Teen Librarian Toolbox is a professional development website for teen librarians, created by Karen Jensen. Our mission is to to help libraries serving teens and to foster a community of professional development and resource sharing by providing quality information, discussions, book reviews and more.
Earlier this month, I shared with TLT readers how The Teen was trying to start her own teen creative writing group and some of the resources that were recommended to us. Today I am honored to welcome author Jennifer Nielsen who joins us to talk more about cultivating young creative writing talent.
As an author, one of my greatest joys is meeting young writers. They are excited, often almost bursting with story ideas they want to share. They ask questions – intelligent, thoughtful, meaningful questions – about craft, career, and problem solving. They want to know other young writers, to give and get feedback and support, but often, they do not know where to turn.
Schools cannot always fill this need in the classroom. As
teachers face increasing pressures to focus on STEM education and standardized
testing, creativity is often forced out of many classrooms across the country.
Personal narratives, persuasive essays, and research papers often take priority
over original stories or free writing time.
I wonder about this. We urge students to read but deny them
classroom opportunities to create these stories themselves. How can we persuade
them that one is important when the other is ignored or devalued?
No one will deny that academic writing is an important skill
to learn, but when that’s all a student is exposed to, a gap is created that
teen libraries may consider filling.
Consider what creative writing does for a young person:
It reinforces reading skills. In the same way that a teacher often learns more than her students, writers often pick up reading skills they otherwise would have missed.
It is the great equalizer. Creative writing is not “right” or “wrong;” it’s simply a collection of choices. For that reason, a top student has no advantage over someone far behind the rest of their class.
It validates the writer’s voice. Teen libraries are constantly seeking ways to recognize their patrons’ voices, to listen to them, empower them. Writing achieves that, allowing the free expression of thought to emerge on the page. When that page is shared, or posted, or re-read, the writer is heard.
It allows for an expression of the ideal self. During the years when self-worth is most under assault, it’s important to remember that most young writers use themselves as their main character. But not as they are – instead, it’s often the person they wished they could be: cooler, more powerful, more heroic. It is one place where a student can delve into their imagination and seek out their best self. In the same way that a library is a safe space for their patrons, a young writer’s work is their personal safe space.
It allows for an exploration of emotions. Some teens with serious concerns on their minds hold in their emotions, or express them in unhealthy and sometimes dangerous ways. However, the young writer often creates a story that explores these difficult emotions within the safety of a written page. This creates an additional advantage: a teen librarian who might be asked to read such a story may be able to perceive a call for help, even when it is not directly given.
Teen libraries seeking to provide creative writing space can do so in relatively simple ways:
posting weekly writing prompts; in the form of a question, an image, a stupid
fact, an excerpt of song lyrics, etc.
creating a group story. Patrons may check out a notebook with an ongoing story
that they must read to understand where the story was left off, then they can
add to it as many words as they want, whether a paragraph, a chapter, or more.
Rules should be put in place for what is acceptable, but otherwise, let them
have at it!
posting student created poetry next to a similar published poem or song –
except there are no names on it. Patrons can guess which is student created and
which is professionally created.
setting up manuscript exchanges. There are few places for a young writer to go
to have their work read, particularly by a peer. But learning to give
constructive criticism, and to receive the same. is an invaluable skill.
allowing teens to “check out” the finished and printed works of their peers,
just as they would a book.
posting opportunities for writing contests, or, as interest grows, by hosting a
contest. Summer programs often offer rewards for reading. Why not expand that
for writing, with its own rewards and recognitions? They could be a natural
Teen libraries that create places and opportunities for young writers will fill a need their patrons may not even realize they have. But it will eventually be rewarded. Tomorrow’s generation of authors are in the libraries today. They need to be found.
Jennifer A. Nielsen is the New York Times Bestselling author of The Ascendance Trilogy, A Night Divided, and other titles. Her next release will be Words on Fire (Oct 2019, Scholastic), the story of the Lithuanian resistance fighters who smuggled books into their country to save it from the Russian empire.
About Words on Fire
New York Times bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen transports readers to a corner of history with this inspiring story of a girl who discovers the strength of her people united in resisting oppression.
Danger is never far from Audra’s family farm in Lithuania. She always avoids the occupying Russian Cossack soldiers, who insist that everyone must become Russian — they have banned Lithuanian books, religion, culture, and even the language. But Audra knows her parents are involved in something secret and perilous.
When Cossacks arrive abruptly at their door, Audra’s parents insist that she flee, taking with her an important package and instructions for where to deliver it. But escape means abandoning her parents to a terrible fate.
As Audra embarks on a journey to deliver the mysterious package, she faces unimaginable risks, and soon she becomes caught up in a growing resistance movement. Can joining the underground network of book smugglers give Audra a chance to rescue her parents?
You can find The Teen’s previous reviews of A. S. King individual books at this post. And you can read in her own words why she loves the works of A. S. King as a whole here. Today we’re updating her A. S. King book reviews by sharing her thoughts on Dig, which came out earlier this year, and The Year We Fell From Space, which is King’s second middle grade book that comes out in October of this year. I got The Teen a signed ARC at TLA earlier this year.
Dig by A. S. King
Publisher’s Book Description
The Shoveler, the Freak, CanIHelpYou?, Loretta the Flea-Circus Ring Mistress, and First-Class Malcolm. These are the five teenagers lost in the Hemmings family’s maze of tangled secrets. Only a generation removed from being simple Pennsylvania potato farmers, Gottfried and Marla Hemmings managed to trade digging spuds for developing subdivisions and now sit atop a seven-figure bank account, wealth they’ve declined to pass on to their adult children or their teenage grand children.
“Because we want them to thrive,” Marla always says.
What does thriving look like? Like carrying a snow shovel everywhere. Like selling pot at the Arby’s drive-thru window. Like a first class ticket to Jamiaca between cancer treatments. Like a flea-circus in a doublewide. Like the GPS coordinates to a mound of dirt in a New Jersey forest.
As the rot just beneath the surface of the Hemmings precious white suburban respectability begins to spread, the far flung grand children gradually find their ways back to each other, just in time to uncover the terrible cost of maintaining the family name.
Kicky’s Post It Note Review:
Simply Perfect. It all comes together.
The Teen likes this book so much she gave a copy to her best friend, who is not as big of a reader and she actually is reading it right now while on a cruise to Alaska!
The Year We Fell from Space by A. S. King
Publisher’s Book Description:
The deeply affecting next book from acclaimed author Amy Sarig King. Liberty Johansen is going to change the way we look at the night sky. Most people see the old constellations, the things they’ve been told to see. But Liberty sees new patterns, pictures, and possibilities. She’s an exception.
Some other exceptions:
Her dad, who gave her the stars. Who moved out months ago and hasn’t talked to her since.
Her mom, who’s happier since he left, even though everyone thinks she should be sad and lonely.
And her sister, who won’t go outside their house.
Liberty feels like her whole world is falling from space. Can she map a new life for herself and her family before they spin too far out of reach?
Kicky’s Post It Note Review:
Cute and full of hope.
As you can tell, The Teen is much more efficient with words than I am. This is Amy Sarig King’s second middle grade book and as I mentioned in the intro above, I got The Teen a signed copy at TLA. For those keeping score at home, yes I did in fact cry again while meeting A. S. King and yes The Teen did in fact make fun of me again for crying while meeting A. S. King. I look forward to the day that I don’t cry while meeting A. S. King in person, but The Teen is pretty sure it will never happen. But back to the book. The Teen has a tendency to read a lot of dark stuff, but on occasion she comes to me asking for something light and fluffy because she needs a palette cleanser. When I brought this to her she was excited to read it and it came at just the perfect time because, as she mentions above, it is a hopeful read and it was something she needed to read at the time.
Today, The Teen is joining us to write her first full length post here at TLT and her topic of choice is author A. S. King. The Teen has always been a prolific reader, but she is starting to really delve into the idea of writing. Today, she is putting both interests together. I do have a funny story to tell you about this post. She came out on Sunday morning and told me I would be so proud because she had given her post a title. When I asked her what that title was she proclaimed: A. S. King. “That’s not really a title,” I explained. Our bff Mary Hinson, who works with teens at a nearby library and blogs at Mary Had a Little Book Blog, came over later and they came up with the title you see above. You can read her reviews on all the A. S. King books here.
I don’t remember the order that I read the A.S. King books in, but that doesn’t change the fact that I loved them all. Her books aren’t like any books that I’ve ever read before. These books require you to think and make connections. You have to read every word and remember the little details. A lot of the time, there is something that won’t many sense until the very end. I think that’s why I enjoy them so much, that sense of not knowing. I have never liked reading books where I could guess the ending, but I’ve never had to worry about that with A.S. King’s books. Also, I like that a lot of the time you get to add your own interpretation to pieces of the story because she doesn’t come right out and set her meaning behind something in stone. There probably is an intended meaning, but I think she allows you to see what you want to see. There’s a kind of chaotic beauty to it all. You’ll feel like you know nothing at all and that this story will never come together, but then it will suddenly make perfect sense. They’re just fascinating pieces of writing, and if you enjoy surreal fiction then you should read her books.
About our Teen Blogger
The Teen is a proud feminist and prolific reader who loves all things YA, though she especially mysteries, fantasy and things where people die. She is also a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe. She likes to write, play tennis, and do theater. She has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and is currently working on getting her second degree. This year she will be a junior in high school and the current plan is that she would like to attend Berkley to major in psychology and be a counselor.
Today we are honored to share with you a guest post by Middle School librarian Amanda Galliton.
The 2018-2019 school year found our school without 1:1 iPads that we were used to and moved to classroom sets with Chromebooks for 6th and 7th grade, with 8th graders taking their Chromebooks home. The school library is equipped with a wall-mounted 36-inch TV as the monitor to a desktop. It is difficult to see as well as use. All this combined left me thinking outside the box for lessons when the English Language Arts classes came to the library. Forced to get creative, we went old school and did some things that I grew up doing.
Students and myself sat on the floor in a circle and passed books around until the music stopped. We then read whatever book we had for two minutes. They could read wherever in the book they wanted. I would pick books that were not too gender specific. Many of the students found a book that they wanted to check out.
The pictures show the first stack of books I started with and how it dwindled down after each class played.
Yes, the Mad Libs that were first published in 1958. I purchased several Mad Lib books from Follett. Students chose groups of 2 or 3 to work with. I handed out the blank portion of the Mad Libs, looking for the parts of speech, first. To prevent some of the middle school mentality, students were asked to use words that used 5 letters or more. Of course, I told them it was to broaden their vocabulary. Once students filled that page out, they could have the story. Each group presented their story. We did these at Christmas and Valentine’s Day because the students loved them so much.
Metaphor Dice was created by Taylor Mali. Again, students were in groups of two or three. They followed the directions for the dice. When they rolled, they chose a red, a white, and a blue die to create a metaphor. They were challenged to create three metaphors and explain each one. The classroom teacher and I would walk around to each group and make sure they were on task and that their metaphors made sense. Some of the teachers would take up the papers and continue the activity in their classroom.
Spine Label Poetry
Again, students worked in groups to create poems using the titles on the spines of books. They were asked to use a minimum of four books for their poem. I always do this lesson after they have started talking about poetry in class. I believe this activity really helps them have a better understanding that poems don’t have to rhyme.
I have pages from weeded books for this activity. I put butcher paper down on the tables beforehand. We discuss poems and what they have learned. I give a few examples of what blackout poetry looks like. We talk about how to pick out words and maybe small sentences, but not chunks of the works. Each student receives a book page and a pencil. They are to put a rectangle around each word or phrase they are going to use. When they think they have their poem done, the classroom teacher or I come by and discuss their poem with them. When we feel it is finished, we trade their pencil for a black marker.
In preparation for this game, I take three lists and photocopy them next to the numbers and lines from the column cards. Students are paired up. We follow the board game rules listed in the box. When time is up, we’d go number by number and see if anyone had matching answers. Each group that had an answer for that number would raise their hand and we’d go group by group for them to call out their answers.
We had a blast with these activities. In May, I was covering for a Math class. I let them have free time. Students were asking for the Scattegories game to play. I felt that I really got to know the students better this year than in the past because of the small groups and the discussions when they were working.
Meet Our Guest Blogger
Amanda Galliton has worked for 10 years as a school librarian. She is currently a Texas Middle School Librarian in Burkburnett ISD. You can find her on Twitter @amandagalliton
It’s summer break, which means The Teen has been reading A LOT! As she reads she shares her quick reviews with us via a Post It Note. Here’s what she has had to say about some of the recent books she has read.
Publisher’s Book Description:
Four girls. One unforgettable July.
Britta is the bubbly drama queen. She needs to get away—and a peaceful cabin in the woods sounds like the perfect escape.
Meredith is the overachiever. She’s spent her entire life preparing for college, but at what cost? Now she’s wondering if that’s all there is.
Kate is the reluctant socialite. She’s searching for a reason to begin again after fleeing her small Georgia town—and a shameful family secret.
Spider is the quiet intellectual. She’s struggling with pain that has isolated her from her peers for much of her life.
When these four very different young women stay together for a month in the mountains, they discover that sometimes getting away from it all can only bring you back to who you really are.
The Teen’s Post It Note Review:
Technically, I didn’t get a Post It Note review for this title, but a verbal one. I actually won a signed copy of this book on Twitter and the book came signed to The Teen. She read it pretty quickly and she said that it was overall a pretty good book. She liked that this group of girls came together and learned that they could help each other with their problems and that they didn’t have to be alone.
Publisher’s Book Description:
Elouise (Lou) Parker is determined to have the absolute best, most impossibly epic summer of her life. There are just a few things standing in her way:
* She’s landed a job at Magic Castle Playland . . . as a giant dancing hot dog. * Her crush, the dreamy Diving Pirate Nick, already has a girlfriend, who is literally the Princess of the park. But Lou’s never liked anyone, guy or otherwise, this much before, and now she wants a chance at her own happily ever after. * Her best friend, Seeley, the carousel operator, who’s always been up for anything, suddenly isn’t when it comes to Lou’s quest to set her up with the perfect girl or Lou’s scheme to get close to Nick. * And it turns out that this will be their last summer at Magic Castle Playland–ever–unless she can find a way to stop it from closing.
Jennifer Dugan’s sparkling debut coming-of-age queer romance stars a princess, a pirate, a hot dog, and a carousel operator who find love–and themselves–in unexpected people and unforgettable places.
Post It Note Review: This book was cute and it had a nice story.
Publisher’s Book Description:
A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
Post It Note Review: I really enjoyed this book and I think it has some very good messages.
Side Note: The Teen and two of her friends decided to create their own informal book discussion group. This was the first book that they chose to read and then they talked about it via a group text.
Publisher’s Book Description:
Sophie wants one thing for Christmas-a little freedom from her overprotective parents. So when they decide to spend Christmas in South Louisiana with her very pregnant older sister, Sophie is looking forward to some much needed private (read: make-out) time with her long-term boyfriend, Griffin. Except it turns out that Griffin wants a little freedom from their relationship. Cue devastation.
Heartbroken, Sophie flees to her grandparents’ house, where the rest of her boisterous extended family is gathered for the holiday. That’s when her nonna devises a (not so) brilliant plan: Over the next ten days, Sophie will be set up on ten different blind dates by different family members. Like her sweet cousin Sara, who sets her up with a hot guy at an exclusive underground party. Or her crazy aunt Patrice, who signs Sophie up for a lead role in a living nativity. With a boy who barely reaches her shoulder. And a screaming baby.
When Griffin turns up unexpectedly and begs for a second chance, Sophie feels more confused than ever. Because maybe, just maybe, she’s started to have feelings for someone else . . . Someone who is definitely not available.
This is going to be the worst Christmas break ever… or is it?
Post It Note Review: This book was very cute but you could kind of guess the end.
Side Note: This book comes out in October of 2019. The Teen came to me after reading a couple of dark books and said she needed something light to read and I handed her this. She has read it twice now when she needed a break from the dark books she typically likes to read.
Publisher’s Book Description:
Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe … which is now filling with blood.
When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.
Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.
Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.
Post It Note Review: I liked this take on the fairytale, very optimistic and fun.
Prince Charming AKA Charm
Side Note: At the age of 4, The Teen was obsessed with Cinderella. Our dog is named Charm, short for Prince Charming. She was Cinderella 3 Halloween’s in a row and her room was decked out all in Cinderella. So I was curious as to what she would and her self proclaimed black heart would think of this book.
Publisher’s Book Description:
Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.
The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. The end of high school will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is happy wherever he is thanks to his obsession with the epic book series Bloodfall and the fangirl who may be turning his harsh reality into real-life fantasy. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia—neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending—one that will rock his life to the core.
Debut novelist Jeff Zentner provides an unblinking and at times comic view of the hard realities of growing up in the Bible Belt, and an intimate look at the struggles to find one’s true self in the wreckage of the past.
Post It Note Review: This book is spectacular; I think it addresses many important issues.
Side Note: The Teen read this book because a friend recommended it to her. Sure, her mom who is a YA librarian had recommended it to her several times, but when one of her besties recommended it to her she finally read it. I’m not bitter. But I am glad that she loved it. And for the record, this is one of the dark books she read and then asked me for a light, fluffy read to cleanse her palette.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the library…
Like many things (Minecraft, anyone?) slime seemed at first to be a passing phase. But no, it just keeps coming back around. So here I am with my two fail safe slime recipes. The secret is in how you add the activator – A LITTLE AT A TIME. Please learn from my mistakes, and always add whatever activator you use sparingly, stir a lot, and then add more if needed.
The secret of how to get the teens to add activator sparingly, well, that took some time and trials. My go to method is to put out the plastic toy pipettes from the children’s science set, but you can also buy cheap plastic pipettes from many online retailers. If you put out a bowl of activator without an obvious way to pour it, no spoons, and plastic pipettes, they seem to get the idea.
So first, lets do no-fail sparkle slime! For this recipe you will need: clear glue, water, food coloring, glitter, and liquid starch. Start by adding equal parts clear glue and water to a bowl (I usually limit the kids to half a cup of each, because the resulting slime will fit in a sandwich bag.) Stir these until they are completely combined, then add food coloring and glitter as desired, stir to combine. Then, slowly, with the pipettes, add one squirt of liquid starch at a time, stir, and evaluate. Continue to add liquid starch, one squirt at a time, stirring completely, until the mixture achieves the desired consistency. Take out of the bowl and play!
Next up – foam slime! For this recipe you will need: regular school glue, shaving cream, food coloring, and borax solution. First you need to create the borax solution. To do this, pour boiling water into a bowl, add borax one spoonful at a time, and stir to dissolve. Continue to add spoonfuls of borax until it will no longer absorb into the water. You will have some borax settled into the bottom of the bowl, but never fear! Leave the bowl to cool for a couple of hours, and the rest or the dregs should absorb into the water. When it’s time to make the slime, add half a cup of glue and 2 cups of shaving cream to a bowl. Stir gently to incorporate the glue into the shaving cream without deflating the shaving cream. When the mixture is completely combined, add food coloring as desired and mix. This is where the regular glue comes into play. You can use clear glue, but the color won’t be as vibrant as with the regular school glue. Next, add the borax solution, one squirt at a time, stirring after every addition, until the slime reaches the desired consistency.
A word about desired consistency – this may be different for each individual. I’ve had some teens who prefer their slime to be drippy and gooey, and some who prefer theirs to be almost solid. In general, you are looking for an oozy but not sticky consistency that is easy to stretch and play with without it sticking to your hands. The more you make slime the more you will begin to recognize this in the bowl, but sometimes you just have to take it out and play with it to be sure.
Do you have a favorite slime recipe? Be sure to chime in in the comments.
are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, drive
women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful
aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of
womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to
release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready
for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.
Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend
against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws
near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they
must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting
for their chance to grab one of the girls in order to make their fortune
on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.
With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.
Karen and The Teen’s Thoughts:
This was the first time that The Teen and I read the same book at the same time but not together. I started it and then a few days later she started it and then we were racing to see who would finish it first. It’s been two weeks since we have finished reading it and we still come together and talk about it. There’s a lot to unpack and talk about in this dystopian tale.
Let me start by saying this: We both LOVED and highly recommend this book. We found it interesting, compelling, thoughtful and very discussable. I thought the middle part dragged a bit, but she did not. At the end, we both agreed it is one of our top 10 YA reads for 2019 so far.
I am a person who likes to collect quotes and for me, there were a lot of spot on quotes about feminism, how we think about and treat women, and the importance of coming into your own. There were sentences and phrases that just jumped off the page and spoke to me.
This is also a story that very much demonstrates how religion, tradition, laws and control of information can be used to hold a person or people group in subjugation. Though this may be a made up dystopian world with rules that we think could never happen, the truth is that it felt all too real. In fact, given the current political climate, the essence of this story didn’t feel that impossible at all, which made it all the more terrifying.
The heart of this story is Tierney, who is a flawed but fierce main character who knows a lot, but doesn’t know as much as she think she knows. She is surrounded by a variety of characters who help her, hurt her, surprise her, terrify her, disappoint her and challenge her in ways that often surprise the reader as well.
Some of the characters could have been fleshed out a tad more and I thought the middle section could have been condensed a bit, but this was a book that I picked up and couldn’t stop reading. The same is true for The Teen, who picked it up late one evening and had finished it the following afternoon.
I’ve read many books that claimed to be feminist reads this year that I found lacking, but this book is fiercely feminist and challenging and The Teen and I highly recommend it.
The Grace Year doesn’t come out until October of 2019 but I hope everyone will be reading and talking about this book.