Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Fight the Power: Music as a Social Force, a guest post by Lisa Krok

There is no doubt that teen activism is on the rise in today’s political climate. Options including peaceful protests via marches, boycotts, petitions, blogs, books, artwork, and more are popping up across the country. Looking back to the Civil Rights Movement, music was a catalyst in voicing messages of resistance and hope. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (RRHF) in Cleveland, Ohio hosts programs to inform teachers, librarians, and students about how music was used in the past as a change agent, and how we can apply that to present day.


On a bitterly cold and blustery January day, RRHF Education Instructor Deanna Nebel shared ways music can be used as a social force with an auditorium full of students. She began with a very recent release by The Killers, “Land of the Free”. A sampling of the song was played, and then the audience was asked to break down the message in the lyrics.


Pictured: Deanna Nebel


The message of mass incarceration of people of color is clear: the “Land of the Free” has “more people locked up than the rest of the world”. While this was one of the more recent uses of music as a social force, many other examples were covered in class. Below are some related artists that encompass a variety of marginalized voices that teens can research on their own.

  • Joan Baez (Latinx heritage) promoted social change and became friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. Some of the most memorable songs she sang are “We Shall Overcome” at the 1963 March on Washington, and “Birmingham Sunday”, which was used in the opening of Spike Lee’s documentary 4 Little Girls (1997). The latter references the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing by the KKK, which resulted in the tragic deaths of four children. Baez was inducted to the RRHF in 2017.

See Joan Baez’ 2010 White House performance of “We Shall Overcome”:



  • Bob Dylan (Jewish heritage) was born Robert Allen Zimmerman, and took the name Bob Dylan when he began performing. Contrary to popular belief, his name was not chosen based upon the poet, Dylan Thomas, but from a character on the television show Dylan is still performing to this day, and some of his most well-known songs include “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “The Times They are a Changin’”, “Like a Rolling Stone”, and “Hurricane”, which told the story of what some felt was the wrongful conviction of boxer Rubin Carter. This story was later made into the movie The Hurricane, featuring Denzel Washington. Dylan was inducted into the RRHF in 1989.

Click here for Bob Dylan writing prompt for teens:


  • Buffy Saint-Marie (Piapot Plains Cree First Nation) witnessed wounded soldiers returning from the Vietnam War. This inspired “Universal Soldier” in 1964, which was a protest song. Saint-Marie was an active philanthropist and started the non-profit fund Nihewan Foundation for American Indian Education in 1996. The word “Nihewan” comes from the Cree language meaning “talk Cree”, implying “be your culture”.

See “How to write a protest song” by Buffy Saint-Marie, (2017)


  • Aretha Franklin (African-American) was the Queen of Soul and the first woman inducted into the RRHF in 1987. Her powerful voice continued the fight after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although segregation was no longer legal, some still did not regard African-Americans as equals.  Aretha addressed this in a song that was not asking for respect, but DEMANDING it…and just in case you missed it, she spelled it out for you:

Respect Live, (1968)



Aretha Franklin

An admirable quality of using music as a social force is its versatility. Different time periods and genres all lend themselves to advocacy for change. Song lyrics are basically poetry, so teen activists need to select the ones that express the message they are looking to convey. Any style of music:  rock, country, hip-hop, folk, and more can be used.


Deanna Nebel shows examples of different albums with societal messages.

Education Programs Manager, Mandy Smith, shared more information about RRHF program offerings. “Fight the Power” is part of a larger umbrella of programs entitled “Rockin’ the Schools”.  The RRHF also partners with the Roots of American Music (ROAM) and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage (MMJH) for a “Stop the Hate Youth Sing Out” collaboration. ROAM is a non-profit organization whose mission is to facilitate learning in diverse communities by providing customized arts programs, workshops, residencies, and performances through the use of traditional American music. Students begin by taking the “Stop the Hate” tour at the MMJH. Considering biases they have experienced in their own lives, they reflect upon what they have learned and how to use their voices to stand up to hate. Students are then partnered with a ROAM musician back in their classrooms and work on writing their own original protest songs. The songs are later performed at the RRHF in front of a panel of judges and other students learning about protest via music. The winners are then invited to perform their original songs during the “Stop the Hate Youth Sing Out” award ceremony on the RRHF main stage, in front of about 500 audience members and can win anti-bias education grants. Additionally, the MMJH encourages participation in their “Stop the Hate” essay writing contest to win scholarships.

Smith also suggested the RRHF Library and Archives as a great resource for teens. Those local to the Cleveland area can contact library@rockhall.org  or (216) 515-1956 to schedule visits. If not in the area , items are searchable at  http://library.rockhall.com/home and use https://rockhall.on.worldcat.org/discovery to find materials near you. Best of all, teachers and librarians can sign up for a FREE account to access Rock Hall Education resources at https://edu.rockhall.com/about.


More resources:

https://www.rockhall.com/fight-the-power  (Teacher resources from RRHF)




Special thanks to Gretchen Unico, Education Coordinator, for assistance in setting up the RRHF visit.



-Lisa Krok is a library manager, member of 2019 and 2018 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers team, and a Ravenclaw. She loves Queen and all things Freddie Mercury. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

We Call Upon the Author: A Literary Playlist

As a lifelong reader and writer, I’ve always had a special interest in songs that talk about reading, writing, writers, or books. I’ve compiled 20 of my favorite songs about these topics for your listening enjoyment. I’m also linking to other blogs and articles that compile their own lists. There are A LOT of songs out there about these subjects. My musical taste leans heavily toward all things punk, alt, and indie (as you probably know by now), and my list here reflects that. Do you have favorite songs about writing and reading? Share them with us in the comments or tag us on Twitter (I’m @CiteSomething). 


We Call Upon the Author: A Literary Playlist


“When I Write my Master’s Thesis” by John K. Samson


“Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?” by Green Day


“High School Poetry” by 764-HERO


“I Typed for Miles” by Jets to Brazil


“Impossible Things” by Looper


“Wrapped up in Books” by Belle and Sebastian


“Read it in Books” by Echo and the Bunnymen


“Open Book” by Cake


“We Call Upon the Author” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds


“I Should Be Allowed to Think” by They Might Be Giants


“Everyday I Write the Book” by Elvis Costello


“Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend


“The Engine Driver” by The Decemberists


“Party for the Fight to Write” by Atmosphere


“Romeo and Juliet” by the Indigo Girls


“Cemetery Gates” by The Smiths


“You Speak My Language” by Morphine


“Words” by Low


“All My Little Words” by The Magnetic Fields


“The Book of Love” by The Magnetic Fields



 Other literary playlists:

“25 Songs That Reference Books” at ShortList.com 

“Songs Inspired by Books” at Songfacts

 “11 Songs Inspired by Literature” at Mental Floss

 “25 Very Literary Songs” at Entropy Mag

“The 11 Best Metal Songs About Literature” at Electric Lit 

“10 of Music’s Most Literature-Obsessed Songwriters” at Flavorwire 

“22 Rock Songs Inspired by Batman, Spidey, and Other Comics Heroes” at Blastr 

Teenage Anthems: The Soundtrack to TLT’s Teen Years

We’ve got a music theme going on this week at TLT, so we decided to collaborate on a playlist to share with you. We each chose five songs that were important to us as teenagers. I won’t tell you how long I agonized over this. Only five?! Though I would have agonized even if I were sharing 50 songs that were important to me as a teenager. Enjoy our picks and share your teenage anthems with us, too! Tag us on Twitter (@TLT16), use the hashtag #teenageanthems, or leave a comment on this post!


The TLT Teenage Anthems Playlist

Karen’s picks:

People are People by Depeche Mode

This album and Songs from the Big Chair by Tears for Fears were the first albums I ever bought. I saved up my babysitting money, went to the mall and pulled them both off the shelf without hesitation because I was waiting hardcore to buy them. By the way, they’re still great albums.


Add it Up by the Violent Femmes

The Violent Femmes were totally cool, all my friends loved them an adults hated them. What more can you ask for in life. Plus, it’s fun to sing along really loud to with all your friends. See also, Kiss Off and Blister in the Sun.


Every Rose Has Its Thorn by Poison

My best friend and I were united by our love of Duran Duran, but she was also very much into hair metal bands. She loved this song hardcore. She died our junior year in a car accident and I can’t even listen to this song without thinking of her.


I Don’t Want Your Love by Duran Duran

Duran Duran had way bigger hits, but it was while they were touring for the Notorious album during my Sophomore year that I finally got to see them in concern at Six Flags Over Texas. And on a school night. I may or may not have hyperventilated after it was over causing my best friend to slap me in the face. And we may or may not have gotten in trouble for not meeting our parents out front at the reasonable hour we were supposed to. But man, what an amazing moment in my life.


Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush

Kate Bush is an amazing artist that not enough people seem to know about. They played her song Running Up That Hill a lot on MtV when I was in Jr. High, when MtV still played a lot of videos and you could find tons of cool music. The day I graduated high school I took the money I got as gifts, it wasn’t much, and bought the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe and The Sensual World album by Kate Bush. Fantastic album.


Heather’s picks:


Fall On Me by REM

The first album I bought was Out of Time and I very quickly tried to acquire all of the REM I could. This one is my favorite ever. I think it’s REM at their best: each part both stands out and blends perfectly with the others.


Suzanne by Leonard Cohen

I discovered Leonard Cohen in the library, after first hearing his name in Nirvana’s Pennyroyal Tea. I loved how quiet and beautiful and dark this album was, and the pacing in Suzanne was almost hypnotic. And what geeky, quiet girl wouldn’t get sucked up by a line like “she’s touched your perfect body with her mind”?



To Bring You My Love by PJ Harvey

My friend Dan never drank, but he got a fake ID in high school so he could get into shows. I was never that daring, so he just brought me CDs to listen to. PJ Harvey was scary and alluring and had a voice and power like no other woman I’d heard.


Sometimes by James

It’s such a vivid picture and I loved the refrain. I remember trying to write down all of the lyrics, because they weren’t in the liner notes and this was pre-home internet for me. Play- scribble – pause – scribble – play – scribble, etc. My friends and I were so excited about the release of this album (Laid), we’d tease each other “I got laid this weekend – did you get laid yet?” It was all so mature.


Say it Ain’t So by Weezer

This was our driving around aimlessly album. We’d play air guitar to this one and scream the lyrics out the window.


Amanda’s picks:


The First Part by Superchunk

Superchunk albums were in constant rotation throughout my teen years. I always loved the line “one good minute could last me a whole year.” It spoke to the melodramatic (and secretly hopeful, under all my cynicism) part of me.


Punk Rock Girl by The Dead Milkmen

When I was 17, my not-quite-yet boyfriend showed up at my house late one night, set up his band in my driveway, and proceeded to play “Punk Rock Girl.” I’d been in my room listening to Beautiful Music for Ugly Children and working on a zine (I actually specifically remember this moment in time, but it’s safe to say that at any given point on a late night in my teen years I was listening to music and making a zine). I sat out by my front door, both amazed and kind of mortified this was happening (late night appearance of a band playing in my quiet neighborhood drew attention). That relationship, like so many high school relationships, eventually imploded in a pretty spectacular way, but 20 years removed from that night, I still think it was pretty fantastic.


Chesterfield King by Jawbreaker

“We stood in your room and laughed out loud.
Suddenly the laughter died
and we were caught in an eye to eye.
We sat on the floor and did we sit close.
I could smell your thoughts and thought.
Do you want to touch a lot like me?”

Still some of my very favorite lyrics ever. Conjures up memories of rainy Minneapolis nights, hooded sweatshirts with patches, and the thrill of not really knowing what would happen next.


Going to Pasalacqua by Green Day

Green Day was the first band I saw at First Ave in Minneapolis (October 10, 1993. I still have the ticket stub).  Their first two albums are seared into my brain, and this song, all about infatuation, made it onto nearly every mix tape I ever made.


Showdown by Propagandhi

It’s possible I’ve seen Propagandhi live more than any other band. Maybe they’re tied with Built to Spill, or Ani Difranco, or Low. At any rate, I saw them a lot. This band was my everything. I loved to scream along to their angry, political, swear word-laden songs. They were good to dance to, to jump around to, to be angry to, to blast out the car windows coming back from shows late at night. I still know every single word of their How To Clean Everything album.  When I need to get the cobwebs out of my brain, I still put this album on. Teenage Me would be happy with that.


Robin’s picks:

Music from my teen years is kind of a weird topic. I grew up in Lynchburg, VA (home of Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University.) There were very few radio stations that didn’t play Christian, Country, or Christian Country music. We had 1 top 40 station. It played a lot of Madonna and Duran Duran. That said, at some point MTV came on the air, and I was exposed to a slightly more varied set of artists. So here are 5 songs that will always remind me of my teen years:


Take on Me by a-ha


Bust a Move by Young MC


Pulling Mussels (from the Shell) by Squeeze


Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds


Tainted Love by Soft Cell




This Song Will Save Your Life: Push by Matchbox Twenty, a guest post by author Leila Sales (Blog Tour)

I am a pretty huge fan of This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales. For one, it is about music, which I love, and how music can in fact save you. On Sunday we discussed some of the songs that have saved TLT. And tucked away in the pages of This Song Will Save Your Life is a friend standing up for another friend when she sees a group of young men sexually assaulting her very inebriated friend in a club, reminding us all that she is too drunk to consent. I discuss this scene as part of The #SVYALIt Project. On April 14th This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales comes out in paperback, with a brand new cover, so if you haven’t read it yet I highly recommend that you go get a copy. It’s a really great book. Today as part of the This Song Will Save Your Life Blog Tour, author Leila Sales is sharing with us a song that saved her life. At the end of this post we are giving away an ARC of Leila’s September 2015 release, Tonight the Streets are Ours.

I competed on my high school debate team, so on Saturdays I would wake up early, put on a businesslike skirt and shiny Mary Janes, and get in the team van. We would then drive to St. Sebastian’s or Phillips Exeter or some other New England prep school, where we would argue about the electoral college all day long.

In the van we would take turns playing music on the stereo. This was in the days before CD burners or iPods, so I made mix tapes. I’d keep a blank tape in the boom box by my desk and listen to the radio while I was doing homework, and whenever I heard a song that I liked, I would quick hit “record.” So all the songs on my mixes were missing the first fifteen seconds, had static throughout, and had lost their final notes to a radio DJ’s voice saying, “You’re listening to Mix 98.5!”

One Saturday in the debate van, we were playing one of my mixes, and an older girls commented, “Leila, you must really love Matchbox Twenty.”

And I said, “What’s Matchbox Twenty?”

She laughed and said, “The band that played half the songs on your mix tape so far.”

I hadn’t known this; I had just hit “record” whenever something sounded good. But apparently everything that Matchbox Twenty did sounded good to me. And that’s how I realized that Matchbox Twenty was my favorite band.

To this day, this still seems to me like the most authentic way to fall in love with a song. Not because you’ve read a review that tells you it’s objectively good, or because a friend tells you it’s cool, or because it’s played a million times in a commercial. Just because you hear it, without knowing anything at all about how you’re “supposed” to feel about it, and still you want to hear it again.

Thank you Leila!

About the Books


Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.

Told in a refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice, This Song Will Save Your Life is an exuberant novel about identity, friendship, and the power of music to bring people together.

ISBN: 9781250050748






From the author of This Song Will Save Your Life comes a funny and relatable book about the hazards of falling for a person you haven’t met yet.

Seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley is recklessly loyal. Taking care of her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose in her life and makes her feel like she matters. But she’s tired of being loyal to people who don’t appreciate her—including her needy best friend and her absent mom.

Arden finds comfort in a blog she stumbles upon called “Tonight the Streets Are Ours,” the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter. When Peter is dumped by the girlfriend he blogs about, Arden decides to take a road trip to see him.

During one crazy night out in NYC filled with parties, dancing, and music—the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does—Arden discovers that Peter isn’t exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn’t exactly who she thought she was, either.


With special thanks to Macmillan, TLT is giving away an ARC copy of Tonight the Streets Are Ours, which comes out on September 15th. Giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada only please. Enter the Rafflecopter below by Midnight on April 14th to be entered to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Author Links/Info

•             Learn more about This Song Will Save Your Life

•             Learn more about Tonight The Streets Are Ours

•             Tell Us About Songs That Saved Your Life on Social Media with #SongsThatSavedMe

•             Add Tonight the Streets Are Ours to your to-read list on Goodreads.

•             Visit Leila’s website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Full Blog Tour Schedule:

http://www.paperiot.com/                                                        April 2, 2015

http://theirishbanana.blogspot.com/                                     April 3, 2015

http://www.rainydayramblings.com                                       April 4, 2015

http://lilisreflections.blogspot.com/                                       April 5, 2015

http://www.thecompulsivereader.com/                              April 6, 2015

http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/                                April 7, 2015

http://www.thebookcellarx.com/                                           April 8, 2015

http://www.greatimaginations.blogspot.com/                 April 9, 2015

http://thebevybibliotheque.net/                                             April 10, 2015

http://jenuinecupcakes.blogspot.com/                                 April 11, 2015

http://www.tickettoanywhere.net/                                       April 12, 2015

http://www.bookaddictsguide.com                                        April 13, 2015

http://macteenbooks.com                                                          April 14, 2015

http://www.perpetualpageturner.com                                 April 15, 2015

Sunday Reflections: The Songs that Saved TLT

What makes you feel most like you?

For me, the obvious answers are being with my family and being in the library. The less obvious answer is when I slap on a pair of headphones and just walk. I started doing this some time around middle school, which is in fact when most kids start to get really into music. At the time my headphones were connected to a Walkman that played a cassette mixtape and now its a smart phone with a playlist, but the idea is still the same. I feel most like myself when I’m able to listen to my favorite songs and just walk in the sunlight a few times a week.

When I lived in Ohio I would always start to feel a deepening sadness as the winter months dragged on and I found myself trapped inside the four walls of my home while snow and sleet and ice pounded the pavement I longed to feel beneath my feet. Each spring I would feel this all most spiritual like awakening as I would once again lace up my shoes and head outside to the the beat of the music. A few moments outside with music blaring in my ears and I start to feel more at peace.

Music makes me happy. It makes me feel in tune with myself. It makes me feel alive and centered. And like books, the words can speak to my soul in real and intimate ways.

I rocked The Tween to sleep while listening to Hem. Listening to Half Acre by Hem still reminds me to this day of the beauty and fear that came from holding this tiny new person in my arms and realizing what a tremendous amount of responsibility it is. I danced to Let it Be by the Beatles with Thing 2 on my hip, trying desperately to get her to stop crying for even a few moments as we tried to learn about the food issues that would plague her early years. I created a special play list for a memorial service for the baby I lost (which I can not listen to anymore, it just drips with my grief and longing). And Thing 2 had so many early life issues that a simple song wasn’t needed to rock her to sleep but an entire playlist (which I also can no longer listen to because it reminds me of the desperation of her medical issues and the postpartum depression issues that came up after her birth.)

Today my playlist consists mostly of Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons, Alabama Shakes and, of course, Foo Fighters.

This week we are celebrating music and talking about the songs that saved us, our teenage anthems and more. The posts are inspired in part by our participation in the THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE blog tour. It’s a book I love, so I jumped at the chance to participate. On Tuesday author Leila Sales will be sharing a song that saved her life. Today, TLTers will be sharing the songs that saved us.


I share one song as part of the blog tour and I will link back to it when it goes live, so I’m not going to mention it here. Instead, I want to talk about a second song that saved me.

Ordinary World by Duran Duran

It’s no secret that I am a Duran Duran fan. Ordinary World is a melancholy song that came out in the early nineties, at the time that The Mr. and I were dating. I have lots of memories of this song coming on the radio while the two of us were sitting or driving somewhere in our car (and sometimes making out). There was a time around our 4 year anniversary that it looked like our marriage wouldn’t make it. We were young, stupid, and really bad at everything including managing money and communicating. But every time this song comes on again it reminds me of those early days when we were together and I remember not to throw it all away. This year we will have been married 20 years (in May) and when this song comes on I’m still taken back to those moments. I feel like this song didn’t just save me, but it continues to save me again and again and again by just reminding me of who I was and to escape this ordinary world. It also reminds me that I listen to the most melancholy music. Seriously, I am a melancholy soul.


Two songs.
Come On Up To The House by Tom Waits

In a dark time, this song, the defiant, almost sloppy beat sounded like how I felt, and Tom’s ragged but powerful voice said what I needed to hear.
Love You Madly by Cake
Early in my parenting years, this was my anthem. Everything about it felt so true and perfectly described what it felt like to love this little person so much, so madly, even though it made me crazy. And I could sing it loud in the car and felt better when it was over. “All the dishes rattle in the cupboard when the elephants arrive” is how I felt every single day. Parenting an infant or young toddler makes about as much sense as their video.


Bikini Kill “Rebel Girl” (1993)

Music absolutely saved me during my teen years. Without punk and riot grrrl, I’m not sure what would have happened. As a burgeoning teen feminist, Bikini Kill and other girl-fronted bands were what I put on my stereo as I created zines, they’re who I went to go see live on school nights instead of doing my homework, and who I turned to to see that there was a bigger world than my tiny southern Minnesota town.
The Replacements “Bastards of Young” (1985)

In the early 1990s, I started listening to this show on the local college radio station in Mankato, Minnesota, called Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (yes, you’re right–Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ book by this same name was inspired from the show). Every week I could count on Sara and Johnny to give me a master class in punk rock. I’d call in with requests, send them my zines, and record songs from the show so I’d remember to go seek out artists that caught my attention. When I heard them play The Replacments, a legendary Minnesota band, I thought, WHOA. Why haven’t I been listening to them? I went out and bought all of their albums, bummed that by the time I started listening to them, they had just broken up. Imagine my delight, this past September, when I got to see them live, something I thought would never happen. As I jumped up and down and sang along, it was this song that rocketed me back to my teen years more than any other song that night. It made me think of adventures, excitement, and how it felt to first hear a band that made it feel like your world was cracking open.


Lost by Amanda Palmers
The only thing I can think of right now is Amanda Palmer’s Lost. It came out a the time when I was beginning to come out of the fog of losing my best friend – about 2 years after her death. The song deals with love and loss in a really positive and encouraging way. There is a bit at the end:
No one’s ever lost forever
They are caught inside your heart
If you garden them and water them
They make you what you are

I also just really like the tune. It’s almost jaunty. I listened to it so much; it was even my morning alarm music for several months.

How about you, what songs move you or saved you? Share with us in the comments. And join us all week as we talk about music, and how books and music can come together.

More Music at TLT:

Webinar: Putting More Music in Our Libraries

Bring the Power of Music into Your Library (by Mary Amato)

Top 10: Books About Music


Webinar: Putting More Music in Our Libraries (Music and Teen Programming)

For some time now I have been putting together a variety of webinars for Florida Library Webinars (with Novare Library Services). So when they asked me months ago about some potential topics for this year, one of the items I wanted to explore was putting more music in my library programming. I must give a shout out to author Mary Amato who answered some questions and shared her own favorite ideas for putting more music in libraries.

   Music in Our Libraries


Also check out this cool idea that The Library as Incubator Project shared via Twitter yesterday:

Sunday Reflections: The soundtrack of our lives

Yesterday as I sat watching the Washington D.C. episode of Foo Fighters Sonic Highways, The Tween made a blasphemous statement: ” They’re just another boy band.”

“What?”, I replied, aghast. “There is no universe in which the Foo Fighters qualify as a boy band.”

“But they are a band, made up of a boys. Thus, a boy band.”

“You have so much to learn my young padawan, I have obviously failed you.”

We have a rule in my car: You don’t change the radio station when Foo comes on. I will barely slow down as I shove you out of my car if you do. I kid, I kid (maybe).

I’ve been thinking a lot about music these past few weeks, in part because I have been working on putting together a webinar on how we can incorporate more music into our libraries. I got some great input from author and songwriter Mary Amato, author of Guitar Notes and Get Happy, as part of my research. The webinar will go up here at TLT on Wednesday if you are interested in seeing it.

At the same time, I have started watching the fantastic new HBO series called Sonic Highways by the Foo Fighters. As you may have noticed, I am a huge Foo fan. This HBO series is perhaps one of the most ingenious album promotions ever put together (Dear Husband, you can pre-order the album for my birthday next week, hint hint) . It is, however, also a profoundly moving reminder that music is a great many things to a great many people . . .

Music is history

1 of 2 of the first albums I bought on my own, age 12

You can tell a lot about our cultural and one’s personal history through music. The Washington D.C. episode, for example, does not shy away from reflecting on the various ways that prejudice and discrimination impacted music, and the way that the music then came to reflect those struggles. The blues, rock and roll, grunge, hip hop . . . there is a musical timeline that runs through our nation’s history. Who we are, the struggles we face, the overall issues of the time period are often reflected in the sound and lyrics of the music of that time.

And if you think about it, you could probably put together a musical autobiography of your own. The music we listen to becomes a part of our personal history, reminding us of who we are at various times in our own personal history.

Music is geography 

Remember Seattle in the 90s? Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Jane’s Addiction? When you think of Nashville what do you think? How about Austin? Each place has its own musical style and moments. This, too, is part of how music can help us tell a story and learn about a place. Each location has its own feel and sound, which we can learn through listening to its music.

Music is unity

People often come together because of music, not just in terms of the great music festivals like Woodstock. But people find their people, their place to belong, by finding those who share an interest in the same types of music. That moment when you meet someone who shares the same musical tastes as you is often like finding a long, lost friend you didn’t know you were looking for. As Dave Grohl reminds us, “The message is we are people and we are all in this together.” For me, this idea was made reality as I watched the concert for 9/11 shortly after this tragic event gripped our nation. In this moment, the music did indeed bring us all together as we collectively mourned.

Music is memory

Hear a certain song on the radio and you can remember exactly where you were in certain moments of your life. When I hear certain songs I can remember now only the where and the when of it, but sometimes the feel of it. If I close my eyes at night and listen to “Half an Acre” by Hem, I can almost feel myself rocking my baby to sleep again. Sometimes the longing to hold my baby again like that aches so much I can barely keep listening to the song. Other times, it is just a warm reminder of one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Music is story

Not only can music tell a story, but it becomes part of our story. It becomes a part of our cultural history. And it becomes a part of our personal narratives. Your senior year song, the songs of summer, the song you danced to at your wedding. The song or songs you listened to when you were dumped that helped you get over a bad heartbreak. The song you used to rock your baby to sleep with. It’s all a part of your autobiography.

Music is identity

Many people define who they are in part by the music they listen to. Punk, Hip Hop, Rap, Rock . . .  And it all circles back: this is my story, this is my tribe, this is me.

The music we listen to, the songs we sing and dance to, become the soundtracks of our lives.

A week ago I took The Tween to the Texas Teen Book Festival where we saw several authors talk about music and their books. Len Vlahos, the author of Scar Boys, shared that the song “These Boots Are Made for Walking” was a huge inspiration to his book. Then he said everyone should go home and watch the dancing in the video, which The Tween did. Over and over and over again. And in that moment, this song became something more to me. Now it wasn’t just a song, it was a moment – a memory – that I shared with my child. It imprinted on us both in the way that it seems only music can. It became a piece of thread that helped knit us together.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbyAZQ45uww]

Months ago on NPR they discussed recent research that states there is just something about the age 14 and music. About how the age 14 was such a huge formative year and you developed a strong musical sense of self at this age. And I kept thinking, if music is so important at the age of 14, maybe we should be doing more music in our libraries. Well, maybe *I* should be doing more music in my library. The truth is, there are lots of libraries that are doing great things with music. Arlington Heights Memorial Library, for example, has a digital media studio where you can record your own songs. We can do more than just check out CDs to bring music into our libraries.

I always feel most like myself if at some point during the course of the day I am able to put my headphones on and go outside and just walk. I have been doing it since, well, probably the age 14 now that I think about it. For many of us, music is such an important part of our lives.

At the Texas Teen Book Festival Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay, suggested that kids shouldn’t like their parents music. She maintains that teens today need to find their own music, their own musical identity. And although that may be true, that day on the drive home I found an “oldies” station and asked The Tween to listen to some of the songs that I loved when I was her age. She was thankful when the station went out of range, but it was also a nice moment where we shared some of the stories of my childhood. Because music is story, and in that moment I was sharing my story while she was writing hers.

Come share with me your favorite musical memories in the comments. I want to hear what’s on the soundtrack of your life.

Edited to Add: TLT’er Amanda MacGregor shares her personal musical soundtrack at her Cite Something blog here: http://www.citesomething.com/2014/09/29/writing-soundtrack/. In it, she also links to a great Slate piece called Musical Nostalgia. Thanks Amanda for this article, it’s perfect!







STEM and STEAM Programming for Teens in Libraries (an Infopeople webinar)

SVYALit Webinar with author Christa Desir (Nebraska Library Commission)

Book Review: Get Happy by Mary Amato

Publisher’s Description:

In this poignant, realistic, contemporary YA by a state master list star, perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Gayle Forman, a young songwriter builds a substitute family with her friends in place of the broken family she grew up with.

A hip high school girl who loves music, writes songs, and is desperate for a ukulele, learns to her shock that her father did not abandon her years ago and has been trying to keep in touch. She begins to investigate him, only to discover that he has a new life with a new family, including the perfect stepdaughter, a girl who Minerva despises.

Karen’s Thoughts:

For as long as she can remember it has always been Minerva and her mother. And Minerva has but one wish – a ukulele. To make that wish come true, Minerva and her best friend get a job at the Get Happy birthday entertainment company (because her mom doesn’t understand her at all and got her another crappy cardigan for her 16th birthday – bad mom). Their job: To dress as various characters where they will sing songs and lead party games at kid parties. It is not Minerva’s dream job, but it does put cash in hand. The job is a source of much amusement and brings some very interesting people into Minerva’s life.

It turns out, however, that Minerva’s dad didn’t abandon her. He has, in fact, been trying to get in touch with her for some time. And it turns out that he is closer than she ever could have imagined. So while Minerva is trying to survive kid parties, she’s also trying to deal with a host of big emotions including the fact that her mom lied to her and then comes the major kaboom – who her dad is and the new family that he has built for himself.

Add to this mix one of the best friendships ever (I adore Fin) and a budding romance, and you have a YA title that is sure to please many, particularly the fans of authors like Gayle Forman. One of the best things about Amato is that not only does she combine music with her stories, but she writes stories that are accessible to the younger end of YA and the upper MG crowd who want to read YA but their parents may still be a little worried about the language and sex content. 

Ukelele’s are all the rage right now. In fact, the Portland Public Library now has a Ukulele lending library, which you can read about here and here. So Amato’s book would seem to have perfect timing. Add to this the fact that it has characters that resonate, very real and challenging family dynamics, and a situation that really makes you wonder about the nature of family and forgiveness, and I think we have a winner here. The ending really left me thinking about what would happen next, the different ways that could look and what I thought could and should happen. If your readers are like me, they’ll have strong feelings about it all and they’ll want to discuss, making this a perfect book discussion title.

Some song lyrics and chords are included. Definitely recommended.

Get Happy by Mary Amato will be released by EgmontUSA on October 28, 2014. ISBN: 9781606845226

More on Books, Music, Teens and Libraries
More Books and Music Here, Here, and Here
Also, check out Heather Booth’s post on What the Ukulele Taught Me about Reluctant Readers
Mary Amato previously wrote a guest post for us here at TLT on Bringing Music into Your Library
And check out how you can make Guitar Pick Jewelry
Goodreads has a list of 288 titles tagged “Music”

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday Reflections: What the ukulele taught me about reluctant readers

As a child, I studied Suzuki method classical piano. I was technically proficient and was able to feel what the seemingly ancient pieces needed, pulling my own emotions out into my fingers and onto the keys. I was pretty good. But I disliked practicing, and once I progressed enough that it stopped being easy, my interest lagged. My fingernails grew long, only for my piano teacher to clip them once a week as I sat next to her on the bench. I’d be overcome as an audience member by the power and beauty of group performances, but I always played alone. I tried auditioning for the jazz band but was completely incapable of improvisation, so rigid was the training and so crippling was my own shyness. I tried buying my own sheet music for my teacher to help me with, but she was unable to connect with Queen or Tori Amos, and without her guidance and encouragement, my enthusiasm lagged. I was a reluctant musician. Eventually, it became clear to both of us that the only time I sat down to play were my weekly lessons. I quit when I was sixteen or seventeen.

Many years later, on a lark, my husband (who plays the trumpet) and I decided to learn this bit from The Jerk. 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqtmXnQZ6Qk]

This meant that one of us would need to learn the ukulele, and that person was me.

We went out that night to buy one. It was inexpensive enough that it didn’t feel like a “real” instrument to me, which allowed me to just have fun. I dug into the song, and quickly learned that it was arranged and performed in the movie by, no surprise, a ukulele jazz master. It might be a novelty song, but learning it would be a far cry from the sweet simplicity of the clip.

From Guitar Instructor
I’d only ever played the piano. I knew what the treble clef was, but the notations above it? No idea. I was starting over completely. But in starting over, I was starting fresh. There was no pressure, no baggage, no disappointment. The ukulele was fun, and I was having fun with music again.  Now, several years later, I’ve found an informal but regular ukulele circle in my town. I play with a dozen or two other uke enthusiasts once a month or so. We strum along and belt out the words to Hawaiian and old novelty tunes, Monkees hits, rock classics, and the occasional TMBG or Dead Milkmen song. I love it and am no longer reluctant in the least. Here I am at a poster session, playing my second ukulele along with my ILEAD team, singing about our project, the Robot Test Kitchen, and having fun
So here’s what this taught me about reluctant readers: they need to be listened to and supported. They might be excellent readers, but for whatever reason, they’ve lost the spark needed to continue doing it; it’s not fun for them. But if the spark is lost, it doesn’t mean it can’t be found or that it’s disappeared. It might take time. It will take patience. It will take a lot of compassion and good listening skills and understanding. I think back to my early piano years and wonder how it might have turned out differently for me if my teacher had really listened to me as I tried to figure out what I wanted to get out of music. I think about the kids who come to us looking for a way to connect with books or the library, even though they “don’t like reading”. What a risk they’re taking! What bravery! Even if they’re only there because the have to find something for school. These are the kids who need us as champions and friends, even more so than the kids who come to us eager for the next new thing and can go on for hours about their favorite books and authors. 
Maybe the word we use is wrong. Maybe reluctant doesn’t describe it at all. Maybe these are lost readers, wandering readers, searching readers, readers on a break, discriminating readers. One thing is sure: they are people who know themselves, know what they don’t like, and would probably know, if offered the right guidance and asked the right questions, which path would lead them back to the material that ignites that spark. Maybe it’s not fiction. Maybe it’s genre fiction. Maybe it’s a magazine dedicated to their hobby. Maybe it’s a ukulele.