Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Teens and Poverty: PBS Newshour Discusses Being Homeless and Trying to Graduate High School

As I thought about writing my post earlier today about teachers, I couldn’t help but think of my 4th grade teacher. I remember her name, I remember what she looked like, and I remember the intense hatred I had for her. You see, in the 4th grade my parents separated and divorced. We went from being a doing okay two-income family living in a house in the suburbs to living in two struggling very much separate apartments. Suddenly, I qualified for free and reduced lunch. I remember the burning shame each day in the cafeteria line and how you would pray that the lunch ladies would be quiet and keep it all on the down low so the other students wouldn’t know. Being labelled poor is like being forced to wear a scarlet A.

And I remember being at a parent-teacher conference where the teacher told my parents that I had no friends and she told them (this is not a joke), that they needed to buy me a pair of Jordache jeans so maybe I could fit in. We couldn’t buy me lunch, how was this even reasonable advice?

I eventually became friends with a girl whose family lived in a week-to-week low-cost hotel in a very dangerous neighborhood; one night her family simply disappeared as they moved on to another place. I was always aware that they were just one step away from the edge of what it meant to be homeless. It’s been more than 30 years and I wonder every day whatever happened to her. Life had already been so unkind to her, I hope that her family was able to turn their situation around at some point.

According to Do Something, there are 1.7 homeless teens in the U.S. 39% of the homeless population in the U.S. is under the age of 18. In addition to poverty, teens are often homeless because of abuse or because of rejection (or abuse) from their family because they come out as GLBTQ. In fact, 40% of homeless youth are homeless because of their GLBTQ status (Do Something).

And many more families are just one job less, medical crisis or other emergency away from losing it all. In many homes parents are working sometimes two and three part-time jobs trying to make ends meet while older siblings are asked to make dinner, help with homework and put younger siblings to bed at night.

As part of our ongoing focus on TEENS AND POVERTY, I encourage you to head over to the PBS Newshour for a special report on what Los Angeles is doing to help homeless teens complete high school. While reports come in offer other areas putting up “anti-homeless spikes” – and yes, this is apparently a real thing – other people are investing that money in trying to help people succeed. There are very real effects to children and teens living and growing up in poverty: it affects physical health, it affects mental health, it affects school success, and it affects the future. Not just THEIR future, but all of our future. Helping children and teen succeed makes the world better for us all.

Recently at one of my teen programs, a group of high school students were talking and someone mentioned a boy not at the program. One of the teens present said, “Yeah, he’s okay but man his teeth are jacked up. It’s like he doesn’t even brush them or anything. It’s gross.” And I mentioned to this teen that maybe his family didn’t have the money to take him to the dentist. It got real quiet and this teen remarked, “You know, he doesn’t seem to have a lot of stuff. Like, I don’t see him wearing a lot of different clothes like everyone else. Maybe he is, maybe he can’t go to the dentist.” I don’t know if this was the case or not, but I thought it was important that they take a moment to think of all of the various scenarios as to what may be going on for this young man. Far too often those that know nothing about living in poverty have blinders on to it around them. Whether that boy was living in poverty or not, there are students all around them that are.

Additional Resources:
National Coalition for the Homeless Youth Fact Sheet
Record Number of Homeless Students in the US in 2013
National Alliance to End Homelessness: Youth

Teens and Poverty Series at TLT:
Can We All Just Stop Saying the Internet Is Free Now Please? 
Rich Teen, Poor Teen: Books that depict teens living in poverty 
Working with youth who live in poverty  
Sunday Reflections: This is what losing everything looks like 
Sunday Reflections: Going to bed hungry
Sunday Reflections: A tale of two libraries 
Sunday Reflections: Poverty doesn’t always look the way you think it does
Sunday Reflections: All I Want for Christmas is the Chance to Go to College
Feeding Teens at the Library: Summer and Afterschool Meals
The Economy as Villain in The Year of Shadows by Claire LeGrand
Book Review: PANIC by Lauren Oliver
Book Review: HUNGRY by H. A. Swain

Barnes and Noble: Homelessness and Runaways
The Homeless Experience in YA Literature
Library Thing: Homeless Persons Fiction

About the Books You See in this Post

Tyrell by Coe Booth:

“Tyrell is a young, African American teen who can’t get a break. He’s living (for now) with his spaced-out mother and little brother in a homeless shelter. His father’s in jail. His girlfriend supports him, but he doesn’t feel good enough for her – and seems to be always on the verge of doing the wrong thing around her. There’s another girl at the homeless shelter who is also after him, although the desires there are complicated. Tyrell feels he needs to score some money to make things better. Will he end up following in his father’s footsteps?” (Scholastic, 2006. ISBN: 9780439838795)

Can’t Get There From Here by Todd Strasser:

“Her street name is Maybe. She lives with a tribe of homeless teens — runaways and throwaways, kids who have no place to go other than the cold city streets, and no family except for one another. Abused, abandoned, and forgotten, they struggle against the cold, hunger, and constant danger.”  (Simon Pulse, 2005. ISBN: 9780689841705)

See also the new title from Todd Strasser: No Place

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

“Pattyn Von Stratten’s father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run. After far too many years of abuse at the hands of her father, and after the tragic loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn is desperate for peace. Only her sister Jackie knows what happened that night, but she is stuck at home with their mother, who clings to normalcy by allowing the truth to be covered up by their domineering community leaders. Her father might be finally gone, but without Pattyn, Jackie is desperately isolated. Alone and in disguise, Pattyn starts a new life, but is it even possible to rebuild a life when everything you’ve known has burned to ash and lies seem far safer than the truth?” (Margaret K. Elderberry Books, 2013. ISBN: 9781416983286)

Take 5: 5 New Titles Coming from Simon & Schuster

Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

Publisher’s Description:There are whispers of a ghost in the slaughterhouse where sixteen-year-old Wen assists her father in his medical clinic—a ghost who grants wishes to those who need them most. When one of the Noor, men hired as cheap factory labor, humiliates Wen, she makes an impulsive wish of her own, and the Ghost grants it. Brutally.

Guilt-ridden, Wen befriends the Noor, including their outspoken leader, a young man named Melik. At the same time, she is lured by the mystery of the Ghost and learns he has been watching her … for a very long time.

As deadly accidents fuel tensions within the factory, Wen must confront her growing feelings for Melik, who is enraged at the sadistic factory bosses and the prejudice faced by his people at the hand of Wen’s, and her need to appease the Ghost, who is determined to protect her against any threat—real or imagined. She must decide whom she can trust, because as her heart is torn, the factory is exploding around her … and she might go down with it.”

Note: Historical fiction, ghosts,and a good book to add to help us all meet our active goal of trying to make sure our collections and TBR piles have more diversity.

Publishes by McElderry Books on August 5, 2014. ISBN: 9781442483583

Rumble by Ellen Hopkins

Publisher’s Description: “Eighteen-year-old Matthew Turner doesn’t believe in much. Not in family—his is a shambles, after his brother’s suicide. Not in so-called friends who turn their backs when the going gets rough. Certainly not in some omnipotent master of heaven and earth, no matter what his girlfriend, Hayden, thinks. In fact, he’s sick of arguing with her about faith. Matt is a devout atheist, unafraid of some Judgment Day designed by decidedly human power brokers to keep the masses in check. He works hard, plays hard, and plans on checking out the same way. But a horrific accident—one of his own making—plunges Matt into a dark, silent place where the only thing he can hear is a rumble, and eventually, a voice. And what it says will call everything Matt has ever disbelieved into question.”

Note: I recently mentioned that one of the authors I hear YA librarians they have to replace a lot is Ellen Hopkins. She writes very gritty, realistic novels – in poetry. This latest title deals with a teenage boy who proclaims atheism as his belief system. The topic of atheism has been getting more coverage in the press, so this is a timely novel. And no doubt for many it will be controversial. In other words, awesome and classic Hopkins.

Publishes on August 26, 2014 from Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 9781442482845

In Deep by Terra Elan McVoy

Publisher’s Description: “Ultracompetitive Brynn from The Summer of Firsts and Lasts craves swimming victory—and gets in over her head—in this irresistible novel from Terra Elan McVoy.


Nothing else matters to Brynn as she trains her body and mind to win. Not her mediocre grades and lack of real friends at school. Not the gnawing grief over her fallen hero father. Not the strained relationship with her absent mother and clueless stepdad. In the turquoise water, swimming is an escape and her ticket to somewhere—anywhere—else. And nothing will get in her way of claiming victory.

But when the competitive streak follows Brynn out of the pool in a wickedly seductive cat-and-mouse game between herself, her wild best friend, and a hot new college swimmer, Brynn’s single-mindedness gets her in over her head, with much more than a trophy to lose.”

Note: I was at a S&S event last year at ALA annual where I watched teens vote between two covers for this title. This is the cover that won.

Publishes July 8, 2014 from Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9781481401364

Trouble by Non Pratt

Publisher’s Description:In this dazzling debut novel, a pregnant teen learns the meaning of friendship—from the boy who pretends to be her baby’s father.

When the entire high school finds out that Hannah Shepard is pregnant via her ex-best friend, she has a full-on meltdown in her backyard. The one witness (besides the rest of the world): Aaron Tyler, a transfer student and the only boy who doesn’t seem to want to get into Hannah’s pants. Confused and scared, Hannah needs someone to be on her side. Wishing to make up for his own past mistakes, Aaron does the unthinkable and offers to pretend to be the father of Hannah’s unborn baby. Even more unbelievable, Hannah hears herself saying “yes.”

Told in alternating perspectives between Hannah and Aaron, Trouble is the story of two teenagers helping each other to move forward in the wake of tragedy and devastating choices. As you read about their year of loss, regret, and hope, you’ll remember your first, real best friend—and how they were like a first love.”

Note: Received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly 5/01/2014

Publishes June 10, 2014 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781442497726

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson

Publisher’s Description: “In 1860, eleven-year-old Becky Thatcher is the new girl in town, determined to have adventures like she promised her brother Jon before he died. With her Mama frozen in grief and her Daddy busy as town judge, Becky spends much of her time on her own, getting into mischief. Before long, she joins the boys at school in a bet to steal from the Widow Douglas, and Becky convinces her new best friend, Amy Lawrence, to join her.

Becky decides that she and Amy need a bag of dirt from a bad man’s grave as protection for entering the Widow’s house, so they sneak out to the cemetery at midnight, where they witness the thieving Pritchard brothers digging up a coffin. Determined to keep her family safe (and to avoid getting in trouble), Becky makes Amy promise not to tell anyone what they saw.

When their silence inadvertently results in the Widow Douglas being accused of the graverobbery, Becky concocts a plan to clear the Widow’s name. If she pulls it off, she might just get her Mama to notice her again and fulfill her promise to Jon in a most unexpected way . . . if that tattle-tale Tom Sawyer will quit following her around.”

Note: Received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly 5/05/2014, for Middle Grade readers ages 8 to 12.

Publishes July 22, 2014 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781481401500

Book Review: Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

Pattyn Scarlet Von Stratten
Some Things

You can’t take back, no
matter how much you wish
you could. No matter how
hard you pray to

all-powerful miracle maker.
Some supposed God of Love.
One you struggle to believe
exists, because if he did,
wouldn’t be so out of control,
and you wouldn’t be sucked dry
of love and left to be crushed
like old brittle bones that
easily ground into dust.
Hindsight is useless
when looking back over
your shoulder at deeds

In Smoke by Ellen Hopkins, the sequel to 2006 Burned, readers come back to sisters Pattyn and Jackie Von Stratten. The story is told in in the alternating voices of the sisters; Pattyn is on the run from the community and the law and still dealing with the death of her beloved Ethan and their child, and the abuse she suffered at the hands of their father. Meanwhile, Jackie is home and having to deal not only with the aftermath of the shooting, but also with trying to pick up the pieces of her life and figuring out what is left for her after everything that has happened. Can either sister find their peace, or their voice, in the paths that they’re forging? Or will everything crumble to ashes and smoke?

Smoke is not to be taken lightly, and has a lot of trigger points for victims of abuse (both physical and sexual). Told in verse style, the voices of Pattyn and Jackie strike through to the core of readers and never let go, and readers will be flipping the pages to find out what happens. Finding hope and their voices is a central point within the story, and it gives hope to those looking for a way out of the darkness. Will definitely appeal to fans of Hopkins, although I would recommend readers start with Burned if they haven’t already read it- while not necessary, it helps build the story. Would definitely pair with other teen verse fiction books, such as What My Mother Doesn’t Know or the Make Lemonade series. 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

I adore Ellen Hopkins, I’ve met her in person many times, and I love her books. That being said, Smoke was like this for me:

FIRST, there is Pattyn, who is still dealing with the loss of Ethan (whom she was secretly seeing against the church elders’ wishes) and the loss of their baby in the crash from Burned. She’s on the run, out in the world, and is off to California with no plan or anything. Never mind that she’s reeling from that trauma, she has to leave. Eventually hired as a non-documented domestic housekeeper, she’s giving love to the youngest daughter while the oldest goes totally off the deep end.  In a big way.  Needless to say, by the end of the book, THAT ends up shattering Pattyn’s world (can’t give everything away) and things crash down just when she finds some sense of peace. 

THEN, while all of THAT is going on, we’re also getting Jackie’s story. Jackie is stuck at home with a mother who is disengaged, a church who is messed up, and a rapist classmate who has the protection of the church. She’s dealing with the trauma of being almost beaten to death by her DAD right after she was raped of her virginity, and she’s being told that the rape was consensual and partially her fault. Jackie, however, is finding her voice, and starting to build herself back up even though she’s suffering through PTSD, and finally every wall that they try to build around her comes crashing down, even the ones her mind had built.

It is a POWERFUL book, and a beautiful book, one that should be in a YA collection but definitely has triggers in it. Teens that are readers of Hopkins’ work will not be surprised by the topics is contains, and she deals with them honestly and in a way that brings you to tears.

How I Survived Conferencing with Teens and You Can Too

The other day I talked about how ALA 2013 was going to be a commuter conference for me, and mentioned that I would be bringing teens along for the first time.  All of this contributed to an e..x..h..a..u..s..t..i..n..g weekend, but honestly, I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity and would do it again in a heartbeat.  What’s the tradeoff that makes it so worth it?  Let this picture tell you the thousand words of why:

She met Ellen Hopkins!
Oh my gosh! The teens were so over the moon excited about it all, it was better than Christmas.  In the pic above, she had just met and spoken to an author (Ellen Hopkins) for the very first time.  If you could bottle that excitement and joy, you’d be a millionaire.  

Our trip wasn’t just about hobnobbing with authors and picking up galleys, though don’t get me wrong – that was crazy exciting for these teens.  The six teens I brought to Chicago were there to share their opinions and perspectives about the Best Fiction for Young Adults nomination list
The mic and crowd were intimidating, but the teens shone.
And share, they did. You can view the whole session on YALSA’s blog, or read the Storify of tweets of comments and impressions during the session.   
So how does all of this work exactly?
For the BFYA teen session, be on the lookout for the callout from YALSA this fall for teens in the Philadelphia area for the Midwinter Meeting, and next spring for teens in the Las Vegas area to come to the Annual Conference.  The application process involved describing my teen group and including some reviews and opinions on the nominees from my teens.  It’s helpful to plan ahead if you think you might want to do this so that you have some reviews at the ready when the time comes.  
If you’re not near one of the upcoming conference cities, that doesn’t mean your teens can’t participate in something similar.  You could host a teen book summit with libraries nearby, work to get your teens involved in any reader created selection lists in your state, or play off of the Teen Top Ten nominees during Teen Read Week.  
I was fortunate to have partnered with a school librarian on this endeavor, and she had access and practice in the nuts and bolts of moving teens around.  Permission forms and parent contact was her domain!  We were also lucky to be able to walk and take public transportation to get around, which eliminated a lot of my worry over driving teens around or ensuring that they arrive safely on their own.
Some tips: 
Remind them to bring water and wear comfortable shoes.  
Explain, in as much detail as possible, what you expect from them and what they can expect from the event
Communicate your time table clearly with parents.
Collect cell phone numbers from the teens and give them yours.  This is not a level of intimacy I’m typically comfortable with, but when one of our teens was separated from the group on the Exhibits floor, wow was I glad she had my number and quickly found us!
Plan timing carefully and build in some cushion so you are sure to arrive where you need to be when you need to be there.
Take a deep breath, and have some fun — that’s what your teens are doing!
What seemed most valuable to the teens was being taken seriously.  
Is it possible to convene a teen committee to review potential summer reading titles for the school?  Could you create a yearly Local Favorites list that is similarly teen informed?  If so, what about opening the deliberations on the titles up to the public so that the teens get a wider audience and a chance to demonstrate how informed and thoughtful they are?  Bring in technology too!  You could encourage Vine submissions for teen book votes for a barrage of six second platform videos that could loop on your website or in the teen lounge.
The author connection
Truth: meeting authors and getting galleys was a HUGE draw for our teens.  We were fortunate enough that Simon & Schuster and Penguin both hosted events that teens were invited to, which lead to  signings and conversations with Ellen Hopkins, D.J. MacHale, Julie Berry, and Holly Goldberg Sloan.  Visiting the Exhibit floor got the crew up close and personal with Frank Beddor too.  This was big (see photo above if you’ve forgotten already how amazing it was for teens to meet an author).  But Annual is not the only place to meet an author.  For many of us, hosting an author event at our own library is simply cost prohibitive.  But partnering with other local public and school libraries might make it possible.  
Frank Beddor, author of Looking Glass Wars
Don’t limit yourself to the library world either.  Check out your local book stores for author signings and coordinate a trip for a handful of teens.  Be on the lookout for smaller regional conferences and events.  Here’s the deal: one thing librarians can offer even the most jaded teens is access.  We offer them access to information and resources, books and their authors.  Staying connected to the book world around you and enables you to extend that information to your teens.  You become the conduit through which they can delve even deeper into their favorite books, and forge connections to other teens who share their interests.  
Teens from several library groups connected and immediately bonded over books.

How do you work to connect teens with authors and the larger book world?  Have you hosted authors that work easily with libraries?  Taken teens to author signings?  Escorted them to conferences and events?


Freeing your life with words . . . (TPIB: poetry and writing crafts)

I never wrote a poem,
At least one that I’d share
But if I wrote a poem
Does that mean I won the dare?

It seems like there is not enough poetry in the world today, if you ask me.  I have been doing poetry contests with teens in libraries for almost 20 years and each year, there are less entries than the year before.  It’s almost like you have to dare them to write a poem.  Last year I got creative and ditched the poetry all together and did some sidewalk chalk poetry with my tweens.  In fact, you can look at my April National Poetry Month posts to get some great poetry idea to work with tweens and teens.  Start planning now for April.  But since Christie reviewed Tilt today, and since Tilt is written in poetry, I thought I would share one of my favorite nonfiction books to use with teens.  Next month we are going to be doing a lot with teens, nonfiction and your library, so be sure and check back.  In fact, the week of November 11-17th we are doing a whole week of Zest Books nonfiction reviews, programming and more.

Ellen Hopkins writes her YA novels almost exclusively in poems (see today’s review of Tilt), while others wonder: How do you write a poem?

The Book That Turns Those That Don’t Know it into a Poet

Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life in Words by Susan G. Wooldridge is hands down one of my favorite books about writing poetry.  Inside the pages of this book are a lot of hands on ideas that you can do at home, at school or in a library program to help inspire teens and get them thinking about their life in terms of poetry.

What’s the number one thing you need to write a poem? Words of course.  So get out your poetry journal, take a walk through your neighborhood and collect words.  See that empty bench at the park?  Describe it.  Tell us what you see. Tell us what you feel. Tell us what the bench feels.  Who sat on the bench just 5 minutes ago and why did they leave?

Get some index cards and start labelling the things in your house (or library or classroom).  Sure, I can tell you I am sitting at the table typing on my computer.  Or, I could tell you that I am sitting with both hope and despair filling my lungs as my fingers click click click on the keyboard keys in a melancholy rhythm that looks back into the past to find a hope for tomorrow.  You don’t have to sit down and write a poem every time you think about poetry, sometimes you need to just practice looking at and labelling things.

The truth is, most teens have written some bad break up poetry in their day.  Many of us have written with longing about the dreamy eyed boy that doesn’t know we exist.  Or the cheerleader at the top of the pyramid, either way.  Just become a poem doesn’t work it doesn’t mean you failed; no, you’re failure comes in not writing at all.

And this is the beauty of Poemcrazy, it is a collection of exercises that helps you put building blocks into place and to see the world through a different set of lenses.

Put (Awesome) Pen to (Canvas) Paper

Want some more fun poetry/writing inspired ideas to do with teens? Get some blank notebooks/journals and allow teens to decorate them (markers, decoupage) to be their poetry notebooks.  There are also a lot of fun ways that you can turn ordinary pens into poetic writing utensils: wrap them in friendship bracelet thread and put the occasional bead along the way, use floral tape to wrap the pen and add some flowers to the end of your pen.  In fact, a simple but awesome roll of duct tape can turn an every day pen into an inspiring work of art.

More Poetry: TPIB Poetically Speaking
Karen’s Poetry
Goodreads list of books similar to Poemcrazy

Book Review: Tilt by Ellen Hopkins

Should the sun beat
summer too fiercely
through your afternoon
window, you can
the blinds to temper
heat and scatter light,
sifting shadows this way
and that with a
of slats.  And if candor
strikes too forecully,
step back, draw careful
breath and consider the
your words must take
before you open
your mouth, let them leak
out.  Because once you
                                                                               tilt the truth,
it becomes a lie.

Tilt is called a companion book to Ellen Hopkins’ 2011 adult book, Triangles, but it can really stand alone, and unless your teens are die-hard Hopkins’ fans, I don’t know that they would want to read Triangles.  However, Tilt will definitely be on their list, and in true Hopkins style it does not pull punches.  Tilt is gritty and hard hitting, dealing with issues that I know no adult wants to think teens deal with and teens know either someone or they themselves are dealing with all to well.

Like all of Ellen Hopkins’ books, this one is told in verse, and after tearing through the book, I went through again and looked at the way the poems were set.  Often times there are double and triple meanings that are within the text, depending on placements or alignment of words.  They would be an excellent lead-in for visual poetry-programs.
I would completely recommended it for any library; however, it is definitely graphic with some of the scenes, so if you know that your community is one that is more conservative, keep reviews on hand.  I would put it right up there with Hopkins’ 2009 book Tricks in the details.
I will now give you space to let you know that below here, there are SPOILERS in case you don’t want details.
Ready?  Then hold on.
 Tilt tells the story of three teens interconnected by family relationships:
  • Mikayla, almost 18, completely in that soul devouring love with her boyfriend, who is seemingly as in love with her- until she turns up pregnant.  Mikayla has to figure out what to do about the baby, her family, her boyfriend, and her life, without loosing herself in the process.
  • Shane, who is turning 16, falls for his first boyfriend, Alex, who confesses that he is HIV positive.  Having lived with his sister’s chronic and ultimately fatal illness, Shane has to figure out whether to accept Alex knowing that their love will be shortened, as well as the death of his sister midway through the book, which brings his facade of well-being crashing down.
  • Harley is 14, an innocent good girl looking for love, and finding it unrequited in older boys.  She changes her appearance to find that love, then starts moving unawares towards self-destructive and dangerous extremes in order to get that love, from drinking and drugs to sexting and date rape.
Told you, a lot to deal with, and there are NO punches pulled.  However, that is what makes Hopkins’ writing so real to teens, and so relatable- they know that she lives these characters, and it’s like these teens could be someone that they know.  They’re gripping, and you want everything to be OK, and you cringe and your heart breaks with them when it’s not.  And that’s everything that a wonderful book should be.
And, just for you, we have a GIVEAWAY!!!  Share in the comments below your favorite Ellen Hopkins book and WHY, along with your email address, and you could win a copy of Tilt!  You have until Sunday, October 14th to leave a comment and be entered to win.  This giveaway is open to U.S. residents.