Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: They’re Sacrificing Our Poorest Children, Same as it Ever Was

As the end of July approaches, parents (and school personnel) have been anxiously awaiting to hear what we’re going to do about school this fall. This in the middle of a global deadly viral pandemic in which our numbers have started rising exponentially again. This is arguably the worst time to be thinking about how, exactly, we’re going to handle school in the fall.

When we returned from Spring Break in March of 2020 we were quickly notified that our schools were going virtual. While this worked fine for my junior who is arguably gifted and self sufficient, it was a disaster for my youngest who has an IEP for dyslexia. And by the time it was all said and done, neither one of my children wanted to touch a computer again. We are one of the many families for whom virtual schooling was a disaster.

The Teen doing virtual school in Spring 2020

This doesn’t mean I want to send my children back to school again in the fall.

Bety Devos wants schools to fully reopen but not many are listening

DeVos blasts school districts that hesitate at reopening

I live in the state of Texas, in which our numbers are rising. We’ve broken records every day for the past week and a half. At the same time, new science has come out that indicates that the virus is indeed airborne. Which means that our kids will be sitting in schools with questionable HVAC systems for hours on end and we’re going to just hope for the best. I guess.

This past week our national leaders began a huge push for in person, fully opened schools. This came from the top down and involved people like Betsy Devos indicating that only around 0.02% of our children will die. That’s right, the Secretary of Education who has never worked a day in a school has indicated that she is perfectly comfortable sacrificing 0.02% of our children to open our schools. madeline lane-mckinley @la_louve_rouge_ did the math on Twitter and that’s 14,740 children: https://twitter.com/la_louve_rouge_/status/1282344581455998976.

But let’s ask ourselves, who will these children be?

They will be our most at risk children. Our poorest children, whose parents can’t stay home with them to do virtual or homeschooling. And when we talk about our poorest children, it is important to keep in mind that our poorest children are often our most marginalized children, Black and Latinx children, rural children, and children with disabilities. That is because, like in all things, the system is designed this way. Systemic poverty and systemic racism are intertwined and designed to ignore many members of our society, including children.

TEA Issues Comprehensive Guidelines for a Safe Return to On-Campus Instruction for the 2020-21 School Year

Last week the TEA (Texas Education Agency ) announced that parents will have two options: send kids to school in person or do virtual learning. Whichever course you choose, you are being asked to commit to your track for at least 9 weeks. Though it gives each school district some leeway to make their own rules.

Early on there was a lot of discussion of hybrid scenarios. Putting kids on like an A/B schedule with them alternating between morning and afternoon classes with deep cleaning in between to minimize the number of kids and create more room for social distancing. Other scenarios seemed to discuss half the kids going to school on just a few days of the week while the other ones did virtual and then switching. All of the hybrid scenarios were designed to give everyone an equal audience in front of a teacher and equal time doing virtual schooling. While not ideal, the hybrid scenarios seemed more equitable.

Scout making a zine during Spring 2020 for a school assignment

Now, Devos and the TEA have come out with an either/or option. You can either do in person or virtual education. And then the call came out: if you can, please choose virtual or homeschooling so that the parents that can’t can send their parents to school. Do you see the inherent bias in this type of system? Because the parents who can choose to do virtual either have the financial means to have a parent stay at home to help their child succeed. They also are most likely to have the necessary tools to do virtual schooling to begin with, like strong, reliable Internet access and computers.

So our poorer children – those with parents who must work or who don’t have reliable Internet access or who don’t have laptops and tablets to successfully do their work – will have no choice but to attend in person school, putting themselves at greater risk of catching the virus and taking it home to their caregivers. Their risk is exponentially increased because their parents can’t afford any alternatives.

This doesn’t account for things like the vast disparities in our schools across the nation due to underfunding, redlining, and other issues. It doesn’t account for older school buildings without adequate heating and cooling systems to help with healthy air flow. It doesn’t account for children who can’t afford to buy their own lunches are going to be asked to show up and provide their own face masks, hand sanitizer (which I haven’t seen in a store for months), or more. It doesn’t take into account crowded hallways and cafeterias, schools that have barely had soap in the bathrooms during the best of times, or realities like busing.

I am not here trying to lambast public education or public educators. I believe in and support public education with every fiber of my being. I believe that the world is better when we take care of and educate our children. It’s a net gain. And despite the best of intentions, it hasn’t been going well for a while now in part because we have people who know nothing about education and who are actively trying to dismantle public education in charge and making decisions. And Betsy Devos is just the tip of the iceberg. Most unfortunately, educators haven’t been invited to the decision-making table for a while now at the same time that there has been a systemic campaign to try and undermine both public education and our teachers. I’m a public librarian, in no way affiliated with any type of public schools and I have been reading about and watching this play out for some time now.

But I’m also a parent, and as a parent, it makes me angry. As a citizen, it makes me angry as well. We have long known that educational success is directly tied in with things like self-esteem, accomplishments, and yes, even future crime. It is a moral and ethical imperative and a public good for us all to invest in the health and well-being of our children. Not just the children we have personally given birth to, but all children. We know based on decades of research and evidence that the health and well-being of our children is important for our economy, our safety, and our success. Not just as individuals, but as a collective whole.

I don’t have answers about what school should look like in the fall. But I am angry that so many people are so willing to sacrifice any of our children, even the smallest percentage point, because they can’t think creatively or don’t want to invest the money that would be necessary to make schools safe during a global pandemic. I’m especially angry because I can see that part of the reason that many are willing to make that sacrifice is because I understand whose children, exactly, are being sacrificed on the altar of “normal”, convenience and fiscal responsibility. It’s the same children it always has been, our poorest, our most marginalized, our most in need of our safety and protection. It’s the same as it ever was. And that should make us all angry.

Income inequality affects our children’s educational opportunities

Sunday Reflections: Reflecting on My Reflections. On a Sunday, of course.

On Sundays, I often write posts that I call Sunday Reflections. They are much more personal, a choice I’ve made to live my life more authentically and more open to raise awareness about issues that I face in my life, both personally and professionally. I’ve talked about growing up as a teen with an eating disorder. I’ve talked about living as an adult with a mental health issue (I have depression, anxiety and on occasion panic attacks). I’ve talked a lot about being a teen librarian and being a parent, and how the two parts of my life often intersect, especially now that I am the parent of both a tween and teen. I’ve talked about being a survivor of sexual violence and trying to raise two daughters in a world that objectifies and sexualizes girls at such a young age. I’ve talked about the financial struggles of working in an underpaid profession and how challenges in maintaining a work/life balance while struggling to make ends meet has been challenging for both my husband and I. I’ve talked about how working with teens has opened my heart and mind to things I never understood before, like LGBTQIA+ issues and teenage homelessness. I’ve talked about the importance of representation and the harm of stereotypes. I’ve talked about what it’s like as a librarian who has always loved reading to raise a struggling reader. I’ve talked about learning, growing and changing my mind. Over the last nine years I’ve changed my mind more than once about things, because it’s okay to change your mind when you have new information.

Today I thought I would share with you some of my favorite Sunday Reflections from the past. Because, why not.

There are a little over 120 Sunday Reflections here on TLT. A vast majority of them have been written by me, though in the early days there were some occasional guest posts by others. I’ve learned that during really depressive times of my life, I don’t really write Sunday Reflections. Sometimes I’m also overwhelmed with all the negative I’m seeing in the world and in those times, I write less as well because I can’t figure out where to even start.

My sincere hope is that one day my daughters will one day stumble upon this blog, which I imagine will long be no longer updated by then, and have a better idea of who I am and what I tried to do in the world, the life I tried to live and the legacy I tried to leave behind. They are, of course, fully aware of this blog. No picture or post that references them is done so without their consent. My oldest, The Teen, has chosen to follow my example and life her life struggling with anxiety in very open ways because as she reminds me, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. And it’s not. It’s part of why I talk about it here, I don’t want her or her sister to be ashamed of any part of who they are or this life that they live.

I love being a teen librarian. I love and believe in libraries, in books, in the power of words and the importance of story to help develop compassion and wisdom and understanding. But more than anything else, I love my family. It’s a gloriously messy thing to be both a teen librarian and the parent of a teen, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Most days.

Sunday Reflections: Dear Adults, Please Stop Talking About How Much You Hate Your Body in Front of My Children

A couple of months ago, The Teen told me about a teacher who was eating a salad at lunch and talked to their students about being on a diet and needing to lose weight.

Another couple of friends were on a diet and talked about it a lot in front of my children.

A family member told my kids how many calories were in each snack as she handed it to them throughout the course of a visit.

And last night, my 11-year-old and her troop were selling Girl Scout cookies. A lot of people politely declined, following it up with some statement or other about how they were on a diet or needed to lose weight. A simple no thank you will suffice.

The first time one of my daughters commented on their body negatively they were 7. And as someone who has struggled with a body image issue and eating disorder since middle school, it broke my heart and filled me with fear. I’ve hated the skin I’m in for 47 because no one ever told me I could or should love it and I don’t want that for my children.

I’ve read 1 million parenting books on how to help your daughter love their body and the one thing that is mentioned over and over again is to be careful about how you look at and talk about your body in front of them. I have worked really hard to deconstruct my own issues and not project them onto my girls. It turns out what I can’t control is the other adults that have influence on them.

In our society we are bombarded with millions of subtle and not so subtle messages every day that enforce unrealistic and harmful body image messages. From the toys we buy to the TV and movies we watch to the ads we see on billboards as we drive down the freeway, we are subjected to so many messages that make it clear that thin (and tall and white) are beautiful.

I know very few people who are happy in the skin they’re in. And we communicate this to the children in our lives in a variety of ways and perpetuate the cycle. We talk about being fat, losing weight, and communicate our self hatred on a daily basis. It’s exhausting and once you learn to recognize it, it’s hard to escape how insidious it is.

Don’t get me wrong, I do talk with my girls about food, just as I talk with them about other issues like consent and healthy relationships. We talk about our bodies needing a wide variety of nutrients to function properly and how to look at the foods we eat and the range of nutrients we are or are not receiving. We talk about calcium building bones, vitamin c helping to build strong immune systems, and how other nutrients support the nervous system. My husband has high blood pressure so we talk about diet in terms of having a healthy diet to help support healthy heart function, for example. You can talk about health, wellness and nutrition without body shaming and making young kids hate their bodies as they drown in negative self esteem.

Growing up, I heard a lot about how it takes a village. And I have found this to be true and both positive and negative ways. I would love it if the adults in the life of my children would stop talking about how much they hate their bodies in front of them. I hate that we have all learned to hate ourselves and our bodies so much that we do this without even thinking about how we’re projecting our issues onto our children.

My sincere hope is that you love yourself and your body. But if you are one of the millions of adults who have bought into the lie that you don’t deserve to for whatever reason, please consider helping to stop the cycle by refraining from talking about it in front of the children. If you are an adult who works with youth, I hope that you understand and will consider what type of an impact your words and actions have on the youth you serve and talk about your body and diet in healthy ways. The children are listening.

Sunday Reflections: What I’ve Been Learning about Childhood Trauma and Librarianship

After the lights go out on the stage and the audience has long left the theater, the actors on the stage remain. They have to reset the scenery and put props in the beginning places and hang up costumes so the performance can be repeated again the next day. Even if a performance ends at 9:30 at night the kids on the stage often won’t be ready to go home for hours. And for those teens that don’t yet drive, their parents wait in the parking lot or at home by the phone until they get the message that they are finally ready to go home, exhausted and hungry yet sometimes still with hours of homework to complete and tests to study for.

As my teenage daughter walked out to the car where her father waited a week ago, it was dark and cold and she was one of the last teens to leave. As she approached the car she saw the door standing open and her father laying on the ground. She wasn’t sure yet what was wrong but he did manage to tell her to call her mom. Which she did. And as soon as I heard her crying and telling me, “Mommy, there’s something wrong with Daddy.”, I jumped into the car and raced back to the school. That night would change us all.

Thankfully, as she waited, a car full of people stopped and asked her if she needed help. Which she desperately did. They called 911 and I arrived just minutes before the ambulance did. What I saw will haunt me for a really long time. I see my husband sitting there slumped over, fighting to breathe, and holding his left arm in unnatural ways every time I close my eyes. I can’t imagine what she sees at night when the darkness seems to want to haunt you with your worst fears and memories.

I was barely equipped to handle the events of last Saturday night at the age of 46. I can’t imagine what it was like for a 17-year-old.

The Teen and her Dad. He’s a really great Dad.

It’s been a really rough week to be a Jensen. There have been medical tests and a lot of uncertainty and trying to unpack the emotional fall out of knowing that everything in your universe has just shifted. The ground seems less stable now, less assure of itself. This beloved husband and father seems so much more precious now because we just don’t know what this means for him, for us, for our family. The silence in the uncertainty is deafening.

My Dad was visiting to see the play when all of this happened. For the last year and a half now my Dad has been fighting some serious health battles of his own. My kids went and saw him in ICU a little over a year ago and we thought for sure that would be the last time we saw him. Every time we see him, and he lives in another state so it isn’t that often, we know that this time is most likely going to be the last time. So the weekend was already heavy with emotion and medical trauma.

American Library Association: Toward a Trauma-Informed Model

I’ve been reading a lot lately about trauma informed librarianship. School Library Journal recently ran an article about the topic. I’ve seen it mentioned in some other places. I even joined a Facebook group that discusses trauma informed librarianship. I was already thinking a lot about childhood trauma and trauma informed librarianship when my family, my kids, faced their own medical trauma this past week.

Where Healing Happens: Librarians Adopt Trauma-Informed Practices To Help Kids

Trauma informed librarianship asks us all to recognize the fact that at any time any of our patrons may be experiencing their own trauma and that knowledge should inform how we approach librarianship and our patrons. Studies have shown that trauma can literally rewire the brain. It has long lasting effects. Focus For Health shares the following infographic about Childhood Trauma:

My daughter is doing okay. We talk about what’s happening and are trying to help her process the shock of walking out and seeing her father in desperate need of medical care. She has a strong family unit that loves and supports her. Because she has some anxiety issues, she already has a counselor in place so she too can help process recent events.

But I’ve worked with so many kids, so many teens, who don’t have any of those resources in place. Teens living in abusive homes. Teens living in a constant state of hunger and uncertainty. Teens living on the street. Teens who have no one to tell them that they are loved and safe and to help them process moments. Teens whose brains are being rewired and who will feel the long term effects of their childhood trauma long after they are no longer children. They will become adults who have a hard time forming long-term meaningful relationships, who live with a heightened sense of fear and anxiety even when they are living successful lives. They will become adults who are addicts because they chose to self medicate in a world where our medical care is woefully inadequate, especially when it comes to mental health care. It haunts me knowing that some of the kids I see coming into my library today will become the homeless adult who sits outside my library in the darkest hours of the night.

I have noticed in my professional discussions recently that a lot of libraries are backing away some from dedicated teen services and I fear this. I fear it for a lot of reasons, because I know that the key to building lifelong learners and library users is to provided dedicated teen services. But I also fear it because it’s just another way that our society sends teens the message that they are too hard, too difficult, and too challenging. I fear it because we will become another institution telling teens that there is no place for them here. I fear it because at the exact moment in their lives where teens need someone to say that we understand your unique needs and we care about meeting them successfully, we are saying the exact opposite.

Teens need communities that care about them. They need to know that they are valued and understood and supported. They need community organizations to do the work of helping them successfully navigate adolescence. Libraries used to be one of those places and more and more, I see libraries backing away from this and I fear what the long term effects will be.

Teens need adults and spaces that care about them. I hope that libraries will continue to be one of those spaces. For some of the teens in our communities, it will literally be the difference between life and death.

PS. The Mr. is doing pretty okay. We have had a lot of tests and are talking with doctors to figure out what happened and what it means in the long term, but he’s doing pretty okay.

Sunday Reflections: How the Language of Deconstructing One’s Faith Helped Me Understand Adolescence

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In the award-winning novel Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, the main character, Xiomara Batista, spends a lot of time questioning and challenging the very deep Catholic faith that she was raised in. She’s trying to figure out who she is and what she believes; she’s trying to make sense of her parent’s faith and find a faith that she can believe in for herself. She is deconstructing her faith.

poet X

To be clear, this is a pretty normal part of adolescence. In fact, it is one of the primary tasks, to move into a more independent sense of self and figure out who you are, who you want to be, what you believe, and how you will move through this world. One of the most fundamental tasks of adolescence is to figure out a self-identity. And often, this involves the deconstruction of faith.

Deconstruction is quite literally a critical analysis. Metaphorically, it takes the pieces of something apart and takes the time to evaluate them each individually and then figure out how they fit together, or don’t, in the scope of one’s own life and belief system. And to parents, it can be terrifying in no small part because religion, matters of faith and devotion, are so incredibly personal and fraught. In the end, when you start talking about matters of belief, you are often talking about literal matters of life and death, and what happens to one’s mortal soul after death. It’s not an easy topic by any means.

In the book Heretic’s Anonymous by Katie Henry, we meet a group of teens from a variety of faiths who are at different stages of belief. Some are devout, some are questioning, some are atheist, and some are deconstructing. It’s not so much that they don’t believe, it’s that they don’t believe in it all the way the adults in their lives want them to believe so they engage in critical analysis to determine what it is the do believe and how they can incorporate that into their life. One of the main characters, perhaps my favorite, is a teen girl who very much loves her Catholic faith but is also a feminist. There’s a lot of tension in many faiths when it comes to embracing and upholding feminist ideals.

hereticsanonymous

Although I have been aware for a while that millennial and teens – and today’s teens ARE NOT millennials – have been leaving the church, I have only recently become aware of the concept of and language of deconstructing one’s faith. There are discussions online using hasthags like #exvangelical (which is about moving away from fundamentalist Christianity, with some choosing atheism and others just choosing a more progressive faith), #emptythepews (which specifically calls for an exodus out of the church), and a variety of other discussions about what it means to deconstruct one’s faith. I read and follow these discussions for a variety of reasons, both professional and personal.

Many teens (and millennials) are leaving the church because they do not find that the church practices what it preaches. They will argue that the church preaches that God loves all but then actively preach hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community. The teens that I have talked to see an underlying greed and corruption in the church, and they are angry at the way that the church has turned their back on both the Earth and their future by engaging in climate change denial. And as news breaks out that more and more denominations have spent decades covering up childhood abuse to protect their name and the adults around them at the expense of children, they are finding it harder and harder to feel that church cares about them at all.

In the book The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes, the main character is wrestling with her continued participation in a youth group when the very teen who has sexually assaulted her continues to be embraced and lauded by her friends and family. She feels lost, lonely, rejected, terrified and unsupported. She finds herself in the wilderness metaphorically and quite literally as she wrestles with her truth at church camp. She is a proxy for every child, teen or adult harmed by the church who is trying to figure out where they still fit in at a church that wants to deny the truth of what has happened to them, leaving them vulnerable and alone. She is deconstructing her faith.

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As the mother of a teenage daughter, I have the opportunity to have a lot of hard and important conversations with my teen. And because we are a family that goes to a Christian church together, a lot of these conversations revolve around the Bible, the church and lately, a lot about LGBTQ+ issues. I have found that this generation of teens is the most accepting and open about their and other people’s sexual and gender identities and the topic is very important to them. We also happen to be United Methodist and our denomination recently voted to uphold traditional views of gender and sexuality and to prohibit same sex couples from marrying or being ordained. This is a topic that my teen was very aware of and chose to follow on her own. And she came to me heartbroken when the church voted to hold people she loves outside of the full fellowship of the church. If given a choice, I’m sure that she would not currently choose to keep attending church.

She also has spent time with me in my work with teens in various spaces. She has seen me love, embrace and support transgender teens, gay teens, queer teens, questioning teens . . . And she always seems surprised when I talk about how sometimes it is still hard for me to totally shake off what I have been taught for literal years by the church regarding LGBTQ+ issues. You see, deconstructing your faith isn’t easy and it isn’t a one time process. I feel like I’m always challenging, learning, and growing. But when we talk about it I tell her that I have one huge thing that I am always trying to keep in mind: I never want to harm a fellow human being. Which is not the same thing as saying that I never do, because I have, I do and I will continue to do so because that’s part of being human. I have chosen to be honest, vulnerable and open in my parenting in part because I want her to know that she doesn’t have to have all the answers right now. I know that I certainly don’t, and I’m 46.

It’s important to note that deconstructing faith doesn’t have to mean walking away from it entirely. It’s just a process of questioning and challenging what you are taught. If done correctly, it usually involves asking for spiritual guidance to help with things like discernment and guidance. It often involve letting one’s faith evolve and represent the more complex thinking that we develop in adolescence. It’s moving from black and white thinking to recognizes the various shades of grey that inhabit the reality of the world we live in. It’s taking the pieces apart, but putting them back together again in ways that make sense and affirm both the foundations of your belief system and full dignity and rights of your fellow humans.

To be honest, I think much of adolescence can be understood in the context of deconstructing. Teens are constantly in the process of deconstructing and then reconstructing who they are, what they think and feel, what they believe, and how they want to live in the world. Although it’s easy to look at a word like deconstructing and have negative thoughts, I think it really embodies many of the processes of adolescence. And remember, deconstructing almost always results in reconstructing, whether that be of faith or self. Deconstructing isn’t something we should fear, because in the end, it almost always results in a more honest, thoughtful, and healthy reconstruction of self.

Part of what I do as a librarian who serves teen is to provide them access to the tools and resources that can help them in this process. I believe in the power of story and words to help us explore the world around us and the world inside of us so that we can deconstruct and then reconstruct our understanding. The power of story helps build compassion. Words enlighten, motivate, encourage, challenge, affirm and more. There are teens that I have had the opportunity to sit and talk with, teens I have watched grow from year to year, but there are also teens who have walked into my library that I have never seen and the simple act of providing the book that they needed when they needed it has helped them become the person they are today. It’s a responsibility I do not take lightly.

Sunday Reflections: Let’s Update Those YA Lit Articles with Current Titles, and more suggestions for how we talk about YA lit in the media

Several years ago, I wrote a post to the media asking them to write their hot takes about YA literature differently. It was snarky and full of anger at a media that continued to denigrate YA literature and by proxy the teens that read it. At the time, their was a lot of pearl clutching about how dark YA literature was, without a real acknowledgment of how dark the lives of real teens can be, and often are. Recently, there have been a lot of additional articles about YA, with a lot of focus on the idea of “Toxic YA Twitter”, which as best as I can tell is really just people from marginalized groups asking for better representation in YA literature and calling out those books that they feel have harmful stereotypes and representation that may harm teen readers of color.

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But what all of these articles have in common is that they continue to discuss YA literature using books like Twilight, The Hunger Games and Divergent as their go to reference. One of the most recent ones did add The Maze Runner series to the list. The problem with this is, every single one of these books is around 10 years old or older and aren’t really representative of YA literature today. They are a small microcosm of YA lit, and in many places they are now a historic perspective on YA but by no means offer a good look at what is happening in the current YA lit marketplace nor do they represent what today’s teens – the intended audience for YA – are reading.

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For example, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has topped the New York Times bestseller list for 2 consecutive years. Like the books mentioned above, it was made into a move. Angie Thomas’ most recent release, On the Come Up, debuted on the NYT Bestseller list and was a title that we had so many holds on before release that we had to order additional copies. None of the books mentioned above have appeared on my library’s hold list for years. In fact, given the circulation statistics of the Twilight series, I could easily have justified weeding them from my library’s collection, though I did not.

It’s interesting that articles discussing YA tend to focus on that handful of older titles and neglect to mention more recent bestsellers for several reasons. One, in the past few years the bestseller list has grown increasingly diverse, which is a good thing. But when writers focus on this handful of older titles, they are continuing to highlight white, cisgender and heteronormative titles. Both The Hate U Give and The Children of Blood and Bone, another long term NYT Bestseller, are written by women of color, but they keep being written out of the narrative about YA literature.

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Simon Vs. the Homosapien Agenda by Beck Albertalli is another NYT bestseller that got the movie treatment. It is the story of a gay boy trying to figure out who he is and is accepted by his friends and family. This is just one of the growing number of LGBTQ titles that are popular among teen readers and have been high circulating, NYT bestselling titles in the past few years. Yet the titles being mentioned in these articles fail to represent LGBTQ teens.

Twilight was a huge hit among teen readers, but the first book in that series was released in 2005 and the final book in the series, Breaking Dawn, was released in 2008. I’m not excellent at math, but that seems to be almost 11 years ago. While there are some teens today that still seek our and read these books, this series is by no means as meaningful to today’s teen readers or the landscape of what’s happening in YA as many newer titles. As a reference for discussion on YA lit, it’s now a weird go-to reference.

The same can be said for The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner series. What’s also interesting is that several of these authors haven’t really released a new YA title in many years. Further, the author of The Maze Runner series was recently accused of sexual harassment and if I am not mistaken, is currently without a publisher. Veronica Roth is the only author from this particular group who is currently and actively publishing YA books and her most recent series, Carve the Mark, has been criticized by people of color as engaging in racist and harmful tropes. The titles in the series have debuted on the NYT bestseller list, but they have not had the demand or circulation as other titles among my teen readers.

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It’s also interesting that these articles which seem to want to focus on older titles often fail to mention authors of color with longstanding careers, such as Walter Dean Myers. It is unfathomable to me that you can talk about YA literature in any form and not mention Walter Dean Myers, who was a prolific writer and was the first recipient of the Printz Award Medal in it’s inaugural year for his book, Monster. Sadly, Walter Dean Myers is no longer with us, but no discussion of YA literature seems complete without mentioning his influence on the category. By the end of his career, Walter Dean Myers had written over 100 books for children and teens.

TLT TAB member Lexi is a HUGE A. S. King fan

TLT TAB member Lexi is a HUGE A. S. King fan

However, if you want your article to reference authors who have been publishing for a long time and are still publishing, I would recommend authors like Sarah Dessen, who writes popular contemporary books and has been in this business for almost as long as I have. Her latest book, The Rest of the Story, will be released later this year. Might I also recommend A. S. King, who writes mind-bending surrealistic fiction that recognizes teens as intelligent readers and challenges them to think outside the box. Her newest book, Dig, will be released on Tuesday, March 26th. These are just two of the authors that teen readers continually ask for who are still actively engaged in writing YA literature.

What I would like to see in articles about YA literature is some better and more current examples of titles that are of interest to today’s YA reader. Unless you are writing a historical perspective on the category, it seems outdated and out of touch to continue to use this small handful of examples that aren’t even the most popular titles with today’s teen readers. I also would like to see more diversity in the titles being used as examples to better reflect today’s teens. 40% of the population are not white, so shouldn’t the titles we talk about when discussing YA literature reflect the world?

Since the days of The Hunger Games and Twilight, YA publishing has exploded. I have read figures that state that the YA literature category has experienced an increase of around 400%. That’s a lot of growth and a lot of new titles to talk about. And my experience working in libraries directly with teens for 26 years has proven several things:

1. A majority of YA lit titles have a short shelf life and high turnover rate. Titles that my teens were begging for even 2 years ago can have a sharp and sudden drop off in circulation, demand and popularity. There are always exceptions to this rule, but it’s an important perspective to keep in mind.

2. There is often a huge difference between what adults readers of YA are interested in compared to what teen readers of YA are interested in. When discussing YA literature in the media, maybe we need to be more clear about what types of readers we are discussing. As the title of this blog probably informs you, I’m here for teen readers. I begrudge no adult who wants to read YA for whatever their reasons, I’m just personally dedicated to serving and advocating for teens and would like YA category to continue to be written with them in mind and I would like articles that discuss the YA category to be cognizant of teens as readers.

3. When discussing YA in the media, we need more data to help support our discussions. We need things like circulation data, bestselling data and feedback from actual teen readers. This will help us make sure that we are, in fact, talking about YA literature in ways that center factual data and actual teen readers. I’m tired of lazy articles that discuss what’s wrong with YA literature and continues to reference Twilight as THE teen book example.

4. When discussing YA in the media, I want some background discussion at the beginning of the article about a person’s qualifications to write said article. Are you an author? Are you a publisher? Are you a librarian? How long have you been actively engaged in the YA community? What are your credentials and why are you a knowledgeable, reliable and unbiased source of information? In a time when we are trying to inform the general public how to suss out fake news and seek out reliable news sources, we should be asking this information of every article written about teens and YA lit.

To be true to this above demand, let me take a moment to tell you that I have been a YA/Teen Services Librarian for 26 years. I have worked at 5 systems in 2 states in various types of communities, both rural and big cities. I talk with teens directly on an almost a daily basis about books and use circulation data and patron requests to help me purchase books for libraries and build inclusive collections of YA lit. I run this blog, write articles for journals like School Library Journals, and have spoken and taught at numerous conferences and webinars.

If you are a media entity seeking to publish an article about YA lit, please seek out reliable sources and actual data and make sure to talk about current titles that reflect the diversity of YA lit readers. I would recommend contacting a handful of YA librarians in public and school libraries and asking them what their teens are reading and asking them for some circulation data. Most librarians should have a way to go in an run a circulation report to tell you what the highest circulating titles in their YA collection are. In most cases they can give you historical and current data. You should also look at things like the New York Times Bestseller list which will also tell you how long a title has appeared on the list.

If you are a reader of these articles, please take a moment to look at them critically and ask yourself what makes them qualified to write the article, whether or not they have an agenda they are trying to push, and to examine critically the list of titles they are using to talk about YA literature.I would recommend immediately questioning the validity or intent of any article that is referencing older titles and seem to have no knowledge of current YA publishing trends.

If you are a publisher, author or YA librarian and you are asked to consult on an article being written, please take the time to answer thoughtfully and diversely, being respectful of and centering actual teen readers. Provide examples with data whenever possible.

Moving forward, let’s all agree to talk about YA literature differently in the media making a conscious effort to center teen readers and to more fully represent the breadth and scope of all that YA literature has to offer.

Sunday Reflections: The Okay Sign, a Game of Gotcha, and a Symbol of Hate, Why It’s Important to Stay Informed

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When I first began working as a librarian, one of my supervisors told me she felt it was important for her staff to read the newspaper everyday. To visit blogs. To thumb through magazines. It was built into part of our daily work because she felt it was important for her staff to be aware of current events, the news, and various moments of pop culture. Over the years, this bit of wisdom has served me well. Perhaps none so much as recently.

Many teens like to play a game where they make what looks like an okay symbol with their hands and if you look at it, they then get to punch you. I have heard this game referred to as gotcha. This hand gesture, the okay sign, has also been co-opted by the white nationalist party. Much like the Swatiska, which had a different meaning before being co-opted by the Nazi party, this hand sign has morphed in meaning. What makes it particularly insidious is that not everyone is aware of the various potential meanings of this hand gesture, which can put those of us who work with teens at a serious disadvantage.

Is that an OK sign? A white power symbol? Or just an online troll?

A few weeks ago, one of the teen library pages I follow uploaded a picture of their Teen Advisory Board. Brimming with pride, as they should be, this library shared this picture on Facebook and I was immediately alarmed to see a teen in the picture making this symbol now associated with white nationalism/pride. I immediately sent them a “just in case you aren’t aware” message, because I wanted them to avoid the media firestorm that could potentially happen. Just in case you aren’t aware, I told them, that hand sign is now considered a sign of the white pride movement and I would hate for you to keep posting this picture and possibly get into a lot of trouble for doing so.

The teen librarian and I conversed back and forth briefly. They had no idea that this hand gesture could potentially mean that and felt that her kids were just partaking in the gotcha game, which is of course a strong possibility. But the truth is, despite the teens intentions, sharing that picture far and wide on social media was inviting a PR nightmare. So the picture was edited so that none of the teens hands were showing.

A lot of things happened here. I just happened to be online when the picture was posted and saw it pretty quickly. I just happened to know the potential controversy that this picture could have caused. And when I privately contacted the librarian, they also just happened to be online right then.

Shortly before this had happened, there had been a couple of other incidents of schools posting photos with students engaging in white nationalist behavior and there was a justifiable firestorm that erupted as a result. Reading about these two incidents in the news made me aware of the hand gesture itself and I had seen first hand the very real social media push back that happened in their wake.

Urban Dictionary: The Circle Game

One of the things that makes the hand gesture so insidious is that because they are co-opting an existing hand gesture, and something that is such a popular game among a lot of teens, it does put a lot of naive and innocent people at risk. It also gives offenders plausible deniability should they get called out. Take, for example, the recent picture from Baraboo. There were multiple students making the Heil Hitler salute, which has undeniable meaning to us. We instantly recognize it as being a form of hate speech. But also in that picture you see a young man making the “ok” sign below the waist. In context, it would be hard for him to say that he was playing a game of gotcha because everyone around him his doing the Nazi salute, but if you are posting a picture of a teen group standing with their arms at their sides and only one teen in the group is making the hang gesture, it’s hard to know what their intentions are. But it’s important that we know what the possible meanings of this are to help prevent us and our libraries from being accused of supporting or promoting white nationalism. One of the other important things that a previous supervisor taught me is that my goal is to make sure that I don’t set the library up for bad PR.

I’m not sharing the Baraboo photo here, because it can be upsetting for many to see the Heil Hitler. There is an article discussing the photo here that you can read.

Please note, Snopes currently lists the ok sign as a white power hand sign as unproven. Other online sites also list it as being unproven. But there is reason to believe that it can be a symbol of white power, and that alone should give us all pause in how we approach it.

I had several takeaways from this. One, my previous supervisor was 100% correct, we should make it a part of our daily mission to be aware of what is happening in the world all around us, it makes us better at our jobs. And two, we should make sure everyone on our staff is aware as well. It’s pretty common for libraries to post pictures of program attendees online as part of their promotions, but I hope that we are all doing our due diligence in making sure that everything about those pictures represents as message we are comfortable putting out into the public. Just a month ago, I would never have thought twice about the picture that I had seen, but with a little more knowledge and awareness, I was alarmed and wanted to help prevent my fellow librarians from the social media backlash that was sure to occur if they left those pictures up for very long.

ADL: Hate Symbols Database

One final thing I would like to note about this. On Thursday, a brutal attack on two Mosques in Christchurch happened. It was horrific in every way and resulted in the tragic end of multiple lives. Upon arraignment while entering a plea, the offender in these attacks was photographed making this very hand gesture. It is doubtful that he was referring to a childish game of gotcha. We all need to be aware of this and other symbols associated with white nationalism and make sure that we aren’t being unwitting purveyors of this hateful message.

Sunday Reflections: Are Teens Reading Less?

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I have come across several conversations recently on Twitter that suggest that YA fiction is selling less, which often translates to teens are reading less. It’s important to note that these figures are referring specifically to the UK sales figures of YA, so the data may be radically different for the US. And as always, the conversation is more complicated than it seems. Are YA sales figures down? I don’t know, and I don’t know that that data tells us what we think it does. But if you find yourself asking are teens reading less? The short answer is no. The longer answer is slightly more complicated then that.

As someone who has been doing this for 26 years now, the hand wringing over teens are reading less is not new. There is a strong sense of been there, done that in these conversations and the correct answer is often this: it’s not that teens are reading less, it’s that teens aren’t reading what adults wants them to be reading in the ways they want them to be reading it, and that is an entirely different argument. The teen reading landscape has changed several times in the last 26 years, it’s changing now, and it will change again and again. What causes that change, what it means, and how we respond it it are an entirely different conversation.

If we’re being completely honest, it is true that teens are reading very differently and I understand that these changes are causing some fear among authors, publishers, teachers, and adults in general. Because the shift in teen reading habits impacts those groups in several ways: in sales and income, in how we can (or can’t) measure teen reading, and in how we can (or can’t) influence, monitor and control teen reading. Everyone having these conversations have different motivations, and that matters too.

You see, it’s not that teens are reading less I find, but more that teens are reading differently, and digital media is a huge influencer of this change. Today’s teens typically have devices (newest Pew Center data suggests that around 95% of teens have a mobile device of some sort) and these devices give them access to a whole new world of reading opportunities, which teens are availing themselves of. Wattpad, online fan fiction, and free downloads via either libraries or places like Amazon make it easier for teens to get the reading content they want, with immediate gratification and more anonymity than ever. Today’s teens don’t have to ask an adult to buy them the books that they want, or ask a librarian to help them find the titles on the shelves. In fact, online reading helps teens cultivate teen friendly spaces with little (known) adult monitoring and interaction. There are pros and cons to this development, depending on how much you want to monitor teen reading.

In addition, in the early 2000s the YA publishing market exploded while research suggested that more adults were buying YA than teens, which pushed the YA market more towards adults than YA when developing new authors and titles. Over time, the YA market aged up, adults became proud readers of YA, and the pop culture references on the pages of YA became more and more dated and less teen friendly. Many teens felt like YA was no longer their space, and so they abandoned it for new teen spaces. And with the explosion of technology and online creative writing forums, this task was easier to do than it was in the past. So teens carved out for themselves new teen spaces and once again, the reading landscape is changing.

This is coupled with the fact that we don’t really have any real way to measure teen reading. We do testing, which really only measures how well a teen can perform on a test about reading. Sales figures tell us who is buying a book, but not who is reading it, or how many people read one book. The same is true for circulation statistics. These are all imperfect measurements that tell us more about who buys or checks out an item and less about whether they read, like or recommend an item. Let me be very clear about this: we have no real good way of making quantifiable statements regarding teens reading for pleasure. Many of us who work with teens can tell you a wide range of anecdotal stories that have value, but there aren’t any real facts and figures that we can talk about because our measurement tools are deeply, inherently flawed.

When considering sales figures it’s also important to remember that as the economy shrinks, people have less disposable income and are less likely to buy books, which is not the same as being less likely to read books. In fact, overall public library use seems to be up, though many of my colleagues seem to suggest that while the circulation of physical items is down slightly, the circulation of digital content is up significantly. I myself am one of the last to adopt digital reading, but even I find myself reading more with a device in hand then a physical book in hand. It’s been a long time since I have checked out a physical book or a movie from my library, and I go there 5 days a week. Again, imperfect data.

We also have to look at a ton of other factors: competition for teens time and attention, our marketing and merchandising, the growing mental health issues we see in today’s teens and the amount of work causing it, etc. So. Much. Homework. And whether we like it or not, between Brexit and the growing white nationalism happening here in the US, which our teens *are* aware of and effected by, our teens are growing increasingly anxious, dismayed, and overwhelmed. Some teens are rejecting things like realistic fiction (too similar to their current real world experiences), while others are reading them with a fervor and choosing to be political;y active online and in the real world. Some teens are too busy marching to end school violence to read the latest literary tome that adults feel they should read. With growing incidence of racial and sexual violence, the under-funding of public education, and the fact that 1 in 5 kids and teens go to bed hungry, many people – teens included – don’t have the emotional energy or time necessary to read a book for fun, they’re too busy trying to just survive. The adults in the room are creating an environment that are putting up more and more obstacles for teens when it comes to having time for pleasure reading. So for those adults wringing their hands about teen reading I say this: change the environment, it will help a lot.

But even this is not a death toll for libraries, because though some libraries are reporting that the circulation of physical items is down, it’s not zero. And our libraries seem to be fuller and busier than ever. A majority of public libraries are thriving.

I think it’s good to have conversations about sales figures and circulation statistics and to try and figure out what those fluctuations mean and how they can help us better serve our patrons. But do I think teens are reading less? No, and in 26 years the answer has always been no when the question is asked. It just often means that we need to examine our practices and adjust to a new generation of readers and a changing market. In other words it’s not them, it’s us.

Editor’s Note: I did not link to the actual online conversation that started this discussion because it was problematic in many very real ways.  For example, the original article indicated that publishers should avoid publishing “issue” novels while having a primary graphic of author Angie Thomas. Angie Thomas is a women of color and the author of The Hate U Give, which has been on the New York Times Bestsellers list for now over 100 weeks. Using Angie Thomas’ picture contradicted their main argument and is probably a racist dog whistle. Though I did not want to link to the article that ignited this conversation, I did want to address the concerns about teen reading.

Some Additional Resources to Consider:

Sunday Reflections: My Wild and Weird YA Librarian Resume

I was recently speaking with a friend when it occurred to me she didn’t really have any idea what I did as a YA librarian. Spoiler alert: we do not get paid to sit around all day in quiet and read. At the same time, I was going through and cleaning up my “office” space, which is really the dining room, and started really going through a bunch of old notebooks and papers, which made me spiral down a black hole of statistics. Given the lowest numbers, I came up with the following:

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These are low estimates as they don’t account for the years where I had daily after school programs or the years that I had programs every Tuesday with anywhere from 50 to 110 teens in attendance. They don’t count the years I had a Teen MakerSpace that was open daily and on the weekends. It doesn’t include all the school visits and tours, outreach events, and more. It’s just a very basic beginning look of stats I put together to help my friend understand on a very basic level exactly what it is that I do and why it meant so much to me.

But then I got to thinking, if I was going to put together a realistic resume, I could include a lot of fun things.

For example, I can make or modify a t-shirt in no less than 22 ways.

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I can write my name in Lego form.

I can turn a toothbrush into a mini-robot.

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I can write an interactive murder mystery, from scratch.

I can make slime in no less than 10 ways.

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I can make my own board game.

I can turn a beloved TV or book character into a party theme, complete with character themed decorations and food.

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I know more than 10 creative ways to use Shrinky Dink film.

I can turn trash into art.

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I know all the lyrics to High School Musical, Hamilton, and many other musicals.

I can turn a simple fingerprint into an epic button.

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I can make a stop animation movie using a variety of artifacts, including clay, Legos and paper art.

I can turn a blank canvas into art in now less than 20 ways.

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In short, the life of a YA librarian contains multitudes. I’ve done a lot of cool things, learned a lot, and feel really blessed. If we were to truly make a resume that showed everything we could do, it would require reams of paper and would be a pretty creative document.

What unique skills would you put on your resume? I think it would be fun to see what we’re all putting on our next resume.

Sunday Reflections: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

We are very excited to share with you the first post by new TLT contributor Elliot in this Sunday Reflections. If you feel so inclined, please consider leaving them a comment below. Don’t know who Elliot is? Check out the bio at the end of this post. Elliot is a senior in high school who wants to major in journalism so they’re joining us here at TLT.

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The holidays may be known as “the most wonderful time of the year,” however that statement is not true for everyone. People everywhere struggle with debt, abuse, depression and so much more during this time of the year. The issues surrounding this wintery time are often overlooked and I would like to bring them to light.


To start off with, there are a tremendous amount of unspoken “requirements” for people to have a good holiday. Most of what is expected of people during the holiday times require a mountainous amount of money. Houses in poverty often can’t afford extravagant decorations, a feast fit for a king, clothes to protect them from winter’s frosty bite, or the stacks of presents that this time of year is often associated with. While some families are buying a new Nintendo Switch or a fancy little Apple Watch, other families are worrying whether or not they’re going to be able to even afford their December rent and food let alone presents or decorations. Workers will take on a ridiculous workload in order to even just attempt to reach their holiday goals. The holidays focus far too greatly on money and gifts rather than truly having a happy holiday.


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For some families, the gifts and the money are all just a disguise, an excuse to cover up the dark truth in their homes. Abuse doesn’t just magically vanish during these “happy holidays.” In fact, according to national domestic abuse studies, the recorded incidents of abuse actually spike during the holiday seasons. Some explanations for why abuse might worsen over the holidays is an increase in stress, increased alcohol consumption, and more time for the abuser to be home with the victim. Abusers often feel as though they can cover up their abuse with presents and saying “I do/get so much for you.” However, the holiday presents can never cover up the scars that abuse can leave.


The holidays are obviously not always as joyful as the cheesy T.V. commercials make them seem. This season is often the most difficult time of year for those with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Culturally, people are pressured to do a lot of work, go to a lot of parties, and be around a lot of people. All of these holiday activities leave people with very little alone time and very little opportunities for self care. This constant activity leaves people drained and unhappy. The holidays make it to where people are expected to be happy, so when people with depression can’t find joy during these times, they often start feeling worse because they aren’t fulfilling society’s expectations for happiness.. It becomes a loop that constantly makes those who suffer from depression feel worse and worse due to the unrealistic expectations of holiday cheer.


The holidays are not always the joyful image that you see in the movies or in magazines. Like everything else, there is a darker side to these joyful times that should be taken into consideration because you never know who is experience the sad side of Christmas.


Meet Elliot, the new regular contributor to TLT:


I am currently a student at [Name redacted for safety reasons] High School who wishes to pursue a career in journalism. I have been an avid writer and a human rights activist for as long as I can remember. My goal in life is to help other people and I believe that one of the best ways to help someone in a bad situation is to share their stories. Sometimes the only thing that a person needs is a voice; however, not everyone has the opportunity for their voice to be heard. I want my writing to be a voice for all of those who are kept silent and I want my writing to make a difference in our slowly declining world. Although times are tough, I believe that there is always hope: you just have to find it.