Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: Teen Librarians are not Pornographers and Other Things You Should Know About the People Who Have Dedicated Their Lives to Serving Youth in Your Community

Trigger Warnings: Homophobia, Transphobia, Sexual Violence and Suicide are discussed in this post

Today as I write this post there are tons of calls for book banning and, yes, even book burning happening in our country. There have been calls to ban books, burn books, to jail and imprison librarians, and some librarians have now even had people from their community show up at their house and threaten them. These are indeed scary times. And it’s important to note, these are my personal thoughts on my personal blog about a lifetime in librarianship.

I’m not here necessarily to talk about the book bannings themselves, there are plenty of articles out there about that (I will link some at the end of the post). Here in the state of Texas, there is a list of around 850 books going around and the things that those books have in common is this: they are all written by marginalized people who have always had to fight hard to have a voice. They are written by Black people, Latinx people, LGBTQ people and women. They are written to share personal stories about what it means to have to fight hard to justify your existence, to navigate this world safely and to be seen and heard in a world that wants to oppress, control and sometimes outright wipe you out of existence. They are books about sex education, gender and gender identity, racism, and there are even a few books about teen rights thrown in there. There are lots of posts about the books on the lists going around there as well.

But today, I want to talk to you about being a librarian and working with youth and how this is the scariest time to do both. Please note, I am a public librarian, not a school librarian. So while I have some fears, it is nothing compared to what my many friends who are school librarians have. And also, this is a personal post drawing on my 29 years of experience working with youth, mainly teenagers, in a public library.

I buy books for kids and teens. I have for 29 years now. Sometimes, those books talk about sex. For those of you who don’t know, the average age of a person’s first sexual encounter is 16 years old. Do I think teens should be having sex? Not personally, no. But they do, and since they do, I want them to have responsible, informed knowledge about what healthy consensual sex is, how to protect themselves physically and emotionally, and I also think it’s just a good idea for everyone to know how their bodies work. The reproductive system is one of many systems in the body and understanding how your body works is actually good. Teens have questions and they go looking for answers, whether we want them to or not, so it is imperative that they have resources that give them solid, factual answers. They have ready access to pornography on their phones and computers, so they aren’t reading nonfiction books and YA romances for porn, they are reading to learn the science behind how their bodies work and to help navigate the very real and complex emotions involved in human interaction, including what it means to fall in love and have your heart broken, and how to heal. That’s the power of literature, and the importance of it.

Do I buy books with LGBTQ content? Yes, yes I do. Because LGBTQ people are people and they deserve representation. They deserve to exist in this world without fearing for their safety. They deserve to read stories about kids who are just like them, because all people do. They also deserve to read books about people like their parents, because some parents are LGBTQ and they too have a right to parent their children and share stories with their children that have characters that are like them. The presence of LGBTQ content alone does not make a book pornographic any more than watching a Hallmark love story where two characters date, fall in love, and kiss does not make it pornographic. Because there are people who are very anti-LGBTQ in this world they try to make the mere existence of an LGBTQ character a sexual obscenity, and this is just not the case.

Do I buy books that talk about racism? Yes, yes I do. Because racism is real and it’s bad and it’s ugly and it’s ingrained and intertwined in our history. To not buy books that talk about racism would be a lie. I believe that knowledge is a powerful thing, and that even when the truth is dark and hard, we must know it. Even in the whitest of white communities that I have worked in, there were always Black and Latinx and Asian American kids and they too deserve to have their truths told, their stories heard, and their feelings centered just as much as the white majority in those neighborhoods. And as the white mother of white children, I want my kids to have access to stories about kids that don’t look like them, even the ones that tell hard truths about white privilege and the history and still present day effects of racism, because I want to raise compassionate people. As a Christian, it is one of my main parenting goals, I want my children to wrestle with hard truths and come out on the other side as compassionate people who live as close to the teachings of Jesus Christ as possible. And I want my children to help build a world where the Black and other children of color are nurtured and valued and respected and safe. And I want to stop hearing the children of color that I work with day in and day out share their heartbreaking stories of the amount of hate they receive on a daily basis and the stories of how it began when they were 4 or 5. I want to stop hearing them talk about how they fear dying at a young age. If you care about children, you have to care about all of them, even the ones that don’t look like you or yours.

Around our country right now there are tons of people calling for school librarians to be imprisoned and books to be banned because they don’t like the books in school libraries. The things that these books have in common is that they are book that talk about sex, or books that talk about the LGBTQ community, or books that talk about racism, or books that talk about being a survivor of sexual violence. They are even going so far as to call people who buy these books for libraries pornographers. I am a public librarian who has worked with school librarians for years. Some of my best friends are school librarians. Like all teachers, and school librarians are almost always teachers, these are people who have dedicated their lives to serving our youth. They work long, hard hours and spend lots of their personal money to help our kids become the best versions of themselves. And now they are doing so in the midst of a pandemic while certain members of the public call them pornographers and ask that they be jailed and sometimes are even showing up at their houses and calling them horrific things in front of their own kids.

Are there books in the library that you might find offensive? Yes, yes there are. And you know what, you don’t have to read them! But you don’t get to make that decision for other people. You just don’t. That is and has always been one of the most fundamental tenets of a democratic society. It was so important that they made it a part of the 1st Amendment to our Constitution. I support a person’s right to read a book, and I support their right not to. That’s part of why we work really hard to buy a really diverse library full of books, we want you to find the book of your heart. We really do.

One of the books on the big Texas banned list – which has like 849 titles – is a book called Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson. It is a memoir written in poetry by the bestselling author sharing her experiences of surviving sexual violence in her life. It is her real life story written by a real person about their real personal journey. I read it out loud to Tim, Riley and Scout when it came out. I read it out loud with tears streaming down my face and we talked about what it meant to me, also a person who experienced sexual violence. We talked about how the words moved me, made me feel seen, and helped me heal. It helped them to understand what had happened to me and how it informed who I was today. It was one of the most powerful book moments of my life.

Another book on the list is Ask the Passengers by A. S. King. This was also a profound book moment for me where I came to understand that gay people were just people and their lives were hard because society had chosen to hate them and that by making different choices we, as a society, could make their life easier. And I have vowed to live my life differently because I think that all people deserve to live a life with health, love, and basic human rights. King became both Riley and I’s favorite authors and we have read all of her books – Riley often more than once – and they have spoken to Riley.

While these books may not be right personally for others, they were life changing and life affirming for me. They made me a newer, better person. And some of the books on this list may not be the right books for me, but they will be the right books for someone else. And that’s the power of literature and the free choice to read.

Book banning is one of the precursors to authoritarianism. The Nazis burned books, most often from members of the LGBTQ community or from the Jewish community. But the Nazis did then and they continue to think they have the right to decide for everyone what is right, what is best, what is noble, what is holy, what is legal, and what is good. And make no mistake, though we may not be calling them Nazis today, they are once again rising. They go by the names of Proud Boys and 3 Percenters and whatever, but they are most often white Christian nationalists who want power and control and they hate anyone who isn’t a white, straight, cisgender Christian. They hate anyone who isn’t like them and stands in the way of their power. But they also weaponize hate and fear to make people stand with them, people who normally wouldn’t. It’s not a new tactic, we saw it in the satanic panic of the 80s, the attempt to ban Dungeons and Dragons and rock music. Now I play Dungeons and Dragons with a group and my Sunday school teacher is my DM. We have done this before, I wish we would have learned not to do it again.

Did you know that last year was one of the deadliest years on record for transgender people? The push against trans rights and the demonization of trans people isn’t about girls safety in bathrooms? No, if they cared about girls safety they would pass anti-domestic violence bills and push harder sentences for actual sexual violence (which is most often perpetrated by straight men). We still can’t even get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. And the near total ban on abortion in Texas puts girls and women’s literal lives in danger and forces them to carry the baby of their rapists, thus giving rapists even more power and influence on their lives. Trust me, they don’t care about the safety of girls and women. They just hate trans people and the LGBTQ community and they want you to hate them too because if they can convince you that you share a common enemy, then you will overlook all the real harm that they are doing. Meanwhile, they are whipping up hate against the trans community to get your vote and members of the trans community are being beaten and killed in record numbers.

And I’m not going to lie, as a librarian, I worry that we too are being added to their agenda of hate. Already, I have seen stories of librarians being arrested and board members showing up at friend’s houses. In the press they are calling us pornographers and groomers and vilifying us. But it’s not just because of the books, it’s because they fear education. They fear knowledge. They know that true democracy depends on an informed, educated and empowered public exercising their rights. So they try to limit the education. They try to limit the rights. And they try to limit the exercise of those rights (see all the anti-voting laws being passed).

And I’m not here to say that no person who works with youth is a danger to those youth. We know that, unfortunately, sometimes they are. Sometimes a teacher or a coach or your best friend takes advantage of your children. That is evil and vicious and the most ultimate betrayal of all. But this is not about the books on a library shelf, this is something vile and insidious. It’s something different.

But reading books isn’t making your kids trans or gay anymore than reading a murder mystery has made us all crack detective or serial killers. But if they are struggling with being trans or gay, those books might help them find an inner peace that will help them not become one of the 40% of LGBTQ youth who attempt suicide. As someone who has worked with youth for 29 years I am here to tell you that there is nothing harder than seeing an LGBTQ kid lose the sparkle in their eye as they realize that this world well and truly hates them. I can’t change the hate in some people’s heart, but my greatest wish for these kids is that they find the will to survive and even thrive.

I want kids to survive adolescence and thrive. Every last one of them. I want them to learn and grow and be the best version of themselves and to help make the world a better place for us all. That is why I have dedicated my life to building expansive, diverse, factual, and inclusive book collections in library after library after library. It’s why I do what I do. It’s why I have always done what I do.

I get that we all don’t agree on everything. I have been a Christian long enough to think we even all agree on what it means to be a Christian. But what’s happening right now – It is terrifying. It has strong echoes of what happened in the past. And whatever our political, philosophical or religious differences are, I hope that we can all agree that Nazis are still bad and democracy is still the goal.

And please, look at the people in your schools. These are your friends, your neighbors, your aunts and your uncles. These are the kids that you babysat as kids and the people that babysat your kids. Look at them staying up late at night and grading papers. Look at them spending their own money to buy tissues and pencils for your kids. Look at them standing in the rain as a crossing guard to make sure your kids gets to and from school safely. Think about all that they have invested in your kids, in your community. And don’t let these liars and deceivers who want to weaponize your fear convince you to hate the very people who have spent their lives serving you. Think of who the real servants are in your communities, and protect them. Stand with them. Don’t let strangers with a microphone and anonymous people on message boards convince you to hate the very people that have spent their lives living beside you and helping you raise your children to be the very best versions of themselves.

To give you an idea about how misinformation and outright lies and conspiracy theories spread, I highly recommend reading True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News by Cindy L. Otis. Did you know that most anti-vaccine lies began with just 12 people? That’s how this works. Just a few people decide that they are going to weaponize a thing – anti-CRT theory, transphobia, anti-mask, anti-vaxx – and then they put the information out there on social media and it gets whipped into a frenzy and then we are all being socially programmed and controlled by just a handful of people we don’t even personally know, nor do we know their credentials or motives. We turn on our neighbors. We turn on our friends. We turn on our families. We turn on each other. And they reap the rewards, and here the rewards are almost always money and power. Meanwhile, our lives our torn apart, our loved ones die, and we grower poorer and lose our political will and political power. Even if you think you are voting for the winning side, you are not personally reaping the benefits, very few of us are.

As a librarian, I buy books. I buy books because I believe in the power of the right story to change someone’s life. I never know what book or story that might be, but it’s an amazing thing to see it happen. I have spent my entire adult life dedicated to helping kids. I have done it because I was a kid who needed an adult to do it for me, and sometimes was lucky enough to find that adult. I do it because I believe that we can make the world a better place for every one of us. I do it because I believe, like the Jesus that I follow, that it is a sacred duty to nurture and protect and educate children and I understand, as did Jesus, that sometimes education means facing uncomfortable truths about who we are and making the choice to be different, to be better. I do it because I want every kid – every single last one of them – to feel seen, to feel heard, to feel valued, to feel respected, to feel hope, to feel empowered, to feel as if they have a right to exist in this world safely because they do.

As a parent, I can honestly tell you that I have told my kids that they can’t read a book or that they can’t read a book just yet. I think that is valid. You get to decide what you and your kids read. I get to decide what I and my kids read. But don’t let strangers make those decisions for you. Book banning is never the answer. Choice is. And for all of us to have the freedom to make those choices, that means we have to accept that others might make different choices than our own but the books have to remain on the shelves to make those choices available to all.

You get to decide for you. You don’t get to decide for me.

Some stories to pay attention to:

Virginia School Board Members call for book burning https://www.businessinsider.com/virginia-school-board-members-call-for-books-to-be-burned-2021-11?fbclid=IwAR0PI-tu3dbybODHT577tpu3WRhQhD4Q9aABpvFR1Q03Np3DKEhi3mfQ918

Missouri Could Jail Librarians https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jan/16/missouri-could-jail-librarians-for-lending-age-inappropriate-books-parental-oversight-of-public-libraries-bill?fbclid=IwAR2E37C0HpM5JLTYOEc3gY8TYkf-YBPrMm2Wv7rE8vp0so4AR4vDLgh-sb

Texas https://www.texastribune.org/2021/11/10/abbott-pornography-texas-school-books/?fbclid=IwAR19hOYV4PYM4BgZTzKniQ4hB2bTZhUhrnnU8cAeAFCgXfq0POB1tQp4wcc

Calls to Ban Books by Black Authors Increasing https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/calls-to-ban-books-by-black-authors-are-increasing-amid-critical-race-theory-debates/2021/09?fbclid=IwAR30P4D0iEBJ7unzXhCUYhjgF8tiya_qDTyd9NcfugcZQHY5QeF8DnZJAVo

School Board Books Bans are Hurting not Helping Kids https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/school-board-book-bans-lgbtq-issues-race-are-hurting-not-n1283691?fbclid=IwAR2OWZA5oFlC7NkwDm4v1a4htezt6TyArp6uoqiMjGufiBavMPjpfAKszIg

And in depth look into the books on the Texas ban list https://bookriot.com/texas-book-ban-list/

Take 5: 2022 Sourcebooks Fire Showcase

It’s that time of year when everyone starts thinking about books coming out in 2022 that they can’t wait to read. I, personally, am super done with 2021 and hope that 2022 starts a big turnaround for this broken little world we are living in. And looking forward to 2022 with hope (please let it be better), I am thinking about some of the books I am looking forward to reading. My TBR list is growing and today I am going to talk about Sourcebooks Fire books. Sourcebooks Fire are one of my go to publishers for all things YA lit horror, mysteries and thrillers. If they aren’t on your radar, you should add them. So here is a look at 5 upcoming Sourcebooks Fire YA lit titles you should add to your TBR list.

At the End of Everything by Marieke Nijkamp

Publisher’s Book Description: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of This Is Where It Ends comes another heartbreaking, emotional and timely page-turner that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The Hope Juvenile Treatment Center is ironically named. No one has hope for the delinquent teenagers who have been exiled there; the world barely acknowledges that they exist.

Then the guards at Hope start acting strange. And one day…they don’t show up. But when the teens band together to make a break from the facility, they encounter soldiers outside the gates. There’s a rapidly spreading infectious disease outside, and no one can leave their houses or travel without a permit. Which means that they’re stuck at Hope. And this time, no one is watching out for them at all.

As supplies quickly dwindle and a deadly plague tears through their ranks, the group has to decide whom among them they can trust and figure out how they can survive in a world that has never wanted them in the first place.

Karen’s Thoughts: Marieke Nikjamp is a NYT bestselling author and she has written some amazing books. I once held a fantastic teen book discussion group centered around her book This is Where it Ends, and I think that this title has the same potential. Some might be thinking, oh no it’s too soon for a plague novel given our current situation, but I believe that it is the perfect vehicle to help those of us who wish to and need to process the events of the past two years while still giving ourselves the grace of a fictional narrative to do so. It’s like bibliotherapy, we can process our pandemic trauma by talking about a fictional plague. This book is slated for a January release.

The New Girl by Jesse Q. Sutanto

This is the ebook cover that I found online. I think it may be released with a different cover.

Publisher’s Book Description: Lia Setiawan has never really fit in. And when she wins a full ride to the prestigious Draycott Academy on a track scholarship, she’s determined to make it work even though she’s never felt more out of place.

But on her first day there she witnesses a girl being forcefully carried away by campus security. Her new schoolmates and teachers seem unphased, but it leaves her unsure of what she’s gotten herself into.

And as she uncovers the secrets of Draycott, complete with a corrupt teacher, a golden boy who isn’t what he seems, and a blackmailer determined to get her thrown out, she’s not sure if she can trust anyone…especially when the threats against her take a deadly turn.

Karen’s Thoughts: First, I just want to take a moment to note that it was amusing to me to see a book titles New Girl with an author named Jesse because, well, the TV show. I love the show. This book, obviously, has nothing to do with the show but who doesn’t love a deadly game of cat and mouse? This book is scheduled to come out on February 1st.

Lock the Doors by Vincent Ralph

Publisher’s Book Description: A brand new addictive, twisty thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of 14 WAYS TO DIE – for fans of Karen McManus, Holly Jackson and Lisa Jewell.

LOCK EVERY DOOR

Tom’s family have moved into their dream home. But pretty soon he starts to notice that something is very wrong – there are strange messages written on the wall and locks on the bedroom doors. On the OUTSIDE.

The previous owners have moved just across the road and they seem like the perfect family. Their daughter Amy is beautiful and enigmatic but Tom is sure she’s got something to hide. And he isn’t going to stop until he finds the truth behind those locked doors. . .

Will their dream home become a nightmare?

Karen’s Thoughts: Vincent Ralph is the author of the recent thriller 14 Ways to Die, which you can currently find on Riley’s dorm bed as she is reading it as we speak. A dream home turned into a deadly home is a pretty reliable trope so sign me up. This book is scheduled to publish in March 2022.

Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson

Publisher’s Book Description: Black Lives Matter meets Attack the Block with a dash of Under the Dome in this stunning story of teens using their talents to liberate a city from unjust police occupation

Jamal Lawson just wanted to be a part of something. As an aspiring journalist, he packs up his camera and heads to Baltimore to document a rally protesting police brutality after another Black man is murdered.

But before it even really begins, the city implements a new safety protocol…the Dome. The Dome surrounds the city, forcing those within to subscribe to a total militarized shutdown. No one can get in, and no one can get out.

Alone in a strange place, Jamal doesn’t know where to turn…until he meets hacker Marco, who knows more than he lets on, and Catherine, an AWOL basic-training-graduate, whose parents helped build the initial plans for the Dome.

As unrest inside of Baltimore grows throughout the days-long lockdown, Marco, Catherine, and Jamal take the fight directly to the chief of police. But the city is corrupt from the inside out, and it’s going to take everything they have to survive.

Karen’s Thoughts: First, I want to take a moment to say that Attack the Block is a great British sci fi movie starring none other than John Boyega and the current Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. So I was in the moment that it was used as a comp title. More importantly, the title is relevant and necessary as we as a nation and the world at large continues to wrestle with what policing can, should and does look like and the impact that it has on Black lives. Scheduled to be published in March 2022.

Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado

**please note, there has not yet been a cover released for this title**

Publisher’s Book Description: Mysterious disappearances. An urban legend rumored to be responsible. And one group of friends determined to save their city at any cost. Stranger Things meets Jordan Peele in this utterly original debut from an incredible new voice.

For over a year, the Bronx has been plagued by sudden disappearances that no one can explain. Sixteen-year-old Raquel does her best to ignore it. After all, the police only look for the white kids. But when her crush Charlize’s cousin goes missing, Raquel starts to pay attention—especially when her own mom comes down with a mysterious illness that seems linked to the disappearances.

Raquel and Charlize team up to investigate, but they soon discover that everything is tied to a terrifying urban legend called the Echo Game. The game is rumored to trap people in a sinister world underneath the city, and the rules are based on a particularly dark chapter in New York’s past. And if the friends want to save their home and everyone they love, they will have to play the game and destroy the evil at its heart—or die trying.

Karen’t Thoughts: Urban legends and deadly games? Yes please. This should be a great read for your Stranger Things fans. Vincent Tirado is a debut author and they should have a promising literary career. Scheduled for a May 2022 release.

Every single one of these book sounds like they have high appeal for teen readers. I know that the murder teen, also known as Riley, and I can’t wait to read them.

Historical Fiction: Getting the Details Right, a guest post by author Kip Wilson

Even though historical fiction isn’t nonfiction by any stretch, it’s still based on history and set in a historical time period, so the facts behind the story still very much matter when it comes to the details. Like most other historical fiction authors, I absolutely agonize over these details. Getting something wrong is definitely near the top of my (long) list of worries.

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin (coming March 29, 2022) is about orphaned 18-year-old Hilde who finds family, love, and her voice when she stumbles into a queer club, Café Lila, in Berlin in 1932. It’s historical fiction like my debut, White Rose, but unlike that novel, the main characters in this one are fictional. Still, I wanted the historical backdrop and the plot, as well as the imagined characters themselves, to be as authentic as possible for the story to come across as an accurate representation of what people like Hilde would have experienced in this time and place.

As part of my process, I like to focus on facts that can contribute to authenticity in four areas: setting, character, plot, and voice.

Setting

Investigating the details that will bring a historical setting to life is one of my favorite pieces of the research process. This is of course harder the farther back in history a story is set, but there’s definitely a wealth of information available for many 20th century settings.

Research into a historical setting typically includes lots of reading, including general nonfiction about the time and place, fiction and poetry from the era, historical maps and guidebooks, and newspapers and magazines. Beyond reading, photographs and films from the era are often even more effective in showing what a particular setting looked like at the time, and not only the streets, buildings, and modes of transportation, but the people, the fashions, and their habits at work and at play.

Finally, actually visiting the setting in the present day can be a great way to get a sense of the place, even if—as is the case in Berlin—so much of the city has changed. For me, walking the streets in the Schöneberg neighborhood where The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin is set really brought the setting to life for me.

Character

With White Rose, I had a wealth of information available because my protagonist, Sophie Scholl, was a real person. She left behind letters and diaries and plenty of eyewitnesses who knew her and granted interviews over the years.

My main characters in The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin are fictional, so I found studying memoirs and essays by queer people who lived in Berlin at the time a very helpful way to understand the challenges—and joys—that people like my own queer characters would experience.

Plot

The plot of a historical novel is very much informed by the events of its time period, so having a firm grasp on those events is crucial. 1932 was the last full year of the Weimar Republic era before the Nazis came to power—well before the beginning of World War II. Still it wasn’t a quiet time at all. Many important historical events are scattered through the eight months when the story takes place.

Again, general nonfiction books and trusted history websites were helpful in helping me pinpoint important events, including multiple national elections held in Germany during 1932. But probably the most helpful sources of all for nailing down the story’s plot were periodicals. Some of these sources are heavy on the photograph side, like the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, which were a great way for me to “see” certain events. Others presented the more left-wing, liberal take on the events my main characters agree with, like the Vossische Zeitung.

But there were certainly other opinions at the time, and even if my protagonist doesn’t agree with them, she notices them in campaign posters and headlines from right-wing, nationalist sources like the Nazi party newspaper, Völkischer Beobachter. Even in 1932 before the Nazis came to power, their rhetoric was already frightening and ominous. But because my characters of course don’t have the hindsight that we do today, their matter-of-fact observations of happenings hopefully provide some insight about why no one was able to stop the Nazi rise to power at the time.

Voice

Another important way to capture a historical era is through my protagonist’s voice. Because I write in verse, every word matters, so this process is particularly enjoyable to me. From the first draft, I try to use words and a way of speaking that correspond to my protagonist’s background and her time— and perhaps even more, her heart. But even after my own revisions, good questions still come up in edits and copyedits. The last thing a historical author wants is to include anachronisms or to make characters seem too modern for their times.

In the end, facts really do matter when it comes to historical fiction, so it’s important to make an effort to get the details right. The areas I outline above can certainly add up to help give the story a sense of authenticity, so I try to layer in as much as I can. And while mistakes can always still make their way into a work of historical fiction (as hard as I try to avoid them!), I consider attending to the details and respecting the facts of the past the least I can do.

Bio

Kip Wilson is the author of White Rose (2019, Versify), a critically-acclaimed YA novel-in-verse about anti-Nazi political activist Sophie Scholl. Kip holds a Ph.D. in German Literature and was the Poetry Editor at Young Adult Review Network (YARN) for five years before joining Voyage as an Associate Editor in 2020. Her next YA novel-in-verse, The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin, is forthcoming from Versify in March 2022.

Website: http://www.kipwilsonwrites.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kiperoo Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kipwilsonwrites/

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin

After her eighteenth birthday, Hilde, a former orphan in 1930s Berlin, goes out into the world to discover her place in it. But finding a job is hard, at least until she stumbles into Café Lila, a vibrant cabaret full of expressive customers—and Rosa, the club’s waitress and performer. As the café and all who work there embrace Hilde, and she embraces them in turn, she discovers her voice and her own blossoming feelings for Rosa.

But Berlin is in turmoil. Between the elections, protests in the streets, and the beginning seeds of unrest in Café Lila itself, Hilde will have to decide what’s best for her future . . . and what it means to love a place on the cusp of war.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Fandom News You Can Use for Upcoming Programs, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

I love fandom programming. I find fandoms to be a great source of programming inspiration and it is always so much fun to have a theme. It can make marketing easier as well! Here are three popular fandoms with upcoming releases that would make great springboards for upcoming tween or teen programs. A word of caution regarding fandom programming: you always want to be mindful of copyright issues. Having said that, creating things inspired by and in the spirit of your favorite fandoms is a great way to enjoy that fandom while engaging in self expression, problem solving, and creative thinking. Fandoms are fun!

Animal Crossing

This fandom has slowed down but a huge expansion pack is being released this week and this is sure to bring back fans. This is perfect to create, take and make. I did two take and make last year around Animal Crossing. Faith Healy did one as well where she gave felt and different patterns to make their own villagers (templates at the end of this post). This was a super popular take and make. We are working on a new one right now.  Clay fossil charms would be super cute or DIY Villager Figures.

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s version of Red is coming out this month. We are planning to write an escape room based on her albums released on her birthday, December 13. There are plenty of activities to do such as a listening party to the new album or a sing a long, Taylor Trivia or even a book display based on any of her many albums.

You can also create Taylor Swift inspired book reading lists, like these examples:

Disney

Disney World will be celebrating it’s 50 year anniversary throughout the year. My co-worker Emily Lif gave a great presentation on Dis-tory: Celebrating 50 Years of Magic Kingdom History. My other co-worker Jessi Wakefield made DIY mouse ears. I did a Disney World escape room to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the park and a Cinderella’s Castle necklace craft. There is so much lore about Walt Disney World. You can check your streaming license to see if you have any films you can show. We use Swank and all the big Disney films are on it. Please be mindful of copyright as Disney is very strict about copyright protections.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeOg0ZtWPPR7-EIYxQxn0NdjoZEDiFeHASHtEuiPpZI6Sf68A/viewform?usp=sf_link

What Fandoms are you doing for your upcoming programs?

And here are the templates for the DIY Animal Crossing inspired felties we promised

What Fandoms are you doing for your upcoming programs?

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.

Turning Voice Recordings into Sound Wave Art and QR Codes

As many of you know, this past year I lost my father and my kids lost their grandfather. It has been an ongoing struggle for us, especially as the holidays and birthdays approach. So I have been trying to figure out ways to help us all through this year of firsts, which is why I learned about soundwave art.

There are programs out there that can take voice messages and show you what they look like in soundwave form and many people are turning those into works of art. You can even turn it into a tattoo and there are scanners that will scan the tattoo and you can hear the message!

You can also turn a voice mail or recording into a QR code and when you scan the QR code, you can hear the message. Many online artists are turning these into works of art. The canvas will show the soundwave and also have a QR code on the art so you can scan it and hear what the message says. So with Thing 2’s birthday coming up, I decided to see if I could do this and I made a postcard (I blocked out parts of it for privacy and to keep it special for her):

Though I looked for how to do this as a way to help us remember someone we have loved and lost, it does not have to be about that. You can do this for any one and for any occasion. The creative possibilities are limitless. So let me tell you how you can turn a voice mail or voice recording into art.

Step 1: Turn Your Recording into a Soundwave

I did a lot of searching to try and figure out a good way to turn my voicemail into a recording. There are a lot of options out there and good instructions and walk throughs. I used a program called Audacity on my laptop. I recorded on my laptop and played the voicemail on my phone. I then took a screen shot of the soundwave and pasted it into Microsoft Publisher, where I could clean it up and save it as either a .PNG or a .JPG. This was actually a pretty quick process.

Here’s a walk through that helped get me started: https://midnightmusic.com.au/2018/12/how-to-make-your-own-soundwave-art/

Step 2: Turn Your Recording into a QR Code

Again, there are a lot of options out there for this. I ended up purchasing an app called Cloud QR for $3.99 and I don’t know if this was the best choice, but it was the one that I saw talked about the most and worked in the way I needed it to. To do this part, I played the voicemail on my computer while recording it on the Cloud QR generator on my phone. Once the QR code was generated I then screenshot it and emailed it to myself. I could then put it in Microsoft Publisher to clean it up and save it as either a .PNG or a .JPG.

Here’s a walk through that helped me get started: https://brownbagteacher.com/making-audio-qr-codes-step-by-step/

Step 3: Turning Your Soundwave and QR Code into Art

Because I knew I wanted to send Thing 2 a card in the mail, I decided to make a postcard. I did this in Canva because they have really good – and easy to use – postcard templates. I quickly and easily loaded up both the soundwave and QR code art and made my postcard. I then printed it out and verified that the QR code worked the way that I wanted it to and it did!

There are no limits to the types of art being produced out there using soundwave art. I can’t help but the way it could be used to decorate tween and teen rooms, send mail to loved ones, create unique canvases and more. And I was able to teach myself how to do it and create my postcard in 2 hours! And it only cost me $4.00 for the app.

I highly recommend using this in your programming, classroom and makerspaces. The possibilities are limitless.

Take 5: Something Old, Something New, Part II

Last week, I shared with you 5 books (most of them from 2021) that put bold new spins on tired old classics in way or another. Today I am sharing with you another 5 because 2021 is a great year for retelling old tales and put fresh new spins on old classics. I’m here for it because most of the classics we are asked to read in high school and college were written by white men, though occasionally you get a title from a white woman, and there are great ways we can update our teaching. I love getting fresh spins, new twists, and different cultural points of view on the stories that I was told I should know. Pairing texts is a great framework for innovation and discussion and growth.

Fairytale retellings are pretty popular, always. Some of the best fairytales – like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty – get retold in multiple ways, and I’m here for it. But what if there was a book that didn’t just retell one fairytale, but all of them? Into the Boodred Woods kind of just mixed them all together in a magic hat of storytelling and you get an epic Brothers Grimm inspired fairytale world with werecreatures, queer love and so much more.

Publisher’s Book Description: This is Martha Brockenbrough’s feminist twisting of the Brother Grimms’ stories, Game of Thrones-style.

Once upon a time there was a kingdom and a forest that liked to eat men and a girl who would change everything, but not alone . . .

Except-

There’s no such thing as once upon a time.

In a far away land, populated by were beasts and surrounded by a powerful forest, lies a kingdom about to be sent into chaos. On his deathbed, King Tyran divides his land, leaving half to each of his two children-so they’ll rule together. However, his son, Albrecht, is not satisfied with half a kingdom. And even though his sister, Ursula, is the first born, he decides that as a girl and were bear, she is unfit to rule. So he invades her land, slaughtering her people and most of the were beasts, and claims it for himself. As King Albrecht builds his iron rule and an army of beasts to defend his reign, Ursula is gathering the survivors and making plans to take back the kingdom. Not just her half-the whole thing. Because Albrecht should have never been allowed to sit on the throne, and Ursula is going to take his crown. And if he’s not careful, he might not get to keep his head either.

Emma considered herself a master matchmaker but was honestly not that great at love. This is true of Elliot, who has entered her freshman year of college and soon things go wildly out of control. This is truly a touching coming of age story about a college freshman trying to figure out who she is and deal with the consequences of the decisions she makes along the way. Spoiler alert: she makes a lot of bad decisions. It was months after I finished reading an ARC of this book that I realized that Fresh was a wink and a nod to the fact that the main character is a Freshman in college and starting her life fresh. I just felt that I should come clean about that. This book is humorous and touching and puts a queer spin on an old tale that has been told multiple times before, but this version is delightful. For those who like to know, there is a lot of frank discussion about sex here.

Publisher’s Book Description: A hilarious and vulnerable coming-of-age story about the thrilling new experiences––and missteps––of a girl’s freshman year of college

Some students enter their freshman year of college knowing exactly what they want to do with their lives. Elliot McHugh is not one of those people. But picking a major is the last thing on Elliot’s mind when she’s too busy experiencing all that college has to offer—from dancing all night at off-campus parties, to testing her RA Rose’s patience, to making new friends, to having the best sex one can have on a twin-sized dorm room bed. But she may not be ready for the fallout when reality hits. When the sex she’s having isn’t that great. When finals creep up and smack her right in the face. Or when her roommate’s boyfriend turns out to be the biggest a-hole. Elliot may make epic mistakes, but if she’s honest with herself (and with you, dear reader), she may just find the person she wants to be. And maybe even fall in love in the process . . . Well, maybe.

Because apparently I’m making a lot of true confessions in this post, I have never read Little Women. I did, once, get to watch Riley act in a magnificent version of this novel in a play, so there’s that. Bethany C. Morrow took this perennial favorite and remixed it with four Black sisters. Bethany C. Morrow is a fabulous author and I wanted you all to know about this update of the classic.

Publisher’s Book Description: Four young Black sisters come of age during the American Civil War in So Many Beginnings, a warm and powerful YA remix of the classic novel Little Women by national bestselling author Bethany C. Morrow.

North Carolina, 1863. As the American Civil War rages on, the Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island is blossoming, a haven for the recently emancipated. Black people have begun building a community of their own, a refuge from the shadow of the old life. It is where the March family has finally been able to safely put down roots with four young daughters:

Meg, a teacher who longs to find love and start a family of her own.

Jo, a writer whose words are too powerful to be contained.

Beth, a talented seamstress searching for a higher purpose.

Amy, a dancer eager to explore life outside her family’s home.

As the four March sisters come into their own as independent young women, they will face first love, health struggles, heartbreak, and new horizons. But they will face it all together.

Dorian Gray introduced us to the idea of artwork that is evil and dangerous. She’s Too Pretty To Burn also explores the intersection of art and danger. Though some of our tales are retellings, this is more of an inspired by tale.

Publisher’s Book Description: An electric romance set against a rebel art scene sparks lethal danger for two girls in this expertly plotted YA thriller. For fans of E. Lockhart, Lauren Oliver and Kara Thomas.

The summer is winding down in San Diego. Veronica is bored, caustically charismatic, and uninspired in her photography. Nico is insatiable, subversive, and obsessed with chaotic performance art. They’re artists first, best friends second. But that was before Mick. Delicate, lonely, magnetic Mick: the perfect subject, and Veronica’s dream girl. The days are long and hot―full of adventure―and soon they are falling in love. Falling so hard, they never imagine what comes next. One fire. Two murders. Three drowning bodies. One suspect . . . one stalker. This is a summer they won’t survive.

Inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray, this sexy psychological thriller explores the intersections of love, art, danger, and power.

Peter Plan is one of those classic stories that gets told again and again and again and for the longest time, most of us didn’t realize how truly harmful it was to Indigenous people because it perpetuates harmful stereotypes of Native American and Indigenous people. Indigenous author Cynthia Leitich Smith has updated the classic from an Indigenous point of view for the middle grade crowd and up in this moving fantasy.

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.

Sunday Reflections: When the Discussion of College Rape is More Reality Than Statistics

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST DISCUSSES SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND RAPE

When I sent my daughter off to college this fall as a freshman, I was very well aware of the statistical truth of college rape in the abstract. I sent her with a black belt in self defense, pepper spray, Plan B, and more prayers than it seems like a person can pray in a normal 24 hour day. But I was not prepared for the reality of college campus rape to hit so close to home. Please note before continuing, my daughter is okay. But someone’s daughter is not.

On Tuesday morning of last week I woke up with a string of texts from Riley that said things like, “if you see the news it’s not me, I am okay.” Which I imagine was met to be reassuring but really just caused a panic. After a bit I was able to touch base with Riley and learned that someone on campus – specifically in my daughter’s college freshman dorm – had been raped in their room. And since I follow news about my kid’s college she knew I would see it and freak out. Which I did.

First, I want to say that my heart breaks for the young person who was the victim of this horrific crime. Their life is forever changed and I hope that the person that did this to them is held responsible to the full extend of the law. Unfortunately, we know from history that this will likely not happen. I know nothing about this case and don’t want to speak on it because it’s not my story to tell. However, I do want to talk about what it is like to be a student and the parent of a student on a college campus where something like this has happened.

As I mentioned, I was not unaware of the reality of rape on college campuses – in the abstract. I was also not prepared for this reality to come so close to home for my child and so soon after she has left the nest and started her journey as both a college student and an adult. This is a new level of fear.

I wish I could tell you that we were new to the idea of sexual violence but we are not. I myself am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, something I have talked frequently about here and I am very open with my two daughters about it because I want them to know what it is before it starts with them. Also, as a survivor, I am very aware that it has shaped parts of my personality and parenting decisions and I feel like it is helpful for them to know who I am and where I am coming from.

Sadly, Riley is also familiar with various forms of sexual harassment and abuse. The first time she was harassed was in middle school. The same is true for her younger sister, who started middle school this year. And most unfortunately, Riley has friends that have been abused in some truly horrific ways. It is unimaginably hard if not impossible to get daughters to college without knowledge or personal experience of sexual harassment and abuse.

I’m not going to lie, this is the aspect of college I was most afraid of. And now, here we are, there is an actual rapist on my daughter’s college campus and I don’t know if she’s safe. It is my understanding that this person has not been caught. But the thing is, this person is probably not the only one. It is interesting to note that although I can rattle off the statistic that 1 in 4 girls/women will be the victims of sexual violence, I can not tell you a statistic about how many men will be the perpetrators of sexual violence. And when I went looking for a statistic, it was much harder to find. We talk a lot about the victims and what they can do to stay safe or get help, but we talk very little about who the criminals are. We talk about sexual violence using a passive voice, a woman was raped on campus. But what about the person who did the raping?

When you look for information about sexual violence, it looks like this:

  • One of the most shocking facts about sexual assault is that approximately only 5% of sexual assault reports filed have been proven false.
  • 82% of all juvenile sexual assault victims are female.
  • 90% of adult rape victims are female.
  • 41% of sexual assaults against Native Indians are committed by a stranger.
  • Adolescents aged 14‐17 were by far the most likely to be sexually victimized; nearly one in six (16.3%) was sexually victimized in the past year. (source: https://legaljobs.io/blog/sexual-assault-statistics/)

Or this:

  • 82% of all juvenile victims are female. 90% of adult rape victims are female.6
  • Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.3
  • Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are 4 times more likely.7 (source: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence)

But very seldom do you hear us talk about who is committing acts of rape and how they are being held accountable. I found this statement, which floored me: Most perpetrators of sexual violence are men, so why do we talk about it as a women’s issue and not a man’s issue. (source: https://www.dividedstatesofwomen.com/2017/11/2/16597768/sexual-assault-men-himthough)

Even I, a person who has long advocated for changes in the ways we talk about sexual violence, found myself on the phone with my daughter telling her all the things she should do to keep her safe. Before she left for college her grandmother even looked at her and said, don’t take drinks from strangers and don’t go to places alone. The focus is always on what the victims are doing, wearing, going, etc. And the statistics are always about who the victims are. Everything about the way we talk about rape is wrong.

Someone is committing all of these rapes. We need to be talking about that. And honestly, a lot of women do. There are things called whisper networks for a reason. And I have spent both of my children’s lifetimes telling them to trust their guts and not give people the benefit of the doubt if their alarm bells were going off. We talk about things like watching how a boy/man jokes, how he responds to failure or boundaries or simply to the word no, and the signs of an unhealthy relationship.

It’s horrifying to know that it’s the year 2021 and we’re still sending our daughters to college with fear in our hearts that they will be raped. It’s only our first semester in college and already, the reality is so much realer than I could have ever imagined. My heart aches for our daughters.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Scrape Painting, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

Last night I tried a new method of painting I discovered on TikTok. I was excited to show it off to teens. Unfortunately I did not have any teens at the event, we’re still feeling effects of the pandemic, but it was still a fun way to paint and I recommend it for a programming idea. It was cheap because most of the supplies I already had on hand at the library, which is always a bonus.

Supplies 

  • Paint different colors
  • Cardboard cut up
  • Paint pad or a canvas
  • Table clothes (It can get messy)

Steps

  1. Put out table clothes
  2. Put out your paper or canvas
  3. Put small dots of paint on the canvas
  4. Use the edge of the cardboard to scrape the paint (This step can be repeated)

Final Thoughts

This is one craft I know that the teens would have made it look better than my examples. I would love to try this again and hope we can get teens to come. I do think it would work. I just think attendance is hard to get at the moment. 

More on Scrape Painting

https://kidmademodern.com/blogs/posts/scrape-painting-art

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: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Inspired – New Twists on Old Tales in YA Lit

Last week, middle grade and YA author Martha Brockenbrough tweeted that her kid was reading the same books that she herself read in high school. This is also true in my house. Riley, who just graduated in May of 2021, read almost book for the book the same books that I read in high school . . . which was now 31 years ago. And most of those books were already old and outdated at that time. And they certainly didn’t represent the plurality of the world or any of the new innovations in science, justice, or even basic humanity that we have evolved to embrace over the scope of time. And yet there are no shortage of new, innovative takes on classic stories. So today I am going to share with you 5 new takes on some beloved classics that would make for some great comparisons. If you’re going to assign an old tale, why not ask readers to read a new take on those tales and make comparisons. There are so many ways we can invite readers to dig deeper and have a richer exploration of literature.

Bad Girls Never Say Die by Jennifer Mathieu is a take on the classic The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. Where The Outsiders is the tale of bad boys from the wrong side of tracks in a strong friendship, Bad Girls Never Say Die is the gender bent version of this tale. Here we see bad girls being given the liberty to be, well, bad girls, and there friendship makes the cornerstone of this novel.

Publisher’s Book Description: 1964. Houston, Texas.

Evie Barnes is a bad girl. So are all her friends. They’re the sort who wear bold makeup, laugh too loud, and run around with boys. Most of all, they protect their own against the world. So when Evie is saved from the unimaginable by a good girl from the “right” side of the tracks, every rule she’s always lived by is called into question. Now she must redefine what it means to be a bad girl and rethink everything she knew about loyalty.

In this riveting story of murder, secrets, and tragedy, Jennifer Mathieu re-imagines S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders from a female perspective. Bad Girls Never Say Die has all the drama and heartache of that teen classic, but with a feminist take just right for our times.

I read Lord of the Flies way, way back in the late 90s and Riley read it just a couple of years ago. Although she hated it with a fierce, fiery rage of a 1,000 suns, she LOVES Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. In case you don’t know, Lord of the Flies are about a group of boys who are flying to a thing (I forget what thing) and their plane crashes onto an island and they quickly devolve into horrible, horrible humans. In Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, a group of girls on their way to a beauty pageant crash onto an island and things are not always what they seem. If you are going to read this book – and I highly recommend that you do – try listening to the audio read by Libba Bray herself. It is hilarious and inspiring.

Publisher’s Book Description: Teen beauty queens. A lost island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives deep in the heart of every girl, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror!


When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island’s other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition.

In Rebecca, a new wife goes to live a lush life with her new husband and learns that he is hiding a lot of secrets. In I Killed Zoe Spanos, a missing teen in the Hamptons village sets up a series of twists and turns that make for a great read. Inspired in part by Rebecca, Kit Frick writes a psychological suspense novel with its own gothic twists.

Publisher’s Book Description: This gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected–and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

In Orpheus and Eurdyce, Orpheus is a young lover who must travel to the depths of Hades to rescue his true love. In Never Look Back, Eury (catch the name there) is haunted by Hurricane Maria – and an evil spirit. Pheus falls in love with her and wants to help save her from all that haunts her, but does love always conquer all? You’ll want to read this moving retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria–and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

This is an #OwnVoices retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice.

We all know the story of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. The Violent Delights takes the tale of star-crossed lovers and sets it in Shanghai in the year 1926. Rival gangs control the streets. Rumors of a madness start to take hold when gang members appear to claw out their own throats and rivals Juliette and Roma must join forces to discover what’s happening before their empires fall apart. This is book 1, there is more story to come.

Publisher’s Book Description: The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

What are your favorite updated takes on some of the classics? Share with us in the comments. Happy reading!

Sunday Reflections: There Are No Other Sides to Some Issues

TW: Holocaust, Genocide and Other Forms of Racial Violence are Discussed

A very old lady stood before us all in a crowded high school gymnasium and showed us her tattoo. It was a series of numbers given to her by the Nazis that held her captive in the concentration camp. She told us stories of being captured, riding on a train, standing in lines to receive very little food. She told us of people she loved disappearing in the night. She told us of the family that never got to see her grow up because they did not survive the camps.

That was more than 30 years ago for me and I can still remember her face. Her arm outstretched. The numbers that they used to try and make her seem less than human.

This past week, audio was shared online of a teacher telling other teachers in the Southlake school district in Texas to make sure they had an alternate point of view available if they were teaching about the Holocaust. What, exactly, is an alternate point of view to the Holocaust.

That it didn’t happen? We have tons of primary sources in the form of movie reels, photographs, diaries, legislation and the concentration camps themselves that prove the Holocaust was real. There is no denying the Holocaust, though I know that many have been trying for years.

That it was acceptable? More than 6 millions Jews were killed as well as many others with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community. Genocide can not be acceptable. Ever.

That the Nazi methods may have been bad, but their goals were desirable? I am the child of a man who dedicated his life to serving this country and fighting for Democracy. Though our Democracy is imperfect, I will never accept the idea that authoritarianism or fascism is a desirable goal. I will not spit on the grave of my father and dishonor his memory in that way. Nor will I dishonor my fellow human beings who deserve to have their basic human rights honored. I feel the people who are governed should have a voice, a vote, in how they are governed.

We must teach every generation about the Holocaust so that it doesn’t happen again. We need to acknowledge the darkness in our past and the potential for darkness in each and every one of us to help keep us moving towards the light.

There is this growing sentiment that teaching our children about the darkness in our past will cause them to hate this country, or themselves. But what if, instead, being honest about the past and showing how we can learn and grow and change was teaching them to love themselves, and the people around them. When I look back at my life and the things that I have suffered, the harm that was done to me and sometimes by me, I don’t feel shame or self hatred, I feel proud of myself for overcoming it, for learning from it, for healing, and for growing. I feel proud of myself for allowing myself to become the person that I am instead of allowing myself to stay trapped in the past. Sometimes it has meant that I have had to had hard conversations with myself and other people. It has meant that I have had to admit wrongs, ask for forgiveness, and even just learn how to deal with difficult losses. But allowing yourself to learn and grow is a powerful, empowering feeling. Reaching towards the light is so much more profound than staying rooted in darkness.

When Riley was in the 6th grade, her class to a school trip to the Holocaust museum. It disturbed her greatly and she cried for days. We talked about it a lot. And just last year Thing 2 read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry in her 6th grade class. I’m glad that both of my daughters learned about this horrific part of human history because we must be honest with ourselves and each other about what we are capable of. Psychologist Carl Jung talked about the idea of the shadow self; it’s this notion that we all have the capacity for great darkness inside of us and that we must be honest with ourselves about it in order to control it. Denial doesn’t make the truth go away, it just makes it more likely for it to sneak up and hurt us.

I am a person of great and tremendous faith. I am a Christian. But the truth is, many great atrocities have been committed in the name of the very faith I have devoted my life to. We burned witches, led Crusades, stole Indigenous children from their families and buried them in unmarked graves and we bought and sold Black people pretending that we were somehow better than them despite the clear evil we were inflicting on the world. Being a Christian and proclaiming the Gospel doesn’t make me perfect and it does not exempt me from the laws of this land nor does it exempt me from honest self reflection. In fact, I would argue, the very nature of the Gospel demands that I must constantly be engaging in self reflection and growth in a way that betters not only myself, but those around me. The Christian faith is a communal faith based on loving one another.

I am an American and I love my country. But the truth is, many great atrocities have been committed in the name of “democracy” and “America first”. Treaties have been broken, Japanese Americans were put in our own enslavement camps, and we still treat people of color, LGBTQ people, and women as second class citizens with disposable rights. Many of these great atrocities are still, as I write this, being committed. Our history isn’t even history, not really. But Democracy is an active process in which we must engage repeatedly and it, too, must be working towards betterment of each other and the whole because democracy is about living in community with others. Democracy does not work if everyone has a me first and me only mentality.

By the way, we have factual primary sources that document all of the above. Your librarian can help you get your hands on it.

Denying the truths of who we are, where we’ve been, and the work we need to do to be better doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t even, not really, help the people who don’t want things to change because they think they will lose their status, their power or their money. The truth is, our country thrives, when as many individuals who live within it thrive. When we raise people up out of poverty we have less crime, lower health care costs, healthier workers with more company loyalty, and higher educational achievement which leads to innovation and growth.

One of the reasons I am a librarian is because I believe that knowing about the past can help us to make a better future for ourselves and each other. We preserve centuries of first person accounts, called primary sources, so that the whole of human history can be studied, shared, and learned from. But as a human being, as a Christian, as an American, and as a mother, there are just personally some things that I can not fathom and this idea that there can or should be some alternative view to the Holocaust is one of them. I can still, these 30 years later, close my eyes and see the face of that women standing before me. Her truth deserves to be told. And in telling them, we can learn to be better for ourselves, and for one other. The truth can set us free, even the hard ones.