Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

A Life Already Saved: The Power Librarians Hold, a guest post by B. B. Alston

I was the quiet kid with the big imagination. I lived inside my head so much that often times people would be talking to me and I hadn’t heard a single word. When you grow up in situations where you don’t have a whole lot, where every day looks like the one before it and you stop hoping things will change, because they never do, sometimes retreating into yourself is the key to surviving. Because in your head there’s no one looking down on you and there aren’t any limits. The world can become more. As much as you need it to be. More fantastic. More incredible. More exciting than what you’re used to. And then I found a library.

First my elementary school library where the teacher who noticed that I couldn’t even afford to buy one book at the book fair handed me a copy of Where the Wild Things Are and even though I was older than the target age, much older, I can remember having that “Oh” moment. That moment that said for as hard as I had imagined to that point, I had not come close to conceiving creatures so wild as Maurice Sendak. It said to me that I could borrow the imaginations of others and exist in worlds I couldn’t even fathom yet. And I longed to feel that feeling, that “wild rumpus” in my heart and mind. To have my imagination so thoroughly expanded as that.

B. B. Alston in elementary school

And then that same librarian handed me Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, she had set it aside for me knowing I would come back eager for more. And in Charlie I found somebody I could wholly relate to because he was a kid who did not have much and yet he still hoped for grandness in his life. He dared to hope. There is a certain audacity that comes with hope, especially in bad times because you are essentially saying to your surroundings that you no longer see them. You are daring to see something else, a different place and circumstance even as your current circumstance laughs in your face. And when Charlie learned about that golden ticket, he went for it. And that told me that I could try too. That I should try.

I grew up. Went to college. Flunked out. Got married. Worked minimum wage jobs. Went back to college. I kept reading. And one day a friend I knew handed me Twilight. I was the typical guy about it, and like so many who bag on it and say it’s beneath them for this reason or that…I ended up reading all four books. I bought them the day they released. I had passionate discussions with my future wife about why Team Jacob was Team Settling. And it was sometime while reading those books, and defending those books, that it occurred to me that the most important job of a storyteller isn’t flowery words or perfect grammar. It’s to make the reader feel something. I looked back on all the books I’d loved and that idea seemed to check out.

And for the very first time, I thought, well maybe I could do that. I was certainly no wordsmith but I felt like I had read enough to be able to communicate what I was feeling onto the page and maybe just maybe have the reader feel it, too. I wrote an awful book, and then several more. They exist on shredded notebooks and files on my computer named “Kill it With Fire.” But I kept writing because once upon a time I had read a book that sparked my imagination, and another that taught me to dare to dream. And so I kept writing.

Eventually I’d be sitting down watching a movie I’d watched countless times before. Men in Black. And out of the blue I thought, well what if it wasn’t just aliens, what if all supernatural creatures existed? Not long after, this twelve-year-old girl with a big curly afro jumped into my head and told me in no uncertain terms that this was her story. I debated whether it really was her story because I had never read a fantasy book about a Black kid and was that even allowed? And even if it was allowed, who would want to read about a Black kid like me?

Somehow I found myself back at the Richland Public Library with my mom, and the librarian kept going on about this book she loved. It was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. But all of their copies were checked out. So I went to Amazon and read all of the praise and the great reviews. When I went to check out, it said people who buy this book also buy Dear Martin by Nic Stone. So I bought that, too. I devoured those books because for the first time I was reading about Black kids, and I knew the lingo, and the inside jokes, and they spoke the thoughts I was having every time I saw an unarmed Black person shot on the news. Every aspect of me was covered. And I had another “Oh” moment because I realized that I could leave in all the parts of myself I was taking out. It was freeing and thrilling and the next thing I knew I had written a book that got a book deal, and a movie deal, and would be published in 25 countries around the world. And I’m still reading.

I write this not to say that you as a teen librarian could hand a book to a future author but that, far more importantly, you could be handing some kid their survival. Their confidence. Their dream. I’m asking you to reach out and engage with that shy kid, that person who looks like they shouldn’t even be there, that kid who clearly would rather be anyplace else in the world. Because you have the power to change lives. To save lives. And I don’t say that to be hyperbolic, I say it as someone whose life was impacted most profoundly from people sharing with me a book they thought I might like. I say it as a life already saved.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Joshua Aaron Photography

B.B. Alston started writing in middle school, entertaining his classmates with horror stories starring the whole class where not everyone survived! After several years of trying to break into publishing, he had just been accepted into a biomedical graduate program when a chance entry into a twitter pitch contest led to his signing with TBA, 20+ book deals worldwide, and even a film deal. When not writing, he can be found eating too many sweets and exploring country roads to see where they lead.

B.B. was inspired to write AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS because he couldn’t find any fantasy stories featuring Black kids when he was growing up. He hopes to show kids that though you might look different, or feel different, whatever the reason, your uniqueness needn’t only be a source of fear and insecurity. There is great strength and joy to be found in simply accepting yourself for who you are. Because once you do so, you’ll be unstoppable. Learn more at https://www.bbalston.com and follow on social on Twitter @bb_alston and Instagram @bb_alston

B.B. recommends buying your books from The Book Dispensary.

About Amari and the Night Brothers

(check out Amanda’s review here.)

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

ISBN-13: 9780062975164
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Series: Supernatural Investigations , #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

On Overcoming Fears and Becoming Superheroes, a guest post by Christina Li

Image

I was quite a shy and fearful child. Speaking up in class terrified me. I wanted to become an author, but I was scared I wouldn’t know how to write. As one of the few Asian kids in my Midwestern hometown, I was reluctant to embrace the culture of my Chinese-American immigrant family. Time and time again, I found myself hesitant to fully accept my identity, and to pursue the things I loved to do out of the fear that I wouldn’t be good enough.

At the same time, I was becoming an avid reader, and for me, books were life-changing. I read about main characters going on epic adventures across space and time, developing incredible superpowers, and facing off against lunchtime bullies and monsters alike. I read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, a Chinese mythology-inspired fantasy with a resourceful and caring protagonist that helped me fall in love with my own Asian identity. As I read these books, I realized that these fictional kids I read about had lots of fears, just like I did. Over the course of their stories, they overcame these fears, little by little, to become bold, intrepid heroes. If they could do it, I could, too.

There are so many reasons why I wrote Clues to the Universe. I wanted to write about whimsical space comics. About dealing with loss. About families, born and found. But at the end of the day, I wanted to write about fearless characters and characters who overcome their fears to achieve extraordinary things. I wanted to write about a brilliant girl scientist, Ro, who is as proud of her Chinese-American identity as she is about her passion for rocket science, and who isn’t afraid to explore the unknowns of the world around her. I wanted to write about a shy artist, Benji, who admires comic book superheroes but isn’t sure of his own place in the world. Ultimately, I wanted to write about two kids who, in their budding friendship, learn to fight for the things they care about and for the people they love, to come into their own, and to become the superheroes of their own stories.

Meet Christina Li

Christina Li is a student studying economics at Stanford University. When she is not puzzling over her stats problem set, she is daydreaming about characters and drinking too much jasmine green tea. She grew up in the Midwest, but now calls California home. Clues to the Universe is her debut novel. Find her online at www.christinaliwrites.com.
Twitter: @CLiwrites Instagram: @christinaliwrites

About Clues to the Universe

Clues to the Universe

This #ownvoices debut about losing and finding family, forging unlikely friendships, and searching for answers to big questions will resonate with fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Rebecca Stead.

The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.

Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.

Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?

As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.

ISBN-13: 9780063008885
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/12/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Questioning Your History Lessons, a guest post by Diana Pinguicha

When we’re in school, we assume everything out teachers say is true. We are, after all, constantly evaluated on the knowledge they impart on us, so it must be right. But we’re never taught to question the narratives we’re presented. We’re never taught to wonder who wrote down the texts we take as fact, or why.

When it came time to write A CURSE OF ROSES, I first thought I wouldn’t need to do a lot of research. After all, I remembered pretty much everything from History classes, and I was setting the book in two places I knew very well. “I’ll just refresh my memory on how people lived and read more about Yzabel and Denis’s reign.” Since I wanted to include Enchanted Mouras, whose legends are spread throughout my home region of Alentejo, I also believed a simple brush up on the Moor Occupation would be all I needed. Just enough to make sure I got names, dates, and places right.

In what I can only describe as a very fortunate coincidence, I came across the work of archeologist Cláudio Torres. During his excavations in Mértola, he found evidence that the Moors weren’t solely Muslim as we’re taught in school. There were also Christian Moors, and Jewish Moors—but because they did not fit the narrative of the flawless Christian Reconquest, started by Dom Afonso Henriques, they were erased from history books.

Statue of Dom Afonso Henriques, founder of the Kingdom of Portugal

It’s much easier to digest that your first King, the man who created your country, was taking the land back from the Muslim invaders, rather than facing the fact that when he waged war against the Moors, he waged war against Muslims, Christians, and Jewish people alike.

Likewise, we were never taught that the Islamic Caliphate did not demand conversion, only vassalage. Thus, while many ended up converting to Islam, it wasn’t forced, but of their own volition. And while there were skirmishes between the Christian Kingdoms and the Caliphate, the Moor occupation didn’t necessarily happen by force. It could’ve happened through a change in alliances from the common people, who were not at all that well treated by their Christian overlords.

Mértola, which was at the time of the Moor occupation, one of the largest trading hubs in Portugal

Archeologist Cláudio Torres also said in one of his interviews that history is written by whoever was in power during that era. And since Kings were the ones paying scribes and monks to write down their deeds, the documents we take as fact come with a high degree of bias. Who wanted to write bad things about the King that paid them? And even when they did, such documents would later be burned so as not to damage the reputation of those who ruled us. Archeology, on the other hand, tells the stories that were never written down.

When you think about that, it makes sense that after the Reconquest, history would be re-written so people who looked at it years later, would see no fault with the Christian Kings, and all the fault with the Moors. The same goes for the cultural diversity of the Caliphate—by casting them all as Islamic, it was easier to other them and see them as an unfaithful enemy that must be defeated.

But historical revisionism isn’t as obvious as with the Discoveries. When Portuguese children are taught about that period, it’s done through these rose-colored glasses about how awesome we were, and what wonderful things we brought to the world when we found the maritime route to India. We talk about slaves, but only in passing, never being truly faced with the atrocities our ancestors committed. Instead, we’re told we were nice colonizers, which is a contradiction as there is no such thing as a nice colonizer. We’re told we brought science and culture to the peoples we enslaved and colonized, and not about all the things we erased off the map and, as a result, off history.

I’ve tried to bring these points up several times, and the answers are always along the lines of, “That was 500 years ago!”

But when it’s to look at the positive sides—how Portugal was rich, and advanced nautical sciences—the answer is, “Only 500 years ago, we ruled the world.”

Both can be true. Both are true. We did do great things for exploration and navigation. We also committed atrocities. These two sides should be taught in equal measure, or even with more importance given to what we destroyed. They are not. Instead, we erect monuments and worship the colonizers, and pay little attention to the rest. Instead, we celebrate figures like Padre António Vieira, for “educating” the Natives in Brazil and saving them from their pagan beliefs by converting them to Christianity, while also treating those who refused to comply in abhorrent ways.

Standard to the Discoveries

It’s not just terrible acts that have been erased, but also queerness. We’re told all our figures are straight, but just how much of that is also historical revisionism?

Infante Dom Henrique, whose studies and planning in navigation were what made the Portuguese able to sail the maritime route to India, was gay. He reportedly also had young male slaves repeatedly gifted to him—but such a narrative would not go over well in the 15th century, and it still wouldn’t go over well now. Most writings documenting these facts ended up burned to preserve the image of the country.

We also follow this myth with Dom Pedro I and Inês de Castro, long romanticized in our epic, Camões’s The Lusiads. Dom Pedro is painted as a virile, aggressively straight man in love with his wife’s lady-in-waiting who was so angry when she and their three children were murdered, he ate the hearts of the men who did it. But while Pedro and Inês love each other, there’s documentation that shows him as being bisexual, and also as conducting several affairs with knights and squires.

Dom Sebastião, whose death caused a dynastic crisis due to him dying without heirs, is another one of our kings who was likely queer. He was found naked with male friends after going for frolics in the woods, yet we’re supposed to believe they lost their clothes tussling with a boar.

Dom João IV is another example. In his case, he was known for throwing elaborate parties with sex workers of both genders, yet only fully consummated the physical relations with the men.

And, like them, I’m sure there were more throughout history. There is also a noticeable lack of queer women being portrayed. That, I believe, we can attribute to this almost infantilization of women that persists to this day. The acknowledgement of female sexuality and desire is relatively new, history-wise. Two women being together was often seen as nothing but friendship, because women, unlike men, weren’t seen as beings who could want, and enjoy, sex. And when there was a particularly promiscuous female figure in power, she was often cast as a terrible seductress that needed disposing of. Take Leonor Teles, wife of Fernando I. We know her as an ambitious woman who conspired against the Kingdom, but when we go looking, we discover she was not. When Fernando passed and she acted as regent, the country’s situation improved. But she was still painted as the villain who wanted Portugal to be part of Castela, and in need of being deposed for the good of the country.

Leonor Teles was ambitious, and conniving, and may or may not have slowly poisoned Fernando I. But she never wanted Portugal to be part of Castela, to the point that when the Castellan King betrayed the alliance she and Fernando made with him, she tried to have him killed. More importantly—she might’ve been a good Queen Regent if people had let her.

Dom Fernando and Leonor Teles

This isn’t to say everything in recorded history is wrong, and that we shouldn’t believe certain things happened, especially when there’s overwhelming evidence that they did. Rather, this is more to say that we shouldn’t take our history lessons as something that’s set in immovable stone, especially when our lessons go back hundreds and thousands of years.

We should instead take history lessons as a starting point and look for the narratives that should be there and are often missing. Look for the complexities that are uncomfortable to address, for the pain our ancestors tried to erase, for the people they did.

History, as it’s taught now, caters to a very specific gaze: that of the white, straight conqueror. It’s our job to question it, our job to search for the stories of those who couldn’t write their own. The farther back we go, the more likely we are to find distortion of events, or the erasure of people who did not conform to what was palatable at the time.

And when we find those stories, it’s our job to tell them. And if we’re not the right people to tell them, we find the voices who are right for those stories, and we amplify them.

Meet the author

Born and raised in the sunny lands of Portugal, DIANA PINGUICHA is a computer engineer graduate who currently lives in Lisbon. She can usually be found writing, painting, devouring extraordinary quantities of books and video games, or walking around with her bearded dragon, Norbert. She also has two cats, Sushi and Jubas, who would never forgive her if she didn’t mention them. Learn more at pinguicha.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @Pinguicha.

About A Curse of Roses

A Curse of Roses

Based on Portuguese legend, this #OwnVoices historical fantasy is an epic tale of mystery, magic, and making the impossible choice between love and duty…

With just one touch, bread turns into roses. With just one bite, cheese turns into lilies.

There’s a famine plaguing the land, and Princess Yzabel is wasting food simply by trying to eat. Before she can even swallow, her magic—her curse—has turned her meal into a bouquet. She’s on the verge of starving, which only reminds her that the people of Portugal have been enduring the same pain for years.

If only it were possible to reverse her magic. Then she could turn flowers intofood.

Fatyan, a beautiful Enchanted Moura, is the only one who can help. But she is trapped by magical binds. She can teach Yzabel how to control her curse—if Yzabel sets her free with a kiss.

As the King of Portugal’s betrothed, Yzabel would be committing treason, but what good is a king if his country has starved to death?

With just one kiss, Fatyan is set free. And with just one kiss, Yzabel is yearning for more.

She’d sought out Fatyan to help her save the people. Now, loving her could mean Yzabel’s destruction.

A Curse of Roses includes themes, imagery, and content that might be triggering for some readers. Discussions of religious-based self harm, religious-based eating disorders, and religious-based internalized homophobia appear throughout the novel.

ISBN-13: 9781682815090
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 12/01/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Welcome to Meteor(ite), New Mexico, a guest post by Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia

In this piece from Miss Meteor co-authors Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia, the authors take you to Meteor, New Mexico, a town known for two things: the space rock that crashed into the desert nearby, and the annual Miss Meteor beauty pageant. Here, main characters Chicky Quintanilla and Lita Perez take you on a tour of Meteor.

Lita: Hi there, I’m Lita Perez, contestant in the Fiftieth Annual Meteor Regional Pageant and Talent Competition Showcase (otherwise known as the Miss Meteor pageant), here to show you some of our town’s most famous sites. I’m lucky to be joined today by my pageant manager, Chicky Quintanilla.



Chicky: *Looks at Lita* Me now? Okay, uh, hi I’m Chicky. Kind of a behind the scenes person really. I usually leave the Vaseline smiling and baton twirling to Lita. Too soon? Sorry. But come on, it was pretty funny, right?

 Lita: In the distance you’ll see some of the most beautiful cactuses in New Mexico, each one with their own personality and astrological sign (no really, ask Chicky). Everyone wave hello to Señora Strawberry, who, as you probably guessed from the streamers, recently had a birthday!



Chicky: Also the important historical site of meetings of our destructive witch coven, responsible for basically any ruckus that gets kicked up around town. I mean seriously, we’re very dangerous people. Steer clear.

 Lita: On our right is the Meteor Meteorite Museum, housing one of the most stunning space rocks in the world. This crown jewel from the sky crash-landed into this very desert more than fifty years ago. And no, that has nothing to do with me, it’s just an astronomy fact, why, what did you hear? Okay moving on…

 Chicky: Yeah, also the historical place where Junior Cortes, famous Meteor artist, painted all the cornhole boards for every tournament for the last five years. But also the site where he traitorously practiced that infamous non-sport in absolute secret even from his alleged friend and soon to be girlfriend. Sorry I’m probably doing this wrong, but that wasn’t very cash money of him, and I felt like the world should know.

 Lita: A trip to Meteor would never be complete without a stop at Selena’s Diner, owned and operated by the Quintanillas. Don’t miss their world famous nopal grilled cheese and jalapeño cupcakes!



Chicky: Yeah, just don’t come on Wednesdays after school if you want to be able to actually eat the food. Fresa’s on the grill that day and she’s more into her reflection in the spatula than actually preparing something edible. *Coughs* I mean uh, come every day or I’ll be wearing Converse with a hole in the heel all winter. Ha.

Lita: And there is one other reason people come from miles around to visit Meteor. But that’s probably not a secret I should tell just yet, so you might have to stick around to find out. 

 Chicky: Um, what she said. And sorry for the mumbling. *Looks at Lita* Are we done now? I’m starving.

Meet the authors

Photo credit: Christina Grout

Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, raised in the same town as the world’s largest wisteria vine, and taught by their family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. They are the author of The Weight of Feathers, When the Moon Was Ours, Wild Beauty, Blanca & Roja, and Dark and Deepest Red.

Photo credit: Tia Reagan

Tehlor Kay Mejia is an Oregon native and the author of  the YA novels We Set the Dark on Fire and We Unleash the Merciless Storm and the middle grade novel Paola Santiago and the Drowned Palace. Her short fiction has appeared in the All Out and Toil & Trouble anthologies from Harlequin Teen. You can find her on Twitter @tehlorkay.

About Miss Meteor

Miss Meteor

A gorgeous and magical collaboration between two critically acclaimed, powerhouse YA authors offers a richly imagined underdog story perfect for fans of Dumplin’ and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history.

But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands.

So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.

ISBN-13: 9780062869913
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

From Amanda’s review: This layered story with fantastic characters shows that trying to blend in sometimes just hides the many wonderful ways you were made to stand out. Like Chicky and Lita find out, there is space for you. You belong, just as you are.

Bullies, best friends and phones: Will Covid shift the balance toward real-world socializing? a guest post by Sheila M. Averbuch

Friend Me

“Just be careful,” my husband called out as our teen-aged kids left for the first day back to school. Although mask-wearing was going to be enforced, we still sent them off with trepidation. “Stay away from other people, even your friends, especially if they’re laughing,” he added.

Wow. What a thing to say. I knew where my husband was coming from — how can we keep our kids safe when there’s still an airborne, incurable virus hopping from person to person? — but hearing the words made me realize just how much we’re asking young people to forego this year, their friends’ laughter included.

Here in Scotland we locked down in March: from then on, our kids had almost no contact with friends. At first they enjoyed the break from the grind of school, but then my daughter, especially, began to talk about and long for the chance to see friends in person.

This was new: typically she’d default to her phone for socializing, but a real, face-to-face meet-up was what she wanted most. Video calls were set up as a regular stopgap, but I could see how excited she was for those beach strolls and dog walks: outdoor,  socially-distanced meet-ups where she could hang out with friends in person. Other parents reported the same hunger among their teens to get back into a group and feel normal again.

Face to face, not phone-only

Covid has overturned so many norms, and I think the way tweens and teens use their phones may be one of those. So much has been written about how technology isolates young people and has created that digital default: socializing through their handsets can feel so much more natural than phoning a friend or meeting in person.

Roisin, the main character in my middle grade thriller debut FRIEND ME (Scholastic Press), repeatedly pushes away her brother and other real-world potential friends for her new online bestie. A spark for the story was the day my then 13-year-old said it was his best friend’s birthday; I urged him to phone the boy for a chat and he acted like it was a bizarre suggestion.

This got me thinking: it would be completely feasible for an entire friendship to blossom and grow via the phone, but without speaking to each other. I wanted to explore how and whether this could be a lifeline and a hazard. Can you really know friends you’ve only met through a screen? But if you find your tribe online, should you auto-mistrust them, just in case they’re bad actors?

In FRIEND ME, Roisin is an Irish transplant to Massachusetts who’s picked to pieces by a bully; the girl targets Roisin in school and online. The fact that both Roisin’s best friend and her enemy come to her through the same screen highlights a core problem with cyberbullying: phones are the most personal of personal electronics.

It’s hard to tell young people who are experiencing cyberbullying to stay away from their phones, when the phone has become an umbilical cord to the rest of life, from parental text messages to homework alerts from online classrooms.

It’s even harder for adults to impose rules, boundaries and time-of-day tech curfews unless we model that behavior. The issue here isn’t just the hypocrisy of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ it’s that we’re putting these most addictive objects into kids’ hands — untested technology, that’s being tested on young people. There’s a reason that many Silicon Valley executives, who created today’s ultra-addictive tech, banned their own children from using the tech: they realized themselves just how hard it was to stop.

The Social Dilemma and the siren call of social media

If you’ve seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix, you’ll have discovered chilling new insights into the most addictive apps of all: social media, whose algorithms keep users hooked by dishing out dopamine hits of praise on an unpredictable basis. 

The documentary interlaces with a dramatization of social media at work on a ’typical’ American family, including a painfully realistic example of a tween girl who finds the compulsion to post selfies overwhelming. Seeing those likes and comments rack up is an ego boost, but one insult wipes out the positive. The character Isla, played masterfully by Sophia Hammons, can’t stop looking in the mirror and hating herself after one of her followers says her ears make her look like an elephant.

Safeguards for social

There are no easy answers in relation to tweens, mental health, and social media, but cyberbullying in particular is something every teen and carer can take action on right away, following excellent guidance like that from stopbullying.gov. There are best-practice tips on what young people should and shouldn’t post, or repost, and the importance of speaking up immediately about any bullying behavior.

There’s also solid advice on healthy use of apps: including, if you’re a young person, the importance of allowing parents or carers to follow you on social media, to keep them in the loop.

Disabling notifications is always good: it means you’re not yanked back into the app on its schedule, but when you choose. In the case of bullying, screenshot everything; principals and teachers will be grateful for the trail of evidence if they need to get involved.

The fact that our young people are isolated by Covid and in many places learning from home doesn’t protect them from the long arm of the bully. But 2020 has also, by necessity, caused many parents and carers to become more accustomed to technology, which better equips them to use and monitor the apps where bullies prowl.

Technology can be isolating, but it can also be a savior, linking young people to friends, learning and community. I’m also encouraged by the growing availability online of fantastic mental health and mindfulness resources, and the increasing societal awareness that mental health is just health and must be nurtured and protected. 

As long as adults model the self-control and tech-curfews with our own devices that we want our kids to exercise, I think we need to trust young people, and open our eyes to just how much they’re valuing real-world interaction with real-world friends right now.

The trend I’ve seen in my own kids, favoring face-to-face instead of online-only socializing, gives me hope. My daughter recently spent hours one Sunday with her friend group just roaming the parks and fields around us: hanging out, taking pics…and laughing.

ANTI-BULLYING IN MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

It’s a golden age for middle-grade fiction which tackles bullying and its fallout and demonstrates how young people can cope, thrive and prevail. Here are recommended reads to get you started:

Friend Me by Sheila M. Averbuch (Scholastic)

The Brave by James Bird (Feiwel & Friends)

Looking Glass Girl by Cathy Cassidy (Puffin Books)

Ella on the Outside by Cath Howe (Nosy Crow)

American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar (Aladdin)

Restart by Gordon Korman (Scholastic)

What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado (Nancy Paulsen Books)

Meet the author

Photo credit: Rob McDougall

Sheila M. Averbuch is a former technology journalist and author of the middle-grade thriller FRIEND ME publishing November 10, 2020 with Scholastic Press. Find Sheila at sheilamaverbuch.com

Sheila’s local independent bookshop near Edinburgh in Scotland is the marvellous Portobello Bookshop, which has signed copies of FRIEND ME while supplies last at bit.ly/SMAbuyindie  Or, find FRIEND ME at your own local indie here bit.ly/SMAorder

About Friend Me

Friend Me

What happens when an online friend becomes a real-life nightmare?

Roisin hasn’t made a single friend since moving from Ireland to Massachusetts. In fact, she is falling apart under constant abuse from a school bully, Zara. Zara torments Roisin in person and on social media. She makes Roisin the laughingstock of the whole school.

Roisin feels utterly alone… until she bonds with Haley online. Finally there’s someone who gets her. Haley is smart, strong, and shares anti-mean-girl memes that make Roisin laugh. Together, they are able to imagine what life could look like without Zara. Haley quickly becomes Roisin’s lifeline.

Then Zara has a painful accident, police investigate, and Roisin panics. Could her chats with Haley look incriminating?

Roisin wants Haley to delete her copies of their messages, but when she tries to meet Haley in person, she can’t find her anywhere. What’s going on? Her best friend would never have lied to her, right? Or is Haley not who she says she is…

With twists, turns, and lightning-fast pacing, this is a middle-grade thriller about bullying, revenge, and tech that young readers won’t be able to put down.

ISBN-13: 9781338618082
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 11/10/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Original Activists, a conversation between authors Rebecca Roberts and Lucinda Robb

Today, authors Rebecca Roberts and Lucinda Robb join us. Their new book, The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World, looks back at the leaders and lessons they taught us while also looking forward to today’s your activists who are changing our present and our future.

The authors both have personal connections to activism and the women’s movement – Roberts is the daughter of journalist Cokie Roberts and granddaughter of Lindy Boggs and Robb is the daughter of Lynda Robb and the granddaughter of Lady Bird Johnson.

The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World

Lucinda:  In the past few years we’ve seen a massive groundswell of people, many of them students, becoming active in Black Lives Matter, Climate Change, Me Too, Gun Control and other social causes.  Having spent the last few years writing about the tactics of the women’s suffrage movement over 100 years ago, at what point do you watch the news and think, to quote Yogi Berra, that it’s Déjà vu all over again?

Rebecca: Every day!  Especially here in Washington. Every time someone organizes a march down Pennsylvania Avenue, or protests in front of the White House, or holds the President accountable for his own quotations, or even takes an event that unfolds in unexpected ways and then milks the resulting press coverage for all it’s worth – all I can think is that the suffragists did it first. And the opposite is also true. I see contemporary activists using tools like Twitter or Instagram and just imagine what the suffragists would have been able to accomplish if they had the same access.

Lucinda:  Can’t you just picture Susan B. Anthony tweeting about getting arrested for voting in 1872? Even without social media, she still managed to get plenty of publicity at her trial. The judge told her six times to sit down and be quiet, but she wasn’t having it. You could even say she persisted. Later she wrote a book about the proceedings and for the rest of her long life, constantly reminded people she was a convicted criminal. The suffragists have so many great stories, and having spent so much time reading their speeches, petitions, letters and even their diaries, after a while you feel as if you know them personally. Almost like they are old friends you haven’t seen recently but still care about.

Rebecca: I agree – you do feel like you get to know the subjects of your research. And there are some women you come to admire, but whose literal presence you might not actually enjoy. I’m thinking of Alice Paul, who was incredibly impressive, but so single minded and evidently humorless that her company was probably a heavy lift. Whereas Doris Stevens, who wrote Jailed for Freedom, and Maude Younger, who complied the National Woman’s Party’s infamous card file, were both hilarious. What about you, is there a suffragist that you wish you could do a zoom call with?

Lucinda:  As a mom struggling with school being at home, Elizabeth Cady Stanton immediately jumps to mind. She had to juggle being one of the great writers and leaders of the suffrage movement with raising seven rowdy children. One time the older kids tied corks to the baby and threw him into the river to see if he would float – true story! There’s a letter where she complains about how difficult it is to find them good tutors and shoes that fit, and how they have to be taken to the dentist (who knew they had dentists back then?), so clearly some things never change. But in the end six of her children went to college, including both of her daughters. One of them, Harriot Stanton Blatch, followed in her mom’s footsteps and came up with the idea for suffragists to picket in front of the White House. The very first time anyone tried it! Speaking of which, have you ever done any picketing?

Becca: I have participated inprotests on behalf of women’s issues: Take Back the Night marches, the Women’s March of 2017, things like that. And I’ve been a part of many political rallies. I have never picketed literally, with a sign and everything. But I love seeing generations of women at those events, marching arm in arm, backing a cause together, even if they have differing perspectives.  What about your daughter, is she ready to take to the streets?

Lucinda: She’s 14 and mostly stuck at home for now, so she hasn’t progressed much beyond making posters, but she’s primed for when things loosen up.  She read some of our early drafts and wrote lots of useful comments in the margins with her orange sparkly gel pen (teenagers are brutally honest). Her favorite suffrage tactic, which resonates in our smartphone age, was about paying attention to how things look.  You wrote our chapter on this, do you have a favorite example?

Rebecca: Oh, there are so many. The suffragists were masters at crafting viral images. Think about Inez Milholland in the 1913 Suffrage parade, wearing a flowing white dress and starry crown as she rode a very noble looking horse. She struck such a heroic figure that her crown was the inspiration for Wonder Women years later. She looked fantastic. And that was no accident – Inez Milholland was a labor lawyer, an educated, ambitious, accomplished professional woman, at a time when that was pretty rare. But the newspaper men (and they were almost entirely men) of the time could never see past her looks. They inevitably wrote about her as “the most beautiful suffragist.” So Alice Paul, who organized that parade, figured if she put Inez in a gorgeous dress on a gorgeous horse, maybe the sexist reporters would actually take her picture and give some press attention to the suffrage cause. It totally worked – that image is still striking over 100 years later. It’s been such a joy to learn this history, but it isn’t all heroes and horses.

Lucinda: There are some ugly parts too. There was a lot of blatant racism in the suffrage movement, and a lot of voices that were ignored. Back in the late 19th century, Stanton and Anthony helped write a massive six volume history of the movement – which they donated to libraries everywhere – that almost completely left out Black suffragists. But Ida B. Wells was not someone you could dismiss. She called out white suffragists for using dangerous stereotypes about Black men and shamed the largest women’s club in America into condemning lynching.  Long before Rosa Parks, she refused to give up her seat on a segregated public train. And when white suffragists tried to push her to the back of the 1913 parade, she jumped right into the middle and marched proudly along.  She didn’t wait for permission, she did what she thought was right, just like a lot of activists do now.   

In the end, we tried not to put anyone up on a pedestal, but instead emphasized what the suffragists did that was successful, the ways they struggled, and how they managed to make big changes that still matter today.  And we hope that is what our readers learn – you don’t have to be uniquely special or even perfect to change the world, you just have to be willing to try.

Meet the authors

Rebecca Boggs Robertsis the author of Suffragists in Washington, DC: The 1913 Parade and the Fight for the Vote and Historic Congressional Cemetery. She has been many things, including a journalist, producer, tour guide, forensic anthropologist, event planner, political consultant, jazz singer, and radio talk show host. Currently she is the curator of programming at Planet Word, a museum, which opened on October 22, 2020. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband, three sons, and a big fat dog.

Lucinda Robb was project director for Our Mothers Before Us: Women and Democracy, 1789–1920 at the Center for Legislative Archives. The project rediscovered thousands of overlooked original documents and produced a traveling exhibit and education program highlighting the role of women in American democracy. She also helped organize the National Archives’ celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1995. She lives in Virginia with her husband, three children, one dog, and more than five hundred PEZ dispensers.

About The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World

The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World

Do you have a cause you’re passionate about? Take a few tips from the suffragists, who led one of the largest and longest movements in American history.

The women’s suffrage movement was decades in the making and came with many harsh setbacks. But it resulted in a permanent victory: women’s right to vote. How did the suffragists do it? One hundred years later, an eye-opening look at their playbook shows that some of their strategies seem oddly familiar. Women’s marches at inauguration time? Check. Publicity stunts, optics, and influencers? They practically invented them. Petitions, lobbying, speeches, raising money, and writing articles? All of that, too. 

From moments of inspiration to some of the movement’s darker aspects—including the racism of some suffragist leaders, violence against picketers, and hunger strikes in jail—this clear-eyed view takes in the role of key figures: Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances Willard, Ida B. Wells, Alice Paul, and many more. Engagingly narrated by Lucinda Robb and Rebecca Boggs Roberts, whose friendship goes back generations (to their grandmothers, Lady Bird Johnson and Lindy Boggs, and their mothers, Lynda Robb and Cokie Roberts), this unique melding of seminal history and smart tactics is sure to capture the attention of  activists-in-the-making today.

ISBN-13: 9781536210330
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 10/27/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Why are Teen Girls the new Sci-Fi Protagonists?, a guest post by Brea Grant

You can’t slingshot a rock right now without hitting a YA book about a teen girl surviving a dystopian apocalypse, discovering her magical powers, or finding a doorway to an alternate land. I’m not complaining but it’s interesting that teen girls are at the front and center of the science fiction/fantasy universe. What is it about the teen girl experience that lends itself to being a protagonist in an otherworldly adventure?

When writing my new graphic novel, Mary, I took a look at Mary Shelley’s personal history and built on it to create my own teen girl protagonist forging her own way and finding a magical world. My modern-day character, Mary, is the fictional descendant of Mary Shelley. She comes from a long line of writers and is expected to become a writer herself. Instead, she discovers that Mary Shelley was not writing about the fictional creature of Frankenstein’s monster but instead was writing a guidebook for her progeny so they could follow in her real footsteps — not as writers but as a doctor to monsters. When my current-day Mary discovers this, she must grapple with what she’s been told about the world and her future choices. It’s coming-of-age magnified.

Struggling with knowing what to do with your life is something most of us can all relate to…even in our mid-to-late 30s (note to self: figure out what you want to do) and beyond. Writing this graphic novel, I felt like I could take my own meandering path regarding my career choices and put it into a magical context and that somehow made it…easier to deal with? Mary could think about her life in a way that I couldn’t because her world was actually as strange as mine has always felt. If the world is actually bizarre, difficult to understand, and magical, maybe she (or myself by extension) wasn’t such a weirdo for not being able to fit into it. If the reason that you are unable to make a decision about what to do with your life is because there are monsters living among us and no one told you about them, maybe you weren’t so wrong to have trouble deciding whether or not to go to college (or insert other major life decision here)!

Mary Shelley herself happens to be an interesting heroine in real life. Shelley can be credited with being the mother of modern day science fiction as we know it. She was a pioneer. What people often forget is that she was only 19 when she conceived of the concept for Frankenstein, on a cold, dark night (true story!). When published, it was so outlandish that a woman would write something horrific that she didn’t put her actual name on its first published editions.

So, like a lot of heroines in science fiction novels, she was a rebel. She didn’t fit into the rules of her day. She had a relationship with a man against her parents wishes and was estranged from them for many years. She wrote and created in an unexplored genre that was unseemly for women. And like many of our modern-day heroines in the aforementioned apocalyptic situations, she forged her own way against the rules that had been set up. We don’t center YA novels around teenagers following the rules and upholding tradition. We center them around pioneering young people willing to take chances and break things. Shelley was definitely one of those. She opened up a magical door that was rarely opened for female writers while under the age of 20. Teen female protagonist for the win.

Being young encourages imagination. I am in the small minority of people who have the privilege of spending most of my days imagining worlds that don’t exist. Between the pull of adulthood, responsibilities and all of the very crushing realities of growing up, somewhere along the way, we lose our ability to just play. Science fiction and fantasy allow us to be imaginative. They allow us to escape — as writers or readers. So it may be obvious that age has a lot to do with the many examples we see of female protagonists fighting monsters, discovering worlds, and ending up winning the day. We associate science fiction — the ultimate place for imagination — with youth. Of course our main characters are youthful. They still are allowed to play.

But that doesn’t explain the choice of young women over young men as sci-fi protagonists. I would make the argument that the monsters/dragons/evil doers are stand-ins for the harsh realities of growing up and the tough decisions young women have to make. The female experience lends itself to the paranormal in the obvious ways our bodies change but also the way in which societal standards morph as we get older. As children, we can run, play and be free to think wildly but as we get older, those things start to be discouraged. A young girl covered in mud is much different than a 20-year-old. Dealing with these standards is like fighting off a demon. It is choosing to stand out and creating an entirely new set of rules. It’s difficult. I think it’s why we are seeing so many interesting trans characters in sci-fi as well. Trans people have known they were breaking societal rules for a long time. They have been fighting these monsters since the day they realized they wanted to wear a dress instead of a soccer uniform. Breaking out of these molds are otherworldly. For a young woman, something as simple as choosing to study engineering is comparable to teen heroine picking up a sword for the first time in an all-male league of dragon fighters. Although different worlds, it takes the same amount of courage to be a young woman who doesn’t quite fit into the mold of what is expected and to continue to push boundaries.

I love that we have these models for young women. It’s hard to be a thing if you can’t see it and we can see these boundary-pushing young women all over YA right now. So, if you’re never fought a monster before, how do you do it? You dive in like Katniss, Emika, Sunny, Starr and the many other teenage female protagonists who are fighting new fights, figuring their way through it, and on the other end, becoming the heroes of their own stories.

Meet Brea Grant

Brea Grant is a filmmaker/writer best known for her Emmy-nominated work on the Netflix series, EastSiders, and her most recent film, 12 Hour Shift, a comedy heist film starring Angela Bettis and David Arquette. It premiered at Tribeca in 2020. A month later, she starred in the horror film, Lucky, which she also wrote, directed by Natasha Kermani, which premiered at SXSW in 2020. Her first comic series is called We Will Bury You, which was published by IDW and co-written with her brother, Zane Grant. She co-hosts a weekly book podcast called Reading Glasses with author Mallory O’Meara on the Maximum Fun Network. She started in the film industry as an actress and has appeared on shows like Heroes, Friday Night Lights, and Dexter, as well as horror films like Halloween II and the recent indie favorite, After Midnight.

Brea online:

http://www.breagrant.com/

https://www.instagram.com/breagrant/

https://twitter.com/breagrant

About Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter

Angsty teenager Mary Shelley is not interested in carrying on her family’s celebrated legacy of being a great writer, but she soon discovers that she has the not-so-celebrated and super-secret Shelley power to heal monsters, just like her famous ancestor, and those monsters are not going to let her ignore her true calling anytime soon.

The Shelley family history is filled with great writers: the original Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, the acclaimed mystery writer Tawny Shelley, cookbook maven Phyllis Shelley…the list goes on and on. But this Mary Shelley, named after her great-great-great-great-great grandmother, doesn’t want anything to do with that legacy. Then a strangely pale (and really cute) boy named Adam shows up and asks her to heal a wound he got under mysterious circumstances, and Mary learns something new about her family: the first Mary Shelley had the power to heal monsters, and Mary has it, too. Now the monsters won’t stop showing up, Mary can’t get her mother Tawny to leave her alone about writing something (anything!), she can’t tell her best friend Rhonda any of this, and all Mary wants is to pass biology.

ISBN-13: 9781644420294
Publisher: Six Foot Press
Publication date: 10/06/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Big, Funny, and Proud, a guest post by Rebecca Elliott

That’s my character Haylah in my book Pretty Funny for a Girl. And I don’t necessarily mean “big” in the physical sense, although Haylah (known as “Pig” to her friends) is dealing with body confidence issues surrounding her plus-size figure. She’s big in her personality, ambitions, opinions, and passions. I wrote the character as a reaction to the message we are so often spoon-fed—that girls are pretty, meek, innocent, and sweet, or else they are slutty and objectified. Either way, girls are passive and not yet a fully formed thing, and when they are, they’re past their best.

WHAT A LOAD OF BALL-BAGS!

This narrow description, consistently shoved in our faces by the media and society, literally fits NO teenage girl I have ever met. EVER.

Girls are exciting and passionate and strong and ambitious and fierce and wonderfully weird and a hundred different things in any given moment. And girls are funny. So frickin’ funny. Yet often the girls who know they’re funny, know they’re clever, know their personality is brighter and bigger than any room could possibly hold still feel like a no one. Why? Because the crappy societal pressures, ever more present in today’s Instagrammy world, tell them they don’t live up to the impossible and downright dull expectations we put on girldom.

Using stand-up comedy, which is a big fear for a lot of people, seemed like a good way to explore my main character’s bravery, not in a dystopian-hero-saving-the-world kind of way, but in more of a relatable way. Even if it’s not a career readers are interested in, I think there’s so much in stand-up that teens can identify with: the intense vulnerability and the desire to be noticed and heard but not to be judged. Plus it’s a good excuse to make a lot of jokes and hopefully make readers laugh. Because, as Haylah says, “When you find the funny in this serious world that is so often full of pain and cruelty, it’s like discovering a diamond in a cave of crap. It’s precious.”

So aside from my own life-long love of comedy, this is another reason why I chose to have Haylah deal with both body image and her confidence as a comedian at the same time. Because girls are already in many ways standing on a stage feeling like the world is staring at them and judging them, and I wanted my character to voluntarily take that leap onto centre stage and find the confidence to proudly be herself, to say, “This is me, with all my perfect imperfections, and dammit I have a voice and deserve to be heard!”

I very much didn’t want the body image thing to be the central theme of the book. So often when plus-size female characters are the main protagonists of books and movies, their weight is the major factor, the main narrative hook to hang everything else from. But guess what: when you are bigger, that usually isn’t the main thrust of your own narrative  (and I certainly never wanted to lead her towards some “happy” ending where she loses the weight and all is well with her world—like thin people have it all sorted too!).

Yes, Haylah feels that she’s big and at times wrestles with the way that makes people perceive her, but for the most part she’s quite happy with herself and what she thinks about way more than the way she looks is her ambition to do something amazing—become a stand-up comedian. I only wish that the way we look, particularly for teenagers, could take a back seat to the way more important stuff, like our passions and ambitions.

Whilst, as with most of us, Haylah may always struggle a little with her body confidence, I think she’d also say that one of the coolest realisations as a feminist is that there is no right or wrong way for a girl to look, to dress, to act, so be you big, small, loud, shy, “masculine,” “feminine,” high-heeled and preened, DM-wearing and pierced, and anything and everything in-between and outside—it’s ALL GOOD, and it’s all beautiful. We are sold, particularly on social media, the ideal of “perfection,” whereas the message should, of course, and particularly in respect to teenagers already bombarded by judgement and pressure, be that YOU ARE PERFECT REGARDLESS. By getting on stage and being the girl she is, nothing more, nothing less, Haylah isn’t proving that she thinks herself perfect, but that she’s happy in her own skin; as Sophia Bush so eloquently put it, “You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously.”

So I hope one of the central themes of the books is screw the haters, screw the ridiculous expectations of society and social media, the only opinion of you that matters is your own opinion. So be whoever the hell you want to be and be proud—shoulders back, tits out, and go show the world who you really are.

I hope the book resonances with readers, and particularly those closest to my heart—the gobby, opinionated, wildly inappropriate, larger-than-life girls who make you laugh until you pee your pants. The girls who need to shake off society’s ridiculous expectations of them, jump under the spotlight and crack on with joyously wobbling their funny bits in the face of life.

Meet Rebecca Elliott

REBECCA ELLIOTT is an author and illustrator of many picture books and The Owl Diaries early chapter book series. Pretty Funny for a Girl is her first YA novel. She earned a degree in philosophy and once did a brief stint in a dull office. Now, she enjoys eating angel delight, loudly venting on a drum kit, and spending time in her sunny garden. She lives in England with her family, some chickens, and a cat named Bernard.

Find Rebecca’s book at Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/pretty-funny-for-a-girl/9781682631478

Rebecca’s site/social:

https://www.rebeccaelliott.com/

https://www.instagram.com/rebecca_elliott_author/

Facebook

@BecElliott

About Pretty Funny For a Girl

Pretty Funny for a Girl

A candid and laugh-out-loud journey of family, friends, and fierce mistakes.

Haylah Swinton is an ace best friend, a loving daughter, and an incredibly patient sister to a four-year-old nutcase of a brother. Best of all, she’s pretty confident she’s mastered making light of every situation—from her mom’s new boyfriend to unsolicited remarks on her plus-sized figure. Haylah’s learning to embrace all of her curvy parts and, besides, she has a secret: one day, she’ll be a stand-up comedian star.

So when impossibly cool and thirstalicious Leo reveals he’s also into comedy, Haylah jumps at the chance to ghost-write his sets. But is Leo as interested in returning the favor? Even though her friends warn her of Leo’s intentions, Haylah’s not ready to listen—and she might just be digging herself deeper toward heartbreak. If Haylah’s ever going to step into the spotlight, first she’ll need to find the confidence to put herself out there and strut like the boss she really is.

Rebecca Elliott’s hilarious and authentic narrative voice is sure to capture readers’ hearts as her plus-sized, teenage heroine navigates learning to love the body she’s in while dealing with friends, family, and boys.

ISBN-13: 9781682631478
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Publication date: 10/01/2020
Age Range: 12 – 16 Years

How to Write Books that Aren’t Exciting, a guest post by Bryan Bliss

When I first came up with the idea for Thoughts & Prayers, I paused. Coming off the heels of my previous novel—We’ll Fly Away, which dealt with the death penalty—I was reminded of a writing mentor’s response when one of his eager MFA students really went for it.


“A bit much.”

A school shooting book? Really? While I have made a career writing about current topics, I’ve always been hesitant to go too “ripped from the headlines” for fear of trading on pain and trauma in the name of publishing a relevant novel. Plus, if I’m honest, the voices of my two teenagers were in my head, reminding me I write books that—and I quote—aren’t very exciting.

Teens, right?

But…fair enough.

I’ve always been interested in the subtle moments of adolescence. The rages and the furies, yes. But in smaller quantities—only used to offset the quieter moments when kids are alone with one another, when they feel vulnerable and connected in a way that is so intimate, so real, I often believe adults spend the rest of their lives seeking that same connection. That same sense of truly being accepted. Having somebody you can count on, no matter what.

This urgency is well known to anyone who writes or reads young adult literature. But too often, it can become a hyper-reality, especially in so-called issue novels. I don’t fault any writer who wants to tell a story in the moment. In fact, I often wonder if I would do the same if I could only pull it off with any skill. But if we begin thinking teenagers are only searching for that sort of rush—an adrenaline shot in 300 pages—we miss out on the need, the desire, to develop and investigate interior lives. To encounter big traumas on the page and relate them to the different-sized traumas we all face.

I am not trying to be an apologist for my novels or suggest that there aren’t many other authors working in these same, subtle places. Writers I respect, like Nina LaCour, Sara Zarr, Francisco X. Stork, and Lamar Giles (to name a few) are masters at presenting stories that are simultaneously beautiful, complicated, and joyful. These authors give teenagers an opportunity to see a familiar, often challenging world—the world as it could be—in the pages of books that honor the struggles and wonders of real life.

Again, grain of salt coming from the guy who wrote a book about a teenager on death row and followed it up with a story about three teenagers dealing with the after-effects of a school shooting.

A bit much, indeed.


But We’ll Fly Away was a death penalty book only in shorthand. And Thoughts & Prayers is less about a school shooting and more about how teenagers are so damn strong, so damn resilient—so damn brave. Both books may have been conceived by focusing on a Big Issue, but my stories never stay on such high a shelf for very long. Instead, they always find their centers, their true weight, in the moments when one teenager looks at another teenager and says, “Don’t worry. I’m here for you. I’ve got you.”


As you can imagine, my children are not impressed with this argument—especially as they are both voracious readers who finish books in single sittings, gripped by stories that I admittedly will never be able to write for them. In fact, when I told my son about this blog, he grimaced and said, “All I want is one book with a happy ending!”

This is a criticism I won’t take as quickly. Yes, my books rarely resolve with two teenagers holding hands under an arcing rainbow, a neat bow. But ambiguity and messiness do not indicate a lack of hope or happiness. There is always a path through the muck and the darkness in my books—even if it doubles back on itself time and time again.


All we need is a sliver. All we need is a spark, a chance. The smallest hint of light. Anything to draw us forward, even a single step. Because the more we see it—in novels or real life—the more we believe it exists.

What’s more exciting than that?

Meet Bryan Bliss

Bryan Bliss is the author of four novels, including Thoughts & Prayers, which released today, and We’ll Fly Away, a 2018 National Book Award longlist selection. He teaches in the MFA program at Seattle Pacific University and lives in St. Paul, MN with his family.

Check out Amanda’s review of Thoughts & Prayers here.

About Thoughts & Prayers

Thoughts & Prayers: A Novel in Three Parts

Fight. Flight. Freeze. What do you do when you can’t move on, even though the rest of the world seems to have? 

For readers of Jason Reynolds, Marieke Nijkamp, and Laurie Halse Anderson. Powerful and tense, Thoughts & Prayers is an extraordinary novel that explores what it means to heal and to feel safe in a world that constantly chooses violence.

Claire, Eleanor, and Brezzen have little in common. Claire fled to Minnesota with her older brother, Eleanor is the face of a social movement, and Brezzen retreated into the fantasy world of Wizards & Warriors.

But a year ago, they were linked. They all hid under the same staircase and heard the shots that took the lives of some of their classmates and a teacher. Now, each one copes with the trauma as best as they can, even as the world around them keeps moving.

Told in three loosely connected but inextricably intertwined stories, National Book Award–longlisted author Bryan Bliss’s Thoughts & Prayers follows three high school students in the aftermath of a school shooting. Thoughts & Prayers is a story about gun violence, but more importantly it is the story of what happens after the reporters leave and the news cycle moves on to the next tragedy. It is the story of three unforgettable teens who feel forgotten.

ISBN-13: 9780062962249
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/29/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Digging for the Truth, a guest post by Lilliam Rivera

Photo credit: Isabelle Santiago

If you’re like me, I try my best to avoid consuming the news all day. This is not an easy feat considering the world we’re currently experiencing. The reality is that to get to the truth about things takes more than just a quick glance at a headline. Our most “trusted” news outlets continue to fail us. How can we prepare ourselves when the established media institutions bend the truth? There is fake news and then there is also this idea of sugarcoating the truth. Why not use the words “white supremacy” or “racist” when you can use “racially tinged” and “racially motivated?”

However, this essay is not about linguistics or the history of how words are used to perpetuate the racial structure that so many benefit from. This essay is about High School history class. When I was attending High School in New York, I attended a public school specializing in secretarial studies and computer sciences. The goal was to prep students to enter the work force as assistants. I learned how to type and spent most summers temping in various offices around the city. The funny thing was that I loved history. I devoured books exploring the period between the late 1950s to the late 1970s. During that period, the world felt as if it was at a crossroads. Students and young people all across the United States were rising up to make their voices heard against a tyrannical government. I wanted so desperately to read about the Young Lords, the Puerto Rican youth movement who joined the Black Panthers to help aid their community. I wanted to read about the Chicano Movement, La Raza, and more.

Sadly, this wouldn’t be the case. The history books I was forced to read didn’t mention these Brown and Black social movements. And if I ever wanted to search anything tied to Puerto Rico, well, I was out of luck. Instead I cobbled together what I could, creating a mix match selection from the library which included memoir, fiction, and poetry. I read Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets right alongside Alex Healey and Malcom X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  I read Bobby Seale’s Power to the People with Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t find works on Latin America’s liberation theology or the Young Lords work in Chicago and the Bronx. It would be later in college when I would be able to connect with those periods. Perhaps this is the reason why I decided to find ways to incorporate history in my young adult novels. I’m not writing historical fiction but allowing these characters to explore their cities through a historical lens.

The Education of Margot Sanchez

In my first novel The Education of Margot Sanchez, I introduced gentrification and its effects on Brown and Black families. But my latest young adult novel goes further with this idea. In Never Look Back, I flip the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and set it in mostly in the Bronx, New York with two Afro Latino protagonists. Pheus is a wannabe bachata singer who meets and falls in love with Eury, a Puerto Rican displaced by Hurricane Maria and haunted by an angry spirit. The novel is a love story but it is also a story of how trauma infects each generation. Pheus is a fairly typical high schooler, one with the gift of musical talent. He is also a great history buff. Through Pheus, we are able to get insight, however short, into the colonization of Puerto Rico, the Young Lords occupation of Lincoln Hospital in the 1970s to help their community, and the traumatic effects of the military on young people. Pheus doesn’t just see a building, he sees the blood and tears imprinted on the walls.

Never Look Back

I love this idea of the school curriculums moving between fiction and history. High School English and US history are great places to have a robust conversation. In recent years, there have been wonderful works being produced in children’s book spaces. Why not pair Sonia Manzano’s The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano with The Young Lords: A Reader by Iris Morales? What about Esmeralda Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican with The Taste of Sugar: A Novel by Marisel Vera? A school guide has already been created for the award-winning New York Times’  1619 Project. What if the project was paired with Kekla Magoon’s Fire in the Streets or Renée Watson’s Some Places More Than Others

If a young reader is not into historical fiction, there are still a lot of innovative ways to introduce overlooked historical moments through young adult and middle grade novels. The excitement is not only discovering the pages can be mirrors but can also bring much needed light to a period times overlooked by our history books. Let young readers question the very text books being handed to them. Let them raise their eyebrows at what is left off the page and nudge them to present their doubts through the use of fictional characters who are also on a similar journey. The goal is to expand what is presented in approved texts and have them find the missing voices in between the lines because no one story book or newspaper holds the full truth.

Meet Lilliam Rivera

Photo credit: Vanessa Acosta

Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and the author of children’s books Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit, Dealing in DreamsThe Education of Margot Sanchez, and the forthcoming young adult novel Never Look Back (September 15, 2020) by Bloomsbury. Her work has appeared in The Washington PostNew York Times, and Elle, to name a few. A Bronx, New York native, Lilliam currently lives in Los Angeles. 

About NEVER LOOK BACK

Never Look Back

Expertly blends reality and fantasy to explore what’s behind love and loss, what it takes to heal.” – Randy Ribay, author of National Book Award finalist Patron Saints of Nothing

Acclaimed author Lilliam Rivera blends a touch of magical realism into a timely story about cultural identity, overcoming trauma, and the power of first love.

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria—and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

Featuring contemporary Afro-Latinx characters, this retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice is perfect for fans of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper.

ISBN-13: 9781547603732
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years