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The Get Down-Booklist: A Celebration of the Bronx, Hip-Hop, Disco, and Art

Wed, 09/21/2016 - 07:00

Focussing on the artistic ambitions of a group of teens living in the South Bronx in 1977, Netflix’s original series The Get Down is an explosion of force. Set in a time when Disco was large and Hip-Hop was in its earliest day, director Baz Luhrmann and producer Nas take into a time when art that would lay the path for future generations was being born.

Here is a list of books that will help continue that Get Down groove.

Fiction for Fans of The Get Down


Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Also set in 1977 New York City in Queens, it captures the music, the discos, the arsons, the heat, the tensions, and the night of a major blackout that was filled with businesses getting looted. Nora is about to graduate high school and teachers are pushing her to apply for college. Her main goal is to get out, and get on her own. The Son of Sam serial killings is overshadowing the city as the murderer seems to be focussing on young couples that are staying out too late.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (2016 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults)

A slightly futuristic Bronx neighborhood permeates this somewhat science fiction coming of age novel. Aaron Seto, a Puerto Rican teen is trying to deal with the emotional aftermath of his father’s suicide, and also coming to terms with his own failed attempt. His life seems to be permeated by complicated relationships and painful memories. He begins to contemplate the Leteo Institute’s mind-alteration procedure that can assist in wiping clean certain pockets of one’s memory.

Tyrell by Coe Booth (2007 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2007 Best Books for Young Adults, 2010 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)

Music and the Bronx are alive in this tale of a young teen trying to sidestep the easy money of dealing drugs, and instead trying to use music to raise needed money by pulling together an underground dance party. Tyrell’s life is full of tough decisions as he tries to support his younger brother, avoid the path of his father who is in jail, and staying with his girlfriend Novisha or be tempted by Jasmine.


DJ Rising by Love Maia

DJ Ice moves you to the dance floor. Marley, caught between keeping his scholarship at a fancy prep school and caring for his heroin-addicted mother, dreams of becoming a DJ. When he lands his first job as DJ Ice, his career as professional DJ is on the rise. Soon the realities of home force him to have to choose between following his dreams or to the ties of family.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (2016 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults)

Set in nearby Brooklyn this captures the magic of graffiti art. Sierra Santiago is a muralist and third generation Puerto Rican. She has planned an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season, and the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears. Something more sinister is going on.

Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero (2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults)

Set in the South Bronx in 1983, Smile and Nike are experiencing the pains of growing up in a time when hip-hop as proved its staying power, Reaganomics is wreaking havoc on the poor, and AIDS and crack have entered the inner-city.

Nonfiction for Fans of The Get Down


Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker by Julian Voloj

Set in the South Bronx in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Benjy Melendez, son of Puerto-Rican immigrants, founded the notorious Ghetto Brothers gang. His multiracial gang promoted peace rather than violence, and ended up joining other gangs to work together to fight for tenant rights, civil rights, and ultimately helping to create a space for the emergence of hip hop.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation by Jeff Chang

A biography for the history of the hip-hop movement that traces its foundations from Jamaica to the South Bronx. It is based on over a decade of interviews and research.

Born in the Bronx: A Visual Record of the Early Days of Hip Hop

A visual history of the the early hip hop movement that includes the improvisational artwork of previously unpublished street flyers of the era, Polaroids, and testimonials from influential figures such as Tony Tone, LA Sunshine, and Charlie Chase.


Hip Hop Family Tree: 1, 1970s-1981 by Ed Piskor

An encyclopaedic history in graphic novel format that is the beginning of a four-part series. This volume captures stars DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, as well as three kids who later become RUN-DMC.

Honorable Mention:

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett  Johnson

What is the mystery of the purple crayon?

The post The Get Down-Booklist: A Celebration of the Bronx, Hip-Hop, Disco, and Art appeared first on The Hub.

Strange Reading Coincidences

Tue, 09/20/2016 - 07:00

Have you ever been reading and the word you’re reading is also mentioned by someone nearby or by someone on TV at the same time? It’s just one of those strange instances when you see or hear the same thing repeated again at the same time or shortly afterward. 

It happened to me recently when reading or listening to two very different books. Both contained strange random facts about the same thing. 

I’ve just learned that there’s a name for this occurrence: Baader-Meinhof. It’s the phenomenon where one happens upon some obscure piece of information—often an unfamiliar word or name—and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly. 

I was listening to Zac and Mia by A. J. Bett’s (2014), one of SYNC’s summer selection of audiobooks a few weeks ago. The main character,  Zac, who’s got leukemia, is a bit of a nerd when it comes to knowing strange stats about how people have died. He’s trying to get to know a fellow patient in the hospital named Mia. In trying to take her mind off her own diagnosis, he tells her about all the strange and unbelievable ways people have died. One of them was a man from NJ who died in 2009 by falling into a vat of hot chocolate. 

Now, not only did that get my attention, because I love chocolate and couldn’t believe that anyone would actual die in such a bizarre way, but because I live in NJ and didn’t remember hearing anything about it at the time.

Then, a few days after finishing listening to Zac and Mia, I started reading the galley of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s upcoming (Jan. 2017) middle grade book called Short. It’s about a girl named Julia who is grieving her beloved dog’s recent death and spending the summer playing a Munchkin in a community theater’s production of the Wizard of Oz. Their director has accidentally fallen off a ladder and broken his coccyx. One of the adults in the production, also playing a Munchkin, tells Julie that falling can be very serious. He then mentions the same case of the NJ man falling and dying in the vat of chocolate. 

Even though the books weren’t written at the same time, or by the same authors, it’s just a bit strange that two different people would write about the same incident and I’d be reading about both instances at around the same time.

Has this kind of synchronicity ever happened to you? If so, what were the books and what were they describing? 

I wonder whether the authors have an interest in these odd facts and try to find a way to incorporate them into the text, or do they present the facts more organically through the plot and development of their characters? I’m curious. 

Now I’m reading Essential Maps for the Lost by Deb Caletti (2016) (current Best Fiction for Young Adults nominee) and I just finished listening to SYNC’s summer offering of Chris Weitz’s audio edition of The Young World (2014). Guess what book the characters from both of these books really like? From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg!

Just one of those things, I guess. 

— Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Essential Maps for the Lost by Deb Caletti and listening to My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

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Working Teens in Young Adult Fiction

Tue, 09/20/2016 - 07:00

In much of current YA literature readers will find the that the main character is well off, does not have to work, travels often, and has everything designer (car, clothes, electronics, etc.). This does not reflect the reality of most teenagers or new adults, today. While it can be nice to read about something that is different than one’s daily life, characters should also be relatable.

I work at a school library and I see kids every day that come in to finish their homework, sometimes forgoing their lunch, because they have to work directly after school and do not get home until 11 o’clock, or later. Then they wake up and do it all over again. They deserve a lot more credit than they appear to receive. The following list of books includes characters that work while going to school or managing another difficult aspect of life. They work to get what they want. These are often things that teens today have to do. Many come home from school, change and head to work, then finish their homework after getting home late at night. These real teens are strong, hard workers. It is important to show them that they are not the minority and that the idealized life is not necessarily one where someone has everything handed to them. Some of these situations may not be ones that your average teenager might find themselves in, but the work ethic is very relatable.

The main characters in these books all have to work to help support themselves and their families.



Macy in The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

The Truth About Forever is the story of Macy’s summer after her father passes away. She is prepared for a monotonous summer of working a quiet job, studying, and coping with her loss. When she decides instead to take a job at a catering company, Macy meets an eclectic group of people that change her summer. By choosing a job that she is interested in and working hard, she turns her possibly depressing summer into one she will never forget.

Annie in The Ruining by Anna Collomore

In The Ruining Annie is moving from her stagnant hometown, to gorgeous California. She has been accepted to school out there, but needs to work to afford her tuition. In order to not lose out on her dream she accepts a job nannying for a family. Annie has found the perfect job, because the family is willing to assist her with her tuition as long as she meets their needs. Sound like it’s too good to be true? In a story like this, it is, but that doesn’t stop her from working hard. When everything appears to be falling apart around her and she feels off track, Annie works hard to keep herself where she needs and wants to be.

Katniss in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Katniss is a whole different type of working teenager. Not only does she work, but she is the sole provider for her family. She hunts for their food, along with whatever else she can sell. She risks her life by putting her name in for the Reaping multiple times, just so her mother and sister can eat. She is not afraid of doing what it takes to keep her family alive. Her work continues as she goes to the Games, and as her life changes afterwards.


Juliet in The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

After Juliet’s father is banished from London’s high society and her mother dies, she is forced to forgo her lavish lifestyle and work to survive. She goes from balls and carriages, to being a maid at a college. She scrubs the floor while the society she used to mingle with doesn’t even bat an eye at her. As difficult as this is on her, she does so to live, and to find out the truth about her father…and possibly even bring him home.


Doug in Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

When Doug’s family moves he is forced to work to help pay for things for the family, as well as anything he might want himself. He works for the local deli, delivering groceries, which he does with a little red wagon. From this job he earns other jobs, such as babysitting, and even acting in a play. Actions from his brother and his father often wreak havoc with the trust his boss, and customers, have in him, but he does not let that get him down. Doug works hard to prove his worth and shows that he is so much more than they even know.

Romy in All the Rage by Courtney Summers

After being assaulted by a fellow student, Romy must suffer attacks on her integrity on a daily basis. Needing to work, she takes a job in the closest town nearby, where no one knows her. Every day she must go to school, deal with her harassers, go to work, come home, and start all over again the next day. On top of this, another girl connected to the boy who hurt her goes missing. Soon her personal life follows her to work and the friends she has made outside of her small town. Romy uses her job to attempt to keep her life as on track as possible.


Kacey in Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker

In this new adult novel, Kacey is forced to move to Florida from her Michigan hometown to protect herself and her little sister, Livie. Having not graduated or gone to college, Kacey feels limited in her job choices, but knows that she must find something. Her neighbor helps her get a job bartending and she takes it, despite her reservations. By working this job she is able to provide for herself and her sister, but is also able to come to terms with the traumatic accident that took the life of her parents.

Scarlet in Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

All of the characters in The Lunar Chronicles work hard, but Scarlet stuck out to me more than the others. She runs her grandmother’s farm single handedly after she disappears. She continues delivering food to the restaurants that buy from them, as well as taking care of all of the crops and land. While doing this she also deals with speculation and ridicule from her fellow townspeople. Scarlet doesn’t ask for anything from anyone and will fight and work to get what she needs.

All of these characters are hard workers and do not sit around and wait for things to be handed to them. They are wonderful role models for the readers of their books. I hope that teenagers that work, along with balancing school and home life, get more credit and representation in today’s literature. Is there a hardworking fictional, teenager that you would add to this list?

— Tegan Anclade, currently reading The Invisibles by Cecilia Galante

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Sail the Seven Seas: Books for International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Mon, 09/19/2016 - 07:00

September 19th marks International Talk Like a Pirate Day. In addition to talking and dressing like pirates, if you would like to read like a pirate, here are some great swashbuckling young adult titles!

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman

This is an origin story for Blackbeard the pirate. Edward “Teach” Drummond loves the ocean and can’t wait to return to it. Anne has been recently orphaned and, without any money to her name, is forced to find work in the Drummond home. Teach and Anne both must decide whether they will play the roles society has given them or set off to follow their dreams.

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy by L.A. Meyer

This first book in a series of twelve follows the story of Jacky Faber who, as the title suggests, disguises herself as a boy and serves aboard a pirate ship.

Boston Jane by Jennifer Holm

Jane Peck has been trained to be a lady, but when she sails to the western United States to wed her betrothed, she finds that her training did not prepare her for a life at sea or the adventures of the wild west.

The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King

Emer was a teenage pirate in the 17th century and was cursed to live one hundred lives as a dog before returning to a human body. Now she’s an American teenager and she wants to find the treasure she buried long ago.

Pirates! by Celia Rees

Nancy, the daughter of a rich merchant, and Minerva, a former slave, escape their lives by joining a pirate crew.

Piratica: Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl’s Adventure Upon the High Seas by Tanith Lee

 Art is a boarding school student, and a nasty bump to her head brings back memories of a life at sea when she was young. She tries to recreate this pirate life, but runs into a few bumps along the way.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

 While Goldman’s classic tale is not exclusively focused on pirates, the Dread Pirate Roberts does play an important role in this story.

Steel by Carrie Vaughn

Jill loves fencing, but when she picks up a piece of steel on a beach, she never expects to be transported back in time to a pirate ship. How will she get back to her own time, and will she survive long enough to do that?

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

There have been many movie and book reboots of this classic title, but some teens may really enjoy the original story of Jim Hawkins and may be encouraged to read other classic works as well.

The Wreckers by Iain Lawrence

John Spencer, the youngest member of the pirate crew, is the only one to survive the shipwreck. Unfortunately, his ship crashed near a community that thrives off the treasures washed ashore after shipwrecks. Will he be able to escape these land pirates?

What pirate stories have you loved that should be added to this list?

Jenni Frencham, currently reading Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum

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YA Books with a Male Point of View

Mon, 09/12/2016 - 07:00

Looking for books with a male protagonist? Check out the list below.



Nathan is the illegitamate son of the most evil witch in the land and is caged and beaten.  Finally freed from his prison, Nathan sets on a journey to find his father.

Fletcher, an orphan and blacksmith apprentice, has discovered a hidden talent. When he travels to a school for kids like him, Fletcher finds himself in the middle of power hungry forces.

Kaz, a member of the Dregs gang, has scored a big heist but he needs help.  He enlists five others to help him break into the unbreakable Ice Court to steal some precious cargo.

Nic is a slave in Ancient Rome and on a mission to raid Julius Caesar’s tomb, he finds Caeser’s bulla.  After he puts the bulla around his neck, he gains world ending powers that are coveted by the good and the bad.

Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives with his father above their Two Book Bookstore in the little town on Never Better.  He’s smart, shy, and has a ghost for a best friend-Jacob Grimm.  One day, Jeremy meets Ginger, a spunky classmate, and the two of them and Jacob get involved into a bit of trouble.

Realistic Fiction

In this reimagination of Sherlock Holmes, Charlotte Holmes is a distant relative of Sherlock and a high school student in American.  James Watson, a distant relative of Dr. John Watson, is student at the same school and Watson and Holmes eventually meet up to solve a murder.

Parker hasn’t spoken since his father’s death but when he meets an interesting girl who claims to be over one hundred years old, he challenges her to live her life to the fullest.

Solomon suffers from agoraphobia.  Lisa is determined to get out of her town and into her dream school by saving Solomon but who ends up saving who?

Although gifted with the written word, soccer star Nick must use his words to fight bullies, deal with his parents, and admit his feelings to  his crush.

A freak accident when he was a child has left Finn with epilepsy.  With an award winning author as a father, Finn has two things all to himself-his best friend and the new girl in town.  When Julia moves away, Finn and his best friend set on a road trip so that Finn can express his feelings to her.

Science Fiction

Darrow is a red and a member of the lowest class.  He and the other Reds believe their hard work hard is for a better planet for their kids but when Darrow finds out he’s basically a slave for the richest class, he infiltrates their Institute to find answers.

Michael is a gamer and spends most of his time in a virtual reality world.  When the makers of the game discover a hacker that is turning other gamers brain dead, they enlist the help of Michael to find and disable the hacker.

Three stories converge.  Ariel a foster child in West Virginia, a schizophrenic man on a journey, and a failed sea voyage from the Alex Crow in the late 19th century.

There are four Londons that exist in four dimensions and only two people in the world can travel between them and one of them is Kell.  Kell is a smuggler and one day his illegal activities catch up to him.

Dai has been sentenced to stay in the walled city for a crime and must find a way to get out. Jin is searching for her sister who was forced to work in a brothel from some big time mobsters. Dani and Jin join forces to obtain the freedom they desire.


Dan’s mother is getting remarried to a nature lover and she thinks a survival weekend will be just the ticket to get them to bond.  Dan on the other hand does not want a new father and will everything he can to sabotage the weekend.

Wes and Corey are at band camp and find themselves at the bottom of the talent level.  When Ash, avery interesting girl, has to play her solo for the group, she plays in an unconventional way.  While the group and the teacher criticize her piece, Wes and Corey praise it and they decide they all three of them are too cool for band camp and set out on a band tour of their own.

Lesh is a gamer, wears all black, and listens to metal. Svetlana wears embroidered skirts and listens to Bjork.  A chance run in begins horribly bad but soon Lesh and Svetlana discover they have feelings that two opposites normally don’t have.

Ethan attends Selwyn Academy for the arts and when a sleazy reality show plans to do their next season at Selwyn starring their students, Ethan and his friends write a letter to the show in protest.  Ethan thinks their letter worked but he soon finds out that the show will go on.

Richard’s cousin has decided to run away with a guy she met on the internet and when she stops answering his texts, Richard enlists the help on Skink to find her and bring her back home.

Books With a Male POV Printable PDF

Dawn is currently reading Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

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One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Francisco X. Stork

Thu, 09/08/2016 - 07:00

I tried for a long time to juggle these two lives until the day when one of my project friends got killed in a stupid accident playing chicken with a train. I decided then I would try to live only one life – one that had some kind of purpose.

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

Researching and formulating questions for this series (especially well ahead of deadline) is one of my favorite parts of interviewing; it’s a process that invariably leaves me with a whole new appreciation for the author in question.  I love how one interview gives a glimpse, and a couple blog posts present an idea, but immersing yourself in as many of an authors’ words as you can find offers–well, it’s not a whole living person, obviously, but the shape of their collected words is, I think, maybe a shadow of the whole?  

I usually come away from the experience with a desire to be president of the fan club, or the conviction we could be best friends, or possibly wishing they would adopt me (sometimes all three.)  I always come away from the experience beyond thankful they agreed to participate in this series, and never has this been more true (including the fan club/best friends/adoption part) than the weeks I spent getting to know the word-shape of Francisco X. Stork.  I read the interviews and the reviews and the articles and learned a lot.  But I was sick earlier this year, really sick, and ended up indulging myself by reading his complete online journal, something I don’t normally have time to do.  It was kind of an extraordinary experience.  I was left not only wanting to immediately re-read all his books, but also wanting to read everything, to talk and listen and explore and to ask questions every day forever.  I wanted to be kinder and more creative and honest and to think carefully about all kinds of topics.  I was inspired.  What an extraordinary man.  And then I got to interview him and that felt pretty extraordinary too.  

Thank you, Mr. Stork.  (And if you would like to start a fan club or are looking for a new best friend or possibly want to adopt me, I’m totally in.) 

Always Something There to Remind Me

Please describe your teenage self.

I was a mixture of outgoing and shy. I did things like act in plays and compete in speech tournaments but I also spent a lot of time alone reading and writing very corny poems and stories. I was a little insecure about my looks. I thought maybe my nose was too big.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

I always wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. But there was a period during my high school years when I really, really wanted to be a light house keeper. Doesn’t everyone at one point or another?

What were your high school years like?

I went to Jesuit High School in El Paso, Texas. The school had a very rigorous academic program and I struggled at first. But after a few months I discovered that I could actually get good grades if I studied and from then on high school was more enjoyable than not. I actually liked going home and spending my evenings doing homework, Jesuit High School was an all-boys school so the other thing that was fun was going to speech tournaments at high schools where there were actual girls! During those four years I met many teachers that were inspiring but I will always be grateful to Father John Hatcher (now the director of St. Francis Mission in the Rosebud Reservation of South Dakota) who saw that I was smarter than I let on and challenged me to just be myself.

What were some of your passions during that time?

I tried out for football and cross country and basketball but the only thing I was really good at was tennis and that was the sport I played. It turns out that it was the sport I enjoyed the most so it worked out well. The tennis team shared the same locker room with the football team and we got a lot of grief when we put on our white shorts but it was worth it. But my favorite extracurricular activities were acting and speech. In speech, my specialty was original oratory where I got to write my own speech, memorize it and deliver it. In my most successful speech, I imagined Don Quixote riding down the streets of El Paso and wondering where all the people with ideals had gone.

Would you be willing to share a difficult teen experience or challenge that you feel shaped the adult you became?

While I was going to high school, my mother and I lived in subsidized housing or projects which was a very different world from the orderly and civil world of Jesuit High School. It was like living two lives. During the week I was a star student that gave speeches about the need for ideals and in the evenings and on weekends I did all I could not to get noticed. Eventually I did get noticed and I had to become friends with some of the project kids in order to survive. These friendships led me to participate in high risk activities. I tried for a long time to juggle these two lives until the day when one of my project friends got killed in a stupid accident playing chicken with a train. I decided then I would try to live only one life – one that had some kind of purpose.

What about a positive experience or accomplishment that had an impact on your adult self?

Each year, Jesuit High School gave a full tuition and living expenses scholarship to one of their seniors so they could attend a Jesuit college. Receiving that scholarship, which allowed me to attend college. Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama determined the direction of my life.

What advice, if any, would you give your teen self? Would your teen self have listened?

Despite all my accomplishments, I had this nagging feeling that I was not good enough. I didn’t know it then, but I know now that feeling like that was a symptom of the illness of depression that I was already suffering from. There was also sadness and shame at the way I was feeling. These were feelings I wrote about in my journal but never talked about with anyone. Looking back, I now see that there were lots of people that would have listened and understood. So the advice that I would give my teen self is to seek out one of those people and talk to them about what was happening inside of me.

Do you have any regrets about your teen years? Anything left undone or anything that might have been better left undone?

My mother and I fought a lot over nothing. Maybe it was the economic pressures we were feeling or maybe it was the crazy life I was leading on weekends. It could be that she was just lonely and needed more of my attention. It takes a long time to learn how to truly love someone. I wish had learned how to truly love her a little sooner than I did.

What, if anything, do you miss most about that time?

Sometimes I miss the “newness” of those days. There were many new things that I was experiencing. Discoveries about myself and others and life. I try very hard to keep that newness going even now in my old age.


Every Day I Write the Book

You’ve spoken many times about journaling, and about the importance of having “a place to write where you don’t lie to yourself; you don’t care what or how you write; you don’t expect any other living person to read what you write.” In fact, your advice to aspiring authors is to “keep a journal and write every single day. Put anything you want in there and don’t think too much about what you are writing” though it’s clear you view journaling as much more.  You’ve written about how keeping a journal helped you gain perspective on depression, and about how it helps you become “a deeper, more reflective person,” about how the act of writing for yourself alone honors “the creative impulse and enthusiasm you were born with.”  You’ve also said that for you the “motivation to write is different from the motivation to be read,” and I’m wondering if you could talk about the ways that journaling both frees you from your life as a professional writer and fires your creativity.  Do you ever re-read your past journal entries?  What advice would you give those of us who would like to foster the habit but feel self-conscious or unmotivated?

I started writing in a journal when I was in high school and I’ve kept up an almost daily practice since then. Although I studied literature in college and graduate school, I never took any creative writing courses. I never went to writing retreats or participated in a writing group. I say all this because I truly believe that it was in my journal where I learned to write. Journaling gave me the ease and lack of self-consciousness that I needed as a writer. Journaling is the equivalent of practicing the scales every day for a pianist. After many hours of practice, the pianist’s fingers move quickly over the keys without conscious thought and the pianist can concentrate on things like the emotion expressed in the music.

Journaling also helped me develop a kind of internal solitude that allows me to write the book that is in me while quieting the ever present internal critic. That freedom that I feel in journaling when I forget about a reader can be carried over to some extent to the novel I am writing. It at least allows me to get through a first draft which is when that sense of “going for your book” really matters. I rarely go back and read what I’ve written in a journal. But sometimes when I do, I find the seeds for future stories and characters.

The thing about journaling is that it has to be done with honesty. My journal is the one place where I never lie to myself. Being honest with myself often means digging and sifting through motivations and feelings until I get to the truth and it is an exercise which becomes extremely valuable in the creation of my characters. The more I know myself the more I will know the characters I create. I think that a lot our self-consciousness and lack of motivation with respect to journaling stems from our impatience. We really would like to jump right in and get going on that best seller that in us. Journaling takes you on a different, slower path where what is most important is the creation of your soul so that then you can give something that is lasting and of personal value to your readers.

I want to highlight two different journal posts from the last couple years and ask if you could tease out some of the connections, if any, between them. In “Writing That Opens Windows” you champion writing that “opens up windows,” that offers readers a new way to process thoughts “shaped since childhood by ancient prejudices and fears, by commercial expectations of success, by the media.”  This kind of writing is “a practice, a technique, a decision that is made before you start to write and constantly as you progress in your work,” you say, “an ever-present, bold search for the unpredictable.”  It comes down to choices, to the “innumerable places when your story can go in one direction or another, when your character can be this way or that, when you can choose to say or not say something.”  In “The Diversity Discussion” you talk eloquently about not having all the answers, about simply writing “what comes out,” about the potential for divisiveness in diversity discussion, and about the seemingly obvious need for empathy and representation.  I’m wondering to what extent “diversity” considerations impact your quest to create writing that opens windows?  What works have opened windows for you?

Writing about Mexican-American young people was never a decision. It was a very natural process for me and will continue to be one. The real decision was more about what kind of Mexican-American young characters I wanted to portray. I’ve always felt that it was important to create characters that inspired young people and helped them to be proud of who they were. That doesn’t mean that all my characters are good. There’s some really bad people in my novels. But it does mean that my main characters, despite their inner flaws and outer problems, grow and at the very least begin to develop the kind of virtues that we all need to be fully human.

I remember feeling inferior when I was a teenager. Part of that was just me but part of that came from how others saw me. What can I do so that a young person doesn’t feel that way? I can create characters who open the windows in a young person’s mind so that they can see, recognize and feel how valuable, special and unique they are. I think that my own inner windows were opened by the Latin American authors that were beginning to be recognized world-wide when I was in high school. There was something about Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude and Borges’ Ficciones that made me feel so proud about Spanish speaking writers who were the best of the best and who were writing about universal themes. Their characters were like me and they were like all human beings at the same time.

There are a number of openly religious YA authors, and many others who easily discuss matters of faith or spirituality, but religion in YA fiction is still considered by many to be “the last taboo.” You write extensively about these topics, and your fiction often features characters grappling with the spiritual, with the sacred, or who in some way embody the exploration of Big Questions within the story.  Your uniquely gentle and inclusive vision of faith and religion permeates your work, and as a result you’re often asked about the lack of “genuine engagement with religious and spiritual issues” in the field.  You’ve cited the high degree of difficulty, the potential for alienation, the fear of being didactic as reasons some authors choose not to include spirituality in their work.  But what are the consequences?  Given our current social, cultural, and political climate, what does it mean that religion is the last taboo of YA fiction?  What happens to us—readers—if the explicit exploration of faith and spirituality is frowned on, or when those questions are deemed irrelevant in modern society?  Why do you feel that young adult literature is the perfect vehicle for exploring those questions while so many others see religion as a line they simply won’t cross?

I write about issues of spirituality and religion and faith because they are matters of personal concern and the writing process is that much more interesting and relevant if I write about things that I deeply care about. Writing is for me a path of discovery and revelation. The important thing in this process is the genuine questioning that takes place, the opening toward mystery. This is different than writing from the perspective of having the answers and arguing for their truth via the characters and plot of the story.

I write about spiritual issues because I remember my own adolescence as a time when childhood beliefs no longer rang true and I needed to find my own spiritual path. To write stories about young people without acknowledging the questioning and search for values and for transcendence that goes on during this period of their lives would be to leave out a vital fact of human development. The sad part is that this search for meaning, which is innate in all of us, can be, not lost forever, but certainly diverted into things and activities that are ultimately not satisfying or worse. So writing about this inner search is my small way of trying to revive what may be a dormant need in the heart of the young person. The great works of literature have always been preoccupied with life’s purpose, why should YA fiction bow out of, as T.S. Eliot says in his Four Quartets, “…the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again and now under conditions that seem unpropitious.”

Speaking of appearing didactic… “It’s not really cool for a writer of young adult literature to confess that his books are motivated at least partly by an intention to teach. Such a confession creates horrible images of pedantic, preachy, boring books,” you said in your 2011 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award acceptance speech. But writing just those sorts of books “is where the gladness in my heart meets one of the world’s great needs,” you write.  It’s rare for an author to admit right up front that there might be more to their work than simple Story, and yet, it seems a bit disingenuous to suggest that most authors don’t have, as M.T. Anderson puts it, an “ideology” that they are exploring in their work.  How do you tackle the big questions, especially with an active eye towards teaching or helping young people, without becoming didactic, preachy, or overbearing?  You examine part of the question, I think, in your journal entry “Integrity,” when talking about the tension between “responsibility to the work and responsibility to the reader,” but I’d love to hear how those seemingly disparate goals interact in practice, and how you know you’ve reached a balance in your work that feels honest.

One of the things that happens when I read a book that affects my life and how I am living it is that I sense behind the words of the story a kindred spirit – someone who has anguished and struggled with what I anguish and struggle. When I think about my books touching someone that way, I feel a great responsibility as a writer and as a person. If I’m going to write about characters with moral courage, I need to try to have some it myself otherwise a) I’m going to feel like a big phony and b) I’m not going to touch that other person’s soul.

There is an ethical component to my writing that affects not only the subject matter of what I write but also (I often wish this wasn’t the case) how I must act in the world. I’m okay confessing that I seek to provide hope through my writing just as I’m okay confessing that I hope my books teach. The key to resolving the tension between the artist and the educator and the person of faith comes down to craft. At the moment of writing, my personality, my aspirations, my beliefs, all that constitutes my “self”, needs to disappear as best it can so that the “self” of the characters can become real in the eyes of the reader.  Some of my characters share some of my own ultimate concerns, of course they do, they are part of me. But they must also be their own persons and have their own beliefs and doubts and their very own faith and hopes and loves. So if there is any teaching to be done and any hope to be conveyed, they, my characters and their lives, will be the vehicle through which teaching happens and hope comes. This will only occur if I succeed, through the application of careful craft, to make my characters believable and unique in their own right and not just a mouthpiece for their poor creator.

Just Can’t Get Enough

Question from M.T.Anderson: You tend to choose grim subject matter – murder, mortality – and yet your characters often find redemption. Now, what would you write about if you had to write a comedy, pure and simple?

Are you trying to tell me something Tobin?  My light and funny book would be about this guy who falls madly in love with the most beautiful girl in town. Only he’s not all that bright, kind of not all that good looking either and has zero talents or anything else going for him for that matter. But he knows all this and that’s his saving grace. He decides that the only chance he has to win her is to dress like a knight and go out jostling every weekend against other like-minded idiosyncratic individuals. There are events where this happens on a regular basis. Fairs and what not. He hopes to win the Grand Tournament and be knighted Caballero Numero Uno by a good politician, when they find one. With a little good press and some old fashioned self-promotion his beloved will hear of his exploits and . . . well, how could she resist when he tells her it was all for her. All of this happens in Vermont, of course.


Francisco X. Stork has contributed a question for the next author in the series, Melissa Marr. Watch for an interview with her coming soon!


Francisco X. Stork is the author of the acclaimed Marcelo in the Real World which received five starred reviews and won the Schneider Family Book Award for Teens; The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, named a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection; and most recently The Memory of Light, which has received multiple starred reviews.  He was born in Monterrey, Mexico, spent his teenage years in El Paso, Texas, and now lives outside Boston, Massachusetts, with his family.

You can visit Francisco X. Stork at his website and online journal.

–Julie Bartel, currently reading A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir


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“Books Where Stuff Happens”: An Exploration of Hi/Lo Books

Wed, 09/07/2016 - 07:00

“Books where stuff happens…but easy to read. Not a book for kids.” This is a common readers’ advisory question for reluctant or struggling teen readers (and their adults). Such readers often feel keenly the gap between the books they are able to read, and the topics they *want* to read. Must they read from the children’s section, with its juvenile topics and the same titles they would have picked in grade school? Not at all. This is a gap that hi/lo books aim to fill.

The term “hi/lo,” or “high/low,” refers to books that have a high interest level and a low vocabulary or readability level. These books won’t intimidate those reading below their grade level, but will not bore them to death, either. Michael Sullivan’s 2012 School Library Journal article is a great primer for this topic, touching on both the subjective (what makes a book really interesting?) and the scientific (what are the readability formulas used by hi/lo publishers?).

So what does make a book really interesting? Hi/lo books are characterized by exciting (often edgy) topics, short or linear time frames, and action-driven plot. In standard teen fiction, there are many titles with these features. For example:

  • Alex Rider is forced to work as a spy for M16 in Stormbreaker (Alex Rider, #1), by Anthony Horowitz.
  • Kyra runs away to avoid becoming her uncle’s seventh wife in The Chosen One, by Carol Lynch Williams.
  • Mickey’s girlfriend disappears, and her trail reveals that she’s not who she seems, in Harlan Coben’s Shelter (Mickey Bolitar, #1).
  • Jamal is pressured to become the leader of a gang when he is only 12 in Scorpions, by Walter Dean Myers.
  • Micah reveals that her boyfriend is dead, and also that she is a compulsive liar, in Liar, by Justine Larbalestier.

Additionally, some publishers write specifically for the hi/lo audience. Along with featuring the high-interest characteristics listed above, they use readability formulas to level the text, and offer physical appeal factors such as friendly font size, white space, and controlled page count. A few highlights:

  • Saddleback Educational Publishing offers series in both fiction and nonfiction, including “Graphic Biographies” and “Gravel Road” (realistic fiction titles).
  • Orca Book Publishers has several imprints, such as Orca Currents (targeted at middle-school reluctant readers), and Orca Soundings (for teen readers).
  • Epic Press provides simultaneous series releases for binge readers who hate waiting for the sequel.
  • Lerner Publishing includes the Darby Creek imprint, which publishes series fiction for emerging, striving, and reluctant readers in grades 2-12.
  • Townsend Press publishes high-interest fiction classics as well as the ever-popular Bluford series.

Do you need personal knowledge of hi/lo titles and publishers to help match a reluctant reader to a book? Of course not! Check out these additional resources:

  •  High/Low Handbook, Fourth Edition, by Ellen V. Libretto and Catherine Barr, has both a High/Low section and a “Young Adult Materials for the Reluctant Reader” section of lists.
  • Booklists on the Hub.
  • YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers.
  • Although hi/lo fiction is often requested, nonfiction, magazines, and graphic novels can all grab a reader’s interest with the same features.
  • Talk to teens! Their definition of a book where “something happens” may range from the Harry Potter series to Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. They may reveal a certain author whose books they devour, from Ellen Hopkins to David Levithan. Use this information to find readalikes.

What are your go-to titles or sources for the hi/lo question? Share your thoughts in the comments!

— Rebecca O’Neil, currently listening to Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

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Women in Comics: Comics For a New School Year

Tue, 09/06/2016 - 07:00
School by Rafael Sato. CC BY 2.0.

It’s that time of year again. A new school year is beginning! And while some may be excited and others sad, a new year of classes is no reason to stop reading comics. Why not make some time this Fall to try a new comic that will give you a different perspective on high school?

Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Özge Samanci – Özge Samanci’s memoir of growing up in Turkey is simultaneously about school and about far more than that. As a child growing up in Turkey, Özge felt immense pressure, which she brings to life in this memoir in a way that will be relatable to all readers. The artwork and design of this book is particularly noteworthy, as Özge uses multiple art styles and techniques throughout the story. This is a great read for budding artists and those with an interest in graphic memoirs.

Skim by Mariko Tamaki with art by Jillian Tamaki – Set in a Canadian Catholic school in 1993, this story follows Skim, a 16-year-old Canadian-Japanese, Goth girl, through her struggles with high school. This is a book that tackles complicated topics, including suicide, friendship, high school gossip, academic pressure, and romantic relationships, including a relationship with one of her teachers. This book earned a place on the 2009 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens list and is sure to appeal to fans of Mariko and Jillian’s other works, including This One Summer.

Mercury by Hope Larson – This is another one set in Canada, this time in Nova Scotia. The story alternates between the events at the Fraser family farm in 1859 and a present day high schooler named Tara Fraser who is dealing with the fallout of a fire that destroyed her house. Now her mother has been forced to take a job in a distant town, leaving Tara to stay with her relatives and re-enter school after a couple of years of homeschooling. Over the course of the book, readers discover how these two stories intertwine. Illustrated with black and white images, this book weaves in elements of magic and fantasy without losing its relatable and realistic emotional core.

Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap with illustrations by Mari Araki – Set in Southern California, the framing device for this book is a diary consisting of letters to Jean-Paul Sartre that Tina is writing for a class project. In the process of exploring existentialism, she re-evaluates her friendships, family relationships, and crushes in a highly relatable and entertaining fashion. The book combines the art and text in a nontraditional manner, but the two elements of the book come together seamlessly.

Orange by Ichigo Takano – What would you do if you received a letter from your future self? On the first day of her junior year of high school, Naho must consider just this question when she receives a letter from the future warning her about a boy who is about to transfer into her school. This hugely popular manga has attracted a loyal following and has been adapted as both a live action movie and an anime that recently debuted, and anyone who reads it will understand its immense popularity. It is a great pick for manga fans who want a mix of science fiction and romance.

This list offers just a few options, but if you’re interested in more books, be sure to check out our previous list and let me know what your favorite school-related comics are in the comments!

– Carli Spina, currently reading I.D. by Emma Rios

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Monthly Monday Polls: September – Screen Adaptations; Yay or Nay?

Mon, 09/05/2016 - 07:00

Happy Labor/Labour Day, everyone!

Last month, The Hub asked which recent page-to-screen adaptation you were most stoked about, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children took solidly half the vote, followed by A Monster Calls with 26%, and Me Before You with 12%, and then Alice Through the Looking Glass (6%), Nerve (3%), The Queen of Katwe (2%), and Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life(1%). Thanks to everyone who voted!

In researching the screen adaptations (projects already released and those on the horizon) it is abundantly clear that, where YA lit is concerned, film-or-tv rights are big business. True, many projects may languish “in development” for years (I’m looking at you, Lunar Chronicles!), but it can sometimes feel like everything YA that readers have loved on the page has a screen adaptation in the works, or has at least been optioned.

So…how do you feel about the deluge of page-to-screen adaptations? Do you find film/tv adaptations to be an awesome tool for expanding the potential audience for a story, offering a strong incentive for readers to try the book version, OR do you dread the inevitable bungling of beloved character nuances and rich, complex details that get cast aside in favor of time and clarity on the screen?

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

-Carly Pansulla, currently reading The Novice by Taran Matharu (for YALSA’s Backlist Bingo Reading Challenge, running now through October 15)

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Booklist: So You Want to Read a Scott Westerfeld Book

Wed, 08/31/2016 - 07:00

Scott Westerfeld is one of the most inventive sci-fi writers writing for teens right now. His book Uglies helped lay the groundwork for the dystopian trend that would take hold in a few years with The Hunger Games. With a new co-authored series in the works, a movie adaptation of Uglies in development, and a new multi-platform middle grade series launch later this year, Scott Westerfeld is definitely an author you should know.

Not sure where to start with so many series, standalones, and sub-genres to choose from? Don’t sweat it, this post has you covered!

If You want a Space Opera:

  • The Risen Empire: Captain Laurent Zai of the Imperial Frigate Lynx is tasked with rescuing the immortal Child Empress when she is kidnapped by machine-augmented humans threatening the empire. This story, originally packaged as one book called Succession, begins in The Risen Empire and concludes The Killing of Worlds.

If You Want to Read a Standalone (Mostly Contemporary) Novel:

  • Afterworlds (2015 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults): Chapters alternate between Darcy Patel’s journey as a debut author of what promises to be the next Big YA Novel and excerpts from Darcy’s novel about a girl named Lizzie who slips into the “Afterworld”–a place between life and death–during a terrorist attack.


  • So Yesterday: Hunter Braque moves through New York searching for Innovators–people who create the latest trends before they’re cool. Then he sells the ideas to clients who disseminate the ideas (via trendsetters) until each new fashion innovation becomes mainstream. When Hunter teams up with an Innovator to get to the bottom of his best client’s disappearance, he finds himself at the center of a far-reaching mystery involving trends, innovations, and the coolest sneakers he’s ever seen.

If You Like Urban Fantasy:

  • Peeps (2006 Teens’ Top Ten): A parasite called Toxoplasma causes vampirism and it’s been infecting more and more people. Recruited by a secret government organization, Cal has to track down all of the girlfriends he has infected since he became a carrier. Be sure to pick up the sequel The Last Days to read the rest of the story as Toxoplasma begins spreading at a rapid rate and all hell starts breaking loose in New York City.


  • The Secret Hour: Time stops every night at midnight in Bixby, Oklahoma. For that one hour no one moves in Bixby except for the few Midnighters who travel freely and have extraordinary powers. When Jessica Day arrives in town, she finds out that she is a Midnighter. And the creatures who move through Bixby after dark are hunting her. First in a series. The story continues in Touching Darkness and Blue Noon.

If You Want a Dystopian Story:

  • Uglies (2016 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults): In a world where everyone is movie-star-gorgeous, regular people are ugly. Tally Youngblood has spent most of her life looking forward to when she will turn 16 and can become a surgically-enhanced Pretty. But when her friend Shay introduces Tally to The Smoke, Tally begins to wonder if there might be another way. Tally’s story continues in Pretties and Specials.


  • Extras (2008 Teens’ Top Ten): This companion novel set in Japan follows Aya Fuse. In Aya’s world, fame is the only currency that matters. Hoping to raise her rank and achieve true fame, Aya begins investigating a sensational clique called the Sly Girls. As she learns more about the clique, Aya realizes that her story is big–maybe the biggest story since Tally Youngblood changed the world.


  • Uglies: Shay’s Story (2013 Great Graphic Novels): This graphic novel companion presents the events of the Uglies trilogy from Shay’s perspective as she rebels against life in Prettytown and finds herself at the center of a revolution. Shay’s story concludes in Uglies: Cutters


  • Bonus Non-Fiction Companion Book: Bogus to Bubbly: An Insider’s Guide to the World of Uglies: Westerfeld provides readers with a detailed history of the world of Uglies, a glossary of slang used in the series (and his inspiration for it),  detailed breakdowns of the various cliques found throughout the series, and more.

If You Want Some Steampunk:

  • Leviathan (2010 Best Books for Young Adults, 2011 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults): Alek–heir to the clanker Austro-Hungarian Empire–and Deryn–a girl disguising herself as a boy to serve as a Darwinist airman–have to form an uneasy alliance if they hope to stave off the coming World War. Which begs the question: Do you oil your war machines? Or do you feed them? Alek and Deryn’s story continues in Behemoth and Goliath. All books include illustrations by Keith Thompson


  • Bonus Non-Fiction Companion Book: The Manual of Aeronautics: An Illustrated Guide to the Leviathan Series: Westerfeld teams up with illustrator Keith Thompson to delve into the steampunk world of the Leviathan series with descriptions and illustrations of Darwinist beasties, Clanker walkers, weapons, uniforms and more.


If You Want Heroes, Super or Otherwise:

  • Zeroes: Scam, Crash, Flicker, Anonymous, Bellwether, and Kelsie all have superhuman powers that help them to unbelievable–and usually not heroic–things. When the Zeroes are reluctantly brought back together to help Scam after his latest disaster, the teens soon realize they are in over their heads. Again. (Co-written Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti.) The trilogy continues with Swarm.

If You Prefer Middle Grade:

  • Horizon: Westerfeld’s new multi-platform series will launch this December. The seven book middle grade  series begins with Westerfeld’s novel following kids who survive a plane crash only to find themselves stranded and forced to deal with each other and dangerous creatures. Westerfeld developed the plot arc for the entire series but the subsequent books will be written by other authors. This book will release in December.

Thus concludes your crash course intro to all of Scott Westerfeld’s books. Where will you start? Which ones have you read already?

–Emma Carbone, currently reading Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira

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Heretic Heroes in YA Literature

Tue, 08/30/2016 - 07:00

What are the chances that two different books, one for middle grades, and one for older teens, would be published within six months of each other, both about heretics, set in medieval France in the years 1241 and 1242?

I don’t know about you, but aside from the story of Joan of Arc, I’ve rarely read many YA books about characters who can perform miracles (fantasy books don’t count) and who are considered heretics. A heretic, as defined by the dictionary is, “a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church.” Although there are many YA books where characters are accused of being witches who could also be labeled heretics by the church, I’m limiting this discussion to just two new books.


If you’ve ever read Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, you’ll recognize the structure of Adam Gidwitz’s medieval tale called The Inquisitor’s Tale that’s set in France in 1242 (and this one’s written in more modern language and even has a farting dragon in it!). A stranger has stopped at the Holy Cross-Roads Inn, a day’s walk north of Paris on a dark night, the perfect kind of night for a story. The inn is packed with all sorts of people (female brewsters, peasants, priests, butchers, knights, and many others) all anxious to regale this stranger with the tale of how they’ve seen the miraculous children and their holy dog who are all wanted by King Louis IX.

These miraculous children are William, a giant of a boy, and a monk who is Muslim, whose mother was from Northern Africa, and whose father is a lord. William’s capable of performing feats of strength that would make Samson tremble. Jeanne (named for Joan of Arc) is a girl who sees true visions of the future and Jacob, a Jew, who can heal a wound as fast as Saint Luke himself. Holy dog Gwenforte loved Jeanne when Jeanne was a child but was killed by Jeanne’s parents after they mistakenly think Gwenforte attacked a killed Jeanne, when actually Gwenforte saved her. Ten years later Gwenforte has been miraculously resurrected.

These children meet each other as Jeanne’s running from a huge knight with red hair, Jacob’s fleeing the burning of his community by Catholic boys and William’s been sent on a mission to another monastery with books for the abbot. They realize that, despite their differences, they can talk easily with each other because they all feel like they’re different from other children. And they are! William tears a donkey’s leg off and fights off bandits with it then miraculously reattaches it to the unharmed donkey! The children are chased throughout France by the huge knight who finally catches up with them in Mont-Saint-Michel. The adventure tale is full of humor, heartbreak and amazing historical characters and legends – both real and made-up – with an afterward by Gidwitz that explains where the origins of the book came from.

Julie Berry’s The Passion of Dolssa (Best Fiction for Young Adults nominee), tells the story of  a  young woman, Dolssa de Stigata, who hears God and is branded a heretic in medieval France in 1241. When a church inquisitor warns Dolssa she will be excommunicated, and her soul will burn in hell and her body will burn in a heretic’s pyre, she says, “I dwell with my beloved, and when you slay me, I will dwell in his arms forever.” In trying to make her confess, they condemn her mother to burn at the stake, and when it’s her turn, she’s mysteriously saved. On the run from her inquisitors, she’s aided by the Flasucra sisters.

Teenaged matchmaker Botille finds Dolssa, and she and her sisters, Sazia, a fortuneteller, and beautiful Plazensa, the  oldest, hide Dolssa away in the tavern they operate in their village. They had a tough life, wandering from town to town stealing to get by after their  mother died, leaving them with her drunkard husband, until they settled down in Bajas (now Bages). Dolssa, grateful for being saved, begins performing miracles, like bringing dying villagers back to life or making sure the sisters’ jugs of ale are continuously full.

Saving Dolssa puts their entire village in mortal danger when Dolssa’s pursuers, particularly dogged Friar Lucien and a former knight get wind of the miracles occurring there. This book might seem a bit daunting in length, but the characters are distinct and engaging, and the earthiness and realism of how life must have been during that period, really shines through. It’s a beautifully written story that’s alternately funny, poignant, and sad and a testament to the power of belief.

Dolssa’s story was discovered by a friar who recreated her story from various places – as the tale told at a bishop’s deathbed; from papers belonging to a priest that were really written by a woman and from a tale by a friar in Barcelona. By putting all these pieces together, the friar recreated Dolssa’s story. Like Gidwitz’s book, the afterward contains the author’s notes about how this fictional book came to be, with it’s real locations and mixture of real and made up characters.

Both of these books about heretics are very different from one another, yet are both gorgeously written (as is the illuminated artwork in Gidwitz’s book).

— Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Naomi Novik’s Uprooted








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App Review: Serial Reader

Mon, 08/22/2016 - 11:00

Every year around this time, I’m faced with the same problem: Dozens of high school students are flocking to my library in search of their required reading for AP English classes, and even though I’m lucky enough to have two sets of shelves in my teen space set aside for these books, there never seem to be enough copies. When print copies run out, I can always direct the teens to electronic collections, but what happens when those copies are also checked out?

Last month, an article presented a potential solution when it introduced me to an app called Serial Reader. I interested in the claim that Serial Reader would let me “conquer the classics in ten minutes a day.” To get started, I downloaded the free version of the app to my iPad to try. I was then prompted to subscribe to a book from their extensive list of classic and public domain titles and set a daily delivery time. I chose Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and for the next ten days, Serial Reader sent me a section of the book that I could read in an average of ten minutes (some sections took a bit longer, but none were longer than fifteen minutes). The app synced my progress across my devices, so I could start a section during a break at work on my smartphone and finish it later on my tablet at home. By the end of ten days, I had read all of Common Sense.

I was pleased to find that many of the titles offered in the app are the same titles that the AP students are trying to find in my library, and I was so delighted with my reading progress that I decided to upgrade to the premium version of the app for $2.99. Upgrading gave me access to all the same titles offered by the free version, but also allowed me to take notes, highlight, share my progress via social media, and change the size and style of the font.

For a second test case, I chose The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Issues to me like clockwork, every day at 9:00 AM, but with summer reading going full force, there were a few days when I skipped my reading. The issues simply piled up, waiting for me to read them, and it was easy to catch up. If I was in a rush or excited about what was happening in the book, I could read ahead to the next issue.

I didn’t love The Turn of the Screw, but I was motivated to keep going by the fact that I never had to read for more than fifteen minutes at a time, and also by the fun badges with which the app marked my progress: I received a badge for reading a section a day for two weeks; a word for every book in Thomas Jefferson’s library (6,487); a word for every map owned by King George III of England (50,000), and more.

As of this writing, I’m a little more than halfway through my fourth book in Serial Reader, and I’ve found that it has a little something for everyone. New titles are added often and range from popular fiction such as a wide range of Agatha Christie mysteries to classics like Les Miserables and Great Expectations and nonfiction titles including The Federalist Papers and Twelve Years a Slave. I am, indeed, conquering the classics ten minutes at a time.

Because many of the titles available are the ones that AP students are looking for in the library, I’ve told several of my patrons about this app. It has been useful for my AP students, and I’m looking forward to showing it to some reluctant readers, too. Using Serial Reader has encouraged me to catch up on some of the classics I missed over the years, and the appeal of reading short sections each day is certainly broad. As the start of school approaches and the demand for required titles for AP English assignments increases, I’m glad to have Serial Reader as a tool in my librarian arsenal.

Serial Reader is available for iOS and Andriod devices via the App Store and Google Play.

–Elizabeth Norton, currently reading Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

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Racial and Social Justice Podcasts for Teens

Fri, 08/19/2016 - 07:00

This presidential campaign season and recent current events have brought many social issues to the forefront. Teens (and adults) are trying to navigate many of these around racial equity, Islamophobia, and immigration. Often as library staff we try to help teens delve into issues, interests, concerns or questions they are experiencing with bibliotherapy, which can serve as a great tool, but published books don’t always capture to immediacy of what is happening right now.

News media channels are often the sources where we are encountering these subjects, but little segments don’t, or can’t, take the time to fully unpack particular aspects around these issues. The following is a list of current podcasts, podcasts that have teen appeal, that we can all be listening to that explore racial and social justice in the United States, and especially during a time where politics are front and center.

Here are six podcast to listen to and share with teens right now:

Politically Re-Active

Comedians and W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu come together to discuss some the most current hot-button topics that are arising during the current political campaign season. The podcast premiered at the end of June and will carry on through the election in November. Each week they have a guest on their show, and they get in deep to current issues such as private prisons, third-wave feminism, and dog-whistling politics – all issues of interest to teens. They also talk to other journalist of color and social justice leaders as they discuss the current political process and how it intersects with social justice issues.

Also check out Bell’s other podcast Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period that he does with Kevin Avery and Kondabolu’s interview with NPR’s Nerdette Podcast from August 5, 2016, where he talks about the power of youth and how important it is to be reaching out to teens because this is when they are forming their opinions. Kondabolu gets teens and knows that humor and comedy is the best way to reach them.

Code Switch

An NPR Podcast about race and identity that is comprised of wide-array of journalists of color discussing the “overlapping themes of race, ethnicity and culture, and how they play out in our lives and communities.” The podcast began in late May 2016 and has covered topics from the killing of Philando Castile and how LGBTQ people of color were dealing with the Orlando shootings to people of color and their relationship to the great outdoors and the stress of how people of color are being portrayed on TV and in the movies. A must listen is their debut podcast from May 31, 2016 “Can We Talk About Whiteness.”


Activist, storyteller, and politico Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed and  writer, actor and comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh started #GoodMuslimBadMuslim in January 2015 to discuss the constant flips they have to make being Muslim in American culture and the ways they choose to live and create art. As they put it, “To the Muslim community, we are ‘bad’ Muslims” and “To non-Muslims, we are ‘good.’” Through humor and satire they take hard look at what is going on politically, pop culture, and the current rise of Islamophobia.

Our National Conversation About Conversations About Race

This podcast has been on hiatus since February, but will be returning September 2nd with hosts Baratunde Thurston, Raquel Cepeda, Tanner Colby and Anna Holmes. They describe the show as a, “lively multiracial, interracial conversation about the ways we can’t talk, don’t talk, would rather not talk, but intermittently, fitfully, embarrassingly do talk about culture, identity, politics, power, and privilege in our pre-post-yet-still-very-racial America.” As you wait for the return dip into the archives, and especially look for podcasts #BlackProtestsMatter, The A-Word (assimilation), and The Diversity Drinking Game (where they discuss the lack of diversity in the writers’ rooms of most television shows).

Propaganda Backtalk

Bitch Media editors talk about the week’s pop culture as it relates to women and race. Recent podcasts have covered the gender bias in the coverage of the Summer Olympics in Rio, the lack of diversity in Stranger Things, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and the history of gender segregation of bathrooms and the laws being proposed across the county that would create discriminatory laws around who can use what bathrooms.


Latino USA

Produced by NPR and Futuro Media Group this is one of the longest running Latino-focused programs on U.S. public media. Hour-long episodes delve deep into the stories that are often overlooked by mainstream media. Recent podcasts have covered the election season, how media channels are reaching Latino youth in the U.S., and several court cases that have affected Latino individuals that aren’t necessarily being covered in mainstream news coverage.

What are you, or the teens in your life, listening to that is helping to wade through this political season and/or raise your social and racial justice awareness?

Danielle Jones, currently binge-watching The Get Down on Netflix

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Vote Now for the 2016 Teens’ Top Ten!

Mon, 08/15/2016 - 13:21

Voting for the 2016 Teens’ Top Ten is now open! Encourage teens to vote for up to three of their favorite titles now through Oct. 15. The “top ten” titles will be announced the week after Teen Read Week™, which takes place Oct. 9-15. Encourage voting by sharing the video featuring the 26 nominated titles on your library’s website! Vote now at

The Teens’ Top Ten is a teen choice list, with teens nominating and choosing their favorite books of the previous year. Nominators are members of teen book groups from 15 school and public libraries around the country. Library staff can now apply on behalf of their teen book groups for a chance to be a part of the official 2017-2018 Teens’ Top Ten book groups.

Nominations for the Teens’ Top Ten are posted in April during National Library Week, and teens across the country have the opportunity to read the titles throughout the summer and then vote on their favorite titles each year. To learn more about the Teens’ Top Ten, please visit the Teens’ Top Ten website.

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Introducing YALSA’s Backlist Reading Challenge!

Mon, 08/15/2016 - 07:00

Do you ever feel like you never get a chance to read older books because you’re so focused on trying to stay on top of new releases and current trends?

We can relate.

Lots of young adult librarians and library workers have had a great time participating in the Hub Reading Challenge, which focuses on reading the recent award winners and selection lists, we thought it would be fun to focus on reading older titles from the YALSA awards and lists that you may have missed and always meant to go back to, but just haven’t gotten around to reading yet.

The challenge is simple: read 5 titles from our Bingo Board to complete it, or go for a blackout and read 25 books to knock out the entire board.

Read 5 books in a row, a column, or diagonally across the board. You can even go for outside corners, small diamond, or whatever combination suits you. The point of the challenge is just to read older books—from lists and awards 2015 and older—to deepen your readers’ advisory knowledge and familiarity with the best of young adult literature.

Even better, we’re hoping that everyone can benefit from a great discussion and refresh their knowledge of backlist titles. Have these titles stood the test of time? Are they relevant? Are there amazing titles that are perfect read-alikes for popular current titles? We want to hear!

To facilitate discussion, we’ll be having two twitter chats Sunday, September 11th at 7 pm Eastern and Tuesday, October 25th at 9 pm Eastern. We’ll also have monthly check-in posts for readers to share the titles they’ve picked up for the challenge.

You can print off the Backlist Reading Challenge Bingo Board and browse all the past awards and selected lists on the YALSA website.

You can comment below with your intention to participate! The challenge is open to anyone and everyone who is interested in reading and discussing young adult literature.

Questions? Email Molly at

— Molly Wetta, currently reading How to Set a Fire and Why by Jesse Ball

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