Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Helping RevolTeens Fight the Mental Health Crisis, by Christine Lively

The COVID crisis has revealed as much as it has changed. Yes, our lives have been upended and drastically changed because our main priority has shifted to trying to survive this pandemic. We’ve all made as many changes as we are able to make: limiting in-person interaction, working and schooling from home, wearing masks, and the list goes on. We’re all aware and resentful of some of these changes, but we’re making them to stay alive.

Another equally important result of the COVID crisis has been what it has revealed. So many inequities, problems, and struggles that existed before March of 2020 have come into sharp focus. For teens and young adults, the COVID crisis has revealed the huge and acute mental health crisis. Anyone who works with teens could tell you (and probably has) that young people have been struggling and suffering from mental health issues more and more for years. In my house, all three of my children have struggled with mental health issues. As a parent, I can tell you that finding help for them has been frighteningly difficult.

I am a high school librarian and at school, I see teens every day who need help. At our school, we have 2300 students and only a handful of qualified mental health professionals. Schools may be able to identify those who need help but are not equipped to provide that help. Teachers work with students who desperately need resources, evaluation, and time to work through their illness. Many teachers go far above and beyond their duties to support and help their students in whatever way they can.  I have personally reached out to try to get services for students who need them and know that it is often impossible to find those services.

All of this existed well before the COVID crisis.

The crisis has made it sharper and more dangerous. Because of the intensity, teens’ mental health has become newsworthy and awareness has been raised.

The New York Times today reports the stories of several teens who are in crisis.  These teens are all different ages and from different parts of the country, but they are all in crisis, and we are not equipped to help them.

‘“What parents and children are consistently reporting is an increase in all symptoms — a child who was a little anxious before the pandemic became very anxious over this past year,” said Dr. Adiaha I. A. Spinks-Franklin, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine. It is this prolonged stress, Dr. Spinks-Franklin said, that in time blunts the brain’s ability to manage emotions.’

All across the country, hospitals are struggling to keep up with the need.

‘Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, has an emergency department that is a decent size for a pediatric hospital, with capacity for 62 children or adolescents. But well before the arrival of the coronavirus, the department was straining to handle increasing numbers of patients with behavior problems.

“This was huge problem pre-pandemic,” said Dr. David Axelson, chief of psychiatry and behavioral health at the hospital. “We were seeing a rise in emergency department visits for mental health problems in kids, specifically for suicidal thinking and self-harm. Our emergency department was overwhelmed with it, having to board kids on the medical unit while waiting for psych beds.”’

Many of you reading this probably have your own stories to tell. When my son was in an acute struggle with depression that was life threatening I was told by a mental health professional that I should not tell his school or other people about it. I was shocked. Instead, I would tell anyone who would listen about his life and death struggle with depression. If he had been a child fighting cancer, we would have had community fundraising dinners and printed t-shirts with his face on it to raise awareness and to give him support. Mental illness is just as dangerous and life threatening as any physical disease, so why should we keep it a secret? Feeling alone only makes it worse for many teens. Talking about it helps.

The good news is that teen mental health has gained more attention. Now we have to decide what we are going to do to help teens in crisis and those who will face a lifelong struggle with mental health issues.

How can we help RevolTeens to find a way through their mental health struggles?

The National Association on Mental Illness has some resources for teens on their webpage and is a good place to start. Talking about mental health with the teens in your life makes a huge difference. Normalizing discussions of feelings and struggle makes a helps teens feel comfortable sharing their own difficulties. Asking for more mental health resources at schools and in your community will help our elected officials recognize the needs of their communities.

Most of all, keep supporting and reaching out to the teens in your life. So many of them struggle in silence and believe that they are alone. We can all share stories of struggle with them to show them that mental illness is as common as physical illness and is usually treatable. Stories in books, in song, in social media, and stories from our own lives all help teens feel less alone. Helping them to find help is the greatest action we can take.

So yes, we have a long standing teen mental health crisis. We can help revolt against that for our teens by standing with them, demanding that services are available to them, and continuing to fight the stigma of mental illness to ensure that more teens can ask for help.

The COVID crisis has revealed the crisis. Now, we have to take action.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

Introducing HEARTDRUM, a new publishing imprint that centers Native storytellers by Cynthia Leitich Smith

As someone who has spent 27+ years buying books for public libraries, I have always been astounded by how hard it is particularly to find titles about and by Native voices. And when you ask people about Native representation that typically refer to Westerns, Little House on the Prairie, or The Indian in the Cupboard, all of which rely on harmful stereotypes and most of which are not in any way, shape or form written by someone who is tribally enrolled in a Native tribe. None of these titles are good representation and many of them are, in fact, harmful representation.

So I was very excited to hear that author Cynthia Leitich Smith would be starting her own publishing imprint called Heartdrum. Smith is herself a Muscogee Creek author and has been long active in the publishing business, so she is the perfect person to head up an initiative like this. I recently got a press release package from Heartdrum and it says that, “the Heartdrum imprint will fully center intertribal voices and visions but also welcome all young readers.” It goes on to say that “the imprint will offer a wide range of heartfelt, innovative, groundbreaking and unexpected stories by Native creators, informed and inspired by lived experience, with an emphasis on the present and future of Indian Country and on the strength of young Native heroes.”

Today I am excited to share some of their newest and upcoming titles with you.

Ancestor Approved, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Publisher’s Book Description:

A collection of intersecting stories set at a powwow that bursts with hope, joy, resilience, the strength of community, and Native pride.

In a high school gym full of color and song, Native families from Nations within the borders of the U.S. and Canada dance, sell beadwork and books, and celebrate friendship and heritage. They are the heroes of their own stories.

Featured contributors: Joseph Bruchac, Art Coulson, Christine Day, Eric Gansworth, Dawn Quigley, Carole Lindstrom, Rebecca Roanhorse, David A. Robertson, Andrea L. Rogers, Kim Rogers, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Monique Gray Smith, Traci Sorell, Tim Tingle, Erika T. Wurth, and Brian Young. 

Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Publisher’s Book Description:

In this modern take of the popular classic Peter Pan, award-winning author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek) brilliantly shifts the focus from the boy who won’t grow up to Native American Lily and English Wendy—stepsisters who must face both dangers and wonders to find their way back to the family they love.

Stepsisters Lily and Wendy embark on a high-flying journey of magic, adventure, and courage—to a fairy-tale island known as Neverland.

Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family—and their friendship?

Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children.

A boy who calls himself Peter Pan.

This book comes out in June of 2021

The Sea in Winter by Christine Day

Publisher’s Book Description:

The story of a Native American girl struggling to find her joy again.

It’s been a hard year for Maisie Cannon, ever since she hurt her leg and could not keep up with her ballet training and auditions.

Her blended family is loving and supportive, but Maisie knows that they just can’t understand how hopeless she feels. With everything she’s dealing with, Maisie is not excited for their family midwinter road trip along the coast, near the Makah community where her mother grew up.

But soon, Maisie’s anxieties and dark moods start to hurt as much as the pain in her knee. How can she keep pretending to be strong when on the inside she feels as roiling and cold as the ocean? 

This book is out now

Healer of the Water Monster by Brian Young

Publisher’s Book Description:

Brian Young’s debut novel, inspired by Navajo beliefs, features a seemingly ordinary boy who must save the life of a Water Monster—and help his uncle suffering from addiction—by discovering his own bravery and boundless love. An outstanding debut from a promising young Navajo author.

When Nathan goes to visit his grandma, Nali, at her mobile summer home on the Navajo reservation, he knows he’s in for a pretty uneventful summer. Still, he loves spending time with Nali, and with his uncle Jet—though it’s clear when Jet arrives that he brings his problems with him.

One night, while lost in the nearby desert, Nathan finds something extraordinary. A Holy Being from the Navajo Creation Story—a Water Monster—in need of help.

Now Nathan must summon all his courage to save his new friend. With the help of other Navajo Holy Beings, Nathan is determined to save the Water Monster, and to help Uncle Jet heal from his own pain.

This book comes out in May of 2021

Native voices are featured in less than 1% of the kid lit titles published in previous years and are sorely lacking on our library shelves. I have long respected and admired the writing of Smith and she is the perfect person to be leading this initiative. I’m looking forward to reading all of the books!

Post-It Note Reviews: Books about gentrification, Black boyhood, time travel, the Greenwood Massacre, 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. Doing these short reviews would also be a great way to share more books during distance learning!

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

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles (ISBN-13: 9780593175170 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 01/26/2021, Ages 8-12)

Brand-new kicks, ripped denim shorts, Supreme tee

Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That—and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games—is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it . . . before it’s too late?

Exploring community, gentrification, justice, and friendship, Take Back the Block introduces an irresistible 6th grader and asks what it means to belong—to a place and a movement—and to fight for what you believe in.

(POST-IT SAYS: A great look at gentrification, community, activism, social justice, and friendship. Wes and friends don’t always say or do the right thing, but ultimately are there for each other. Great narration and vivid characters.)

You Have a Match by Emma Lord (ISBN-13: 9781250237309 Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 12-18)

A new love, a secret sister, and a summer she’ll never forget.

From the beloved author of Tweet Cute comes Emma Lord’s You Have a Match, a hilarious and heartfelt novel of romance, sisterhood, and friendship…

When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie…although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.

But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.

When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents — especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.

The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby’s growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.

But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones. 

(POST-IT SAYS: An overall sweet read about family, friendship, and romance with an engaging voice and fun summer camp setting that requires a good suspension of disbelief. Will appeal to those who like drama in their stories. Adding that this is not a really great depiction of adoption from any angle—and Leo’s transracial adoption story is largely ignored.)

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (ISBN-13: 9780062846716 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 14-17)

International phenomenon Angie Thomas revisits Garden Heights seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give in this searing and poignant exploration of Black boyhood and manhood.

If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control.

Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.

Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.

When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.

(POST-IT SAYS: No surprise that this was great. A powerful look at family, loss, belonging, love, aspiration, and choices. Loved to learn Mav’s story and see familiar characters along the way.)

Every Single Lie by Rachel Vincent (ISBN-13: 9781547605231 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 14-18)

In this gripping YA novel about social media bullying and half-truths, one girl’s shocking discovery of a dead baby in her high school locker room rocks an entire community.

Nobody in sixteen-year-old Beckett’s life seems to be telling the whole story. Her boyfriend Jake keeps hiding texts, which could mean he’s cheating on her. Her father lied about losing his job and so much more before his shocking death. And everyone in school seems to be whispering about her and her family behind her back.

But none of that compares to the day Beckett finds the body of a newborn baby in a gym bag—Jake’s gym bag—on the floor of her high school locker room. As word leaks out, rumors that Beckett’s the mother take off like wildfire in a town all too ready to believe the worst of her.

Beckett soon finds herself facing threats and accusations both heartbreaking and dangerous. Nobody believes her side of the story, and as the police investigation unfolds, she discovers that everyone has a secret to hide and the truth could alter everything she thought she knew.

A page-turning thriller set in a small Southern community, Every Single Lie is a jaw-dropping, twisty must-read for fans of Sadie.

(POST-IT SAYS: A solid read that will appeal to those that like stories where horrible things happen. The mystery of the dead baby’s parents will keep readers engaged. Action-packed.)

The Afterlife of the Party by Marlene Perez (ISBN-13: 9781640639027 Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC Publication date: 02/02/2021 Series: Afterlife #1, Ages 14-18)

I didn’t even want to go to the party.

Seriously, I’d rather have stayed home with my librarian-witch grandmother and her mystical book club than go. But my best friend Skyler begged me. So I went.

And it was the worst party of my life. Actually, it was the last party of my life.

Not only was there something very strange about the band, but the lead singer bit me afterwards. And then took off with Skyler.

Now I’m chasing down a band of dangerous vamps with my best guy friend Vaughn—the boy I’ve been secretly crushing on forever.

But anything can happen on the road.

I thought all I wanted was for things to change with Vaughn. For him to finally see the real me. But this wasn’t what I had in mind…

Let the afterlife begin.

(POST-IT SAYS: Pure fun. Quippy main character, fast-paced plot, and tons of twists. A lot goes unexplored and is underdeveloped, but if you want a clever paranormal adventure, this will satisfy.)

Yesterday Is History by Kosoko Jackson (ISBN-13: 9781492694342 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 02/02/2021, Ages 14-18)

A romantic, heart-felt, and whimsical novel about letting go of the past, figuring out what you want in your future, and staying in the moment before it passes you by.

Weeks ago, Andre Cobb received a much-needed liver transplant.

He’s ready for his life to finally begin, until one night, when he passes out and wakes up somewhere totally unexpected…in 1969, where he connects with a magnetic boy named Michael.

And then, just as suddenly as he arrived, he slips back to present-day Boston, where the family of his donor is waiting to explain that his new liver came with a side effect—the ability to time travel. And they’ve tasked their youngest son, Blake, with teaching Andre how to use his unexpected new gift.

Andre splits his time bouncing between the past and future. Between Michael and Blake. Michael is everything Andre wishes he could be, and Blake, still reeling from the death of his brother, Andre’s donor, keeps him at arm’s length despite their obvious attraction to each other.

Torn between two boys, one in the past and one in the present, Andre has to figure out where he belongs—and more importantly who he wants to be—before the consequences of jumping in time catch up to him and change his future for good.

(POST-IT SAYS: I burned through this interesting take on a love triangle. The time traveling is never really explained, but that’s okay because this story is full of so much goodness I could overlook that.)

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman (ISBN-13: 9780061998676 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/09/2021, Ages 14-17)

All it takes is one hit on the football field, and suddenly Ash’s life doesn’t look quite the way he remembers it.

Impossible though it seems, he’s been hit into another dimension—and keeps on bouncing through worlds that are almost-but-not-really his own.

The changes start small, but they quickly spiral out of control as Ash slides into universes where he has everything he’s ever wanted, universes where society is stuck in the past…universes where he finds himself looking at life through entirely different eyes.

And if he isn’t careful, the world he’s learning to see more clearly could blink out of existence…

This high-concept novel from the National Book Award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author of the Arc of a Scythe series tackles the most urgent themes of our time, making this a must-buy for readers who are starting to ask big questions about their own role in the universe.

(POST-IT SAYS: Ash discovers he’s the literal center of the universe in this speculative fiction look at identity, experience, interconnectedness, and privilege. A super interesting, twisty, unpredictable look at parallel universes/the multiverse.)

Claudia and the New Girl (The Baby-sitters Club Graphic Novel #9) by Ann M. Martin, Gabriela Epstein (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781338304589 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 02/02/2021, Ages 8-12)

A brand-new Baby-sitters Club graphic novel adapted by newcomer Gabriela Epstein!

Claudia has always been the most creative kid in her class… until Ashley Wyeth comes along. Ashley’s really different: She wears hippie clothes and has multiple earrings, and she’s the most fantastic artist Claudia has ever met.

Ashley says Claudia is a great artist, too, but thinks she’s wasting her artistic talent with The Baby-sitters Club. When Claudia starts spending more time with Ashley and missing BSC meetings, it becomes clear that Claudia has to make a decision — one of them has to go!

(POST-IT SAYS: Totally in love with these graphic novels—BSC forever! Such a good look at negotiating a new friendship and all that comes with it. The new illustrator did a great job.)

Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink (ISBN-13: 9781250768476 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 12-17)

Randi Pink’s The Angel of Greenwood is a historical YA novel that takes place during the Greenwood Massacre of 1921, in an area of Tulsa, OK, known as the “Black Wall Street.”…

Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Wilson is, on the surface, a town troublemaker, but is hiding that he is an avid reader and secret poet, never leaving home without his journal. A passionate follower of W.E.B. Du Bois, he believes that black people should rise up to claim their place as equals.

Sixteen-year-old Angel Hill is a loner, mostly disregarded by her peers as a goody-goody. Her father is dying, and her family’s financial situation is in turmoil. Also, as a loyal follower of Booker T. Washington, she believes, through education and tolerance, that black people should rise slowly and without forced conflict.

Though they’ve attended the same schools, Isaiah never noticed Angel as anything but a dorky, Bible toting church girl. Then their English teacher offers them a job on her mobile library, a three-wheel, two-seater bike. Angel can’t turn down the money and Isaiah is soon eager to be in such close quarters with Angel every afternoon.

But life changes on May 31, 1921 when a vicious white mob storms the community of Greenwood, leaving the town destroyed and thousands of residents displaced. Only then, Isaiah, Angel, and their peers realize who their real enemies are.

(POST-IT SAYS: More about Black life, thought, politics, and love in Greenwood at the time of the massacre than the massacre itself. Beautiful, powerful, lyrical, and full of so much heart and life. I love Isaiah and Angel’s connection.)

Book Review: What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson

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.

Roaring Brook. Apr. 2021. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250268099.

 Gr 9 Up–A desperate boy risks everything to keep his brother out of foster care in this heart-pounding and heartbreaking story of survival and sacrifice. Seventeen-year-old Jack and his second-grade brother, Matty, only have each other. With their father incarcerated and their mother recently deceased, their only hope of sticking together is finding the money their father went to prison for stealing. Deeply impoverished and terrified of child protective services getting involved, Jack sets out to track down that cash, pursued at every turn by drug dealers and Bardem, his father’s partner in crime. His only hope comes in the form of Ava, who decides to help them and gets wrapped up in their mission. But Ava’s secret—that she’s Bardem’s daughter—guarantees there is no way things can end happily. Unremittingly bleak and gritty, this suspenseful story centers around the ravages of poverty and drug addiction that have left Jack and Matty with nothing. Breathtakingly beautiful writing and tender characters collide with a brutal plot filled with bloodshed and anguish. The body count piles up as Jack, Matty, and Ava try to hide in the quiet, frigid emptiness of rural Idaho, never more than half a step ahead of their hunters. The lengths Jack goes to keep his family together and the obstacles he faces will leave readers gutted. A gorgeous, intense, and shocking look at chaos, survival, fate, and betrayal. Characters’ ethnicities aren’t named and Jack and Matty are described as pale.

VERDICT A first purchase and a must-read. Prepare to be haunted and chilled to the bone by this exceptional story.

Middle Grade Titles to Get Excited About

There are lots of wonderful upcoming Middle Grade titles to be excited for – here are just a few I’m looking forward to reading:

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

From the Publisher:

Ellie is tired of being fat-shamed and does something about it in this poignant debut novel-in-verse.

Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules–like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space–her swimming pool–where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life–by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.

All You Knead is Love by Tanya Guerrero

From the Publisher:

Tanya Guerrero’s All You Knead Is Love is a contemporary middle grade coming-of-age novel about a twelve-year-old multiracial Filipino and Spanish girl who goes to live with her grandmother for the summer, gaining confidence through a newly discovered passion for baking, perfect for fans of Hello, Universe and Merci Suarez Changes Gears.

Sometimes you find home where you least expect it.

Twelve-year-old Alba doesn’t want to live with her estranged grandmother in Barcelona. She wants to stay with her mom, even if that means enduring her dad’s cutting comments to them both.

But in her new home, Alba forms a close relationship with her grandmother, gains a supportive father figure and new friends, and even discovers a passion and talent for baking. And through getting to know the city her mother used to call home, Alba starts to understand her mother better—and may just be able to make their family whole again.

The Plentiful Darkness by Heather Kassner

From the Publisher:

In Heather Kassner’s spine-chilling fantasy novel, reminiscent of Serafina and the Black Cloak, an orphaned girl chases a thieving boy into a magician’s land of starless, moonless gloom where other children have gone missing before her.

In order to survive on her own, twelve-year-old Rooney de Barra collects precious moonlight, which she draws from the evening sky with her (very rare and most magical) lunar mirror. All the while she tries to avoid the rival roughhouse boys, and yet another, more terrifying danger: the dreaded thing that’s been disappearing children in the night.

When Trick Aidan, the worst of the roughhouse boys, steals her lunar mirror, Rooney will do whatever it takes to get it back. Even if it means leaping into a pool of darkness after it swallows Trick and her mirror. Or braving the Plentiful Darkness, a bewitching world devoid of sky and stars. Or begrudgingly teaming up with Trick to confront the magician and unravel the magic that has trapped Warybone’s children.

The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga

From the Publisher:

An extraordinary new novel from Jasmine Warga, Newbery Honor–winning author of Other Words for Home, about loss and healing—and how friendship can be magical.

Cora hasn’t spoken to her best friend, Quinn, in a year.

Despite living next door to each other, they exist in separate worlds of grief. Cora is still grappling with the death of her beloved sister in a school shooting, and Quinn is carrying the guilt of what her brother did.

On the day of Cora’s twelfth birthday, Quinn leaves a box on her doorstep with a note. She has decided that the only way to fix things is to go back in time to the moment before her brother changed all their lives forever—and stop him.

In spite of herself, Cora wants to believe. And so the two former friends begin working together to open a wormhole in the fabric of the universe. But as they attempt to unravel the mysteries of time travel to save their siblings, they learn that the magic of their friendship may actually be the key to saving themselves.

The Shape of Thunder is a deeply moving story, told with exceptional grace, about friendship and loss—and how believing in impossible things can help us heal.

Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen by Kate McGovern

From the Publisher:

Maple is in fifth grade—again. Now everyone will find out she struggles with reading—or will they? An engaging read for anyone who has ever felt different.

Maple Mehta-Cohen has been keeping a secret: she can’t read all that well. She has an impressive vocabulary and loves dictating stories into her recorder—especially the adventures of a daring sleuth who’s half Indian and half Jewish like Maple herself—but words on the page just don’t seem to make sense to her. Despite all Maple’s clever tricks to hide her troubles with reading, her teacher is on to her, and now Maple has to repeat fifth grade. Maple is devastated—what will her friends think? Will they forget about her? She uses her storytelling skills to convince her classmates that she’s staying back as a special teacher’s assistant (because of budget cuts, you know). But as Maple navigates the loss of old friendships, the possibility of new ones, and facing her reading challenges head-on, her deception becomes harder to keep up. Can Maple begin to recognize her own strengths, and to love herself—and her brain—just the way she is? Readers who have faced their own trials with school and friendships will enjoy this heartwarming story and its bright, creative heroine.

What are you looking forward to this year?

Dispatches from the Texas Storm

I would normally share a post like this with you on Sunday as a Sunday Reflections, but I wanted to let everyone know what’s happening here in Texas.

During the night Sunday night, early Monday morning, our electricity started to go on and off. It would go off for a few hours and then come back on for a bit. Finally, maybe around 8:00 AM, our electricity went out for good. It was out for a solid 24 hours and off and on for hours before and a couple of days after it came back on.

This was all happening during a stretch of unprecedented cold in the state of Texas. The temperature went down into the single digits. We laid in bed with no electricity wearing layers of clothing and blankets.

The day was already cold, and it started getting colder. There were several times where we went and sat in our car (in our driveway, not a garage) to charge our phones and get warmed up. Thing 2 played in the snow, joyful and not aware that we were growing scared about what the night would bring.

As darkness came up, I could not get ahold of my mother, who lives an hour away. And I grew anxious. And it grew colder.

The weather forecast said it would be 1 degree over night and it was already so cold. And I grew afraid.

That evening, as I tried to get ahold of my mom, we sat in a hotel lobby trying to get a room for the girls and I. We sat in that lobby for 2 and a half hours but nobody cared, because it was warm and it was so very cold in our house. We would have sat in that lobby all night long if we had to just for the warmth. We saw so many people, desperate like us, coming in and trying to get a room. There were no rooms to be had. The clerk was very nice and set us up for a few hours in a room that they were not allowed to rent out because it had broken furniture, but we did not mind. We would take the few hours of warmth.

That night I had visions of going to see my mom the next day and finding her frozen in her home. Eventually, she called me. She had been turning her phone off to save the battery life. Because of the roads, she could not get to me and we could not get to her. It was late at night and already growing cold.

I told her all the things I had read online about staying warm. I begged her to go in her car – not in the garage please please please – and keep warm. We cried together, in fear and desperation about what these early morning hours would mean. That night we hung up the phone and I feared it would be the last time that I would speak to my mother.

I have talked a lot about my mom, but my stepdad is a part of this story as well. He is a man, in his early 70s, who only has one kidney. That one kidney only works at 47%. That detail will become important in a bit.

************************

Sinks Won’t Drain, No Hot Food, But Safe At Last?

On Monday, during the day, everyone was hopeful that the electricity would come back on sometime during the day. As the night grew, people began packing up and going to hotels, which soon reached capacity. I called several that night for my mom. But there was no room in the inn.

So on Tuesday, my mom and stepdad made their way to my house. It had gotten to 40 degrees inside their home and it scared her (and me). If the heat didn’t come back on it would just get colder still the next night with no heat to warm it up during the day. We could be cold together, but at least I would know that she was there and I could keep safe.

On Tuesday, my mom and stepdad were safely at our house and the electricity started cycling on and off again. During one of those on cycles I was able to cook and serve my mom and stepdad their first warm meal since Sunday, more than 48 hours before.

When we went to go do our dishes to clean up, we learned that the outgoing pipes in our kitchen sink were frozen. The sink wouldn’t drain. It would take more than a day with heat in the house for it to thaw out enough to drain. So we stacked up dirty dishes, we huddled around a fire, and we knew that we were luckier than so many others.

On Wednesday, my stepdad started to feel pretty sick. My mom became anxious. She worried that the prolonged time with no electricity and food had taken a toll on him. She worried about him having to go to our hospital, and not the hospital hear her where his kidney specialist was. So for another night, my mom and I went to bed crying and worrying about how we would survive what was happening in Texas.

The next morning, they decided to drive home even though the roads weren’t great because they wanted to be near his doctor. I told her to contact me when she got home safely and worried.

************************

“There’s water everywhere . . . “

When she got home her house was flooded. I’m talking every single surface of her floors in every single room covered in water. There is a spot on her ceiling where you can tell water leaked in. Two walls destroyed by water. A window that looks like a waterfall. And every floor, ruined. Her hope chest, destroyed. And the hope it contained, well . . . I hope she can find it again. But today is not that day.

Today we called around trying to find a service to help them remove the water from their home, and they are all so busy they said they could maybe help her next Wednesday. Plumbers, insurance adjusters, hotels . . . they are all so full that you get put on a waiting list. One water restoration place told her that they had received 940 calls in the last two days. And that is only one place.

I cried on the phone today with my mom or my husband almost hourly. Everyone is scared. Many people lost something. Some people lost everything.

There is no gas in our town. There hasn’t been since at least Wednesday.

We’ve gone to the grocery store 4 times. Twice it was closed because they had no food. Once it had a line wrapping around the building. Last night I was able to get some weird odds and ends for the girls and I at Aldi’s. There was no bread on the shelves. No meat. It was far worse than what we saw in the early days of the pandemic.

One of my best friends is living in an apartment that hasn’t had water for 2 days. It’s not expected to have water in the next couple of days either. People like her have buckets of snow that they are using to flush their toilets.

Because of my parent’s ages and risk factors, I haven’t seen them in a year. We went on Mother’s Day and said Happy Mother’s Day from the sidewalk. She came on Christmas Eve and said Merry Christmas from the sidewalk. Masked, of course. We weren’t together for her first grandchild’s 18th birthday. We weren’t together for Easter. We weren’t together for Thanksgiving. We weren’t together for Christmas. But in the life and death situation that was this week, we made hard choices and I hoped that we wouldn’t be putting my parents at risk of Covid while trying to save them from freezing.

My parents will now spend the next week or more in a hotel. After a year of working so hard to keep themselves safe from a deadly virus, they have to make all kinds of decisions that put them at risk. I am praying that saving them from the winter storm and its damage won’t kill them from the virus they have worked so hard to avoid.

************************

The Kindness of Friends and Strangers

Friends and strangers helped us. A friend gave us firewood to help us through Tuesday and Wednesday night as our electricity continued to cycle on and off. We huddled in the living room around a fire, someone staying away to make sure we didn’t burn the house down.

A neighbor gave us salt as we cleared out the driveway so my parents could walk safely into our home when they arrived.

Last night, a Twitter follower who has been working with Beto O’Rourke and Powered by People contacted me and asked me how they could help me help my mother. They have spent the day answering my questions and trying to get us connected with resources.

My mother found a hotel she can stay in starting tomorrow near her house and near my stepdad’s doctor. Given the amount of damage to her home, she will probably have to find a long term place to stay while her home is repaired. We have no idea what all the damage is, what the insurance will cover, what she will need to do to be safe and how much it will cost her. And we won’t know until, if we’re lucky, sometime next week because everyone she needs to help her is so very busy helping all of Texas.

Texas is not okay y’all.

************************

The Real Cost of the Failure of Leadership in Texas

The electricity is back on at my house. We slept comfortably last night, though many other Texans did not.

We were able to find a bit of food and The Teen made homemade fried rice, kind of.

Our sink is now draining.

And then I close my eyes and I see my mother, crying, as she surveys the damage to her home.

I want to share this small snapshot because we are not okay here in Texas. I am from Ohio and experienced weather related flooding 10 years ago this month. Texas was in no way prepared to handle this. And it will cost the residents of Texas everything while people like Jerry Jones gloat about the profits they are making.

A drilling company that operates in Texas and Louisiana told investors that the surge in natural gas prices — amid powerful winter storms — was giving it a major financial boost. “Obviously, this week is like hitting the jackpot,” CFO Roland Burns said. Source: NPR

Governor Greg Abbot, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator John Cornyn and more . . . they failed Texas. They didn’t heed the advice of experts given more than 10 years ago and winterize the electricity grid. And then when this happened, Governor Abbot took the time to jump onto television spread lies about how this was a failure of green energy rather than rolling up his sleeves and helping the people of Texas. And Ted Cruz, well, he hopped on a plane to Mexico and then when he got caught, he flew home with his tail between his legs and threw his children under the bus. And then he went onto television in a PR press to rehab his image instead of rolling up his sleeves and helping the people of Texas. Perhaps of all the systemic failures around this event, I am most full of rage for Cruz’s callous indifference to the suffering of the people he was elected to serve during a literal state emergency. He fled while people died and that should be his albatross around his neck for the entire rest of his life. Let it never be just a footnote in his history.

There are people helping the people of Texas. People like Beto O’Rourke, who is coordinating volunteers to make welfare check ups. People like Mattress Mack and HEB and Texas foodbanks. People handing out free water and getting cold people into hotel rooms. People handing out free food. Every day people like my friends and neighbors who gave us firewood and salt.

But make no mistake, in the past and in the present, the leadership of Texas failed its people and the people have lost a lot. Many Texans have lost yet another week’s worth of wages. Cars are damaged. Homes are damaged. Fridges full of food – spoiled. People have had medical conditions worsened. Their homes are unlivable.

And so very sadly, some of our fellow Texans are dead.

We can not let any of this be in vain. We must work to improve the infrastructure here in Texas to protect its citizens from future crisis. And make no mistake, Climate Change is real and there will be more crisis. We must invest in our state and each other to keep us all safe, healthy and thriving. We can not let a failure of leadership like this happen to us again, because it’s far more costly than just investing in what we need upfront.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to my mom’s house. To my state.

But I know that I want things to change.

No, we need them to.

Last night I went in and kissed The Teen as she laid down to go to bed. She cried, telling me she couldn’t take it anymore. None of us can.

IF YOU ARE IN TEXAS AND NEED HELP OR WOULD LIKE TO DONATE TO HELP TEXANS, THE TEXAS TRIBUNE HAS A GOOD ROUND UP OF LINKS

Here is information on how to apply for FEMA aid in Texas if you need it

Friday Finds, February 19, 2021

This Week at TLT

Book Review: Reckless, Glorious, Girl by Ellen Hagan

Questions, Anyone? a guest post by Neal Shusterman

Cindy Crushes Programming: 10 Tips for Make and Take Crafts During a Pandemic

Balance in the Time of Productivity Culture: Jen Petro-Roy and Life in the Balance

Tips for Writing A YA Series, a guest post by Rena Barron

Book Review: The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan

Sunday Reflections: The Things We Won’t Buy, a Reflection on Generation Z, Conscious Capitalism, and “Cancel Culture”

Around the Web

Georgia Republicans Are Doubling Down on Racist Voter Suppression

STXtv Developing TV Adaptation Of Hafsah Faizal’s YA Fantasy Adventure Novel ‘We Hunt The Flame’

New Zealand Will Offer Free Sanitary Products At Schools To Fight Period Poverty

The Creation Of The Magnificent Makers

COVID-19 and a Lost Generation of Unhoused Students

Book Review: Reckless, Glorious, Girl by Ellen Hagan

Publisher’s description

The co-author of Watch Us Rise pens a novel in verse about all the good and bad that comes with middle school, growing up girl, and the strength of family that gets you through it.

Beatrice Miller may have a granny’s name (her granny’s, to be more specific), but she adores her Mamaw and her mom, who give her every bit of wisdom and love they have. But the summer before seventh grade, Bea wants more than she has, aches for what she can’t have, and wonders what the future will bring. 

This novel in verse follows Beatrice through the ups and downs of friendships, puberty, and identity as she asks: Who am I? Who will I become? And will my outside ever match the way I feel on the inside?

A gorgeous, inter-generational story of Southern women and a girl’s path blossoming into her sense of self, Reckless, Glorious, Girl explores the important questions we all ask as we race toward growing up.

Amanda’s thoughts

Oh, how I hope middle schoolers pick up this book. Beatrice is asking the biggest question: who am I? Having recently survived parenting a human through middle school, I am convinced that, in general, there is no worse age, no worse time, no worse everything than middle school. What a hard age. Hagan deftly captures how complicated this age is, and how all-consuming the questions of identity and fitting in can be.

I loved this book for a lot of reasons, and one of the biggest is Beatrice’s relationship with her grandma (Mamaw) and her mom. It’s loving and inspiring and accepting even when it’s challenging and frustrating and disappointing. With her Mamaw, she has a wonderful role model for embracing eccentricity and being yourself, whoever that is. She encourages Beatrice not to observe life from the sidelines, but to get right in there and live life.

Beatrice longs to show people more of who she really is, the parts that no one ever sees, her multitudes and complexities. She’s feeling a pull between her old self and the new self she maybe wants to be. She knows she sometimes mimics who she’s with, that she changes depending on who she’s around and the expectations. She’s worried about shaving, bras, periods, dating, kissing, and popularity. She wants to be noticed, to be really seen, to be liked by a boy. She does and feels all these things in the company of two totally accepting and unique best friends, friends who let her grow and change and make mistakes. Listen, for middle school? that’s a great depiction of friendship.

The message to be yourself, to be free, to not let others define you, and to not hide yourself away comes across loud and clear as we watch Beatrice fumble her way through early adolescence. This novel in verse will speak to many who so totally and completely relate to how Beatrice is feeling. She’s yet another middle grade character I want to give a hug and say, I know this is hard, but you will be okay. Thankfully, she has wonderful people in her life to do this. A beautifully written book with an empowering message.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547604609
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/23/2021
Age Range: 8 – 11 Years

Questions, Anyone? a guest post by Neal Shusterman

When I have speaking engagements, even virtual ones, I like to do all questions-and-answers.  Sometimes it panics the more control-oriented administrators.  They’re terrified that their students will ask something inappropriate or won’t ask anything at all.  Never happens.  And even when someone in the audience asks something meant to rattle me, it doesn’t work—because I love thinking on my feet.

            Q: “How come so many people vomit in your book?”

             A: “Well, if you were going through what the characters go through, you’d hurl, too.” 

            Q: “How many licks does it take to get the center of a Tootsie Pop?”

            A: “Three.  And here’s why three is such an important number in storytelling…”

            Q: “Mr. Shusterman, what planet are you from?” 

            A: “A planet that your puny human telescopes have yet to discover.”

The thing about relating to an audience is that if you talk at them, they get this passive, glazed-over look.  They might engage, but only as a recipient, not as a participant.  I would rather get a slew of “What’s your favorite color” questions than spend an hour giving a lecture.  Invariably the questions I am asked are the things I would talk about anyway, but at least now the audience owns the answers.

A book is exactly the same.  Reading a book can be a passive experience or an active one.  An author can spoon-feed a story, a message, a moral—as if the author knows all the answers and has deigned to impart their wisdom to the masses.

Or an author can make the reader uncomfortable by offering questions with no easy answers.  Moral ambiguity; unintended consequences of our most noble actions; characters who face impossible choices but must decide anyway.  Because if you make the readers work for it, they will own the answers they find.

To me that is what writing is all about.  Not being afraid to ask hard questions.  Now don’t get me wrong—I am afraid.  In fact I’m terrified when I ask the hard questions, perseverating on all the things that can go wrong in the asking–especially now, when everyone on all sides of every issue is furious, and just looking for a reason to criticize.

And so what do I do?  Like an idiot, I throw into the raging inferno this Molotov cocktail called Game ChangerWhy would I write a book that peers into so many open wounds in society?  What would possess me to do such a thing, knowing that we’re all working our last nerve?

This might sound like a writerly BS answer, but it’s the truth:  I could not NOT write it.  Once the idea (and terror) took hold, I felt that I would be cheating if I didn’t write it. I would be a fraud, because I didn’t have the courage to tell the story that was screaming at me.  That is, after all, what I always tell students: I only write stories that scream at me and demand to be told.  So if I demanded that this story shut the hell up, I’d be a hypocrite.

Why was the story screaming?  That comes back to a question that I always get asked—more often from adults than from kids.  “What do you want readers to take away from your books?”  The answer to that is always the same.

Perspective. 

If there’s one belief that infuses everything that I write, it’s that perspective is the only way we’ll ever come close to answering the hard questions.  The more angles from which we can view a problem, the more likely we’re going to have the epiphanies and find the inspiration we need to solve it.

Have you ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect?  All about illusory superiority, self-awareness, and meta-cognition.  In a nutshell, the two titular social psychologists postulated and proved that the less of an expert you are, the more of an expert you believe you are.   In other words, ignorance fuels itself, and the only way to deprive it of an energy source is through greater and greater perspective. It’s an ironic truth: the more you realize you don’t know, the more you actually do.  

Game Changer is all about a character learning empathy and killing the fuel source of his own ignorance.  The story is told from the point of view of a fairly oblivious white male heterosexual teen—but in the course of the story, he’s going to have all his notions of the world, and of himself, challenged.  He’s going to have a crash course in racism, sexism, homophobia, and privilege through a series of alternate realities that give him perspectives he could never have otherwise experienced.

 Now, before you go saying, “Great, another straight-white-male-hero-who-saves-the-world story,” I want to make it clear that my goal was to do precisely the opposite.  This is a story about that all-too-familiar character learning that he’s not the hero he thought he was, and, in fact, the only reason the world needs saving is because of his own actions… and inaction.   He can’t fix everything.  The best he can possibly do is find a place to start.

I set out to model how to accept personal and social responsibility, even when it’s painful.  Accountability is not something that just happens.  You have to grow into it—and resistance to accountability can often happen because someone doesn’t know how to get there.

It is always my hope that my stories will reach those who need to read them and offer them perspective they didn’t know they were missing. They say you don’t know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.  As a writer, I want to take that even further.  It’s more than just walking in someone’s shoes—it’s also understanding the reason for the journey.  I want to show readers what it means to be the road.

And if that leads to more questions than answers, then I’ve done my job! 

Meet the author

Photo credit: Gaby Gerster

Neal Shusterman is the New York Times best-selling author of over thirty novels for children, teens, and adults. He won the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Challenger Deep-and his novel, Scythe, was a 2017 Michael L. Printz Honor book-and is in development with Universal Studios as a feature film. His novel, Unwind, has become part of the literary canon in many school districts across the country-and has won more than thirty domestic and international awards. He co-wrote his most recent novel, Dry, with his son Jarrod, and in addition to being on numerous award lists, Dry is currently in development with Paramount Pictures. His upcoming novel, Game Changer, is in development with Netflix as a TV series, and he is co-writing the pilot episode.

Shusterman has also received awards from organizations such as the International Reading Association, and the American Library Association, and has garnered a myriad of state and local awards across the country. His talents range from film directing, to writing music and stage plays, and has even tried his hand at creating games.

Shusterman has earned a reputation as a storyteller and dynamic speaker. As a speaker, he is in constant demand at schools and conferences. Degrees in both psychology and drama give him a unique approach to writing, and his novels always deal with topics that appeal to adults as well as teens, weaving true-to-life characters into sensitive and riveting issues, and binding it all together with a unique and entertaining sense of humor. Neal lives in California but spends much of his time travelling the world speaking and signing books for readers.

Website: http://www.storyman.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nealshusterman

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nealshusterman/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NealShusterman

About Game Changer

All it takes is one hit on the football field, and suddenly Ash’s life doesn’t look quite the way he remembers it.

Impossible though it seems, he’s been hit into another dimension—and keeps on bouncing through worlds that are almost-but-not-really his own.

The changes start small, but they quickly spiral out of control as Ash slides into universes where he has everything he’s ever wanted, universes where society is stuck in the past…universes where he finds himself looking at life through entirely different eyes.

And if he isn’t careful, the world he’s learning to see more clearly could blink out of existence…

This high-concept novel from the National Book Award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author of the Arc of a Scythe series tackles the most urgent themes of our time, making this a must-buy for readers who are starting to ask big questions about their own role in the universe.

ISBN-13: 9780061998676
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/09/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Cindy Crushes Programming: 10 Tips for Make and Take Crafts During a Pandemic

  1. Use Fandoms: I always try to include fandoms with my crafts. It makes teens be able to recognize that the craft is. Teens will always have their fandoms.
  2. Pick something useful: I have done a lot of light crafts and also this month we are doing handwarmers. It is certainly cold enough for them. We have been in a polar vortex for awhile
  3. Keep costs low: This really depends on your budget. I know a lot of libraries are going through budget cuts including mine. I have been using a lot of the craft supplies I already had. I also have been using sales. I was so excited when Joann’s had a felt sale a couple weeks ago. I also use coupons.
  1. Put a picture on the craft showing what it is: This is so important. Teens will not know what they are taking if you do not display what the craft is.
  2. Make an Example Craft: This is super helpful so teens can see the craft in person and are able to know that it is possible to make
  3. Make the instructions have pictures if the craft is hard: Many teens are visual learners and need to see the steps in the craft. I go through my coworkers craft and look at the instructions and will let them know if I am confused. I figure if I am confused, the teens will be confused.
  4. Make a video for the hard crafts: If you are choosing to do a hard craft, having a video will allow the teens to see your process.
  5. Do not pick very hard crafts: Give teens crafts they can complete and feel good about. Some things are too hard and you do not want to put too much pressure on them.
  6. Do not worry if the craft does not go right away: Sometimes during the pandemic you will not see many teens or their parents. This is okay. Do not stress.
  7. Do not overcraft: I am guilty of this one sometimes. I get so excited about a Take and Make that I want to shove it in a month we are pretty full in. Resist the urge if you can you do not want to bog yourself down with crafts.
  8. Don’t choose super messy crafts: I did this recently when I had a craft with cornstarch. I was covered in it all day. Plus super messy crafts will not make parents happy with their teens doing the craft at home.

Stay Safe during this weather! Here is a picture my dog Harry Winston in winter PJs.

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.