Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

What it Means to be The Wild Ones, Teen Librarian Lisa Krok interviews author Nafiza Azad

Lisa Krok: Nafiza, thank you for joining Teen Librarian Toolbox for a Q&A about your forthcoming book, The Wild Ones. Your book was born out of traumas that so many women have experienced. I found this quote to be so compelling, “Would giving specific names to our tragedies make you know us better? Get black paint then and mark us victims of rape, sexual, physical, and verbal abuse. Stalked. Sold. Made destitute. Abandoned. Hated. Silenced. Do these words make us more or less to you?”. The naming of the specific traumas is not important. The damage left behind in the women who survived speaks for itself. You state in the book that the wild oneslive in the Between, which is not a world, but a pathway. I interpreted this pathway as their road to healing. Can you tell us about that?

Nafiza Azad: In my experience, when something that immense happens to you, you are changed in irrevocable ways. The spaces you used to occupy are no longer safe for you and the spaces you will occupy in the future are still somewhere to reach after you’re done healing. The Between is a liminal space that shelters you as you heal, space that allows you to regress before progressing, a place to be messy but a space that is always safe.

LK: Having that safe space is so important. These women are fierce and feminist in their sisterhood, bound together by their varied traumas, anger, and rage. What about this sisterhood do you think was most empowering for the women as they find their voices on their healing journey?

NA: The most empowering aspect of this sisterhood, any sisterhood really, is in the knowledge that. no matter what happens. you are not alone. The wild ones don’t always get along but they know that even if they are in horrible fights, they won’t break up. The liberation in not having to be pretty and polite all the time. The freedom in falling and knowing there is someone behind to catch you.

LK: The misogyny in The Wild Ones was pervasive. How do you think this sparked the women to break up the patriarchy?

NA: The wild ones are all survivors of various kinds of abuse. When something like that happens to you, in addition to the pain and the sorrow, the emotion you struggle most with is anger. The question that keeps you up at night is what was it about you that said you deserve to be treated the way you were. And the anger that comes in the knowing that the person or people who caused you to feel the way you do will most probably walk free with nary a pat on their hand. The emotion the wild ones celebrate most fiercely is this anger. They answered the question above and found that no, they didn’t deserve to be treated the way they were. No girl or woman or person deserves that treatment. So how dare men and society excuse what happened to them and put labels on them, recreating them as statistics?

LK: Indeed, and I imagine this is validation for many readers. I sincerely hope that this book brings catharsis to those who need it, and a sense of that unconditional sisterhood to all.

Switching gears a bit now, food from many cultures is woven into the storyline in the different places the women travel. How do you feel these vivid descriptions added to the story (besides making me hungry, of course)?

NA: Food is a language you do not need to learn to understand. It crosses borders and transcends cultures and races. A full table is an invitation in real life and in The Wild Ones. I use it as a way to invite the reader in, to join the wild ones at the table, and into the story.

LK: Thank you, Nafiza, for this exquisite story and this Q & A!

The Wild Ones releases August 3, 2021 from Margaret K. McElderry books. Please see order links below.

Amazon ; Indiebound

Resources for assistance:

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network  (RAINN)  1.800.656.HOPE(4673)

Domestic Violence Hotline   1.800.799.SAFE (7233)

Suicide Prevention Lifeline   1.800.273.TALK (8255)

National Alliance on Mental Illness    1.800.950.NAMI 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 

Photograph (c) Jasdeep Deol

Nafiza Azad is a self-identified island girl. She has hurricanes in her blood and dreams of a time she can exist solely on mangoes and pineapple. Born in Lautoka, Fiji, she currently resides in British Columbia, Canada where she reads too many books, watches too many K-dramas, and writes stories about girls taking over the world. Her debut YA fantasy was the Morris Award–nominated The Candle and the FlameThe Wild Ones is her second novel.

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the Adult and Teen Services Manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians (ABC-CLIO). In addition to the TLT, blog, she reviews YA fiction for School Library Journal. Her passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. Lisa served on the Best Fiction for Young Adults and Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s teams. She can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.               

About THE WILD ONES

From William C. Morris Finalist Nafiza Azad comes a thrilling, feminist fantasy about a group of teenage girls endowed with special powers who must band together to save the life of the boy whose magic saved them all.

Meet the Wild Ones: girls who have been hurt, abandoned, and betrayed all their lives. It all began with Paheli, who was once betrayed by her mother and sold to a man in exchange for a favor. When Paheli escapes, she runs headlong into a boy with stars in his eyes. This boy, as battered as she is, tosses Paheli a box of stars before disappearing.

With the stars, Paheli gains access to the Between, a place of pure magic and mystery. Now, Paheli collects girls like herself and these Wild Ones use their magic to travel the world, helping the hopeless and saving others from the fates they suffered.

Then Paheli and the Wild Ones learn that the boy who gave them the stars, Taraana, is in danger. He’s on the run from powerful forces within the world of magic. But if Taraana is no longer safe and free, neither are the Wild Ones. And that…is a fate the Wild Ones refuse to accept. Ever again. (Publisher’s Description)

Facts Can be Fun: Middle Grade and Teen Nonfiction Series

Today I’m going to share with you some of my favorite nonfiction series for middle grade students and teens as part of our #FactsMatter series. So let’s dive in . . .

History Smashers by Kate Messner

Much of what we know about history has been white washed and watered down. Prolific middle grade author Kate Messner has started a new, engaging nonfiction series for readers to help present a more factual look at the past in a fun and informative way.

Basher Basics

The Basher Basics series is a very quick reference series that is very accessible to those who are trying to dive into a new subject in a safe, fun way. It’s very small, bite size information presented in a fun format. The title on the periodic table is particularly useful.

Who Was . . . ?

The Who Was (also What Was and Who Is) series introduces younger nonfiction fans to a variety of historical figures and events. It’s incredibly popular and another great introduction. It’s even great for teens and adults who want to learn about a topic but don’t want to read a 1,000 page esoteric biography.

Enviro Infographics

With the Pacific Northwest melting into the ground and the ocean on fire, a lot of us are talking about Climate Change. In fact, I think a lot of adults don’t understand how much of a emotional burden Climate Change is on our young people. This series uses infographics to help put the discussion into perspective for all. I love infographics because I think they help us conceptualize facts, figures and data into ways that our brains can understand. If you like infographics, author Steve Jenkins also has some great titles on data about the Earth and animals in infographics form.

One Big Fat Notebook

I just don’t have these in the library, I personally own several and have used the math one frequently to look up how to do various types of problems to help Thing 2 with her math homework. They are really great overviews of topics and easy to use and understand. I recommend them to everyone, including every friend who says they have a hard time helping their kid with their math homework.

Barron’s Painless

Have an older student? You might need to move up to the Barron’s Painless series for homework help. Or better yet, have both this and the One Big Fat Notebook together to help tackle Chemistry and Physics.

Pocket Change Collective

The Pocket Change Collective is a series that looks at social issues from modern day activists. They cover topics of interest to a lot of teens in a very engaging format.

I’m always looking for new nonfiction series for my readers, so if you have suggestions please leave them in the comments. Let’s get some good information on our shelves for readers who are trying to figure out how to navigate the issues they keep hearing about in the news or are experiencing in their lives.

All the Firsts You Don’t Want to Celebrate, a reflection on grief

Riley is going to her first day at work and I snap a picture. I pick up my phone so that I can send it to my Dad, because I know he will be so proud of her. I pull up his number.

And then I remember . . .

I can’t call my Dad.

I can never call my Dad again.

And the tears come, as they do every day. Several times a day. And I stand there and sob. Body shaking. I just stand there and Thing 2 comes running from the other room. She already knows what’s happening and she comes, running with arms outstretched and starts to stroke my back.

This is yet another first that hits hard.

We had our first family graduation, my oldest daughter Riley, without my father.

I had my first Father’s Day without a father.

Our first day on our first job with a grandpa to celebrate it.

Our first wedding anniversary without a we love you so much call.

Our first his anniversary without him.

Our first Independence Day.

Soon we will have our first day of college. Our first birthdays. Our first Thanksgiving. And our first Christmas. All of them our firsts without this man that we love and adore. And just miss in a way we never knew you could miss someone.

I have texted my Dad a couple of times, knowing that his phone is no longer there. I sent long rambling messages to him telling him how much I love him and miss him and how I am not okay. I guess in a way it’s like visiting his grave and praying. Accept his grave is 1,000s of miles away and I needed to do something. Anything. I just needed to talk to my daddy.

The Myth of Three Days

In the beginning, you get 3 days. 3 days off of work. 3 days of friends and family reaching out. 3 days to grieve.

Except here I am and it’s 2 months since my daddy died, and I’m still grieving. I can’t imagine not grieving. The world is not the same. There is a gaping hole in my soul that only my daddy can fill. Maybe it will shrink some, I don’t know. But not in 3 days. Not in 2 months. Not ever, not totally.

I am sad. I am deep down in the soul of me, in the marrow of my bones, from head to toe sad.

I am weeping and wailing and sobbing at the grocery store because I saw his favorite cookie sad.

I am the world is not the same and how dare you pretend that it is sad. And angry.

I knew that grief causes anger but sometimes I find myself in a rage. Someone ran a red light and killed my daddy just 8 days before he was supposed to step off of a plane and into my arms and I am angry. I am angry that he survived cancer and Covid to be taken so suddenly and needlessly. I am angry that selfish people lied about and denied Covid, making the last year of his life what it was. I am angry that someone rushed or texted or felt so entitled that they just didn’t follow the laws of the road and now my daddy is dead.

But sometimes I think I feel the anger because anger is easier than sad.

This isn’t a normal sad. This is a blue cloud that follows you around and keeps out the light that everyone else is seeing sad. This is a gasp and catch your breathe because you have to remember again and again and again that this primary person in your life, this person that you love and talked to and shared yourself so fully with, is not longer there and you don’t know what to do about it sad.

You Don’t Do It Just Once

One time, a friend told me that when you are LGBTQIA+ you don’t come out just once, but you have to do it again and again and again, because everyone always assumes you are straight and you have to tell every new person you meet that you are not. I don’t think this compares, but I think I understand it a bit better now. Because you don’t just learn that your loved one has died once. You have to learn it again and again and again. Because your brain, it tries to make you forget. Or maybe it’s your heart.

So there you are, thinking I will call my Dad. Or I will buy this for my Dad. Or I will send this to my Dad. And then you have to remember. Again. Especially in the beginning. It’s like you are just hearing for the first time this horrific news again and again and again. You don’t do it just once. It’s like you have to train your brain to understand this new reality. Or maybe it’s your heart.

The Rituals of Goodbye

I did not want to say goodbye to my daddy. I was not ready. He was not ready. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t want to do this. You can’t make me do this.

Except I have no choice.

I have stood in a cemetery and cried. I have seen soldiers honor my father’s military service. I have seen friends and family and we have shared our favorite stories. Our favorite pictures. Our favorite foods. Our favorite songs. Our favorite memories.

I have poured through pictures and organized them, making photo albums and canvas prints to hang on my walls. I have snuggled with a blanket he bought, a stuffed animal that I have carried with me from house to house to house for the past 40 years because he won it for me at a county fair, and slept in his shirt.

I have lit candles. Said prayers. And I have cried. I have cried rivers of tears. I have cried them alone. I have cried them with family. I have cried them in the arms of my husband and in the arms of my children. But still they come and still they burn.

I am not ready to say goodbye.

I have no choice.

And so I grieve. I grieve for a man who helped bring me to life. I grieve for a man who held me in his arms when I was a child. I grieve for a man who pushed me on a swing and held my hand as he took me on walks. I grieve for a man who won me a stuffed pink elephant when I was only 7 years old. I grieve for a man who hurt me. I grieve for a man who taught me about forgiveness and choosing to be a better person. I grieve for a man who taught me how to be a parent as I became a parent. I grieve for a man who showed up when I needed someone to show up.

I grieve for a man who can never show up again because someone was careless and took that away from him. From me. From us both.

So I’ve had so many firsts. But there are so many more to have. And three days is not enough. And everything you think you know about grief is both right and wrong. But none of it matters because when it happens, it is awful. It is complicated. It is painful.

I miss you daddy.

I pick up the phone because I am sad and when I am sad I call my dad. Except then I remember. I can’t call my dad. And that’s the reason I am sad.

Sad Soup Books; AKA, Middle Grade and YA Fiction About Grief

We recently experienced a devastating loss in my family and, as Riley says, we all live in sad soup lately. That’s how she has described the grief that hangs over us each day, like we’re living in a big ole bowl of sad soup. I recently went looking for books for both of my girls to help them navigate the experience of grief, should they be interested in reading those kinds of books. So far they haven’t, which is fine because everyone handles it differently. But should they ever want them, I have some good suggestions to pass along now. So today’s book gallery is on the theme of grief.

Middle Grade Books about Grief

Here are some links to other great posts with lists of Middle Grade books that deal with the topic of grief

YA Fiction Books about Grief

Here are some links to other great book lists about YA fiction that deals with the topic of grief

I was actually in the midst of reading The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley when my father was in his car accident. Before the accident, I kept remarking that it was such a rich and meaningful look at loss and grief. So much so that when my father died, I had a hard time finishing the book because it hit too close to home. I did finish it and I’m glad that I did, but it was hard because it rang so very true to what I was thinking and feeling. So you’ll definitely want to add this to any book lists about grief.

Also, I want you to know that If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson is hands down one of the most beautifully written books ever written and it is a moving and beautiful exploration of grief.

As a parent who is grieving, I have found it difficult to have to navigate my own grief while helping my children, ages 12 and 18, navigate their grief. There are resources to help you help teens with grief.

For me, the biggest key has been allowing my kids to have space to feel their feelings and talk about them. If Riley wants to talk about sad soup, we talk about sad soup. If she doesn’t, then we don’t. We’ve talked a lot about the cycles of grief, that everyone goes through the process in their own time and in their own ways, and we have found ways to remember their beloved grandfather that works for each of them individually. And we take it moment by moment, day by day. And I’m not going to lie, every moment of this has been hard. I have been very thankful that I have the resources to research and read and learn and just . . . be. I hope when you have your sad soup days, you find comfort and healing in the ways that are right and healthy for you. And if that includes reading a book about grief, there are a lot of great ones out there for you.

Sunday Reflections: We Got To Write a New Ending to Our Story, and I Will Forever Be Grateful

Before we begin, I want to tell you that this is a story about parental loss. My father died just a few days ago (at the time that I wrote this) and what I will say is real and raw and if you, like me, are struggling with parental loss, you might want to look away. I respect that.

Karen at 18

This is my first father’s day without a dad and to be honest, I don’t know how to be a daughter in the world without a father. This isn’t even a totally true and accurate thing to say, because I definitely have some other father figures in my life. But this man, my Dad, is the only father who has known me since the moment and I was born and that loss feels significant. I feel a loss and an ache in my soul that can never be healed. My daddy is gone and I miss him.

It turns out, I am a storyteller. Maybe not a good one, but a storyteller none the less. So I want to tell you stories about my father. I want to tell you about what my daddy means to me.

In my 4 years in high school, I did not speak to my father. The reasons for that were valid and protective and difficult, but that’s only part of our story. Because the truth is, we got to write a new story in the years that followed and that story became the story that mattered, for us both. And it’s not the totality of my father’s story, many other people have their own stories and those stories matter too. These are just mine.

I could tell you all the stories about a little girl and a loving dad, and they would all be true. Learning to ride a bike and the first time I watched the movie Grease and my Dad laughed as I skipped around the block singing the songs. But those are just a part of our story. Important, but it’s what happened when I was an adult that really matters, at least to me. And then there were the dark years. And I am so thankful every day that our story did not end there. The fact that it didn’t end there, the fact that we got to write a new ending to our story, has changed everything about me and my life. I will forever be grateful.

Things Fall Apart

After I graduated high school, I moved out on my own and built my life around a boy, because I was 17 and that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. That didn’t work out. My Dad and I had just begun rebuilding a tenuous relationship and that changed everything for me. First, I went and visited him for a week and he was there for me. Then, a few months later, he flew to Texas and rented a mini van and we drove from Texas to California together as I tried to figure out what I was and who I wanted to be.

This would not be the only time he rescued me as an adult. He always managed to find a way to be there when I needed him. Always.

In California, I began a new life as a newly minted 18 year old and I met Timothy Jensen. That man would soon become my husband (well, 4 years later) and the father of my two amazing children. So as you can see, that cross country drive really did change everything about my life. Everything.

The first few years of our relationship were rocky. We weren’t always comfortable around each other. We didn’t know what to say. We didn’t know how to talk about the hurt we had each caused the other. My dad went to therapy with me. Which, if you knew my dad, was an amazingly big deal and truly a gift. And we grew closer. My dad proved to me that people could change and they could grow and relationships could heal. You have no idea what a gift that is.

After a few years Tim and I got engaged, moved to Ohio, and went to college together. We got married somewhere in the midst of that and my Dad came out and walked me down the aisle. Then he and my brother filled my car with a 50 lb. bag of bird seed and to be honest, years later we would still find birdseed in my car. This story isn’t important, it’s just one of my favorites. My Dad was many things, including a fun spirited guy.

Do not move, do not look

Around the time of Tim and I’s one year anniversary, Tim, my dad and I went hiking in the mountains of California. Tim did a very Tim like thing and fell 30 feet down the side of the mountain and it seemed to us both that there was no way he could survive that fall. So my Dad looked at me and yelled, “stay right there, do not move, do not come look.” And then he went to go look and see what had happened with Tim, trying to protect me from whatever was about to happen next. This would not be the last time that my Dad tried to protect me from whatever was going to happen next.

Tim shattered his knee cap, but was otherwise fine. Years later he told me that he was so scared that day that I was going to be a widow after only one year of marriage. He told me how much he worried in that instant about the hurt I would feel, it haunted him.

A Grandpa is Born

A newborn grandpa with a newborn Riley

My Dad was there to meet my first daughter. He was there when I lost a horrific pregnancy, having to terminate a failing pregnancy that was taking my life. And he was there when I gave birth to our second child. Every step of the way he held me emotionally, without judgment or scorn, and listened to me weep, wail, cry, and then celebrate. He walked a very delicate emotional road with me in the valley between the birth of my two children that was dark and complicated by tremendous loss. His love and support carried me through that darkness. He was always carrying me through the darkness and celebrating with me on the other side.

My Dad was a great dad to me in my adult years. But he was also an amazing grandpa. And he loved his grandkids so very much. His heart melted for them. Even though we lived in separate states, he always managed to be there when it mattered. He saw Riley in a karate competition, a musical, and more. He was there when Scout scored her first soccer goal and sat and watched her take a gymnastics class. Being a grandpa brought him to a place of joy, happiness and peace that I hope every human gets to experience.

When he couldn’t be there, we talked on Facetime and I would turn the camera around and he would watch Thing 2 do flips in the background and they always made sure to show him Charm. He claimed to hate that dog but secretly, they loved each other. Charm always snuggled up to him when he visited and you can trust a dog’s opinion of a person.

Mommy, Something’s Wrong with Daddy

A couple of years ago he came to visit and to see Riley in one of her high school musicals. It was my birthday, November 2019. That night, Tim went back to the school to pick Riley up and I got a phone call, “Mommy, something is wrong with Daddy.” And as I ran and jumped in my car, my Dad opened the passenger door and went with me to figure out how to help Tim. That night, he sat with me in the hospital as we waited to find out if Tim had had a stroke. Once again, my Dad was sitting there by my side trying to protect me from whatever was about to come next. As we went from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment to figure out what had happened to Tim, my Dad knew when every appointment was and called when we were leaving to find out what they had said. He loved Tim just as much as he loved me, and you could hear the concern in his voice.

Now, It’s My Turn

During the last few years, my Dad was sick a lot. First he had cancer and then he got Covid. There were several times when we rushed to catch a plane thinking it might be the last time we saw him. And then, miraculously, he survived.

The girls and I were with my Dad when the lockdown began and that was the last time I got to see him healthy and alive. It was my greatest fear that he would get Covid because his body was so battered from the cancer. As I sat there at the beginning of lockdown, looking at this man I loved with all of my heart, I feared it would be the last time that I saw him. I fucking hate that I was right.

Take a Walk with Me Dad

When I moved to Texas, I took a job in which I had an hour commute. I would leave work and call my Dad on the car phone (hands free!) and talk with him. We spent hours each week talking on the phone as I commuted to and from work. And then when lockdown hit, I began working from home and started walking my neighborhood. I would walk and we would talk and we would joke that we were taking a walk together. There is something beautiful about being on the phone with someone and all you can do is talk. My Dad and I talked deeply about our lives, our feelings, and the world around us. I got to know my Dad in ways I never could have imagined. We talked about his years of military service, what he thought about what was happening to our country, and shared our deepest hopes and darkest fears.

My stepmother became sick with Covid on Christmas Eve. My Dad on New Year’s Eve. I cried in the New Year begging God to please let my Dad survive Covid so that I could see him again. Ironically, my Dad did survive Covid after a several months long battle and we were thinking that he would be coming out soon for Riley’s graduation. It seemed so fitting and perfect, that he would survive cancer and Covid to then be reunited with this family that loved him so as he watched this child, his first grandchild, walk in graduation. After 4 long, grueling months where I did not know if I would ever get to see my Dad again, he bought tickets and we started joking about what he would wear to Riley’s graduation.

One week before he was supposed to come out he died from a car accident because the universe is random and often cruel.

Going through Riley’s graduation without my father was one of the hardest moments of my life. He had fought so hard to survive because he was full of pride and joy and love and he wanted to celebrate his first grandchild graduating from high school. And I thought he would be there. He should have been there. It will never be fair that he wasn’t.

For This New Ending, I am Thankful . . .

But there is a part of me that can’t be bitter because my Dad and I, we got to write a new ending to our story. In the last 30 years he and I became very close. That’s the part that hurts the most, I don’t know who I’m going to call anymore. I don’t know who is going to sit beside me and protect me from whatever is about to come next. Who is going to hold my hand when Tim does the next Tim like thing. Who is going to take a walk with me. Who is going to love my children the way that this man did.

My Dad, making Thing 2 laugh

I don’t know how to do what comes next. I am a daughter in the world without a father and that loss feels like a gaping chasm inside my soul. I feel blessed beyond measure that we got to write a new ending to our story, but I wasn’t ready for it to end. I still need him to hold my hand and answer the phone and sit with me and protect me from whatever is about to happen next. I need him to drive home with me and walk this neighborhood with me and share his soul with me. But now there is no one to sit with me and protect me from whatever this next is, not in the way a father can. And what happens when that next is the loss of your father . . .

My Dad had long hair and rode motorcycles. He was a Vet. He gardened and made pie from scratch with the berries he grew in his garden. He loved fiercely. Was extremely ethical. And he taught me that we all contain multitudes and that you should not judge a person by their outward appearance and that people are struggling with things you may never know. He taught me you could choose to be better, to do better, and to heal. He taught me that sometimes, if you are lucky, you get a happy ending. I’m thankful for my happy ending.

If you are reading this, I thank you. I have just come back from the memorial service of my Dad and have just survived my first Father’s day without being able to call him on the phone and wish him a happy day. I am thankful every day for the man that he became. For the family that he built for us. For the grandfather that he was to my two beautiful daughters. For the father in law he was to my amazing if not overly accident prone husband. I’m so sad every day that he is dead, but I am so proud that he died a good man, a loved man, and a loving man. I am so proud that I got to call him Dad. I will never not miss him.

If I was going to tell teenage Karen anything, it would be this: sometimes, when you’re lucky, you get to write a new ending to your story.

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.