Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

What’s the (Short) Story?

In my review of The Curiosities, I mention that short stories seem to be a hard sell to teens.  Most often, they are also a mixed bag; I have yet to come across a short story collection where I thought every story was a divine work of inspiration (although The Curiosities comes close).  But here are 5 short story collections that I think are must have for teens and the libraries that serve them . . .

Steampunk Poe
They are the original works of Poe with Steampunk illustrations.  You can never go wrong with Poe.

Although there are some good stories about being bullied, standing up to bullies, etc., the reason this book is a must have is for the short story How Auto-Tune Saved My Life, a story that reminds us that sometimes adults in positions of power can be bullies.  This is a must read for all teachers.

Dear Teen Me
It’s such a unique concept and a great look at life as a teenager, and an important reminder that most of us make it out alive and relatively unscathed.

The Letter Q: Queer writers notes to their younger selves
David Levithan, Malinda Lo and more talk about growing up, coming out and surviving as they learned to understand their sexuality and embrace who they are.

And of course, The Curiosities

Now it’s your turn. What short story collections are on your must have list and why?

GLBT History Month Author Spotlight: Alex Sanchez

October is GLBT History Month, and here on TLT, we thought we’d highlight some of our favorite GLBT writing authors and books.  Today, we’re looking at Alex Sanchez.

Alex Sanchez was born in Mexico City, to parents of German and Cuban heritage.  Bullied and harassed throughout high school, he has stated in interviews, presentations and on his own website that he always knew he was “different” from other boys, but that it wasn’t until later that he actually came out that he was gay.  

He started writing in college, and Rainbow Boys (first published in 2001) reflects directly on his own issues with his coming out.  Since then, he’s been nearly a book per year, and the books have been lauded by The Lambda Literary Awards, ALA’s YALSA’s Best Books for Teens, and The Rainbow Project.

In addition to being lauded for his writing realistic GLBTQ characters and situations, his books have also been challenged across the country exactly for those very reasons.  In addition, he has had a presentation to a school district in Canada cancelled due to objections from parents.  None of this has stopped his writing, or his advocating for GLBTQ teens.

I have an extremely hard time keeping Alex’s books on the shelves in my small library.  If you would look at the check out statistics, they will be smaller than others, but interestingly enough, they go walk-about with a lot of frequency.  They will be missing for a few days to a week, then they will mysteriously appear shelved exactly where they are supposed to be, but a little more worn.  Or they will be hidden into a corner, or a different shelf after a group comes in, and a wandering teen will come in a little later looking in the same section.  So while I may not have hard evidence to back up my anecdotal evidence, I know that they are being used.
My favorite book of Alex’s is Boyfriends with Girlfriends, which tells the story of four teens dealing with growing relationships and friendships, questioning and learning about their sexuality, and trying to find out where they fit.  

Which of Alex’s books are your favorites?  What do your teens think?  

Annie On My Mind and Banned Books Week on My Calendar

I come from a small town, and from very liberal parents.  I don’t remember any checks on what I was reading, never once being told I couldn’t read anything or having to sneak books into my room.  Well, except for the copies of Julie Garwood’s historical romances that were my mom’s, but that was more because I didn’t return them where they were supposed to go rather than I wasn’t supposed to be reading them.  The first blip on my radar of books being not acceptable for some was an incident when I was in late elementary/ early middle school.  I vaguely remember it- the parents got involved about a book in the school library collection having to do with witches, and I remember my mom going down and talking about keeping the book in the collection and standing up for the school librarian, and the book stayed in the library.  I remember her reasoning clearly – it’s not anyone’s right to keep books from anyone else’s children; I can say what you can and can’t read, but I can’t say what’s right for anyone else’s kid. 

So I ran amok on my reading adventures, and came across Annie On My Mind.  I checked it out from the larger public library near us, and thought it was wonderful.  Loved the story between Liza and Annie, lived the story and felt my heart break.  Clueless me, I didn’t realize that Annie On My Mind was controversial, or groundbreaking; I thought it was a really really good romance story.  I did know that same-sex couples weren’t out in the open where I lived, even though I knew of some in high school, but I just figured that everyone handled it like my extended family, and everyone did what they wanted in private and it was all good.  Now, I understand that they were hiding what they were for fear of attacks and bullying, and I think that coupled with my family experience makes me more of a passionate ally for GLBTQ teens and GLBTQ literature in
Annie on My Mind was first published in 1982.  30 years later, and while we have Gay-Straight Alliances in schools and more books like Annie on My Mind on the shelves and being published, teens like Annie and Liza are still having to hide their relationships for fear of parents and friends disapproving, for fear of bullying and hazing and worse.  Books about GLBTQ teens are being challenged across the country for corrupting teens and perpetuating a gay agenda that just isn’t there, and while many librarians are being supported in keeping them on the shelves, others are having to creating “parent collections” or worse, remove them entirely from their collections.  If what these teens, who are looking for answers, need is a place that we want them to feel safe, where should they look?

Top 10: For Annie and Liza

I love Annie on My Mind.  I personally think it should be a book choice for those in schools, not a forced book, but a reading choice for those reading classes where you have to choose one of five books on relationships and write about themes, and what did you learn from these books.  Yes, there would be some that would be all upset because it is a GLBTQ book, but there would be others (and I bet many others) that would cheer for it’s inclusion.

I wrote in my earlier post about how it was hard for me to find books like Annie when I went looking.  For the record, I’m not GLBT or Q; for personal reasons in my life I am an *extremely* vocal straight ally.  For those who liked Annie on My Mind, here are my personal Top 10 books that would go on a booklist with Annie and Liza, in no particular order.

Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters.  Cece and Holland have to hide their growing relationship just as Annie and Liza did, and when their relationship is found out, it has serious repercussions.

Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle.  When a friendship is blown apart by a kiss, Lissa must learn who she is and start accepting who she is.

The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson.  It’s always been Nina, Avery and Mel, BFFs…  until one summer when it starts to be Avery and Mel, together.

Empress of the World by Sara Ryan.  When Nic falls in love with Battle, she must struggle to figure out if she’s bisexual, lesbian, or if she really needs any label at all…

The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson.  Not as obvious as some of the others, but Staggerlee definitely fits into this list.

Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn.  When Very gets sent to “unplug” during her electronic addition rehab, she learns that her love has been right in front of her all along.

Sister Mischief by Laura Goode.  After Esme confirms that she is definitely “a homo.  Like, Same-Sex City, Esme”, her feelings for another band member may become too much to handle.

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins.  When Cara, ever so perfect Cara, decides that she needs to come out about her preferences to everyone, what will she have to give up?

Pink by Lili Wilkinson.   Trying to be “normal” for once by transferring to a new school, Ava hides her relationship with Chloe while trying to figure out just who she wants to be.

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner.  After Julia dies, Cass is left questioning her own identity, including her sexuality- can she find herself and learn to live without Julia?

Best or Favorite? A look at the NPR “Best” Young Adult Novels list

I watch So You Think You Can Dance every week without fail.  Here is a show where you can call in and vote for your “favorite” dancer.  This favorite part is important, every year they make a point of making this distinction: it is not the best dancer, but your favorite.  Because that’s how voting works usually, it’s subjective.

Best implies perhaps the highest quality while favorite implies the most popular.  And, truthfully, if you are asking the people to vote you are going to end up with the most popular.  So when NPR puts out it’s list of the Best 100 Young Adult Novels that have been voted on by the public, what you are really getting is some combination of both the best and everyone’s favorites.

NPRs Best Young Adult Novels
Did your favorites make the list?

One look at the list and you see the truth of this statement.  The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers appears at number 27.  Had the vote been taken just a few years earlier, before it became fashionable to hate Twilight, I am sure it would have appeared in the top 10.  But still, in terms of quality of writing and storytelling, even 27 seems incredibly high when you compare it to some of the other books that made the list farther down – and some of those that didn’t make the list at all.  My favorite comment on Reddit: “List totally invalidated by the presence of Twilight.”

If you are on the Yalsa-bk listserv, then last week you saw a really informative post by author David Lubar.  He took a quick moment to do a Google search and found that many authors and fans actively campaigned for others to vote for their favorite books.  As someone who spends a lot of time on the Internet, this is not surprising to me at all.  But it does remind us all that the Internet voting is not a perfect mechanism for developing lists, unless of course your goal is popularity.  So perhaps if they had just changed what they called the list, not the “best” but “favorite”, it would have been an accurate statement.

I’ll be honest, I did not vote.  Not because I don’t care, I obviously care very much about teen literature, but because as soon as I realized the mechanism they were employing to create the list I realized that it would be a deeply flawed list.  Compare the idea of the NPR Best Young Adult Books list to the Teens Top 10s put together each year by Yalsa – and voted on by the public.  The Teens Top 10 list explicitly states that it is a “teens choice” list where teens nominate and then vote on their favorite books from the previous year.  You see the distinction there?  They aren’t saying they are the best, but that the teens declare these their favorites.  Semantics are important.

If you have looked at the NPR list you probably will have noticed what Debbie Reese, Laurie Halse Anderson and others have noticed: the list is incredibly white.  I mean super white.  There are only a couple of titles that have a main character that it a person of color. I won’t talk a lot about that because the previously mentioned people have covered it so well, but it is disappointing.  And not at all reflective of the literature that I see on my shelves.  Don’t get me wrong, I think there needs to be a lot more diversity on our library shelves, but this list totally neglects longstanding popular authors like Walter Dean Myers and Sharon Draper and Jacqueline Woodson.  In fact Monster by Walter Dean Myers is a groundbreaking – and award winning – book and definitely deserves to be on this list.

I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere, but the list also doesn’t seem to include many LGBTQ titles at all.  Where is Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan? How about Annie on My Mind?  A brief look at the list shows that it includes The Perks of Being a Wallflower (without a doubt an amazing read), Will Grayson Will Gryason and the Dangerous Angels series.  Is the lack of LGBTQ and POC titles representative of who votes, what we read, or what gets published?  Whatever the issue, it is clear that we need to work harder on reaching diversity goals.  (Side note: I actually think that the problem novel, one of the classic mainstays of young adult literature, is under represented on this list as well.  I know right now that fantasy and dystopian is super popular, but where are the problem novels?  Thankfully Speak made the list.)

My other question regarding this list would be around the voting mechanism, which I can’t actually speak about because as I mentioned, I didn’t vote.  But I would have loved for them to have kept track of the age of voters and created separate lists.  What does the list look like if only teens vote?  What does the list like if only librarians and educators vote?  What does the list look like if all adults – including educators and librarians – but no teen votes are counted?  It would be interesting to compare the various lists, and I suspect there would be some major differences.

And finally, I am interested in some of the titles that they classify as young adult.  To Kill a Mockingbird is without a doubt one of my favorite books and I would say one of the best books written, but is it young adult?  I would ask the same of The Lord of the Rings series?  Something can be popular with young adults but not be actually a young adult book.  We can all look back at what we read as a teen, and look at what our teens often read now, and recognize that a lot of teens like to read adult authors, which is cool.  Just because something is popular with young adults doesn’t mean that it is in fact a young adult novel.  Of course what, exactly, constitutes a young adult novel is probably the guts of an entirely different post and is further complicated by the introduction of the New Adult genre.

Overall, I think the list is a great starting place for new readers of young adult books to begin reading; it definitely is a good look at what is popular with my teens over the last few years.  As much as I love John Green, I would knock a couple of his books off the list – leaving The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska – and add some multicultural authors.  I was ecstatic to see the Delirium series and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children on the list.  I kind of felt that Miss Peregrine didn’t get the love that it deserved when it came out.  There is some good stuff on the list.  There is some fun stuff on the list (I LOVE the Gallagher girls series).  But is this list representative of THE BEST? I guess it depends on how we are defining the best.

So here’s my question to you: If we made the list again in 10 years, what titles from 2012 do you think will stand the test of time and make an appearance?  And what diversity titles do you think should have made the cut this year?
Also, what is the most surprising title on the list for you?  For me it is The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.

Top 10 Tuesday: LGBTQ Pride Month and Steph’s Top Ten LGBT YA Picks!

So it’s June, already.  Summer Reading is in full swing for many public libraries and for your lucky, lucky school librarians, you should be headed toward some much needed rest and reading time!  But June is also a very important month: LGBTQ Pride Month.  I am a huge gay rights advocate and I think to be a culturally competent librarian, you must immerse yourself in ALL cultures so that you are always able to find the right book for the right reader.  So, here are my top ten picks for LGBTQ YA reads!  

I have to start this post with Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan.  I grew up in a community that was ‘sheltered’ per say but definitely everyone had their own opinion about everything.  And it was highly religious (not that there is anything wrong with being a person of faith…I am one and a proud Christian).   I had been involved in a lot of community theater so homosexuality wasn’t something I was unfamiliar with but I just had a few gay guy friends and I didn’t worry too much about their lives.

I am grateful for this book because it made me shake my views of homosexuality.  Before, I didn’t really care about my gay friends and about their struggles and I rarely even saw them outside of the theater where they were largely accepted.  Instead, it opened my eyes to a new community where gay people were…SHOCKER…just people.  They went through the same things that I did as a straight girl and then again, they went through a lot of hell to be the person they were.  Some endured too much.  Others didn’t have a problem.  But by and large, this book taught me that tolerance isn’t really enough.  It taught me about acceptance and about welcoming everyone in my life on equal levels.

So this book is and always will be my #1 LGBTQ pick.  I even was lucky enough to have a wonderful friend get this for me when he was in New York with David.  I may have cried when I opened the package.  Okay…I did.
Now, here is a a Top 10 Pick that I haven’t even read but I’m completely trusting my co-blogger’s judgement on…Karen has been RAVING about Ask the Passengers by A.S. King since she got home from TLA (Texas Library Association).  Now, A.S. King is a pretty amazing author (and my birthday buddy…March 10 FTW!) so I totally trust her work and Karen’s judgement.  (And A.S. King made sure that I note that her book is really about the Q of the LGBTQ initialism so I made sure to add my Q in the post.  Unfortunately, the pic I made already had LGBT in it….)  Since I haven’t read it…this is from Goodreads about the book:  
Astrid Jones copes with her small town’s gossip and narrow-mindedness by staring at the sky and imagining that she’s sending love to the passengers in the airplanes flying high over her backyard. Maybe they’ll know what to do with it. Maybe it’ll make them happy. Maybe they’ll need it. Her mother doesn’t want it, her father’s always stoned, her perfect sister’s too busy trying to fit in, and the people in her small town would never allow her to love the person she really wants to: another girl named Dee. There’s no one Astrid feels she can talk to about this deep secret or the profound questions that she’s trying to answer. But little does she know just how much sending her love–and asking the right questions–will affect the passengers’ lives, and her own, for the better. 

I am hoping to get a copy at ALA!  I have to read this book!!!!!!!!!!!!

Another excellent book by an amazing woman who I absolutely love to pieces is Scars by Cheryl Rainfield (finally available in e-book format!).  Scars takes a really deep look at childhood sexual abuse, cutting, and homosexuality and the effect on everyone involved but the beauty of this book is that it doesn’t focus so much on the issues as it focuses on Kendra, the characters, and her recovery.  This is what makes this a powerful read.  And as an interesting note, some of the story is autobiographical and, in fact, the arm depicted on the cover is actually Cheryl’s. 
Some of my favorite YA LGBTQ books are coming of age novels in which the teens themselves realize that they may be different and are working to either accept themselves or to help others accept them.   I think that these books are some of the better types of LGBTQ books because I feel as if many teens live in a self-discovery phase and if you read about a character that is experiencing the same thing…total connection.  Some of my favorite self-discovery books are….
Many books don’t focus on transgendered characters.  There have been several that I can name off the top of my head but one of my favorites is a newer book by Tanita S. Davis called Happy Families in which two middle grade students must learn how to cope, understand, and eventually accept their Dad’s decision to be a transgendered male.  Not to mention, this cover is PERFECT!
Now my last two picks are actually just excellent reads because they come from three of my all-time favorite authors.  The first is Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan.  One night, two boys, both named Will Grayson will meet and their worlds will collide in ways that only Nerdfighters, Levithan-Lovers, oh and just all of humanity can enjoy.  Fall in love with Tiny and take my word for it.
And the last book pick that I have is Shine by Lauren Myracle.  After a gay teen is found tied to a gas pump with the pump shoved down his throat and left for dead, a small town girl decides to uncover the mystery of who tried to kill her friend. 
Many of you remember this book because of the Shine/Chime mixup during the National Book Award debacle.  Shine did not win the award BUT Lauren Myracle did have the National Book Foundation give special $5,000 grant to the Matthew Shepard Foundation at her request.  For those of you not familiar with Matthew Shepard and his story, Matthew was killed in 1998 after a horrific hate crime in which he was severely assaulted, beaten, and then left to die in a field tied to a split rail fence.

Leslea Neman recently wrote a book which will be published in September of this year, almost 14 years after Matthew Shepard’s death, called October Mourning.  It is a novel in verse and it is her response tot he events of that day.  In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month, we will be giving away an ARC copy of October Mourning via Rafflecopter.

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Way to Go, happy book birthday and a contest

Today I present you with a guest blog post by debut YA author Tom Ryan.  His debut novel, Way to Go, comes out today.  Read on to hear more about this exciting new addition to the ya field and how it can help teens struggling with their sexual identity find peace in their lives.

This is an exciting day for me. My debut novel, WAY TO GO, has been released into the world, and I couldn’t be happier. Growing up, I always hoped and imagined that I’d one day be a published author. If you’d told me in high school that this day would come, I would have been thrilled.  If you’d told me what the book was about, I would have been shocked.

WAY TO GO is about a summer in the life of Danny, a gay seventeen year old who’s coming to terms with himself and the world he inhabits. It’s a straightforward story, far from revolutionary, but a book like this would have been unthinkable to me when I was a teen. I’ve since learned that there were a few brave books in print back then that dared to describe LGBT teenagers in a positive light, but I wasn’t aware of them. I wish I had been. They might have made a big difference in my life.

Like Danny, I grew up gay in a small town. I didn’t know it at the time, but there were lots of people just like me. There still are. Countless young people from around the world feel unsafe in their communities, their schools, and even their own homes, because of their sexual orientation.

Last week I logged into Twitter and my heart sank into my stomach when I saw that one of the top ten trending topics was #SignsYourSonMightBeGay. Against my better judgement, I clicked on the link and scrolled through an endless list of heartbreakingly ignorant comments. Some people were using the hashtag to fight against stereotypes, which was great, but most of the tweets were sick, sad, small-minded and mean-spirited. We may have come a great distance, but we still have a long way to go.
I’m an adult. I’ve learned to deal with the reality of a world where it’s funny to degrade someone for who they love, where stereotypes and offhand slurs are tossed around as if they don’t matter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m upset about these things every single day of my life, but I’m equipped to handle the negativity, and I’m lucky enough to live an exciting and empowered life despite it. What I can’t handle is knowing that there are so many kids out there who are forced to internalize this crap and continue to feel scared and ashamed of who they are. They need all the support they can get.

There’s no question that we’ve made lots of progress in the last ten years. When I was in high school, back in the 90s, there were very few publicly gay role models. Now it seems as if new examples of happy gay adults and even some young people – celebrities, politicians, characters on TV shows and movies – are springing up every day. Positive messages from gay-straight alliances and the “It Gets Better” project have done a great job of countering homophobic discourse. In the world of YA literature, there have been a number of new and fabulous books about LGBT teens published over the past several years. From WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON, to WITCH EYES, to THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, we’re starting to see more great queer titles getting the attention they deserve.
You can download this poster of other GLBT titles for YAs at
But we need more of them, and more importantly, we need them to be readily available to the kids who need them most. I was astonished to learn that there were bookstores that chose not to carry my book because they didn’t think the subject matter was “appropriate.” A book about friendship and summer vacation which happens to have a “questioning” MC is somehow inappropriate? The fact that there are still bookstores and libraries in North America that hesitate to carry these kinds of titles completely blows my mind, but it’s a reality. Depressing.

Any avid reader knows that a good novel, arguably better than any other medium, can show you the world in its story, and yourself in its characters. Growing up is tough for everyone, but it’s especially difficult for young people who’ve been taught that they’re inherently flawed because of their attractions. Everyone needs to feel that they belong, to know that there’s room in the world for each of us. Often times books are where we find this space.

Gay kids have a right to see themselves portrayed in literature. Their stories matter. We need to make sure that they can find them when they need them.

You can find Tom all over the Internet, but you might try these places first:
My twitter : @tomwrotethat
Way to Go on Amazon : http://goo.gl/NzdUa

Enter to Win a Signed Copy of Way to Go

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