Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Game For Your Life: Gamers in Teen Fiction (Kearsten)

I’ve recently lost myself in playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and it got me thinking about teen books about roleplaying games (video, computer, and tabletop), and the possible dangers/adventures that might come with an excessive amount of gaming.  I’m still waiting to be sucked into the world of the Elder Scrolls, but so far, my obsession has only annoyed my husband and daughter…
Erebos by Ursula Poznanski.  In this suspense story, Erebos, an apparently bootleg copy of a computer roleplaying game (RPG), takes over a London school as well as sixteen-year-old Nick’s life.  He’s thrilled when he finally gets a copy, and is even more delighted when he starts playing the realistic game.  Nick happily ignores homework and sleep in favor of playing Erebos, until all the weird little things he’s noticed (the game seems to know who Nick is, know when he’s not alone, know who his friends are) begin to add up to some serious unease.  And then the game asks Nick to perform tasks outside the game, in the real world. But it’s not until he’s asked to dose a teacher with a potentially lethal pills that Nick begins to fear for his own life.

Epic by Conor Kostick.  Imagine an Earth where violence is illegal, and you and your family can face serious consequences for even pretending to duel.  But don’t worry: you’re free to express all the violence you’d like in Epic, the government-mandated RPG fantasy game wherein your future – and that of all the inhabitants of this New Earth – is determined.  Play poorly and you may end up in the salt mines.  Play well and you’ll get a good job.  Play really well, and you may get the attention of the Committee, which is made up of New Earth’s best players, who actually are the government.  And the government does not like it if someone, like Epic’sfourteen-year-old narrator Erik, plays the game better than they do.

The Game of Triumphs by Laura Powell.  Yes!  A story about gaming with a girl as the main character!  (There are nowhere near as many as boys, sadly).  Fifteen-year-old Cat is pretty comfortable on her own.  Orphaned at three, she and her eccentric aunt Bel have recently moved to London, where her aunt has a job in a skeevy casino and Cat is left to her own devices most evenings, wandering the streets and riding the Underground out of boredom. Then one night, a Tarot card and a desperate, chased man change her world.  Soon she’s caught up in a game that spans worlds, and offers up both adventure and danger to its players…and may have played a role in Cat’s parents’ deaths.
Interstellar Pig by William Sleator.  And now, for an old title!  A summer at the beach may seem like the ideal vacation, but not when you have to spend it with your incredibly uncool parents.  Sixteen-year-old Barney is feeling that pain until he discovers that this year’s neighbors are young and fun.  When they invite Barney’s family over to play a board game called Interstellar Pig, he’s happy to join.  Unfortunately, he soon discovers that, like most things, their neighbors are too good to be true.  Interstellar Pig isn’t just a game: it’s real, Barney’s neighbors are aliens, and the fate of the universe is at stake.  No big deal, right?
The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini.  Perry just wants to be left alone to play Creatures & Caverns, an elaborate tabletop roleplaying game.  Having someone to play with would be ideal, but not necessary (or likely, if he’s being honest).  Unsurprisingly, Perry’s parents don’t feel it’s healthy for him, so they send him to a summer camp that happens to be full of the exact sort of male teenagers that love to beat Perry up.  But then something exciting finally happens to Perry: he’s led into another world, full of “other normals,” and there they tell him his destiny is saving their beloved princess.  The catch?  Perry has to somehow manage to kiss a gorgeous girl at the neighboring camp back on his Earth.  And Perry?  Well, he’s not so good with people, let alone girls

Horrifying Reads for October – recommended by teens! (Kearsten’s Booktalk This!)

This September marked my third year doing a themed book club for 7th & 8th graders at a local K-8.  We meet in their school library during their lunch period, and share the books we’ve read recently.  This year, as we only have about 25 minutes together, we’ve adjusted our sharing style to title, author and six words to describe the book (a suggestion taken from Scholastic’s Booktalk! program.) This month, we shared horror titles (of course!).  Here are some of the creepy books they read, as well as some of their descriptions!

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.  Ten people gather on a small island after receiving a mysterious invitation and are shocked when one of their number is murdered.  But then the others are picked off one by one, all the while knowing that one of themis the killer.  Several teens chimed in about this one, with some insisting that it was more of a mystery, others arguing that it *was* pretty creepy, while still others claimed it was too “predictable.”  Read it and decide for yourself which group was right!

“The Call of Cthulhu” (and other short stories) by H.P. Lovecraft.  Tatiana, an 8th grader, is a self-professed ‘fangirl’ of Lovecraft, a horror and science fiction writer who inspired many modern day horror writers, including Stephen King.  She calls “The Call of Cthulhu” (a story about a huge, evil, sea monster-ish deity) and his other tales “spooky, weird, and unsettling.”

Code Orange by Caroline B. Cooney.  A teen, while researching smallpox for a school report, finds an envelope containing 100-year-old smallpox scabs and fears he may have been infected …and that he may be the only person able to prevent a smallpox outbreak in New York City.  8th grader Heather called this one “intense, scary, and suspenseful.”

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake. 17-year-old ghost hunter Cas is determined to save ghost Anna from misery and torture in Hell as payback for saving his life, and according to Gillian, this sequel to the awesomely creepy and gross Anna, Dressed in Blood, is equally awesome.  She very gleefully described it as “scary, bloody, and verygory.”

Outbreak: Plagues that Changed History by Bryn Barnard.  7th grader Annalise didn’t like the horror fiction options on her family’s bookcase, so she opted to read about the Black Death, the plague that in the 1300s killed millions — possibly a third of the European population.  The rest of us agreed that by all the accounts we’ve read, the Black Death was a pretty horrific disease!  Find out for yourself how it and other plagues, like yellow fever and cholera, altered history in Barnard’s Outbreak

What are some of your favorite October reads?  Discuss in the comment.

Booktalk This! When You’re Tired of Emo Vamps (by Kearsten)

Burned out on vampire romances? Wish the creatures lurking in the dark were a little more bloodthirsty (or possessing more of a sense of humor)? Me, too!  I spent the week rereading Justin Cronin’s The Passage, an epic, sprawling novel of the build-up to and the aftermath of a completely terrifying vampire-virus apocalypse. Cronin’s vamps are deadly and truly scary, but if you’re looking for a shorter read for older teens (The Passage is a door stop), why not hand over one of these titles featuring vamps that are more interested in more than finding his/her one true love.

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer by Dustin Higgins and Van Jensen.
He’s a puppet with a past and a score to settle!  In this black and white graphic novel, Pinocchio turned angry and vengeful the day his father, Gepetto, was murdered by evil vampires.  Long gone is that cheerful performer of years past.  In his place is a snarky and dangerous vampire slayer, who doesn’t need anyone to cut and sharpen stakes for him.  Pinocchio grows his own by shouting elaborately funny yet untrue battle taunts and trash talk, and then breaks off his newly grown wooden nose.  Talk about deadly D.I.Y….
Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
Cal Thompson is parasite positive, or a peep for short, but instead of going crazy as most peeps do, he’s maintained his sanity. Unfortunately, the infection passes through saliva, and while Cal isn’t crazy dangerous…all those girls he made out with recently? Not so lucky. But as Cal sets out to hunt down his exes as well as the one who infected him, he begins to realize that something is going very wrong…  This one is good fun, and includes a lot of gross and fascinating information about very real parasites in the world around us. 
I am Legend by Richard MathesonYes, maybe you saw the movie, and yes, Will Smith was pretty awesome in it, but those weird vampire/zombie hybrids? NO. Read this vampire classic about a man fighting to stay alive and sane against hordes of vampires, all while worrying that he may be the last human alive. It’s short and intense and a must for anyone looking for scary vamps.

Life Sucks by Jessica Abel
Dave is the night clerk at a  convenience store, and finds life to be a monotonous bore. Dave is also secretly a vampire, made because his vamp boss (and convenience store owner) needed someone to cover the night shift. The only thing that keeps Dave going through daylight sleeping, blood from a donor bag (gotten from the local blood bank) and his boring job is Rosa, the goth girl he’s crushin’ on. Yes, this vamp is in love, and he’s a little mopey, but Dave feels no romanticism towards his condition, and the story pokes a lot of fun at those overly dramatic, moody vampires of popular culture.
 See also: All Things Buffy and  Vampire Books with Bite 
Also be sure and check out the new title The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Booktalk This! Not your mother’s bedtime storytelling (Nontraditional Books and Stories for Teens)

Though storytelling comes in all forms, I tend to spend the majority of my reading life with fiction told from a 1st or 3rd person point of view, and a “first this happened, and then this, then this…” chronology.

Yes, these stories are often wonderful, but I find that sometimes it’s intriguing to mix things up a bit.  The following books all tell their stories differently, whether by playing with style, point-of-view, or format, but they’re all guaranteed to catch the attention of older teens (and adults)!

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty


There’s nothing quite so infuriating than a pen pal assignment from a teacher who clearly wishes to go back to the dark ages of letter writing (before the awesomeness that is text messaging).  For Lydia, Cass and Emily, this assignment is also dangerous, as they’re meant to write kids at Brookfield HS, the student body of which is rumored to be full of scary criminals.  But then Charlie, Seb, and Matthew write back.  And through letters, emails, and even meeting transcripts, they experience friendship, grief, secret missions, love, and heartbreak, not to mention a trial about some not-so-harmless school vandalism…

You by Charles Benoit

“You’re surprised at all the blood.” So begins You, a suspense story with a twist: it’s told in 2nd person, meaning that you, the reader, feel as if you’re Kyle Chase, a 10th grader with an “aptitude” for math and a crush on Ashley.  You hate your school, and wish you could go back to eighth grade, to work harder for the better grades needed to get into the school all your friends did.  Instead, you’re stuck at Midlands High, where you end up hanging out with the kind of guys who sneak out at night to smoke, steal beer, and break into your old middle school.  And then, one night, you’re covered in blood and someone is dying.  But how, exactly, did you get there?

What about poetry?  Do you have a group of teens obsessed with Ellen Hopkins’ dark verse novels?  Why not give them family by Micol Ostow?  Ostow took the true story of the Mason Family cult and murders, and told that story from the point of view of a person on the inside.  Mel, a seventeen-year-old self-described “broken” girl, finds solace and companionship in the charismatic Henry.  Through Mel’s eyes, we begin to see the ways in which Henry, as a collector of “broken” people, uses and manipulates his devotees, Mel included, to carry out horrific acts.  This is an unsettling story, but powerful in the way it forces the reader to understand how a person looking for acceptance can be led down a very dark path. 

Dead Inside: Do Not Enter (Notes from the Zombie Apocalypse)

Do you prefer stark images and notes to go with your zombie apocalypses? Dead Inside tells the story of a zombie outbreak and the breakdown of society through “items found in a backpack.”  In reality, this was a huge Internet project, in which people from around the world created content for the book.  You’ll forget soon, though, that this isn’t real as you get caught up in reading increasingly confused and desperate notes scribbled on torn pages, signs, and any available paper, including birthday cards, photos, maps and cardboard.  (You, too, can participate in the project at www.lostzombies.com )


This final book, Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral, has the least amount of text of all the books here…and it’s the most mind-blowing, in my opinion.  Glory Fleming was a brilliant piano “prodigy,” destined for greatness and sold-out performances.  So why has she gone missing?  And what led to her Chopsticks-obsessed breakdown?  Through photographs, drawings, and newspaper clippings, follow the story of a girl who fell in love, and then lost her mind.  Then reread the story, in order to find out what *really* happened.

What are your favorite nontraditional format books?  Share with us in the comments.

Kearsten, Teen Services Librarian from Glendale, Arizona

Book Talk This: The Books of Summer

Summers in public libraries are…chaotic.  Loud, busy, and for librarians, it’s often non-stop action.  And while this is very fun (I get to share so many awesome books with people looking for something to read over the summer), it can be exhausting at times.

It’s those times that make me want to dive into a book, looking for an escape into a different kind of summer, and it is in that spirit that I suggest the following books.  Each offers a change of scene, whether you’re thinking summer love, summer jobs, or summer mysteries.
The Summer I Turned Pretty – Jenny Han

Is this the summer you’re going to fall in love?  Wish you could have two equally appealing options, but would prefer to pass on sci-fi revolutions or supernaturals?  Open up The Summer I Turned Prettyby Jenny Han and fall in love along with Belly, who, like every year since forever, is spending the summer at her mom’s best friend’s beach house.  In years past, Belly played tag-along with her older brother Stephen and his friends, Conrad and Jeremiah, while crushing on Conrad from afar, but now that Belly is turning sixteen, things are a-changin’…

Along for the Ride – Sarah Dessen

Is this the summer before you go away to college?  And you still don’t know what you want to do, or who you really are?  In Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride, Auden doesn’t sleep at night.  Initially, it was thanks to her parents’ incessant fighting; now it’s because she’s spending the summer with her dad, while getting to know both her frazzled and exhausted new stepmother and the very colicky baby sister keeping her awake.  On a middle-of-the-night wander, Auden meets Eli, a quietly sad town boy who inspires Auden to make some new friendships, finally learn to ride a bike, and to fall in love.
Project Sweet Life – Bret Hartinger

Does the idea of pretending to work as a lifeguard while you and your friends dream up elaborate money-making schemes appeal to you?  Then try Bret Hartinger’s Project Sweet Life.  15-year-olds Dave, Curtis, and Victor are resentful when their dads collectively decide the boys must all get summer jobs.  In protest, they instead pretend to get hired, create fictional schedules, and then set about finding ways to raise the money they’d otherwise be making.  And while the lies prove to be significantly more difficult than actual jobs, those lies do lead to bank robbers, hidden treasure, and life or death situations.  But are they worth it?
Way to Go – Tom Ryan

If you instead dream of getting a summer job that will help you decide who you are and what you want to do with your life, try Tom Ryan’s Way to Go.  In a small Canadian town in 1994, Danny is struggling.  It’s the summer before his senior year, he and his friends seem to be drifting apart, and Danny is afraid he might be gay.  When his mom suggests he help an old friend who’s starting a new restaurant, he welcomes the opportunity – maybe he just needs to meet an interesting girl he hasn’t known his whole life.  Or maybe, just maybe, Danny will find a place in the world where he’ll be comfortable just being himself. 
Where Things Come Back – John Corey Whaley

Would you like to someday spend the summer trying to write your novel?  So would Cullen, the narrator of John Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back.  Cullen Witter wants to be a writer someday, and keeps a journal of conversations heard and possible future book titles (he gets to 89, one of which, Zombie Dinner Party, is my personal favorite).  But when his younger brother Gabriel goes missing, Cullen’s plans are derailed, and he instead spends the summer trying to find out what happened to his brother.  This book is great for those who love John Green, and has an ending that will have you arguing with friends about what really happened.
Bad Kitty – Michelle Jaffe

Would you rather spend your summer solving a murder mystery while hanging out in Vegas with your besties?  Join seventeen-year-old Jasmine, aspiring forensic supersleuth, as she tries to catch a killer, avoid dying, deal with a super snobby cousin, and tries to not fall for the hottie who might be a bad guy.  All while suffering footnotes interjected by those previously mentioned best friends.  This book is the perfect read for sitting by the pool in Vegas (or a friend’s backyard, if you, unlike Jas, haven’t been dragged to Vegas by your dad and annoyingly perfect stepmother). 

What are your favorite books about summer?  Please share with us in the comments.

Booktalk This: The Geek edition

This quote has been circling the internet for a while, and as a life-long nerd and geek, I’ve worked to live up to the sentiment. This is not always easy, and it was especially difficult for me during high school, as I was torn between wanting to both appear “cool” AND to embrace that which I loved.  In remembering that time, I always enjoy discovering books about teens that are able to embrace their inner geeks or nerds and find happiness at the same time!

Would you rather be the nerd finding love? Or find love with a nerd?
If you’d rather embrace your nerdom while finding love, try Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill.  Julia’s thrilled to spend Spring Break on a school-sponsored, no-parents field trip to London, England, and with extra pencils and her pocket Shakespeare, she plans to get the most out of it. Unfortunately, most of her classmates see the trip as a license to party, and she ends up paired with the worst offender of them all, her nemesis, Jason. Can she keep him from getting into too much trouble? And can he help her woo her true love?

If you’re looking to find love with a nerd of your own, try Julia Halpern’s Into the Great Nerd Yonder. Jessie is the odd girl out at the start of sophomore year, when she comes back to school in a new skirt but her two best friends show up as new people: buzz-cuts, neon hair, and punk rock attitudes. Uninterested in joining their punk rebellion, Jessie spends her time sewing, listening to audiobooks (she has GREAT taste), and dips her toes into tabletop gaming. Can she find happiness over 20-sided dice?
Would you rather use your analytical skills to figure out how to avoid getting dumped? Or to fight the man?
As a former child prodigy and current dumpee, Colin is determined to create a theorem that will explain why nineteen Katherines in a row have dumped him, and enable him – and others – to avoid getting dumped in the future. In John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, Colin and his best friend, Hassan, go on a summer road trip, chase down feral pigs, and find the grave of Franz Ferdinand in a town called Gutshot. Love, graphing, and anagramming will never be this fun again!  
Marcus is a computer genius…and a rule-breaker. So, when San Francisco is rocked by a terrorist attack and the government responds by cranking up their electronic surveillance, Marcus gets caught in the mix. Scared and angry after a brutal interrogation, he fights back as his hacker alter ego, w1n5t0n, against growing governmental control. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is a scary and intense thrill ride you won’t want to miss!
And finally, do you limit yourself to one realm of nerdom or geekery? Or does it (like my own) span many areas and genres?
If you limit your geekery to one area, you may feel some camaraderie with Maddy, the heroine of both Mari Mancusi’s Gamer Girl AND of Maddy’s favorite online game, Fields of Fantasy. In the game, Maddy is beyond awesome, and her elfin alter-ego is beginning an online friendship/flirtation with another gamer, Sir Leo.   But, outside of the game, Maddy has no friends at her new school.  Can she be as brave as her manga-style gaming avatar and find love in the real world?
If your geekery knows no bounds, check out the wide-range of fun (for older teens) contained in Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, an anthology celebrating all things nerd and geek, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castelucci. Many awesome teen authors contributed, from Cassandra Clare to Scott Westerfeld, and it alternates between short stories and short, funny, how-to comics (my favorite geekdoms are represented in “How to Identify…the Living Dead” and “What to Remember When Going to a Convention”). There’s something here for any form of geekery!
Kearsten is the YA Librarian from the Glendale Public Library in Arizona and our resident Booktalk This column writer.  In short, she rocks.

Booktalk This! You’re Never Too Old for Picture Books, in honor of Dr. Seuss

March is a big month for picture books, as many elementary schools celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday with Cat in the Hat costumes, green food-coloring and Read Across America.  

Why not remind your teens of the fun of picture books by recommending some they might have missed? This is the perfect time to display those somewhat edgy titles that you may skip for storytimes, but will delight your teens!


Do you have a teen that enjoys twists and unexpected endings? Jon Klassen’s picture books, I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat, starring a determined bear and a possibly doomed fish (respectively), are just a little bit twisted and completely entertaining. Remember Lane Smith’s It’s a Book, which shocked the library world a few years ago with its ending page? Our teen library council still requests the book trailer at parties (they love shouting out the ending line). And love stories don’t get more tragic than that of the tadpole and the caterpillar in Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross.

Have fans of the TV show Community among your teens? Why not hand them some similarly self-aware picture books? Picture book rockstar author/illustrator, Mo Willems, has several delightful characters, but it’s We Are in a Book, one in his Elephant & Piggie series, that is the most interactive. Read this one aloud, and watch the grins spread. In both Chloe and the Lion, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex, and An Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lendler, illustrated Whitney Martin, the illustrators’ inability or unwillingness to keep up with the story is both fun anda great example of playing with storytelling. Another great example of turning storytelling on its head is Chris VanAllsburg’s Bad Day at Riverbend, in which townsfolk wonder what the unsettling, jagged colors in the sky might mean…

What about the budding artists among your teens? From Caldecott Award winners and honors to the un-nominated, show them a variety of formats, like colored pencil drawings in Emily Graves’ Blue Chameleon or torn paper illustrations in Ed Young’s Seven Blind Mice. After taking them through Eric Rohmann’s precise and boldly-outlined relief drawings in My Friend Rabbit (I’d frame so many of these pages if I could bear taking the book apart!), Catherine Rayner’s loose lines and layered blocks of watercolors in The Bear Who Shared, and Chris Haughton’s pencil and digital media drawings (plus an unusual color combination) in Oh No, George, your artistic teens will find something to inspire their own creations.
Picture books are a great way to remind teens to have fun with what they read – and that picture book reading doesn’t need to end once you’ve started chapter books! Share your favorites, encourage them to reread books from their childhood, and who knows: maybe one of those teens will create picture books of their own someday!