Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Have Some April and May YA Books, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Teen Contributor Riley Jensen is here today to round up some upcoming YA books coming out in April and May of 2021. Each book has the publisher’s description.

Between the Bliss and Me by Lizzy Mason

When eighteen-year-old Sydney Holman announces that she has decided to attend NYU, her overprotective mom is devastated. Her decision means she will be living in the Big City instead of commuting to nearby Rutgers like her mom had hoped. It also means she’ll be close to off-limits but dreamy Grayson—a guitar prodigy who is going to Juilliard in the fall and very much isn’t single.

But while she dreams of her new life, Sydney discovers a world-changing truth about her father, who left when she was little due to a drug addiction—that he has schizophrenia and is currently living on the streets of New York City. She seizes the opportunity to get to know him, to understand who he is and learn what may lie in store for her if she, too, is diagnosed.

Even as she continues to fall for Grayson, Sydney is faced with a difficult decision: Should she stay close to home so her mom can watch over her, or follow the desire to take risks and discover her true self?

Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve

Dean Foster knows he’s a trans guy. He’s watched enough YouTube videos and done enough questioning to be sure. But everyone at his high school thinks he’s a lesbian—including his girlfriend Zoe, and his theater director, who just cast him as a “nontraditional” Romeo. He wonders if maybe it would be easier to wait until college to come out. But as he plays Romeo every day in rehearsals, Dean realizes he wants everyone to see him as he really is now––not just on the stage, but everywhere in his life. Dean knows what he needs to do. Can playing a role help Dean be his true self?

Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan

Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.

Karina is my girlfriend.

Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.

T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?

A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia

An unmissable tour de force from three-time National Book Award finalist and Coretta Scott King Award–winning author Rita Williams-Garcia, who memorably tells the stories of one white family and the enslaved people who work for them. Essential reading for teens and adults who are grappling with our country’s history of racism.

This astonishing novel about the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America is an epic masterwork—empathetic, brutal, and entirely human.

1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided, in spite of her family’s indifference, to sit for a portrait.

But there are other important stories to be told on the Guilbert plantation. Stories that span generations, from the big house to out in the fields, of routine horrors, secrets buried as deep as the family fortune, and the tangled bonds of descendants and enslaved.

The Hollow Inside by Brooke Lauren Davis

Phoenix and mom Nina have spent years on the road, using their charm and wits to swindle and steal to get by. Now they’ve made it to their ultimate destination, Mom’s hometown of Jasper Hollow. The plan: bring down Ellis Bowman, the man who ruined Nina’s life.

After Phoenix gets caught spying, she spins a convincing story that inadvertently gives her full access to the Bowman family. As she digs deeper into their secrets, she finds herself entrenched in the tale of a death and a disappearance that doesn’t entirely line up with what Mom has told her. Who, if anyone, is telling the whole truth?

Riley, Teen Contributor

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.

Sunday Reflections: Things I Don’t Know if I Can Forgive You For, Part II, a Lament for a Year in a Deadly Pandemic

A year ago, I was spending Spring Break in California with my Dad. I remember the rumblings starting, the idea that we were in a deadly pandemic. And I started to get worried about my Dad. About getting home before they shut everything down.

I sat outside eating ice cream with Thing 2 and my Dad. There is a local ice cream place that sells this ice cream that we’ve never found anywhere else. When we go visit my Dad it’s the only thing on her list of things we must do. It’s their tradition. She loves her grandpa and that ice cream. So we sat there, eating ice cream, and I had no idea what the world would be like.

On a Saturday morning we went to the Los Angeles air port and said goodbye to my dad. It was nearly empty. I wondered if it would be the last time that I would see him alive. I held him extra close and extra long as I said goodbye that morning. Later that night, the news would show that there was chaos at airports all around the world as people were trying desperately to get home before everything locked down for real. Two of those airports were LAX and DFW, places we were just hours ago. As I looked at those pictures I knew that so many of those people would get sick and that we had dodged our first bullet in this pandemic.

After we got back from spring break, school didn’t start up again. They extended spring break. Then they extended it again. And then we learned that Thing 2’s favorite teacher had died. Just a couple of weeks ago she had sat and learned at his feet, basking in the warmth of a good teacher who nourished her brain and her soul. And now he was dead.

School went virtual. It was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because Thing 2 has ADHD and it turns out that going outside and jumping on the trampoline after she completed every subject really helped her. A curse because she also has dyslexia, and it turns out she really really really needed her dyslexia intervention and it just didn’t work over virtual.

In early April, I grew incredibly tired. So exhausted. My body felt a weariness in my bones that I could not imagine. And I coughed. I coughed so much. I kept trying to tell myself it was only allergies. But even my husband looked at me and said, your allergies have never been this bad before. I was sick for over a month. Just bad allergies I kept telling myself.

Riley also got sick. She developed a weird rash on her body. She got really bad diahhrea. She slept more than even her, a champion sleeper, could possibly sleep. And then the news started talking about how kids her age were sick in different ways then the adults around them. They started talking about having Kawasaki Disease like symptoms and it terrified me because as a young child, Riley had actually had Kawasaki Disease. And we began to realize that Riley and I probably were sick with Covid.

By this time we were coming out of it and healing, so we never did get tested. We’ll never know for sure. It was early on and it was chaos.

We tried to fill the times by making the day to day fun. We did sidewalk chalk drawings for people passing by. We went on car rides to find teddy bears in windows. We made zines and mailed them to strangers. We dressed up for a fancy dinner in our backyard.

And we tried to be safe.

I posted on message boards trying to find toilet paper. I facetimed my parents and asked them to keep safe. And I sat in my house. We binge watched comfort TV. We developed new rituals. And we tried to help our children deal with the emotional toll of living in a deadly global pandemic. I never imagined that parenting would involve navigating a deadly global pandemic. There were no parenting handbooks for this.

I went to a local Black Lives Matter protest but made my kids stay home, both because of the virus and the potential for violence. We spent a lot of time navigating what it means to be privileged white and anti-racist in this world, in this country. We talked. We prayed. We tried to figure out what we could do to help make the world a better place while keeping ourselves and the people we loved safe from a deadly virus.

At the same time, the election started to grow near. Even my husband began to grow anxious. We had seen the then incumbent President Trump lie and lie again about the pandemic and we knew we needed real, compassionate, honest leadership to help navigate the country out of this deadly quagmire. And the rumblings of Civil War increased. As Christians, we saw people we had loved and had broken bread with refusing to wear a mask. Kids I had taught in Sunday school went to church and came home sick. Their parents died. And daily we grew anxious. And disappointed. We no longer recognized this world we lived in, or these people who we had studied the Bible with. We haven’t been inside a church in a year now, but we haven’t stopped praying.

Riley turned 18 and voted for the first time. What a profoundly stressful time to be a first time voter and trying to navigate American politics.

Every night the girls and I would join hands and pray.

There were glimmers of hope. Biden/Harris won. Our family was staying safe. But the political rhetoric was growing divsive. Scary. Deadly. Anyone who was paying attention to the politics knew that our political environment was kindling and any wrong word could be the match stick that ignited it. In my 48 years of life I have never been so afraid.

On Christmas Eve, I talked to my Dad who told me with a cautious tone that my stepmother had gone to bed sick. We all knew what it meant that this woman who loved her family and loved Christmas had been too sick to do Christmas. It was the moment that changed everything for my family.

By the end of December, 13 members of my family had Covid, including my Dad. My Dad had lived through pancreatic cancer, multiple surgeries, and more and now he had Covid. How many miracles did one person get I wondered quietly.

On December 31st, I entered the New Year with tears, anger and anxiety.

On January 6th, I emailed Thing 2’s teacher and told her she would not be coming to school that day – they do a type of hybrid learning – in case the 2nd Civil War broke out. Riley opted to go to school that day, but she didn’t stay there. Sometime in the early afternoon a friend texted me and said, “Holy Shit.” I knew that what I feared was happening.

We live in a really conservative area of Texas where every one is boasting all the time about the guns they have in online message boards and rhetoric had grown scary. Our fear had been building. I had no idea what was going to happen next. No one did. I have never been so afraid for my country, not even on 9/11. Because this time, the danger was coming from inside the house and my neighbors could turn out to be just as deadly as those trying to kill the Vice President.

I spent January worrying about my country and waiting for the call to tell me any number of one of my family members living in Southern California had died. They took my Dad to the emergency room but there was no room to be had. A person was dying every 6 minutes from Covid and I wondered which time it would be someone I loved. January was the most horrific month of my life. I don’t even have the words to describe it. I lack the narrative skills to convey the fear, the anger, the resentment, the anxiety and the soul sucking sadness that pulsed in our home as if its very foundation was laid on a ground that wisped emotion like a fog that blocked us inside.

On January 20th, our first female Vice President was sworn in. I had wanted to watch this historical moment with my girls my entire life, but we did not turn on the tv on this day because I did not want the girls to see a live assassination. I sent my girls to school and set myself down and prayed. We watched clips of it afterwards once I knew that it was safe to do so. I showed them the clips of Amanda Gorman reading her inaguaral poem over and over again.

February came and several family members were still holding on. They still are. It seems now like they will survive, but the health effects have been long lasting. It’s been almost 3 months now and my Dad is still on oyxgen 24/7. Other people have other issues. It turns out survived is not the same thing as recovered. I fear that the true toll of this pandemic will take a long time to figure out, and so many people lied and tried to hide the truth at the beginning it may hard to ever fully learn it.

Then came the Texas storm.

Then came the difficult college news.

2021 is kicking our butts in the Jensen home. Though it feels like we are slowly starting to dig ourselves out of the emotional pit we spent most of this year in. It feels so deep, it’s hard to imagine truly ever climbing out.

Things 2 continues to grapple with the emotional burden of having loved and lost a teacher. Her favorite teacher died almost a year ago. She also loves his replacement and sometimes finds herself feeling guilty for that. She knows that this new teacher is only there because the old one died of Covid. I have told her that she can feel sadness about his death and feel joy with the new teacher. That she can love them both. That we are emotionally complex creatures and it is okay to have a lot of strong, sometimes even conflicting emotions at once. Sometimes at night she comes in and sleeps on our bedroom floor, and we let her.

The Mr. and Riley

Last year we all got our passports made. It turns out that my husband’s coping mechanisms were trying to figure out which country to flee to when the second Civil War happens so that he can keep his family safe and eating a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal every night. So we had our passports made, he researches where the best countries to be an expat are, and I buy Lucky Charms at the grocery store. I didn’t even know he liked Lucky Charms until this pandemic year. He’s eaten through a lot of boxes of Lucky Charms.

Riley has had her own challenges. We’re helping her navigate them. She has spent her senior year of high school in lockdown. She has struggled with some mental health issues. She voted for the first time. She reads YA books and doesn’t know now what it’s like to go on a college visit, or on a date, or to a high school party. She bakes a lot. She reads a lot. She prays.

It’s been one year since the pandemic started. It’s been one month since the Texas storm. It’s all sucked. We have not all had the same pandemic. Many have had it so much worse than us. Many have had nothing happen and don’t even think it was real. But so many of our kids are carrying around so much trauma.

I don’t care about my kids grades. I don’t care about my kids test scores. I care about their trauma. I care about their survival. I care about who they are becoming as they watch a world burn and see the adults around them be selfish and ugly and liars and killers and . . . my heart breaks for my kids.

It’s not just their physical survival I worry about, but their spiritual survival. Their mental and spiritual well being. A lot of truths have been revealed this past year about who we are, what we value, and the lengths we will go and what we’re willing to sacrifice and it’s an ugly truth. I wonder what the color of our souls is after a year like this and how we get it back to golden.

I don’t know how to forgive the people who refused to wear a mask and contributed to the death of people I love. I don’t know how to forgive the president who lied and cheated and tried to do an insurrection. I don’t know how to forgive the people who told me to love my neighbor as myself and then cheered as our neighbors stormed the Capitol and tried to assassinate the Vice President and members of Congress. I don’t know how to forgive myself for the fear and anger and anxiety in my heart.

But I’m trying to navigate this all, and lamenting a year lost in a deadly pandemic.

And we continue to pray.

Using Canva to Promote Library Services, a guest post by Lisa Krok

We have all had to pivot quite a bit during the pandemic to find alternate ways to serve patrons. I never expected that video production and editing would be part of my job as a librarian, but here we are. *Whispers* and you know what? I kind of enjoy it! Canva is a fantastic tool for promoting library resources via social media, websites, etc. I know some folks are thinking, “But my library doesn’t have funds for a fancy graphics program like that”. GOOD NEWS: Canva Pro is FREE to public libraries! That means you get all the bells and whistles that normally sell for a premium.

Free Canva Pro for Public Libraries

There is a plethora of things you can do with Canva Pro. You can select the type of media you are creating from a menu of Facebook posts, Instagram posts, flyers, posters, videos, presentations, and more. When you select the type of media you are creating, Canva automatically sizes the blank template for you. So for example, Instagram posts are automatically sized as square. Once you are in your preferred media type, then you can create completely from scratch, use a pre-made template, insert photos from Canva library, add animations or stickers, music, and more. You can also upload photos and videos into Canva to use within the graphic you are making.

Here are some examples of templates I created that can be reused to promote different materials, which are then posted on our social media:

I also generated reader’s advisory templates with a Like, Try, Why format:

As libraries have gone through different phases of physical access for patrons, digital media circulation has skyrocketed in lieu of physical materials moving as much. In addition to Hoopla as pictured in templates, we utilize the OverDrive platform and our local schools have access to Sora. Sora is a school version of OverDrive. Once schools have Sora, they can access our library’s OverDrive collection by simply logging into the Sora app with their student IDs. This eliminates issues of students not having a valid library card, not knowing their passwords, etc. (Although we certainly encourage library cards!)

Since our programming is now virtual, Canva Pro has been useful with creating informational videos, how-to crafts, booktalks, games, and more.

Voting information was crucial for both teens that were 18 and adults for the election in November. I was able to screen shot this video tutorial with voting information:

Voting Informational Video

I had some fun with this one:

How to Wear a Mask

We do multiple booktalks each month, here are some examples with Canva Pro:

Wintry Recs with Lisa

Sharon Flake Booktalk

An Ember in the Ashes Finale  

(I was Helene for Halloween so she makes a cameo here!)

Oh the Horror!

For more videos from our staff, visit our You Tube channel:

Morley Library You Tube Channel

In August, we usually take a break from programming after summer reading. I thought this would be the perfect time for a Guess Who contest on social media, since we weren’t posting new programs that month.

Be creative! Canva Pro is a rabbit hole and I am still finding new ways to jazz up our posts and find new virtual ways to serve our patrons. Have fun!

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the adult and teen services manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio area. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians. Lisa’s passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. She recently concluded a term on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee (BFYA 2021), and also served two years on the Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s team. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

Take 5: College Planning Resources and Ideas for Tweens and Teens

So as both the parent of a high school senior and a teen librarian, I am obviously spending a lot of time thinking about and trying to navigate college. As you may have heard, we learned this weekend that Riley won’t get to go to the forensic science program of her dreams because we didn’t get enough financial aid. You can read my post about that here and her post about that here. So now we’re trying to scramble and put a new plan together, at the last minute. She literally has 10 weeks of school left. We share our journey in part because it’s raw and real and where we’re at now and in part to help others on the journey. But as a teen librarian, I also want to share some resources with others and some thoughts for particularly public libraries, because that’s where my 28 years of experience are.

College and Careers Resource Center

Several years ago, at the library I was working in at the time, I put together a college and career resource center. Don’t let the words resource center seem overwhelming, this can literally be a shelf of books. In it I placed things like test books, college admissions and essay books, and financial aid books. It’s helpful to have it all in one place and a good reminder to tweens and teens that they might want to consider planning now.

Reader’s Advisory Lists

In the CCRC, I also put two very specific booklists. One list featured high school students, typically juniors and seniors, dealing with the stress of college admissions and navigating their senior year. The other list featured books with teens and young adults in college.

10 YA Books Set in College – Book Riot

Go Back to School With These 6 YAs Set in College – Barnes & Noble

10 New and Upcoming College-Set YA Novels – The B&N Teen Blog

7 YA Novels That Take on the Journey from High School to College

Young adult books set in college or after high school (58 books)

10 YA Books About Applying to College

YA Books About the Stress of Getting into College

College Planning Checklists

There are a variety of checklists available online that you can print off and make readily available in your CCRC that will help tweens and teens navigate the college admissions process. I found the best lists start early and give a month by month checklist of things to consider and do.

Here’s an example of a more comprehensive checklist that starts in 9th grade: https://www.cfnc.org/media/xz5h3xss/checklist-for-college.pdf

I also found it helpful to have a more specific one in the senior year. Here is an example: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/get-in/applying-101/timeline-12-grade

Money, Money, Money

The area of biggest need and the biggest stumbling block to college of any type is money. College is a big money business and the hurdles for getting in and paying for it are very real. When I was a high school student years ago (a lot of years ago) I didn’t even apply to college because I knew we didn’t have the money. I eventually did go to college when I was 20 and went on to get my Masters of Library and Information Science in 2001. I am 48 years old and I just finished paying off my college loans 4 months ago after paying on them for 18 years. And money is the reason that we can’t figure out how to send my kid to college. Here some lists of recommended financial aid resource books to place in your library.



It’s important for students to know that they can ask for more financial aid if they don’t get enough. It doesn’t hurt to ask.


I’m also a fan of this book

Another simple thing you can do is when you get those signs and information about scholarship essays, just put them out in the CCRC. Every bit of information helps.

Don’t Forget Community Colleges and Trade Schools

A traditional four year college isn’t right for everyone, so don’t forget to highlight nontraditional post high school options like trade schools and community college. The goal isn’t necessarily to get all teens into college, but to get all teens on the best path for them to be successful and self actualized adults.

What does your library do to help with this part of the teen years? What are your favorite resources?

Things I Wish I Had Known Before Applying to College; By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Today my teen, Riley Jensen, is going to share with you a bit about her journey trying to get into the college program of her dreams. She got accepted, but we didn’t get enough financial aid to make it happen for her. Here’s some more on that story. We’re trying to figure out what she does now. In the meantime, she has some advice for other high school students.

As many of you know, I have been accepted into Ohio University and I hope to go there. I recently received my financial aid from this school, and, let me just tell you, it’s not enough. My family is not poor, but we are not exactly able to drop large sums of money whenever we want to. So, here are some things that would have been helpful to know before I applied.

First of all, college is really expensive. That’s something everyone knows, but I didn’t know it was THAT much. You have to pay for most everything. Books, room and board, meal plans, and just general tuition. Those costs add up. And they add up a lot. I mean, if I think about it, then it makes sense. Obviously I would be expected to pay for all of this, but there’s not really anyone who’s telling you every single cost. It’s just so overwhelming to look at all of the things that you will have to find the money for.

To give you an idea of how expensive college is, my mom is 48 and she just paid off her college loans 4 months ago. She has been paying on them my entire life, all 18 years of it, because she had to refinance them when they realized I was going to come along. Refinancing them meant my parents could by diapers and pay for childcare, but it also meant they ended up paying on them for far longer than they anticipated.

Also, I did not start applying to scholarships soon enough. I thought scholarships were just for seniors. Apparently you can start applying for them a lot sooner than that. You don’t have to wait until you get that big bill from whatever college you go to. I’m sure if I had looked into it then I would’ve come to this conclusion sooner, but I was so busy with high school that I didn’t really think about it. High school in itself is stressful and hard and then in the middle of it they want you to plan your entire adult life and figure out how to pay for it while still trying to graduate from high school.

Another thing about scholarships is that some of them have a lot of requirements. Yes, that’s great for the people who meet those requirements, but when you don’t it can be a little bit frustrating. There’s scholarships for specific districts, specific majors, specific colleges. That makes perfect sense, but it’s so much work to go trough all of those requirements for every single scholarship. But, it has to be done if you want to find even one scholarship, and you really need those scholarships.

When I say you need those scholarships, I mean you NEED them. It does not matter if that scholarship is for $500, apply for it. Money is money. Take all the money that you can get. You can use that money for something, and it’s better to have that than to not.

Overall, college is expensive and money is important. Start getting money as early as you can, you will need it. Don’t wait until the last minute. I didn’t, not really, but it still may cost me my dream.


Sunday Reflections: College Dreams Denied and the Heartache of Being a High School Senior

Being a parent is full of hard days where you have to disappoint these children that you love. Yesterday was one of those days for me when I had to tell Riley that we couldn’t afford to send her to the college program of her dreams because she didn’t get enough financial aid and we could not make up the difference. And then we got to watch her cry as her body vibrated with the movement of sorrow and tears the size of boulders cascaded down her cheeks. And I felt like a failure for disappointing her. And I worried about what the future would hold for her.

Riley’s dream was to go to the forensic science program at Ohio University in Athens

Many of you know that Riley wants very much to be a forensic scientist and she was accepted into two schools that offered this, but neither school gave us enough financial aid that we can make it work. She is 10th in her class of over 400 students but even that has not proven enough. I have watched her sweat, cry and stress for four years to keep herself in this high of an academic position and it has all been for naught.

The last year and a half of trying to navigate the college crash course has been extremely difficult, and I have a masters of library science. I have dedicated my life to learning how to research and plan and organize and I am here to tell you, this process has been difficult for me, for her, for us. I can’t imagine what it is like for teens who don’t have a librarian mom on their side or who is a first time college student in their family.

We made checklists and spreadsheets and kept file folders. We researched and applied for scholarships. We met all the deadlines. We jumped through all the hoops. And we have nothing but tears to show for it.

Riley getting her acceptance to Ohio University

We are privileged and blessed and we know it, but we also make just enough money to be doing okay on the day to day but not enough money to actually be able to afford college and not too little money to qualify for good financial aid. College in this country is unaffordable for a vast number of its citizens and yet quality of life can be impacted by the ability to attend college.

And I understand that college is not for everyone and we need people in other occupations and trades. But we also need good, quality people in occupations that require a college degree and we are losing so many of those people because they simply can’t afford to go to college. I think often of all the research that will be lost, all the innovation we’ll never have, and all the lives that won’t be saved because we didn’t have the best and brightest because they couldn’t navigate the college system or pay to be a part of it. And I would remiss if I didn’t point out that a lot of this is in fact tied in with systemic racism, sexism and classicism in our country.

I have no idea what I do now as a parent. How I help her navigate the heartache of lost dreams and opportunity. How I help her find a new dream and a new career that is attainable for her. How to help her swallow the bitter pill of disappointment. How I help her find hope once again in a world that seems hell bent on crushing hope as if it is a flower we do not want to see bloom so we keep stomping it with the boot of despair.

I am a 48 year old woman and I just paid off my college loans 4 months ago. Every moment of the last 20 years was hard. There were times we didn’t go to the doctor because we could not afford to do so. Our kids were in the daycare everyone knew was the worst in town because it was the only one we could afford. There were so many days where we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while we waited for the next paycheck. So I am hesitant to encourage anyone, let alone this child that I love, to take out student loans. But the truth is we don’t qualify for that much. Both a blessing and a curse.

Although I have worked with teens for more than 20 years in our libraries, living the end of the high school years with a child of my own that I love with my whole heart and in the midst of a pandemic, I am here to tell you that we need the dynamic to change for these kids. College is unattainable and unaffordable, and the stress of trying to get into one and find a way to pay for it is doing untold damage.

Now I have to go and help my crying child find a plan b that will give her a livable life with a livable wage and some degree of life affirmation in a world that does not want to support its people or take care of one another. Just yesterday the vote for a $15 minimum wage failed. What kind of future will this generation have? I can tell you that they see it as being very bleak.

Anyhow, if you have any tips, tricks, leads, or ideas for me to help this kid that I love, I will take them.

Cindy Crushes Programming: 3 RPG Games I Want to Try on Roll20, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

I recently started to run the virtual Dungeons and Dragons for my library on Roll20. I was so grateful to learn about Roll20 from friends and YouTube videos. I do know there are so many more RPG games that can be played with teens on Roll20.  Here are three cool games other libraries have played.

Learn More: Roll20 101 Crash Course

  1. Masks!: This is a superhero RPG.  Players take the role of the new crop of superheroes and must work together to fight forces of evil. This game looks perfect for teens since the characters are teens.  Normal Library in Illinois ran this on Roll20 as a one-shot.  I think using games as a one shot is super helpful because if the teens enjoy it you can always make it a series.  Here is a link to learn more about Masks! https://www.magpiegames.com/masks/
  2. Call of Cthulhu: This is one of the more popular RPG games. I have had a few of my former coworkers play this with the teens before the pandemic. This RPG is about being an everyday investigator of the unknown. You can be one of many different characters trying to dive into the mysteries that live in the Cthulieverse. Cthulhu, for those who do not know who Cthulhu is, is a monster created by Lovecraft which is often a sea creature that looks like a squid or octopus and has a cult surrounding it. It is one of the more popular monsters. Reed Memorial in Ravenna, OH has been running this RPG using Roll20 doing two hour sessions.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmTFHSrV5TE&feature=emb_title
  3. Goblin Quest: This is a fun slapstick type RPG game filled with Goblins. It seems very similar in humor and vibes to the popular card game Munchkin. There are missions like saving Dwayne Johnson aka the Rock. The goblins make many mistakes along the way and often die. If you are looking for a non-serious game this looks great. It was started with a Kickstarter.  Normal Library also ran a session of this RPG on Roll20. https://www.amazon.com/Goblin-Quest-Softcover-fatal-incompetence/dp/0996376518

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: Middle Grade Book Lists for 2021 New Releases

Looking for some great middle grade reads for 2021? Here is a roundup of some great book lists out there. These all highlight new middle grade releases for 2021, with a focus on the first half of 2021.

91 Middle-Grade Books to Read in 2021

Helping RevolTeens Fight the Mental Health Crisis, by Christine Lively

The COVID crisis has revealed as much as it has changed. Yes, our lives have been upended and drastically changed because our main priority has shifted to trying to survive this pandemic. We’ve all made as many changes as we are able to make: limiting in-person interaction, working and schooling from home, wearing masks, and the list goes on. We’re all aware and resentful of some of these changes, but we’re making them to stay alive.

Another equally important result of the COVID crisis has been what it has revealed. So many inequities, problems, and struggles that existed before March of 2020 have come into sharp focus. For teens and young adults, the COVID crisis has revealed the huge and acute mental health crisis. Anyone who works with teens could tell you (and probably has) that young people have been struggling and suffering from mental health issues more and more for years. In my house, all three of my children have struggled with mental health issues. As a parent, I can tell you that finding help for them has been frighteningly difficult.

I am a high school librarian and at school, I see teens every day who need help. At our school, we have 2300 students and only a handful of qualified mental health professionals. Schools may be able to identify those who need help but are not equipped to provide that help. Teachers work with students who desperately need resources, evaluation, and time to work through their illness. Many teachers go far above and beyond their duties to support and help their students in whatever way they can.  I have personally reached out to try to get services for students who need them and know that it is often impossible to find those services.

All of this existed well before the COVID crisis.

The crisis has made it sharper and more dangerous. Because of the intensity, teens’ mental health has become newsworthy and awareness has been raised.

The New York Times today reports the stories of several teens who are in crisis.  These teens are all different ages and from different parts of the country, but they are all in crisis, and we are not equipped to help them.

‘“What parents and children are consistently reporting is an increase in all symptoms — a child who was a little anxious before the pandemic became very anxious over this past year,” said Dr. Adiaha I. A. Spinks-Franklin, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine. It is this prolonged stress, Dr. Spinks-Franklin said, that in time blunts the brain’s ability to manage emotions.’

All across the country, hospitals are struggling to keep up with the need.

‘Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, has an emergency department that is a decent size for a pediatric hospital, with capacity for 62 children or adolescents. But well before the arrival of the coronavirus, the department was straining to handle increasing numbers of patients with behavior problems.

“This was huge problem pre-pandemic,” said Dr. David Axelson, chief of psychiatry and behavioral health at the hospital. “We were seeing a rise in emergency department visits for mental health problems in kids, specifically for suicidal thinking and self-harm. Our emergency department was overwhelmed with it, having to board kids on the medical unit while waiting for psych beds.”’

Many of you reading this probably have your own stories to tell. When my son was in an acute struggle with depression that was life threatening I was told by a mental health professional that I should not tell his school or other people about it. I was shocked. Instead, I would tell anyone who would listen about his life and death struggle with depression. If he had been a child fighting cancer, we would have had community fundraising dinners and printed t-shirts with his face on it to raise awareness and to give him support. Mental illness is just as dangerous and life threatening as any physical disease, so why should we keep it a secret? Feeling alone only makes it worse for many teens. Talking about it helps.

The good news is that teen mental health has gained more attention. Now we have to decide what we are going to do to help teens in crisis and those who will face a lifelong struggle with mental health issues.

How can we help RevolTeens to find a way through their mental health struggles?

The National Association on Mental Illness has some resources for teens on their webpage and is a good place to start. Talking about mental health with the teens in your life makes a huge difference. Normalizing discussions of feelings and struggle makes a helps teens feel comfortable sharing their own difficulties. Asking for more mental health resources at schools and in your community will help our elected officials recognize the needs of their communities.

Most of all, keep supporting and reaching out to the teens in your life. So many of them struggle in silence and believe that they are alone. We can all share stories of struggle with them to show them that mental illness is as common as physical illness and is usually treatable. Stories in books, in song, in social media, and stories from our own lives all help teens feel less alone. Helping them to find help is the greatest action we can take.

So yes, we have a long standing teen mental health crisis. We can help revolt against that for our teens by standing with them, demanding that services are available to them, and continuing to fight the stigma of mental illness to ensure that more teens can ask for help.

The COVID crisis has revealed the crisis. Now, we have to take action.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

Introducing HEARTDRUM, a new publishing imprint that centers Native storytellers by Cynthia Leitich Smith

As someone who has spent 27+ years buying books for public libraries, I have always been astounded by how hard it is particularly to find titles about and by Native voices. And when you ask people about Native representation that typically refer to Westerns, Little House on the Prairie, or The Indian in the Cupboard, all of which rely on harmful stereotypes and most of which are not in any way, shape or form written by someone who is tribally enrolled in a Native tribe. None of these titles are good representation and many of them are, in fact, harmful representation.

So I was very excited to hear that author Cynthia Leitich Smith would be starting her own publishing imprint called Heartdrum. Smith is herself a Muscogee Creek author and has been long active in the publishing business, so she is the perfect person to head up an initiative like this. I recently got a press release package from Heartdrum and it says that, “the Heartdrum imprint will fully center intertribal voices and visions but also welcome all young readers.” It goes on to say that “the imprint will offer a wide range of heartfelt, innovative, groundbreaking and unexpected stories by Native creators, informed and inspired by lived experience, with an emphasis on the present and future of Indian Country and on the strength of young Native heroes.”

Today I am excited to share some of their newest and upcoming titles with you.

Ancestor Approved, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Publisher’s Book Description:

A collection of intersecting stories set at a powwow that bursts with hope, joy, resilience, the strength of community, and Native pride.

In a high school gym full of color and song, Native families from Nations within the borders of the U.S. and Canada dance, sell beadwork and books, and celebrate friendship and heritage. They are the heroes of their own stories.

Featured contributors: Joseph Bruchac, Art Coulson, Christine Day, Eric Gansworth, Dawn Quigley, Carole Lindstrom, Rebecca Roanhorse, David A. Robertson, Andrea L. Rogers, Kim Rogers, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Monique Gray Smith, Traci Sorell, Tim Tingle, Erika T. Wurth, and Brian Young. 

Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Publisher’s Book Description:

In this modern take of the popular classic Peter Pan, award-winning author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek) brilliantly shifts the focus from the boy who won’t grow up to Native American Lily and English Wendy—stepsisters who must face both dangers and wonders to find their way back to the family they love.

Stepsisters Lily and Wendy embark on a high-flying journey of magic, adventure, and courage—to a fairy-tale island known as Neverland.

Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family—and their friendship?

Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children.

A boy who calls himself Peter Pan.

This book comes out in June of 2021

The Sea in Winter by Christine Day

Publisher’s Book Description:

The story of a Native American girl struggling to find her joy again.

It’s been a hard year for Maisie Cannon, ever since she hurt her leg and could not keep up with her ballet training and auditions.

Her blended family is loving and supportive, but Maisie knows that they just can’t understand how hopeless she feels. With everything she’s dealing with, Maisie is not excited for their family midwinter road trip along the coast, near the Makah community where her mother grew up.

But soon, Maisie’s anxieties and dark moods start to hurt as much as the pain in her knee. How can she keep pretending to be strong when on the inside she feels as roiling and cold as the ocean? 

This book is out now

Healer of the Water Monster by Brian Young

Publisher’s Book Description:

Brian Young’s debut novel, inspired by Navajo beliefs, features a seemingly ordinary boy who must save the life of a Water Monster—and help his uncle suffering from addiction—by discovering his own bravery and boundless love. An outstanding debut from a promising young Navajo author.

When Nathan goes to visit his grandma, Nali, at her mobile summer home on the Navajo reservation, he knows he’s in for a pretty uneventful summer. Still, he loves spending time with Nali, and with his uncle Jet—though it’s clear when Jet arrives that he brings his problems with him.

One night, while lost in the nearby desert, Nathan finds something extraordinary. A Holy Being from the Navajo Creation Story—a Water Monster—in need of help.

Now Nathan must summon all his courage to save his new friend. With the help of other Navajo Holy Beings, Nathan is determined to save the Water Monster, and to help Uncle Jet heal from his own pain.

This book comes out in May of 2021

Native voices are featured in less than 1% of the kid lit titles published in previous years and are sorely lacking on our library shelves. I have long respected and admired the writing of Smith and she is the perfect person to be leading this initiative. I’m looking forward to reading all of the books!