Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

News Literacy: Not Just Another Education Buzzword, a guest post by Jamie Gregory

Remember that assignment in junior high to watch the nightly news and keep a journal of what you watched? That was pretty simple for me; all I had to do was turn on CNN and get my notebook.

But that was the 90s. Now as an educator, I wonder if my teachers ever encountered any student pushback about “fake news” or had trouble with students using less-than-credible news sources.

Currently, we have movements across our country to create media literacy legislation mandating instruction. But beware: don’t allow news literacy (a subset of information and media literacy) to become merely a buzzword in education. It indicates our young people’s need to learn how to navigate the rapidly-evolving information landscape. And within that, yes, #FactsMatter.

What’s at stake? Consider real-life consequences of mis/disinformation:

  • The Pizzagate conspiracy theory caused an armed man to open fire inside the Comet Pizza restaurant. Thankfully no one was injured.
  • How about determining whether or not an event actually happened? Alex Jones used his InfoWars platform to claim the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax and has lost in court. But imagine the emotional impact of his “theories” on a family who has lost a child to murder.
  • A 4 year-old died of the flu after the mother sought medical advice from an anti-vaccination group on Facebook
  • In the fall of 2020, wildfires ravaged areas of Oregon. Rumors and misinformation caused funds and efforts to be diverted from the actual cause. The FBI and other local officials released statements debunking the false rumors (and utilized social media).

Teachers often feel like they don’t have time to incorporate information, media, and news literacy, mostly due to testing and the need to cover content. Others may feel news literacy is too political or polarizing. However, if teachers do collaborate with school librarians on these skills, news literacy education cannot fall into the traps of “drill and kill” instruction, or library “drive-by” instruction (e.g. practice involving only pre-selected websites; visiting the library one time a year for brief instruction). It won’t work.

How to avoid those pitfalls? Embed and integrate news literacy into what you’re already doing. Design activities requiring students to engage in critical thinking using real-world examples. Take the time to find out your students’ current habits. Meet them where they’re at. For example, they aren’t going to drop Google and solely use databases. They aren’t going to forego news apps and YouTube news channels to start watching news on television or purchase the print edition like “the old days.” And that’s okay. That’s the evolving information landscape.

Below are some ideas I’ve implemented in some form over the past several years. And like any librarian, I don’t think I came up with a single one of these on my own! Be sure that, as you plan programming, you plan for your own professional development. Librarians must keep their own skills up-to-date as well as frequently and honestly reflect on their own habits and biases.

  • Design activities for students to discover the differences among news aggregators, news media outlets, and user-generated content.
    • Show Google or Apple News, the BBC website, and a social media platform. Can students tell you that news aggregators do not do original reporting? Why does that matter?
    • Here’s an example of user-generated content. Can students identify it as such and take steps to debunk it?

  • Similarly, have students contrast news formats from a single news outlet.
    • Idea from News Literacy: The Keys to Combating Fake News by Michelle Luhtala and Jacquelyn Whiting – create stations for students to analyze the format of the New York Times (or other publication) print edition, website, app, YouTube channel, and social media accounts on Facebook/Twitter.
  • According to the most recent report in October 2020 released by the Stanford History Education Group, two-thirds of students could not tell the difference between news stories and ads. Ninety-six percent of students could not analyze how ties to the fossil fuel industry might influence the credibility of a climate change website. Create a Google Form to administer the latest SHEG assessment to students/patrons. Analyze results and share. Then share national results.

  • Design an event for a Q&A panel with local journalists. Help students learn how professional journalists follow a code of ethics and why local journalism is vital to communities.
  • Replicate this Common Sense Media teen news consumption survey. I did that with my journalism newspaper class, and the students compared their class answers to the results of the national survey, which I condensed into this infographic.
  • Quick quiz or trivia questions – show headlines from a variety of credible and satirical news outlets. Can students distinguish what’s credible and what’s satire?
  • A great beginning activity is to use the Infozones infographic from the News Literacy Project. Either give students/patrons an example of each information type to sort on their own according to the infographic, or have them find their own examples of each.

  • Memes are not news! Show examples of people sharing memes purporting to be news and how to use lateral reading to debunk them. Have students/patrons make their own examples of social media posts which accurately reflect a news article to model digital citizenship.
  • I love interactive bulletin boards! Create a lift-the-flap display titled “Is It Trustworthy?” and post an image or headline with the debunked information under a flap.
  • Host digital scavenger hunts for examples of types of mis/disinformation so we go beyond using the blanket term “fake news.”
    • There are many infographics available for showing students the nuanced categories of mis/disinformation.

  • My students enjoyed a virtual visit with Greta Pittenger, fact-checker with NPR. She did this activity with my students: hand out a straight news article. Ask students/patrons to highlight anything they think would need to be fact-checked. Then demonstrate reliable resources they could use for fact-checking (lateral reading). You can connect with local journalists through the News Literacy Project’s virtual platform, Checkology.
  • My amazing colleague, school librarian Tamara Cox (@coxtl), recently shared a clickbait lesson she completed with students. This is a great way to incorporate fiction into your misinformation discussions!
  • I’m not the first person to caution educators about using media bias charts. They may oversimplify and even misrepresent some credible news media outlets. For example, the AllSides chart states it only evaluates the perspectives of online content, not accuracy or credibility! It can be helpful for students to find opinion pieces from a variety of outlets, and these charts may give a false sense of authority. Try having students adopt a critical stance and develop some critical habits no matter which news media outlet they choose to interact with.

Again, the most important factor in news literacy education is your own professional development. Sign up for free newsletters from the News Literacy Project, First Draft, and the Center for News Literacy. Be willing to learn about and adapt your own news literacy habits in order to create meaningful learning experiences for students.

Meet the author

Jamie is the Upper School librarian and journalism newspaper teacher at Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville, SC. She is a National Board Certified teacher in Library Media, finishing her 8th year as a high school librarian. She spent her first 8 years in public education as a high school English and French teacher, journalism teacher, yearbook and newspaper adviser, and AP English Language and Composition teacher before earning her MLIS degree from USC in 2012. She served as the 2019-2020 chair of the SC Book Awards programs, a judge for the 2021 YALSA Morris Award, and is currently in her 3rd year of blogging for ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom blog. She has presented sessions on high school literacy, guided inquiry-based learning, and news literacy at the South Carolina Association of School Librarians’ annual conferences. She has also published articles in School Library Monthly, VOYA, Teacher Librarian, and School Library Connection. Follow her on Twitter @gregorjm.

What are you, crazy? a guest post by Heidi Heilig

“What are you, crazy?” I got that a lot when I was a teenager, but it took me a while to realize it was true.

I grew up in the 90s, when attitudes towards mental illness and therapy were changing rapidly. Prozac had just became A Thing, and due in part to their marketing, awareness of mental illness was growing. More people than ever began seeking treatment and medication for conditions they had only just begun to recognize. Inevitably–because we can’t have nice things–the backlash grew as well, fueling a stigma against medication and therapy.

Of course, as a teenager, I wasn’t thinking about these cultural forces. I was mostly concerned with my friendships and romances–and why I kept destroying them, sometimes in a spectacular fashion.

I was the outcast–the drama queen–the weirdo. I remember ruining a pool party by following a beach ball off the side of the deck and falling twenty feet through the trees to the ground. I picked myself up, grabbed the ball, and climbed back up the slope, tracking blood all over the deck. I was surprised to see it; I’d been so manic that I couldn’t believe I’d been hurt by the fall. Everyone else couldn’t believe I’d actually jumped.

This is just one instance, easily brushed aside if it hadn’t been a pattern. My behavior would be normal for a while, but then I would do something frankly bizarre without realizing until much later how out of place it was. The adults in my life blamed it on various aspects of my history or personality. “Hormones,” they said, which still irritates me. Or “she’s acting out for attention,” or “her parents are divorced.” My peers were often crueler. Then again, how could they understand what I was going through when I didn’t, either?

It was an absolute mystery to me at the time. These wild mood swings–from unstoppable sobbing to giddy celebration to schemes that made no sense in the aftermath–were obviously abnormal when measured against my classmates, or what I saw portrayed in the media. But they weren’t something I was making up, either. I wasn’t acting out–I was simply being myself. In fact, I found it impossible to act any other way.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s and relying heavily on self-medication that I got a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Suddenly, there was a method to my madness. My emotions had context. Even better, with a diagnosis came the potential of treatment–the hope that someday I could be normal.

Unfortunately, that’s also when stigma pounced.

You caught it there, in the word “normal,” didn’t you? When I was a teen, I wanted so badly for people to like me–or at least stop hating me–and I thought if I was “normal” it would finally happen. Of course, the older I got, the more I realized that “normal” is a made-up concept. And there were so many of those concepts floating around, many of them contradictory. “If you tried harder, you could get better without meds,” was a popular one. Or “therapy is for the weak.”

Basically, I wanted normalcy, but not through treatment, because treatment was for abnormal people.

Now, no one ever told me that directly. It would almost have been easier if they had, because then I could argue back. Instead, these ideas permeated the cultural climate I grew up in. Ideas that expressed themselves in a thousand different ways: in books and movies where the only mentally ill characters were villains or suicides. In the news, where serial killers and mass shooters were labeled “crazy.” In the curl of the lip and the question I got whenever I did something out of left-field: are you insane?

Like the relentless wind twists a growing tree, these ideas changed me. To this day, I struggle with medication and treatment, and I can’t help but wonder how different my life might have been in a different climate. People like to say that kids are resilient, and they are, if they survive; they bend instead of breaking. But those bends and crooks are a part of the adults they become. And while they can be beautiful, they can also be reminders that there were many other ways we could have grown.

Thankfully, the winds are indeed changing. Due in large part to their own social networks, kids these days have more awareness, more access to information, help, or care. Best of all, in books and other media, I see more and more mentally ill people portrayed as people–as main characters and heroes–not just villains or tragic inspirations. But the stigma still exists, and all stigma is difficult to overcome. That is one reason I write mentally ill characters, why I talk about mental illness, why I tell people–especially kids–that I myself am bipolar, as though that’s normal.

So, what am I? Crazy? Yes, I am. And I’m not alone.

Meet the author

Heidi Heilig is the author of The Girl From Everywhere duology and the Shadow Players Trilogy. She grew up in Hawaii, and then she moved to New York and grew up even more. She holds an MFA from NYU in Musical Theatre Writing, of all things, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her sons, three chickens, and a hopeful hawk.

About On This Unworthy Scaffold

Jetta is in the center of a war. With her magical power, she could save everyone, save her country . . . or she could destroy it all.

Heidi Heilig blends traditional storytelling with ephemera for a lush, page-turning commercial fantasy for fans of Tomi Adeyemi and Leigh Bardugo.

The final book in the acclaimed Shadow Players trilogy.

Jetta’s home is spiraling into civil war. Le Trépas—the deadly necromancer—has used his blood magic to wrest control of the country, and Jetta has been without treatment for her malheur for weeks. Meanwhile, Jetta’s love interest, brother, and friend are intent on infiltrating the palace to stop the Boy King and find Le Trépas to put an end to the unleashed chaos.

The sweeping conclusion to Heidi Heilig’s ambitious trilogy takes us to new continents, introduces us to new gods, flings us into the middle of palace riots and political intrigue, and asks searching questions about power and corruption.

Acclaimed author Heidi Heilig creates a rich world inspired by Southeast Asian cultures and French colonialism. Told from Jetta’s first-person point-of-view, as well as with chapters written as play scripts and ephemera such as songs, myths, and various forms of communication, On This Unworthy Scaffold is a satisfying finale to the epic fantasy trilogy. It will thrill readers who love Claire Legrand’s Furyborn, Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer, and N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.

ISBN-13: 9780062652003
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/27/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Sibling Stories, a conversation between Erin Soderberg Downing and Jacqueline West

Jacqueline West: Hello, Erin! I was so happy to get an early peek at THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT. I loved the book, and I adored all three of the Peach kids: Lucy, Freddy, and Herb (who I wanted to hug every time he appeared on the page). Also, a family road trip in a food truck crammed with kids and books and pie and some pet mice was a lovely imaginary escape right now.  

Erin Soderberg Downing: Hi to you, Jacqueline! I’m super-excited to write this post with you, since I’ve always been a big fan of your stories (remember when my parent-kid book club read The Books of Elsewhere and got to meet with you to discuss the novel? That was a huge hit!). I’m so glad you loved Peaches – and from what you’ve told me, it sounds like it brought back some good memories from your childhood with your brothers. I also loved LONG LOST, and got totally sucked into the unique mystery and fascinating setting of your newest novel.

JW: It was funny—as I read, I found more and more ways that our newest books overlap. Obviously, they’re very different in tone and story, but they’ve both got sibling relationships at their core. Was that the seed of this story for you? Did it all begin with the Peach kids?  

ESD: Yes! This book—like all of my stories—started with an idea that was very character-based. Characters are the first thing I develop when I have a new idea, and then the plot comes later (sometimes much later). I almost always let my characters build each story for me, through their actions and personalities. When I set out to write GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT, I knew I wanted to write a story about a family who suddenly become millionaires and spend their windfall on an epic and fun road trip—but it took me a while to dig out the emotional core and make it a book with humor and heart. Ultimately, WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE PEACH PIE morphed into a story about a broken family who find their way back to wholeness during a challenging time, through forced togetherness and a shared family goal. When the book opens, the Peaches’ concept of “normal life” and the longstanding meaning of “home” have been shattered by the death of their mother, so it’s very much a story about searching for a new definition of what both “normal” and “home” really mean.

LONG LOST has a lot of similar themes—a family uprooted, figuring out how to live (reluctantly) in an uncomfortable new normal. Where did you first get the idea for this story? And I’m curious to know if you develop your ideas and plot first, or if—like me—you let your characters build things for you?

JW: I’m a bit of an oddball in that my books often sprout from a setting. (It worked that way with The Books of Elsewhere—the whole thing started with that strange, sprawling old house!) The seed of LONG LOST came from a crooked green street sign on a leafy rural road, which I glimpsed as my car streaked past. I don’t know what it was about that sign, but the big idea came to me in a flash: a small, insular New England town with a unique library, where a girl finds an unfinished mystery novel that she gradually figures out is set in the very same small town. The Crane sisters—clever, curious historian Fiona and her big sister Arden, the future Olympic figure skater—fell into place immediately afterward. And then I got to let my imagination roam while I created the library where so much of the story takes place. It’s a former mansion that has been bequeathed to the town by a deceased heiress, full of parquet floors and shadowy nooks and room after room crammed with books, and it’s basically the library of my dreams.

Speaking of book love—THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT mentions lots of other great kids’ books. The Penderwicks is an important thread throughout the story, and the Peaches made me think of several other famous book families: the Vanderbeekers, the March sisters, Coyote Sunrise and her dad, the Darling children from PETER PAN. Are there certain family/sibling-focused books that had a big impact on you as a young reader—or as a grown-up writer?    

ESD: I love that the Peaches make you think of Vanderbeekers, Coyote Sunrise, and the March sisters—those are three of my very favorites! Both Vanderbeekers and Coyote Sunrise had a huge impact on me while writing this novel, because both are great at getting readers to both laugh and cry—sometimes within the very same chapter. That’s the mark of a great book for me…one that can pull out all the feelings. I was a huge reader as a kid (and I still am as an adult!), so one of my favorite parts of writing this book was creating Lucy’s 7th Grade Summer Reading List. I loved building a list highlighting some of my favorite middle-grade books of all time.

As you mentioned, LONG LOST is (mostly) set in an amazing old library in an incredible small town and is obviously a love-letter to librarians and readers who love to get lost in a good book. So I’m curious to know what some of your favorite middle-grade books are, and if any had a particular impact on you when writing this story?

JW: I grew up in a house filled with a lot of classic children’s literature. I loved Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—all the historical novels featuring independent girls who wanted to become writers. The Hobbit, A.A. Milne’s books, Sherlock Holmes collections,and Alice in Wonderland were also formative works for me. I read so much Victorian British literature as a kid, I thought you had to be Victorian and British to write a book (and my earliest writing attempts show it). So the book-within-a-book parts of LONG LOST, where I get to write in the style of an old-fashioned novel, were deliriously fun to create. It was like stepping back into my ten-year-old self.

Of course, later, I discovered that there was a whole world outside of British children’s fiction, thank goodness. Some newer middle grade novels I’ve adored are Hanna Alkaf’s The Girl and the Ghost, Kaela Noel’s Coo, Ronald Smith’s Hoodoo, Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, and Jonathan Auxier’s Sweep—but these are all wildly different from LONG LOST, or from anything else I’ve done. If those books have had a particular impact on me, it’s just to make me strive to be a better writer.

And while we’re talking about influences: Your kid characters are so well drawn. With just a few details, you make each one distinct and believable (and loveable!). Are any of them inspired by your own family, or by your childhood? Do you have any special practices that help you get inside of younger characters?  

ESD: I’m an only child, and I’ve begun to realize that most of the books I write tend to be about larger families, in part because it’s something fun and different for me to explore in fiction. I never knew what it was like to grow up surrounded by chaos and sibling-arguments and empty cereal boxes (before I even got a single bowl). BUT now I have three kids of my own, so I’m surrounded by many of those things on a day-to-day basis. The three Peach kids were very much inspired by life with my own kids, a 15-year-old and 13-year-old twins. Lucy is a whole lot like my oldest daughter, who often points out that she’s much more mature than her 40-something-year-old oddball mom. Freddy was 100% inspired by my son Henry, who is totally a random fact guy, and actually got to draw all of Freddy’s sketchbook art that’s included in the book! And Herb reminds me a lot of my Ruby, who is super snuggly and caring and fun and loves to try to make other people smile and laugh when they’re feeling sad or stressed or worried.

But there’s also an element of me in each of these kids. Like Lucy, I love getting lost in a good book. Like Freddy, I get a big kick out of random facts and stopping to check out roadside attractions that can change the course of a whole road trip with one little detour off the main road. And like Herb, I love caring for—and holding close—all kinds of wonderful treasures (my two dogs and three kids, especially!).

Now I have a similar question for you, but it’s about all those great settings in your stories (it makes sense to me that this is the part of your novels that comes first for you…your sense of place is amazing!)—all of your settings are so detailed and easy to fall into while reading your books. Do you use real places to ground your settings in reality, or are all of your spooky houses, libraries, and strange and captivating small towns built primarily in your imagination?

JW: Oh, thank you so much. Like I mentioned, settings are hugely important to me. I love houses—I often even dream about houses—because each one feels like a box for potential lives, potential mysteries, potential stories, and in my fiction, I get to live in hundreds of them. The settings that I use in my books are sometimes inspired by specific places I’ve been or specific things I’ve seen, but then they grow and change drastically until they take on a life of their own. The small Massachusetts town in LONG LOST is fictional, but the ingredients for it came from my visits to places like Concord, Salem, and Rye, NH. And the library is one hundred percent my own concoction. I’ve heard about a few libraries here in the Midwest that are former private homes, but I’ve never gotten to visit any of them. Maybe someday… Hey, that could even be part of a family road trip!  

ESD: I love it! Maybe that should be the Peach family’s next adventure. Actually, I should tell you that the second book in this series is all about the Peach family turning their Great Aunt Lucinda’s old, falling-apart mansion into a working B&B…but perhaps I should rethink that and have them turn it into a library instead. (As you know, the sky’s the limit during revisions!)

Well, this has been so much fun. When we first started talking about writing this post, I know we were both worried about finding enough commonalities in our stories to create a shared post about two very different novels. But I think we’ve done it! It’s been great learning more about your process, and diving into your writing space to learn about some of your influences and inspiration for your novels. I can’t wait to see what sparks your next literary adventure.

JW: Likewise! And I love imagining the Peaches making themselves at home in a grand old mansion. I’ll be wishing them—and you!—all the best.

Meet the authors

Erin Soderberg Downing has written more than fifty books for kids, tweens, and young adults. Some of her most popular titles include the middle-grade novel Moon Shadow and two fun chapter book series: Puppy Pirates and The Quirks. The first book in her new series—The Great Peach Experiment: When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie—was chosen as a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Before becoming an author, Erin was a children’s book editor, a cookie inventor, and also worked for Nickelodeon. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, kids, and two fluffy dogs. More information can be found at www.erinsoderberg.comInstagram: ErinSoderbergDowningFacebook: ErinDowningBooksTwitter: @ErinDowning

Jacqueline West is the author of the NYT-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Honor Book The Collectors,the MG mystery Digging Up Danger, and the MG novel Long Lost, coming from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in May 2021, as well asthe YA novels Dreamers Often Lie and Last Things. An award-winning poet and occasional actress, Jacqueline lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota. 
Twitter: @JacquelineMWestInstagram: jacqueline.west.writes
www.jacquelinewest.com

About The Great Peach Experiment 1: When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie by Erin Soderberg Downing

Mix together a used food truck, a road trip that doesn’t exactly go as planned, and a lot of pie, and you have the recipe for this sweet middle grade series starter brimming with humor, heart, and a family you’ll fall in love with. Perfect for readers who gobbled down The Penderwicks and The Vanderbeeks of 141st Street.

Sweet summer has taken a rotten turn . . . 

After a tough year, Lucy, Freddy, and Herb Peach are ready for vacation. Lucy wants to read all of the books on the summer reading list. Freddy wants to work on his art projects (when he isn’t stuck in summer school). Herb wants to swim every day.

Then their dad makes a big announcement: one of the inventions their mom came up with before she passed away has sold, and now they’re millionaires!

But Dad has bigger plans than blowing the cash on fun stuff or investing it. He’s bought a used food truck. The Peaches are going to spend the summer traveling the country selling pies. It will be the Great Peach Experiment—a summer of bonding while living out one of Mom’s dreams. Summer plans, sunk. And there’s one more issue Dad’s neglected: none of them knows how to bake. . . . 

A perfect blend of humor, heart, and family antics, When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie is a delectable treat to be gobbled down or savored slowly. (Slice of pie on the side, optional, but highly recommended.)

ISBN-13: 9781645950349
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 04/06/2021
Series: The Great Peach Experiment
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

About Long Lost by Jacqueline West

Once there were two sisters who did everything together. But only one of them disappeared.

New York Times–bestselling author Jacqueline West’s Long Lost is an atmospheric, eerie mystery brimming with suspense. Fans of Katherine Arden’s Small Spaces and Victoria Schwab’s City of Ghosts series will lose themselves in this mesmerizing and century-spanning tale.

Eleven-year-old Fiona has just read a book that doesn’t exist.

When Fiona’s family moves to a new town to be closer to her older sister’s figure skating club—and far from Fiona’s close-knit group of friends—nobody seems to notice Fiona’s unhappiness. Alone and out of place, Fiona ventures to the town’s library, a rambling mansion donated by a long-dead heiress. And there she finds a gripping mystery novel about a small town, family secrets, and a tragic disappearance.

Soon Fiona begins to notice strange similarities that blur the lines between the novel and her new town. With a little help from a few odd Lost Lake locals, Fiona uncovers the book’s strange history. Lost Lake is a town of restless spirits, and Fiona will learn that both help and danger come from unexpected places—maybe even from the sister she thinks doesn’t care about her anymore.

New York Times–bestselling and acclaimed author Jacqueline West weaves a heart-pounding, intense, and imaginative mystery that builds anticipation on every page, while centering on the strong and often tumultuous bond between sisters. Laced with suspense, Long Lost will fascinate readers of Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Secret Keepers and fans of ghost stories. 

ISBN-13: 9780062691750
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/11/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Why I Love to Write Middle-Grade Stories, a guest post by Ena Jones

Middle-grade stories hold a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s because I still relate so much to the child within me, and I understand that childhood can be a complex time. At least it was for me. So, as I create stories, I want to acknowledge hard stuff, but also have a good time, and that’s what I try to bring to my writing: A bit of seriousness, a lot of comfort, one or two big questions, a little outrageousness, definitely some fun, and mostly, entertainment from beginning to end, because—

Growing up is hard. Hard. And I remember that. In an instant, my mind can bring me back several decades, directly to a 3rd grade playground where a mob of girls pushed me toward a boy who said he liked me. I was so afraid. Or to my desk in a 6th grade classroom where I suddenly realized my hair wasn’t drying because I’d accidently soaked it in bath oil. The embarrassment!

Or, more tragically, when a 5th grader from our small city went missing, and then his body was found. It was so unreal that the world physically shifted underneath me. I knew him. My brother knew him. How? Why?

Or the time I was walking my early morning paper route—a car stopped and a man got out. He came toward me; the only thing more determined than his gait was the look in his eyes. What would have happened if my dog hadn’t come charging at him from out of nowhere?

And then, when a beloved relative did things he shouldn’t have, and when I finally told, the women who should have protected me, instead protected him and “the family.” “Just forget it,” they said.

Yeah, growing up is hard. And most kids hide their questions, their shames, their fears, not only from their peers, but from the many adults in their lives. That doesn’t happen by accident. They learn to do that.

For me, reading was my escape from the complicated world. It was a way to put myself in far off places, to observe other experiences, be they idealistic, fantastic, or horrible, from a distance. I remember reading a biography about young girl who lived through the Deerfield Massacre of 1704, and though many of her family members were killed during the attack on the village, she survived and went on to live a meaningful life. I read and reread the pages describing the surprise attack (which happened early in the morning while she and her family were sleeping) trying to understand it. Looking back, I think I was searching for hints about a path forward: How does one survive growing up? Getting to adulthood? How does one find or make a good life?

I think these are questions all children wonder about.

By the end of sixth grade I’d exhausted my local library’s children’s section, and I’d reread my treasured copy of LITTLE WOMEN until the binding was coming apart. So I moved on to adult books. We had an old hardcover copy of GONE WITH THE WIND at my house, and it swept me away. I read it at least 5 times by 8th grade graduation. I was fascinated by books I found in the library, like AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, by Theodore Dreiser, and IN COLD BLOOD, by Truman Capote. I kept asking myself, How can people be as horrible as the antagonists in those books? And how did ordinary people fight against antagonists, even the mild ones? Most kids don’t feel like they have the power to win against forces of evil, and I was no different. And really, aren’t we all still trying to figure out how to overcome those forces as adults?

I write for middle grade readers because I want to explore it all: The scary and difficult parts, yes, but also the love, the comfort, the funny, and the entertaining. Like the time my parents said “No!” to a pet goldfish, so I went down to the creek and collected at least a hundred minnows and put them in our only bathtub. That did not end well for me—or the minnows.

And today’s kids might be influenced mostly by social media, but when I was young, television commercials were what stuck in our minds. One day, after a big rain, I ushered my younger siblings out the door and we had a marvelous time sliding down the small hill in our swamped back yard. I can still see my mother’s shocked face after we tromped back inside covered head-to-toe with mud and I happily told her, “Don’t worry, Mom. Tide will get it out!”

Or the many times I chatted with my best friend as we sat on a concrete curb, knowing I needed to get home, but not wanting to leave in the middle of a vitally important conversation about our dreams, or school, or even that boy. The feeling of freedom, and also, how nice it was to be heard, and to listen to someone going through the same sorts of things I was.

I make maps of everything so I don’t get confused when I’m writing. Here’s a map of the basement in SIX FEET BELOW ZERO.

The idea for my current book, SIX FEET BELOW ZERO, came as I reached back to my 12-year-old self from the safety of my current life, and thought about common fears. Not just the fears of children, but the fears of adults. I thought about the times I was afraid, and what, specifically, I had been afraid of. I also thought of places I felt safe and protected, and the people who made me feel that way. This took me straight to my adult life and my husband’s grandmother’s home in Maryland. She had a lovely piece of property, plenty of family history, and, as for herself, she was not simply a “sweet little old lady,” but a whole person full of vim and an independent personality all her own. Mostly, she knew how to love. She showed this in how she treated her family, my husband, me, and our children, her great-grandchildren.

In the case of SIX FEET BELOW ZERO, I began as I usually do, with “What if…” questions. One of the questions I considered was about guardianship. What happens if a parent or guardian isn’t there to protect a child or children? Parents worry about it, and so do kids! Then I wondered, What if there were a not-so-wonderful relative lurking who would love nothing more than to swoop in and take control? An antagonist whose only thought was for themselves, not the children who needed care?

I began to work with that premise, using my husband’s grandmother as the inspiration for a guardian who would do anything she could to protect her family, even if she weren’t around to physically care for them herself. This turned out to be an important aspect of Rosie and Baker’s story (the children in SFBZ). They had to figure out a way to be their own heroes, but at the same time, their “Great-Grammy” was always there, supporting them, whispering to them, despite the fact that she was no longer alive.

As I was conceptualizing Great Grammy’s home, I wanted to include yard art. When I saw this photo of the “heavy metal” band on the Internet, I knew I had to find a place for it in the story.

Of course, once I decided Rosie and Baker would need to hide their great-grandmother’s body in the basement freezer, I began to laugh and shake my head. Not just because I thought it was funny—I mean, where else would they hide it?—but because, at the same time it was terrifying. That’s when I began to have doubts about writing this particular story.

Through the doubts and the struggles I kept writing. And there were many struggles. Along with the external plot—Rosie and Baker having to cope with Great-Grammy’s death, hiding her body, finding the lost will, and protecting themselves from their grandmother, Grim Hesper—there was also Rosie’s internal, or emotional, journey to consider. It probably should have been obvious, but sometimes, when I’m distracted by the external plot, that internal plot can be difficult to figure out. In SIX FEET BELOW ZERO it turned out to be the character of Great-Grammy who spoke up, telling Rosie (and me) exactly what Rosie needed to learn: “One of these days, Rosie, you’ll treasure what we have here the way I do.” Of course, Rosie flat out ignores this suggestion.

It took me a while to see this nugget of truth for what it was, the theme of the book and Rosie’s journey. She wanted a picture-perfect house, one without embarrassing yard art and shower contraptions. She needed to understand that she already had the perfect home, and to “treasure” it.

Sometimes, in life and in books, the answers in our stories aren’t as straightforward as we’d like them to be, or as satisfying. Which is probably the biggest reason I love writing middle-grade fiction. I’m always searching for the comfort of a good story and a mostly happy ending.

Aren’t we all?

Meet the author

Photo credit: McCardell Photography

Ena Jones is the author of the CLAYTON STONE series and SIX FEET BELOW ZERO. She enjoys long walks along the ocean, preparing fun dinners for friends and family, and sinking into the couch with a good book. She currently lives in North Carolina with her family.

Website: www.EnaJones.com

Twitter: @EnaJones

About Six Feet Below Zero

This is the entire book jacket for SIX FEET BELOW ZERO, illustrated by the talented Maeve Norton. I absolutely love the Post-it notes on the back cover!
Image courtesy of Holiday House.

A dead body. A missing will. An evil relative. The good news is, Great Grammy has a plan. The bad news is, she’s the dead body.

Rosie and Baker are hiding something. Something big. Their great grandmother made them promise to pretend she’s alive until they find her missing will and get it in the right hands. The will protects the family house from their grandmother, Grim Hesper, who would sell it and ship Rosie and Baker off to separate boarding schools. They’ve already lost their parents and Great Grammy—they can’t lose each other, too.

The siblings kick it into high gear to locate the will, keep their neighbors from prying, and safeguard the house. Rosie has no time to cope with her grief as disasters pop up around every carefully planned corner. She can’t even bring herself to read her last-ever letter from Great Grammy. But the lies get bigger and bigger as Rosie and Baker try to convince everyone that their great grandmother is still around, and they’ll need more than a six-month supply of frozen noodle casserole and mountains of toilet paper once their wicked grandmother shows up!

This unexpectedly touching read reminds us that families are weird and wonderful, even when they’re missing their best parts. With humor, suspense, and a testament to loyalty, Ena Jones takes two brave kids on an unforgettable journey. Includes four recipes for Great Grammy’s survival treats.

ISBN-13: 9780823446223
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 04/20/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Kids Might Be Alright: Bringing Media Literacy to the Classroom, a guest post by Olivia Tompkins

I am a relatively recent MLIS grad and early on in my program, I took a “pilot” class on Information Literacy in Libraries and fell in love with it—as much as one can fall in love with a field born out of an infuriating element of society. The class both taught information literacy to us as students, and taught us how to teach our library patrons and/or students.

Fast forward to my graduation capstone project: “piloting” an information literacy class for the seventh graders in the school in work, related to their big year-end project. I built a lesson around identifying misinformation online and used a viral, blatantly incorrect TikTok about—ironically—COVID-19 (the original video has been removed, but is still visible through this “duet” video). This is early March 2020.  

Now, pause: the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, the world shuts down, and as my school goes remote, the 7th grade project is cancelled—as are my info lit lessons.  

Fast forward again: I am granted time and resources to build, you guessed it, a “pilot” information literacy curriculum for my school.

Everything about teaching information literacy seems to be in pilot mode, despite us being well beyond the time where a pilot lesson would do the trick.

Students today know what they’re doing online. They may be prone to creating dance TikToks in the library, but they also know how to create thoughtful, intelligent content to share that doesn’t involve dances I would not dare to attempt.

That said, they are not star students when it comes to fact-checking and verifying what they read online. Insert defeated sigh here.

There is hope, though!

As a librarian-educator who wants to teach crucial information literacy skills to my students, it is hard to know where to start. Not only are there an overwhelming number of skills for them to learn, there are an overwhelming number of books, lesson examples, and organizations on the topic for me to sift through. The picture below is only a fraction of resources I sifted through to find best practices.

(Andy the cat would like to brush up on his media literacy skills, too!)

I have to figure out where to start and I need to consider the complexity of the matter. What I began to teach seventh graders in early 2020 (identifying incorrect information and the basics of lateral reading) was a lot to ask of them. But when I was asked to visit an advanced journalism class of 10th-12th graders, I needed to include those basics and then some. 

The scaffolding of this kind of curriculum is something I am still figuring out and is something I assume will involve a lot of trial and error.

It’s at this point that I finally understood why all of this is in “pilot” mode—the only way to know what works is to jump in the deep end and see what works, or doesn’t work (not to mix my metaphors, but here we are).  

So what does work?

With a class of older students, I knew we could tackle a more nuanced information literacy skill: identifying and understanding bias in the media.

My visit was scheduled for right after our return from spring break, so the teacher and I assigned a brief lateral reading exercise before their time off—without calling it lateral reading. Each student picked a current event they found interesting and found three distinct articles about it.

With the assignment, they were given thought-starter questions to reflect on their three sources: (1) Are any facts reported differently between outlets? (2) Are you able to find any obvious political affiliations or opinions within the article? (3) Did your opinion on or reaction to the topic change between the different coverage you read? (4) Does any article feel more “correct” than the others?

I tried to keep the word “bias” out of the questions so they could get a sense of these differences without ascribing them to a specific definition. Then the night before class, their homework was to find one more article on their topic published during their spring break and consider the same questions.

In a class of 15 students, the students consulted 23 distinct outlets with repeated use of NYT, Fox, BBC, CBS, and CNN.

We were virtual on this particular day, I started class with breakout room discussions for the students to share what they read and any observations they had. I sat in on one of the groups and they had a lively conversation without any prompting. We came back as a group to do a quick share of any key observations and then I began my presentation.

I retroactively introduced the assignment as lateral reading and discussed that it’s a great way to verify information itself, but also is an early step to identifying bias. The students all had a general understanding of what bias means, though my volunteer to give a definition looked at it more as an opinion or preference.

This is where I leveraged one of the incredibly well-done “Who, Me? Biased?”videos from The New York Times to introduce implicit bias: “Peanut Butter, Jelly and Racism.” I paired implicit bias with an overview of confirmation bias and filter bubbles, like how algorithms show you more of the fun content you like, and then how that applies to the news (ie. radicalized groups, qanon, etc.).

And as I told my students, the reality that we all have bias is the biggest hurdle to overcome when you’re trying to pay attention to the insidious kind.

Screenshot from Peanut Butter, Jelly, and Racism

The next set of breakout conversations was my big “Yeah, okay, these kids are going to be alright,” moment. Here I was being a huge downer and discussing the ways that confirmation bias can go really wrong, and how the algorithms can make it even worse, and one of my students brought up something they noticed during their spring break. While we were at home, there was the terrible attack against Asian American women in Georgia and with this news came a lot of resources to help those affected and that do great work for Asian American community as well—as long as you knew where to look for it.

To paraphrase my student, they said, “One thing I noticed was that once a few people I followed posted those good resources, more and more of that information came up in my newsfeed, either from other people I followed, or from suggested posts. So that’s a positive way that the algorithm works, right?”

And, yes, they absolutely were right.

I really lucked out with this class; they were engaged, had great conversations about how media can influence social justice, and seemed to take away from the lesson what I had hoped for: an elevated awareness of bias in their media.

There is a long way to go with how we teach information literacy skills to teens and younger students, but this generation has shown that they are ready and willing to be civic-minded, and they aren’t afraid to jump right in. They’ll be alright, we just need to guide them.


Meet the author

Olivia Tompkins (she/her) is a middle & high school librarian at a K-12 independent school in Connecticut, who switched to the LIS field after realizing the corporate life was not for her. She loves to read YA fiction, memoirs, historical fiction, or any book with strong, badass female protagonists. When not building LibGuides or teaching media literacy, Olivia is often trying to read and write while her cats demand lap space, or reorganizing the tower of books that she cannot fit on her bookshelves. You can find her trying to keep up with her TBR list on Instagram at @livinthestacks.

Where Stories Come From, a guest post by Jaye Robin Brown

It’s hard for me to believe that my fourth novel, THE KEY TO YOU AND ME, is releasing on April 20th. It seems like only a few weeks ago I was waking up before the dawn to get in an hour or so of writing before heading off to my job as a teacher, not yet agented and publishing a thing only in my daydreams. Those days are gone and now I write full-time but some things are unchanged. I still need to find the stories within me to put on the page.

This got me thinking about where these stories come from. How does an idea that starts as some shadowy notion become a fully-fledged novel? For me, each book’s inspiration and start has been a little different. But what they all have in common is a key element of internal exploration or some issue I’ve grappled with in my life.

In my first novel, NO PLACE TO FALL, I was exploring place and home. It was not only a look at the beauty and pitfalls of life in a small rural town, but also a love song to Appalachia. Though the South, in general, tends to get bad press, there are hierarchies within the South and Southern Appalachia gets, perhaps, the worst press of all. And though I didn’t grow up here, it became my chosen home. It’s a place where family ties go deep, secrets are held close, but people are loved right where they are. It’s also a place steeped in music. I wanted to share this in a novel that explores all of those things along with the beauty of the land.

My second book, GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT, is an exploration of queerness and faith. As someone who is both queer and Southern, it was so important for me to write Jo and her journey. Though the book is a sweet romance, it’s also a look at the ways in which religion and queerness can exist hand-in-hand when people allow it.

At Pride in Boston in 2019 sporting sticker swag from my books

One reason why it took me into my 20s to come out was this Southern upbringing. One of the first questions people often ask is “where do you attend church?” And as a gay person, there’s always this underlying drumbeat of feeling somehow wrong or that you’re going to be struck down because of who you love. This book was the way I dealt with this for myself, along with being, I hope, a ray of light for teens who desire to have faith and an honest existence.

THE MEANING OF BIRDS, my third novel, is my most personal novel of the lot. It delves into loss, grief, and how we heal. In 2015, I lost my partner to cancer. I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to write again. But when I did, what came out was grief. But this story contained so much more, as stories often do. There’s a nod to my grandmother who loved watching birds, the lake house setting was inspired by a yearly retreat I do with several writer friends, and there are cameos of artist friends in some of the later scenes. Mostly though, this book is about the healing power of art and creativity. For years, as an art teacher, I watched the transformative nature of creation. And it turns out that this novel, heavy with my own emotional relationship to grief, provided a way for me to crawl forward and recapture my ability to weave words onto the page.

On my friend’s horse, Fonty

And now here we are, my fourth book, THE KEY TO YOU AND ME. After writing about religion and grief, I needed to write something lighter in tone. This book is about the joy of falling for someone and overcoming obstacles either put in our path or self-created. Though the main premise is the burgeoning romance between main characters—local girl, Kat, and visiting equestrian, Piper—I still found deeper issues I wanted to explore. With Piper, it’s unfounded fear. Though she’s confident riding horses, she’s been terrified to learn how to drive a vehicle. Having gone through my own great fear (mine did have to do with horses) I knew it was something I wanted to explore in fiction. I think there are these moments for all of us where something is overwhelming even if it’s something the rest of the world does easily. For Piper, it’s driving, and I loved being able to navigate her character through this.

With Kat, I wanted to delve into what it means to come out as queer in your own time frame. Kat knows she’s not straight. But she’s unsure how to classify her sexuality. Though plenty of people around her have questioned her, she’s still privately exploring and not ready to label herself. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, how once you’ve put on a certain label, people want to hold you to that. Or they won’t stop until you’ve chosen a label. And as a teenager, there needs to be room to explore and shift and try things on until you find the thing that suits you. And it’s really no one’s right but your own to name it.

But now I should come clean, none of these themes start out in an intentional way. More often, I hear a voice, or something on the news, or imagine a setting that sets the creative wheels in motion. But those trigger points are more like keys for unlocking the psyche. And as I write, themes develop for each book. I often don’t even know what they are until I get into my editorial draft and have another pair of eyes on the work. Then it’s like the proverbial light bulb going off and, “of course that’s what it’s about.”

With each novel, it becomes easier for me to point to the places where they intersect with my lived experience and exploratory thoughts and say “A-ha, so that’s where this story came from.”

Meet the author

Jaye Robin Brown, or JRo to her friends, has been many things in her life–jeweler, mediator, high school art teacher–but is now living the full-time writer life. She lives with her wife, dogs, cats, and horses in a sweet house in the NC woods where she hopes to live happily ever after. She is the author of NO PLACE TO FALL, WILL’S STORY, GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT, THE MEANING OF BIRDS, and the forthcoming THE KEY TO YOU AND ME.

Her debut young adult novel, NO PLACE TO FALL, came out in the fall of 2014 from Harper Teen. It’s a love song to small town girls and mountain music. In April 2016, a companion novella, WILL’S STORY: A NO PLACE TO FALL NOVELLA, released from Epic Reads Impulse, a digital only imprint. GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT, released August 30, 2016, also from Harper Teen, and is the story of Jo Gordon, the out lesbian daughter of a moderate evangelical minister. It’s a love story and a look at the sometimes conundrum of having faith and being queer. It was named to the ALA Rainbow List for 2017 as well as being a Kirkus Best Teen Book of 2017.  THE MEANING OF BIRDS, April 2019, is a story about loss, love, and the healing power of art. It was named a Lambda Literary Award Finalist in the Children’s/Young Adult Category. THE KEY TO YOU AND ME, releasing April 2021, is a dual POV romance between one girl chasing her dream while escaping a broken heart, and another girl trying to figure out her heart’s desire and what happens when they collide.

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/jayerobinbrown/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/jayerobinbrown

Website – www.jayerobinbrown.com

Newsletter – https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/o9e0q5

About The Key to You and Me

A sweet and funny ownvoices LGBTQ+ romance perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Julie Murphy, from the critically acclaimed author of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit!

Piper Kitts is spending the summer living with her grandmother, training at the barn of a former Olympic horseback rider, and trying to get over her ex-girlfriend. Much to Piper’s dismay, her grandmother is making her face her fear of driving by taking lessons from a girl in town.

Kat Pearson has always suspected that she likes girls but fears her North Carolina town is too small to color outside the lines. But when Piper’s grandmother hires Kat to give her driving lessons, everything changes.

Piper’s not sure if she’s ready to let go of her ex. Kat’s navigating uncharted territory with her new crush. With the summer running out, will they be able to unlock a future together?

ISBN-13: 9780062824585
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/20/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Being a Reckless, Glorious, Girl, a guest post by Ellen Hagan

         

It is March 2021. I am combing through my old journals – the ones that start in the fall of 1993 when I was fourteen years old and well on my way to being wild and more than a little bit reckless. I take a few down from the shelves and brace myself, because I remember who I was back then. 8th Grade Sucks one of the pages says, colored in with lime green and magenta crayons. I would almost believe it, if the page after wasn’t covered in Doritos dust and a series of: hahahahah’s, stick figure drawings and looped, lyrical script that tells me otherwise. Middle school was a constant back and forth of ache and junk food, rowdy laughter and doubled over in tears. I see it in every entry – a manic holding on of experiences, of heartbreak, new love and that first moment of freedom – when you realize you are your own person – wholly removed from your family. You have all the time in the world to become who you want to be, and to make all the mistakes and missteps along the way. I was just at the beginning of that road, just barely on the verge. I am both exhilarated and horrified, keep opening and closing each book. It is there in those early pages that I was becoming a documentarian, an artist – just at the start of writing it all down and crafting a life around me. I was building a roadmap – figuring out how to study the world, watch it close and take notes.

Poetry and lyrics spoke to me early. Growing up in Bardstown, Kentucky in the late 80’s and 90’s made me full of angst and fire. Energy and electricity. My mix tapes were loaded with Salt n’ Peppa, TLC, Shania Twain, Paula Abdul and Hole – a combination of hip-hop, country and grunge. I was complicated and scrambling to figure out who I was, how to fit in and how to carry the words that were looping through my mind. I wrote down the lines of my favorite songs and studied the way words could carry heart and meaning. My first poems were imitations and anthems – were trying to match the emotions of my favorite music. My freshman year, I found a book called: The Moon is Always Female by Marge Piercy. It was my first poetry collection and I dog eared almost every poem. All of them full of longing and wild, reckless women. I could suddenly see myself in those poems. See the way she wrote about the body, politics, the world around her. I wanted to make change with words – see if the poems could lift, sing, shake and move in my hands – trying to navigate my way at every turn.

I was seventeen years old when I made it into the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. It was a three-week summer program for artists around the state. Kelly Norman Ellis was my teacher that summer, and she transformed everything for me. An Affrilachian Poet (from the Affrilachian Poets – a group of writers of color living in the Appalachian region) who was raised in Mississippi, she taught me to love the South, where I come from and who I am. Showed me how to love all of my complicated and out of control ways. Be tender with myself. Offered up all the ways to honor the rolling hills, my Middle-Eastern roots, the size of my nose, my still changing body. How to love the drawl of the words: mamaw and papaw and y’all. Taught me to love my country roots and the sizzle of cornbread in the cast iron skillet. How to use words to ask questions, push back, organize, rally, rage, resist and most of all, love. I think so much about the mentors and teachers who helped me maneuver my way – to see the best path ahead and figure out how to get on it. Always thinking of the people who held me up, constantly trying to be like the artists I met in Kentucky – who held that land and those stories so close.

When I say poetry saved me, I do not mean it lightly. I mean that it became a salve for me. A way to look back and reflect on who I was – a way to grapple with my own identity and who I wanted to be. Poetry is a forever pin on the roadmap of my life. Dropping down on every moment and memory. A way to hold onto my first kiss on the dunes of the Jersey shore, car rides through the winding roads of the Bluegrass with the music turned up all the way and the windows down – wind rushing past me. Poems about moving to New York City and climbing the 65 steps to my first walk-up apartment in the East Village. They are legacy and ancestry. They hold my whole history and tell the stories to my daughters. We are documenting our lives in words. Holding them close.

When I am teaching young people how to see the world in poetry, I am asking them to love themselves. Their languages, traditions, their ancestry. Asking them to look to the brilliant poets around them: Aracelis Girmay, Vincent Toro, Cynthia Dewi Oka, Renée Watson, Elizabeth Acevedo – asking them to find the voices that speak to them. Hoping they will be tender with themselves and their families. Gather stories and histories. Honor who they are and where they come from – even if that is sometimes hard to hold. When we write poems, we can be vulnerable, soft, kind to our memories. And we can also be fiery and ferocious. Speak loud and unapologetic. We can be that mix tape, we can be that journal covered in anger and hearts drawn in red magic marker. We can make our own maps – become the journey. We can be our full, whole selves. That’s what poetry has always meant to me – has always done for me.

Meet the author

Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. She is the co-author with Renée Watson of Watch Us Rise. Her poetry collections include Hemisphere and Crowned. Her work can be found in ESPN Magazine, She Walks in Beauty, and Southern Sin. Ellen is the Director of the Poetry & Theatre Departments at the DreamYard Project and directs their International Poetry Exchange Program with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. She co-leads the Alice Hoffman Young Writer’s Retreat at Adelphi University. Raised in Kentucky, she now lives in New York City with her family. www.ellenhagan.com | @ellenhagan | http://www.ellenhagan.com/blog

About Reckless, Glorious, Girl

(See Amanda’s review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

Writing What Haunts You, a guest post by Anuradha Rajurkar and the Class of 2kBooks

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at,
what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.
-Joan Didion

Often, the germ of an idea for a story materializes from themes that haunt us for years, though we may not realize it at first. Writing helps us explore our deepest fears, our burning questions, and can ultimately serve as the beating heart of our stories. My debut, AMERICAN BETIYA, for example, explores cultural conflict within our most intimate relationships—a theme that rose from having grown up in predominantly white spaces as the daughter of first-generation Asian immigrant parents. I was initially drawn to the idea of the many ways teens are often under close scrutiny, despite the fact that our identities at that stage are still very much under construction—and how these pressures can lead to escapism in various forms. But soon, my writing delved deep into issues that only later did I realize had haunted me for decades.

I asked my fellow Class of 2k Books authors to share what issues just wouldn’t let go, leading to the writing of their debuts. Their answers were as thoughtful and compelling as their novels…

Megan Freeman: I certainly never imagined that ALONE, my book about surviving in total isolation, would come out during a pandemic. Yikes. But the idea of being isolated from other people has always fascinated/haunted me. I love the movie CASTAWAY and I was fascinated by books like ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS and MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN and HATCHET. I used to think being in prison and forcibly kept away from my family would be the worst thing I could imagine, but then one day I thought about people who go into witness protection programs and can never see their friends or family ever again, and that seemed even worse. Clearly, my connections to loved ones are central to some sense of security, and the threat of losing that connection is rich fodder for my creative imagination. 

Sam Taylor: After grad school, I worked at a job with some people who turned out to be very corrupt. It was a really thorny situation; I often had no idea how to fix matters at work, or what was the right thing to do. I turned to writing in the evenings as a way to vent out my feelings. I needed a story that captured the dilemma of wanting to make situations better, but not knowing how to do that. I wanted to explore the struggle of every option coming with steep cost–because the right choice often doesn’t come without a price. I wanted to show unlikely allies coming together, as I experienced during my own situation. Most of all, I wanted to show my characters overcoming the seemingly impossible odds stacked against them.

Jessica S. Olson: It’s a funny thing, because I didn’t realize what it was that drove me to write this story until well after it was finished. All I knew was that I connected deeply to the Phantom character in the Phantom of the Opera, and I wanted to tell a version of his story and explore what could drive someone to such a dark, lonely place. It wasn’t until later on that I realized that the reason I’d been so passionate about his story was because I identified with him. I was born with a medical eye condition that affects my appearance, and I grew up being bullied and teased and treated as “other” because of it. There were many times when I wished I could hide from a world that felt very cruel–and so I saw myself in the Phantom. I understood how it felt to be ostracized for your appearance and how desperate the desire can sometimes be to be loved for the aspects of us that aren’t readily apparent at first glance. Telling a female Phantom’s story meant drawing on my own experiences, my own anger, my own hope, and asking the world to look beyond someone’s face when deciding whether they’re valid or whether they deserve love.

Xiran Jay Zhao: My book IRON WIDOW, a Pacific Rim meets THE HANDMAID’S TALE reimagining of the only female emperor in Chinese history, is basically 400 pages of female rage. Around the time I wrote it, I kept hearing about women’s rights backsliding in so many places. I also happened to be taking 4 university courses in different subjects ranging from political science to gerontology, yet all 4 had info on how women are disproportionately expected to take on certain burdens and responsibilities, yet get no proper credit or recognition for them. Work that is traditionally more female-dominated is consistently overlooked and undervalued compared to work that is traditionally more male-dominated. I wrote Iron Widow not only to vent my rage through the character of Zetian, but to explore the kind of societal pressures that force girls to doubt their own worth and accept this kind of thankless work.

Anuradha D. Rajurkar:

Judging from these thoughts from my fellow Class of 2kbooks authors, it seems that some of the most impactful stories are born from themes that have haunted our minds for years. Since high school, I personally was so affected by the idea that the way we see ourselves is often at odds with how others see us. For me, researching and writing AMERICAN BETIYA helped reveal the ways microaggressions, cultural fetishization, and racial gaslighting occur with regularity—even in our closest relationships. And because trust is foundational in these relationships, it’s easy to overlook their signs. Writing my debut helped me acknowledge the silences we’ve been taught to hold, and that our friendships, family and internal strength can line the path to our empowerment.

Don’t be afraid to write what haunts you. It might just be what sets you free.

Buy links and more

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Recent YA Novels to Take You Around the World, a guest post by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau

One of the many things I love about reading is the way books transport me to different worlds. Whether it’s interesting family dynamics, industries I know little about, or long-gone eras, I will always cherish how books allow me to lead lives completely unlike my own for a few hours. That feeling is true of all novels, but it’s especially compelling when the story is set against a vivid backdrop somewhere around the world, with a sense of place so rich that it acts as a character in the novel.

With my own story, Kisses and Croissants, about an aspiring ballerina who moves to Paris for a summer intensive dance program, I wanted to make the setting shine as brightly as possible. There are many novels set in France—not to mention all the movies and TV shows—and I felt inspired to give Mia a deeply authentic and utterly unforgettable experience in, objectively, the most beautiful city in the world.

I wrote Kisses and Croissants between 2017 and 2019, going on a research trip to Paris and spending much time afterward exploring the city virtually so I could best bring it to life. Of course, I could never imagine that the world would feel very differently by the time it was published in April 2021. Many of us have been eager to be able to travel again, to wander aimlessly through foreign places, and to finally discover the ones that have been on our bucket list forever.

But we’ll always have books. And as I spent the last year daydreaming about leaving my apartment, let alone my neighborhood, I was pleased to come across several wonderful young adult novels with powerful stories set all over the world: from a multi-cultural suburb in Toronto to the white-sandy beaches of Santorini, and from the magical arctic island of Svalbard to glitzy palaces in Tokyo.

With these recent releases, you’ll go on a whirlwind journey around the planet, no passport necessary.

Hot British Boyfriend by Kristy Boyce (England)

Summary: This enchanting teen romance novel, which follows one girl across the Atlantic in a quest to find adventure, love (preferably with a guy with a cute accent), and maybe even herself, is perfect for fans of Kasie West and Stephanie Perkins. After a horrifying public rejection by her crush, Ellie Nichols does what any girl would do: she flees the country. To be more precise, she joins her high school’s study abroad trip to England. While most of her classmates are there to take honors courses and pad their college applications, Ellie is on a quest to rebuild her reputation and self-confidence. And nothing is more of a confidence booster than getting a hot British boyfriend.

Hot British Boyfriend is an anglophile’s paradise. When Ellie and her friends are not devouring fish and chips and sipping tea (with scones and finger sandwiches, obviously), they are roaming the halls and gardens of the stunning manor at which they are boarding, inspired by the real Harlaxton Manor in Lincolnshire. Outside school, they watch Quidditch games, explore charming village markets, and skip through the quaint English countryside. On weekends, they take London and its most famous sights by storm, from Big Ben to the London Eye, by way of Piccadilly Circus. Spoiler alert: there’s even a romantic weekend in Venice, complete with gondola rides.

Like Home by Louisa Onomé (Toronto, Canada)

Summary: Fans of Netflix’s On My Block, In the Heightsand readers of Elizabeth Acevedo and Ibi Zoboi will love this debut novel about a girl whose life is turned upside down after one local act of vandalism throws her relationships and even her neighborhood into turmoil.

Nelo is all about her neighborhood Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, ride-or-die sense of community, and her memories of growing up there. Ginger East isn’t what it used to be, though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, all her closest friends moved away, except for Kate. But as long as they have each other, Nelo’s good. Only, Kate’s parents’ corner store is vandalized, leaving Nelo shaken to her core.

Like Home is set in a fictional suburb of Toronto, Ginger East, but written with the authentic and loving flair of Louisa Onomé’s own neighborhood in the Greater Toronto Area (or the GTA, as the locals call it). Her diverse and endearing cast of characters sometimes hang out at the Eaton Centre, the well-known downtown mall, speak in regional slang, and more generally embody the vibrant youth culture specific to the city. Louisa Onomé infused the story with some of her own multi-cultural upbringing—living on the same street as families from all over the world, from her native Nigeria to Taiwan, and from Jamaica to Serbia, where they shared enriching experiences eating their favorite foods. Toronto shines as cosmopolitan and welcoming city.

The Wide Starlight by Nicole Lesperance (Svalbard, Norway)

Summary: The Hazel Wood meets The Astonishing Color of After in this dreamy, atmospheric novel that follows sixteen-year-old Eli as she tries to remember what truly happened the night her mother disappeared off a glacier in Norway.

When Eli was six years old, her mother took her out onto a frozen fjord, whistled to the Northern Lights, and was swept away into the sky. Ten years later, Eli whistles at the lights and her mother returns, but nothing is quite right. She must piece together her memories, told as Norwegian folk tales, and journey back to Svalbard to figure out what really happened.

Svalbard is so eerily stunning and colorful that, when looking at pictures, you might be tempted to doubt that it is an actual place on earth. Yet, this Norwegian archipelago way up in the Arctic Circle, close to the North Pole, is very real. In fact, its biggest town, Longyearbyen, is home to people hailing from many different nationalities. It was the most perfect setting for part of Nicole Lesperance’s wintery story, where reality and fantasy blend against a magical backdrop of snow, ice, and the Northern Lights. Between the grand mountains, the glass-flat fjords, and the narwhals, The Wide Starlight feels like it takes places on another planet.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean (Tokyo, Japan)

Summary: Crazy Rich Asians meets The Princess Diaries in this irresistible story about Izumi, a Japanese-American girl who discovers her senior year of high school that she’s really a princess of Japan.

Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity…and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess. In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras.

Japanese culture is incredibly rich with centuries-old traditions, gorgeous attire, and intricate rituals. When you throw in a deep dive into one of the oldest royal families in the world, Emiko Jean’s fun and sparkling writing, and a spunky heroine, you’re swept right off your feet into a head-spinning fairytale. It’s hard not to dream of being a princess when there are glitzy palaces, ancient castles, trips to historic Kyoto, and jaw-dropping cherry blossoms as far as the eye can see. Emiko Jean tells a story of hilarious antics set against a regimented world, with fascinating details that will make you want to book a trip, even if there is no red carpet at the other end.

Where the Rhythm Takes You by Sarah Dass (Trinidad and Tobago)

Summary: Inspired by Jane Austen’s PersuasionWhere the Rhythm Takes You is a romantic, mesmerizing novel of first love and second chances, set in the author’s native Trinidad and Tobago. Reyna’s life changed forever two years ago, when her mother died and her best friend (first kiss, first love) Aiden, suddenly moved to America. Now Aiden has returned to their island as an international pop star, but the last thing Reyna wants to do is risk her heart again.

Sarah Dass chose to set the story in her homeland of Tobago, the more isolated and quieter island of this Caribbean nation near Venezuela. Reyna grew up at a seaside resort, and ends up as a tour guide to Aiden and his friends, showing them around the island’s most beautiful spots, to the beat of soca music. The lush tropical setting glimmers with powdery white sand, turquoise water, and rich vegetation. Beautiful details leap off the page as the group visits Pigeon Point beach, the Nylon Pool, and the Argyle waterfalls. Local cuisine also features heavily, with mouth-watering descriptions of guava pies, potato rotis, and rosy-pink rum punch. Where the Rhythm Takes You is the breezy, beautiful, and romantic Caribbean vacation we all crave.

Love and Olives by Jenna Evans Welch (Santorini, Greece)

Summary: Liv Varanakis doesn’t like to think about her father much, which makes sense—he fled to Greece when she was only eight, leaving her with just a few painful memories of their shared love for the lost city of Atlantis. So when teenage Liv suddenly receives a postcard from her father, who explains that National Geographic is supporting a documentary about his theories on Atlantis—and asks if she will fly out to Greece and help—Liv is less than thrilled.

Even so, she can’t help but be charmed by everything Santorini has to offer—the beautiful sunsets, the turquoise water, the sun-drenched villages, and the delicious cuisine. But not everything on the Greek island is as perfect as it seems. Because as Liv slowly begins to discover, her father may not have invited her to Greece for Atlantis, but for something much more important.

With her “Love” trilogy, Jenna Evans Welch has taken us on a delightfully escapist tour of Europe, first to Italy, then to Ireland, and now to Greece, more specifically to the alluring island of Santorini. It’s a major tourist destination for a reason: the white houses with blue domes look stunning against the bold sunsets, the winding streets of its pretty villages make for idyllic strolls. Love and Olives is summer in book form, as we follow the search for the lost city of Atlantis, Liv’s conflicted relationship with her father and, of course, a cute romance, too.

Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen (Taipei, Taiwan)

Summary: When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since he was nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life.

Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually nicknamed Loveboat, because the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.

Free for the first time, Ever sets out to break all her parents’ uber-strict rules—but how far can she go before she breaks her own heart?

Sometimes you have to fly to the other side of the world to discover who you are. It’s true in real life, especially for children of immigrants, who often grow up between two cultures, and it’s also a fascinating theme to explore in young adult literature. Taipei is a melting-pot of a city, with Chinese roots and a decidedly modern and vibrant atmosphere. As such, it makes a thrilling setting for this story about teenage rebellion. There are fun visits to night markets, plenty of hookups, deliciously intriguing foods, and the parties are wild (as well as wildly entertaining).

Meet the author

Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau is a bilingual French author of young adult fiction and nonfiction. Her books have been translated into seven languages. Kisses and Croissants (Delacorte Press, 2021)is her U.S. debut. After graduating university in France, she moved to Amsterdam to begin a career in advertising. She then spent a few years in Melbourne before settling in New York City, where she lives with her Australian husband and their American cat.

Social Media Links:

Website: https://www.asjouhanneau.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/asjouhanneau

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

About Kisses and Croissants

As sweet as a macaron from Laduree, with writing as crisp as a freshly baked baguette, this romantic novel set in Paris about an American ballerina and a charming French boy is parfait for fans of American Royals and Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Mia Jenrow has always known she’s destined to be a professional ballerina. In fact, it’s in her blood—according to family legend, her too-many-greats-to-count-grandmother once danced for the Paris Opera and was painted by Degas himself! Her parents say it’s just a fantasy, but to Mia it’s so much more than that. It’s her fate.

Mia is planning to spend a magical summer in France pursuing her dream, but as she pirou-ettes into Paris, she soon realizes it may be a bit more complicated than she hoped. For starters, there’s her rival, Audrey, who will stop at nothing to show her up. There’s her ballet instructor, whose impossibly high standards push her to the breaking point. And then . . . there’s Louis. Devastatingly, distractingly charming Louis. He’s eager to show Mia his city—and Mia is more than happy to hop on his Vespa and wrap her arms around him as they pass the gleaming lights of the Eiffel Tower.

Mia’s summer was supposed to be about ballet—but there’s a reason Paris is called the City of Love. . . .

ISBN-13: 9780593173572
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 04/06/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Recent and Upcoming Young Adult Debuts That Grapple With Grief, a guest post by Kate Norris

This has been a year full of loss. Even those who have been lucky enough not to have lost loved ones are still grieving lost jobs, opportunities, friendships, holidays, favorite spots, and anticipated once-in-a-lifetime events like in-person proms and graduations.

Grief is one of the major themes of my debut young adult historical sci-fi novel, When You and I Collide, although I never could have anticipated (and never would have wished for) its release to arrive during a global pandemic, when we’ve all lost so much. But considering the year we’ve had, I wanted to take this opportunity to share my experience writing grief, as well as highlight some other recent and upcoming young adult debut novels that grapple with loss.

Part of the reason I enjoy writing for and about teens is that the emotional palette is all neon—every problem feels life-or-death, each crisis world-ending. That’s why it feels like such fertile creative territory when a character at an age where they’re ill-equipped to deal with tragedy encounters a devastating loss. It’s a bit like that old paradox: what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immoveable object? How do we endure the unendurable?

In my novel, the main character, Winnie—whose life is still shaped by her mother’s death eight years earlier—is so unable to cope with the loss of the boy she loves from afar that she transports herself to an alternative reality where he survived the accident she witnessed. Of course, this ends up causing a whole host of other problems.

I’m most interested in explorations of grief beyond just sadness: grief that manifests as rage or delusion, grief that’s been allowed to fester, maladaptive grief as a destructive force. The death of Winnie’s mother—and Winnie and her father’s shared guilt and grief over that loss—both unites them and puts a wall between them.

Grief can’t be simply escaped. But over the course of the book, the aftermath of new tragedy helps Winnie finally make peace with her earlier loss.

I think that reading—and writing—can be a sort of practice for living, and that vicariously experiencing the tragedies of fictional characters can help provide catharsis for our own. That’s my hope, at least.

Here’s a (non-exhaustive!) list of five debut novels released in late 2020 or expected in the first half of 2021 that I’m excited for, as well more info about my own. Please add more titles in the comments!

Title: Who I Was with Her

Author: Nita Tyndall

Publisher: HarperTeen/HaperCollins

On Sale Date: September 15, 2020

ISBN: 9780062978387, 0062978381

Ages: 14 and up, Grades 9 and up

Type of Loss: Death of Girlfriend

Publisher’s Summary: “There are two things that Corinne Parker knows to be true: that she is in love with Maggie Bailey, the captain of the rival high school’s cross-country team and her secret girlfriend of a year, and that she isn’t ready for anyone to know she’s bisexual.

But then Maggie dies, and Corinne quickly learns that the only thing worse than losing Maggie is being left heartbroken over a relationship no one knows existed. And to make things even more complicated, the only person she can turn to is Elissa—Maggie’s ex and the single person who understands how Corinne is feeling.

As Corinne struggles to make sense of her grief and what she truly wants out of life, she begins to have feelings for the last person she should fall for. But to move forward after losing Maggie, Corinne will have to learn to be honest with the people in her life . . . starting with herself.”

Title: When You Look Like Us

Author: Pamela N. Harris

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

On Sale Date: January 5, 2021

ISBN: 9780062945891, 0062945890

Ages: 14 and up, Grades 9 and up

Type of Loss: Disappearance of Sister

Publisher’s Summary: “When you look like us—brown skin, brown eyes, black braids or fades—people think you’re trouble. No one looks twice at a missing black girl from public housing because she must’ve brought whatever happened to her upon herself. I, Jay Murphy, can admit that, for a minute, I thought my sister, Nicole, got too caught up with her boyfriend—a drug dealer—and his friends. But she’s been gone too long now.

If I hadn’t hung up on her that night, she’d be spending time with our grandma. If I was a better brother, she’d be finishing senior year instead of being another name on a missing persons list. It’s time to step up and do what the Newport News police department won’t.

Nic, I’m bringing you home.”

Title: Amelia Unabridged: A Novel

Author: Ashley Schumacher

Publisher: Wednesday Books/Macmillan

On Sale Date: February 16, 2021

ISBN: 9781250253026, 1250253020

Ages: 12 to 18

Type of Loss: Accidental Death of Friend (car accident)

Publisher’s Summary: “Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.

In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never had before. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna dies in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.

When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.

Ashley Schumacher’s devastating and beautiful debut, Amelia Unabridged, is about finding hope and strength within yourself, and maybe, just maybe, falling in love while you do it.”

Title: The Valley and the Flood

Author: Rebecca Mahoney

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

On Sale Date: February 23, 2021

ISBN: 9780593114353, 0593114353

Ages:

Type of Loss: Death of Friend

Publisher’s Summary: “Rose Colter is almost home, but she can’t go back there yet. When her car breaks down in the Nevada desert, the silence of the night is broken by a radio broadcast of a voicemail message from her best friend, Gaby. A message Rose has listened to countless times over the past year. The last one Gaby left before she died.

So Rose follows the lights from the closest radio tower to Lotus Valley, a small town where prophets are a dime a dozen, secrets lurk in every shadow, and the diner pie is legendary. And according to Cassie Cyrene, the town’s third most accurate prophet, they’ve been waiting for her. Because Rose’s arrival is part of a looming prophecy, one that says a flood will destroy Lotus Valley in just three days’ time.

Rose believes if the prophecy comes true then it will confirm her worst fear—the PTSD she was diagnosed with after Gaby’s death has changed her in ways she can’t face. So with help from new friends, Rose sets out to stop the flood, but her connection to it, and to this strange little town, runs deeper than she could’ve imagined.”

Title: The Half-Orphan’s Handbook

Author: Joan F. Smith

Publisher: Imprint/Macmillan

On Sale Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 9781250624680, 1250624681

Ages: 14 to 18

Type of Loss: Death of Father (by suicide)

Publisher’s Summary: “It’s been three months since Lila lost her father to suicide. Since then, she’s learned to protect herself from pain by following two unbreakable rules:

1. The only people who can truly hurt you are the ones you love. Therefore, love no one.

2. Stay away from liars. Liars are the worst.

But when Lila’s mother sends her to a summer-long grief camp, it’s suddenly harder for Lila to follow these rules. Potential new friends and an unexpected crush threaten to drag her back into life for the first time since her dad’s death.

On top of everything, there’s more about what happened that Lila doesn’t know, and facing the truth about her family will be the hardest part of learning how a broken heart can love again.”

Title: When You and I Collide

Author: Kate Norris

Publisher: Philomel Books/Penguin

On Sale Date: June 8th, 2021

ISBN: 9780593203033, 0593203038

Ages: 12 and up, Grades 7 and up

Type of Loss: Death of Mother (earlier in childhood, car accident), Possible Death of Friend/Love Interest

Publisher’s Summary: “Sixteen-year-old Winnie Schulde has always seen splits—the moment when two possible outcomes diverge, one in her universe and one in another. Multiverse theory, Winnie knows, is all too real, though she has never been anything but an observer of its implications—a secret she keeps hidden from just about everyone, as she knows the uses to which it might be put in the midst of a raging WWII. But her physicist father, wrapped up in his research and made cruel by his grief after the loss of Winnie’s mother, believes that if he pushes her hard enough, she can choose one split over another and maybe, just maybe, change their future and their past.

Winnie is certain that her father’s theories are just that, so she plays along in an effort to placate him. Until one day, when her father’s experiment goes wrong and Scott, the kind and handsome lab assistant Winnie loves from afar, is seriously injured. Without meaning to, Winnie chooses the split where Scott is unharmed. And in doing so, finds herself pulled into another universe, an alternate reality. One that already has a Winnie.

In this darkly thrilling novel that blends science and war with love and loss, some actions just can’t be undone.”

Meet the author

 Photo credit: Bridget Caswell Photography

Kate Norris received her MFA from Ohio State University, where she taught creative writing and served as fiction editor of The Journal. Her work has appeared in One Teen Story, The Threepenny Review, Sycamore Review, and Iron Horse Literary Review, among others. She currently lives and writes in Cleveland, Ohio with her partner and their mini-menagerie of dogs. When You and I Collide is her first novel. Find her online at katenorriswrites.com, on Twitter @kate_writes, and on Instagram and TikTok @katenorriswrites.