Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

My Top Ten Programs, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

10.  Mini Book Charms

I recently did a Shadow and Bone Mini books and it was a hit.This is a more expensive craft, but it is super fun and the teens love it.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Shadow and Bone Mini Book Charms: Take and Make, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

9. No Sew Unicorn Pillow

This is a more expensive craft, but if you use coupons it can make it much more affordable. I always try to shop for materials when things are one sale. The Unicorn was just so much fun.

Cindy Crushes Programming: DIY No Sew Unicorn Pillow

8. Geode Bath Bomb

This was a craft that filled up so fast. It was really popular. It does take a lot of prep work. That makes the results perfect.

Cindy Crushes Programming: DIY Galaxy Geode Bath Bombs

7. Virtual Animal Crossing Programming

We loved playing Animal Crossing with our teens. We were able to have so much fun. We  had to learn some technical issues, but it was worth it.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Animal Crossing and the Virtual Library, by Cindy Shutts

6. D and D Virtually

I had never run D and D by myself before the pandemic. I had played and assisted, but taking over as DM was a challenge. I really enjoy the storytelling. I found out our group loves pets, so we involved pets in the story as much as possible.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Running a Virtual Dungeons and Dragons Program

Cindy Crushes Programming: 10 Tips for Using Roll20, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

5. The Price Is Right

I ended up doing this program over Zoom and it was super popular. Registration was full. It was a fun game that made teens feel good. We used school supplies as the prize  since we know teens can always use them.

Cindy Crushes Programming: DIY Price is Right Game, by Cindy Shutts

4. Fan Parties

I have done fan parties for so many fandoms. Divergent, Hunger Games, Fortnight, and so many more. This is a great way to grab a teens interest. I love to have crafts, trivia  and even debate during my fandom parties. This is such an enjoyable program.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Hosting a Riverdale Fan Party

3. Lighted Jars

Lighted Jars are so easy to do if you have a cameo or cricut machine. You just print out the shape you need and you are ready to go. I love using bookish themes.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Light the Night with Fandom Themed Fairy Jars

2. Nailed It

Nailed It  is such a great show. It is even more fun as a library program, I love the completion and like having a loser winner and winner winner. Everyone has such a great time and you see patrons really use their creativity skills when crafting.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Nailed It!

1. Virtual Escape Room

Virtual Escape Rooms I  love because of the ease for patrons to use. It does take a lot of time to make them but we have had very high usage numbers for the programs. We always get great  feedback when we put one  out. Parents love to do them too. A teen does not have to be somewhere  or online at a certain time. They can use the link at any time and it makes it so easy for them to do the program. Here is a link to the ones we have made so far. http://whiteoaklibrary.org/teen-promotional-events-two

Cindy Crushes Programming: How to Make a Digital Escape Room, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

When Our Heroes Fail Us: The inspiration behind “The Verdigris Pawn,” a guest post by Alysa Wishingrad

When I was in fourth grade my family moved from the city to the suburbs. As the new kid in town, I had a few friends, but I was also terribly teased and taunted. It was not an easy transition, and I relied on those older and wise than me to help get me through.

One day when we were all trickling back into the classroom from recess, some of the other kids began laughing and pointing at my back. I reached around and could feel the edges of a piece of paper stuck to my shirt, but I couldn’t reach it. So, I went to the teacher, the one person in the room I thought I could trust above all others and asked if there was anything on my shirt.

She replied, “No.” 

Moments later a friend came back into the room and pulled a KICK ME sign off the back of my shirt.

Now, I can’t know why that teacher did what she did. Was she truly being cruel? Maybe she was distracted, somehow didn’t see it, or perhaps this is a false memory. But even if my recollections of the details aren’t accurate, the feeling of having someone who I’d placed my implicit trust in, who I’d thought of as a hero failing– and perhaps even betraying—me was powerful.

A very sad future author in 4th grade

Since then, I’ve had several mentors, professors, and teachers who saw what I was capable of and worked tirelessly to help me come to see it too. They were transformative guides whose influence is woven deeply into who I am and how I strive to move through the world.

But like my 4th grade teacher there have been those who failed me. There were the mentors who turned out to be empty shirts, more interested in self-aggrandizing and collecting acolytes than in teaching or inspiring. There have been those in the public realm who I considered heroes that were unworthy of my admiration. But as painful as it can be to see through your heroes, there’s an important lesson to be learned, one that I set out to explore in my debut middle-grade novel, The Verdigris Pawn.

Tea, work and a massage ball to work the kinks out

In The Verdigris Pawn, Beau and Nate go searching for a hero. Someone who can lead the revolution the Land is so desperately in need of. 

Beau, heir to the despotic leader of the Land, has been raised isolated, cut off from everyone but his tutors and the occasional audience with his father. He knows nothing about the desperate lives the people of the Land lead until he meets Cressi, a clever and wise servant girl with a hidden talent. Cressi sees a strength and courage in Beau and tries to convince him to take up the mantel of power to right the wrongs of his family. But Beau doesn’t believe himself capable of leading anyone.

Nate, an orphan raised in the cruel and hostile environment of Mastery House, has been trying for years to run off to join the rebels. But much like Beau, he’s been conditioned from an early age to look for the leaders, to be a soldier not a commander.

Together they risk everything to find a hero, the one person who can right all the wrongs perpetuated by Beau’s father, a man so feared people only dare refer to him as Himself.

But along the way they learn that not everyone and everything is as it seems. Charlatans and pretenders lurk around every corner professing to hold the key to freedom and happiness when, in truth, their sole interest is in shining their reputation and lining their pockets.

When our role models fail us, we’re left stunned, disillusioned, and questioning ourselves. If this person that I put so much faith in turned out to be a bad actor, what does that say about me? How did I not see them for what they are?

When Beau and Nate realize that their hero is not who or what they thought, they initially have very different reactions. One chooses to try and ignore it, to hold fast to the ideal he held in his head. The other simply thinks he chose the wrong hero and now he must go find the right one.

Encourage kids from an early age to be the hero of their own stories

At that point in the story, neither boy is willing to recognize that they’re the heroes they’ve been looking for.

It’s hard to give up the notion that there’s someone out there with all the answers, someone who can save us. But even when there is that reliable leader, that stalwart of character and purpose, the truth is, none of us can afford to relinquish our power to anyone else. We do a great disservice to both ourselves and the collective by minimizing our ability to have a meaningful impact.

A heroine I can whole heartedly support.
Fun Fact: Lady Liberty, who is made of bronze, is … verdigris!

Beau and Nate learn this lesson the hard way. Had they listened to Cressi early on instead of chasing after a hero, desperate to find the answer outside themselves, they might have saved themselves a whole lot of trouble. She saw their gifts from the beginning, knew what they were capable of. In many ways she was the most meaningful mentor they had—the one who sought to inspire them to find the greatness within rather than emulate someone else. But as in both stories and life, self-discovery is a journey, one that’s shaped by the mentors—both the good and the deeply flawed–we meet along the way.

Meet the author

Alysa Wishingrad once had a whole different career working in theater, tv, and film, but nothing could be better or more exciting than writing stories and crafting worlds for middle-grade readers. 8–12-year-olds are some of the smartest, most open, and inquisitive people around. She’s dedicated to writing stories that help them hold onto that magic as they grow up.

Alysa’s favorite stories are those that meld the historical with the fantastic, and that find ways to shine a light on both the things that divide and unite us all.

When she’s not writing she’s probably out walking her two very demanding rescue dogs, or she might be trying to figure out what to make for dinner – again! – for her family. But, if she’s very lucky, she’s out at the theater getting lost in a wonderful story.

THE VERDIGRIS PAWN is her debut novel and is available now from HarperCollins.

Visit her at www.alysawishingrad.com

On Twitter @agwishingrad

On Instagram @alysawishingradwrites

About The Verdigris Pawn

A JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD GOLD STANDARD SELECTION! 

A boy who underestimates his power . . .

A girl with a gift long thought lost . . .

A Land ready for revolution . . .

The heir to the Land should be strong. Fierce. Ruthless. At least, that’s what Beau’s father has been telling him his whole life, since Beau is the exact opposite of what the heir should be. With little control over his future, Beau is kept locked away, just another pawn in his father’s quest for ultimate power.

That is, until Beau meets a girl who shows him the secrets his father has kept hidden. For the first time, Beau begins to question everything he’s ever been told and sets off in search of a rebel who might hold the key to setting things right. 

Teaming up with a fiery runaway boy, their mission quickly turns into something far greater as sinister forces long lurking in the shadows prepare to make their final move—no matter what the cost. But it just might be Beau who wields the power he seeks . . . if he can go from pawn to player before the Land tears itself apart.

ISBN-13: 9780062908056
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/13/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

TLT TURNS TEN: Ten Fav Books I’ve Reviewed

I have been with TLT for seven years and over that time, I have reviewed A LOT of books. A LOT. Here are ten of my favorite YA books that have stuck with me over the years for various reasons. Maybe you missed reading these titles, and if that’s the case, get them on your summer reading list ASAP!

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (ISBN-13: 9781935955955 Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press Publication date: 10/14/2014)

Publisher’s description

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

From my review

In Gabi, we have a protagonist who challenges expectations, thinks for herself, and isn’t afraid of putting herself out there or making mistakes. I can’t rave enough about how wonderful this book is. Not only does Quintero unflinchingly address important issues, she’s created multifaceted characters who leap off the page. Gabi and her friends became so real to me that I often forgot this was fiction—it truly felt like reading a real teenager’s diary. I finished the book feeling honored to have watched Gabi grow as a poet and a young woman. I set the book down when I was done wishing I could read books of Gabi’s diaries from the high school years prior to this one, or to see a diary of what her life will hold now that she’s heading off to college. An all-around brilliant and outstanding look at one ordinary year in the life of an extraordinary teenage girl.

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez (ISBN-13: 9781467742023 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 09/01/2015)

Publisher’s description

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?” 

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

From my review

The novel begins in media res (you know—in the middle of things). It’s March 18, 1937. Did you need some time to adjust to how completely emotionally obliterating this book will be? Too bad—welcome to page one, where we are faced with the rubble of a recently exploded school littered with bodies. No, check that—it manages to be worse than that: riddled with bits of bodies. Let’s make it worse: bits of children’s bodies. Sufficiently upset? Perez is just getting started.

We leave this heart-wrenching and gruesome scene to jump back to September 1936. Naomi and her twin siblings Beto and Cari are new to town, having recently been relocated from their San Antonio barrio to an oil-mining town by the twins’ father (and Naomi’s stepfather), Henry (their mother is dead). Naomi, who is Mexican, and her biracial siblings are instructed by Henry not to speak Spanish. The children seem to pass as white, but Naomi faces the town’s ugly racism. African-American Wash, the siblings’ one friend, is no stranger to racism either. The foursome quickly become friends, but keep their friendship secret, mainly getting together in wooded areas removed from the judging and gossiping of others. Wash is the one saving grace in Naomi’s fairly unhappy life. Her classmates are constantly whispering about her. The girls hate her because she’s pretty and the boys just want to get in her pants. She does make one girl friend, and a few of the neighbors are friendly, but even if she had a thousand friends, it wouldn’t erase what is happening at home. 

What’s happening at home, you ask? Some pretty horrific stuff. Naomi is essentially raising her siblings. She does all of the cleaning, cooking, and shopping (not easy when the stores don’t want to let in Negros, Mexicans, or dogs–the wording on the sign at the grocery store) while also attending high school. Naomi dislikes Henry (to put it mildly), that much we know, but the reasons why she hates him are slowly revealed. You might be able to guess what’s happening even with no context, but I’m not explicitly going to give you spoilers. Let’s just say it’s as bad as think…. multiplied by 100 more bads. Oh, and wait until you reach the end. Then it’s an infinite amount of bad. 

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (ISBN-13: 9780062403162 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 10/06/2015)

A bold and irreverent YA novel that powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable, The Rest of Just Live Here is from novelist Patrick Ness, author of the Carnegie Medal- and Kate Greenaway Medal-winning A Monster Calls and the critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy.

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

From my review

It’s a month prior to graduation and Mel, Mikey, Henna, and Jared are spending their last few weeks all together before their post-high school lives split them up. Outside of the constant background threat of possible undead masses coming to destroy the town, the kids lead pretty normal lives. Mike is full of anxiety about his friends, his future, and his family. He suffers from OCD and can’t stop getting stuck in repetitive loops. Mel, who’s one year older than her brother Mike, is making up for the year of school she lost while battling anorexia. Henna, the object of Mike’s affection, is not super excited to be heading to a war-torn African country for the summer. And Jared? Well, he’s a little less normal. He’s three-quarters Jewish and one-quarter God. His mother was a half-Goddess. So what exactly is Jared a god of? Cats. Mikey starts to stress out more when Nathan moves to town five weeks before graduation. Henna seems interested in him, much to Mikey’s dismay, and he can’t help but think it’s super suspicious that Nathan’s arrival happens to coincide with a resurgence of supernatural activity.

There is a lot to love about this book. The structure is intriguing, the writing is smart and funny, and the characters are incredibly interesting and well-developed. I love how they interact with each other and care for each other. At one point, Mike’s OCD has made him wash his face until it’s raw. Jared dabs some moisturizer on it for him. In Mike’s narration, he says, “Yeah, I know most people would think it weird that two guy friends touch as much as we do, but when you choose your family, you get to choose how it is between you, too. This is how we work. I hope you get to choose your family and I hope it means as much to you as mine does to me.” These friends care deeply for one another (and explore just what exactly might be found in the depth of those feelings, with Mike noting very matter-of-factly that he and Jared have hooked up in the past–“And fine, he and I have messed around a few times growing up together, even though I like girls, even though I like Henna, because a horny teenage boy would do it with a tree trunk if it offered at the right moment….”). Their stories dovetail at times with the story of the indie kids waging war against a potential apocalypse (those poor indie kids, always battling the undead, ghosts, and vampires. At one point, Mike notes there are two more indie kids dead. Henna says, “This is worse than when they were all dying beautifully of cancer.” GOD I LOVE THIS BOOK), but they prove that daily teenage life is just as fraught and dramatic as the lives of The Chosen Ones.

See No Color by Shannon Gibney (Originally published 11/01/2015 in hardcover. Paperback info: ISBN-13: 9780823445684 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 07/14/2020)

Publisher’s description

Black daughter, white father, white mother. Race, adoption, and identity collide in this award-winning #OwnVoices debut about a teen challenging the life she’s always known.

Being a transracial adoptee doesn’t bother sixteen-year-old Alex Kirtridge-at least, not in a way she can explain to her white family. It doesn’t matter that she’s biracial when she’s the star of the baseball team. But when Alex is off the field, she’s teased for “acting” too white and judged for looking black. And while she loves her parents, her hot-headed brother, and her free-speaking sister, they don’t seem to understand what it means that Reggie, a fellow ball player, is the first black guy who’s wanted to get to know her. 

Things only get more complicated when she finds hidden letters from her birth father. Alex can’t stop asking questions. Does she really fit in with her family? What would it be like to go to a black hairdresser? Should she contact her birth father, despite the fact that it might devastate her parents? Meanwhile, her body is changing, and Alex isn’t sure she can keep up with her teammates. If she’s going to find answers, Alex must come to terms with her adoption, her race, and the dreams she thought would always guide her.

Author Shannon Gibney draws from her own experiences as a transracial adoptee to deliver this honest coming-of-age novel about a girl who doesn’t know where she wants to fit in. Paperback edition includes a reading guide at the back!

From my review

Mixed into the narrative are incidents from Alex’s past, such as being a small child at the beach and a rude woman telling her she’s floated too far from her “host family.” The woman goes on to ask if she speaks English and asks where she’s from. When Alex’s white mother appears, the woman’s tiny brain explodes. She sputters over how it could be possible that this girl belongs to this woman. When Alex’s mom tries to make her feel better about what happened, she says, “We are all one in this family, okay? We don’t even see color.” As readers, we understand that Alex’s family believes this to be true and to be a good thing. But of course, their constant correction that she’s mixed proves otherwise, and claiming to be colorblind isn’t really helping anything, as it ignores and invalidates identities and experiences.

Kit is the one who really pushes this conversation, asking her family what they actually think about Alex being the only black person in an otherwise white family. She says she sees how people stare at their family. “But it’s like this secret, you know? Like no one is supposed to actually admit that she’s black, or maybe more that she’s not white.” Of course, we all know what her father does, right? “Alex is only half black,” he says. Just in case anyone forgot. But this family doesn’t see color. Later, Alex exasperatedly says to Kit that she doesn’t even know what “mixed,” her dad’s favorite word, is supposed to mean. “Mixed. As far as I can tell, it means closer to white for Mom and Dad, and the lightest shade of black for everyone else.” Later, her father, apparently trying to be loving and reassuring, tells her, “I just want you to know that your mother and I, we will always see you as just you, as Alex. There’s nothing black—or particularly… racial–about you to us because you’re our little girl and always will be.” Alex notes that the way he says “black” is cringe-inducing, “like it was the worst thing a person could be,” but that when her dad says “mixed,” he sounds prideful. More of these conversations happen over and over with her family.

The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu (ISBN-13: 9780399186738 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/31/2017)

Publisher’s description

The girls of Devonairre Street have always been told they’re cursed. Any boy they love is certain to die too soon. But this is Brooklyn in 2008, and the curse is less a terror and more a lifestyle accessory—something funky and quaint that makes the girls from the shortest street in Brooklyn special. They wear their hair long and keys around their necks. People give them a second look and whisper “Devonairre” to their friends. But it’s not real. It won’t affect their futures.

Then Jack—their Jack, the one boy everyone loved—dies suddenly and violently. And now the curse seems not only real, but like the only thing that matters. All their bright futures have suddenly gone dark.

The Careful Undressing of Love is a disturbing and sensual story of the power of youth and the boundless mysteries of love set against the backdrop of Haydu’s brilliantly reimagined New York City.

From my review

Haydu has written a profound story examining grief, doubt, tradition, expectation, and identity. Haydu’s story brings up huge questions about sacrifice and protection, about truth and perception. We are asked to consider, right alongside Lorna and crew, if love if a decision. Lorna and her friends know grief and pain, but they are still young. They are still learning that loss and heartache are inherent in love. And they can’t protect themselves from that—not by chalking things up to a Curse, not by drinking certain teas, not by building cages around their hearts, not by anything. They don’t yet know that we are all Affected, that we are all Cursed. In their isolation, they don’t understand that everyone has lost loved ones, that everyone blames themselves. Thanks to the relentlessness of Angelika, the Devonairre Street girls feel like they are the only ones protecting themselves, denying themselves, and stumbling under the dizzying weight of grief and guilt. Lorna, Delilah, Charlotte, and Isla’s whole lives are filled with people making them feel Other because of this. They don’t yet understand these are the prices we pay for being alive, for being the survivors. Their search for this understanding, their stumbling for answers and finding new pain, is heartbreaking. This beautifully written story is not to be missed. A powerful and deeply profound exploration of love, tragedy, and life itself.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (ISBN-13: 9780525425892 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/14/2017)

Publisher’s description

You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother. Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart. 
 
An intimate whisper that packs an indelible punchWe Are Okay is Nina LaCour at her finest. This gorgeously crafted and achingly honest portrayal of grief will leave you urgent to reach across any distance to reconnect with the people you love.

From my review

This is one of those books where I just don’t even want to say much of anything beyond OH MY GOD, GO READ THIS, IT’S STUNNING. I want the story to unfold for you like it did for me. I hadn’t so much as read the flap copy. I didn’t need to. It takes a while to figure out where the story might be going, and even once the pieces start to fall into place, it never feels predictable. This is, hands down, one of saddest books I have read in a very long time. But here’s how I mean that: you won’t cry all the way through. It’s not all doom and gloom. There is a lot of love and friendship to be found here. But Marin’s grief and loneliness will just destroy you.

And really, that’s all I’m telling you. The small summary up there of the plot gives you just enough of an outline to rope you in, but doesn’t reveal any of the really significant parts of the story. All you need to know is that this book will break your heart. But it won’t do it in a way that will leave you hopeless—I promise. A beautiful story of love, grief, and learning to heal. 

We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss (ISBN-13: 9780062494276 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/08/2018)

Publisher’s description

Luke and Toby have always had each other’s backs. But then one choice—or maybe it is a series of choices—sets them down an irrevocable path. We’ll Fly Away weaves together Luke and Toby’s senior year of high school with letters Luke writes to Toby later—from death row.

This thought-provoking novel is an exploration of friendship, regret, and redemption, for fans of Jason Reynolds and Marieke Nijkamp.

Best friends since childhood, Luke and Toby have dreamed of one thing: getting out of their dead-end town. Soon they finally will, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, never looking back. If they don’t drift apart first. If Toby’s abusive dad, or Luke’s unreliable mom, or anything else their complicated lives throw at them doesn’t get in the way.

In a format that alternates between Luke’s letters to Toby from death row and the events of their senior year, Bryan Bliss expertly unfolds the circumstances that led to Luke’s incarceration. Tense and emotional, this hard-hitting novel explores family abuse, sex, love, and friendship, and how far people will go to protect those they love. For fans of Jason Reynolds, Chris Crutcher, and NPR’s Serial podcast.

From my review

In Luke’s letters from death row, we see weird glimpses of hope that we could never see in the main narrative. I say “weird” because the kid is on death row. His letters are full of pain and anger, but also resiliency, and he works through so much in his letters to Toby. His letters give us a real insight into his mind during this time. It is, I would guess, virtually impossible for almost all of us to really imagine what it would be like to be on death row. To be waiting. To watch people you have come to know put to death. I think it can be easy for people to look at people in prison, on death row, and forget their humanity. It can be easy to write people off, to expect a punishment, to not see them as humans, to not understand what led them there, to not think about redemption or the worth of a life or what the death penalty really means. Bliss makes you think about all those things. He makes the reader understand that people are not just defined by one thing, but have entire lives and stories that led them to the act or acts that landed them in prison. He asks readers to see their complex lives and care about them. The standout characters, including the nun who routinely visits Luke in prison, are deeply affecting and beg readers to really pay attention to their lives and their choices. Though devastatingly sad, this is also a beautiful look at friendship between two boys—something we don’t always see much of in YA. This emotional, powerful, and unflinching look at friendship, loyalty, and the justice system is an absolute must for all collections. Not an easy read, but an important one. 

Heroine by Mindy McGinnis (ISBN-13: 9780062847195 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/12/2019)

Publisher’s description

A captivating and powerful exploration of the opioid crisis—the deadliest drug epidemic in American history—through the eyes of a college-bound softball star. Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a visceral and necessary novel about addiction, family, friendship, and hope.

When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.

The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.

With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.

But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

From my review

All it takes is one prescription to kick-start a student athlete’s frightening descent into opioid addiction. After surgery following a car accident, Ohio softball phenom Mickey Catalan is prescribed OxyContin for pain. When she starts to run out of the Oxy she relies on to get through her physical therapy, she gets pills from a dealer, through whom she meets other young addicts. Mickey rationalizes what she’s doing and sees herself as a good girl who’s not like others who use drugs (like new friend Josie, who uses because she’s “bored”). Mickey loves how the pills make her feel, how they take her out of herself and relieve the pressures in her life. Soon she’s stealing, lying, and moving on to heroin. Her divorced parents, including her recovering addict stepmother, suspect something is going on, but Mickey is skilled at hiding her addiction. A trigger warning rightfully cautions graphic depictions of drug use. In brutally raw detail, readers see Mickey and friends snort powders, shoot up, and go through withdrawal. Intense pacing propels the gripping story toward the inevitable conclusion already revealed in the prologue. An author’s note and resources for addiction recovery are appended. This powerful, harrowing, and compassionate story humanizes addiction and will challenge readers to rethink what they may believe about addicts. VERDICT From the horrific first line to the hopeful yet devastating conclusion, McGinnis knocks it out of the park. A first purchase for all libraries serving teens.

Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden (ISBN-13: 9781681198040 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 01/14/2020)

Publisher’s description

From acclaimed author Tonya Bolden comes the story of a teen girl becoming a woman on her own terms against the backdrop of widespread social change in the early 1900s.

Savannah Riddle is lucky. As a daughter of an upper class African American family in Washington D.C., she attends one of the most rigorous public schools in the nation—black or white—and has her pick among the young men in her set. But lately the structure of her society—the fancy parties, the Sunday teas, the pretentious men, and shallow young women—has started to suffocate her.

Then Savannah meets Lloyd, a young West Indian man from the working class who opens Savannah’s eyes to how the other half lives. Inspired to fight for change, Savannah starts attending suffragist lectures and socialist meetings, finding herself drawn more and more to Lloyd’s world.

Set against the backdrop of the press for women’s rights, the Red Summer, and anarchist bombings, Saving Savannah is the story of a girl and the risks she must take to be the change in a world on the brink of dramatic transformation.

From my review

This book is a mix of a very character-driven story for about 50% or more of the book, then a very action-driven story for the remainder. I really loved this book. In fact, I’ve been in a horrible reading slump for most of the past few weeks (thanks, depression!) and have started and abandoned a giant stack of books as I try to decide what to read and review here for TLT. I got lost in Savannah’s world and loved watching her awakening. Her best friend Yolande is always there, being horrified at Savannah’s choice of company, admonishing her for being around “common” people who are not their kind of people. Savannah’s own parents are less than pleased with her choices, so it takes real strength for Savannah to strike out on her own and make real strides to educate herself and expand her views. As D.C. and other major cities erupt in riots, bombings, lynchings, and fires, Savannah finds herself more involved in the action than she ever could have dreamed.

This complex story will put readers right in the middle of all the action and introduces a wide swath of ideas and perspectives. Set just over 100 years ago, the quest for social justice and real change makes for a powerful and still (always) relevant topic. An author’s note, historical photographs, notes, and sources all provide further context for Savannah’s story and her awakening in this engaging and unique read.

Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon (ISBN-13: 9781984812230 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 11/17/2020)

Publisher’s description

From the New York Times bestselling author of Frankly in Love comes a young adult romantic comedy about identity and acceptance. Perfect for fans of John Green and To All the Boys I’ve Love Before.

When Sunny Dae—self-proclaimed total nerd—meets Cirrus Soh, he can’t believe how cool and confident she is. So when Cirrus mistakes Sunny’s older brother Gray’s bedroom—with its electric guitars and rock posters—for Sunny’s own, he sort of, kind of, accidentally winds up telling her he’s the front man of a rock band.

Before he knows it, Sunny is knee-deep in the lie: He ropes his best friends into his scheme, begging them to form a fake band with him, and starts wearing Gray’s rock-and-roll castoffs. But no way can he trick this amazing girl into thinking he’s cool, right? Just when Sunny is about to come clean, Cirrus asks to see them play sometime. Gulp.

Now there’s only one thing to do: Fake it till you make it.

From my review

Here’s my favorite line from the book: Sunny and Cirrus are talking and she says, “It begs the question, What person isn’t just a made-up thing in the first place? Is it the fakery that makes us real? Is anything real?” And while that may sound like the kind of eye-roll-inducing conversation we all had as teens and thought was so deep, guess what? It is deep. Is there anything innate about our personalities or are we all just amalgamations of our interests and influences and ideals and emulations etc? And in Sunny’s case, is he actually faking being “cool” and interesting or is he indeed cool and interesting? Is changing our personalities and interests really in any way being “fake” when there’s nothing any more “real” about our previous identities or personalities or interests? How do you become who you are?

As I said in my review of Yoon’s previous book, I’m a hard one to make laugh, as a reader. Cry, sure, at the drop of a hat. But laugh? Rarely. But with this book, I laughed and laughed. I made note of brilliant lines. I went back and read clever conversations. I got completely sucked into the story and felt right there with the characters. I was shoving my fist right in there with theirs and shouting, “To metal!” I can’t say enough positive about this really smart, empathetic, and hilarious look at identity, friendship, preconceived notions, high school, and missteps. One of my very favorite reads this year.

Fact or Fiction with TLT, by Lisa Krok

Today as we celebrate 10 Years of TLT, regular contributor Lisa Krok used her tech skills to put together this Fact or Fiction trivia video about TLT. Our current regular blog line up includes creator Karen Jensen, her teen Riley Jensen, her Tween Scout (also sometimes called Thing 2, neither of which are her real name), Amanda MacGregor (book reviewer extra-ordinaire), Ally Watkins (she reviews graphic novels and comics), Robin Willis (Friday Finds), Cindy Shutts (she talks programming), Christine Lively (she writes the monthly RevolTeens column) and Lisa Krok (who does a lot of author interviews). Here’s a little look at each of us. Thanks Lisa for this fun treat!

Down the Rabbit Hole: Writing Novels from a Librarian’s Perspective, a guest post by Bryce Moore

As an academic librarian, I have taught thousands of students how to research. It’s to the point that I could probably teach that class in my sleep, going on about how to find books and articles, how to know which research tools to use and when. Often, the students I’m teaching show little interest in the subject matter. Research is something they view as a distasteful necessity of their schooling. A hoop they need to jump through, paper after paper, so they can fulfill the requirements of their classes.

What I try to stress to them (hopefully successfully, more often than not) is that research is something we all do every day, whether we’re trying to decide what car to buy, what movie to see, or checking to see just how bad a sore throat has to get before we should see a doctor. Even the act of asking friends for advice is a sort of research project. You find different sources, you evaluate them for their reliability in the specific context, you synthesize the responses, and you make a decision.

Writing historical novels is no different, at least as far as the preparation is concerned. I started writing The Perfect Place to Die with only the premise in mind: in search of her sister, a teenage girl goes undercover in H.H. Holmes’ infamous “Murder Castle.” I’d read Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, and the setting and characters were fascinating. I was eager to see what I could do with it as a YA thriller.

Photograph of the infamous “Murder Castle” (known at the time as the World’s Fair Hotel) 

But when it came time to actually write the book, I discovered working within the constraints of history complicates matters in ways I hadn’t anticipated. For example, I’ve been to Chicago multiple times (go to ALA long enough, and that’s inevitable), so I assumed I’d be able to insert details about the city without much trouble. Except every time I went to write about something, I had to first check to see if it existed back in 1893. Almost without fail, it didn’t.

Even writing simple scenes took time and research. Etta, the main character, comes into Chicago by train. I assumed Chicago would have one central train station. Instead, it had several. I had to poke around to find out which train station would have been the one that a passenger from Utah would arrive in. Then I had to find out what it looked like. It was one rabbit hole after another.

Thankfully, the internet has made much of that type of factual research simpler these days. (Especially since I was doing some of this work in the middle of a pandemic.) I know Wikipedia can get a bad rap with some reference librarians, but when it comes to non-controversial topics like Chicago train stations of yore, it’s a great way to draw on the knowledge of people who know much more than I do about a subject. It gives you enough context to know where you should head to continue the research trail.

For the record, there was no train that went straight from Utah to Chicago at that point in time. I found that out by looking at old train maps online at the Library of Congress. Etta could have traveled to Kansas City and then switched trains to come into one of the stations on the western side of Chicago. None of that ended up mattering, however, since the scene I wrote based on that research got cut from the final draft.

A drawing of Union Station in Chicago from 1885. 

That highlights one of the pitfalls of a librarian doing research for a novel. Too often, I can lose myself in the hunt for a piece of information. There are always more details to fill in—more specifics to nail down. It would be easy to spend hours of extra time nosing through websites and books I’ve interlibrary loaned, and those would be hours I really enjoyed. But at some point, I have to leave the rabbit holes and get to the actual writing.

On the other hand, that research can also make writing the novel easier. Through it, I gained a better appreciation of the sort of experiences Etta would have had, which let me understand who she would be as a character, and how she would have viewed the world. Her sister had disappeared in Chicago, but Etta couldn’t know where or why. If she had that sort of proof, bringing the law into play would have been the easy out, and that wasn’t a solution I wanted available to her. Instead, I had to have Etta find her sister’s trail on her own. Through my research, I found certain aspects of the plot falling into place on their own.

In the end, research led to more writing, which in turn led to more research. And while librarianship has made me more susceptible to getting distracted by rabbit holes, it’s also made it much easier for me to come out of those holes with a rabbit in hand.

Meet the author

Bryce Moore is the author of The Memory Thief and Vodník. When he’s not authoring, he’s a librarian in Western Maine and a past president of the Maine Library Association. And when he’s not up to his nose in library work, he’s watching movies, playing board games, and paying ridiculous amounts of money feeding his Magic the Gathering addiction. Check out his daily blog for writing tips, movie reviews, and general rantings over at brycemoore.com.

Check out this link to a free discussion guide for the book!

About The Perfect Place to Die

Stalking Jack the Ripper meets Devil in the White City in this terrifying historical fiction debut about one of the world’s most notorious serial killers.

In order to save her sister, Zuretta takes a job at an infamous house of horrors—but she might never escape.

Zuretta never thought she’d encounter a monster. She had resigned herself to a quiet life in Utah. But when her younger sister, Ruby, travels to Chicago during the World’s Fair, and disappears, Zuretta leaves home to find her.

But 1890s Chicago is more dangerous and chaotic than she imagined. She doesn’t know where to start until she learns of her sister’s last place of employment…a mysterious hotel known as The Castle.

Zuretta takes a job there hoping to learn more. And before long she realizes the hotel isn’t what it seems. Women disappear at an alarming rate, she hears crying from the walls, and terrifying whispers follow her at night. In the end, she finds herself up against one of the most infamous mass murderers in American history—and his custom-built death trap.

With real, terrifying quotes in front of each chapter, strong female characters, and unbearable suspense, The Perfect Place to Die is perfect for fans of true crime, horror, and the Stalking Jack the Ripper series.

ISBN-13: 9781728229119
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

TLT TURNS TEN: Ten Great Guest Posts

This week Teen Librarian Toolbox turns 10. TEN! To celebrate, I’ve got lots of ten-themed posts coming. Up today: ten great guest posts. We are lucky that we get so many wonderful guest posts from authors, teachers, and librarians. From our yearlong projects to reading lists to posts related to authors’ new books, there’s always something great being shared by others on our blog. You can search the blog for guest posts and catch up on some that you may have missed! Meanwhile, here are snippets of and links to ten that have stuck with me.

Continuing Anti-Racist Work in Publishing in the Wake of the George Floyd Protests, a guest post by Roseanne A. Brown

From the post:

Being anti-racist is going to take more than a few weeks of hyping certain books and creating aesthetic Instagram posts. It’s going to take a fundamental shifting in the way we all view and interact with the world. It’s going to take interrogating the way each and everyone of us has allowed the structures of this industry to function unjustly for so long.

The work does not and cannot end with buying a copy of a Black author’s book or even blacking out an entire bestseller list, though that is an excellent start. The work will end when Black and other marginalized voices are no longer working in this industry at a structural disadvantage. And it’s going to take every single one of us at every level of the publishing hierarchy to make sure this change stays for good.

We all need to keep showing up for Black voices and Black lives, even when it’s no longer on trend to do so.

Monsters united can never be defeated: sentimental queer horror YA, a guest post by Hal Schrieve

The year I turned fourteen, I came out to my parents as transgender. In 2010, as a young teenager, with Gender Identity Disorder still written into the DSM as a disease, I knew that my eventual medical transition would require doctors’ notes and assessments in order to proceed. But my parents, wearing a look of inscrutable fear, initially took me to therapists with the stated hope that we as a family would work something out that didn’t involve me actually ever transitioning.

Eventually, all the doctors my parents took me to, even those most sympathetic to my parents, began to reach the consensus that I was in fact a transsexual. That, the doctors and therapists agreed, meant my parents had to move to the next healthy stage in raising a trans child: mourning my death.

This is standard advice, advice that the parents of trans children have gotten from well-meaning therapists for decades. My inexpert Cut Rite haircut, abbreviated name, the desire to to put testosterone into my body and surgically modify my chest, and, not least, my expression of my desire for romantic and sexual contact with gay men—meant that the child my parents had raised was dead. My parents had lost their shot at something. Therapists phrased it in different ways, describing the dead girl who I was not as a child of expectations, or dreams, as someone who had existed and as someone who had never existed. But again and again, the living teenager in front of my parents was ignored in favor of the theoretically dead girl I had replaced.  My parents were given permission to ignore my distress, the bullying I was facing, the discrimination I faced from my school, the lack of information I had about what my future might hold, so they could grieve and adapt slowly to life without their daughter—though I was alive, and their real daughter, my little sister, was right in front of them and living too. For a period of just over a year, and maybe long beyond that, I became undead, unknowable, invisible to the people who were supposed to protect me.

MHYALit: This Book Will Save Your Life, a guest post by author Kathleen Glasgow

“Mommy,” I said, my voice sounding strange and far from me. “If you don’t take me to the hospital, right now, I am going to kill myself.”  I was sixteen. I meant it.

What followed was my mother slipping into robot-mode. She made calls, she smoked cigarettes, she argued with my father on the phone, and by the end of the day I was a new patient at small and somewhat seedy psychiatric hospital.  I was lumped in with adults. There was no separation by disorder, age, or “problem.” As one of my new colleagues put it during a dinner of slimy green beans and something resembling partially-heated Salisbury Steak, “We all fucking crazy in the same fucking crazy salad. You the tomato, she’s the lettuce, I’m the damn dressing.”

I had never felt so safe in my entire life.

When I was younger, growing up in a house filled with violence and fear, I found my solace in books. I read and re-read books obsessively, looking for anything that could lift me away from the darkness of my daily life. I should have been a prime candidate for fantasy or science fiction, but that wasn’t my thing. I latched onto anything that even vaguely resembled what was happening in my life and at that time, the queen of all things realistic was Judy Blume. Being bullied at school? Blubber became my tome. Having body and anxiety problems? Deenie. Curious about sex? The holy grail was, of course, Forever.  Fuck the whole tesseract business (though that was cool, too): I latched onto A Wrinkle in Time for Meg Murry, the lonely outcast.

When I found my mother’s 1954 copy of The Catcher in the Rye, though, Holden Caulfield spoke to me like no one else had. Here was someone who was clearly depressed, suicidal, afraid  of the world, afraid of himself. I still have that book. I still reread that book, every year, because it was the first book that taught me that I was not alone. I saw myself in Holden. It was a salve, a balm, for a long time.

SJYALit: Breaking Taboos, Telling Secrets, a conversation between Isabel Quintero and Elana K. Arnold

Elana: Isabel, I think it’s interesting that both of our titles–GABI: A GIRL IN PIECES, and WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF–hone in on how girls are dissected by themselves, by their families, by their friends and their boyfriends, by society. Why is it, do you think, that girls are such consumable products?

Isabel: Well, I think it has to do with the fact that we live in a capitalist patriarchy where we are taught that everything is consumable. Women are often not seen as autonomous, young women especially and girls less so. We are always thought of in relation to someone else, defined by what our purpose is in that relationship–daughter, sister, mother, girlfriend, mistress, wife, and so on. Those roles are seen as both consumable and disposable. And because we are often not seen as autonomous, as having our own worth, that seems to translate into our voices, our bodies, our time, being assumed to be in the service of others–for pleasure, reassurance, guidance, emotional support, nurturing, etc–and for their consumption.

Nina is girlfriend until Seth decides she is not, and doesn’t even tell her. Nina’s dad had one wife and disposed of her and then took on Nina’s mom. And in my book, Gabi’s mom feels Gabi should look a certain way because she needs to fill the role of desirable young woman to eventually become wife. Is she concerned that Gabi should go to college? Yes, but being desirable seems to take precedence sometimes.

Some of it may be rooted in fear. I know that one of my mom’s biggest fears is that I end up alone. And it has been this way since I was a teenager–being married was a top priority. Now that I am no longer with husband, I find that she still worries about that. But this goes back to having worth attached to how much we are worth to others–or, in other words, how much they can take.

FSYALit: From Rejection to Reconciliation: Changing Notions of Faith and Spirituality in LGBTQ YA, a guest post by Rob Bittner

I have been keeping an eye on books featuring queer characters in religious contexts for the last decade. When I was in my undergrad, I started on a directed study on books with LGBTQ content. My supervisor asked me about the direction in which I was hoping to go, and at the time I wasn’t entirely sure. Looking back at my own past and my history as a gay man within the Christian church, I wondered how, if at all, such experiences were being discussed in books for young readers. Keep in mind that only ten years ago, it was still difficult to find much in the way of LGBTQ literature for YA audiences, so trying to find religious representation within that limited subgenre felt at first like an impossible task. It certainly took a lot of effort to find materials, but I came across a few examples, and some from larger publishers, too. I discussed a number of these in more detail in my previous postHere are some main points to refresh your memory:

  • Early LGBTQ YA tends to frame Christianity (or any major religion really) as the enemy, often in the form of a religious leader preaching fire and brimstone for any and all non-normative genders and sexualities (Nothing Pink, Desire Lines);
  • Queer teens often sent away to camps for degayification (Caught in the Crossfire, Thinking Straight, The Miseducation of Cameron Post);
  • Earlier narratives often include long and didactic passages with characters debating scripture in an effort to show which side is right (Nothing Pink, The God Box, Gravity);
  • The novels were basically able to be split into two categories: novels of reconciliation (characters are able to reconcile queerness and spirituality, though not very often), and novels of abandonment (characters have to abandon either their faith or their sexuality in order to survive, and this is the more common trope.)

Coming of Age and the Reality of Others, a guest post by Sara Zarr

Is what we call “love” the experience of people being who we need them to be, and meeting our needs and expectations? Or is it accepting those closest to us in spite of their limitations and mistakes? Does the latter type of love have its limits and, if so, where are those limits? These aren’t questions that most adults I know have resolved, but we start becoming aware of them in our adolescent transition from childhood towards adulthood.

The context of Murdoch’s quote is an essay attempting to answer the question, “What is art?” She’s joining Tolstoy, Kant, and others in an ongoing conversation around this question, and for her, love and art and morality are all bound together in this issue of reality in a broader sense.

Personally, my allegiance in writing has always been to reality–which I don’t mean in a genre sense, as fantastical stories can have an allegiance to truth and realism can be false. What I mean is that I try to see things as they are and write about them from that clarity of vision. Murdoch writes, “We may fail to see the individual because we are completely enclosed in a fantasy world of our own into which we try to draw things from outside, not grasping their reality and independence, making them into dream objects of our own. … Love [is] an exercise of the imagination.”

MHYALit: On Medication, a guest post by author Emery Lord

Let’s get the personal info out of the way: I have been healthy on and off medication; I have been unhealthy on and off medication. I have chosen medication, and not medication. Because my health is a dynamic relationship—me and my mind and body, it means changing my approach sometimes. And so I certainly don’t think there is a universal right or wrong way to treat mental illness. Just right for you.

While I was researching When We Collided, one of the first questions I asked a doctor was if teens failing/refusing to take prescribed medication is as prevalent as it seems? (The refusal to take medicine or having very negative feelings toward medication is a frequent storyline in young adult media.) Yes, she said. But not just mental health medication. A very common ER issue is diabetic teens who simply don’t monitor their blood sugar.

This stuck in my mind. I always thought teens not taking their anti-depressants or anti-psychotics was due to the stigma of mental illness. It’s a stigma that is scaffolded by movies and TV shows that portray medication almost exclusively as something that dampens your creativity and joie de vivre. And does that happen? Sure, to some people. But others will tell you that medication let them access their creativity and joie de vivre again. (I, for example, would say that.)

So, is it that there’s a stigma for anything outside “healthy” range? Or maybe it’s about acceptance? Is it that we haven’t fully accepted that something—anything—is wrong enough to need correction? Or even if we know medication might help—we so badly don’t want to need them?

Girl, You Crack Me Up! Funny Female Authors in Middle Grade Fiction, a conversation with authors Jessica Kim and Arianne Costner

What about you? Did you ever feel intimidated trying to write a funny book?

J: I didn’t necessarily feel intimidated while writing the book, because funny books are the only ones I know how to write, but when I was promoting my book, I noticed I was often the only woman on the funny book panels. What’s that all about? I really hope that changes quickly because the world is missing out on some awesome hilarious-girl content! Speaking of which, can you share your process of creating humor? How did you know a joke was landing?

A: I tested most of the quips on my husband, and he is very honest–brutally honest, sometimes, but that’s why he’s helpful! I also did lots of good old Youtube and Google searches about creating humor and humorous scenarios. We are so lucky to have a world of resources at our fingertips! And of course, I read other books for inspiration. Speaking of which, I’m curious: Who are some of your favorite funny female authors?

J: I’m a big fan of Dusti Bowling, Remy Lai, Lisa Yee, and Booki Vivat. They crack me up. What about yours?

A: First of all, YOU obviously haha. I also love Niki Lenz and all of the authors you mentioned above! If we are going to kick it old school, Judy Blume is fantastic. I grew up reading her Fudge series. Louise Rennison is a crack up and a total inspiration! And, of course, Renee Watson is an icon. Since it’s April Fools Day, I have to finish by asking: What was your favorite April Fools joke you’ve played?

MHYALit: It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, a guest post by author Claire Legrand

In fifth grade, I had my first anxiety attack.

I don’t remember what prompted me to ask my teacher if I could use the restroom, but I remember huddling in the stall, hunched over on the toilet, as nausea seized my tiny ten-year-old body. My skin broke out in sick chills. I scratched my arms and legs until they were covered in red marks.

My thoughts raced with fear; I could not quiet my brain. I tried going to the bathroom, I tried throwing up. Nothing helped. I simply sat there and endured it until I felt well enough to go back to class.

Part of me was terrified by what had just happened. But I rallied and got through the day, dismissing that scary moment in the bathroom as . . . something. I had no idea what to call it.

I decided I was fine. I was still breathing, still standing.

I was fine. (I wasn’t fine.)

Historical Fiction in the Making, a guest post by Rita Williams-Garcia

Every novel relies on some research.  A historical novel isn’t reliable without research and A SITTING IN ST. JAMES, demanded total immersion.  I came to this story as a complete outsider.  I was neither white, nor of French descent, nor Louisiana Creole.  To gain the confidence of my readers, I took a year off from writing to do nothing but research: dig, read, uncover, and lastly, vet!  Instead of researching while I wrote, I used the writing hiatus to hunker down in specific subjects: French Revolution, Haitian Revolution, Louisiana history, Louisiana Creole culture and language, sugar cane planting and production, West Point history and culture, mid-19th century portrait painting, among other subjects.

I filled up on mid-nineteenth century literature, to include French, Louisiana Creole and American readings.  I combed through archives of narratives of survivors of slavery for testimonies of freed people from Louisiana.  One gem I found helpful was a collection of Caribbean and Louisiana Creole proverbs from LacFadio Hearn’s GOMBO ZH’BES (green gumbo).  I could see the smirks, the humor, and attitudes of the people. I got a taste of their lives and daily concerns. 

Post-It Note Reviews: Friendship, ghosts, true stories, late-night adventures, and more!

Post-it Note Reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

Frequent blog readers may have noticed I’m doing a lot more post-it-style reviews and less longer, individual review posts. Partially this is because my way of coping with the many upsetting pieces of the past year has been to drown myself in reading, so I’m burning through so many more books and want to share them, in some form, here. It’s been so hard for authors to be able to promote their books, through things like release parties or festivals or other events, and I want to share as many books as I can particularly these days to help them get the exposure they deserve.

All descriptions from the publishers. Transcriptions of the Post-It notes are below each description.

Pawcasso by Remy Lai (ISBN-13: 9781250774491 Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) Publication date: 05/25/2021, Ages 8-12)

Remy Lai, the award-winning creator of Pie in the Sky makes her middle-grade graphic novel debut, Pawcasso, about the unexpected friendship between the loneliest girl in class and the coolest canine in town.

Every Saturday, Pawcasso trots into town with a basket, a shopping list, and cash in paw to buy groceries for his family. One day, he passes eleven-year-old Jo, peering out the window of her house, bored and lonely. Astonished by the sight of an adorable basket-toting dog on his own, Jo follows Pawcasso, and when she’s seen alongside him by a group of kids from her school, they mistake her for Pawcasso’s owner. 

Excited to make new friends, Jo reluctantly hides the truth and agrees to let “her” dog model for an art class the kids attend. What could go wrong? But what starts as a Chihuahua-sized lie quickly grows Great Dane-sized when animal control receives complaints about a dog roaming the streets off-leash. With Pawcasso’s freedom at stake, is Jo willing to spill the truth and risk her new friendships?

(POST-IT SAYS: A great dog book AND a great friendship book. Jo, who is also angry and sad about how often her dad is gone for work, learns so much about friendship and community with the help of good dog Pawcasso.)

Metropolis Grove by Drew Brockington (ISBN-13: 9781779500533 Publisher: DC Comics Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 8-12)

Look, up in the sky!

The big city is full of Superman sightings, but here in Metropolis Grove? Every kid in this suburb knows that he’s not real…except newcomer Sonia Patel. She’d hoped that having a full summer in her new house would let her make some friends before school started, and it’s working! 

But if new pals Duncan and Alex don’t believe in a superhero she’s seen with her very own two eyes, will the school year be everything Sonia’s hoping for? Or will all her lonely fears be realized instead? Maybe she just needs to introduce her new friends to the super-strong, super-powered man who lives in the cave with all the super-memorabilia. 

Drew Brockington sends this trio into a school year full of drama and adventure…and more than a few opportunities for a newfound friendship to test its limits.

(POST-IT SAYS: Really fun fast-paced story with bright, appealing art. The 3 friends have lots of fun working on their fort and exploring the woods. Sonia’s efforts to “train” Bizarro are hilarious.)

Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff (ISBN-13: 9780593111154 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/20/2021, Ages 10-12)

A haunting ghost story about navigating grief, growing up, and growing into a new gender identity

It’s the summer before middle school and eleven-year-old Bug’s best friend Moira has decided the two of them need to use the next few months to prepare. For Moira, this means figuring out the right clothes to wear, learning how to put on makeup, and deciding which boys are cuter in their yearbook photos than in real life. But none of this is all that appealing to Bug, who doesn’t particularly want to spend more time trying to understand how to be a girl. Besides, there’s something more important to worry about: A ghost is haunting Bug’s eerie old house in rural Vermont…and maybe haunting Bug in particular. As Bug begins to untangle the mystery of who this ghost is and what they’re trying to say, an altogether different truth comes to light—Bug is transgender.

(POST-IT SAYS: What a lovely, heartfelt, affirming story. As much about grief and friendship as it is about coming out as trans. An essential read—the acceptance, hope, and love highlight the joy in being your true self.)

Trillium Sisters 1: The Triplets Get Charmed by Laura Brown, Elly Kramer, Sarah Mensinga (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781645950158 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 06/01/2021 Series: Trillium Sisters, Ages 7-9)

Three sisters discover that they and their pets have superpowers they can use to protect the world around them in the first book in a fantastical new chapter book series about family, friendship, and environmental responsibility perfect for fans of Mia Mayhem and The Wish Fairy.

Nothing can stop this triple team!

Eight-year-old triplets Emmy, Clare, and Giselle are excited to celebrate Founding Day, the day their dad found them and they became a family. The girls want this year’s celebration to be extra special. And Dad has a big sur¬prise—trillium petal charms that he found with the girls. 

But when the girls’ little brother, Zee, slips into the river while helping them plan a special surprise, something magical happens: The charms are drawn together, forming a glowing flower, and the girls suddenly have super¬powers! Channeling their new abilities, they work together to try to save Zee, but will they be able to figure out how to help in time?

(POST-IT SAYS: Young readers who like the outdoors, cute animals, and magic will enjoy this cheerful, undemanding series. Large print and lots of art make for a fast read.)

Accused: My Story of Injustice by Adama Bah, Dave Eggers (Editor), Zainab Nasrati (Editor), Zoe Ruiz (Editor), Amanda Uhle (Editor) (ISBN-13: 9781324016632 Publisher: Norton Young Readers Publication date: 08/03/2021 Series: I, Witness Series #1, Ages 9-12)

Launching a propulsive middle grade nonfiction series, a young woman shares her harrowing experience of being wrongly accused of terrorism.

Adama Bah grew up in East Harlem after immigrating from Conakry, Guinea, and was deeply connected to her community and the people who lived there. But as a thirteen-year-old after the events of September 11, 2001, she began experiencing discrimination and dehumanization as prejudice toward Muslim people grew. Then, on March 24, 2005, FBI agents arrested Adama and her father. Falsely accused of being a potential suicide bomber, Adama spent weeks in a detention center being questioned under suspicion of terrorism.

With sharp and engaging writing, Adama recounts the events surrounding her arrest and its impact on her life—the harassment, humiliation, and persecution she faced for crimes she didn’t commit. Accusedbrings forward a crucial and unparalleled first-person perspective of American culture post-9/11 and the country’s discrimination against Muslim Americans, and heralds the start of a new series of compelling narrative nonfiction by young people, for young people.

(POST-IT SAYS: Unsurprisingly, a very upsetting look at Islamophobia, detainment, bravery, and perseverance. Told in a simple, straight-forward, effective way. Publisher suggests 9-12 for audience, but I’d say 11-14.)

Hurricane: My Story of Resilience by Salvador Gomez-Colon, Dave Eggers (Editor), Zainab Nasrati (Editor), Zoe Ruiz (Editor), Amanda Uhle (Editor) (ISBN-13: 9781324016656 Publisher: Norton Young Readers Publication date: 08/03/2021 Series: I, Witness Series #2, Ages 9-12)

Launching a propulsive middle grade nonfiction series, a young man shares how he combated Puerto Rico’s public health emergency after Hurricane Maria.

Suffering heavy damage in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Puerto Rican communities lacked access to clean water and electricity. Salvador Gómez-Colón couldn’t ignore the basic needs of his homeland, and knew that nongovernmental organizations and larger foreign philanthropies could only do so much. With unstoppable energy and a deep knowledge of local culture, Salvador founded Light and Hope for Puerto Rico and raised more than $100,000 to purchase and distribute solar-powered lamps and hand-powered washing machines to households in need.

With a voice that is both accessible and engaging, Salvador recalls living through the catastrophic storm and grappling with the destruction it left behind. Hurricane brings forward a captivating first-person account of strength, resilience, and determination, and heralds the start of a new series of compelling narrative nonfiction by young people, for young people.

(POST-IT SAYS: A harrowing look at living through a hurricane and the aftermath. The author’s activism to raise money to help people around him is inspirational. This compelling read would be made even more so if photos had been included.)

Up All Night: 13 Stories between Sunset and Sunrise by Laura Silverman (Editor) (ISBN-13: 9781643750415 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 07/13/2021, Ages 12-18)

When everyone else goes to bed, the ones who stay up feel like they’re the only people in the world. As the hours tick by deeper into the night, the familiar drops away and the unfamiliar beckons. Adults are asleep, and a hush falls over the hum of daily life. Anything is possible.

It’s a time for romance and adventure. For prom night and ghost hunts. It’s a time for breaking up, for falling in love—for finding yourself.

Stay up all night with these thirteen short stories from bestselling and award-winning YA authors like Karen McManus, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nina LaCour, and Brandy Colbert, as they take readers deep into these rarely seen, magical hours.

Full contributor list: Brandy Colbert, Kathleen Glasgow, Maurene Goo, Tiffany D. Jackson, Amanda Joy, Nina LaCour, Karen M. McManus, Anna Meriano, Marieke Nijkamp, Laura Silverman, Kayla Whaley, Julian Winters, Francesca Zappia.

(POST-IT SAYS: Fun anthology! Mix of genres, identities, and late night hijinks. Games, storms, bonfires, homes, dance, rooftops, and more are settings for these stories of what teens get up to at night.)

The History of Western Art in Comics Part One: From Prehistory to the Renaissance by Marion Augustin, Bruno Heitz (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780823446469 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 07/20/2021, Ages 10+)

Learning about art through the ages has never been as interesting or fun as in this humorous and very informative graphic novel.

As two kids give their grandpa a tour of Paris, he starts an interesting conversation with them—about where all the art they see in their lives—from the movie house to the stadiums to museums and even the subway— started. Dad’s impromptu history lesson goes back to the first Cavemen drawings to the pyramids of Giza, and by the end of the book includes Greco-Roman feats of ingenuity and the frescoes of the Renaissance. Recounted as a narrative about why different civilizations created different kinds of art, centuries of art history are explored entertainingly for young readers. Iconic works, such as Donatello’s David and The Book of Kells, are included as well as architectural feats like the Colosseum. 

Written by a tour guide for museums and historic landmarks, the text is designed to entertain (with many funny asides and jokes) as it informs. The illustrations accurately portray the art and the artists described, with flavor and humor added to keep readers turning the page. Reproductions of the featured artworks and information about each piece are included in the back, along with a glossary of terms.

(POST-IT SAYS: Absolutely crammed with art and information. A deep exploration of history, technique, meaning, significance, style, and influences. Educational and entertaining. A great, if slightly overwhelming, look at art in context.)

Book Review: Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke by Andrew Maraniss


When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, a STARRED review, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

Philomel. Mar. 2021. 320p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593116722.

 Gr 9 Up–A pioneering athlete’s life is examined through the intersection of gay rights, race, and Major League Baseball. Glenn Burke rose to acclaim in the 1970s as part of the L.A. Dodgers. Charismatic, popular, and phenomenally talented, Burke, who was Black and gay but not out, worked his way through the team’s farm system. He longed to reconcile his image with his true self, and in 1982 Burke, who is credited with inventing the cultural phenomenon of the high five, came out in a magazine article and a Today show interview. Burke struggled with drug addiction and eventually fell on devastatingly hard times, at times incarcerated, unhoused, and unemployed. He died of complications from AIDS in 1995. By looking at the social and political climates and incorporating the history of gay rights and activism, Maraniss shows what the world was like for gay people in the 1970s and 1980s, with no openly gay athletes, a homophobic sports world, and the AIDS crisis taking hold. Short sections, photographs, and quotes from Maraniss’s many interviews keep the deeply immersive story moving. Extensive back matter proves to be as essential reading as the main text. Detailed source notes provide more information on people quoted, events of the time, issues in MLB, and explanations of references. A bibliography, baseball statistics, a gay rights time line, selection of Black American LGBTQ people to know and study, and an index round out the work.

VERDICT This remarkable tribute to a trailblazer is narrative nonfiction at its finest.

Reading Colors Your World Pop Up Card, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

Our libraries theme for Summer Reading is the ILA theme “Reading Colors Your World.” We have been doing kinds of different all different rainbow crafts for our patrons, but also because June was Pride month. I choose to do a rainbow pop up card I found on YouTube. It was super cute.

I prepared the hearts to be printed and cut them out and sorted them by size. I used the heart shape in word and made the heart 8 cm tall. I then made the rest of the card shapes One long rectangle 8 cm X 30 Cm and I used the longer paper in the printer to print it out. I then made a short rectangle which measured 14 cm x 1.5. This card is super cute and easy to make. Below are the instructions I put in the craft kits I made for my teens.

Supplies included

  1. Six Paper Hearts  
  2. Paper Rectangles

Supplies Needed

  1. Glue
  2. Scissors
  3. Ruler

This is Step Four

Directions

  1. Cut out hearts and rectangles
  2. Place a heart on at the bottom of the longest rectangle and mark on the rectangle the top of the heart.
  3. Draw a line where your marked your rectangle
  4. Draw five more lines one cm above each line as you place them.
  5. Fold the paper on the lines to make it easy to bend.
  6. Glue the hearts on the lined part of the paper, Purple, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red.
  7. Let Glue Dry
  8. Then add the last rectangle under the hearts and have it glued on both sides of the large rectangle together but do not cover the whole area. Only glue it about a centimeter in . Cut the edge of the back piece of paper to make it and pull tab and then you have your rainbow card. You can write messages on each heart.
  9. If you have questions, refer to this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tQPOJCSkAo

Or scan this  QR code

Open Photo

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

The Music that Heals Us, a guest post by Jennie Wexler

Boxes of vinyl records sat untouched in my parents’ storage room, begging to take their rightful place on a decades-old turntable covered in a thin layer of dust. During my last visit, I asked my father if I could take a couple of albums, hoping to display my favorites on shelves in my own home. I thumbed through a box, my eyes landing on instantly recognizable artwork. All four Beatles dressed in colorful costumes behind a large bass drum bearing the words, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band. Licensed to Ill’s rear end of a jet plane crash daring us to take a ride with the Beastie Boys. Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchel, and Noel Redding on the other end of a fish-eye lens asking us, Are You Experienced? Tommy. Led Zeppelin IV. Dark Side of the Moon.

I wanted them all.

It wasn’t right – iconic masterpieces lying dormant in a cold storage room. Music that was meant to be consumed as a story. Not a single track, but a cohesive album of notes and chords that all belonged together, that built upon one another. As my fingers ran along the edges of each album, long-forgotten memories bubbled to the surface of my mind.

“Who is this?” my father asked, his green eyes flicking to me in the rearview mirror, as the opening notes of Strawberry Fields Forever poured out of the speakers and filled our 1984 Toyota. When I was a little girl, my father turned long car rides into musical quizzes, knowledge that would imprint on my developing brain and stay with me throughout adulthood.

“The Beatles,” my tiny five-year-old voice proclaimed, pride swelling in my chest. I didn’t know a lot, but I knew music and more importantly, I felt a sense of awe as I listened. My father ensured I was immersed in the sounds of the sixties and seventies, the pure rock that came out of those decades. He owned guitars and amps, picks lying haphazardly around our house, ready to be put to use whenever the mood struck. He strummed while I sang Can’t Find My Way Home, one of our favorite songs, the memory still vivid today, a blanket wrapped tightly around my shoulders. Whenever I hear that Blind Faith tune, it feels like home, safe, a hug from my father. When you share an intense love for a song with someone, it’s an unspoken bond, a knowing of what speaks to both of your hearts.

When I entered high school, music became more than a cool riff or relatable lyrics. It was a lifeline. Two months into my freshman year, a car accident claimed the life of my friend at just fifteen years old. Everything I understood to be true was shattered in one phone call and I struggled to understand the concept of gone. My grief was unshakeable, heavy, and relentless. I don’t know if it was my father’s intention to ease my pain or just a way for him to connect to his shell of a daughter, but one day he brought home a CD for me – Help! by The Beatles. We owned it on vinyl, but he knew I only consumed music on my CD player, and he wanted me to have my own copy. The next week he came home with Revolver. The week after that was Rubber Soul. A new Beatles CD appeared every week until I had a complete collection. Every week I climbed an inch further out of my grief, the music breathing life back into my colorless world.

I began writing WHERE IT ALL LANDS as a way to process the grief from my teenage years that still grabbed hold of me unexpectedly, even as I became an adult and started my own family. I wanted to write the story I needed in high school – a story that could help a teen cope with an upheaval in their lives. Losing a young peer is not only devastating, it’s shocking. For years I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to untangle my complicated feelings about loss. Writing WHERE IT ALL LANDS was another attempt, another way to try to heal. All three main characters share an intense love of music and they depend on their favorite songs to guide them through difficult times. For me, like the characters in WHERE IT ALL LANDS, music is the one constant throughout my life that has comforted me and helped me find meaning in the face of tragedy.

Today, music still guides me. My father’s vinyl records are displayed in my office, the same songs, like dependable old friends, continuing to inspire me after so many years. Every song tells a story, and every piece of music is a time machine – a way to remind me of a forgotten moment or a hug from my father just when I need one. But music isn’t my only salve. Writing, reading, and art are the tools that help me chip away at life’s unanswered questions. Just like me, I hope teens today can pick up a book, stare at a piece of art, or listen to their favorite songs when they need to make sense of their complicated worlds.

Meet the author

Jennie Wexler spent the first part of her career producing and writing scripts for television shows appearing on VH1, Bravo, and The Travel Channel. Jennie’s debut novel, WHERE IT ALL LANDS, will be released from Wednesday Books on July 6th, 2021. She is an SCBWI member and lives in New Jersey with her husband, son, and Havanese puppy. You can follow her on twitter @jenwex or on IG @jenniewexler.

About Where It All Lands

Sliding Doors-esque novel that reveals how our choices define us and how no matter the road, love can find its way.

Stevie Rosenstein has never made a true friend. Never fallen in love. Moved from city to city by her father’s unrelenting job, it’s too hard to care for someone. Trust in anything. The pain of leaving always hurts too much. But she’ll soon learn to trust, to love.

Twice.

Drew and Shane have been best friends through everything. The painful death of Shane’s dad. The bitter separation of Drew’s parents. Through sleepaway camps and family heartache, basketball games and immeasurable loss, they’ve always been there for each other.

When Stevie meets Drew and Shane, life should go on as normal.

But a simple coin toss alters the course of their year in profound and unexpected ways.

Told in dual timelines, debut author Jennie Wexler’s Where It All Lands delivers a heartbreaking and hopeful novel about missed opportunities, second chances, and all the paths that lead us to where we are.

ISBN-13: 9781250750044
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years