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Teen Lit Love and Access to Strong-Willed Females

With all the poopy things happening out in our world, one sector is getting it right: Young Adult  or Teen literature.

As a tween, I read Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and the Princess Diaries. After those tween reads full of debauchery and wit I trailed off from free reading when I entered high school. I became a fan of the classics and adult literature–probably because that’s all that was given to me. I didn’t give much time to casual reading because Crime and Punishment was drowning me in sorrow and philosophical predicaments (ps, I loved it–still do). I also spent my time involved in numerous clubs and my local library was into the glazey-eyed anti-customer service thing that was popular for many a year. In summary, I never free read and I never heard of “young adult literature.”

Until now! I must say that young adult literature is fantastico. There is certainly a trend towards better written, more challenging, more intriguing books that have young adults as their protagonists. Take Libba Bray’s Going Bovine:

ImageCameron is the typical recluse character with an immensely sarcastic humor. His parents are distant, his popular twin sister feigns revolt against him, and he has no real friends. He smokes pot to deal with life’s seeming “unreality” and appears content with simple, mundane pleasures like visiting his local record store and, well, that’s pretty much it. When he’s diagnosed with the human strain of Mad Cow Disease he’s sent to the hospital. He soon escapes to go on an adventure to save the world given to Cameron by a punk angel. Accompanied with his neurotic side-kick, Gonzo, and a viking dwarf they pick up on the way, the gang travels from Texas to Mississippi then to Florida on a search for Doctor X who will cure Cameron’s disease and stop a wormhole on Earth that has unleashed a dark force from another universe.

Bray presents a rich and poignant humor unlike most young adult literature I’ve read. It is incredibly witty with a lot of social commentary that may still be relevant in the future because the popular icons that Cameron comments on are more like concepts than names existing in our reality. Not only were the jokes humorous, but they were also descriptive and real. They carried out far more literary techniques than just humor. The end of this novel is tragically beautiful. Cameron’s life is finally worth something because he has lived and experienced friendship, love, adventure, excitement, and spontaneous excitement. But he actually didn’t experience these in real life. A true tragedy, Cameron is strung about like Don Quixote, meant to enjoy a reality that is not really there.

And schools are noticing this trend, too, by incorporating more current, young adult literature into their classrooms. And who wouldn’t want to have a discussion on Going Bovine in a class? Probably more than my heart dare tell, but literature like this goes to show that teen fiction can be just as thought-provoking and life changing as the classics. My college-age, future sister-in-law raves about Looking for Alaska by John Greene. “I’ve done tutoring and mentoring for a few years and whenever I worked with someone who didn’t enjoy reading, I had them read Looking for Alaska to spark their interest. It’s a very intriguing book that has many intellectually stimulating aspects. I love to read and I enjoy sharing that with others. This book gives me the chance to act upon that. The biggest influence this book had on me was when I finally got Trevor [her younger brother] to read it and he absolutely loved it and asked me for more books. I thought that if I could get anyone to enjoy literature the way Trevor enjoyed John Green books, I could probably be a halfway decent teacher.” After she said that, my librarian heart was all:

As evident, young adult literature can have a lasting impact on teen’s lives. For teens, not only are they enjoying reading, but they’re reading about great role models that question society’s gender roles. I was inspired to write this blog after thinking about the multidimensional female protagonists that are present in teen literature now. Isn’t it inspiring to know that teens are reading books that encourage independent thinking, carpe diem, being strong willed, kicking butt, and falling in love in your own way? Take Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor:

Book cover synopsis: “Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a chimera’s supply of teeth grown dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal other-wordly war.”

To classmates, friends, and strangers, Karou is a mysterious eccentric with ultramarine blue hair and a smattering of tattoos. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that, with a coy, sarcastic smile, she admits are real. What the outside world doesn’t know is that the monsters ARE real and they are the only family she’s ever known. As Karou grows older, she grows more and more curious about who her family is and who she really is.

There are four main reasons why I loved this book: unique romance, diverse female characters, well-devised plot, and kick-ass fight scenes. Also, the suspense grabs your life like the Hunger Games but allows you to absorb the storyline, with each chapter ending on a deepening plot line, not an insatiable craving for more (which was masterfully done by Collins).

On top of that fantasy novel, may I present Graceling by Kristin Cashore–a fantastic piece of literature:

The physically and emotionally strong character of Katsa presents readers with a unique female protagonist–one employed by her king to kill and intimidate. As a graceling, one with a super-charged ability, Katsa can kill with precision. She appears to have accepted her savageness but rejects it at the same time. With friends of her home kingdom, Katsa forms a secret group seeking to do good in their land filled with selfish kings.

During a special mission to save a captive king’s father, Katsa stumbles across a mysterious, curious man from the island of Lienid. He later comes to the castle where Katsa stays and befriends her. His forward questions regarding Katsa’s grace encourage Katsa to act upon her reservations towards being the king’s thug. Katsa’s identity struggle regarding her “innate savageness” rise throughout the novel. A forward moving plot where character development is the main driving force. An honest romance where the male respects the wild spirit of the female.

How fabulously reassuring that young teen girls are reading such diverse and influential literature–for fun! With literature such as this, and others which I’ll list below, it’s encouraging to know that young teen girls are being given a wide range of personalities in the protagonists they come to admire, where the plot is reliant on them and not their love interests. For guys, they are seeing a rich diversity in women’s personalities. All in all, a victory.

Further reading on thought-provoking teen literature and strong-willed females:

Divergent by Veronica Roth

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (obviously)

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

Ash by Malinda Lo

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Absolutely Tue Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake

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Graphic Novel Primer

I’m sure we’re all avidly aware that teens gobble up graphic novels like free pizza. While the patron’s interest is there, is the librarian’s? While it’s easy to see that graphic novels bring in teen AND children readers (especially reluctant readers) it is important to align this new format of literature with collection development policies, curricula, and mission statements. It’s also nice to present the big boss with extra incentive to build your collection. Before I explain the benefits of Graphic Novels (GNs), let’s take a look at the four main categories of GNs: cartoon, comic, manga, and long form.

-Cartoons are comical and bubbly and most can be read on their own in 3-5 panels. Their main audience appeal is juvenile. Examples include Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes.

-Comics include superheroes with a lot of action. The main publishers are DC and Marvel. Watch out for newer editions of popular heroes and heroines because their main focus is to an adult audience.

-Manga is originally from Japan and has created its own subculture of devout fans. Manga involves a single tale over a series of volumes.  Depending on the popularity, some manga, such as Bleach, extend past 400 Chapters and 40 volumes.  Shojo manga is geared towards girls and shonen is geared towards boys.

-Long form GN are usually the most supported GN by librarians and adults. Long form is multifaceted, plot-driven, and as diverse as prose in the genres it offers. Recently, popular prose has been converted to GN format (Shakespeare, Warriors, Twilight).

It’s also important to note that GN can be used with children, too. You can tell the difference between a picture book and a GN by the presence of panels, word balloons, and sound effects. A great example is Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie series.

So, why are these important to have in your collection? First, it motivates kids to read more. Nuff said. Second, the actual graphic layout can reveal parallel events within a time period as fully intertwined, much like the effect movies can have. For early literacy, GNs help build valuable decoding skills. As children follow action across the page, their eyes are duplicating left to right movement.  Furthermore, children can visually attach words to emotional expression, movement, and objects. This is also important for autistic children that have difficulty reading the emotions of others and can precisely see the exaggerated emotions in cartoons.  Finally, programming around GN is a great way to inspire creativity, provide a springboard for creative writing, and teach valuable lessons such as drawing.  Manga clubs are a popular patron-led option.

Now that you have a bit of the basics, here are some great suggestions to build or add to your collection:

Bleach – Tite Kubo (2001-current, fantasy/ghosts)
Age Recommendation: YA
Synopsis: “Ichigo Kurosaki has martial arts skills and the ability to see ghosts, and his life is about to change when he meets Rukia Kuchiki, a soul reaper and protector of innocents.”

Bone – Jeff Smith (1994-2004, humor/fantasy)
Age Recommendation: 10-15
Synopsis: “The series chronicles the adventures of the Bone cousins–plucky Fone Bone, scheming Phony Bone, and easygoing Smiley Bone– who leave their home of Boneville and are swept up in a Tolkienesque epic of royalty, dragons, and unspeakable evil forces out to conquer humankind.”

American Born Chinese – Gene Luen Yang (2006, humor/balancing two identities)
Age Recommendation: YA
Synopsis: “This fable stars the mythological Monkey King, realistic youngster Jin Wang of Taiwanese parentage, and TV sitcom teen Danny. All three are dogged by an unwanted identity and humiliated by others’ prejudice.”
Read-alike: The Accidental Genius of Weasel High – Rick Detorie

Anya’s Ghost – Vera Brosgol (2011, mystery/balancing two identities)
Age Recommendation: YA
Synopsis: “Anya, embarrassed by her Russian immigrant family and self-conscious about her body, has given up on fitting in at school but falling down a well and making friends with the ghost there just may be worse.” Simple and beautiful artwork convey the wide range of Anya’s teenage emotions.Read-alike: Mercury – Hope Larson

Shaun TanThe Arrival – Shaun Tan (2006, immigration)
Age Recommendation: 10-18
Synopsis: “Tan captures the displacement and awe with which immigrants respond to their new surroundings in this wordless graphic novel. It depicts the journey of one man, threatened by dark shapes that cast shadows on his family’s life, to a new country. The only writing is in an invented alphabet, which creates the sensation immigrants must feel when they encounter a strange new language and way of life.” Excellent for discussions, circle time, and classrooms.
Read-alike: The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick

Rapunzel’s Revenge – Shannon and Dean Hale (2008, action/heroine)
Age Recommendation: 9-12
Synopsis: “Rapunzel is raised in a grand villa surrounded by towering walls. Rapunzel dreams of a different mother than Gothel, the woman she calls Mother. She climbs over the wall and finds out the truth. Her real mother, Kate, is a slave in Gothel’s gold mine. In this Old West retelling, Rapunzel uses her hair as a lasso and to take on outlaws–including Gothel.”
Read-alike: Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine

Zita the Spacegirl – Ben Hatke (2010, science fiction/heroine)
Age Recommendation: 9-12
Synopsis: “While exploring a meteoroid crater, young explorers Zita and Joseph discover an unusual device featuring a conspicuous red button. Zita’s curiosity compels her to press it, only to discover that it summons an alien creature that instantly abducts Joseph. Zita is compelled to set out on a strange journey from star to star in order to get back home.”
Read-alike: Jellaby – Kean Soo

Dengeki Daisy – Kyousuke Motomi (2010-current, romance)
Age Recommendation:
Synopsis: “When Teru’s older brother died, she was left with little more than a cell phone containing the text-address of an elusive character named DAISY. DAISY became Teru’s pillar of strength over the next few years as he sent her encouraging words through his phone. One afternoon, Teru accidentally breaks a school window which results in her working for the grouchy school janitor Kurosaki. As Teru begins working for the unlikable janitor, her feelings begin to surpass that of servant and she begins to question DAISY’s true identity. Could Kurosaki be her beloved DAISY?”
Read-Alike: Fruits Basket – Natsuki Takaya

Calvin and Hobbes Bill Watterson (1987-1995, humor)
Age Recommendation: 10-15
Synopsis: “It follows the humorous antics of Calvin, a precocious and adventurous six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his sardonic stuffed tiger. The strip depicts Calvin’s flights of fantasy and his friendship with Hobbes, and also examines Calvin’s relationships with family and classmates.”
Read-alike: Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney

The DC Comics Encyclopedia Michael Teitelbaum, et al. (2008, nonfiction/eye-catching)
Age Recommendation: Where interest lies
Synopsis: “This copiously illustrated encyclopedia chronicles more than 1,000 DC Comics characters from the 1930s to the present. Arranged alphabetically, each entry gives the first appearance, status (hero, villain, etc.), real name, occupation, height, weight, and eye and hair color of the superheroes or supervillains. Special abilities and superpowers are also listed along with ample cross-references to other comic characters or superleague affiliations.”

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Reaching out to LGBTQ Teens with Fiction

Ah, the pains of adult responsibilities and the gradual loss of my passion and dedication to issues that truly need advocacy.

At my undergraduate school, Monmouth College, I was engrossed in the activist scene (as much as a small town could provide). I was a leader of several organizations including Listen Up! (general promotion of life activism), Students for Environmental Awareness, a member of the People Respecting Individual Sexuality at Monmouth College, and I went on several Alternative Spring Break trips across the country. For one semester I studied Social Justice, Gender, and the Environment in Mexico. I love to advocate for the underprivileged and underrepresented, the people and issues that need a say in this world. I love to educate myself on issues that promote equality, democracy, and general good joo joo.

Now, envision my life in a tailspin. At least that’s what it feels like. Proximity to other passionate people and proximity to easily accessible activist opportunities has left me doing little to anything. Also, my mobile life for the past three years makes it hard to dedicate myself to a group. This is perhaps why I have taken to librarianship so readily. It’s the promotion of literacy and self-education, aiding all people equally, and interacting with the community where you live. I love everything about it.

I’m particularly drawn to working with young adults. Historically, they’ve been excluded from library service. Most libraries have at least added a separate collection for young adults, which is fab, but a lot of work still needs to be done in terms of outreach.

For my Reference class, I created a pathfinder (guide to different information sources for patrons) of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning (LGBTQ) protagonists in young adult fiction. LGBTQ teens begin to accept and/or question their own identity at this age. Furthermore, they start to become uncertain and fearful of the outcome in relation to the people around them. One way to explore these questions and accept their sexual identity is through the experiences of fictional characters.

So because I loooove lists, below you’ll find recommended reads (from my pathfinder) for recent (and one classic) literature that includes LGBTQ protagonists:

Sprout by Dale Peck (award winner)

Sprout. An interesting name for a kid. But don’t think this protagonist will tell you ‘Why Sprout?’ until he wants to.  With his cheeky, cynically poignant observations, Sprout’s not one to elaborate on his own life story.  When the advanced English teacher singles Sprout out as the next Kansas State Writing Champion, his subject material is anything but himself.  When Sprout reveals he’s gay (“Betcha didn’t see that coming, did ya?”) his teacher warns him against writing about it. While homosexuality does not define Sprout, he avoids disclosure because he fears that that’s all people will see him as.  He soon meets the boy of his dreams, someone who physically expresses but never vocalizes his attraction to Sprout.

This novel describes a character’s journey towards his identity, oftentimes hiding behind humor. Instead of a plot-driven, triumphant winning story, Sprout  gives the reader a journey with a nerdy teen into what “gay” means on a personal level.

  Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (award winner)

One of the first novels portraying a positive intimate relationship between two people of the same sex, Annie and Liza discover their sexuality through each other and the tight bond they form around a simple yet powerful love. Not necessarily considered “hip” or “sexy,” (written in 1982) this novel exposes the normality of love between two people.

  Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger  (questioning/coming out)

Angela, uncomfortable as a girl, comes out as transgendered to her family, friends, and classmates with a mixed bag of reactions soon to follow. Now named Grady, he brings the world head-on into his identity with humor and strength.

   Absolutely Positively Not by David LaRochelle (humor)

  “Fifteen-year-old Steven conscientiously collects photos of girls in bikinis and dates his female classmates in this humorous attempt to fit into his Minnesota high school, only to find out some surprising things about the people around him—and himself” (ALA Rainbow Project).

  Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole (humor)

  A rarity in its presentation of a non-white protagonist in LGBTQ literature, 17-year-old Laura is kicked out of school, disowned by her parents, and abandoned by her girlfriend who bends into family pressure to marry straight. Even amidst these tragic experiences, Laura confronts the world head-on with a smile to match it.

   Ash by Malinda Lo (fantasy)

  “Torn between her emerging love for the King’s mysterious huntress and the ethereal draw of the world of the fairies, Ash discovers the strength of her own identity” (ALA Rainbow Project).

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Oh yeah? Well, I’ll Find your Path.

Classes are moving along nicely. I’ve been quite distracted, as my posts appear as often as those pumpernickel pieces in Chex Mix. The class projects have all been very rewarding. For reference, I discovered the marvels of Novelist Plus. It’s a pretty amazing database of 250,000 fiction and nonfiction that provides summaries, reviews, and classifies each book into categories such as genre, storyline, pace, tone, writing style, subject, and location. You can then select each of these and look for similar titles. It’s pretty fly.

Another project I completed was a Pathfinder (note title of this entry), which is essentially a guide to researching a topic. Not necessarily the most applicable thing to a public children’s/Young Adult (YA) librarian but I decided to do LGBTQ protagonists in YA fiction. Considering it’s probably a topic of a reader’s own interest, I feel like maybe he/she would actually be interested in finding anything they can get their hands on–more than the suggested reads. This excellent website by Lee Wind provided me with a great starting point. But, for your interest, I chose the following: Sprout by Dale Peck, Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, Tough Love by Abby Denson, Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger, Empress of the World by Sara Ryan, Absolutely Positively NOT by David LaRochelle, Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara, Gravity by Leanne Lieberman, and Ash by Melinda Lo.

My reference class has also provided for some interesting conversation including the utilization of a chat box as a reference tool. In the article “Instant messaging reference: how does it compare?” by Christina M. Desai (2003), it brings up some interesting results from a study for newly implemented chat software. For instance 62% of the conversations were from computers within the library. First reaction: get over yourself and move your butt over to the desk.  But from my own experience I kinda understand the logic behind this because if you have a quick question and are far from a desk or have all of your things laid out, then it would be easier to use the chat. Another interesting thing about chat software is the removal of face-to-face interaction and with it, an inability to pick up on vocal ques and body language. I thought maybe Skype could help solve that but then my teacher thought it’d be funny if the patron could actually see the reference desk from their place in the library. It’d be even better if they could hear the librarian’s voice from afar. Overall, I think it’s crucial to have this chat software in academic libraries. However, I don’t think it would be useful in a small- or medium-sized public library because a reference desk is always within close proximity and a telephone call is a much simpler process.

Now comes a subject that I’ll be returning to often: how to bring patrons into the library. Programs are obvious. Hopefully I’ll get more extensive understanding of the perfect program in a later class so I won’t fully address it now. Layout of a library is also essential. Someone told me that all librarians should take an architecture class because it’s incredibly useful to understand the basics of cost and purpose in the architecture of a building. For young adults, I think it’s really important to have an expressive space to gather. At the Grayslake Public Library, it’s right next to the movie section. I don’t know if I agree with that, but I think that was the only place it could be put. For children, I think the best way to entice their cherub physiques is through incredible customer service and programs–preferably with live animals. Kids go ga ga for those hawks and lynxes. At least I did. Periodically, I’ll put something in here about ideas I hear for attracting patrons.

For now, I depart–but not before I present to you my future library’s entrance:

Courtesy of Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault, Central Library.

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A Dark Day in Kelsey Cole’s History

Today I did something I will regret for the rest of my life. I borrowed Twilight from the library. I waited until I had my other books in hand and quickly grabbed it off the shelf, hiding the spine from any accusatory eyes (which would have been mine, had I not been holding it). As its words of mundane descriptive nothingness burned my skin I praised the automatic check-out.

You see, it’s rather a case-study than a personal interest (obviously) because I know that young adults like this kind of…fantasy romance. I should know having written some of them myself. (What a great discovery it was to find myself in the Barnes & Noble romance section, and then in my visit this summer to Hungary:)

So, I am reading the popularity of the masses in order to empathize with their tastes. This way, I can suggestion additional books that are written with more…consideration to the English language and extensive history of literature.

I have been going kinda crazy in the stacks picking up juvenile and young adult fiction. But I’ll breeze through these as fast as mashed potatoes during Thanksgiving. If you’re interested in seeing all that I’ve read, visit my Goodreads.

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