Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Things I Never Learned in Library School: Living, and Dying, in a Pandemic

There’s been a lot written about public and school libraries adjusting to these times. You can find articles about curbside service and virtual programming. You can find intense debates about whether or not libraries should be open for browsing. You can find articles that talk about the trials and tribulations of trying to serve the public while also trying to keep the public, and staff, safe during a deadly global pandemic. This isn’t even the first Things I Never Learned in Library School post I’ve written about the pandemic.

But nothing prepared me for the next step: when one of your current or former teens dies or is dying from Covid-19.

I have been doing this long enough that a lot of the teens that I have served are now adults. Many of them are now married and have children of their own. I’ve been doing this for 28 years which means that some of my teens are now in their 40s, like me. I did the math, and this appears to be correct. (I started working with teens in libraries at the age of 20, so I was barely older than some of my first teens.)

This past weekend I learned that one of my former teens has been fighting the Covid virus for more than 20 days and is not expected to survive. When I talked about my feelings about this last night on Twitter, another teen librarian shared that one of their former teens had also died of Covid over the weekend. The teens we helped raise are dying from a disease that many people still insist is just a hoax.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not the first time one of my current or former teens have died. I’ve talked a lot here at TLT about the emotional impact of serving youth and then having them pass away. It’s devastating. It stays with you. But I haven’t seen a lot of discussion about this in terms of the pandemic and I’m here to tell you it’s devastating on a deeper level. It hurts at the very core and adds to the already taxing emotional load of trying to live and work in a deadly global pandemic that is being largely mishandled by people in leadership at every level.

There are currently between 2,500 and 3,000 people dying daily in the United States from Covid-19. Those that do survive often have long term health and financial impacts. 25 million people are now out of work. And our childhood hunger rate, which had gone up to 1 in 8, is now back down to 1 in 5. Here in Texas, we have record breaking lines for our food banks.

Everyone in the United States and around the world is going to have life long repercussions from living through this pandemic, if they are lucky enough to indeed live through it. We are not okay.

I’m sorry I don’t have a better post for you today. Today, I just want to acknowledge our losses. And tell our teens, both current and former, once again that I’m sorry we keep failing them. I don’t know how we heal from this, but if you work in libraries you’re going to want to do a lot of research on trauma informed librarianship.

Stay healthy and safe everyone.

Take 5: Five of the Best YA Books I’ve Read in 2020

Thankfully, 2020 is coming to an end. I can not wait for this trash fire of a year to be over! Every Monday in December I will share with you 5 of my favorite MG and YA books for 2020, which will give us a total list of Top 20 Books for 2020. It’s not a ranked order list or countdown, just a general list of books that I loved and think teens will love as well. These aren’t all the books that I read this year, but I am keeping the list to books that were published in 2020.

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publisher’s Book Description: Korey Fields is dead.

When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.

Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.

Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?

All signs point to Enchanted.

Karen’s Thoughts: Tiffany Jackson is one of the best authors out there today writing thrillers for teens, hands down. This book is obviously inspired by the R. Kelly trials, giving it that added layer of realism. It’s such a hard read because there is so much truth in it. Grown highlights how we objectify female bodies, particularly Black female bodies, and how dismissive we are of sexual violence committed against young girls. Grown also clearly illustrates how grooming takes place. And in a time where corruption seems rampant, Grown clearly illustrates how many people know and look away at this type of abuse because of the amount of money someone is making. It’s a seeringly heartwrenching but honest look at real world problems. Well written and honest, but so very hard to read. Read it any way.

Be Not Far from Me by Mindy McGinnis

Publisher’s Book Description: The world is not tame.

Ashley knows this truth deep in her bones, more at home with trees overhead than a roof. So when she goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends for a night of partying, the falling dark and creaking trees are second nature to her. But people are not tame either. And when Ashley catches her boyfriend with another girl, drunken rage sends her running into the night, stopped only by a nasty fall into a ravine. Morning brings the realization that she’s alone – and far off trail. Lost in undisturbed forest and with nothing but the clothes on her back, Ashley must figure out how to survive despite the red streak of infection creeping up her leg.

Karen’s Thoughts: This book makes my list because it has a truly badass female main character who survives days in the wilderness while on her freaking period. It’s like Hatchett, but cooler and updated. Plus, did I mention she talks candidly about being on her period? And as always, Mindy McGinnis gives voice to poor rural teens like the very teens she used to work with in her schools.

Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone

Publisher’s Book Description: In this debut middle-grade girl-power friendship story, an eighth grader starts a podcast to protest the unfair dress code enforcement at her middle school and sparks a rebellion.

Molly Frost is FED UP…

Because Olivia was yelled at for wearing a tank top when she had to keep her sweatshirt wrapped around her waist.

Because Liza got dress coded and Molly didn’t, even though they were wearing the exact same outfit.

Because when Jessica was pulled over by the principal and missed a math quiz, her teacher gave her an F.

Because it’s impossible to find shorts that are longer than her fingertips.

Because girls’ bodies are not a distraction.

Because middle school is hard enough.

And so Molly starts a podcast where girls can tell their stories, and soon her small rebellion swells into a revolution. Because now the girls are standing up for what’s right, and they’re not backing down.

Karen’s Thoughts: From the moment you find out that one of our main characters got dress coded because she had a sweatshirt wrapped around her waist and her tank top exposed, any former pre-teen girl will know exactly what happened. This is an empowering and moving story about a group of girls who come together to fight an unjust dress code and stand up for a friend who was simply trying to keep the fact that she had just started her period a secret. It’s fun, powerful, and so incredibly relatable.

Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles

Publisher’s Book Description: Del has had a crush on Kiera Westing since kindergarten. And now, during their junior year, she’s finally available. So when Kiera volunteers for an opportunity at their church, Del’s right behind her. Though he quickly realizes he’s inadvertently signed up for a Purity Pledge.

His dad thinks his wires are crossed, and his best friend, Qwan, doesn’t believe any girl is worth the long game. But Del’s not about to lose his dream girl, and that’s where fellow pledger Jameer comes in. He can put in the good word. In exchange, Del just has to get answers to the Pledgers’ questions…about sex ed.

With other boys circling Kiera like sharks, Del needs to make his move fast. But as he plots and plans, he neglects to ask the most important question: What does Kiera want? He can’t think about that too much, though, because once he gets the girl, it’ll all sort itself out. Right?

Karen’s Thoughts: I’m going all the way back to the beginning of the year for this one. This was a great story that stars a Black male lead and explores crushes, faith and family. I appreciated the thoughtful exploration of this young man’s journey and also really appreciated how it explores his faith.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Publisher’s Book Description: A Cinderella story with deadly stakes and thrilling twists, perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying and Knives Out.

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.

Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

Karen’s Thoughts: This book was a fun breath of fresh air in a year that really needed exactly that. Jennifer Lynne Barnes almost never fails and I loved how this book was a combination of The Westing Game meets One of Us is Lying. It was a joyful romp through a mystery and exactly what I needed for 2020.

So here are 5 of my Top 20 books for 2020. I’ll share a new five with you every Monday for the month of December. What books are on your list?

Morgan’s Mumbles: Top 10 Anime, by Teen Contributor Morgan Randall

Here is a compilation of my top ten anime, that I would strongly recommend. These vary in genre and the reasons why I like them but I would love to tell you all about them!

Death Note

This is the first anime I watched all the way through so it holds a special place in my heart, it takes place in Japan where a Death Note falls to Earth and is found by Light Yagami one of the smartest kids in Japan. Light begins to discover the powers of the Death Note, as he begins to “cleanse” the world of evil. The story follows him, along with the detective forces trying to figure out who this mysterious killer is. I strongly recommend this if you enjoy shows that are darker, but also have really layered characters.

Soul Eater

This is probably my personal favorite, but it does have a unique style that can be off-putting to some. This story has a unique magic system as it follows pairs of students training at Death Weapon Meister Academy. These pairs include a Meister, someone who trains and wields a weapon, and a Weapon, a student who can transform into a weapon. It is the Meister’s goal to collect enough evil souls in order to have their Weapons become strong enough to become one of Death’s weapons. When, not just the DWMA but also, the world is being threatened it is up to the students and faculty to take things into their own hands.

Seven Deadly Sins

This anime is high fantasy and follows Princess Elizabeth as she tries to reunite an ex-group of Holy Knights titled “The Seven Deadly Sins”, who are wanted for their crimes. It follows her, and The Sins (as she finds them) and their adventures as they try to figure out what is happening in the Kingdom of Liones and discovering what is happening within the Holy Knights and their manipulation of the kingdom.

The Promised Neverland

I recently finished the first season, the second season is coming out in January and I am super excited about it! This show is dark too, however, it has its light moments. This show discusses the importance of family, as it follows a group of orphans who are trying to escape their “house” after discovering the dark truth of the home.

Blue Exorcist

This show follows a boy named Rin (and his brother Yukio) who recently discovered they are the sons of Satan, Rin inherited his father’s powers and is now trying to discover how to use them while also training to become the most powerful exorcist. It follows them and their classmates as they train and fight against demons, while training to become strong enough to take down Satan.

Death Parade

Death Parade is a rather short show that introduces some interesting characters and concepts. Most episodes are stand-alone but help with creating the world-building that is this place called “Quindecim Bar” where souls go after their death to determine the fate of their souls.

Hunter x Hunter

I am still in the process of watching this show, I recently finished the third arch and I love the levels of depth to the characters. The magic system is very unique and makes the world extremely immersive. The show follows Gon and his newfound friends, through their Hunter test and then on into their travels as they begin their new lives.

The K Project

This isn’t specifically just a show, it is broken into multiple parts. The first season: K, followed by the movie: K: Missing King, followed by season two: K: Missing Kings, and lastly K: Seven Stories. I am currently watching K: Missing King, and this show is one that I must admit was very off-putting at first. I was confused and unsure about what was going on, and honestly, I still am unsure about the limits of their magic system but I think that is what is interesting. The story changes and evolves, when they commit to something they stick to it and carry it throughout the story. It follows Yashiro, a young boy who was accused of murder, who is trying to clear his name to the kings and their clansmen.

The Devil is a Part-Timer

This show follows Satan who has been seeking to conquer Ente Isla, with his only major threat being the Hero Emilia. Satan, Alciel (one of his high-ranking demons), and Emilia all end up falling through a portal bringing them into the mortal world. It follows them trying to navigate the world.


I have only completed the first season of this show, and it is very unique as it follows Yumeko a new student at Hyakkaou Private Academy, a school where gambling determines status. It follows her and other students as they try to achieve higher ranks and discover their way around.

Morgan RandallTeen Contributor

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

Cindy Crushes Programming: 5 More Virtual Programs You Can Do Right Now

Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts is here today with another roundup of virtual programming ideas for libraries. You can find all of her posts about virtual programming by following this tag.

Living History Project

Oak Park Library in IL  is working on a Living History project where they are learning critical research skills and  learning about social movements in the United States. Teens also get public speaking skills. This is a great  program for teens who are interested in learning more about the work around them and their place in it.

Virtual Yoga and Stress Relief

A lot of libraries are doing video yoga programs or stress relief exercise. This is one program where you have to hire people who know what they are doing. You can use an outside presenter. You can find an example here or by doing a quick Google search of virtual yoga for teens.

Virtual Chess

Belvedere Tiburon Library in Tiburon, CA is using chess.com to run their chess club. Chess.com allows you to create tournaments. This program may be particularly popular given the recent popularity of The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix.

Career Programs

This is one program where you can get people from your community to help. You can interview them and let teens ask questions about their careers. The Carrol Center for the Blind did this and they had speakers from all different fields of music and had them talk about their careers. They got musicians who were visually impaired which made it even more valuable. The city of Austin hosted a Virtual Career Expo for teens and young adults which is also a great resource.

Fandom Club

A zoom meeting where you can have the teens meet to talk about their favorite fandom. They can talk about their favorite characters or relationships aka ships. You can also have them practice writing fan fiction. This is just a low stress program for teens. You can also do virtual fandom trivia nights, the Montgomery County Public Libraries are doing this if you would like to learn more.

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.

Take 5: Resources You Should Know

Today I am sharing with you a list of 5 resources that I’m finding helpful, inspiring, or just plain fun. From book lists to science mavens, these are some great resources that you’ll want to consult if they are new to you. Share some of your favorite resources with us in the comments.

Afoma Umesi Blog

This blog is a treasure trove of booklists for Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. If you find yourself doing collection development or reader’s advisory, you’ll want to check this website out regularly. The lists are divided into fun categories like siblings and has a solid focus on diversity and inclusion. Afoma Umesi is a Black woman who has dedicated her life to reading and has a medical degree. I have found these lists to be invaluable and I appreciate the work she does to create them.

Raven the Science Maven

“Raven Baxter, also known as Raven the Science Maven, is an internationally acclaimed science communicator and molecular biologist who works to progress the state of science culture by creating spaces that are inclusive, educational, and real.” Raven is fun and educational, combining science with music and cultural awareness and relevance to help bring more kids into STEM education. You’ll definitely want to check out her videos and share them.

2021 YA Releases at Bookshop

Rec it Rachel has been putting together yearly YA release databases for a couple of years now. Each year the format changes just a bit, but this is the second year at Tumblr. You can also buy the books through Bookshop, which supports Indie Bookstores, who definitely need our help during the pandemic.


Here’s a website dedicated to highlighting middle grade and young adult authors that have debut novels in the year 2021. It can be hard for debut authors to get on the radar and this website will help you find them.

Goodreads list of YA Novels of 2021

I am not a personal user of Goodreads, but I do find their yearly roundup of new YA releases in list form to be quite helpful. They also provide a pretty comprehensive list broken down by each month. It’s a crowd sourced site so there are often errors, which people try to keep fixed, so it’s not a perfect resource but again, a useful one. The 2021 list already has more than 600 new YA books listed.

I hope that you find something new here, or a new way of looking at what we do. If you have a source to share, please drop us a comment.

Teaching RevolTeens How to Go Farther – Together , by Teen Librarian Christine Lively

From the time teens are born, their families and then their teachers celebrate, measure, and mark their lives based on what they can do “all by themselves.” Achievements are more important when they’re accomplished alone. The message is, “It’s only worth celebrating when you’ve done it without any help.”

We need to change the way we measure achievement. Finding and accepting help is something that RevolTeens do all the time in their quest to change the world. They don’t insist on doing it alone. Asking for help should be celebrated and lauded.

So many teens hit a brick wall at some point. Some of the crises they will face may center on academics, relationships, health, and opportunities. Tackling problems in any of these areas, and especially in a crisis, requires outside help. However, young people who have been conditioned to believe they should be able to tackle everything “all by themselves” often view asking for help as a sign of weakness and a cause for shame. Those teens suffer pain, and embarrassment that could largely be avoided. We need to start teaching kids, from a young age, to ask for help and that accomplishments achieved with outside help, are often life’s greatest wins. Building communities of support is often the difference between a teen thriving or struggling.

Mental health issues plague so many of us at some point in our lives. I am a young adult life coach and high school librarian. I’ve worked in middle and high schools for over a decade. I have three kids of my own who are 23, 20, and 17 years old, and one thing I know is that every kid I’ve worked with has needed to ask for help. Not all of them have asked and they suffer as a result. Kids are told that mental health problems can be life threatening and they’re instructed to keep an eye out for their own struggles and those of their friends. They’re given wonderful and well meaning information about the resources available – school counselors, therapists, and life coaches. They know all this, but they also have been told that they can do anything they set their minds to “all by themselves” dozens, if not hundreds of times since they were babies. As a result, asking for help sounds a lot like failure.

Teens who question the world around them and who challenge authority need allies and community around them. Those who recruit people to help them talk through ideas learn more about the world they’re questioning, and to help with their work will go farther and accomplish more together. Working together to achieve a goal is a critical skill that teens should be able to practice more often. This column has profiled dozens of RevolTeens who have been successful when they ask for help and work with their communities. Whether organizing marches to demand that Black Lives Matter, or working with friends to deliver groceries to elderly neighbors, or curating art exhibits to ensure greater diversity, the teens who successfully change the world do so with help from many others.

The COVID pandemic is making isolation a way of life for teens. According to the New York Times “Since the start of the pandemic, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has heard from many young adults experiencing anxiety and depression, which the organization attributes partly to social isolation. The group has cautioned parents and teachers to look for warning signs, including severe risk-taking behavior, significant weight loss, excessive use of drugs or alcohol and drastic changes in mood.” Now, more than ever, teens need to know that the support and help they need is still out there for them, even though they don’t see the helpers in their isolation.

Any successful social movement, campaign, or revolutionary change happens when people work together to help each other. RevolTeens need to be reminded that they don’t have to change their world alone. There are people who are ready to help them achieve their dreams from school counselors, coaches, teachers, family, and even those people who read about their accomplishments or learn about them through social media.

Life after school as an adult requires constant asking for help. We have to find help to get jobs, to find a place to live, and to pay our taxes often. Knowing how to ask for help, to work with others, and to not take the world on alone are skills we need to teach the teens in our lives as we support their learning and growing.

Savanna Williams is a teen in Kansas City who has asked for help from many people which has enabled her to donate her gorgeous paintings to help children and adults who are struggling. Savanna has founded her own nonprofit organization called Angel Hands Art Foundation which has a team to help Savanna successfully raise money and make donations. This RevolTeen is making a difference, but not all by herself.

Divya K. Chhabra, MD, a psychiatrist, activist, and writer in New York City, gave excellent advice to young activists in Teen Vogue. She advises, rest, reflection, and leaning on support to get you through a long fight for justice. “This may mean different people for different kinds of support. If you have a friend who makes you laugh, find joy in that connection. Find the friend who reliably understands your truth so you can commiserate together. Find the therapist who understands that therapy doesn’t start with a blank slate. It’s OK to choose your battles and to decide when something isn’t working for you.” Teens will need different kinds of support fron different people. If we’re teaching then to ask for and seek out help when they need it, we’ll be helping them take on big challenges, and helping to preserve their mental health.   

Asking for help, and accomplishing things with help must be celebrated in our kids – from the youngest ages. Yes, individual accomplishments are worth celebrating, but relying on others and accomplishing tasks together should be lauded even more loudly. If asking for help when they’re stuck on homework, a project, or helping around the house is acknowledged as an act of strength, courage, and intelligence, our kids will gain more experience and pride in moments when they realize they can’t do something alone.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. 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.

Have Even More Books, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Love in English by Maria E. Andreu

A fresh, compulsively readable novel about finding your voice—and your heart—in any language.

Sixteen-year-old Ana has just moved to New Jersey from Argentina for her Junior year of high school. She’s a poet and a lover of language—except that now, she can barely understand what’s going on around her, let alone find the words to express how she feels in the language she’s expected to speak.

All Ana wants to do is go home—until she meets Harrison, the very cute, very American boy in her math class. And then there’s her new friend Neo, the Greek boy she’s partnered up with in ESL class, who she bonds with over the 80s teen movies they are assigned to watch for class (but later keep watching together for fun), and Altagracia, her artistic and Instagram-fabulous friend, who thankfully is fluent in Spanish and able to help her settle into American high school.

But is it possible that she’s becoming too American—as her father accuses—and what does it mean when her feelings for Harrison and Neo start to change? Ana will spend her year learning that the rules of English may be confounding, but there are no rules when it comes to love.

With playful and poetic breakouts exploring the idiosyncrasies of the English language, Love in English tells a story that is simultaneously charming and romantic, while articulating a deeper story about what it means to become “American.”

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft

A gorgeously gothic, deeply romantic YA debut fantasy about two enemies trapped inside a crumbling mansion, with no escape from the monsters within.

Honor your oath, destroy your country.

Wren Southerland is the most talented healer in the Queen’s Guard, but her reckless actions have repeatedly put her on thin ice with her superiors. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate to cure his servant from a mysterious disease, she seizes the chance to prove herself.

When she arrives at Colwick Hall, Wren realizes that nothing is what it seems. Particularly when she discovers her patient is actually Hal Cavendish, the sworn enemy of her kingdom.

As the snowy mountains make it impossible to leave the estate, Wren and Hal grow closer as they uncover a sinister plot that could destroy everything they hold dear. But choosing love could doom both their kingdoms.

Allison Saft’s Down Comes the Night is a snow-drenched, gothic, romantic fantasy that keeps you racing through the pages long into the night

Yolk by Mary E.K. Choi

Jayne Baek is barely getting by. She shuffles through fashion school, saddled with a deadbeat boyfriend, clout-chasing friends, and a wretched eating disorder that she’s not fully ready to confront. But that’s New York City, right? At least she isn’t in Texas anymore, and is finally living in a city that feels right for her.

On the other hand, her sister June is dazzlingly rich with a high-flying finance job and a massive apartment. Unlike Jayne, June has never struggled a day in her life. Until she’s diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Suddenly, these estranged sisters who have nothing in common are living together. Because sisterly obligations are kind of important when one of you is dying.

When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert

From award-winning author Kelly Loy Gilbert comes a powerful, achingly romantic drama about the secrets we keep, from each other and from ourselves, perfect for fans of Permanent Record and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.

All Beth wants is for her tight-knit circle of friends—Grace Nakamura, Brandon Lin, Sunny Chen, and Jason Tsou—to stay together. With her family splintered and her future a question mark, these friends are all she has—even if she sometimes wonders if she truly fits in with them. Besides, she’s certain she’ll never be able to tell Jason how she really feels about him, so friendship will have to be enough.

Then Beth witnesses a private act of violence in Jason’s home, and the whole group is shaken. Beth and her friends make a pact to do whatever it takes to protect Jason, no matter the sacrifice. But when even their fierce loyalty isn’t enough to stop Jason from making a life-altering choice, Beth must decide how far she’s willing to go for him—and how much of herself she’s willing to give up.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Debut author Angeline Boulley crafts a groundbreaking YA thriller about a Native teen who must root out the corruption in her community, for readers of Angie Thomas and Tommy Orange.

As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother.

The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, but secretly pursues her own investigation, tracking down the criminals with her knowledge of chemistry and traditional medicine. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home.

Now, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

Debut author Angeline Boulley is a Member of Chippewa Tribe

All descriptions come from the publisher

Riley, Teen Reviewer

I am a senior in high school and an avid reader. I have been reviewing books on this blog since 2012. I love musical theatre and listen to show tunes a lot. I also love murder books (both fiction and nonfiction), and want to go to college to be a forensic scientist after high school. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, so I just put that hobby to good use for my mom.

The Death Penalty in YA Lit

I recently listened to the outstanding debut titled This is My America by Kim Johnson on audio. In this moving YA novel, a young girl writes to a local organization every week asking them to help her father who sits on death row knowing that he is innocent. It’s a moving testament to a daughter’s love in a racist system that convicts Black men at rates far more frequently and in ways far more severe then it does white men. It’s moving, timely, relevant and startling real. You will be moved as you read this compelling debut.

As I listened to this book it was announced that Attorney General Bill Barr had ordered the execution of three federal inmates in the coming days. It was a stark juxtaposition and reminder that real life issues often present themselves in timely ways in the literature our young people are reading. But it also got me thinking, what other YA books address the topic of the death penalty? Not just incarceration, but the death penalty.

Told in letters, Bryan Bliss tackled this topic in the 2018 YA book titled We’ll Fly Away. In this moving piece, an inmate on death row tells the story of how exactly it is he landed there. Bliss has a heart for teens and writes from a place of compassion.

In 2017, Lamar Giles tackled the topic in his Las Vegas set YA novel Overturned. In Overturned, teen Nicki Tate’s dad is suddenly freed from death row when new evidence comes to light, but the man who comes back to her is not the same man that went into the prison. What follows is a type of noir mystery that tackled the seedy underbelly of corruption in Las Vegas and explores the lengths that people will go through to keep their darkest secrets.

And I would be remiss to talk about this topic in YA lit without mentioning the masterpiece that is Monster by Walter Dean Myers. Here we meet Steve, an aspiring filmmaker, still a teen, who becomes the main suspect in a robbery gone bad that results in death. Because of the crime, capital punishment is on the table. In a court room drama presented as a movie script, we see the trial through Steve’s eyes as he comes to realize that the world seems him as a monster, and not the boy that he is. This book is being adapted to film and will soon be available on Netflix I believe.

And that’s about it. If you go beyond fiction, you’ll find some startling nonfiction on the topic. Among them is No Choirboy: Murder, Violence and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin. I had no idea that just as recently as 2005 the United States was 1 of 8 countries that punished youth under the age of 18 to execution.

There are of course a wide variety of nonfiction titles on this topic for your teen nonfiction collection as it’s a topic covered in a lot of those current controversy series books that kids use for school reports. And it is still a very relevant and timely topic, as the news keeps reminding us. I recommend all of the fiction books recommended in this post to round out your collection and be thoughtful, moving, compassionate companions to those thinking about this topic.

Publisher’s Book Description for This is My America by Kim Johnson

ear Martin meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting YA novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.

Publisher’s Description for We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss

Uniquely told through letters from death row and third-person narrative, Bryan Bliss’s hard-hitting third novel expertly unravels the string of events that landed a teenager in jail. Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.

But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling. Tense and emotional, this heartbreaking novel explores family, abuse, sex, love, friendship, and the lengths a person will go to protect the people they love. For fans of NPR’s Serial podcast, Jason Reynolds, and Matt de la Peña.

Overturned by Lamar Giles

Nikki Tate is infamous, even by Las Vegas standards. Her dad is sitting on death row, convicted of killing his best friend in a gambling dispute turned ugly. And for five years, he’s maintained his innocence. But Nikki wants no part of that. She’s been working on Operation Escape Vegas: playing in illegal card games so she can save up enough money to get out come graduation day.

Then her dad’s murder conviction is overturned. The new evidence seems to come out of nowhere and Nikki’s life becomes a mess when he’s released from prison. Because the dad who comes home is not the dad she remembers. And he’s desperately obsessed with finding out who framed him—and why.

As her dad digs into the seedy underbelly of Vegas, the past threatens everything and Nikki is drawn into his deadly hunt for the truth. But in the city of sin, some sinners will do anything to keep their secrets, and Nikki soon finds herself playing for the biggest gamble ever—her life.

Publisher’s Description of Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I’ll call it what the lady who is the prosecutor called me. Monster.

Fade In: Interior Court. A guard sits at a desk behind Steve. Kathy O’Brien, Steve’s lawyer, is all business as she talks to Steve.

Let me make sure you understand what’s going on. Both you and this king character are on trial for felony murder. Felony Murder is as serious as it gets. . . . When you’re in court, you sit there and pay attetion. You let the jury know that you think the case is a serious as they do. . . .

You think we’re going to win ?

O’Brien (seriously)
It probably depends on what you mean by “win.”

Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for murder. A Harlem drugstore owner was shot and killed in his store, and the word is that Steve served as the lookout.

Guilty or innocent, Steve becomes a pawn in the hands of “the system,” cluttered with cynical authority figures and unscrupulous inmates, who will turn in anyone to shorten their own sentences. For the first time, Steve is forced to think about who he is as he faces prison, where he may spend all the tomorrows of his life.

As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, Steve, an amateur filmmaker, decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies. He writes it all down, scene by scene, the story of how his whole life was turned around in an instant. But despite his efforts, reality is blurred and his vision obscured until he can no longer tell who he is or what is the truth. This compelling novel is Walter Dean Myers’s writing at its best.

Sunday Reflections: We Promised Them Democracy

It is now 19 days since the 2020 presidential election here in the United States of America. For many teens, this was their first chance to vote, and vote they did. By November 1st, more than 10 million youth in Gen Z and Millenials had already voted. And those youth voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden (with a few exceptions among key demographic groups like white men and women).

And although there is a lot to be discussed about this data, it’s what happens next that I want to talk about. You see, I am a person who told teens everywhere that they should vote and that their vote was their voice and it mattered because we are a democracy and that is part of what makes America, well, America. But there are a lot of people working hard to discount their votes and make people like me into liars.

Here we are 19 days later and there have been 33 court cases attempting to throw out a lot of people’s votes. In particular, the incumbent president and his party seem to be attempting to throw out the vote in areas that voted specifically in high numbers for Joe Biden. He is trying to nullify the votes of over 10 million young voters because they weren’t for him.

But it’s not just our youth, our Black citizens are having their votes challenged and cast aside as well. In Michigan, the incumbent president is seeking to throw out the vote because of the city of Detroit, which has an overwhelmingly Black population. He is also challenging specifically two counties in Wisconsin and those counties are, as you probably can figure, overwhelmingly Black as well. Racism is alive and well in America, as we have seen in the rising rates of violent hate crimes in the United States over the last four years. Racism and white nationalism have gotten so bad that the American Medical Association has declared it a public health crisis.

It’s 19 days later and we’ve seen the incumbent president call up representatives in Michigan and invite them to the White House to discuss the Michigan vote. Pictures circulated online of these representatives downing expensive champagne at the Trump Hotel. Michigan is now requesting to delay certifying their vote by 2 weeks. It turns out that the will of the Michigan voters, especially the Black voters, may be thrown out and the Michigan GOP is willing to let democracy burn while they hold the match in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other.

Meanwhile over in Georgia the hard work of grassroots organizers like Stacey Abrahms meant that Georgia voted Blue for the first time in decades. Republican leaders in Georgia accused Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of trying to ask them to throw out votes. It’s important to note that these are Republicans, strongly in favor of Trump, who appear to be standing up for democracy. But as I write this protests are happening and a third recount has been asked for. This recount will come, once, again, at the expense of Georgia tax payers who like the rest of America are struggling financially in the midst of a deadly global pandemic. As I write this, more than 250,000 Americans have died and others will face life long health complications we are just starting to learn about.

In Pennsylvania, there is an attempt to throw out ballots and challenge them there as well. The case was dismissed by the judge as having no evidence. As I write this there is discussion that the incumbent president and his team will take this challenge all the way to the Supreme Court. So if this happens then the fate of democracy will be left in the hands of 9 people, 3 of whom were appointed by the incumbent president in the past 4 years. One of whom was appointed just weeks before the presidential election despite the fact that the Senate wouldn’t even consider a Supreme Court judge 8 months before the 2016 election because it was “improper”. So the fate of democracy rests in the hands of 9 people.

9 people may ultimately get to decide who will be the president of the united states moving forward in 2021. There are 331 million people living in the United States.

All of this is playing out very publicly. The incumbent president keeps tweeting about it. New media and social media platforms have risen up to share these claims of rampant voter fraud that have not been proved by any evidence whatsoever. And a generation of teens born and raised with devices in their hands can see it all happening in real time.

And our teens can see it all happening. And they are dismayed. They feel betrayed by people like you and I who told them that democracy mattered. And they are struggling mental health wise with the dual issues of living in a deadly global pandemic and being a part of one of the most contentious elections in my lifetime. They look at us and think, you sold me a bill of goods and it has broken me. And I’m not sure they are going to trust us, the adults in the room, for a very long time.

I’ve been carrying around my own anxiety about this election and what looks like the demise of democracy and an overthrow of the will of the people. But what really haunts me late at night is the look of betrayal and terror I see in the teens that I told to go out and vote because their vote was their voice and that their voice mattered. Whichever candidate those teens voted for, the adults in the room are making it hard for them to trust the process with the way they are handling the outcome. And if no one trusts the process, in which members of both parties and outside observers have called one of the most secure elections in our country’s history, then how does democracy continue.

I’m especially angry and heartbroken to see our country and those in charge of it sending yet another message to our teens of color, our Black teens in particular, that their voice doesn’t matter and their votes shouldn’t count. Racism is alive and well in America and it is indeed a public health crisis.

We promised each generation of kids a democracy, I hope we will honor our promise. I can’t imagine what will happen if we don’t to entire generations of our youngest and most vulnerable youth. We shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice our democracy or our youth so that a few key players can maintain wealth and power. In the end, nobody will win.

Cindy Crushes Programming: How to Make a Digital Escape Room, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

At my library we have found one of the easiest ways to attract people to  programs is by creating a virtual escape room. They can be used any time of day and are fun to make. I like doing them with different fandoms. I have created two that are published so far one about Animal Crossing and one about Camp Half-Blood (Percy Jackson). My co-worker Faith Healy created two as well. She created an original haunted house one that has been used almost 200 times. She also just released a Mandorlian one in honor of the new season.

Start the Animal Crossing Escape Room

Start the Camp Half Blood Escape Room

Start the Haunted House Escape Room

Start the Mandalorian Escape Room

  1. Pick your theme and Do Research: Right now I am editing my Hunger Games escape room that is going to be released at the library next week. I rewatched the movies to prepare to write it. I also did research while writing it. I have different terrains. So I loved information about the terrains that could be useful. I learned about swamp gas and used it as a deadly way to kill the players.
  2. Write the Story: I used a Google document to write it out. I wrote the escape room essentially as a choose your own adventure story. Having the Google document makes it easier to break everything into sections which makes it easier to transfer the information onto a Google form on which the escape room is formatted and released on. Do not make too many choices in your questions. You might think  it will be fun to have lots of choices but really it makes everything more confusing. Faith and I found out you want to try to keep it under eighty sections in the end because it takes a long time to load if it is overloaded. My Animal Crossing one was 18 pages and now my Hunger Games one is 31. It was easier for the Animal Crossing one to load everything. I recommend you use your strengths writing if you are someone who likes outlines then use and outline. I am someone who finds the paths along the way when writing. I do not know what is going to happen when i write which is a surprise to me. I think escape rooms work well if you have experience writing fan-fiction.
  3. Edit the Story: You need to edit the story. I recommend waiting a couple days before editing so your eyes are fresh. Then have your co-workers help edit. I have one of the children’s librarians, Terri Purcell help me edit everything. She is always able to help me make projects better. I also have the other teen librarians help me.  I know not everyone has other teen librarians but I think children’s librarians are super awesome to help. Also the circulation staff can be a great help.
  4. Create the Google Form: I copy and paste everything in a Google form. I make sure all the questions are multiple choice and also go on  to the section based on the answer. Here is a very useful video on how to use the google form. Make sure that all the endings you have a submit button that way you can keep track of your numbers for statistics. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLzbPGF4TzY
  5. Having Someone Test it: You will need your staff to help test the escape room. You have to make sure all the answers to the questions are connected to the right answers. This makes the game playable. I also check to see if after they have used it it submit and logs their choices properly.
  6. Release: We have release dates. We put them on all of our social media pages and I shared them to facebook groups and also the schools. 

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.