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Your Connection to Teen Reads
Updated: 11 hours 54 min ago

2014 Teens’ Top Ten: An Interview with Brandon Sanderson

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 16:31

The Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year! Nominators are members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Celebrate Teen Literature Day, the Thursday of National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year.

The votes are in for 2014, and the winners have been announced– and we’re featuring them here on The Hub. Today we bring you an interview with Brandon Sanderson, who appears TWICE on this year’s list, for his books The Rithmatist and Steelheart.

You’ve been writing for years, why turn towards YA?
I dipped my toes into middle grade with my Alcatraz series soon after I got published. I hadn’t written a YA before, but I wanted to—for the same reason I write epic fantasy: there are awesome things I can do in in epic fantasy that I can’t do in other genres. And there are awesome things I can do in teen fiction that I don’t feel I can get away with in the same way in adult fiction.

Science fiction and fantasy have a very fascinating connection with YA fiction. If you look at some of the series I loved as a youth—the Wheel of Time, Shannara, and the Eddings books, for example—these have enormous teen crossover. In fact, when you get to something like the Eddings books, you’ve got to wonder if they would’ve been shelved in the teen section in a later era.

Back up even further to the juveniles that were written by Heinlein and others, and we see that teen fiction has been an integral part of science fiction and fantasy. Some of the early fantasy writings—things like Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and C.S. Lewis’s works—were foundational in how the fantasy genre came to be.

So YA feels like a very natural thing for me to be writing because I enjoy it and I respect what it has done for the genres.

How did it feel to have 2 books on the Top Ten list this year?
I’m honored and grateful that teens are enjoying my books.

What’s the best writing advice you can give to those during NaNoWriMo?
I’ve actually done a few NaNoWriMo pep talks addressing this very thing, but in a nutshell, my best advice is to just keep at it. The best thing I learned from the two years I did NaNoWriMo prior to my getting a publishing contract is the importance of consistency. Just sitting down, setting a goal, and writing those words day after day. Here’s a few links expanding on that advice.

What are you reading now?
I do a lot of listening to audiobooks these days because I find they fit well into my busy schedule of writing, touring, and spending time with my family. Recently I’ve been listening to Robin Hobb’s latest fantasy Fool’s Assassin. She is not only one of my favorite fantasy authors but one of the best writers in the genre today.

What super power would you choose?
What power I would choose depends on how rational my brain is that day. It makes the most sense to have Wolverine’s regenerative powers. At the same time, it’s not like I’m jumping off cliffs or getting into fights. So I probably wouldn’t do much with this power.

But in the back of my mind, there’s a part of me that says, “Boy, would I really love to be able to fly!” Which is why a lot of the magic systems in my books wind up dealing with people having powers that let them soar in the air.

Would you be an Epic or an average teen?
I would probably have to say an average teen. I wrote David to be able to sympathize with the average person who is up against powers that are seemingly beyond their control. If I gained Epic powers, I worry that I would use them for the wrong reasons, which is part of the idea that inspired me to write Steelheart.

Would you like to be a Rithmatist?
I’m a logical person, so if I lived in the world of The Rithmatist, I’d be drawn to a magic like that. But in their world no one gets to choose whether they’re a Rithmatist or not, so maybe it’s better to live in our world, where I can choose to be a writer and don’t have to rely on the whims of a magic system.

If could create any kind of chalkling creature – what would it be?
I think that everyone in my position is going to say dragon. Many of us got started in fantasy by reading books about dragons, so there’s a special place for cool dragons in a fantasy writer’s heart. For example, Anne McCaffrey’s books are part of what pulled me into fantasy in the first place, so I’d have to take the cliché route and say dragons.

Please note that Brandon’s words are a transcription from audio recorded specifically for these interviews.

~ Jennifer Rummel, currently reading Everblaze by Shannon Messenger

Jukebooks: Every Breath by Ellie Marney

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 07:00

Mycroft and Watts are two very different teens,  but as best friends they balance each other perfectly. James Mycroft – brilliant and scarred  – has found a caretaker and best mate in Rachel Watts – a deceptively ordinary girl. When they discover Homeless Dave in the park with his throat cut, the pair launches an investigation a la Sherlock and Holmes. As they mull over the evidence, one of their friends recalls a line from Chuck Palahnuik’s book, Fight Club: “Live or die – Every breath is a choice.” This line will return later in the book when Watts and Mycroft find themselves in mortal danger, realizing each breath could be their last.

“Every Breath You Take” is a haunting song released in 1983 by the Police, a British trio with roots in 70s the punk scene. The song has a tension to it that creates an ominous mood: Is this a love song or a threat? Lead singer Sting’s intensity in the music video indicates it might be the latter….

-Diane Colson, currently reading an advance readers copy of The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne

YA Lit Symposium: Book Covers and Reality

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 07:00

Continuing The Hub’s coverage of YALSA’s 2014 YA Lit Symposium, I’m here to give you a peek at two of the most thought-provoking sessions I attended.

Talking Book Covers with Young Adults: Whitewashing, Sexism and More

I don’t even know how to begin to summarize this session.

Allie Jane Bruce presented on her work with sixth graders and books. The reaction from the kids is what stole the presentation; I couldn’t write them all down fast enough. I’m not going to try and quote them all, but if you check out Allie’s posts here, you can see all their thoughts about the book covers they were shown. I highly recommend you look through the posts: really amazing things.

One takeaway from this session was that even young teens can see how problematic book covers are and the patterns they were able to see.

Following Allie’s presentation, Malindo Lo and Jacqueline Woodson continued the conversation about book covers. They pointed out that different backgrounds can add to the discussion. They also emphasized Rudine Sims Bishop’s thoughts that literature needs more mirrors than windows.

Whose Reality Gets Written?

This was my favorite panel that was moderated by Bythe Woolston with Svati Avasthi, Stever Bresenoff, Liz Burns, E.Em. Kikie, and Andrew Karre. The session probably had the most “real” talk I have heard about books. There was talk about the lack of books that have non-Christian religions, people with non-curable disabilities, and low socio-economic status, were just a few that were mentioned.

There was some debate about how “authentic” a novel can be. As Karre pointed out, a novel is actually imaginative and therefore not actually authentic. He also feels that authors should write ‘their culture’ and research and write outside their comfort zone. Avasthi wants authors to “tell the stories you feel you can tell authentically, regardless of your culture.” But she also warns that if you are wondering if you should write something, ask yourself why you want to write it.

There was also discussion about how we categorize books. If we make a book about one thing and we need to treat them as such in order for these books to gain a wider audience. If a book it touted only as a gay or lesbian protagonist, we do it a disservice. It could also be sold or promoted as a mystery. It was noted that as librarians we should be pushing the unique voice.

I am absolutely positive I missed something, because halfway through I gave up trying to take notes and got lost in the conversation in the room and on Twitter.  If you were there, please feel free to add things in the comments!

-Faythe Arredondo

Comfort Food ~ Comfort Books

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 07:00

The weather is getting colder, the seasons are changing, and I don’t know about you, but I am turning to comfort foods like soups, oatmeal, hot cider, and roasts. I’m also turning to comfort reads – I’m not a re-reader but at this time of year, I do tend to grab familiar, comforting genres – 1950s science fiction, historical romances – stories where I know there’s a happy ending. These things bring me comfort when I’m cold, tired, and maybe even at my wits’ end with holiday preparations. I asked Hub bloggers what their comfort food and comfort reads are. Their responses invoke the warmth of the familiar and cozy.

What’s your comfort read? What about your comfort food? Let us know in the comments. Recipes are welcome!

~Geri Diorio, currently reading The Infinite Sea

My comfort food has been and always will be mashed potatoes. I could eat them every single day and never grow tired of them. My husband makes the best ever, with lots of butter and cream
(fortunately he only makes them once or twice a year, or I’d be in trouble!). If I’m sick, if I’ve had a bad day, if I’m stressed out- mashed potatoes fix me up every time. I have been known to order food in a restaurant based solely on whether or not the side dish is mashed potatoes. My comfort read…well, that’s a little harder to figure out. I have comfort “sections” of books- probably something I got from Mary Anne Spier in The Babysitters Club, since she always turned to certain parts of Little Women to comfort herself. If I’m picking a single book that I turn to more often than any other, though, it’s going to be The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The hope that fills that book is inspiring- hope that even a sour little girl used to being unloved can learn and grow and become loving herself, that a boy who has spent his whole life believing he’s going to die young can heal from the inside out, that even in a place that seems designed to suck the joy out of a child happiness and love can bloom. When I need a pick me up, the end of The Secret Garden is a good place to start!
~ Carla Land

I have a couple “comfort books” that I’ve re-read in the past (though recently, I’ve struggled to find time to do so!). Over the Moon, by Elissa Haden Guest — I don’t know what it is about this one, but I’ve loved it ever since I got it from what I believe was a Scholastic book order (!) in school. The writing is simple and vivid, and I still recall images and lines from it every few days, even now.  Anne of the Island, by L.M. Montgomery — This has always been my favorite of the Anne series, because it’s the book where Anne goes off to college and is truly on her own, figuring out romance and school and what she really wants out of life. My favorite comfort food is, without a doubt, pot pies of any sort. :)
~ Becky O’Neil

I have a few go-to comfort foods: mac’n’cheese, ramen noodles, and grilled cheese and tomato soup! My go-to comfort reads are: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and poetry by Pablo Neruda.
Alegria Barclay



In the late fall/early winter, I like to continue a tradition that my mom’s had since I was little: re-reading The Dark Is Rising, which opens on Midwinter’s Day. Add a mug of hot cider and a cozy blanket and I’m ready for whatever cold, dark wintry weather might blow in.
~ Emily Calkins Charyk


Mashed potatoes is definitely my top comfort food dish, although I also love navy beans in the winter (but don’t usually make them until after Christmas, because they need a ham bone). I am a big rereader, so I have a ton of comfort reads. If I had to choose one, it would be Beauty by Robin McKinley.
~ Libby Gorman

With the holidays approaching, I always return to the classics. I like to reread or listen to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The family gatherings with their warm and cheerful feelings of togetherness portrayed in the book as they feast on goose makes me long to eat goose or turkey with all the trimmings. I also love Jane Austen (who doesn’t?) and love to read about all the dinner parties and tea drinking on her books. The characters in Austen’s books, particularly in Emma, are always eating apple pies and tarts. I love reading it at this time of year because I love all the different varieties of apples available. I’m a huge chocoholic and at this time of year I love rereading two of my favorite books full of mouth-watering descriptions of chocolate: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel and Chocolat by Joanne Harris (and watching the movies of these isn’t bad either!).
~ Sharon Rawlins

My all-time favorite comfort food for the autumn/winter is definitely Chickpea Piccata over mashed potatoes! And, a “dessert” of my favorite tea – Constant Comment! That tea always reminds me of cold weather & my mom! My favorite books to read around this time of year are definitely realistic fiction – Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler & anything by A.S. King!!
~ Traci Glass

I’d have to say soup plus any of the Harry Potters= comfort for me.
~ Tara Kehoe

When the weather turns cold, I definitely turn to warm drinks and soups in a big way. The warmth from the mug or bowl when I wrap my hands around it is as rewarding as the food itself. As for my go-to comfort read, I absolutely adore Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares and re-read it ever winter (and sometimes when I need a little boost in July).
~ Jessica Lind


Comfort food: lentil soup, for a protein-rich, one-pot meal that just needs a fresh loaf of bread to go with, and won’t leave me with a big mess in my kitchen when all I really want is more time to curl up with a good book and my cat (to act as a little heater/companion while I read!). My favorite is this red lentil soup recipe from one of my long-time favorite food blogs , if you’re collecting recipes. Comfort read: My absolute favorite genre – historical fiction and fantasy, together in one book. This could mean Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke (highly recommended for anyone who loves British historical fiction OR tales of faerie OR wizard apprenticeships), The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (a magical, world-traveling circus only open at night, where two magicians hide their magic in ever-more-enchanting concoctions and displays; for anyone who appreciates a setting so lovingly developed it’s pretty much a character in its own right), or Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, which I return to again and again for its achingly real characters and blustery island setting. ~ Carly Pansulla

Comfort Reads to me are Christmas romances – I love a happy ending and reading about picturesque moments. I confess to watching several holiday movies between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love the snow, the outdoors, and the happy feeling in the air. It’s even better if I’m sipping hot chocolate or smelling a chocolate scented candle in the background while reading and/or watching.
~ Jennifer Rummel

YA Lit Symposium: Using Multicultural YA Literature to Examine Racism in the Lives of Teens of Color

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 07:00

For my last session on Saturday afternoon of YALSA’s 2014 Young Adult Literature Symposium, I had the luck to attend an excellent workshop focused on utilizing young adult literature to examine and discuss effects of racism on the lives of teens of color.  Sandra Hughes-Hassell and Julie Stivers, both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science, shared recent research, exemplary young adult literature, and several practical teaching strategies.

The session began by exploring the question: “how do youth of color experience stereotypes?” Using images from recent viral social media campaigns such the #itooamberkeley campaign as well as passages from young adult novels discussing stereotypes, the presenters reminded the audience of the urgent need for these conversations.  Dr. Hughes-Hassell and Ms. Stivers then began modeling best practices in having conversations about race and privilege by setting conversational norms and encouraged us to put these norms into practice during a ‘pair & share’ reflection on the images & passages.

The presenters continued to model best practices in conducting these conversations by setting out working definition for key terms, including racism, white privilege, microaggressions, the achievement gap, and the opportunity gap.  Drawing on a great variety of recent research, they then shared a range of relevant statistics and data concerning intersections between racial identity and poverty, health, and education in America. The excellent infographics and strong examples created a great starting place for the workshop–after all what group of librarians and educators could resist a pool of well-documented and clearly relevant data?  Afterwards, Dr. Hughes-Hassell and Ms. Stivers pulled together several overarching statements to contextualize this data again:

  • All youth are aware of race.
  • White privilege appears in curriculum, in school structures, in libraries, and countless other aspects of teens’ everyday lives.
  • Research has shown that positive racial identity leads to academic success.

This final statement specifically refers to a 2009 report by Drs. M. Hanley and G.W. Noblit titled “Cultural responsiveness, racial identity and academic success: a review of literature,” which can be found on this page of the Heinz Endowments website.

At this point, the workshop shifted its focus to another major question: “how can young adult literature be used to examine, process, and provoke constructive conversations about the racism experienced by youth of color on a daily basis?”  To transition into our cooperative attempts to answer this question, the presenters first shared several clips from Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie’s now famous TED talk on “The Danger of A Single Story.”

 In the conclusion of her powerful speech, Adichie states: “Stories matter.  Many stories matter.  Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize.  Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

To negate the ubiquitous danger of the single story problem, we must seek out, promote, and utilize stories that break stereotypes and empower traditionally marginalized people.  The presenters offered several examples of young adult literature that can act as such counter stories; this list includes novels such as The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier, Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Words edited by Mitali Perkins, If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson, and many more.

Librarians and educators need to talk about these books with teens.  Accordingly Dr. Hassell-Hughes and Ms. Stivers briefly offered key tips to consider when planning to hold conversations about race and racism.

  • Adults involved must do the work.  We need to engage in our own courageous–and often uncomfortable–explorations about race, power, and privilege.
  • Adults must establish trusting relationships with teens.
  • Adults much set up an atmosphere of caring in which to have these conversations.

They also recommend that librarians and educators use a critical literacy framework for these discussions and focus on action, helping youth discover their roles in creating a more just world.

The remainder of the workshop time was spent learning three recommended strategies for using young adult literature to frame these critical conversations. For each strategy, the leaders guided the group through an example session and a short debrief.

Strategy #1: Juxtapose Multiple Texts

This method is fairly straightforward.  Leaders would take two texts with certain common themes but different perspectives that shed light on some aspect of racism and systems of privilege.  The example used in the workshop was a paired examination of Walter Dean Myers’ novel Monster and Jack Gantos’s memoir Hole in My Life.  Using this strategy, leaders would need to generate framing questions, gather additional resources,  and get teens hooked on these texts.

Strategy #2: Community Centered Approach

Based on a strategy outlined by Emily Meixner in her 2006 Voices From The Middle article “Understand the questions:  A community-centered approach to the teaching of multicultural literature,” this approach works best with a shared text.  The leader begins with an individual character and leads participants through an analysis of that character’s identity, affiliated communities, & outsider communities before returning to the individual and examining that character again in light of their community connections.

My graffiti text analysis of a passage from The True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Strategy #3: Text Graffiti 

This final strategy comes from Teaching Tolerance and would work especially well as a way to preview a text before a group begins studying it.  Participants are each given a short passage from the selected text; the selections in the workshop all came from counter stories & deal with race and racism.  After reading silently, each participant must write a response within 2 or 3 minutes.  Then everyone passes the text to a neighbor; now each member must read and respond to both a text and another’s first response.  This process can continue as long as necessary.  We then shared reflections on the process with our tables and then the larger group.

The resources and the full presentation will be available on the new Equity in the Library site.

-Kelly Dickinson, currently Redefining Normal: A Life in Transition by Katie Rain Hill and Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

From Page to Screen: Mockingjay Part 1

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 07:00

You know it’s the end of November because, as anticipated, the latest installment of our beloved Hunger Games films was released this past weekend. November might never be the same after Mockingjay Part 2 comes out next year. What will YA lit lovers do when our beloved trilogy, which has become a four part film franchise, is all over? Thankfully we have another year before we have to really think about such things, so let’s get to the task at hand and talk about the first installment of Mockingjay.

Mockingjay Part 1 landed into our film watching universe this past Friday making quite the splash with the year’s biggest film opening weekend, earning a whopping $123 million. Even with the impressive feat of the year’s biggest opening, this is actually the lowest the franchise has performed. To be fair, Catching Fire set a really high bar for these last two films in the franchise, because not only was it critically acclaimed but it was fan approved and a moneymaker. So why the “light” opening? Is this more of the feared YA lit-to-movie fatigue people seem to be so nervous about? Probably not. Mockingjay is controversial for most fans of the Hunger Games trilogy and there is almost always a love it or hate it quality to the final book in a series. Also, it was the biggest weekend of the year! Not too shabby, even if it is the lowest opening yet for one the Hunger Games films.

It’s always fascinating to watch all of the excitement and hype leading up to these movies. There was a lot of chatter about the decision to make this final book into two movies and a lot of discussion around how to keep the final, most violent book PG-13 appropriate. So with all of that in mind, how did the filmmakers do with Mockingjay Part 1?

Mockingjay Part 1 is probably the weakest of the films so far, landing a B- at best. Unfortunately, I’m not alone with the grading on this one. Rotten Tomatoes shows the critics ratings at 66% and the fans rating at 80%. There are some great elements to this film, but the biggest issue most people seem to have is about the decision to split Mockingjay into two movies. Part 1 is a slow-paced emotional film, which is completely different from the previous films. At times, the pacing and heavy-handed exposition can make this film feel like a placeholder for the next one. Entertainment Weekly has this great article that discusses the dilemma over whether or not Mockingjay Part 1 can really even be considered a movie. Highly recommended read to anyone, who, like me, enjoyed the film but also struggled with how much I actually liked it.

Part 1 does have some amazing moments. How could you not when you have this many talented people in one film? Katniss singing after visiting a destroyed District 12 with her propo team. Gut wrenching and heartfelt. The final scenes with Peeta. Terrifying. Liam Hemsworth finally getting to do something in one of these movies other than stare moodily at the camera was nice to see. But, do you know who was missed most in this movie? Peeta. Josh Hutcherson steps up his game with every movie in this series, and Part 1 is no different. His scenes were few and far between because of where they chose to split the story, but he made all of his scenes count. He was missed by Katniss and me.

The filmmakers should also be commended for keeping the very violent source material to a PG-13 rating. Many questioned if it was even possible to keep this at an appropriate MPAA rating for fans. They did a great job of showing violence, but keeping it from getting too visually overwhelming for the younger fans. The hospital scene was powerful but not too gruesome. It’s a hard line that they are playing with and so far they have done a really great job. I’m just curious to see how Part 2 ends up, given that’s where most of the actual fighting occurs.

For the purists at heart, Mockingjay Part 1 does not stray very far from the source material. When you have approximately 5 hours of film time to adapt a 390 page book, there really isn’t much need to stray. If you’re keeping track, here is the breakdown of the 7 biggest changes from page to screen. Honestly, the movie adaptation could have benefited from more page to screen changes and keeping it to one film. It’s still a good movie and one that I would recommend to any Hunger Games fan. I’ll still be there next year on opening night for Part 2, sad that my November movie tradition is coming to an end, but there is a part of me that wishes I could’ve seen what the filmmakers could have done in one movie.

What about you, readers? What did you think of Mockingjay Part 1? Do you wish it was one movie instead of two?


-Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading Unhinged by A.G. Howard


2014 Teens’ Top Ten: So You Want to Read Leigh Bardugo? Fire Up the Samovar and Make Yourself Comfortable!

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 07:00

Photo by Kevin Rolly

Congratulations for Leigh Bardugo on Siege and Storm‘s inclusion in the Teens’ Top Ten! These books are amazing and if you haven’t read them yet, what are you waiting for? You’ve heard all of your friends chattering excitedly about Leigh Bardugo‘s Grisha Trilogy but can’t decide if you want to read it. Luckily, we here at The Hub can help.  To start off, here’s the plot:

Ravka is split down the middle by a horrifying sea of shadows called the Unsea populated by terrifying undead creatures. The royalty is doing nothing and the Grisha are the only ones working to stop it. They are led by the formidable and secretive Darkling who can control shadows. Using the small science – magic-like command of various elements – the Grisha work air, blood, metal, and more. Newly discovered as the long awaited Sun Summoner, Alina is an orphan who never thought she was anything more than a map maker. When the Darkling’s secrets are revealed, Alina the Sun Summoner who can control light is called upon to wage war against the Darkness and try to heal the country. With help from her best friend (and love?) Mal and a great cast of characters they set out to save the world.

And then here are the top five reasons why you should read it.

From Leigh’s kefta Pinterest board

1. It’s a fantasy set in a “tsarpunk” fantasy Russia-like land: The setting is inspired by Russian folktales and the world of the tsars. Check out Leigh’s military and “tsarpunk” Pinterest board that she used in creating this fascinating world.It’s got keftas beautiful and functional garments like a caftan that the Grisha wear. The language used in the books is Russian inspired and the world is infused with Russian mythology and folklore. For anyone who ever was fascinated by the Romanovs, Russian literature, and fantasy, these books are for you.

2. It has a diverse set of characters: Not only is it diverse in terms of the fantasy land –  it’s got magic, different types of love, scientists, pirates, religious folk, and more – it also has characters of different colors from lands bordering Ravka and two female characters who fall in love. Writing an answer to a question about the lesbian characters, Leigh affirms their place in our world and Ravka.

3. It’s an exciting story with  fascinating themes and meanings: The folktale of the Firebird plays a huge role here. Going through a major Russian phase in middle and high school I listened to a lot of Stravinksy’s Firebird suite and pretended my name was either Anna Romanov or Anna Karenina, depending on how tragic I felt that day. Bardugo’s books evoke tragedy but still rise with the frenetic energy of the firebird. It’s thrilling to watch as the two themes unfold. The interplay between light and darkness, and the tension between duty and desire make the series stand out as especially compelling.

4. Alina Starkov is the hero for our times: You know the strong female character trend that is sweeping YA books, movies, and beyond? I think it’s pretty great because women and girls deserve to have amazing adventures and be the heroines of their stories just as much as boys. But you know what my problem with the “strong female character” trope is? Sometimes the girls can be really unemotional and cold; like they have sacrificed their complicity for human compassion for sweet karate skills or something. Not so with Alina. She is very powerful but she has heart, doubts, vulnerabilities, and feels conflicted about her involvement with Mal, the Darkling, and her use of the amplifiers, special talismans harvested from animals to help her use her powers.

Fan art from @tiffkuan from Leigh’s Tumblr

5. The fan art is beautiful: I love fan art and the lush setting and deep characters lend themselves to some amazing art. Take a look at some of the examples on Leigh’s Tumblr.

5 1/2. Finally, a fun side note: Leigh used to be a makeup artist before she started writing. This comes out gloriously in her character Genya who uses Grisha powers to transform people’s faces and appearances!

If you need more reasons to read the Grisha trilogy check out some of Leigh’s interviews and various websites.

Her next book, Six of Crows, is set in the Grisha-verse but takes place in Kerch, an island in the true sea off Ravka. We know Leigh has been really busy, so hopefully we will be able to feature our interview with her soon. Stayed tuned for that!

-Anna Tschetter, currently reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


YA Lit Symposium: Authentic Portrayals of Trans* Youth and GenreQueer: Smashing the Closet

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 07:00

Diversity was part of the conversation during many of the panels and sessions at the 2014 YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium. Here at The Hub, coverage of these discussions continues with an overview of two panels that focused on the representation of LGBTQ experiences in young adult literature.

Authentic Portrayals of Trans* Youth

Arin Andrews, Katie Kill, Jillian McCoy, Talya Sokoll, and Kyle Lukoff (Photo courtesy of Talya Sokoll)

This session was moderated by Talya Sokoll, a librarian with experience writing about trans* representation in YA literature, with librarians Jillian McCoy and Kyle Lukoff participating in the discussion as well as trans* authors Katie Hill and Arin Andrews whose memoirs Some Assembly Required and Rethinking Normal were published this year.

The presenters compiled a helpful resource packet that includes a list of suggested titles, discussion of terminology, and links to resources by state.

In addition, these were my key takeaways from the session:

The trans* community exists on a spectrum; there are as many stories as there are people. No one story or memoir is going to speak for the experiences of all transgender individuals. Katie and Arin were quick to acknowledge that they were only seeking to share their own stories.

Responsible RA for marginalized communities should include trigger warnings. The panel expressed concerns over promoting certain titles that while good works of literature, may not be stories that transgender individuals are seeking. Warning them of potentially problematic elements or stories should be disclosed as part of responsible readers’ advisory transactions.

Books about transgender people can speak to anyone who has felt other or out of place. While Arin Andrews and Katie HIll both wanted to share their stories in the hopes of other teens grappling with issues of gender identity would know they were not alone, they hope that even cisgender teens can relate to their experiences. Books with trans* characters can show everyone that “different” is not “weird.”

Gender identity and sexuality are complicated. Librarians don’t need to know all the answers, but where to find them. Katie Hill related an experience of going to her local library and asking a librarian for help finding books about what she was going through as a teenager, and the librarian was unhelpful and confirmed her suspicion that the library had nothing to offer her. As a librarian who wants teens to be able to come to me to find answers to any question, this was heart-breaking. Luckily Katie did find the information she needed, primarily through websites and YouTube, but this started a great discussion about the best ways that librarians can provide support for transgender teens. Creating passive ways to discover information, through a link of resources on a web page or a list of titles on a bookmarks right next to similar RA resources promoting all genres makes this type of information easily discoverable without having to ask for assistance or outing themselves in a public way. Librarians can also designate their library as a safe space, casually let it be know they are an ally, and partner with local organizations that work with LGBTQ youth.

 More titles need to be published by authors who identify as transgender. This is not to say that transgender authors can only write about their own experiences or that fiction should all be thinly veiled memoir. While there have been several memoirs published this year that relate the experiences of transgender teens in their own voice—in addition to Arin and Katie’s books, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out edited by Susan Kuklin includes essays from six transgender teens—but very little fiction for teens has been written by transgender titles. The panel was split on the issue of whether cisgender authors should write about trans* characters. Katie Hill recognized that not all transgender people are writers, and thinks that if a writer approaches the story from a place of compassion, could do it justice. Kyle Lukoff was more skeptical and encouraged cisgender authors considering telling a story of a transgender character really examine their motivation for doing so.

Overall, the panel was very informative, and allowed those in attendance to ask questions of both librarians and transgender teens.

GenreQueer: Smashing the Closet

Malinda Lo, Kristen Elizabeth Clark, and Robin Talley

This panel, led by Christie Gibrich, Katelyn Browne  with participation from authors Malinda Lo, Kristen Elizabeth Clark, adn RObin Talley, focused on books with LGBTQ main characters in YA genre fiction. The idea of “genre” was loosely defined, and focused on books that were not considered “problem” novels or contemporary, realistic fiction.

There was a discussion of the history of the intersection of LGBTQ fiction and genre fiction, including an analysis of award winning LGBTQ genre fiction. My main takeaways from the session included:

We need diversity of all kinds in young adult literature. LGBTQ people are more than their sexual orientation. While coming out narratives are important, queer characters should be represented in fantasy, science fiction, and other genres. These characters should be able to go on adventures and grapple with issues beyond their sexual orientation.

Queer identities in science fiction and fantasy offer the possibility of normalization of these identities. 

Historical fiction with queer identities reminds us these aren’t “new” and have always been around.

Small LGBTQ presses are great and offer a variety of titles, but distribution is still an issue and major publishers more likely to get in libraries. Mainstream publishers are more often reviewed in professional journals and are more likely to be available for libraries to purchase through their normal vendors.

The authors also called for librarians to not be afraid to shelve LGBTQ titles just because they might be challenged. How would LGBTQ teens feel in this sort of environment?

The panelist also offered the following resources for selecting LGBTQ literature:


And I would also suggest the following resources:

The session also included an overview of the wealth of resources that Malinda Lo has compiled on her blog regarding statistics about the LGBTQ young adult literature published from over the last ten years.

Bottom line: we certainly need more LGBTQ titles.

— Molly Wetta, currently reading The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutowski

2014 Teens’ Top Ten: An Extra Helping of James Dashner

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 07:00

Thousands of teen readers cast their votes for the 2014 Teens’ Top Ten, and The Hub is celebrating their choices! Today we feature James Dashner, whose book The Eye of Minds is #10 on this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list.

James Dashner‘s star is rising fast, and shows no signs of slowing. If you missed Julie Bartel’s recent One Thing Leads to Another Interview with him, do yourself a favor and check it out. You’ll find out how he went from a “dork among dorks” in high school (with school photos included for good measure), to the well-known writer he is today. His big breakout was The Maze Runner (The Hub reviewed the movie adaptation, and the sequel, The Scorch Trials, is currently being shot).

Dashner’s followup series, The Mortality Doctrine, kicks off with The Eye of Minds, which has brought him the latest feather in his cap: a spot on the Teens’ Top Ten list. Haven’t read it yet? Take a peek at the book trailer:

In the book, the gaming world and real world are too similar to tell apart — a problem
that is quite creepy and prompted plenty of fans to wonder: Could the plot of The Eye of Minds really happen? Enough people asked that James gives his two cents in this “Dashner Download”:

I’ll admit that I haven’t read the book yet myself, but I checked out some of the Twitter
mentions about it (you can follow James Dashner too!), and now I am really intrigued.

What is this plot twist?! How can books just
make a complete 180 like that? That’s crazy, and brilliant. #booknerd#EyeofMinds@jamesdashner

— Kaitlyn (@_kaitlynmarieee) May
24, 2014

First book that I’ve
checked out of my school library and its Eye of Minds (its my third year) @jamesdashner

— Liam McCall Brittany (@LiamDumbbells) November
20, 2014

@jamesdashner if I keep reading you’re
book The Eye Of Minds I think I’m going to have nightmares this is so creepy

— Faith (@CountryIsLife92) September
1, 2014

Congratulations, James Dashner!

–Becky O’Neil, currently reading A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

YA Lit Symposium: Where are the Heroes of Color in SFF?

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 07:00

Friday afternoon at the YALSA YA Lit Symposium, I attended Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy and Sci Fi?, which boasted quite the list of presenters and participating authors/editor. Led by Sarah Murphy, Kerry Roeder, Angela Ungaro, of The Watchers Podcast, the session started by acknowledging the fact that indeed, there are already quite a few heroes of color in SFF that we can pull out from history, thanks to authors like Octavia Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin. But we all know that there aren’t enough, and that’s a shame, especially when movements like We Need Diverse Books prove that we want them. To that end, participating authors Amalie Howard, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and Cynthia Leitich Smith, plus editors Joe Monti and Stacy Whitman (who joined via video), discussed their experiences in the diverse (or not-so-diverse) world of publishing and genre fiction, especially in YA.

While there is much to say about diversity in YA literature that would take much longer than a simple post to get to, let’s agree that science fiction and fantasy seem especially to suffer from excessive whiteness (and excessive abledness, hetero-ness, etc, but that was not the theme of this session), probably due to the fact that publishers seem to think that characters of color only belong in realistic stories about very specific racialized experiences that are sanctioned by the status quo, like a story about a black person during the Civil Rights movement or a story about a Latino who is crossing the border into the United States. The question of the day seemed to be why there seems to be such resistance to genres that imagine entirely new worlds going on to imagine that people of color might be in them?

The presenters and participants all shared their frustration for the current state of publishing and their passion for changing it. Monti, who will be running his own new imprint, Saga Press, at Simon & Schuster, did not hold back from calling out other publishers’ refusal to change. He noted fighting with someone over a new cover of A Wizard of Earthsea, which failed to make Ged, the main character, black, even though the author has done nothing but insist that Ged is black. Monti noted that “we can’t get to a deeper truth if we ignore half the world…I don’t understand how a school system can be majority minority and publishers think Latinos are niche.” He said he strongly believes diversity will sell, because good stories are good stories, plain and simple.

Howard, whose latest book, Alpha Goddess, draws on Indian mythology, said that in her early days of submitting her manuscripts to publishers, the question often seemed to be “Why don’t you write about your background?” “Because I like fantasy” was her answer. This question, not asked of white writers, bothered her, since it’s not the job of a writer of color to focus solely on hard-hitting realism about racism. All genres need to diversify, and everyone is responsible or it. Howard’s own work clearly draws on diverse sources of inspiration and is informed by her own identity as a woman of color, even before Alpha Goddess was published.

McCall’s second book, Summer of the Mariposas, was inspired by a student who called for a hero’s journey story for girls when the class was reading The Odyssey. McCall said she realized that she could not only write that story, but she didn’t need to borrow from Greek mythology – Mexican and Chicano history have enough mythology to make a new story.

When aspiring writers in the audience asked the question of how future novels can contribute to the cause for diversity in SFF, Smith had a lot to say. She encouraged people to keep the conversation going so that it would not lose momentum. She also had a wise word of caution to writers seeking to add diversity to their books. First, she reminded the audience that anyone who says they don’t have a diverse population in their community is just plain wrong. “Even if you can’t see diversity, it’s there,” she said. She also reminded writers that this was a mission they had to take on because it was the right and true depiction of the world, as Monti had noted. “If you do it because you think YOU are saving the world, that’s not right,” she said. I think she meant that writing diverse stories must happen because you see what the world looks like and is made of and you write that truth into your stories; if you write diversity but don’t believe in it, your readers will see, and your story will fail. Diversity must be good for the story and the reader, not make you look like a good person.

Whitman’s video piggybacked on that as well, as she said firmly that “publishers should be reaching out to writers of color and letting them know they are welcome.” And that’s not happening enough, the panelists seemed to agree.

I left the session feeling better about the future of diversity in publishing, when usually such themed panels tend to be discouraging and full of platitudes, not action. The panelists are proof that diversity sells, proof that librarians buy it, and proof that editors know that the official party line on diversity being niche is total BS. With these people helping to pave the way, I look forward to what’s coming next.

-Hannah Gómez

The Monday Poll: Your Favorite Unusual Character Name

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 23:30

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we asked you to weigh in on the most believable post-apocalyptic world depicted in YA lit. 42% of you are probably heading to the grocery store to stock up on your canned goods, because you voted for Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It. Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker garnered 23% of the vote, followed by Ashfall by Mike Mullin, with 17%. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted!

This week’s poll is all about character names. Authors can have a lot of fun with names, and sometimes we see fictional characters bearing monikers that are rather, ah, unusual. Names we’re unlikely to come across in real life– though, of course, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. So we want to know: what’s your favorite unusual or implausible character name in YA lit? Vote in the poll below, or add your choice in the comments if we missed it.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

YA Lit Symposium: R.L. Stine!

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 07:00

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from R. L. Stine’s speech, the closing (dare I say, crowning?) event of YALSA’s (awesome!)  2014 YA Literature Symposium. Would he scare us? This seemed unlikely, as it’s not really the traditional mode for keynote speakers to terrify their audience, but from a bestselling horror author, who knew? I just knew I was pumped to see the writer who had fueled so many of the nightmares of my adolescence, in the flesh. I was surprised (but definitely amused) when he opened with a self-deprecatingly hilarious quip about a recent interaction with a fan, in which the admirer asked, “Can I get a picture with you? My kids all think you’re dead!” This was followed with the equally humble and hilarious recounting of the time someone came up to him to say, “Did anyone ever tell you you look like R.L. Stine? No offense.”

He continued by sharing fan letters both hilarious and charming, and demonstrating in person his wonderful sense of humor. He told us that his first dream was to run a comedy magazine; and he did! It was called Bananas (I felt like a pretty subpar fan when one of my work colleagues was not only totally unsurprised by this, but had had a subscription to Bananas!). He shared that his son told him Morgan Freeman should play him in the upcoming Goosebumps movie, and that when he floated the idea of playing himself onscreen to his wife, she told him he’s too old. The role went to Jack Black, and Stine assured us that all the monsters are in the film (which comes out next summer).

I read a lot of horror when I myself was a teenager. All the Fear Street I could get my hands on. So imagine my delight when my seat turned out to have one of the golden tickets (er…yellow standard raffle-style ticket). The prize was pretty much as good as getting to tour a chocolate factory, too; I got an advance copy of the next Fear Street novel, due out in April 2015, called Don’t Stay Up Late)!  

And, I’ll admit, his closing comments made me get a little teary. Stine told a story about seeing Ray Bradbury, one of Stine’s absolute favorite authors, at the LA Times book festival years ago. His wife said he should go tell Bradbury how much his work had meant to him. Stine was reluctant (aren’t we all, when faced with someone whose work has affected us? But I was touched by this humility coming from someone who’s sold over 400 million books). His wife insisted. So Stine went over and told Bradbury he was his literary hero. And Ray Bradbury replied, “You’ve been a hero to a lot of people too.”

So true! Thanks for all those hours and hours of can’t-stop-must-see-who-dies-next reading, R.L. Stine, and thanks for being so charming to a roomful of adoring librarians!

-Carly Pansulla, currently reading Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King

YA Lit Symposium: YA Realness – What Makes Contemporary Realism Feel True to Readers?

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 07:00

I began the first full day at the 2014 Young Adult Literature Symposium with a session that perfectly suited this year’s “Keeping It Real” theme.  Titled “YA Realness: What Makes ‘Contemporary Realism’ Feel True To Readers?” this Saturday morning session featured a self-moderated panel of established authors discussing a range of topics related to contemporary realistic fiction for young adults, including the genre’s authenticity, controversial topics, writing craft, and continued appeal to teens.

In many cases, a panel without a formal moderator could go horribly wrong, but the excellent crew of authors in this particular session instead created a casual and very thoughtful conversation about many aspects of contemporary realism. Matt de la Pena, Coe Booth, Sara Zarr, Sara Ryan, and Jo Knowles are all authors well-known for their varied, popular, and critically acclaimed works of contemporary realistic fiction written for and about young adults.

My sadly grainy shot of the excellent author panel in action!

Sara Zarr started the session off  by getting right to the most basic but unavoidable question: “How do you define ‘contemporary realism?”  She broke the ice by offering her own, excellent definition of the genre as a story that takes place more or less in the present in which nothing happens that could not feasibly happen in our world and nothing occurs that might violate the space-time continuum.  The other panelists chimed in, mentioning their emphases on honesty, emotional truth, and grittiness.  Matt de la Pena shared his usual response to questions concerning his preference for realistic fiction over fantasy: “I am so infatuated with the real world that I don’t go there [to supernatural creatures, etc.] creatively….you all have great stories in your lives, you just think they’re normal.”

From there the conversation continued to flow, touching on the definition of literature and shifting to a discussion of writers’ individual viewpoints affecting their work.  Coe Booth stated that she is interested in “what my book is saying about this time and place” while Matt de la Pena expressed his belief that “writers are at their best when they have a point of view,” going on to explain that he views novels as having both a plot (what the story is about) and a deeper meaning (what the story is really about).  The other authors discussed the idea that writers often have specific issues, life experiences, topics, and themes that reoccur throughout their bodies of work; they all felt that their particular points of view bleed through the varied stories they choose to tell.

This conversation naturally moved to the fact that contemporary realistic young adult fiction is often considered controversial and frequently faces challenges or other censorship-related issues.  As Jo Knowles queried, why is reality so controversial in young adult and children’s fiction? 

Responses offered included:

  • Sara Zarr returned to an early discussion about the panel’s interest in writing realistic (rather than fantasy or speculative fiction) and mentioned the frequent use of monsters (such as vampires) as a way to externalize the real monsters–she cited Joss Whedon and Buffy The Vampire Slayer as an example.  In realistic fiction the monsters are human–and that can be much more frightening & disturbing.
  • Sara Ryan mentioned the continued popular (but generally false) perception that the role of  books for youth is to teach morals and noted that those who object to some realistic fiction books might be wishing for a “suspension of disbelief about reality.”
  • Jo Knowles answered her own question by stating that she notices a clear gap “between what teens want to read and what their parents want them to read.

Sara Ryan then posed a question about authenticity in contemporary realism, leading to an excellent discussion between Coe Booth and Matt de la Pena about their different processes for determining the most effective & honest balance of authentic language in their novels.  Matt shared his instinct to “calibrate” authenticity and his efforts to find the right amount of Spanish to include in several of his novels while Coe discussed her firm insistence on maintaining the language patterns, grammar, and vocabulary specific to the Bronx setting & culture portrayed  in stories like her debut novel, Tyrell.  

Issues surrounding authenticity were a major theme as they panel returned to topic later, touching further on concerns about cultural appropriation.  All of the authors emphasized that writing about a character or world outside their own experiences & identities (especially in terms of race, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.) was a challenge and one that must be approached with care–and a great deal of intense research.  Coe Booth, however, added the critical insight that sometimes when a story is told by someone outside a particular identity or community, the publishing world then leaves no room for writers within that identity or community to publish their stories.    

Before opening up for audience questions, the panel discussed a range of related topics including the lack of complex adult characters and realistic relationships between teens & adults in young adult fiction, the appeal of contemporary realism fiction without a romantic relationship, and their own acknowledged failures or struggles in writing.

The audience’s questions provoked conversations about the lack of coverage of still taboo topics like abortion, the challenge of writing fiction that feel contemporary but avoids becoming dated within a few years, teens’ continued attraction to ‘sad books,’ and the recent rash of big screen adaptations of young adult fiction.

Near the end, the authors were also challenged to name books that pushed them to rethink or change their views on life.  Titles mentioned included The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and Drown by Junot Diaz.

For more information, investigate the #yalit14 hashtag on Twitter or investigate any of the featured author’s websites and/or Twitter feeds!

-Kelly Dickinson, currently reading Tankborn by Karen Sandler and Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill

YA Lit Symposium: Something Wicked This Way Comes of Age: Horror Tackles the Real Issues

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 07:00

I don’t read as much horror as I probably should, since it’s very popular with a lot of teen readers.  So, I was very happy to attend this YA Literature Symposium session presented by the two Paulas (Paula Willey and Paula Gallagher) both from Baltimore (MD) County Public Library. Not only did I hear about some horror books I wasn’t familiar with, I also won a scary shark t-shirt! Thanks to their generosity, lots of us in the audience got prizes of galleys of YA books, and everyone got creepy body part shaped candy and packets of Old Bay Seasoning (Why? Because it’s made in Baltimore).

I can’t describe their presentation any better than they did:

“Teens of all types gravitate to horror fiction – perfectly nice kids with perfectly comfortable lives (as well as perfectly nice kids with difficult lives) seek out books by Darren Shan, Alexander Gordon Smith, Jeyn Roberts and the like. In our presentation, we will make the link between the psychological developments that characterize coming of age and the metaphors of horror, and argue that just because it’s all in your head, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

Paula Gallagher (standing) and Paula Willey (sitting)

They mentioned that teens who like horror are nostalgic for series they read as kids like the Goosebumps series, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories, or David Lubar’s Weenies series. Teens today are cutting their teeth on new horror TV shows, and films, even foreign ones like Let the Right One In and are big consumers of media, especially horror series like The Vampire Diaries.

Paula Willey explained why it’s important that we understand why teens like horror:
1. We may need to overcome our own revulsion; people who don’t like it don’t understand the appeal.
2. Horror is unusually good at shining a light on concerns of adolescents in ways other types of fiction do not. Horror is a window into their worries.

They also said that issues of morality can be explored in horror. Alexander Gordon Smith can talk abut good vs. evil in his Escape the Furnace series and get away with it. I had to laugh when they showed a slide from their PowerPoint stating that adolescent development is characterized by poor decision making; risk-taking; and a changing sense of identity and the image on screen was a photo of Bella and Edward from the Twilight movie.

They focused on “teen touchstone” books. Books that address specific fears and desires of adolescence. These are both YA and adult titles. The issues the teens are dealing with include physical changes, inner changes, finding one’s peer group – or fearing it, separation from parents or finding one’s place in the world.

Teens in horror books are dealing with:
1. Peers (as opposed to parents whom they are usually fighting against as in Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series; Scowler by Dan Kraus; The Infects by Sean Beaudoin or The Troop by Nick Cutter (adult). I’d never heard of The Troop before but it’s sounds very scary read and full of graphic scenes of horror that aren’t for the squeamish (but as a Walking Dead fan, it can’t be worse than some of those episodes, can it?).

2. Love in horror books is complicated, and an epic, all consuming love such as in Holly Black’s Tithe; The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause or Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey (2011 Morris Award finalist).

3. Physical changes that teens undergo are highlighted in Cutter’s The Troop, Alexander Gordon Smith’s Escape From Furnace series or Chase Novak’s adult book Brood (sequel to Breed) that involves feral children, cannibalism, genetic mutation and rats.

4. Inner changes like possession (Amity by Micol Ostow) or being implanted with parasites (the adult book Parasite by Mia Grant). Adults exploit teenagers’ powers in many horror books such as BZRK by Michael Grant, or Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick. Possession (AKA being used by parents) is also a theme in horror such as The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco.

5. Independence is characterized by the absence of parents in Michael Grant’s Gone series, The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith or Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series.

I was frantically trying to write down all the things they said but luckily, I didn’t have to. They have their own Tumblr site on the topic called  Something Wicked Comes of Age. Not only do they have over a hundred book suggestions on their Tumblr site, they also include display ideas, eye-catching covers, program ideas (whiteboard villain cage match; bad date with a book). All the books are tagged on their Tumblr site. One of the tags is “dread” which rates whether the book is minor, medium or major on the scary scale. Another tag is “gore” which indicates whether the book has minor, medium or major gore.

I can’t wait to check out all the great information on their Tumblr site. Where else would you find out that, according to the Wall Street Journal, zombies are most relevant now because they are most popular during recessions, epidemics, and general unhappiness!

-Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers


Tweets of the Week: November 21

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 07:00

Happy Friday, everyone! We’re here to catch you up on what you might have missed on Twitter this week. Lots of good observations from #yalit14!

Books and Reading

Pop Culture, TV, and Movies

Libraries and Librarianship

Just for Fun

-Allison Tran, currently listening to Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi

What Would They Read?: Firefly Part 2

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 07:00

After a slight break to feature various spooky monsters, I’m heading back to the ship “Serenity” to finish off a few more characters.  I promised you all I would not leave you hanging.  Back in September I told you all about the crew of “Serenity.”  The comments section hit on an obvious title that I overlooked so I wanted to make sure that it was added.  Blog reader Shari said that Kaylee would also love Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  After I read that comment, I mentally kicked myself and I’m not ashamed to say it hurt a bit.  Of course Kaylee would love the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer!  Not only is it futuristic, it’s set in a world where Chinese influences run abundantly…just like Kaylee’s world.  Also, with as much as she likes to take apart and fix “Serenity,” she would love a story where cyborgs run freely.  Great suggestion!  I just wish I thought of it first.  :P

Ok, back to the ship.

Inara Serra – Inara is a very proper lady by those viewing her merely for her profession.  A companion is basically a fancy prostitute and Inara holds her head up high at the prestige she gains.  However, we witness every episode a subconscious, or sometimes very conscious, desire for real love.  Her schoolyard relationship with Mal makes the audience cheer for their snarky exteriors to melt away and their true romantic feelings to take the lead.  That is why I believe that Inara would love books that regard strong female characters in a positive light, but still has a bit of romance.  I would recommend The Selection by Kiera Cass to Inara particularly because America stands tall with her convictions instead of following the crowd of wannabee princesses.  The romance is there, but it’s America who decides to whom those romantic tendencies will flourish.  In a similar vein, I would slip Inara Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund.  This title is a bit more romance, but the secrets kept by the main characters definitely taking center stage over the romance from time to time.  And I believe that Inara’s secrets are fairly unmatched.

Shepherd Book – While some might believe that it would be difficult to find a book for Shepherd Book, I completely disagree.  I’ve been sitting on the perfect book for him.  I would definitely give him Godless by Pete Hautman.  In Godless, the main character and his friends explore the meaning of religion and eventually create a religion based on the town water tower.  Shepherd seems like someone who is interested in the meaning behind spirituality, whether it’s his religion or not.  Similarly, I would also recommend There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff.  In this book, God is represented by a teenage boy named Bob.  Shepherd is obviously the spiritual moral compass upon “Serenity” in the same way that Kaylee is the calming demeanor on the ship.  While none of the ship’s inhabitants share the same beliefs as Shepherd, it’s his mere presence that keeps everyone considering their next steps.  I believe that it’s Shepherd’s constant need for understanding that would keep him reaching out for new ideas, particularly those found in these two titles.

Simon Tam - Out of all the inhabitants on “Serenity,” Simon is my least favorite, mainly because his character is created because of his sister River.  There are a few times where we see Simon’s personality, particularly when he gets drunk in Canton and starts flirting with Kaylee.  Other than these rare occurrences,  everything about Simon revolves around River.  He is only thinking about her and it kind of makes him a bit of a one-dimensional character.  I’m expecting disagreements here, so feel free to tell me why I’m wrong.  For this reason, I would recommend him books like The Night my Sister Went Missing by Carol Plum-Ucci.  In this book, Kurt’s sister goes missing and he listens to the details explained by others that piece together what happened to her.  So the recommendation isn’t just a dark thrilling story, I would also give him The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer.  In this story, a boy and his sister are captured by Viking Beserkers and Jack must remedy a spell-gone-wrong or else the queen will kill his sister.  This story is a bit more fun at times than the other title.  Also, it makes me think of Simon dealing with trolls, which is a bit comical.

River  Tam – Finally we come to River Tam.  River is a conundrum of a character.  She adopts whatever persona fits the situation.  Sometimes she acts as an innocent child while other times she takes up weapons and defends the ship and crew.  She knows more than anyone can possibly understand.  Recommending books to River is the equivalent of giving a gift to the guy who has everything.  You could give River anything and she would read it just to gain the knowledge within, whether necessary or not.  I would give River a serious title and a more light-hearted title.  For the serious title, I would give her Ender’s Game by 2008 Edwards Award winner Orson Scott Card and follow it up with the other books in the series.  I find a lot of similarities to River and Ender.  Both were removed from their families at a young age.  Both later discovered that they were training to be a catalyst for a group of untrustworthy adults.  As for a more entertaining read, I would give River Incarnate by Jodi Meadows.  While the description of this book is a bit complicated, full of reincarnation and complex character histories, I believe that River would enjoy reading this title.

As always, feel free to add your opinions in the comment section.  It’s possible I missed something here or there.

-Brandi Smits, currently reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

YA Literature Symposium: Reaching Reluctant Readers

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 07:00

On Saturday afternoon at the 2014 YA Literature Symposium, I attended the presentation entitled Reaching Reluctant Readers: from Creation to Circulation. The speakers were Patrick Jones, a librarian and author based in Minnesota, and Zack Moore from the Austin Independent School District in Texas.

The presentation focused on why reluctant readers aren’t reading, qualities of good book recommendations for reluctant readers, how to ease in-library access, examples of what reluctant readers will read, and things that you can do to reach reluctant readers of tomorrow. One point to mention here is that both speakers stressed the importance of remembering that reluctant readers may be aliterate, not illiterate. There is a big difference between approaching a teen who can read, but chooses not to and a teen who cannot read.

I have listed a few examples from each section below. The full presentation can be found here if you wish to read more.

Why They Aren’t Reading

  • By high school, reluctant readers have learned to “equate reading with ridicule, failure or exclusively school-related tasks”
    • It’s important to know that these readers have failed before and help them see that it’s okay to try again
  • It’s difficult for them to sit still long enough to read
  • Teens can be “too self-absorbed and preoccupied with themselves… to make connections between their world and books”
  • “Books are inadequate entertainment” when compared with other options
  • They can’t find “the good books”
    • The library can be a scary place for a reluctant reader if there are too many books

Qualities of Books for Reluctant Readers

  • A strong cover that is catchy, attractive, and action-oriented
  • Print style should be large enough to easily and enjoyably read
  • Artwork should be realistic, enticing, and demonstrate diversity
  • Have a high interest “hook” in the first 10 pages
  • Well-defined characters, but not too many
  • Plot lines that are “developed through dialog and action rather than descriptive text”

Ease In-Library Access

  • Shelve “quick reads” together
  • Give booktalks
  • Be prepared to help reluctant readers
  • Create displays that will appeal to reluctant readers
  • Rethink your reader’s advisory approach
  • Ask about the last thing they liked – not only books, include movies and televisions shows
  • Have them tell you what the book/movie/TV show is about – based on how they describe a story, you will know what it is they liked about it


What Will Reluctant Readers Read?

  • A great place to start is looking at books that appear on both the Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers and Best Books for Young Adults lists
  • Series fiction
    • The Spook’s series (Joseph Delaney), Ranger’s Apprentice series (John Flanagan), the Bluford series
  • General nonfiction
    • Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty (Joy Masoff)
  • Anything about pop culture (including biographies)
  • Series informational nonfiction
    • DK/Eyewitness books
  • Graphic novels, collected comics, single-issue comics, manga
    • Simpsons!
  • Magazines
  • Patrick Jones stressed that he tends to write books for reluctant readers in which “people punch each other in the face”

Things to Do to Reach Reluctant Readers of Tomorrow

  • Build relationships
  • Celebrate Teen Read Week
  • Arrange an author visit
  • Get out of the library
  • Keep current
  • Have a non-judgmental attitude
  • Weed the collection

Based on the backgrounds of the presenters, the reluctant readers that they spoke of were either incarcerated teens or students enrolled in alternative schools. As a result, some of the titles that were highlighted may not be the right recommendations for all teens, but I found that the strategies and rationales presented were fairly universal.

For more information, you may check out Connecting with Reluctant Teen Readers: Tips, Titles, and Tools by Patrick Jones, Maureen L. Hartman, and Patricia Taylor (Neal-Schuman, 2006).

– Jessica Lind, currently reading The Kidney Hypothetical: Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days by Lisa Yee

Jukebooks: For What It’s Worth by Janet Tashjian

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 07:00

Quinn is fourteen years old in 1971, living in Laurel Canyon, California. Rock music is just hitting its stride, and Quinn is obsessed. He writes a column, “For What It’s Worth,” that’s filled with rock ‘n roll minutiae. But rock never did exist in a vacuum. Like the blues, it was born of creative and political need, as Quinn begins to realize when a draft dodger shows up at his house.

The book is loaded with music. It would be far simpler to make a playlist than to select one song, one musician. But Quinn makes reference to “Club 27,” which has been a theme for Jukebooks lately. It’s a bit prescient for Quinn to speak of Club 27, since it wasn’t really a thing in 1971. (I would know; I was fourteen in 1971.) But it presents an opportunity to write about Brian Jones.

Jones is the Rolling Stone you never hear about. He’s the one who recruited the band members and chose the band’s name. He introduced the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Monterey Pop Festival. Through it all, he took drugs. The descent is sadly familiar: erratic behavior, arrests, fighting with the other band members. In 1969, Jones was asked to leave the band, eventually replaced by Mick Taylor.

Below is a montage of Brian Jones images, accompanied by the Rolling Stones’s “Last Time.” Jones played the guitar riff heard in the recording.

Diane Colson, currently reading Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann.

YA Literature Symposium: Keeping it REALLY weird

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 07:00

I feel very lucky to have been able to attend YALSA’s YA Literature Symposium in Austin this weekend. It was a great weekend full of thought-provoking panels, amazing author interactions, and just a lovely time talking about YA literature!

One of my favorite panels that I got to attend – and sometimes you had to make some hard choices! – was Sunday morning’s “Keeping it REALLY weird (books for the fringe & reluctant readers).” This had a great lineup hosted by Kelly Milner Halls it also included Chris Barton, Andrew Smith, Lisa Yee, Jonathan Auxier, Bruce Coville, and Laurie Ann Thompson. These authors have a reputation for writing about subjects sort of on the fringe compared to other YA books. Their books involve cryptids, unstoppable giant insects, Star Trek geeks, gamers, oddballs who make change, aliens for teachers, and ghost gardeners among other things. But many readers connect strongly to these stories of outsiders and happenings on the edge of what may be normal or accepted. Not only was this a really informative panel but it was also so much fun. Why? Take a look…

See Lisa Yee in the middle? Jonathan Auxier bet her that she wouldn’t come to the panel dressed like Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and said if she did, he would  sing all of his answers to the questions to the tune of “Moon River.” So Lisa dressed up and Jonathan had to sing until he brokered a deal with the audience to do yo-yo tricks for a singing reprieve.

That’s the fun stuff, but what did we talk about? The panelists talked about the weird things they did as a child – Lisa Yee used to pretend she had headgear to fit in with her friends; Chris Barton jumped off a second story roof; Jonathan Auxier, after an obsession with Teen Wolf, tried to convince his mother he was a werewolf – and then moved onto to more serious fair.

Asked whether the publishing industry made it harder or easier for so called “weird” books currently Bruce Coville and others noted that publishers often just want to clone hits like the Hunger Games or Harry Potter. They often are trying to catch up to trends instead of create them. Andrew Smith noted that it was really the author’s fear of ‘going there’ that kept the strangeness out of books.

Jonathan is a not-so-secret yoyo master!

The authors recounted their favorite books – Laurie Ann Thompson’s was the Encyclopedia Britannica which makes sense for a nonfiction writer, and Andrew Smith named Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions as a favorite – then got to talking about the “weird” kids. Many asserted that the kids weren’t really weird, they were just waiting for a book, and friends and peers, to make them feel understood and valued. Bruce Coville said that story is the best way to teach empathy for the odd kids and how to help them out.

Towards the end, Andrew Smith noted that he didn’t really like calling readers “weird” because of the negative connotations and asserted that that reader isn’t weird, “he is one of us.” I think that is the most important take away from the session: have kindness for the teens in your community whose interests and lives might be outside of the typical; we are all a little bit like that and all deserve compassion.

To catch up on what else you missed from the Symposium, stay posted for more dispatches from other attendees and search for #yalit14 on Twitter!

-Anna Tschetter, currently reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Genre Guide: Westerns for Teens

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 07:00

By Grant-Kohrs Ranch Historic Collection, bought by the National Park Service in 1972 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Traditional western novels denote a sense of the “Old West” as defined as a time period of American history from about the 17th century to the early 20th century where new settlers dealt with the harsh landscape, lawlessness, and/or the loner who exacts vengeance in the name of doing what is right. For westerns that are written for teens, however, they don’t always follow all the typical western tropes, but most commonly some of these themes are paired with the main character or characters coming of age through the story.

Authors to Know

There aren’t many authors who are well-known for writing westerns for teens, however here are some of the more well-known western authors:

  • Loius L’Amour
  • Zane Grey
  • Larry McMurtry
  • Cormac McCarthy


The setting of western novels usually deem that they be set in western America.  However, westerns can take place in other geographical settings where the landscape may mimic that of the “Old West.”  So, it can be a landscape where there is a search for a valuable mineral or material, or there are desolate conditions that are hard to survive, or it is a new land that settlers must figure out how to tame.  Whatever the case, a richly detailed landscape is one of the main characteristics of a western novel.  Also, a civilized society does not exist in most western novels, usually because the land has been uninhabited and it has yet to be developed. Traditionally, western novels are set in the time period of the “Old West,” but when it comes to western novels written for teens, they do not need to be set in a historically accurate time.  They can be set in the past, alternate past, present, and even future.

Main characters of western novels are typically male.  If there is a female main character, she is usually a strong one.  The main characters are traditionally the heroes of the story, and you are not always sure that they will survive until the end of the book.  Plots of western novels for teens can include a lone character seeking justice, a type of good guy versus bad guy standoff, or even land disputes and lawlessness.  Additionally, though not always common, westerns for teens can include the genres of romance and dystopia.  One thing is for sure, though, action and adventure are a must and there is always an ultimate showdown in the end!

Appeal and Readers

The appeal of westerns to teen readers is not as wide as other genres.  Generally, a teen can be sold on a western if they are looking for a story with lots of action and adventure and/or a story where the good guy prevails and justice is carried out.  Westerns can appeal to both male and female readers, though the more traditional western novels appeal more to male readers.


Trends for westerns written for teens include setting the western in a future dystopian society.  A prime example of this is Moira Young’s Dustlands series.  In Young’s future world, the land has been ravaged and Saba and her family scavenge to survive.  Saba’s brother is kidnapped and in order to save him, Saba must fight for her life in a violent city ruled by an evil King.


Reference Books

Read the High Country: a Guide to Western Books and Film by John Mort (Libraries Unlimited, 2006)

A Few Good Books: Using Contemporary Readers Advisory Strategies to Connect Readers with Books by Stephanie L. Maatta (Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2010)

The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction by Joyce G. Saricks (American Library Association, 2009)


Most publishers for teens will publish westerns, though there are not a high number of traditional western novels being published for teens at this time.


The Spur Awards have Juvenile Fiction and Nonfiction categories.
The Willa Awards have a Children’s/Young Adult Fiction & Nonfiction category.
There are also the Western Heritage Awards which have a Juvenile Category.

Recommended Titles

— Colleen Seisser, currently reading Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige