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Ballet and Rock & Roll – and Writing Beyond What You Know, a guest post by Brianna Bourne

The first time I saw Swan Lake, I was eleven, sitting in the front row watching a red velvet curtain rise on darkness. A single beam of light revealed a blanket of what looked like snow on the stage. But it wasn’t snow—it was dry ice. The swans were folded over, hidden beneath it. As they rose up, the dry ice poured toward me, racing over the lip of the stage to cool my face like a breath of night.

A group of birds flying in the air

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(Swan Lake by Birmingham Royal Ballet. Image: Andrew Ross)

I didn’t know then that I’d one day work backstage for major ballet companies—that I’d be the one wearing a headset and calling the cues for the dry ice machine to turn on, for the lights to change, for the curtain to rise.

And I didn’t know that a few years after that, I’d publish a book with a main character who was an elite ballet dancer.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the old writing adage, “Write what you know.” On one hand, writing what you know can be a wonderful thing. There’s something so compelling about a story that peels back the curtain on a specialist hobby or profession. It’s pure magic when I read about a character who is an elite gymnast or a champion canoeist or a country music singer, and by the time I’ve turned the last page, I feel like I’m the gymnast or the racer or the singer.

Do I know ballet? Sure. I know the terminology, I can (very crudely) replicate a pas de chat or a penché, and I’ve been known to do a few chaînés if I find myself in a large empty room. When I wasn’t on tour, I spent forty hours a week in a rehearsal studio with jaw-droppingly talented dancers.

But I’m not a ballerina, by any stretch of the imagination. But that’s what writing is, right? A stretch of the imagination.

I certainly stretched the limits of “Write what you know” when I turned my love of 80s rock into my second main character’s talent/passion. For years as I drafted and revised, every car ride was filled with the electric, hair-raising energy of Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Dokken, Scorpions. I loved every second of that very serious book research.

A group of people posing for the camera

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(Guns N’ Roses)

“He was a punk, she did ballet” might have been enough to carry a lighter contemporary YA romance, but I blew the lid off writing what I knew when I decided my book would follow the last girl and boy in the world after they wake up to a silent, empty city.

But even that, somehow, felt like writing what I knew: I remember once, when I was sixteen or seventeen, I woke up long past noon to find my house empty. It was unnaturally quiet, and even the angle of the sun pouring in through the windows unsettled me. It turned out that my mom wasn’t far—out in the backyard having an argument with the A/C unit—but for a few heart-stopping minutes, it felt deeply wrong.

At their core, stories are a cookie-crumb trail of emotions. And we are all intimately familiar with the kaleidoscope of human emotion. Fear, love, hope, intrigue, skepticism, desperation, embarrassment—we are each witness to thousands of moments daily that make micro-impacts on our feelings. And that’s where I find myself writing what I know: in those moments where we get a concentrated dose of an emotion so pure it makes our breath catch.

I’m not an elite ballet dancer, and I’m not a rock musician. I haven’t woken up alone in an empty world. But I am a writer. And it’s my job to imagine situations and settings, to climb into a character’s body and mind and heart, and then somehow shape all of that into words on a page. Words that can miraculously transfer those tiny, concentrated moments of emotion to someone else.

So I’ll keep writing what I know—and what I don’t know. One day, maybe I’ll have a clearer answer on whether “Write what you know” is good writing advice.

But that day is not today.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Barnaby Aldrick

When Brianna Bourne is not writing, she works as a stage manager for ballet companies around the world. Originally from Texas, Brianna grew up in Indonesia and Egypt and now lives in England with her rock musician husband and their two daughters. You & Me At the End of the World is her debut novel. You can find out more about her on her website, and she can be followed on Twitter and Instagram.

About You & Me at the End of the World

This is no ordinary apocalypse…

Hannah Ashton wakes up to silence. The entire city around her is empty, except for one other person: Leo Sterling. Leo might be the hottest boy ever (and not just because he’s the only one left), but he’s also too charming, too selfish, and too much of a disaster for his own good, let alone Hannah’s.

Stuck with only each other, they explore a world with no parents, no friends, and no school and realize that they can be themselves instead of playing the parts everyone expects of them. Hannah doesn’t have to be just an overachieving, music-box-perfect ballerina, and Leo can be more than a slacker, 80s-glam-metal-obsessed guitarist. Leo is a burst of honesty and fun that draws Hannah out, and Hannah’s got Leo thinking about someone other than himself for the first time.

Together, they search for answers amid crushing isolation. But while their empty world may appear harmless . . . it’s not. Because nothing is quite as it seems, and if Hannah and Leo don’t figure out what’s going on, they might just be torn apart forever.

ISBN-13: 9781338712636
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 07/20/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Moments with TLT; By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Teen Librarian Toolbox has been a part of my life for the past ten years. That means my mom must have started this whole website when I was just eight years old. Obviously, I have not been writing full posts for that long, but TLT has been such a large part of my life. It has given me so many moments and books to look back on, so that’s what I’m going to do.

All the book events– I have been to multiple book events where I have gotten to sit through panels of some of my favorite authors and talk to some of them. Not many people get to go to as many panels as I’ve been to, and it’s such a great pleasure. Just sitting there and seeing them is always so special. I’ve even been able to hug some of them and have them talk to me. It’s like a little reader’s dream.

Receiving so many books– I have always been an avid reader, and because of TLT there is never a shortage of books in our house. Whenever I feel like reading I can just go to the cart of books and know that there will be something new in whatever genre I feel like reading. It’s like a never ending supply, and my mom has already made a promise to continue sending some of them to me while I’m away at college.

Riley’s favorite author is A. S. King, whom she has met twice and has a small collection of a large number of titles from her. One day she hopes to get a complete collection.

ARC Parties– It’s been so long since one of these has been done, but I still remember doing them. Sitting at the kitchen counter and reading out the summaries and laughing or thinking about how interesting a book sounded. It was always good fun and I knew after that I would take a stack of those books back to my room and start reading one later on.

The special feeling– I’ve gotten letters from some of the authors who’s books I’ve read, and it always made me feel so special. It always meant so much to me knowing that they knew I was reading their books and they wanted me to enjoy their book. I still have those letters and all the signed bookmarks and other things. I love every single one of those items.

Riley, Kylie and A. S. King

The signed books– After the signed bookmarks, there was usually a signed book. I have a whole shelf filled with books that have been signed. Their kept separately from my other books because a good portion of them are made out to me. A lot of my favorite comfort reads are on that shelf, like Puddin’ by Julie Murphy and I Crawl Through It by A.S. King. I wish I could take all of them to college with me, but at least I know they’ll always be waiting for me back at home.

Actually talking to the authors– Because of TLT I have been able to talk to actual authors. I have had whole conversations with some of them. I have interviewed Sarah Dessen and April Henry. I mean, how many kids get to do that? Those were big moments for me, and I will never forget them.

The friendship– I share the books I read with my friends. After I finish reading one I usually send it to my friend so she can read it too. We text about those people just need to kiss already or how annoying that one character is. We’ve also probably used our shared love of reading to get on the good side of some English teachers, just in case. Reading is a huge part of our friendship, and I’m sure it always will be.

Mom– Our shared love of reading is actually really big to my mom and I. We go to book events together and read a lot of the same books. It gives us something to talk about and bring us closer together.

More mom– Also, TLT has given my mom a space where she can talk about the things she loves. It’s so nice to see her doing she loves.

Finally, the support– I have gotten so much from the people who read TLT. I have received advice about college and well-wishes and even money. All of it has helped so much as I’m about to undergo a huge change in my life and I am extremely grateful. In case you missed it, here’s me saying thank you.

TLT has been a part of my life that has given so much to me. I hope it continues to be that large part of my life for much longer. These ten years have been filled with so much love and support, and I’m glad I’ve had that.

Collaboration is the Key: Notes from Co-Writing an Early Chapter Book Series, a guest post by Laura Brown and Elly Kramer

Although many great reads are penned by a single author, collaboration has been key to our writing process. We both got our start in children’s educational television where there is often a writer’s room. Under the leadership of a show’s creator(s), team members contribute ideas about character, setting, and story, and often provide notes at every stage in the scripting process. Because of this background, collaboration felt like the natural way to write an early chapter book series, too.

Educators and business leaders have emphasized the importance of collaboration for some time now. 21st Century learning identifies collaboration as one of the primary learning and innovation skills for the future (P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning). According to research from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (2018), more than 80 percent of mid to large size employers prioritize collaboration skills in new hires.  Here’s the story of how our collaboration came to be and the benefits it has afforded us.

A partnership is formed

Like so many great partnerships, ours was formed in the ladies room!  We were in Toronto, participating in a writer’s room for a new television series. Elly was serving as Development Executive and Laura was Curriculum and Research Director. But we both secretly wanted to write scripts, too. When we ended up together in the ladies room, Elly popped the question, “Do you want to write scripts with me?” The answer was “Yes!” and the deal was sealed.  

Inspiration for Trillium Sisters

After we had written four scripts together, we started to explore other ideas. Elly had always wanted to write about families. It felt like a universally appealing starting point.  Although every family is different, we all have one! Plus, we know how important and grounding family is for  our readers.

We both were excited, too, to explore what we call modern princess magic –strong girls solving their own problems. But we wanted there to be strong men and boys, too, all working together to raise each other up. That’s why we created a family with three sisters and a little brother headed by a nurturing father.

When Laura went skiing in Colorado, she found a world for this family. She was enjoying a gentle run down the mountain when she came upon a beautiful stand of Douglas Firs.  She found herself imagining who might live beyond those trees. Perhaps there was a village where people lived in treehouses, ziplined to work, and felt completely connected to the animals and nature on the mountain. Laura wanted every child to experience this beautiful alpine world. When she returned and told Elly about the setting, Elly was just as excited. With the world, characters and major themes settled, we began to brainstorm story ideas.

The Nitty Gritty: How We Write Together

Crafting an entire book series is different, of course, than writing a script. Through trial and error, we’ve found a process that preserves the benefits of co-writing but also ensures efficiency and consistency in the writing.

First, we brainstorm story ideas together. Because we live far apart, this often involves a zoom meeting and huge steaming cups of coffee. But it’s a lot of fun, probably our favorite part of the process.

Once we find an idea we both love, we outline the story together. This is a long process and involves a great deal of revision. When we feel we have the main beats of the story, one of us then takes primary responsibility for writing the book. This works well because we’re writing a series. We each take primary writing responsibility for half the books. While one person writes, the other acts like an editor, reading and revising what’s produced. The editor might punch up the dialogue, suggest a plot turn, or help the primary author get “unstuck” when she reaches an unexpected obstacle.

What We’ve Learned

As we reflect on what has and hasn’t worked well, there are some clear takeaways. First, choose your partner(s) thoughtfully. The most helpful partners have strengths that don’t duplicate but complement your own.  Second, speak your thoughts aloud. Your partner can’t guess what you’re thinking! Share the half-baked idea you just can’t get out of your head. Research shows discussion helps collaborators find connections among seemingly disparate ideas (Sparks, 2017). Also, remember to tell your partner what’s important to you and discuss conflicts as soon as they arise. And finally, be sure to ‘Yes and’ your partner. ‘Yes anding’ means accepting what someone says and then building on it. We have found ‘yes and’ leads to hidden gems that might not be apparent in the original idea.

Our book series, Trillium Sisters, is about three sisters who are learning to work together and find greater strength through teamwork. That’s what we’ve been doing, too, in our collaborative writing. Our partnership has helped us to be more creative and accountable. Most importantly though, we’ve enjoyed the writing more because it’s a shared experience. We wish you and your students happy and fruitful writing collaborations.


P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning. A network of battelleforkids. Framework brief. Retrieved from: https://www.battelleforkids.org/networks/p21/frameworks-resources

Sparks, S.D. (2017). Children must be taught to collaborate, studies say. Education Week. Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/leadership/children-must-be-taught-to-collaborate-studies-say/2017/05

Watson, C.E. and McConnell, K.D. (2018). What really matters for employment? Association of American Colleges and Universities Liberal Education, 104(4). Retrieved from: https://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/2018/fall/watson_mcconnell

Meet the authors

Trillium Sisters is co-written by educational television veterans, Laura Brown and Elly Kramer. You can follow them on instagram at @laurabrownauthor and @ellykramerauthor.

Laura, an educational psychologist, has served as Content Expert or Curriculum Director on over 50 children’s television series at Nick Jr., Disney Junior, Netflix, Spin Master Entertainment and many others worldwide. She is currently Curriculum Director at WarnerMedia Preschool/Cartoonito. Laura resides in Northern New Jersey, but in another life she would gladly live in a treehouse in the forest.

Elly is a senior creative executive with over 19 years of experience leading the development of innovative content. She is currently Head of Animation for Imagine Entertainment’s Kids and Family division. Previously, she was VP of Production and Development with Nickelodeon. A lifelong New Yorker, Elly currently resides in Los Angeles.

Sunday Reflections: On the Launch, sending your child to college and letting them be themselves – a guest post by Amianne Bailey

When Riley was in the 3rd grade, she joined a Girl Scout Troop for a year. Though she didn’t like being a Girl Scout, she met and became best friends with a young girl named Landry. Landry is amazing and we love her.

The two of them recently graduated together and their friendship has been a blessing. Landry is the daughter of an amazing high school librarian, Amianne Bailey. These two girls have a lot in common: readers, daughters of teen librarians . . . and they both struggle with anxiety. Like Riley, Landry has chosen to be open about her struggles in order to help raise awareness and decrease stigma. With Landry’s permission, Amianne recently wrote an essay about raising a child with anxiety and getting ready to send that child to college.

This is a powerful and important essay and I hope you will read it so today we are doing Sunday Reflections a bit differently and I am asking you to please read this post . . .

TLT Turns 10: Thing 2’s Top 10 Favorite Graphic Novels

As you know, my 12-year-old, sometimes called Scout and sometimes called Thing 2 (neither of which are her real name), has dyslexia. She has bravely chosen to talk openly about it here and in her life to raise awareness and because she doesn’t want to feel shame and thinks that no one else should. 1 in 5 people have dyslexia, and she just happens to be one of them. So she doesn’t love reading, but she has recently developed a fondness for graphic novels. She has shared her thoughts on them over the last few years and today she wants to share her Top 10 for the 10 year anniversary of TLT. Like a lot of people with dyslexia, she also doesn’t love writing either, so we have created this gallery for you without comment. I will tell you as a youth services librarian, middle grade graphic novels are hugely popular and the titles on this list are all great choices and not just popular with my tween/teen, but a lot of them. To learn more about dyslexia and to read Scout’s story, visit our Dyslexia Dashboard here at TLT.

TLT Turns 10: The Top 10 YA Books I’ve Read of the Last 10 Years, by Karen Jensen

Today is the day! 10 years ago today, I wrote the very first post here at TLT. I thought I would end this week of celebration by talking about the books. I have always been a reader, so the books are one of my favorite parts of both librarianship and this blog. In the last 25+ years as a teen librarian, I have literally reads 1,000s of YA books. I know because up until last year, I kept track and I was well over 3,500. So here are my favorite books of every year for the past 10 years. I am not a person who does well with favorites, so I cheated and added a lot of honorable mentions.

2011 : Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Contestants on the way to the “Miss Teen Dream” contest crash on an island and have to find a way to survive, both the elements and each other. This feminist take on Lord of the Flies is by far one of the funniest novels I have ever read while also being deeply profound and moving. Do yourself a favor and listen to the audio read by the author, Libba Bray. This is Riley’s go to comfort book when she needs to be cheered up.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Hourglass by Myra McEntyre – Great for fans of Doctor Who
  • Human.4 by Mike Lancaster – Save the bees, but it feels like a Twilight Zone episode
  • Legend by Marie Lu – When dystopian was strong
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver – love is outlawed in this other favorite dystopian
  • Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King – one of A. S. King’s first and best looks at trauma and who am I kidding, it’s A. S. King and I love it

2012 : Ask the Passengers by A. S. King

A teenage lesbian named Astrid talks to the planes that pass overhead as she wrestles with self acceptance in a small town full of gossip. This is by far the most profound reading experience I have ever had. Riley and I are both huge fans of A. S. King and I know that this novel is one that we have both read more than once. A moving exploration of what it means to be human.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater – just beautifully written look at family, friendship and magic
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – The only historical fiction novel I like, best friendship ever
  • The Immortal Rules by Kendara Blake – amazing take on vampires and what it means to be human with a great discourse on what happens if we ban reading
  • This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers – If zombies existed in The Breakfast Club
  • A Bad Day for Voodoo by Jeff Strand – 2 boys chase down a voodoo doll while it’s being used against them in this hilarious novel

2013 : The Archived by Victoria Schwab

There exists a library of souls and the keeper’s job is to help make sure they don’t escape the archives into our world. This is such a fantastic twist on libraries and a great read for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Doctor Who.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black – another great take on vampires
  • Canary by Rachel Alpine – a searing look at one of the most infamous sexual violence cases in high school history
  • Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller – a heartbreaking look at the long term effects of sexual violence and childhood trauma
  • Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian – a compelling tale of a young man who wrestles with unlearning toxic masculinity
  • This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales – friendship, family and the power of music

2014 : A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

The town is Midnight Gulch, a place where magic used to exist. The girl is 12-year-old Felicity, who has moved around a lot and now they have come here, a place her momma used to call home. It is here and now that Felicity learns about friendship, family, magic, and hope. Technically, this is a middle grade novel. But it is my go-to-recommendation for anyone looking for a joyful read, a hopeful read, or a family read. This is a book that will remind you of childhood favorites as it becomes a new family favorite.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Uses for Boys by Erica Loraine Webb – a heartbreaking and far too real look at what life can be like for teen girls in this world
  • Panic by Lauren Oliver – an elaborate game of truth or dare highlights the desperation that teens in small towns feel to try and escape poverty and small town life
  • Noggin by John Corey Whaley – Like The Breakfast Club, but set in a time where we can transplant a healthy head on a different body, which causes a lot of wrestling with identity
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King – Girls eat bat dust and imagine a future where they lose reproductive rights in this far too eerily real feminist novel
  • Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican – There are a lot of great books out there about bullying, but this one talks about the fact that sometimes, teachers are the bullies as well

2015 : More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Aaron Soto wants to forget the love of his life, so he heads to the Leteo Institute in an attempt to have his memory erased. But the heart can not always forget, no matter how much we want it to. This is a glorious, heartfelt speculative fiction novel that also highlights what it is like to live in very real poverty. Older readers will recall Sunshine of the Spotless Mind but this is a moving and original tale about love, loss, and trying to accept yourself in a world that very much does not want you to.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle – A dystopian with religious cult highlights
  • The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes – another twisted tale about cults and feminism
  • The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds – a simple and beautiful exploration of grief and character
  • Hit by Delilah Dawson – a searing take on capitalism where the banks that own your debt turn teens into hitmen to work of said debt
  • The Accident Season by Moria Fowley-Doyle – a beautiful, lyrical look at family secrets and lies

2016 : Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston

In the aftermath of her rape, head cheerleader Hermione wrestles with abortion, her classmates, and the idea of justice. Johnston has said that this book is a fantasy because it’s everything she wishes would happen after a girl has been raped. A powerful testament to friendship, resilience, and finding justice in a world in which far too few survivors of sexual violence and rape get justice.

Honorable Mentions:

  • This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab – my favorite take on monsters and politics, ever
  • The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis – a revenge fantasy for every survivor of sexual assault
  • Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova – after making her family accidentally disappear, a girl journeys into a magical realm to try and save them
  • And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich – one of the creepiest haunted life stories I have ever read
  • Rocks Fall Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar – I love a good this town is weird story
  • Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley – a great look at mental health issues in the lives of teens

2017 : Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

When Will’s older brother is killed, he wants revenge. And he knows just how to do it. But in one long elevator ride down to exact that revenge, he sees how the cycle of violence is never ending and is forced to reconsider the rules he lives his life by. Told entirely in verse, this is a profoundly amazing novel that looks at revenge and the cycle of violence in the life of our youth.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson – the most mind blowing twist ever written
  • We Are Okay by Nina LaCour – a beautiful exploration of grief
  • Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu – a fun, fabulous feminist read (see also another favorite of this year, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed)
  • The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy – another great this town is cursed read
  • Sadie by Courtney Summers – uses the popular concept of podcasts to explore a mystery and feminism

2018 : Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Tiffany D. Jackson is arguably one of the greatest YA authors writing right now. And she is queen of the plot twist. Claudia is the only one who seems to notice that her friend, Monday, is missing. So she tries to get the adults, the police, her teachers – anyone really – to help her find her friend in this exploration of a world in which Black girls go missing far too often and no one wants to do anything about it. It’s a moving exploration of missing Black girls and how the media doesn’t seem to care. It’s also one of the very few YA novels that talk about Dyslexia.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – a profoundly moving novel of identity written in verse
  • Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand – another this town is cursed novel, with feminism; great for Stephen King fans
  • Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson – a great friendship story, if you and your friends were witches and you had to raise your friend from the dead because issues
  • White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig – a mystery that looks at the opioid epidemic

2019 : The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

What if everything you thought you knew about your life, your town, and even your family was a lie? Girls have a very specific role to play and rules to follow in Garner County, and Tierney James is not a fan of them. They don’t feel right. But she is placed outside the community with others during what is called The Grace Year, and here they learn shocking truths about what it means to be a girl, about violence, and about the lies that run and ruin their lives.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Internment by Samira Ahmed – a look at anti-Muslim hate through the lens of a dystopia that reads as far too possible in current times
  • Wilder Girls by Rory Power – a science fiction and feminist take on Lord of the Flies that will disturb you
  • Heroine by Mindy McGinnis – small town life, girls in sports, and the opioid epidemic come together in this moving contemporary tale
  • Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson – Anderson shares herself in verse in this beautiful look at finding your voice after surviving sexual violence
  • I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones – this novel set in a day combines with Black Lives Matter for this moving contemporary novel that looks at police violence
  • Dig by A. S. King – the way all the pieces come together will always blow my mind in this surrealistic exploration of toxic families and white privilege

2020 : We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

In the midst of cultural discussions about refugees and immigrants, Sanchez writes a searingly honest and painful novel about what it means to flee your home and try to find sanctuary in the United States, and what that journey looks like. Jenny Torres Sanchez is one of my favorite YA authors of melancholy explorations of grief, and she really hit it out of the park with this timely novel.

Honorable Mentions:

  • You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson – if you are looking for pure joy, you will find it here
  • Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold – one of the best fairy tale retellings
  • The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes – for fans of The Westing Game, a fun mystery with twists, puzzles to solve, and Barnes witty dialogue
  • Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson – one of the best books that highlight what grooming looks like
  • Punching the Air by Iba Anu Zoboi – many books talk about how art can heal, and this one does so while also talking about incarceration

2021 : The Nature of Witches by Rachel M. Griffin

What if witches were the key to saving the world from Climate Change? I love this interesting take on witches that also explores Climate Change, grief and guilt. Each type of witch controls a different season, except for Clara. Clara is an Everwitch, the first in a century. So she controls all of the seasons, but it’s a power she doesn’t want because it has caused her great grief. When the world is on the verge of destruction from climate change, everyone needs Clara to use her powers, but she very much wants to get rid of them because of what they have cost her.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Off the Record by Camryn Garrett – a moving exploration of body acceptance and dealing with trauma
  • The Taking of Jake Livingston – a fantastically creepy book with a Black boy who sees ghosts
  • The Project by Courtney Summers – another fantastic exploration of cults and feminism
  • Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley – a mystery that explores the world of sports and the opioid epidemic while exploring the very real and long term effects of grief

And there you have it, a look at some of my favorite YA reads of the last 10 years. This was actually pretty hard, because there are a lot of great YA book out there. There are a lot of other books I love that didn’t get mentioned, because I could be here all night – or for another 10 years – talking about YA lit. Seriously, YA lit is amazing (and not a genre!) What books would be on your list? Leave us a comment and let us know. We love talking about books! And here’s to another 10 years of reading and reviewing books here at TLT. Thank you for taking this journey with us.

Also, check out Amanda MacGregor’s Top 10 List for more great reads, because there are a lot of books here I love as well: https://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2021/07/tlt-turns-ten-ten-fav-books-ive-reviewed/

TLT Turns 10: 10 of My Favorite Programs Shared on TLT

I currently don’t do a lot of library programming, but I have done 1,000s of library programs, many of which I have shared here on TLT. Here’s a little secret for you: I actually share my program ideas and outlines here so I have easy access to them for the future. I repeat programs all the time, because why not. And I’m not the only one who shares programs here. In fact, teen librarian Cindy Shutts shares programs the first and third Wednesday of every month with her regular Cindy Crushes Programming column. So today, I’m going to share 10 of my favorite tween and teen programs that we have shared here on TLT.

The Summer of Shirts

When I do presentations and I have to introduce myself one of the things that I share is that I know more than 22 ways to change, upcycle, or decorate a shirt – because I do! And one summer, I hosted a summer of shirts in my teen makerspace. This proved to be one of the most successful program series I have ever hosted. I have always found that teens like craft programs where they get to be creative and self expressive AND they get to take something home. Shirts are a great take home!

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

I love button making so much, I own my own button maker! Just as I know more than 22 different ways to make a t-shirt, I know tons of ways to make buttons. In fact, I have found that tweens and teens like having specific button making challenges, so when I found the idea of challenge cards, I jumped!

Virtual Escape Rooms (by Cindy Shutts)

In 2020 when libraries closed, everyone had to scramble to figure out how to still engage teens and keep them safe. Cindy Shutts has been sharing her virtual escape rooms here and I love them! She does such a great job. I think that every library should continue to offer some virtual programs when libraries re-open and virtual escape rooms are a great way to do this.

Live Angry Birds (by Heather Booth)

An important part of teen librarianship is knowing what’s hot and figuring out how to turn it into a program. Former TLTer Heather Booth did just that in 2011 when Angry Birds was super popular. After she blogged about it, I did this program several times at my library and it was fun! It was also cheap!

Instagram Scrapbook

One day I really worried that we weren’t doing enough to promote books in our teen makerspace, so we found ways to make them! And with the popularity of Instagram, it wasn’t hard to find resources to make this happen. It took everything we loved – sharpie art, duct tape crafts, and photography – and turned them into something we love even more: books!

Look, We Made a Lego Wall

Several things surprised me when I started using Legos as part of my MakerSpace programming. One, I was stunned to learn how expensive they can be. Two, I was surprised to learn how many tweens and teens had never played with Legos, in part because of revelation #1. I was also surprised to learn how much tweens and teens needed more specific directions when you offered them Legos. This is, in fact, how I found and began the challenge cards I mentioned above with the button making. If you are going to offer Legos, I recommend having daily specific challenges.

Mini Book Charm Bracelets (by Cindy Shutts)

Jewelry making is a great program because you get to take stuff home. And I love how Cindy turned a popular YA series into book themed jewelry. This is such a great craft idea. And yay for books!

DIY Do Not Disturb Door Spinner (by Kara DeCarlo)

Every once in a while, a librarian contacts me and says hey, can I do a guest post about x, y or z. And if we can make it happen, we do. This DIY Do Not Disturb Door Spinner came about because of the pandemic and everyone trying to do Zoom school, but it’s actually great for any time. Teens love privacy and I think it’s a great idea. Don’t want your sibling knocking on your door because you are doing homework, trying to sleep, or whatever? This door spinner is right for you! It would be a great addition to one of my other favorite programs: Renovate Your Room.

DIY Neon Signs

A lot of the program things I have done over the years have been craft related, and as cheap as possible. But this one time, I did something more expensive and high tech and it was super cool! In fact, I made a neon Space sign which still hangs up in Thing 2’s room. That’s pretty awesome.

Get to Know Your Library (Library Boot Camp)

One of the library’s I had the honor of working at had a really well established library program that they hosted every year to get 6th graders into the library and teach them how to use the various resources. It was also a great way to transition the elementary kids to the teen services center. I’m not going to lie, it was a lot of work and required a lot of staff and a lot of staff time, but it was a pretty great program. The only thing I would change is that if I was doing this program now, I would probably call it something different. I like the program itself, but I’m pretty hesitant personally to promote things around the framework of war, and I say this as the proud military kid of a veteran.

So there you have it, 10 of my favorite programs that we have shared here on TLT. In one way or another, I love something about all of them. And if I was making this list again next year, I might have a different one. But today, this is my Top 10 Programs. What programs have you loved that we have shared here on TLT? We’d love to know, so please share in the comments.

TLT TURNS TEN: Ten peeks into my office

Not much “fun” has come out of the pandemic times, but one fun thing, for me, has been being able to peek into people’s offices, libraries, and other work spaces on Zoom calls or virtual book launches and panels. If I had to make a list of my favorite activities, eavesdropping and spying would make the top ten. Getting to see in spaces we otherwise likely would not see is fun. And the more I saw people working and presenting from home, the more I wanted to see everyone’s setups. So here are a few pictures of where I spend my time working on TLT stuff. Most of our home is very minimalist, but my office is a playland full of toys and fun.

The nosy Gladys Kravitz in me wants to see your workspaces, too! So share with me!

I basically spent a year and a half seated here, doing stuff for TLT and SLJ, writing, facilitating distance learning, and endlessly scrolling Twitter.

You are never too old to really, really love toys.

How I keep my TLT TBR list organized. Incoming book mail gets tweeted and blogged about, flipped through, sorted in piles, and eventually all given away.

There are many SAY ANYTHING things scattered throughout my office. Best movie ever.

Told you.

Poster of Minnesota independent bookstores and a Good Boy Squad tote bag at the ready. Oh, and a little hat for my dogs to have to wear if they’re celebrating something.

A favorite toy in my office.

My dachshund-based art work created by me, grade kindergarten, and my grandma, who was a third grade teacher (and who was actually my husband’s third grade teacher!).

Notebook hoarding area.

Every second I’m in my office, I’m kept company by Oscar, the weird space goblin all crashed out, and Edward, a regal old dachshund.

Teen Program in a Box: Nostalgia and Stuffed Animals

Since this week is all about nostalgia and we look back at 10 years of TLT, I thought I would share with you a program outline for a program that taps deep into nostalgia. It begins with a stuffed elephant named Pinkerton.

Pinkerton, in the before times

Pinkerton is a pink stuffed elephant that my dad won for me at a county fair when I was around 7. It has traveled with me for 40 years from state to state and home to home and as you can see, she is well loved. So I recently decided to try and do some Doc McStuffins like rehab for my beloved friend.

Viva Ventina @viva.ventina is a popular Tik Toker who helped rehab stuffed animals. There have been some write ups about her online and she is a popular and great resource of information: https://www.dailyadvent.com/news/bcbc839611a209bf8c85d5f21cffcb66-TikToks-Viva-Valentina-Restores-Stuffed-Animals-and-Childhoods-at-the-Same-Time

There is also a British show called The Repair Shop that you can watch on Netflix that talks about restoring all kinds of family treasures, including on occasion stuffed animals. I thought my kids would hate this show but they both loved it.

So, here’s what I did and then after I walk you through the steps, I will share my program ideas.

Supplies Needed:

  • 1 well loved stuffed animal in need of repair
  • Seam ripper
  • Stuffing
  • DAWN dish washing detergent
  • Matching thread
  • Sewing needle
  • Optional: A wash basin, hair dryer, towels

To begin, we gently ripped a seam out of the back of Pinkerton and removed the stuffing. It was old, gross and disintegrating. You’ll want to have a trash can nearby to throw it directly into.

I then gently washed Pinkerton in the sink using cool water and Dawn dishwashing detergent. I figured if Dawn is good for those oil covered baby ducks, it was probably safe for Pinkerton. I didn’t use a lot. To do this in a library space, I would use a small sink basin prepared with cool water and soap. And if I had the space, I would do it outside.

I then let Pinkerton mostly air dry. At the end I did get impatient and use a blow dryer to finish, but she was mostly dry at that stage.

We then re-stuffed Pinkerton using doll stuffing we bought at the local craft store. We used Polyster stuffing. You can read more about doll stuffing here: https://www.funkyfriendsfactory.com/blog/toy-stuffing/. Because of the sentimental value of Pinkerton to me, I also printed a picture of my dad and I and placed it inside.

We then gently sewed her back up. And Tim wants you to know by we I mean he did. Tim sewed Pinkerton back up for me.

This is what she looked like after all of those steps were completed.

She was firmer and sat up better, and was slightly cleaner. But as you can see, there were still a few problem areas. Over the next few days I would gently brush her out with first a comb and later a gentle brush. This is what she looks like now.

I am so happy to have my Pinkerton back in a huggable form. This memory is so important to me.

But wait, you are thinking: What does this have to do with teen programming? Well, both of my girls and many of my tweens and teens have beloved stuffed animals. And even now, they are sharing some real love, by which I mean wear and tear. So I think this is definitely a program idea that you can do with teens, just walking them through the steps of reviving a beloved stuffie with the help of a famous TikToker.

But you can take this a few steps farther with teens:

You can set up a photo booth and teach them how to take photos of their stuffies. Or them and their favorite stuffies.

You can teach them how to make stop motion pictures using their favorite stuffed animals.

If you want to go a much cooler and more morbid route with old toys, you can do FrankenToys, where you take bits of pieces of old toys and make new ones.

Have a Toy Story marathon in the background while you talk about, share, and revive your favorite childhood toys. The teen years are really interesting, teens are not yet adults and no longer really children, so I have found that they often like to have “nostalgia” like programs that allows them, for just a moment longer, to rest in the safe space of childhood.

TLT TURNS TEN: Ten Pieces of Media that are NOT Books to Check Out

I’m going to tell you something that may be surprising: I don’t JUST read all the time. It certainly seems, sometimes, like I do. I have always been a voracious reader for a couple of reasons. One, I love books. Period. I love them. And two, I love to use books to pull me out of real life and distract me. So, while I’ve been on leave from work this past year and also coaching my teen through his first year of high school and also just trying to SURVIVE all the everything, I’ve read more than ever.

But I do other things than read. I mean, I obviously do lots of other things than read, but most of it is boring. However, consuming media in other forms is not. I listen to a ton of podcasts (because I like them, I like learning, and also I cannot handle silence because my anxiety brain tries to eat itself in the quiet), and I watch a small handful of shows (usually over and over—another anxiety trick). I figure if I input enough stuff into my brain, I’ll drown out all the noise. That’s how it works, right?

Here are a few of my favorite media things. Check them out, if you’re not already a fan!


Depresh Mode

Conversations about mental health hosted by one of my favorite radio people. I adored John’s previous podcast, The Hilarious World of Depression (and the book, and Wits, and on and on). This drops on Mondays and in my head I always think, “Oooh, Depresh Mode Monday!” which means I get to listen to the new episode at the gym, which helps make me go to the gym.

Terrible, Thanks for Asking

What, am I only going to recommend podcasts made my Minnesotans? Maybe.

Terrible, Thanks for Asking leaves me laughing and crying almost every episode. Tackles all the hard junk in life that happens to so many of us—loss, grief, disappointment, and how to pick yourself up again and plow forward after experiencing such hard things.

It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders

Sam Sanders does weekly wrap-ups of newsworthy events, has lots of really smart guests on to talk about topical things, and just brings so much humor and heart to his show.

Code Switch

Essential listening. Conversations about race and racism in all aspects of society. I can’t tell you how many other podcasts or books or songs or documentaries I’ve sought out because of this podcast. Sometimes I even listen to an episode twice to really absorb what I’m learning.

Judge John Hodgman

Low-stakes (as in mostly silly but always interesting) cases are brought before Judge John Hodgman and he decides the outcome. This is a podcast that I also always listen to at the gym (like Depresh Mode Mondays, I have JJHO Wednesdays) and figure I look like a real goofball as I grin to myself over the litigants and their always-entertaining cases.


Dark (Netflix)

Literally the best show I have ever watched. This is a German show and if you are able to read subtitles, I recommended you play the show in German and read along. The dubbed version wasn’t working for us. This absolutely brilliant show about time travel is extremely complex. The first time through, Matthew and I had to stop a million times to untangle what we understood to be happening. It is SO well done and perfectly crafted. I marvel at the amazing storytelling. WATCH THIS SHOW.

The Repair Shop (Netflix)

I’ll be honest, the pitch of “people repair some old things” didn’t really grab my interest, but a few of my closest friends were super into this, so I gave it a try. And became obsessed. Do you like cozy things? This is cozy. These charming British artisans, who are absolutely masters in their fields, repair well-loved items. It’s fascinating to watch them work and rather mind-boggling what they can do.

The Baby-Sitters Club (Netflix)

I am a lifelong BSC superfan. This new series is so great. It’s so comforting to watch this stories I know so well and see them given a modern update. I cried multiple times on my first viewing. I’ve now watched the series three times (which my teenage son makes fun of me about, but whatever, he’s watched many of the episodes with me). Love these girls, their friendship, and their lasting appeal.

What We Do in the Shadows (Hulu)

Three vampires who’ve been together hundreds of years, an energy vampire, and a vampire assistant (oh, poor Guillermo) live together in modern-day New York. I am an easy one to make cry (I mean, obviously, I’ve mentioned it like thirty times already) but hard to make laugh. We often have to pause this show because we’re laughing too hard. Super weird and super hilarious.

Living Single (Hulu)

Loved this series when it first ran and recently rewatched the whole thing. Such great actors, great writing, and great humor. Unlike Friends, which I also loved, this actually holds up well all these years later. And did you know that the fabulous Erika Alexander has a podcast, too? It’s called Reparations: The Big Payback. Check it out!