Teen Librarian Toolbox
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YA reads for fans of the hit TV show Yellowjackets

On Sunday, the season finale of Yellowjackets will air on Showtime. I just spent the last week binging season 1 with my 19 year old daughter and could not help but think of so many great YA books that fans of the show may like to read. Here’s my caveat: this show is rated M for Mature, and for good reason, so I am in no way recommending the show to teens. But for the new young adults in the world, like my daughter, who are watching the show, boy do I have some good YA lit recommendations for you.

Yellow jackets is a show about the dynamics of teenage girl ecosystems. It’s a show about survival. And it’s a show about adult women navigating PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and the very real atrocities that they have committed while trying to survive after spending 19 months stranded in a remote forest when their plane crashes. Cannibalism may or may not be involved. The show is compelling and profound and disturbing. Like I said, I can’t in good faith recommend the show to teens, but it’s some fantastic television. A combination of Lost meets This is Us meets Lord of the Flies. There are some very graphic scenes of violence, nudity, and sex, for those who need to know. But wow, is this a powerful exploration of teen girls and adult women.

As a former teen girl, as the mother of two teen girls, and as a now adult woman, I found this to be such an enthralling show. And it was profound for me to have a young adult daughter, 19, who I could watch this show with and talk about it. Don’t get me wrong, there were some scenes that were a little uncomfy to watch together as we’re just figuring out what it means to have an adult child, but what a profound gift to have this show where we could talk about being both a young woman and an older woman and share stories. Yes, we squirmed and gasped, but we also bonded and talked about really important things surrounding the idea of what it means to be female in this world.

Lord of the Flies is about how socialization falls away and how society is a facade. We thought, who is more socialized than women? As girls, you learn early on how to make people like you and what the social hierarchies are,” Lyle explained. “It’s a more interesting way of having things fall away. The mask is even thicker. It’s a more layered amount of preconceived notions of how to behave and act.” – Source: https://www.marieclaire.com/culture/tv-shows/yellowjackets-season-2/

So here are some other fabulous YA titles that touch on various themes found in Yellowjackets, including teen girl group dynamics and survival. The books I recommend below focus on the teen timeline of the show, and I don’t read a lot of adult fiction so I don’t have a lot of adult book recommendations. However, I did recently read The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix and feel that it also would be a good recommendation for Yellowjackets fans, especially as it touches on the psychological aftermath in adulthood of traumatic teen life experiences.

Here are my YA lit recommendations . . .

Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand

I love this book and as a teen that read a lot of Stephen King, I often think of this book as a cross between Stephen King and National Treasure with a feminist twist.

Publisher’s Book Description: Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep. He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.

Who are the Sawkill Girls?

Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.

Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.

Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.

Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.

Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

The setting for this most reminds me of the survive the forest parts of Yellowjackets. And the group dynamics are amazing.

Publisher’s Book Description: It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

You want girls alone in the wilderness trying to survive? This book has that in spades with powerful commentary on the patriarchy and breaking down the stereotypes we have of how awful women are to one another. It goes to really dark places.

Publisher’s Book Description: No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.

Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

This may seem like an out there recommendation, but it does have the girl group dynamics and survival, with more science fiction elements thrown in.

Publisher’s Book Description:

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.

As Mena and her friends begin to uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations will find out what they are truly capable of. Because some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

This is like the YA classic Hatchet; it’s a straight up wilderness survival story featuring a female main character. Because I had read this book, I found myself saying why didn’t the girls do x or y several times while watching Yellowjackets.

Publisher’s Book Description: The world is not tame.

Ashley knows this truth deep in her bones, more at home with trees overhead than a roof. So when she goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends for a night of partying, the falling dark and creaking trees are second nature to her. But people are not tame either. And when Ashley catches her boyfriend with another girl, drunken rage sends her running into the night, stopped only by a nasty fall into a ravine. Morning brings the realization that she’s alone – and far off trail. Lost in undisturbed forest and with nothing but the clothes on her back, Ashley must figure out how to survive despite the red streak of infection creeping up her leg.

Some other recommendations: One Was Lost and Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, Playing with Fire by April Henry, and They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman

For some YA dealing with the after affects of trauma, try Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso and The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis.

I know there are so many great books out there that fans of this show will like. What are your recommendations?

Is There a Place in Publishing for Realistic Fiction About Middle School? A guest post by Hillary Frank

When I sold my first novel in 1999 and my editor told me she wanted to publish it as YA, I was confused. Why would we limit our audience to teens? Better Than Running at Night was about a college freshman; I was a recent college grad. I figured I was writing a book for people my age. 

Once the book was published, though, I discovered how rewarding it is to write for teens. For one thing, you can’t beat their fan mail. I received passionate letters from kids saying that Better Than Running at Night made them feel seen, that it changed their lives. Helped them get out of emotionally abusive relationships. One girl told me the book meant so much to her that she stole it from her library! I loved visiting schools, doing writing workshops, and hearing kids tell their own powerful and surprising stories about growing up. I fully embraced the YA label and published two more novels geared toward older teens. 

But then I hit a roadblock. My fourth book idea was about middle school — which, according to traditional publishing, would classify it as middle grade.

The problem was, I wanted to write about real middle school. The middle school that I remembered. The middle school that I never saw reflected in novels when I was a kid. I wanted to write about cliques and bullying. Slut-shaming and prude-shaming. Intense schoolyard debates about sex acts. I wanted to write about periods and body changes and how those body changes often come with unwanted attention from creepy boys — and, worse, creepy men. I wanted to write about how entering adulthood felt like a sort of death. A sudden permanent goodbye to your childhood self. I wanted to write about all of this stuff using the real language that twelve and thirteen-year-olds use — and let’s be honest, that includes cursing.

Here Lies Me would capture the brutality of middle school. It would help kids who felt isolated — and, perhaps like me, found it difficult to relate to books that softened the edges of adolescence. It would give those kids hope that despite how bleak middle school can feel, it’s still possible to find your voice and to find friends.

When I pitched the book to my agent, 15 years ago now, he said that if I wanted to write a story this dark I would need to age the characters up to high school so that it could be classified as YA. I liked the idea of the book being classified as YA but I didn’t want to age the characters up. The whole point of this project was to talk about the realities of middle school. So I set Here Lies Me aside. In fact, I set book-writing aside entirely.

And I was left wondering: If realistic fiction about middle school can’t be for adults and it can’t be for kids, where does it belong? Is the answer really nowhere?

It took me around twelve years to realize that maybe Here Lies Me did belong somewhere, and that somewhere was podcasting. I had spent the last couple of decades working in audio — first freelancing for public radio shows like This American Life, Studio360, and Marketplace, then launching my own podcast, The Longest Shortest Time. With Longest Shortest, I became one of the first people to make a living in podcasting. The show was about parenthood but made for a general audience. Early on, when I was shopping the show around, gatekeepers in the industry questioned the concept. They saw parenthood as a niche topic that would appeal only to parents of young children. But Longest Shortest grew quickly and developed a diverse and highly engaged audience that included many non-parents. Listeners without kids told me the show helped them to understand their own parents better and to relate to their friends who had kids. Over the nine years that the show ran, I covered everything from transgender pregnancy to discrimination against mothers in the workplace to a grown man asking his mom for the truth about her sex life. People didn’t tune in to Longest Shortest for parenting content; they tuned in for compelling stories.

I was able to make a boundary-breaking show like Longest Shortest because unlike the book world, podcasting has no rules. Sure, a lot of podcasts sound the same. But you really do have the freedom to try anything. And the categories are broad. You want to know how fiction gets divvied up in the podcast charts? It doesn’t! It’s all just housed under “fiction.” As a creator, you can interpret “fiction” any way you’d like. So far, most people have interpreted it to mean “sci-fi” or “horror.” But I decided to interpret it as “weird, dark dramedy about middle school.” In 2019, I got a residency to develop the pilot for Here Lies Me — and in 2021 I partnered with Lemonada Media to bring the show to life.

Lemonada was excited to support me in my mission: to make the first realistic fiction podcast about middle school — and to make that show appeal to both teens and adults. Here Lies Me launched in November and it sounds pretty different from other fiction podcasts. Our main characters are not played by celebrities; they’re teens who missed out on their performance programs due to the pandemic. Our sound design isn’t canned; it’s custom. The entire show is scored with drumming by my eleven-year-old daughter who coincidentally started middle school this year. And yes, there is cursing and an intense schoolyard dispute about sex acts. (The show is marked as explicit in podcast apps and begins with a mature content warning.)

The Here Lies Me cast singing Hava Nagila for the final episode

In retrospect, I’m glad that I waited to write Here Lies Me. Designing the story for audio forced me to innovate in ways that I may not have in print. Waiting also allowed time for TV shows like Big Mouth and PEN15 and the film Eighth Grade to pave the way for mature content about middle school. And then there was #MeToo. From the beginning, Here Lies Me was primarily about a girl trying to get a boy with an unrequited crush to stop bothering her. But the #MeToo movement gave me the word for this flavor of bothering: harassment. Once I had that word, I finally understood that the story I wanted to tell was about what harassment looks like in middle school and what happens when the harasser becomes a victim. I think it’s essential to talk about harassment in middle school because I believe that middle school is where harassment begins in earnest. My intent with this show is to encourage conversations about how we might address harassment in middle school, and to potentially stop future incidents of harassment, assault, and domestic abuse by reaching kids when they’re still young enough to be receptive to grown-ups. In order for a story to have that sort of cross-generational influence, it must appeal to both teens and adults.

I still would love to make a book version of Here Lies Me. A graphic novel is my dream — an experience as immersive for the eyes as the podcast is for the ears. But now, fifteen years after I shelved Here Lies Me, I still encounter people in the publishing industry asking where a book like this could possibly belong. I’m hearing that it’s too dark for kids… but that adults don’t want to read about kids. Well, why not? Why can’t kids read about what’s really happening in their lives? Why can we only expect them to read up and not about characters that are their actual age or slightly younger? Why shouldn’t adults read about stuff that happened in their childhood? Doesn’t reading help us to process past traumas? A few weeks ago, I received an Instagram message from a therapist who told me that she’s using Here Lies Me as a “soul balm” to help her clients process their own middle school experiences before their children enter middle school — and I also got a five-star Apple Podcasts review from an eighth grader praising the show because it “LITERALLY SEEMS SO REAL.”

Is there a place in publishing for literally real-seeming books about middle school? I hope so. Because otherwise the medium is missing out on a new category of powerful storytelling that the entertainment industry and podcasting have welcomed.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Natalie Chitwood

Hillary Frank is the creator of The Longest Shortest Time, an award-winning podcast about the surprises and absurdities of raising other humans — and Here Lies Me, a fiction podcast about harassment in middle school. She is also the author and illustrator of three young adult novels. Her latest book is Weird Parenting Wins: Bathtub Dining, Family Screams, and Other Hacks from the Parenting Trenches. Hillary got her start in radio on This American Life with a story recorded entirely on a shiny red boombox and a microcassette answering machine.

Website: https://www.hillaryfrank.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hillaryfrank

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

Listen and subscribe to Here Lies Me: https://link.chtbl.com/HereLiesMe?sid=toolkit

Hope in the Time of Apocalypse, a guest post by Jodi Meadows

“There is no Incursion.” 

“Think of it as a cycle. A natural cycle of good and evil pushing against each other. Evil may be pushing now, but good will push back.” 

“We do not need to worry about another Incursion. Stop listening to the paranoid masses. I’ve heard no trustworthy reports of malice or rancor or any other abnormalities whatsoever. People are safe, and you must stop encouraging their fears.”

In NIGHTRENDER, my newest book, an Incursion is a cataclysmic event in which monsters (rancor) and dark magic (malice) break free from their prison and lay waste to the world. It can be stopped—prevented, even—if the signs are noticed in time, and if the Nightrender is summoned. For thousands of years, this immortal champion kept the three kingdoms just this side of catastrophe.

But four hundred years ago, something changed, and the kings and queens of Salvation tried to erase the Nightrender. They burned the books about her, all the ancient records of her deeds. They outlawed discussion of her, save for whispers. They forbade anyone summoning her, denying that they might ever need her again. 

Decade by decade, century by century, people chose to forget. Now, they view her as a terrifying winged figure, a dangerous being who sleeps in crumbling tower. They tell only one story—that of her last, horrible act, the Red Dawn.

But an Incursion is coming. It might be upon them already. 

Dark omens are everywhere. Strange phenomena occur throughout the land: gravity vanishing, time running backwards, and startling die-offs of animals. The Malstop—the magical barrier meant to trap the darkness—is weakening, as evidenced by the flickers and thin spots. Soon, it will fail, and all that malice will come spilling over the three kingdoms.

The signs of Incursions are always obvious. And what happens during one—that isn’t a mystery, since there is an entire record of Incursions going back thousands of years. How deadly they were. How the battles were fought. How close the world came to collapse. 

But since the Red Dawn, the kings and queens of all three kingdoms are locked in a troubling pattern of ignoring the threat. They refuse to do what is necessary to end this calamity before it’s too late. 

Instead, they spend their time fighting, plotting ways to hurt one another, and doing everything they can to deny that their world is about to end. In fact, they would deny that their actions have had any kind of effect on the next Incursion. 

Does any of this sound familiar?

Over and over, I find myself looking at climate change through the lens of fantasy, using magic and dragons and Incursions to tell the story. It’s a heavy topic in any world, and I’ll be the first to say that I don’t have all the answers—not even close. But I am a person who lives here, who grew up listening to reports about acid rain and holes in the ozone layer. I am someone who likes clean air and water. And I’m someone who wants my young readers to look toward the future with hope, not fear.

Recently, I spent several hours knitting and watching a marathon of videos about the geological history of Earth. (This is totally normal behavior, right?) The topics went from continental drift to what creatures lived when, and—as naturally comes up when discussing the billions of years our little planet has been floating in space—the mass extinction events that devastated life everywhere thanks to meteors, volcanic activity, and (notably) climate change. 

That may seem pretty dark, spending my free time studying the major mass extinction events, but in a way, I find it comforting. This planet has been through a lot, but you and I are here because life survived multiple apocalypses. Chances are good that life will continue to endure. And regardless of whether we are here to see what happens next, our beautiful, resilient world will spin on. (At least until the sun begins to die, at which point it will swell, engulfing Earth. But that’s about 5 billion years away, so no need to worry just yet.) 

But hey, let’s not end on that dim note. Here, in the real world, we’re doing a much better job of acknowledging the problem. And we’re making measurable improvements to the way we treat our planet. And in NIGHTRENDER, it is not a spoiler to say that one person in power truly is concerned about the coming Incursion. He sees the signs. He knows the Nightrender must be summoned. 

And so he does it.

So perhaps there is a reason for the people of Salvation to have hope after all.

Meet the author

Jodi Meadows wants to be a ferret when she grows up and she has no self-control when it comes to yarn, ink, or outer space. Still, she manages to write books. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy, the ORPHAN QUEEN Duology, the FALLEN ISLES Trilogy (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen), and the NIGHTRENDER duology (Holiday House). She is also a co-author of  New York Times bestsellers MY LADY JANE, MY PLAIN JANE, and other books in the Lady Janies series (HarperTeen). She lives in rural Virginia. Visit her at www.jodimeadows.com


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About Nightrender

Kingdoms will fall, gods will die, and hearts will be broken in this sprawling new fantasy from New York Times bestselling author Jodi Meadows.

In the middle of nothingness is the Island of Salvation.

Reality bends easily here. Villages disappear. Forests burn forever. Pockets of inconsistent time are everywhere, their boundaries strung with yellow ribbon. And the three kingdoms of Salvation have been at war for a thousand years.

But the greatest threat is the Malice, an incursion from the demon plane slowly tearing its way through the world’s weakest seams. Seams that—once split—will lead to the total unraveling of night and day, light and dark, life and death.

Not that the human world takes much interest. Of more concern is the upcoming marriage of Rune Hightower, Prince of Caberwill, and Johanne Fortuin, Princess of Embria—the serpent bride, a girl of famous cunning—which offers a possible end to the ancient conflict. But Rune has noticed the growing darkness, and he is determined to summon mankind’s only defense: Nightrender, the hammer of the gods, an immortal warrior more weapon than girl.

There is only one problem. The last time she was summoned, she slaughtered every royal in Salvation, and no one knows why. Will she save humanity from the Malice… or plunge it deeper into the fires of eternal war?

ISBN-13: 9780823448685
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 01/11/2022
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

This one time at band camp . . . YA Lit about Marching Band Coming Soon

A few years ago, as I sat watching 1,000s of teens perform in a statewide marching band contest, I thought to myself, where are all the YA books with kids in marching band? I’ve read about football and cheerleading. I’ve even read about teens that play instruments and taking classes at school, but there hasn’t been a lot of teens that are in marching band featured in YA lit. None of the bus rides to competitions, band camp, and all the drama that comes with getting up at 6 am to practice marching in the school parking lot before most of your classmates have even opened their eyelids.

Music for All indicates that people involved in music programs including marching band score higher on the SAT, by an average of 107 points. Other research indicates that there are at least 1,077 high school marching bands alone. Marching bands are featured each year in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and are a huge part of the Friday Night Lights we all talk about. What a high school football game without the marching band performance at half time?

So I was excited to see this year that there are at least 2 YA lit books featuring teens in marching bands. Here’s everything you wanted to know about some upcoming YA lit that features teens in high school marching bands.

Forward March by Skye Quinlan

Publisher’s Book Description:

What’s worse? Someone using your face for catfishing or realizing you actually do have a crush on the catfished girl?

Harper “Band Geek” McKinley just wants to make it through her senior year of marching band—and her Republican father’s presidential campaign. That was a tall order to start, but everything was going well enough until someone made a fake gay dating profile posing as Harper. The real Harper can’t afford for anyone to find out about the Tinder profile for three very important reasons:

1. Her mom is the school dean and dating profiles for students are strictly forbidden.
2. Harper doesn’t even know if she likes anyone like that—let alone if she likes other girls.
3. If this secret gets out, her father could lose the election, one she’s not sure she even wants him to win.

But upon meeting Margot Blanchard, the drumline leader who swiped right, Harper thinks it might be worth the trouble to let Margot get to know the real her.

With her dad’s campaign on the line, Harper’s relationship with her family at stake, and no idea who made that fake dating profile, Harper has to decide what’s more important to her: living her truth or becoming the First Daughter of America.

Coming March 8, 2022 from Page Street Kids

It Sounds Like This by Anna Meriano

Publisher’s Book Description:

A sweet and nerdy contemporary YA novel set in the world of marching band perfect for fans of Late to the Party and Kate in Waiting.

Yasmín Treviño didn’t have much of a freshman year thanks to Hurricane Humphrey, but she’s ready to take sophomore year by storm. That means mastering the marching side of marching band—fast!—so she can outshine her BFF Sofia as top of the flute section, earn first chair, and impress both her future college admission boards and her comfortably unattainable drum major crush Gilberto Reyes.

But Yasmín steps off on the wrong foot when she reports an anonymous gossip Instagram account harassing new band members and accidentally gets the entire low brass section suspended from extracurriculars. With no low brass section, the band is doomed, so Yasmín decides to take things into her own hands, learn to play the tuba, and lead a gaggle of rowdy freshman boys who are just as green to marching and playing as she is. She’ll happily wrestle an ancient school tuba if it means fixing the mess she might have caused.

But when the secret gossip Instagram escalates their campaign of harassment and the end-of-semester band competition grows near, things at school might be too hard to bear. Luckily, the support of Yasmín’s new section—especially new section leader Bloom, a sweet and shy ace boy who might be a better match for her than Gilberto—might just turn things around.

Coming August 2, 2022 from Viking Books for Young Readers

It’s nice to see some books coming out that featuring marching band, a staple for a lot of teens of the high school experience.

Something Old, Something New: The Magic of Reimagining Fairytales, a guest post by Leslie Vedder

A glass slipper abandoned on a flight of stairs. A handful of magic beans for an old cow. A poison apple. A sleeping curse. A rope of golden hair…

Each one of these images is almost a story by itself—a key that unlocks a torrent of memories and feelings with a single twist. That’s the power of fairytales to me. You know them intimately, even if you don’t quite know from where.

Fairytales are all around us, like a language we learn to speak from very young. They’re in bedtime stories, movies, ballets, children’s plays, and picture books. A fairytale isn’t a singular, static story, but a rich tapestry of interwoven strands.

Maybe your first Cinderella was the Disney version, or maybe she was Gail Carson Levine’s delightful Ella Enchanted. Maybe she was Brandy with Whitney Houston as her epic fairy godmother, or Drew Barrymore meeting Leonardo da Vinci. Or maybe she was the quirky Cinder Edna as imagined by Ellen Jackson.

Maybe she went Into the Woods, or tried out high school, or found herself living with a whole host of other characters in the town of Storybrooke. Cinderella is all these things and more.

When I’m coming up with a retelling, it often starts for me with a question. How did Robin Hood get started with all that thieving? Could there ever be a practical use for a glass slipper? Or in the case of my Sleeping Beauty retelling, The Bone Spindle, how do you fall in love with someone who’s fast asleep?

That last question was the source of quite a bit of amusement for me and my wife. She is my editor, my first reader, my biggest fan, and the person I drag out on walks to talk out all my ideas. It was during one of our many, many laps around the park that the idea to genderflip the Sleeping Beauty story came up and the first seeds of The Bone Spindle were born.

A prince who had been sleeping for a hundred years would practically be ancient history, a relic—and who better to dig that up than a pair of girl treasure hunters? Right away, I loved the idea of one of the girls, Fi, being a bookish, intrepid historian who doesn’t believe in anything as impractical as true love. I couldn’t see her kissing some prince without ever holding a single conversation with him…so my new question became, how do you meet some guy who’s going to be asleep for most of the story?

This is where the fun of fractured fairytales really kicks in. In a world of magic and curses and witches, anything is possible. Fi pricks her finger on a bone spindle and finds herself stuck with the spirit of the sleeping prince Briar Rose, whom only she can see. Meanwhile her partner, Shane, styles herself the huntsman for hire and gets tangled up with a girl in a red cloak. You know there’s going to be a wolf in that story!

Inevitably, there’s always some part of the original fairytale that doesn’t fit. In my Sleeping Beauty story, one of the tricky elements was the three fairies—they seemed a little too whimsical for the darker world I was creating, full of treasure hunters and mercenaries and vicious Witch Hunters. Still, I didn’t want to lose the idea of these women of great power. So instead of fairies, I ended up with the Three Great Witches, who felt more at home in this story of a fallen kingdom rich with magic and lore.

Something old, something new. That’s half the fun of a retelling, I think—the recognizable elements draw you in, while the new elements keep it fresh and surprising. Fairytales are old friends, and I can’t wait to meet them over and over again!

Here are a few my favorite fairytale and folklore retellings!

ASH by Malinda Lo is a gorgeous f/f Cinderella retelling that follows a young girl, Ash, who gets tangled up with dark fairy magic and must escape both her evil stepmother and the dangerous fairy who’s laid a claim on her—all while falling hard for the King’s Huntress. Full of determination, magic bargains, and an entrancing love story!

CINDERELLA IS DEAD by Kalynn Bayron is a stunning dark retelling set in a world where the original Cinderella is long dead and the annual ball is no dream, but a nightmare. Sophia is a fierce, queer heroine who sees how broken and painful her world is and rises up to change it. Mortal peril, f/f love, and a fierce heroine in a ball gown!

GIRLS MADE OF SNOW AND GLASS by Melissa Bashardoust is a Snow White retelling that entwines the stories of Snow White and the evil queen, unspooling them to reveal the haunting truth of how power, control, and grief are often at the heart of tragedies. Princess Lynet (our Snow White) is also in an f/f love story full of heart!

LEGENDBORN by Tracy Deonn is a thrilling take on the Arthurian legend that completely reimagines the Knights of the Round Table as a modern-day secret society descended from the figures of legend. It follows Bree, a young Black girl with a hidden connection to these Legendborn, as she fights for a place in this ancient rigid order in a book full of bold, powerful, expressions of love and grief.  

THESE FEATHERED FLAMES by Alexandra Overy is a queer reimagining of the Russian firebird myth, retold from the perspective of two sisters whose long separation ends when they’re brought together by the mystery of their mother’s death. Asya is the fiery, passionate incarnation of the mystic Firebird who must uphold the balance of magic. Her sister Izaveta, who is next in line for the throne, is brilliant, powerful, and caught in a tangled web of intrigue and schemes.

DAUGHTER OF SPARTA by Claire M. Andrews takes on the Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo but turns it completely on its head, making Daphne into a warrior of Sparta on a journey with Apollo to stop a calamity—while also twisting in few more Greek myths along the way. Daphne takes the lead in an adventure full of heart-pounding danger and equally heart-pounding love scenes!

Finally, one that should definitely be on your list for later this year: ONE FOR ALL by Lillie Lainoff is a genderbent Musketeers retelling with ownvoices disability rep that follows Tania, a fierce heroine with POTS, on her journey to become a musketeer and uncover the truth of her father’s death. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy, and this is a sisterhood to die for!

Meet the author

 Leslie Vedder is a YA author who loves girl heroes and adventurers. She grew up on fantasy books, anime, fanfiction, and the Lord of the Rings movies, and met her true love in high school choir. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in creative writing, and currently lives in Colorado with her wife and two spoiled house cats. Learn more at https://www.leslievedder.com.  

About The Bone Spindle

Sleeping Beauty meets Indiana Jones in this thrilling fairytale retelling for fans of Sorcery of Thorns and The Cruel Prince.

Fi is a bookish treasure hunter with a knack for ruins and riddles, who definitely doesn’t believe in true love.

Shane is a tough-as-dirt girl warrior from the north who likes cracking skulls, pretty girls, and doing things her own way.

Briar Rose is a prince under a sleeping curse, who’s been waiting a hundred years for the kiss that will wake him.

Cursed princes are nothing but ancient history to Fi—until she pricks her finger on a bone spindle while exploring a long-lost ruin. Now she’s stuck with the spirit of Briar Rose until she and Shane can break the century-old curse on his kingdom.

Dark magic, Witch Hunters, and bad exes all stand in her way—not to mention a mysterious witch who might wind up stealing Shane’s heart, along with whatever else she’s after. But nothing scares Fi more than the possibility of falling in love with Briar Rose.

Set in a lush world inspired by beloved fairytales, The Bone Spindle is a fast-paced young adult fantasy full of adventure, romance, found family, and snark.

ISBN-13: 9780593325827
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/11/2022
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

On Writing Multiple Points of View, a guest post by Dana Swift

Picking the point of view for your story is one of the first and most important steps. It’s also one of the most exciting. For me point of view, more than any other literary element, connects to every aspect of craft. From what figures of speech your character uses all the way to overarching plot and structure, point of view is infused in the narrative.

When I set my sights on becoming an author, I learned about the craft behind point of view. How a writer can hide things from the reader, let readers in on a secret while the characters are kept in the dark, amplify a scene, make a character more relatable, or weave together multiple plotlines. I figured out how it worked. I just had to decide who was telling my next story.

Writing Cast in Firelight

When writing my debut, CAST IN FIRELIGHT, I immediately set off to write a dual point of view novel. At the heart of fantasy world full of action and magic there is a romance between my two main characters, Adraa and Jatin. Much of their love story centered on them falling in love not knowing who the other is. The dual point of view narrative let me dive into that mistaken identity plotline and showcase how they were each thinking and feeling about the other.

The romance was strengthened through my choice because I wanted the book to be as romantic and character driven as it was fantastical, and plot driven. If you think about multiple points of view as an extension of story structure instead of merely character selection, then you can dive deeper into genre expectations and what readers want. In CAST IN FIRELIGHT I focused in on the combination of romance and action since I wanted the book to be fun escapism.

Writing Bound by Firelight

When it came time to write the sequel, BOUND BY FIRELIGHT, I knew I wanted to keep Adraa and Jatin’s dual point of view because the story had become both of theirs. To suddenly cut out one or switch points of view entirely would have felt incomplete.

But instead of focusing on the multiple points of view as mostly a romantic devise, I used a more traditional fantasy narrative in which the two characters had their own plotlines. So instead of picking the best character point of view to hold a scene I was writing based on weaving two interlaced storylines. It held a new challenge for sure and in my opinion amped up the action and pacing.

Yes, point of view can be a simple choice. You can have one point of view or ten. But it’s more than a vehicle to get inside a character’s head. Point of view can shape and enhance the tropes, themes, and even the genre you are trying to execute.

Tips for writing multiple points of view:

  1. You might want to outline since multiple storylines are always harder than one and you will want to make sure the pacing isn’t too slow or too fast.
  2. You can find a character’s unique voice through writing and crafting your story so don’t be afraid to get the structure of multiple points of view plotted or drafted and then you can go back and edit to make sure each character sounds as they should.
  3. Don’t be afraid to write out of order if that is part of your process.
  4. Have a scene or chapter break when you need one. And I advise changing points of view with those breaks so as not to confuse readers.
  5. This is advice for all writing, but I think it applies well to multiple points of view storytelling. Arrive late and leave early. It’s always good when writing scenes to get to the heart of the scene as soon as possible and move to the next once you’ve captured that moment.
  6. Read in your genre to learn the purpose and common uses of multiple points of view. For instance, romance uses multiple points of view very differently than epic fantasy or thrillers.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Oak Moon Photography

Dana Swift started making up fantasy worlds when she was eleven years old and hasn’t stopped since. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned degrees in English and Advertising. While in college, Dana competed as a saber fencer and learned a thing or two about fighting, parrying and how it feels to fall in love with your sparring partner. She currently lives with said husband in Miami, Florida. Her YA Fantasy debut, Cast in Firelight will be published by Delacorte Press January 2021 and the sequel, Bound by Firelight, January 2022.

Social media links:

Twitter: @swift_dana

Instagram: @danaswiftbooks

TikTok: @danaswiftbooks

Website: www.danaswiftbooks.com

About Bound by Firelight

The heart-pounding sequel to Cast in Firelight, perfect for fans of epic, sweepingly romantic fantasy by Sabaa Tahir, Susan Dennard, and Mary E. Pearson.

After a magical eruption devastates the kingdom of Belwar, royal heir Adraa is falsely accused of masterminding the destruction and forced to stand trial in front of her people, who see her as a monster. Adraa’s punishment? Imprisonment in the Dome, an impenetrable, magic-infused fortress filled with Belwar’s nastiest criminals—many of whom Adraa put there herself. And they want her to pay.

Jatin, the royal heir to Naupure, has been Adraa’s betrothed, nemesis, and fellow masked vigilante . . . but now he’s just a boy waiting to ask her the biggest question of their lives. First, though, he’s going to have to do the impossible: break Adraa out of the Dome. And he won’t be able to do it without help from the unlikeliest of sources—a girl from his past with a secret that could put them all at risk.

Time is running out, and the horrors Adraa faces in the Dome are second only to the plot to destabilize and destroy their kingdoms. But Adraa and Jatin have saved the world once already. . . . Now, can they save themselves?

ISBN-13: 9780593124253
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 01/18/2022
Series: Wickery #2
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Cindy Crushes Programming: Pikachu Bookmarks, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

Things are getting worse again with the Pandemic. I am working on Pikachu Bookmark craft kits for next week. We do not know how things will be with school opening back up in our district. I plan to have this as an in person activity but I am also making the plans to have this be a craft kit as well. That way teens can grab and go if they want. In Illinois we have a mask mandate so that is helpful to use during this time. I want to say I used this video to come up with my process https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VN21QpM6HLk

Supplies Included in Kit

  • Instructions
  • Paper

Supplies Not Included in Kit

  • Scissors
  • Gel Pens (Fine Tip Sharpie would work)
  • Ruler
  • Wite-out

Directions for the teens

Step 1. Cut the paper in a 6 x 6 inch Square.

Step 2. Fold Square in half to form a triangle

Step 3. Fold  both sides of the triangle up  to form a square.  Then unfold.

Step 4. Fold one side of the Triangle down.

Step 5. Tuck in the sides into the folded triangle

Step 6. Use excess paper to cut rounded ears. Glue ears to sides of head.

Step 7. Draw two circles with black Gel Pen and fill them in. Then use Wite-out in the corner of the eyes. Make a nose line and a mouth. Use a red Gel Pen for the cheeks. You can then put it in your book once it dries.

And here are some additional posts on TLT about making bookmarks:

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.

Book Review: Spin Me Right Round by David Valdes

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, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

Bloomsbury. Dec. 2021. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781547607105.

Gr 9 Up–A modern-day gay teen time travels back to 1985 and wonders if he can help change the past without changing his future. Cuban American Luis Gonzalez, student body president, staff favorite, theater kid, principal’s secretary, and general busybody, has an irrepressibly large personality. A day student at a small, conservative boarding school, opinionated and confident Luis is out and proud. Luis’s big hope is to make his school allow people of any gender identity to go to functions as dates, mainly so he can attend prom with his boyfriend Cheng. But before that can happen, he gets knocked out and lands in 1985, suddenly attending school with his future parents. He’s less concerned with solving the problem of how he got there than with what he can do to solve the problems his new 1985-era friends encounter, especially when it comes to homophobia and the fate of his parents’ classmate Chaz. Interfering might change Chaz’s future for the better, but what will it mean for Luis’s own fate? The writing is snappy and conversational, but Luis’s voice sometimes comes off as “teenagery” in a way that feels forced. This engaging read is full of honesty, vulnerability, and truly funny moments, as well as equal parts bravery and potentially dangerous foolishness. Self-centered and prone to acting first and thinking later, Luis gains insight into the present through this trip to the past.

VERDICT An immersive story offering a unique look at second chances, acceptance, and progress.

Three Resources That Shaped the World of THE IVORY KEY, a guest post by Akshaya Raman

When I set out to write THE IVORY KEY, I wanted to write a fun fantasy adventure book with puzzles and treasure hunts and a fractured family. But as I began to infuse more elements of my own culture into the book, it became clear that I was going to be digging farther into India’s vast and fascinating history than I ever imagined. THE IVORY KEY isn’t a historical fantasy, but a lot of elements, small and large, did in fact come from the real world. Not all of what I researched actually made it into the book, but I wanted to share three resources that were invaluable in helping me build the world and story of THE IVORY KEY.

The Code Book by Simon Singh

When I was around 11 or 12 years old, visiting my grandparents in India, I found a book left behind by one of my uncles. I’d grown up reading the mystery books my parents passed down to me (Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, The Famous Five etc.) so of course I was immediately intrigued by something called The Code Book. The title alone seemed to promise curious secrets hidden within its pages, so I grabbed it and cracked it open at once. I didn’t realize at first that it was a nonfiction book detailing the history of cryptography, but it was so entrancing that I read the whole thing that summer, even though a lot of the historical context was lost on me at that time.

I didn’t realize how much of an impression this book left on me until I started working on THE IVORY KEY and I could recall with startling accuracy several passages on codes from this book. Some of the puzzles the siblings find—including a polyalphabetic substitution cipher—were things I originally learned about from The Code Book. And since then, I’ve reread it several times, incorporating additional details into THE IVORY KEY duology.

Sanrachna: Magic of Ancient Architecture

On a random day several years ago, as I was scrolling through Netflix, I stumbled onto a collection of docuseries created by Epic TV, an Indian television channel. I’d been spending hours researching Indian history online, trying to find answers to specific questions like “what did the inside of this fort look like?” or “what kind of food was common in this region in this time period?” I wanted to know these details so I could more accurately build the world of Ashoka, and I’d been struggling to find the specificity I wanted. And I was so shocked to discover that there were entire series devoted to answering exactly these questions, in a visual format, with explanations from actual historians and scholars.

There are several shows that I loved on Epic, but one that stood out to me was Sanrachna, which showcased the architecture of India. It delves not only into the history, but the engineering behind the constructions, explaining how ancient architects used science to naturally cool down buildings during the hot months or used the understanding of how sound travels to devise a clever alarm system where a small noise made in one part of the fort could be heard half a mile away. When I incorporated some of these elements into my world, I explained it away with magic. But the real magic is that these kinds of technological achievements actually existed in the real world centuries ago.

Family members

I wrote a book about a complex family so it feels unfair to not mention the ways in which my own family shaped the story I was trying to tell.

My maternal grandmother is recognized within our family and local community for preserving and chronicling a lot of old Tamil traditions. She is a wealth of knowledge and I loved being able to call her and ask her about archaic practices. She told me stories about fragrant wildflowers that grow on riverbanks, petals laden with tiny snakes that had to be carefully removed before they could be harvested. She told me about nearly forgotten herbal medicines and treatments for snake bites and other injuries and ailments. And she was very patient (and a bit bewildered) as she answered my many questions about the organization and structure of temples and how one might, say, break into one.

But another unexpected resource was a book written by my paternal great-grandfather, TG Aravamuthan, a scholar who studied ancient Indian coins. A few years ago, right as I was starting to work on THE IVORY KEY, my dad ordered a used copy of his grandfather’s book online. To our utter shock and delight, it turned out to be a signed copy—and even more surprisingly, the book talked about the influence of Mediterranean countries on Indian currency. While THE IVORY KEY takes place entirely in Ashoka, a country inspired by ancient India, their western neighbor, Lyria, is inspired by the old Greek and Roman empires. In a strange twist of fate, my great-grandfather had written about the very thing that I was researching at that moment, and I loved incorporating some of the details and motifs he wrote about into the world and currency of Ashoka.

Meet the author

Photo Credit: Emily Gillaspy

Akshaya Raman fell in love with writing when she wrote her first story at the age of ten. Though she graduated from UC Davis with a degree in biology, she gave up pursuing a career in science to write books. She is a co-founder and contributor to Writer’s Block Party, a group blog about writing and publishing, and has served on the planning teams of several book festivals. She lives in the Bay Area with an actual scaredy cat, and in her free time, she enjoys baking, traveling, and watching too much reality TV.


Instagram: @akshraman

Instagram | Twitter

About The Ivory Key

In this epic YA fantasy debut, magic, a prized resource, is the only thing between peace and war. When magic runs out, four estranged royal siblings must find a new source before their country is swallowed by invading forces. The first in an Indian-inspired duology that’s perfect for fans of There Will Come a DarknessThe Gilded Wolves, and We Hunt the Flame.Vira, Ronak, Kaleb, and Riya may be siblings, but they’ve never been close or even liked each other that much. Torn apart by the different paths their lives have taken, only one thing can bring them back together: the search for the Ivory Key, a thing of legend that will lead the way to a new source of magic. Magic is Ashoka’s biggest export and the only thing standing between them and war with the neighboring kingdoms—as long as their enemies don’t find out that the magic mines are nearly depleted.

The siblings all have something to gain from finding the Ivory Key, and even more to lose if they don’t. For Vira, the Ivory Key is the only way to live up to the legacy of her mother, the beloved former maharani. Ronak plans to get out of his impending political marriage by selling the Ivory Key to the highest bidder. Kaleb has been falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani, and this is the only way to clear his name. And Riya needs to prove her loyalty to the Ravens, the group of rebels that wants to take control away from the maharani and give it to the people. With each sibling harboring secrets and conflicting agendas, figuring out a way to work together may be the most difficult task of all. And in a quest this dangerous, working together is the only way to survive.

ISBN-13: 9780358468332
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/04/2022
Series: Ivory Key Duology
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Top 25 children’s titles at my school

If you work in an elementary school or are in the children’s department in a public library (or have kids of your own), you might be very familiar with the books on this list. This list reflects the top 25 titles in my elementary school library from September through December of 2021. As our list shows, graphic novels were hot (Raina Telegemeier/BSC and Dav Pilkey could put out a new book every week and kids would still be clamoring for more), and Wimpy Kid and various Minecraft books are still going strong.

Our list is probably very different from lists created in states other than Minnesota, as our list is heavy on books nominated for the Maud Hart Lovelace Award (Minnesota’s “read and vote” award for kids), which got lots of circulations (a fact aided by the pizza party kids who read a certain number of these books are able to earn). The titles on this award list included entries 8, 9, 16, 17, 20, and 22 on our top 25 list.

What was hot at your school (elementary, middle, or high school) this year? Share your lists in our comments or find me on Twitter @CiteSomething. 

  1. [ Book ] Guts Telgemeier, Raina.
  2. [ Book ] Dog Man : Fetch-22 Pilkey, Dav.
  3. [ Book ] Dog Man and Cat Kid Pilkey, Dav,
  4. [ Book ] Cat Kid comic club Pilkey, Dav,
  5. [ Book ] Minecraft combat handbook Milton, Stephanie.
  6. [ Book ] Diary of a Wimpy Kid : The Deep End Kinney, Jeff.
  7. [ Book ] Dog Man : Mothering Heights Pilkey, Dav.
  8. [ Book ] From the Desk of Zoe Washington Marks, Janae.
  9. [ Book ] Inkling Oppel, Kenneth.
  10. [ Book ] Minecraft essential handbook Milton, Stephanie.
  11. [ Book ] Dog Man : Lord of the Fleas Pilkey, Dav,
  12. [ Book ] Ghosts Telgemeier, Raina.
  13. [ Book ] Minecraft construction handbook Needler, Matthew.
  14. [ Book ] Dog Man : For Whom the Ball Rolls Pilkey, Dav.
  15. [ Book ] Dog Man : Grime and Punishment Pilkey, Dav.
  16. [ Book ] When Stars are Scattered Jamieson, Victoria.
  17. [ Book ] Max and the Midknights Peirce, Lincoln.
  18. [ Book ] Dog Man : Brawl of the Wild Pilkey, Dav.
  19. [ Book ] Dog Man : A Tale of Two Kitties Pilkey, Dav.
  20. [ Book ] The Doughnut Fix Janowitz, Jessie.
  21. [ Book ] Drama Telgemeier, Raina.
  22. [ Book ] Blended Draper, Sharon M.
  23. [ Book ] Smile Telgemeier, Raina.
  24. [ Book ] The Baby-Sitters Club : Kristy’s Great Idea Telgemeier, Raina.
  25. [ Book ] Baby-sitters little sister. 3, Karen’s worst day Farina, Katy,