “of course you did mom.” I think she thinks they are star struck tears but they are tears of gratitude. Tears of hope and joy and strength for all that she has given me, as a librarian, as a mother, as a human trying to live on this speck of a rock in an infinite universe. Tears of gratitude for the relationship she helped me build with a daughter that I love.

The high school years were not always easy. As a mother with a depression and an anxiety disorder, genetics were cruel and I shared that bad brain with this kid that I love. And then the pandemic happened and it all became so much harder. There were nights this past year where I sat outside my daughter’s bedroom door as she slept, praying for her, because I knew that the demons of doubt and desperation were dancing in her head and I wanted to be there if she needed me. I wanted to hear if she got up in the middle of the night so that I could help make sure she made it until morning. I have tried to give my child tools to deal with the panic attacks and the tears and sometimes, those tools included the respite of a book. Sometimes they have included the affirmation of a story in which a young woman thinks and feels the same things and you know that you are both going to be okay. I know that for Riley, sometimes those books were penned by A. S. King.

So later this month I will watch my child cross home plate (their graduation is going to be at a baseball field because Covid) as someone puts a diploma in her hand and there is a part of me that will be thanking A. S. King for this moment. I feel in some ways like it is the three of us crossing that home plate together, at least in spirit. And then I have to let her leave the safety of my home and become an actual grown up in a cold, cruel world where a lot of us have truly forgotten how to give a shit about other people, and I am quaking in my boots up all night terrified.

So here I am on Mother’s Day, thinking about A. S. King and what it means to be a messy, flawed, broken human being and asking this great big world to please, just start giving a shit about other people again. And read more books. I recommend you start with some A. S. King ones.

About SWITCH

A surreal and timely novel about the effects of isolation and what it means to be connected to the world from the Printz Award-winning author of Dig.

Time has stopped. It’s been June 23, 2020 for nearly a year as far as anyone can tell. Frantic adults demand teenagers focus on finding practical solutions to the worldwide crisis. Not everyone is on board though. Javelin-throwing prodigy Truda Becker is pretty sure her “Solution Time” class won’t solve the world’s problems, but she does have a few ideas what might. Truda lives in a house with a switch that no one ever touches, a switch her father protects every day by nailing it into hundreds of progressively larger boxes. But Truda’s got a crow bar, and one way or another, she’s going to see what happens when she flips the switch.

The Drowned Histories of Appalachia, a guest post by author Juliana Brandt

In this picture, I’m standing on top of Fontana Dam in rural North Carolina. At the time, I’d lived in Appalachia for nearly eight years and had lived in a small town near Fontana Dam for four. And yet, I’d never taken the opportunity to visit Fontana until the weeks before I moved away from the mountains.

Of course, I knew about the massive dam while I lived there. You can’t not know about Fontana when you live near it. It’s gargantuan, the largest dam east of the Rockies, and is nestled inside a luxurious, verdant valley. The reservoir lake beside it is extremely popular during the summer—a source of bliss for locals and tourists alike. While I knew Fontana existed, I never thought twice about how or why it had come to be built in this very rural mountain town. It was simply a building, a construction, a piece of the landscape that I didn’t quite note.

The version of me who’s standing on top of Fontana Dam is in the middle of one of the biggest moments of change in her life. She’s leaving Appalachia to return to her home state of Minnesota. She’s moving—physically and emotionally—across the country. She’s saying goodbye a place that brought her joy and peace and made her feel wholly part of the world. This change feels disastrous to her spirit, because she believes she’ll lose all the parts of herself she’s come to love, that she’ll have to re-learn how to find joy inside a place, when finding joy in the mountains came so easily to her.

Inside that sea of change, the seed of a story was born: I would write a book about the mountains and the people who there who had accepted and loved me so thoroughly. I would pour all my energy into creating a beautiful, lyrical project with a main character who loved the hills and valleys as much as I did. I would find a way to explain how very important Appalachia had become to me. But what would the story and plot be?

I tried my usual angles for writing, falling back on old tropes I loved: witches and curses and magic. In the end, the witch and the curse got tossed to the side, but the magic remained, and so too did my story of change. I didn’t want to leave Appalachia, but I knew I had to. What if I wrote the story I wished I live, one wherein I made the choice to stay, even though that wasn’t the right choice I needed to make.

Through the main character in A Wilder Magic—Sybaline—I was able to play out and see what it would be like to resist inevitable change. Inside that story, I wove in the history of Fontana Dam.

During and after the Great Depression, the Tennessee Valley Authority was created by Roosevelt. It would be the TVA’s job to create dams and electricity throughout the Tennessee Valley, serving six states throughout the South: Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Mississippi. It would provide jobs to a place hit hard by the Depression, would provide electricity to a place that had none, and would control flooding in its plentiful river basins. These are all good parts of the history of dam creation, but inside of that “good” history is one of deep sadness, for in the process, over 14,000 families were displaced from their ancestral homes. Entire towns were drowned beneath reservoirs. Cemeteries were uprooted and moved, while some graves were abandoned beneath the lakes.

Fontana Dam itself is home to the Road to Nowhere, a road the government promised to the community that would wind around Fontana Lake and lead to cemeteries from which access was cut off. The road itself is a dead end now, having never been completed. Now, people must travel by boat and over dozens of miles of treacherous, unkempt mountain trails to reach those cemeteries.

A fact that remains ever fascinating to me is that Fontana Dam, unlike other dams created by the TVA, doesn’t provide any electricity to surrounding towns. It was created to supply electricity to the nearby Oak Ridge facility where the atomic bombs were created (this fact is not included in A Wilder Magic).

My first goal in writing A Wilder Magic was to show my deep love for the mountains, and after learning this history, my second goal was to tell this piece of Appalachian history from multiple angles. I wanted to show how inevitable that change was for the communities that lived through it, and also how painful and difficult the experience must have been.

I hope everyone who reads A Wilder Magic is able to fall in love the Appalachia I found a home within and appreciate the history of the place.

About A WILDER MAGIC:

A WILDER MAGIC by Juliana Brandt

On Sale Date: May 4, 2021

9781728209647, Hardcover

9781728245737, Trade Paperback

From the author of The Wolf of Cape Fen comes a beautiful and lyrical story about one family with magic in their bones, and what happens when we have to give up what we love most.

For generations, Sybaline Shaw’s family has lived in an enchanted valley in the Appalachian Mountains, using their magic to help grow the land. But now the government has built a dam that will force the Shaws to relocate, and they’re running out of time before their home will be flooded.

Syabline and her cousin Nettle can’t imagine life without the valley and its magic, so they decide to stay. Using magic, they build an invisible wall around their home. As the water rises, they learn a terrible truth: the water will continue to rise, leaving them to live beneath the lake itself.

There is also a consequence to using magic selfishly, one that might transform both her and Nettle forever. If she can’t find a way to escape, Syballine and the ones she loves could be trapped in the valley forever.

Meet Author Juliana Brandt

JULIANA BRANDT is an author and kindergarten teacher with a passion for storytelling that guides her in both of her jobs. She lives in her childhood home of Minnesota, and her writing is heavily influenced by travels around the country and a decade living in the South. When not working, she is usually exploring the great outdoors. She is also the author of The Wolf of Cape Fen. You can find her online at julianalbrandt.com.

Cindy Crushes Programming: 10 Popular Fandoms to Base Teen Programming On, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

One of the most difficult parts of doing teen programming is knowing what to build your program idea around. One of the best places to look is to see what fandoms are currently popular with teens, more specifically with YOUR teens. Today, teen librarian Cindy Shutts is sharing some great teen programming ideas based upon currently popular fandoms. If these fandoms aren’t popular with your teens right now, find out which ones are and build your programming ideas around those. And if these fandoms are popular with your teens right now, well here are some great programming ideas for you.

  1. Animal Crossing: Animal Crossing has had a very big year in 2020. It is not as hot for teens as it was last year but it is still very popular and teens still want programs based around it. We have done a lot of Animal Crossing programming at the White Oak Library District.  Here is a link to more about Animal Crossing programming https://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2020/08/cindy-crushes-programming-animal-crossing-and-the-virtual-library-by-cindy-shutts
  1. Star Wars: This has always been a strongfandom that is always very strong as the force is strong with Luke.  We have done crafts and other activities. We are trying to keep our crafts cute and fun. We are going to have felt Porgs and felt Baba Yodas.  We already have done a The Mandalorian Escape Room created by Faith Healy

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSctFhbJkeHyS8xw66EzmEYnvXuTMvgjYYocwV1wK6XI0XYHIA/viewform

And for Star Wars Day, May the  Fourth be with you,  Linden Galloway  created a new escape room on just Star Wars https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScbtFynvgP6NRmU3vVi56JYKeLJ7AfTQDbW5PLvobh7goAPuQ/viewform

  1. Marvel Cinematic Universe: Since Marvel has been doing more series on Disney + this fan base has grown even more. We are planning to do a lot more with Marvel but my co worker Faith Healy made an amazing Wandavision felt figure template. We had those run out within the first two days of being placed out for Take and makes.
  1. Shadow and Bone and Grishaverse:  Shadow and Bone is the first trilogy of the Grishaverse series by Leigh Bardugo. This one is really taking off after the Netflix series was released on April 23rd. We are planning to do Mini Shadow and Bone charms for a May Take and Make. We did release a virtual escape room before the series released. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdN6Mb8Xy9NmDgf5BcNGN2QNhSEDXqJjqeWqv1S8aeEBbgh0w/viewform
  2. Pokemon: Pokemon has always been popular even though Pokemon leagues are shut down officially because of Covid-19 there are plenty of Pokemon related activities you can run. We did a Pokemon puffball as a Take and Make craft.

We also did a Pokemon escape room https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf82ydPBGRycYSHAr0C99KBOAEJUH7nAgFLUX9r2_ZSyxbSZg/viewform

  1. Anime: Anime is of course Japanese animation and is one of the most popular fandoms that teens will gravitate to. The popular series right now are My Hero Academia and Demon Slayer, at least at my library, Faith Healy released not only anime trivia and a Take and Make of Anime figures (You can find templates for Anime figures here: https://www.paperizedcrafts.com/search/label/Anime), Faith also created an amazing anime based escape room.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfsvvQmknXcFz21H9BMOV5RkcsRaN6-wgBclnHT3xEypFKORA/viewform

  1. Percy Jackson : This popular book series by Ric Riordian series which is going to be a Disney + series has grown a lot in popularity. We have noticed Percy Jackson taking the place in teen’s hearts since J.K. Rowling has come out with anti-trans statements. We had to run our Percy Jackson trivia twice and we released a Percy Jackson escape room.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfmVuWnlT_uZvmc0_YQaA0Wy-xLoRVe-MZrLcAXRfXPhdnT8A/viewform

  1. Mario: People love Mario from the Nintendo video games. We always have teens who ask for more Mario based programming. We plan to do a virtual after hours with the Mario games.
  2. Twilight: Twilight was dead and then it came back with the release of Midnight Sun and also Twilight TikTok also has reinvigorated the fandom.  I am constantly asked for Twilight based programming again. I never thought it would come back. I thought vampires would but there is a nostalgia for Twilight that has really come out of the pandemic.  We are doing trivia for adult and teen fans and Faith is working on a Twilight Escape room.
  3. Hunger Games: This is another fandom that really came back with the pandemic especially with the release of the prequel focusing on Snow, The Ballad of Songbird and Snakes. Hunger Games had not gone away as much as Twilight but people have rediscovered their love of the series and keep asking for more. Also having a new book release helped it grow in popularity. We did a Hunger Games escape room that did very well and are planning a Hunger Games Trivia.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeBKFlynz-7Im8ENs-uDIPhe7oUuG7zizgozhT_ZY8rm1tfKw/viewform

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.

Author Molly E. Lee on “The Creative Spark”, a guest post

“We have a new assignment today,” my second grade teacher says as she plunges her hands into a giant cardboard box on her desk. I’m practically falling out of my seat to see what she will pull out. “I want you all to take out your notebooks and think of a story you’d like to tell.” She heaves a dozen little hardback books out of the box. The covers are blank white, the spines thin. She sets another stack next to the first one and then discards the empty box.

            For the next ten minutes she continues with instructions—you need a main character, a setting, a problem and a solution. A few of the students next to me groan, their heads slumping as they doodle in their practice notebooks instead of writing.

            I don’t understand their groans at the new assignment because I can barely sit still with how excited I am. Finally, a piece of schoolwork that somehow feels tailored for me specifically. I love to read. I re-read my favorite stories every night, and now my teacher is asking me to write my very own?

            It takes me two days to jot down my characters and problems and setting.

            It takes all of us two weeks to practice writing the sentences neatly in our notebooks as well as practice drawing the pictures that will go with the words.

            And at the end of the two weeks? My teacher gives me my very own blank hardback book. I crack it open and feel something rise in my chest—a feeling I can’t explain at the age of seven but will figure out later. It’s a big feeling that makes my hands shake as I carefully, delicately place each word, each sentence on those blank pages. It’s a feeling that has me drawing my brows together as I craft the pictures to match my scenes. It’s a feeling that will stay with me as I read the book aloud to an audience of parents and students later that week. And it’s a feeling that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

            Now, decades later, I have a name for that big feeling.

            The creative spark.

            Since my second grade teacher gave me that fateful assignment all those years ago, the creative spark has stayed with me, shaping who I am today. Many have—and will likely continue—to try and smother it out of me.

I’ll never forget the day my high school guidance counselor grimaced when I told her my career aspirations of becoming an author. She shook her head, strongly advising me to look into the physical therapy or nursing field because they were actual careers. She went on to say I’d never be able to make a living at being an author and suggested I rethink my plans.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the response to my dreams—I’d made up my mind that day in second grade what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told anyone and everyone who asked me from then on out. “I’m going to be an author,” I’d say with confidence, my chin held high. The answer was often met with laughs and nods and we’ll sees.

Luckily for me, my parents never laughed. They never rolled their eyes or groaned when I had a new story for them to read. They told me if I wanted to be an author, then I would be, but I’d have to work hard for it.

They weren’t wrong. Having the creative spark—that urge to write and create and shape worlds and characters into existence—isn’t the only thing I needed on my journey to become an author. It certainly helps—that fire constantly burning inside me, that excitement at the prospect of a blank page, the jolt of awareness and delight when a new character pops into my head and starts whispering their story to me. Sometimes that spark is the only thing that can hold my heart together after a story is rejected or met with a negative review. That spark is the only thing that picks up those aching pieces and firmly demands, “Keep writing. Keep trying. Keep creating.”           

Over the years I learned to understand the pure subjective aspects of the business, how one person can love what another hates and vice versa. I’ve learned to appreciate and depend on honest critiques from trusted peers and professionals. I’ve learned to stay humble and to never stop working on my craft, to never settle with what I know now and always strive to learn more. I’ve learned that sometimes a manuscript needs to sit for years before it is ready for the world.

But one thing that has never changed, one thing that has never let me down, is that same creative spark instilled within me in second grade. That same big feeling I often was laughed at for growing up. I never stopped feeding that spark, never stopped listening to its encouragement, never stopped working toward the dream that took hold of me and never let go.

Now, all these years later, as I wake up each morning to work on a manuscript, I still feel as excited as that seven-year-old girl. Eager and beaming at the chance to dive into new worlds with the simplicity of jotting down an idea in a notebook or striking a few letters on the keyboard. I’m beyond lucky I get to live my dream, beyond lucky I have amazing readers who are just as excited to read as I am to write. And I owe it all to that big feeling that has never left my side, never let the negativity or the difficulty smother it, that beautiful, universal, joyous thing I call the creative spark.

About Ember of Night:

I am a weed.

Unloved by my abusive, alcoholic dad. Unwanted by my classmates. Unnoticed by everyone else.

But I’d suffer anything to give my kid sister a better life—the minute I turn eighteen, I’m getting us the hell out of here. And some hot stranger telling me I am the key to stopping a war between Heaven and Hell isn’t going to change that.

Let the world crumble and burn, for all I care.

Draven is relentless, though. And very much a liar. Every time his sexy lips are moving, I can see it—in the dip of his head, the grit of his jaw—even if my heart begs me to ignore the signs.

So what does he want?

I need to figure it out fast, because now everyone is gunning for me. And damn if I don’t want to show them what happens when you let weeds thrive in the cracks of the pavement…

We can grow powerful enough to shatter the whole foundation.

May 4th 2021 by Entangled: Teen (ISBN13: 9781649370310)

About Molly E. Lee:

Molly E. Lee is an author best known for her romance novels, the Grad Night series and the Love on the Edge series. Molly writes Adult and Young Adult contemporary featuring strong female heroines who are unafraid to challenge their male counterparts, yet still vulnerable enough to have love sneak up on them. In addition to being a military spouse and mother of two + one stubborn English Bulldog, Molly loves watching storms from her back porch at her Midwest home, and digging for treasures in antique stores.

Sunday Reflections: What Do We Do When We Know the Book is a Lie?

The other day as I was walking and talking with my husband and I said to him, I want you to be prepared that there may come a day when I have to leave librarianship. He was stunned by this announcement – I love being a librarian. I feel like it is at the core of who I am and it brings me great joy. So he asked me why. My response: imagine it is after the great World War II, over 6 million Jews have died, and a publisher has just published Adolf Hitler’s book. Now I am faced with having to buy it and put it in a library collection as if it is the truth or a good thing. Ethically, it feels like that is what is happening and I don’t know if I can do it.

When we start working in libraries we are taught that we are to be politically neutral and represent all sides. I have spent a life time buying books by people I despised that represent viewpoints I don’t agree with. But this feels much different. When it comes to the pandemic, more than half a million people have died in the United States alone, and millions have died worldwide. When it comes to the election of 2020, we all saw a violent insurrection happen at our nation’s Capitol as participants put up a gallows seeking to assassinate the Vice President, the Speaker of the House and members of Congress. These don’t feel like just differences of opinions or differing political viewpoints.

Over the past few weeks, several book deals have been announced that will place many libraries in very difficult positions. In a time when we are talking about the importance of information literacy and discussing things like information accuracy and authority, publishers are giving book deals to political figures who have made a career out of telling verifiable and often deadly lies. There are books coming out in the future that we know will be based on political lies.

The Vice President that they wanted to assassinate, Mike Pence, has been given a book deal. Mike Pence was governor of a state that had a deadly resurgence of AIDS because of his leadership. He was put in charge with Jared Kushner of the Covid response task force that resulted in multiple lies and more heinously, over half a million American deaths. And even though his own constituents tried to kill him on January 6th, he refuses to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the election or to speak out against the events of the day that they tried to kill him. What happens if in the pages of his book he still downplays the Covid pandemic or claims that President Joe Biden didn’t really win the election? What happens if he tries to downplay the events of January 6th or continues to claim that it was Antifa and not Trump loyalists?

Similarly, Kellyanne Conway has been offered a book deal. She stood in front of the press and lied repeatedly, even in instances where we have video evidence that she is lying. She is also accused of sharing her teenage daughter’s nude photos on Twitter and of child abuse. Even outside of her lies and record from the White House, what do we do about the alleged child abuse? Public and school libraries have always been champions for children, so this feels like a line we shouldn’t cross.

And lest you think this is only a problem on the right, we have Andrew Cuomo who wrote a book about how he valiantly handled the Covid response in New York that we now know is full of nothing but lies because he was hiding the true death rates in nursing homes. As far as I am concerned every library should remove this book from their collections and bin it because it is factually not true. It is a lie and this man is no hero. By all accounts he willingly and knowingly wrote a book based on lies and we should not present this as factually correct information.

I am not currently in a position where I have to make these kinds of decisions, but I acknowledge that these are hard days for libraries. In a time where we are talking about the importance of information literacy, these types of book deals are ethically challenging for those in the profession who care about information literacy, authority, accuracy and the hallmarks of librarianship that we have spent our professional careers built on.

These aren’t just political differences of things like say, should we have a higher debt ceiling or no. You’re talking about trans lives, you’re talking about Black lives, you’re talking about Asian American lives, you’re talking about Latinx lives. You’re talking about real life and death scenarios. And sometimes, you’re asking your staff to buy books and put them in their collections that actively contribute to their harm. I think we should be wrestling with that. I hope that we are wrestling with that with the seriousness that it deserves.

One day, they are going to announce that Donald Trump himself has written a memoir about his presidency and we know it will be full of lies. Trump told over 30,000 verified lies during the four years of his presidency. These aren’t just a matter of opinion, they are lies that we can verify with video evidence, factual evidence. And some publisher, hoping to make a ton of cash, will give his memoir the green light. And librarians who care about things like human life and information literacy and authority and accuracy will have to wrestle with what to do about this book knowing that it will down play or, worse yet, lie about those more than 500,000 American lives lost to Covid.

The truth is, except for the Cuomo book, none of these books have been written yet. We don’t know their content. We just know the history of the people involved. And that history, and the lies we’ve already seen them tell, is enough to give any librarian concerned with truth and consequences pause.

So what do we do when we know the book is a lie? I fear that we are in the process of finding out and librarianship is wrestling with its soul. I hope that we come out of this on the right side of history.

RevolTeens: Let’s Hear from the Teens, by Teen Librarian Christine Lively

This month has left me feeling deflated, frustrated, and angry. The news of another teen killed by police officers, the ongoing mental health crisis caused in part by the pandemic, and the constant barrage of rising gun violence, racist attacks, and assaults on trans rights has left me feeling that what the world does not need right now is an opinion column written by a white, cis-gender, heterosexual woman.

So, let’s hear from some teens instead.

I am a librarian at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia just a few miles outside of Washington DC. Our school, like most high schools, is usually full of every type of teenager there is – from shy quiet studious kids to loud boastful life of the party kids. They are all still kids, though and trying to find their way through. It’s easy to forget that the teens we serve have obstacles, hopes, dreams, and fears that they bring with them every day. Sometimes, we adults need a reminder of what they are going through.

So, here I present the Wakefield High School Theatre Arts III and IV classes original production of “Growing Up.” The show written by the students explores the experience of leaving childhood behind which was entered into our state’s one-act play festival. “Assertive, articulate, and heart-wrenchingly real, Wakefield High School’s “Growing Up” is an enriching treatise on the beautifully tragic growing pains that compose adolescence.” according to reviewer Sean Gillen, Oakton High School.

In these performances, you’ll find the emotions, experiences, fears, and dreams of actual teens.

Please watch and listen to our teens.

“Growing Up” by Wakefield High School Theatre Arts students.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange 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. I am a Certified Life Coach for Kids 14-24 and my website is christinelively.com. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively.

How to Use the “Breaking Things Down” Bracket Meme as a RA Tool

Let me break this down for you

There is a new meme trend sweeping the social media landscape called “Breaking Things Down” or the Bracket Meme that invites you to, well, break things down. It looks like this:

It invites you to break a book down into it’s parts and it is fun. What a great RA tool for social media sharing. Let’s discuss.

Here’s how it works: You take a book and break it down into it’s parts. For example, a book can be 2/3 flirty and fun, and 1/3 it will rip your heart out. For the record, the trend isn’t just about books, but for our purposes here it’s ALL ABOUT BOOKS.

Here are some other examples for you to get a handle on the trend: https://www.buzzfeed.com/angelicaamartinez/twitter-meme-brackets

I made the A . S. King example above using a photo App called Over. Pretty much any app or program that let’s you add a background and text will work. If you use Canva, you can do it there as well. You can share plot elements, character descriptions, themes or even just funny notes about a book. I feel like every time I read an A. S. King book I don’t understand what’s happening but I keep going because in the end, she’s going to blow my mind. That’s what I wanted to capture in my breakdown of her upcoming book SWITCH, which did start with time actually stopping and then literally blew my mind.

Create Your Meme Step by Step

  1. Start with a plain white background.
  2. Add your book cover. You should be able to find and download a book cover easily on the internet. You want a clean cover, no background or edges.
  3. Use either a text block or a graphic to add 2 or 3 right parenthesis on the right side of your book cover.
  4. Next to your parenthesis, use a text box to add your description. A handwritten looking font looks best in my humble opinion, but you do you.
  5. After you have completed your image, save it as a .jpeg or .png
  6. Share it on your social media

Just Some Follow Up Thoughts

Just a note, it really helps if you have read the book and have some witty things to say about the book. I’m not always witty, so looking at a lot of other examples helped me out a lot. Luckily, a lot of authors have been sharing their own memes on Twitter and that helped.

Also, the Over app that I used let’s you choose a plain white background from the first step so it was a go to app for me for this project. If you were going to use something like Canva, you could even set up a template and just plug in your book cover and text each time. Setting up a template is a really good idea if you want to make more of these. I love and recommend using templates as often as possible for repeated images.

And this is a great social media/virtual programming challenge to get tweens and teens involved in. Create a hashtag and invite your library patrons to create their own memes. If you have a template you can even share it with them and include your library brand and logo on it. If you are worried about the cursing and such, create a submission email for them to submit them and then share them from your library social media in a more curated fashion.

As with anything, by the time you are reading this post it’s probably close to being played out, so act quickly. Though I just saw the above Buzzfeed post so it probably has a little shelf life left in it. But most importantly, it’s pretty quick, easy and fun to do and we’re all looking for ways to get more book covers into the eyeballs of our patrons, especially in the time of Covid, so I highly recommend this.