Going to Jail: How Juvenile Books Portray the Prison Experience

Few people discuss experiences of incarceration for family, friends or even themselves. Yet, it is estimated that on any given day 2 million children in the U.S. have one parent who is incarcerated and more than 70,000 youth under age 18 are themselves in detention facilities. How do young people learn about life behind bars? Books for children and young adults can portray how jail sentences impact individuals, their children, their parents and their community. In this course, we will read several juvenile books, from picture books to teen novels, that explore the prison experience. In an online book discussion, we will analyze the books and discuss age appropriate information that should be provided for youth. At the same time, we will look at statistics about who goes to jail and consider the role that libraries can play in assisting patrons dealing with these issues.

This five week course will explore portrayals of the incarceration experience in juvenile and young adult literature. Participants will be assigned to read several books written for young people that include scenes in prison or juvenile detention facilities. Each week a one hour online chat will provide a book discussion about the themes of the books and how they can be used with appropriate readers. The chat can also be a model for librarians who want to lead book discussions for their patrons.

In addition, readings will be assigned that include statistical reports about the demographics of incarcerated individuals, as well as descriptions of library programs designed for these individuals and their friends and families. Participants will post their responses to these readings in an asynchronous discussion forum.

Weekly readings will be introduced with videos created by the instructor.


Week 1: Picture books that portray incarcerated parents.
Week 2: Do No Pass Go by Kirkpatrick Hill.
Week 3: Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher.
Week 4: Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers.
Week 5: Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos



Learning Outcomes

  • Library staff will be able to assist children, young adults, parents and teachers in finding age appropriate books that portray the impact of incarceration.
  • Library staff will be familiar with resources that provide facts and research about the population in the United States that is behind bars.
  • Library staff will develop appropriate services for their communities that address literacy and other needs of families impacted by correctional facilities.

Who Should Attend

  • Children’s, young adult and youth librarians in public libraries
  • Outreach librarians in public libraries
  • Library media specialists in schools or juvenile detention centers
  • Prison librarians
  • Any library staff member interested in children’s books or correctional facilities.


Kate Todd has her MLS from the University of Denver and an MA in educational technology from New York University. She has worked as a librarian at The New York Public Library and Manhattanville College. She has taught online courses for ALA since 2008. She has taught six sessions of Improving Library Services to People with Disabilities (sponsored by ASCLA), with over 150 people enrolling in this course. She has also taught courses that were sponsored by ALSC. She is knowledgeable about juvenile literature and enjoys using it to initiate discussions of complex topics affecting young people who use libraries. In addition to online teaching, she has done face-to-face presentations. She presented the program, Understanding Leveling Systems, at the 2013 ALA conference in Chicago. She also presented a training workshop for NYC schools librarians working with incarcerated youth at the Passages Academy.


How to Register

  • Online
  • By Fax: download, complete, and fax form (PDF format) to (312) 280-1538
  • By Mail: download, complete, and mail form (PDF format) to American Library Association, ATTN: MACS/Online CE Registration, 50 E. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611

Continuing Education Units

Students who complete the required coursework for Going to Jail: How Juvenile Books Portray the Prison Experience will receive 1.9 CEUs (Continuing Education Units)! Registration rates--individual and group--for this course are $20 more than other courses in order to reflect this credit.


Questions about your registration should be directed to registration@ala.org. Technical questions about the webinar should be directed to Andrea Hill, ASCLA Web Manager, at ahill@ala.org.

Thank you and we look forward to your participation!