Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Serving Full T.I.L.T. : Empathy, remembering what it’s like to be a teen and how it helps us be better teen services librarians

Image from http://imgkid.com/the-breakfast-club-quotes-brian.shtml

In the summer before I began my Junior year of high school my family moved. Again. That’s what happens when you are a military family. But even though you know it’s going to happen, it doesn’t make it suck any less. A few weeks into the new semester at a new school I received a devastating phone call. My best friend in the universe had been in a car accident. That morning my mother woke up and drove me the 3 hours to visit her in the hospital. One week later, the phone rang again early in the morning and I knew. With the shrill trilling ring of that phone I knew: my best friend had died.

A few days later I sat outside a pizza place as our friends inside laughed and joked and told stories about Teri. But I didn’t understand how they could do that, how they could eat, how they could laugh, how they weren’t dying inside. This wasn’t my first experience with death, that had come earlier when a friend of my father’s took his own life. It was just my first experience with death in a way that was so immediate and personal. I had already lost so much, moving and starting over, and now this person was gone. This person that I had made batches and batches of rice krispie treats with (it was our favorite). This person I had obsessed over Duran Duran with. This person that had shared my first concert experience with (yes, it was Duran Duran). This person that had helped me navigate my first dates, my first boyfriend, my first everything.

Years later, as a teen librarian, I would be in a room full of teens many times when they had just learned of the death of a classmate or friend. The boy who was in a car accident drag racing on a Saturday night. The girl with childhood cancer. The boy who took his own life. And as those teens sat in the room with me, crying and remembering their friend, I am always taken back to this moment, this memory of Teri. And because I could remember, I could empathize. I felt their pain so genuinely because I know visceral how this pain feels.

Image from http://www.hercampus.com/school/fairfield/8-times-breakfast-club-influenced-our-lives

The thing I have often found about the staff who complain about teens in the library is that they have forgotten what it is like to be a teen. I understand wanting to forget, being a teen sucked in epic ways. That constant struggle between wanting independence and the adults around you fighting for control. The expectations. The stress. The way the adults around you want you to be act like an adult but still treat you like a kid. Then there are friends and boyfriends and the high school hierarchy. Your body often feels like it is betraying you, causing you to rage with anger in one moment when in the next you are reduced to a puddle of insecurity and sometimes tears. The zits that pop up on your face that make you want to wear a paper bag. The anticipation of when you like a new person at school, the heartache when you learn that they don’t feel the same way. That first kiss. That moment when you realize it’s all over.

Image from http://www.hercampus.com/school/fairfield/8-times-breakfast-club-influenced-our-lives

One of my favorite staff training exercises is to invite my co-workers to try and remember what it was like when they were teens. What was your favorite song or tv show or movie, I’ll ask. What did they mean to you? What were your fears? What were your favorite moments? Biggest embarrassments? You don’t even have to ask them to share it out loud, that’s not the point. The point is to remember. And when you remember, when you put yourself back in the shoes of your teenage self, you can better understand and empathize with teenagers today.

Serving Full T.I.L.T. (Teens in Libraries Today) series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Karen Jensen)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

Serving Full T.I.L.T.: Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen by Rebecca Denham

Teenhood is a confusing time for teens and the adults in their lives.  Adolescents who never before questioned authority are suddenly abusing sarcasm, questioning every authority figure in sight and dependent on their friends rather than parental figures for emotional support.  There are biological changes impacting teens physiologically and social development factors that influence the chaotic cocktail of teen emotions.  Let’s face it, teenhood is hard. So today as part of our Serving Full T.I.L.T. series we’re going to be discussing basic teen development.

They Travel in Packs

It can be overwhelming for a group of teens to descend on a library, but this herd-like behavior is perfectly natural from a developmental standpoint.  Teens, especially younger adolescents, use social groups to define themselves, their values and their behavior.  This desire to be part of a group may seem at odds with the inherent adolescent desire for independence, but it is actually quite reasonable when viewed from the teen perspective.  Teens use their relationships to explore the world outside their family unit and to identify both similarities and differences between themselves and their parents.  The teenage years are when adolescents try on a variety of roles in the exploration of identity.

Children learn a great deal by role play, also known as pretending or imaginary play.  Extrapolate the importance of pretending to adolescence.  Adolescence is all about becoming an individual which means that a teen needs to be something more than just their parents’ child; more than who they have been so far.  However, teens also know that they are not quite ready for adulthood and therefore use their social groups to explore different roles they may take as adults.  It is through relationships with their peers that teens test and ultimately finalize their morals and values.

While the desire to be part of a group is critical for young teens, many older teens replace their social group of early adolescence with more intimate friendships or romantic relationships.  I’ve noticed that, in general, the older the teen is the more likely they are to travel in pairs than packs.  However, some studies have shown that teens from minority groups face greater pressure to rely on peer groups throughout adolescence for a sense of belonging.  One of the great balancing acts of library services for teens is to make sure that both groups of teens and individual teens are welcome in the library.  Successful library services for teens serve individuals as well as social groups by offering a variety of programs, services and materials.  YALSA, YART, and many blogs run by youth services librarians have literally hundreds of ideas, guidelines and tools for serving teens in libraries.

Teens, Romance and Drama

Adolescent romance is often viewed with benign indulgence or dismissal by the adults in a teenager’s life but these relationships hold an amazing amount of influence over teenagers’ mental and emotional health as well as their adolescent development.  Romantic relationships, positive or negative, account for some of the strongest emotions teens experience during the adolescent years.  Romantic relationships of the teenage years also lay the foundation for adult romantic relationships.  The nature of romantic relationships in adolescents is heavily influenced by culture, gender, and the individual but, generally speaking, romantic relationships for younger adolescents are characterized by higher stress and lower emotional support than those of older teens.  Similar to the prior attachment to peer group, as older teens transition to adulthood the individual’s primary attachment figure shifts from parent to romantic partner.

Romance in the teenage years serves another purpose beyond the rush of hormones, these relationships allow teens to expand and practice communication and interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and intimacy skills that are necessary for a well-adjusted adulthood.  However, adolescent romance, as with any relationship, can have a dark side.  According to a 2007 study, 61% of teens involved in romantic relationships reported being made to feel bad or embarrassed about themselves.  A recent survey by the CDC found that 10% of high school students reported physical victimization at the hands of their romantic partner.  One study found that 29% of the young women surveyed who had ever been in a relationship said they had been pressured to have sex or to engage in sexual activity they did not want.  A 2013 study found that LGBTQ teens experience significantly high rates of all types of dating violence compared with heterosexual youth.  Some of the statistics about adolescent romance are disturbing which is why it is important that we have conversations with our teens about healthy and unhealthy relationships.  These conversations must be done in a supportive, non-judgemental way if you want your library teens to stick around.  You should also have resources available for teens so that they don’t have to talk directly to you if they don’t want to – often the questions that teens most need to ask are the ones they are embarrassed to air.

Self-Esteem is Kind of a Group Effort

Peer groups are one of the most powerful influencing factors when it comes to a teenager’s self-esteem.  The peers who are so crucial to adolescent social development and development of personal identity are also integral in influencing a teen’s self worth.  As a librarian, you cannot control how teens treat each other outside of the library but you can influence their behavior by treating every teen with compassion and respect and setting a standard of behavior for any teens in the library or attending library programs.  Make your library a No Bullying Zone, form a GSA, get to know the teens in your library and let them know that you care about their well being.

Being a teenager is complicated and difficult but if you try to see their perspective and make them feel welcome you will truly begin to understand the near-alchemical mysteries of the developing teen.

Next week, as part of our Serving Full T.I.L.T. series, Heather Booth talks with us about the teenage brain.


[1] Developing Adolescents: A Reference for Professionals by the American Psychological Association – http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/brochures/develop.aspx

[2]A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play by Vivian Gussin Paley

[3]Challenges in studying minority youth. Spencer, Margaret Beale; Dornbusch, Sanford M. Feldman, S. Shirley (Ed); Elliott, Glen R. (Ed), (1990). At the threshold: The developing adolescent. , (pp. 123-146). Cambridge, MA, US: Harvard University Press, x, 642 pp.

[4] http://www.ala.org/yalsa/

[5] http://www.txla.org/groups/yart

[6] Teen Librarian Toolbox, Lunanshee’s Lunacy, YA Books and More, The Green Bean Teen Queen – there are TONS of online resources for Youth Services Librarians

[7] Larson RW, et al. (1999). The emotions of romantic relationships: Do they wreak havoc on adolescents? In: Furman W, Brown BB, Feiring C, editors. The development of romantic relationships in adolescence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; p. 19-49.

[8] http://www.headspace.org.au/media/326676/romanticrelationships_adolescent_romantic_relationships_why_are_they_important_headspace_evsum.pdf

[9] Furman W, Wehner EA. (1997). Adolescent romantic relationships: A developmental perspective. In: Shulman S, Collins A, editors. Romantic relationships in adolescence: New directions for child development. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass; p. 21-36.

[10] http://www.actforyouth.net/resources/rf/rf_romantic_0707.pdf

[11] http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen_dating_violence.html

[12] Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice and Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-1999 (2001). American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center.

[13] Dank M, Lachman P, Zweig JM, Yahner J. Dating Violence Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 2013. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10964-013-9975-8.

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Rebecca Denham is a Young Adult Librarian at heart who masquerades as an Assistant Branch Manager by day at a very busy library somewhere in the metropolitan wilds of Texas.  When not distracted by management duties Rebecca is reading, reviewing YA literature and coming up with fun, innovative programming with diverse teen appeal. When not writing and reviewing for her blog Rebecca volunteers her time for the following committees: Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (YALSA), 2015-2016, Best Fiction for Young Adults (YALSA), 2013-2014, 2014-2015,Youth Engagement (YALSA), 2013-2014,Spirit of Texas Reading Program HS (YART), 2011-2015, Teen Book Con Planning Committee, 2011 to present, Book Reviewer for VOYA, December 2011 to present,A4YA Reviewer for SLJ, Febraury 2014 to present. You can follow her on Twitter.

Resources for Adults Working with Teens:






Resources for Teens







Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

In defense of teens by Heather Booth

If you haven’t read the recent article chastising adults for enjoying teen lit, you could seek it out, or you could just not bother (we won’t link to it here). I did have the misfortune of reading it. It didn’t make me angry though, it made me sad. And it didn’t make me sad for the way teen lit is perceived, it made me sad for all of us, because the attitude presented is so prevalent in our society and it colors the way teens experience the world. I’m talking about the clear disdain for teens. The way the domain of adolescence is habitually disparaged as an unfortunate phase that people should escape from as soon as possible. The way adult culture – literature, clothing styles, music, leisure time preferences – are all displayed as the ideal, the pinnacle for which we should all strive.

Let’s, for a minute, recall our own awkward and difficult adolescent moments. Now let’s set those aside and remember the value of teenagehood and what else youth offered us.

It gave us summer vacation. It gave many of us freedom from the confines of a job. It gave us the ability to focus on ourselves and be cared for by someone else. It gave us the opportunity to craft ourselves out of myriad possibilities – to try on theater club one year and be a newspaper photographer the next and to try out for volleyball, and when that didn’t work out, to be a runner on the track team because they took everyone. When was the last time you had that flexibility in redefining yourself as an adult?

That article made me sad because it shows no understanding of the worth of teenagers. No importance of the value of that time in our lives. No respect for teens as people. Not people about to become adults, not people who are unfortunately stuck where they are for the time being. Not defined by their lack of and striving for adulthood, but interesting, valuable, whole people just as they are now.

Read whatever you want; I don’t care. What you read doesn’t define who you are. But if you can’t appreciate the stories of teens written for teens, it says a lot more about who you aren’t. If you can’t do this, it means you aren’t able to suspend your own absorption in your own life and experience that of someone else’s. It means you aren’t able to empathize with people who are younger than you. It means you think you’re better than them. And you’re not. None of us is. Because we are them and they are us. Don’t be embarrassed to read teen lit. Be embarrassed that you think reading it should embarrass you.


How we Talk about Teenaged Characters in Books is Completely Wrong, a look at adolescent development

Check out the Oct 2011 edition for more

Occasionally I will read a review of a book and they will say things like they hated the book because the main character, a teenager, “made stupid decisions”, was “stupid”, was “whiny”, was “selfish”, or was “impulsive”.  When I read these reviews I can’t help but think, do you remember being a teen? And have you talked to one lately?

I believe what these reviewers mean to say is that the teenaged characters in a book about teenagers acted like teenagers do and that is okay because this is a book about teenagers.

Here’s the deal, teenagers are very different from adults. Research, actual science, has shown that their brains aren’t fully developed and they don’t even access them the same way that adults do. In fact, the part that influences decision making is one of the most underdeveloped/under-utilized parts of their brains. This is a great analogy for understanding the teenage brain: “For comparison’s sake, think of the teenage brain as an entertainment center that hasn’t been fully hooked up. There are loose wires, so that the speaker system isn’t working with the DVD player, which in turn hasn’t been formatted to work with the television yet. And to top it all off, the remote control hasn’t even arrived!” (How Stuff Works)

Let me tell you a story about my amazing husband (it’s okay to tell you this because I asked and he said sure). When he was 19 he got fired from a job. His car had broken down on the freeway and stressed out and overwhelmed, he really just didn’t want to take the time to call off work. So they fired him. Here he was living on his own, now unemployed, and kind of unraveling. Do you know what he did with his last $20.00? He bought an M.C. Escher print at the mall because it was cool. The Mr. eventually worked this adulting thing all out. He is, in fact, an awesome husband and even more amazing father. But who he was then is miles away from who he is now. The same goes for me. And if you are being honest, the adult you is very different from the teenaged you. If not, you’re probably doing this adult thing wrong.

When adults read YA literature, we must do so with a better understanding of who teens are. Teen characters aren’t going to make the same decisions as adult characters because teens aren’t future thinking in their decision making. They don’t have the benefit of wisdom and the experience that comes from trial and error. A lot of times, these are all new situations to the teen characters in books just as teens in real life are facing these experiences for the first time. As a side note, this is one of the reasons why the age of consent matters and we must stop romanticizing the idea of the adult man with underage girls and vice versa, but that is a rant for another day.

It’s unfair to the literature to put adult expectations on teenaged characters. Teenagers are not mini adults, they are older kids (though don’t ever call them that, they don’t like it). Was Harry Potter sometimes really whiny? Yes, yes he was. And you know, so are most young teens. Are teens sometimes impulsive? Yes, and this is actually developmentally correct behavior, as is being selfish, making bad decisions, and having high and extreme emotional reactions.

Maybe I said all of this better yesterday on Twitter.

Here’s the important takeaway:

For more information on how the teenage brain is different from the adult brain, check out these resources:

Wired: You Call This Thing Adaptive?
NIMH: The Teen Brain, Still Under Construction 
PBS Frontline: Inside the Teenage Brain
A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Brain
How Stuff Works: Are teenage brains really different from adults?

The 2017 Mindset List

The 2017 Beloit College Mindset List was released today, and it is worth a read, as always.  Go ahead and take a look now if you haven’t already.

I was already in college when the first Mindset List was released for the class of 2002, but I recall my friends and I poring over it (found forwarded on Elm, printed out in a computer lab because none of us had Internet or printers in our dorm rooms…), feeling quite wise, mature, and informed.  “Oh these children don’t remember the Reagan assassination attempt?  What a life of luxury they’ve led, always having a remote controlled TV…”  Aside from the novelty and eye rolling though, the list is generally useful for those of us who work with teens.

Two things in particular jumped out at me in reading this list.

There seems to be a tone of political cynicism that I don’t recall in previous lists.

17. Threatening to shut down the government during Federal budget negotiations has always been an anticipated tactic.  

20. The Pentagon and Congress have always been shocked, absolutely shocked, by reports of sexual harassment and assault in the military.

35. Congress has always been burdened by the requirement that they comply with the anti-discrimination and safety laws they passed for everybody else to follow.

Whether or not the cynicism is really representative of the current older teen cohort, it is out there in popular media and it’s worth noting that this is the environment in which they have come of age.

Also, the pervasiveness of technology over other cultural issues seems especially pronounced.  These are only a handful that reference digital tech in some way:

8. Having a chat has seldom involved talking. 

10. They could always get rid of their outdated toys on eBay. 

12. Their TV screens keep getting smaller as their parents’ screens grow ever larger. 

13. PayPal has replaced a pen pal as a best friend on line. 

14. Rites of passage have more to do with having their own cell phone and Skype accounts than with getting a driver’s license and car. 

16. A tablet is no longer something you take in the morning.

With regards to technology, well, it’s everywhere, right?  It’s important to note that for those folks who work with teens and young adults, that we’re now talking about people who came of age always having access to these tools and toys.  Digital natives, amirite?  It did make me wonder though, at the junction of being informed or shaped by technology, and simply using it as a tool.  When will the tech changes be so ingrained and pervasive that they stop showing up on the list?

What I found most helpful about this list was not the list itself, it was the preface.  Today’s incoming freshmen are dealing with economic issues that are perhaps more pronounced than those who entered college a few years ago.  Health care and insurance, college costs and debt and how they inform college major and career choices – these are the things I would like to know more about, the issues that have a lot more bearing on the actual mindset of teens than when YAHOO! came into existence.

Additionally, we’re coming to the end of an era in which these teens and young adults have a meaningful recollection of the September 11, 2001 attacks or recall our entry into the war in Afghanistan.  For as long as most of these teens can meaningfully remember, our country has been at war.  I would’ve liked to see some reflection on that as well, though I imagine past lists must have referenced it and I understand the List’s need for novelty each year.

Do you use the Mindset List in informing your work with teens?  Share your thoughts in the comments!


Sunday Reflections: The sacred & the profane

To many of us, for many teens, the library can be a sacred space.  A place of refuge and quiet contemplation.  A place where the everyday expectations and pressures of life are lifted and teens are allowed to be themselves more genuinely, more authentically, more freely than they might be allowed to express at home, in school, or with friends.  We strive to provide this kind of safe space for creative and personal expression.  Sometimes, this sacred refuge will mean quiet, peaceful reflection.  Sometimes the sacred refuge will mean letting inner thoughts rise to the surface through expressive, even profane, language.

Recently, TLT received a reader request to address an issue related to this notion of sacred and profane that a lot of us have contemplated.  Megan writes:

I was hoping you could do a post on TLT on the topic of profanity in teen library programs. What can and can’t be done in teen library programs? What rules (both spoken and unspoken) do people follow when setting their guidelines?

We have a lot of teens here who make their own beats and write their own raps, and I would love to have a talent show program where they can share their music with each other. However, these kids have really rough lives and I know their lyrics are going to be equally rough. We also have an open mic night where teens are invited to share music, art, drama, and writing. It can be their own work or works that they enjoy. Restricting profanity in these creative situations seems wrong to me.

Sometimes, the library might need to be a refuge from the profanity.

Then again, sometimes the profanity and focus on difficult topics is going to be a necessary part of a teen’s cathartic expression.

How do we balance these dueling demands within one library, one space, or one program?

Balance is the key.  Just like it would be unworkable to ban and punish any and all profanity, allowing a no-holds-barred free for all is just as unworkable.  We need to consider the audience, the location, the purpose, the people.

Is harsh language necessary to express pain or despair in a poem or theatrical piece during an open mic?  Is it necessary to express annoyance in general conversation during a gaming program?

Should you allow teens in your writing group to use whatever strong language they need to express their feelings and experiences?  I believe you should.  The creative process is sometimes improved by providing boundaries – you need look no further than poetic forms to see how this works – but this might need to come later, after you have already established trust and respect for the teens, their issues, and their words.

On the other hand, should we be condoning a liberal use of four-letter-words in an open teen center or a less personally charged program?  I would argue that this should be curtailed.  Our open spaces are just that – open – and should feel that way and sound that way.  Curating a space that allows anyone to feel welcome often means editing (You recall the saying about sex, religion, politics, and polite conversation?) and this is something that we can help our teens learn.

We need to remember, as our reader Megan later mentions, that profanity and strong language is not always going to be conducive to providing a comfortable place for all of our teen patrons.  Just because they hear it everywhere, they read it in teen literature, and they see it in movies doesn’t mean that all teens appreciate or use profanity, and it doesn’t mean that we should endorse the use of rough language when the setting doesn’t warrant it.

As this season of diverse religious holidays should remind us, sacred spaces and connections vary from person to person.  What is sacred about the Library – our appreciation of the individual, our dedication to lifelong learning, our drive to connect people with what they need – will look different from teen to teen depending on the needs and interests he or she brings to us.  Getting back to balance, profanity, and safe spaces, I invite you to share your own guidelines – institutional or personal – for profanity and self expression with teens.  How do you deal with a mixed group of teens with diverse backgrounds, needs, and styles of language? 

Karen’s Two Cents: In programming, my program space is declared a “Safe Place.”  Although I love how Heather refers to it as sacred.  So when in a teen program, I do ask that my teens keep their hands to themselves, that they respect the feelings of others, and that they watch their language and the types of things that they talk about.  What is comfortable for one is not always comfortable for another, and learning to be in community with those that are different from us is a really important life skill.  I think that is one of the great things about amazing literature, it helps us to walk in someone else’s shoes and develop a compassion towards them, and I ask that my teens be aware of those around them in a programming environment in the same way.  Teens should be able to come to a library program, have fun, and feel safe.  Balancing self expression and being in community with others is one of life’s great challenges, and that is no different in a teen program.

On the Seventh Day of Blogmas, my TLT gave to me

The Show Me Librarian!  Okay, so I know this is Teen Librarian’s Toolbox and the blog I’m ‘giving’ to you is primarily for children’s services BUT those of us working in public libraries 1) sometimes serve both populations, 2) are always looking for good Tween/Teen books and programs, and/or 3) (if you’re me…) HATE working with children.  Okay, that’s a little much but I really, really don’t like working in Children’s Services.  There is a reason I don’t.  Storytime with me would be a very bad idea.  I can’t fake it and I say ‘crap’ a lot (along with a few other choice words).  That’s frowned upon.

Back to The Show Me Librarian…Amy Koester has made me like children.  Or at least the books.  What Amy has done is provide an excellent book review, commentary, and programming site that gives me ideas when I am working with my own son (and future daughter), ideas that I pass along to my Children’s librarians, and a ton of programming ideas for my middle grade groups.

Just recently, she did a Spy Club post, which really made me think about modding this idea for my 6-8th graders who would LOVE a program like this.  Other awesome postings are How to Start a Lego Club, her Day in the Life of a Children’s Librarian series, and her awesome post about her YA Tab Lock-In that literally made me green with jealousy.

Amy does have a heart for YA as well and posts things for YA savvy librarians but this resource is absolute GOLD for those of you serving all of youth services.  Or for those of you who want to learn to like children.  Wait, maybe that’s just me…bah humbug.  (;

Stephanie (I felt the need to sign this post so that the other awesome chicks at TLT don’t get a ‘Kiddie-Hating’ reputation!)

Book Review: Uncool, a Girl’s Guide to Misfitting In by Erin Elisabeth Conley

The Unrules:
  • Be kind to your fellow misfits.
  • Believe that black is a color suitable for any occasion, worthy of even being added to the rainbow.
  • Think.  Be.  Think and be different.
  • Throw caution to the wind.  Take chances with fashion, hobbies, hopes, and dreams.
  • Be OK with wearing things that your mother, grandmother, or nosy old neighbor thinks are ugly.
  • Don’t be afraid to look weird.
  • Write a blog.  Make a documentary film.  Publish a zine.  Learn the accordion.  Build a radio-controlled blimp.
  • Express your individuality in a healthy, creative way.
  • Let your inner geek speak- whether it’s through music, art, science, origami, circus school, or whatever.
  • Do something slightly risky (but never dangerous) every once in a while.  Take up the sport of spelunking (cave exploring), or invite your gym teacher to join you for lunch.
  • Have patience with people who are different from you.  (You know, the ones who are so “normal” they’re practically clones.)
  • Find something to believe in, a worthy cause of sorts.  Volunteer and invest some genuine spirit into it.
  • Feel free to pop over to the Dark Side, but don’t move there.
  • Orbit Planet Normal in your mother ship, but don’t inhabit it.
  • Don’t change just because someone else thinks you should.
  • Know that even though you may misfit, there is always someplace you are welcome in the world.

Uncool, a 2009 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, is a fun and active read for teen girls who are always faced with the pressure of fitting in and bending to the whims of everyone’s opinions, whether it’s the media or family and friends.  When you know that you are not stepping to the same tune as everyone else, life is always difficult, and the humor that runs rampant throughout the book helps give girls already anxious about issues like appearance, clothing, cliques, and being themselves a lift and an easy way to navigate through some of the tougher waters.

Containing recommended book lists and playlists, Mad Libs for thinking through issues, and activities for handling situations in non-confrontational ways, Uncool engages readers into making active insights into the world around them.  It encourages the inner weirdness in all of us in a positive way, without shining rainbows and glitter over the negatives of middle school and teen life.  A lack of an appendix for additional resources (websites or readings), and its nonstandard size are the only negatives for adding it to a library collection- at 4 1/2 inches by 5 1/2 inches it’s perfect for a teen to carry around in a purse or backpack unnoticed, but it’s going to be hard to keep track of on traditional library shelving.
I can definitely see using this in library programming, paired with fiction books such as the ones listed on our Top Ten Books Dealing with Body Image, or with programs on self esteem, or as part of “spa days” for teens.  Get some of the Mad Libs or other writing activities blown up, create a playlist on your iPod with some of the recommended songs, and go to town for your program opener.  Lead with a discussion of where things stand in books and media before creating body salts or killer robots for crafts.
Some totally “Uncool” role models to share with teens:
Daria, from the awesome animated series from Mtv
Lisa Simpson, from the Simpsons animated series
Georgia Nicolson, from author Louise Rennison
Kat, from the movie 10 Things I Hate About You
Bridget Jones, from the books and the movies
And let us not forget one of the coolest Uncool people out there, Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Share your favorite “Uncool” female role models for us in the comments.

Book Review: Dear Teen Me edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally

Every once in a while you come across an idea so genius you wish you had thought of it.  One of those ideas is Dear Teen MeDear Teen Me began as a website and is now a book published by Zest Books.  In Dear Teen Me, an eclectic variety of teen authors have written letters to their teenage selves – see, genius!  Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, these letters are all full of the wisdom that comes from getting older (and wiser they say) and looking back on the suckage that we call the teenage years. Over 70 amazing teen authors contribute their stories.

Dear Teen Me edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally
Published by Zest Books October 2012
ISBN: 978-1-9369762-1-8 ($14.99)
Serious questions will be answered . . .
Who had a really bad first kiss?
Who found her true love at 18?
Who skipped prom to go to a Grateful Dead concert?
But intermixed in all the fun are the stories that will change a teen’s life.

Six of My Favorite Letters

Tom Angleberger
This, Tom’s entry, is notable because it is written as a comic, not surprising given who he is. But it adds that element of fun to the book. There are a few other graphic novel/comic book type entries as well. (Note, you can get teens to create their own comics using a variety of free online programs or the iPhone app Comic Book)

Ilsa J. Bick
This is a truly fascinating letter where Bick discusses the anger issues of her father, finding a Nazi knife in the bushes, and the lies our parents tell us to keep everyone “safe”.  Very interesting.

Lauren Oliver
Look, we all know I love Lauren Oliver.  So when I saw she was in there I went right to her letter, which she jointly wrote with Elizabeth Miles.  It turns out Lauren and Elizabeth are BFFs.  I liked the overall message of this letter: you can remain friends, even if you didn’t necessarily start out as friends.

Cheryl Rainfield
If you have read Scars by Chery Rainfield, you know that Cheryl was at one time a cutter. You also know that she tried to commit suicide. This letter will rip your guts out and hand them to you on a plate. I was so moved by her honesty and bravery in sharing.  There will be tears.

Tom Ryan
Tom is gay.  Tom didn’t always know he was gay; sure, he probably suspected, but coming out was something that Tom really struggled with.  In this touching letter to his teenage self Tom tells a younger Tom that it’s okay to come out.  Again, moving and inspiring.

Lisa Burstein (online)
Lisa’s letter does not appear in the book, it is on the website.  But the website is a great way to supplement the book with ongoing discussions.  Lisa’s letter is a well written but heartbreaking account of being raped by her boyfriend.  It is a tragic but important reminder to us all that No Means No.  As with Cheryl Rainfield, I was so moved by Lisa Burstein’s honesty and bravery. And yes, I cried.

In the end, Dear Teen Me is witty, heartfelt, sarcastic, sad, inspiring . . . all those things we want from a great teen book.  It is laid out well (most letters are a 2 to 4 page spread) and has some fun, creative flourishes (each author includes a teenage picture that looks like a postal stamp).  This is an easy read for browsers.  And let’s be honest, teens will love laughing at the pictures inside.  Interspersed through the book are sections of Q&A where our authors give short answers (Q: What’s your most embarrassing moment? A: Misspelling “seamen” in a sports article for the school paper – Cynthia Leitich Smith).
Ways to Use Dear Teen Me in the Classroom or Library

As a librarian, the only thing I wish is that they had added an index in the back of some of the major topics (such as friendship, peer pressure, sexuality, suicide, etc.).  This would really enhance its use in the classroom and in library programming, which I think it has great potential for.  Short stories like these can be great for classroom use, writing prompts and discussion starters.

When doing thematic units, you can pull out one of the entries to highlight the concept you are discussing. And see how much easier that would be to do if there were an index.  But, as you read Dear Teen Me you will find your favorite entries and you’ll know which wants you want to use.  This is why PostIt Notes were invented.

In addition, you can get teens to write letters to themselves in a variety of ways to spark some creative writing prompts.  Have seniors write a letter to their freshman selves.  Or have them write a letter to their adult selves – who says it can only go backwards.  As a serial Dear Teen Me writer (see links below), I can tell you it is a lot of fun and very inspiring.

Many times schools and libraries put together time capsules to open later.  Why not include a letter to ourselves?  Every Teen Read Week ™ you can have your teens gather together and see where they were last year.

Final Thoughts

This is a must have (4.5 out of 5 stars, I deduct points for no index) for every library, both school and public.  We have been so obsessed with this project that we have several posts about it that you can read, including our own Dear Teen Me letters.  In fact some of us – **cough** Karen **cough** – have written more than one.  Follow the links and read our Dear Teen Me letters:

Dear Teen Me with Christie G
Dear Teen Me, the tiny little paths set abundantly before you
Dear Teen Me, De Ja Vu with Karen J
Dear Teen Me, with love from Stephie Jo

The Dear Teen Me Q&A (answer in the comments if you dare):
What was your most embarrassing moment?
Who was your celebrity crush?
What was your first job?
Where was your first kiss?

Dear Teen Me events page: http://zestbooks.net/events/
Zest Books Dear Teen Me book page: http://zestbooks.net/dear-teen-me/

Wild Child Conference 2011: Asset Building

Every year in September in Marion, Ohio there is a conference known as The Wild Child Conference. The goal of this conference is to keep educators and organizations that work with teens in the know about teen life, culture, and the topics that impact their lives. For the third year in a row, I have the honor of being a part of the board of the Wild Child Conference. The 2011 WCC looked at addiction in the lives of teens.  Here, Jodi Galloway, a licensed social worker and coordinator for the local anti-drug education program, discusses how she uses the 40 Developmental Assets as a means of empowering teens and decreasing at risk behavior.

Information about the 2012 Wild Child Conference

Jodi Galloway, licensed social worker, uses the 40 Developmental Assets from the Search Institute to build assets and help curb risk seeking behavior http://www.search-institute.org/assets (introduced in 1989, started out as 30 assets now 40)


The 40 Assets is a model of PREVENTION
What kids are doing well in life? What do they have that is making them be successful?


We need to hear about teenagers doing good! We hear about bad teenagers. We need to hear about the ones who are doing well – there are more doing well than not.


Adults have to remember what it was like to be an adolescent. Things are very different, but they are the same.


Ways Asset Building is different

  • Problem centered approach vs Asset building approach
  • Grounded in research and proven in programming
  • The more assets a teen has, the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviors
  • The more assets a teen has, the more likely they are to be engaged in positive behaviors


Internal and External Assets
External – community around them including family and school
Internal – inside self


Complete list of 40 assets http://www.search-institute.org/content/40-developmental-assets-adolescents-ages-12-18


Look at your community: Is every headline in the newspaper focusing on teens doing negative behaviors?  It isn’t just about having something for them, but about them giving back.

Empowerment is that sense of feeling valued and important

Empowerment includes: 

1) Boundaries and Expectations – Family, School, Community
“Our school has a dress code but nobody enforces it”

Kids need positive role models and high expectations


2) Constructive use of time: libraries can help with this
Creative activities, programs, reading (but they still need hang out time)


3) Commitment to learning
They must be motivated to do well. Not all kids work well in school, it can be a different type of environment.


4) Positive Values
Teens need to see positive values being lived out so that they can internalize them and incorporate them into how they live their life.


5) Social Competencies
Isolated teens are less likely to do well.


6) Positive identity
How teens view themselves, the world, and their place in the world; have a sense of purpose

You can help teens be empowered by being an asset focused individual, organization and community – and by engagin in daily asset building activities.

Daily Asset Building Activities:

  • Smile at young people
  • Ask people about themselves and listen
  • Notice when they are doing something right and encourage them to continue
  • Involve youth in leadership and program planning
  • Compliment young people
  • Talk about how to have a positive outlook when life gets difficult
  • Ask young people about their talents and abilities. help them identify and strengthen them.
  • Ask young people to tell you about a good book they’ve read recently.
  • Train volunteers leaders and coaches in asset building.
  • Attend a school function for a young person such as a play performance, game, recital, etc.
  • Discuss how community and world events can influence a person’s outlook of the future.
  • Reward asset-building activities.
  • Sponsor neighborhood activities, get-togethers.
  • Plan parent/teen nights