Happy Halloween… a bit late.

When I first started this job nearly five years ago, I didn’t really care about Halloween. The reasons for that are varied, but the truth is, I would have never considered doing any sort of Halloween program back then.

So back in July, when I was planning for the fall, I surprised myself when I realized I really wanted to do one! A little creepy, a little cheesy… it would be a blast. I came up with the name “Nightmare on Mahoning Ave” because our library is, well, on Mahoning Ave, & got to planning. I made most of the decorations myself (it’s amazing what you can do with cardboard, a razorblade, paint, & glitter! I made two haunted houses, a chandelier, the pumpkins & gravestones, & the welcome signs) & got the rest quite cheaply from Oriental Trading. Although the photographs were taken with the lights on, we lit up the room through battery-operated candles only – ’twas perfectly spooky.

So here’s what we did:
» First & foremost, I knew I wanted to show them the old Legend of Sleepy Hollow cartoon narrated by Bing Crosby, so I mixed that with a few fun videos: Hoobastank did a hilarious cover & video of the Ghostbusters theme, so I showed that, along with a funny Muppets short I found, This is Halloween from Nightmare before Christmas, the Night on Bald Mountain sequence – stuff like that. I had about an hour’s worth of material, & made it the main event.

» Horror movie trivia! I let them work in teams to solve these. I also did the classic “guess the body parts” game, only as a self-guided station, sans the poem.

» For crafts, I had glow-in-the-dark beads & tiny skull beads sitting out with string & keychain bits, as well a pre-painted mini gravestones waiting to be decorated with their chosen epitaph. I also got some white make-up in case anyone wanted to quickly become a zombie, & use our accu-cut machine to cut out plain white masks in the event someone needed one.

» Prizes were mostly book-related; I’ve found that the dollar spot at Target tends to have holiday-themed paperback classics for a dollar, so I grabbed some of those.

» As for food, I went with caramel apples (ice cream caramel from GFS + apples was a big, but fun, sticky mess!) with DIY sprinkles & Oreo bits, as well as dirt pudding parfaits & green lemonade.

Because I’m in a pretty impoverished area, I really want all-out for this one. As with the Love STINKS Chocolate Fest, I’ve a feeling we’ll be turning this into an annual event. As always, if you have any questions, please ask!

Further reading:
» Nightmare on Mahoning Ave board on Pinterest.
» Martha Stewart’s Halloween goodies

In Which I Go Goth


I challenged the teens to read 500 books during the summer reading program – & if they did, I’d go goth. Well, they delivered, & so I delivered! I assure you I’m usually much more smiley, but that doesn’t seem very goth-like. To Goodwill I went seeking appropriately goth attire, & I hit up Hot Topic for the temporary black hair dye, which is possibly the grossest, thickest stuff to ever touch my hair. Black eyeliner, lipstick, & eyeshadow completed the look.

I think I spent… $10? maybe $15? of my own money, & it was worth every penny. I wore this to our Summer Finale Party & the teens couldn’t have been more delighted at the change in my appearance – apparently there was even some debating going on about whether or not I was goth in high school (for the record, I was not). The teens have promised they’ll meet the even bigger goal next year so I’ll repeat. I highly recommend the experience to everyone!

Silent Library: Around the World Edition

2011-6 silent library
Silent Library Around the World

I first did a Silent Library program back in the fall for Teen Read Week, & learned two things:

1.) Teens completely fail at being quiet, let alone silent.
2.) They love doing all sorts of silly challenges.

I knew I wanted to do it again, as the kids had a blast & I thought it’d be really fun to tie it into the multicultural theme. I planned out twelve challenges, & created a Powerpoint both to create a fun atmosphere & to teach them something about what they’d be doing. Initially, I had planned for about half of them to do each challenge, but by about the fifth one, everyone wanted to try everything – & who am I to stop curiosity? It was definitely no longer Silent Library, but we all know that if I’d advertised it simply as “Come try different food & activities from around the world!” few teens would have shown. Calling it Silent Library with the tagline “Challenge yourself MTV style to try different things from around the world!” meant I had 30 rowdy teens ready for anything.

The twelve challenges:
01) Hat Dance: Mexico
Using this YouTube video of a high school project, the teens danced along.

02) Try hummus: Middle East
Plain hummus scooped onto pita chips

03) Eat a fried plantain chip: Puerto Rico
Sliced plantain fried on an electric skillet in olive oil, sprinkled with a bit of sugar & salt.

04) Be a prima ballerina: Italy/France
First, we watched this clip from Center Stage, then the teens learned to do a plie watching this video.

05) Coconut water: Tropics
I rationed out about a 2 oz of water for each teen – some of them loved it, others hated it.

06) Talking drums: Africa
Teens echoed a rhythm of my choice with sticks on the floor.

07) Don’t point the brie: France
I served brie, rind & all, on a chunk of French bread. Most teens were brave enough to try the rind, even after learning that it’s mold!

08) Embrace your inner yogi: India
I led teens through a modified Sun Salutation sequence.

09) Mmm… raw fish: Japan
Using chopsticks, teens ate true sushi made with raw fish

10) Eat your avocados!: Mexico
Teens were challenged to eat 1/4 of an avocado without the use of their hands; I also had some chips & guac on hand so they could try it.

11) Better change your lox!: Scandinavia
I served mini-bagels with a smear of cream cheese topped with lox – everyone tried it!

12) Be Lord of the Dance: Ireland
Teens did their best imitation of Irish dancing using the finale from Feet of Flames.

I portioned out the food beforehand; with the only thing that needed cooked was the fried plantains. Set-up took about an hour, & the program itself lasted about an hour & a half. Beforehand, I asked if anyone had any known allergies & told them if we’d be eating anything that contained those foods (as someone with a wheat allergy, I’m completely understanding). Luckily, I didn’t have anyone allergic to fish, so we were good to go!

I will ABSOLUTELY do this again, possibly using some of the stranger food out there. This was so fun, & such a fabulous way to kick off Summer Reading – thanks to MTV for making this show so popular!

Of Ship Breakers & Hunger Games: About That WSJ Article…

Ugh. I can’t imagine I’m alone when I say that I’m really tired of hearing about this. EVERYONE has talked about it, & now, so am I.

If, by some miracle, you don’t know what I’m talking about, skim through the offending article. It’s pretty terrible, but to be perfectly honest, my first thought was one of sarcasm, rather than alarm. I mean, come on, YA people. Someone is attacking teen lit? Is it a day that ends in Y? Defending teen lit comes with the territory. Why was this particular article so shocking & alarming? Frankly, I’m still reeling from James Frey’s “teen lit is easy to write” comment far more than this is bothering me.

But, I’ll throw my two cents in if I must. Here’s what I think: THIS WOMAN HAS NO IDEA WHAT SHE’S EVEN TALKING ABOUT.

Let me tell you why…

She begins with a tale of her FRIEND going to a bookstore & being frustrated that YA is filled with death & despair – which, let’s own it guys, IT IS. Teen lit right now is full of vampires, zombies, & other undead/not dead/can’t die supernatural beasties. I think Tamora Pierce said it best when she asked if the next big teen thing could please have living people in it. But the thing is, it’s so full of death because the teen years are the first time you’re confronted with your own mortality. Teens are obsessed with it because it’s first time they’ve really thought about it! Sometimes it’s just that they’re mature enough, but often, it’s because someone in their school dies. A car accident, a suicide, an illness… it’s one thing if grandpa dies when you’re young, it’s another if the girl next door who’s a year younger dies.

But here’s where the author loses her cred, at least with me – that popular stuff? Is usually NOT the hardcore stuff the author goes on to complain about. I rarely, if ever, see the hardcore stuff in any bookstore. A Great & Terrible Beauty? Sure. Going Bovine? No. Elizabeth Scott’s fluffy fun romance? It’s on display next to Sarah Dessen. Living Dead Girl? Maybe one if you’re lucky.

You know why? BECAUSE TEENS WANT THE FUN FLUFFY STUFF. I would say that probably only 10-15% of that hardcore stuff is what’s actually being published. Yeah, it’s awesome, & yeah, it’s on my shelves & I proudly put it on display, but it’s the House of Night & Hunger Games & Mortal Instruments & all the not-great knock-offs that they want. My hardcore readers, especially my TAB members, will pick up anything, especially if its on the Best Books list or if I’ve read it. But the casual reader who just wants an escape? They aren’t going to grab Cut. They’re going to grab Boys, Bears, & A Serious Pair of Hiking Boots, if for no other reason than it has a great cover.

When I go to our local bookstore, I see lots of the fluffy stuff. Vampires, teen romance, re-pubs of stuff from the 90s in shiny new covers. I don’t see the hardcore stuff. I rarely see more than one copy of John Green’s works, which one could hardly call hardcore; just more Clique, Gossip Girl, & Pretty Little Liars. Which is fine, but I’d be surprised if the author’s local bookstore even stocks what she’s concerned about.

The author also mentions the extreme violence of Hunger Games, & there’s no denying that it is so. But in the recommended blurb next to the article, Ship Breaker is the first rec. Although I LOVED LOVED LOVED it, I personally found it MUCH more in your face violent than Hunger Games, if for no other reason than it’s adults going after children. When I saw this, I didn’t even finish the article. How out of touch is she?

In my library, I have a display & corresponding book list of Books that won’t make you blush! There’s also a sign posted, welcoming parents to the teen area & gently explaining that hey, teen fiction covers the full range of the teenage years. I invite them to talk to me, because I’ll be honest, there are plenty of books in my beloved & carefully crafted collection that no, I don’t think are appropriate for a thirteen-year-old to read.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t think Will Grayson Will Grayson shouldn’t be required reading for every student in America (how much would you love a teacher who read that in his classroom?), but I do think that it’s be better once you’re older. Some books just ought to be saved for the age at which you are ready! As a high school junior who was a big reader (I did become a librarian, after all), I was extremely uncomfortable reading The Color Purple. I wasn’t ready for it, & I didn’t finish it. Why is adult fiction always considered okay for teens, but teen fiction not?

You’re a very different person as a thirteen-year-old than when you’re a sixteen-year-old. At thirteen, you still love Hannah Montana. At sixteen, you love Lady Gaga. At thirteen, you ought to be reading Princess Diaries. At sixteen, How I Live Now. Someday, maybe, people will get that. But until then, we’re going to be explaining this over & over & over. Everyone take a deep breathe, talk to the parents of your teens, & stop panicking every time someone who doesn’t get it writes an article. We’ve got more important things to worry about – summer reading is in full swing, & my manga shelves are nearly empty!

It’s for teens, jackass!

So, while everyone is freaking out over the newest Lane Smith book, It’s a Book, I’ve discovered that the real audience of this book is teens. I took it to my last Teen Advisory Board meeting, & after I did my usual talking of the books, I pulled it out & read it to them, preschool story-time style.

They think it’s HILARIOUS. Which makes sense, because it’s really only by the time they’re 9 or so they even begin to learn the names of all the things on a computer. Not the mention the fact that a tween probably doesn’t know what a blog is, or what Wi-Fi refers to. Younger kids just get on a computer & do their thing. Teens learn what all these things are called. & the teens that attend TAB are, well, readers.

& so, I have come to the conclusion that everyone should STOP FREAKING OUT & just read this to teens. Because in my humble opinion, they’re the only ones old enough to understand the humor, anyways.

Reading this at my TAB meetings is going to become a regular thing, I think. My teens love it so much they want me to get the matching poster from ALA Graphics. Now THAT’S love.

Things they don’t prepare you for in that YA class…

I wear a lot of hats as a teen librarian. Guidance counselor (explaining what it means to “double major”), gaming expert (what’s this Runescape that’s on all their screens?), book guru (my daughter’s read every single vampire book out there; what else would she like?), bleeding heart philanthropist (will you buy another candy bar for choir?)

Yesterday afternoon? I took the tiny braids out of one of my African-American boy’s hair. He came to me during our usual Tuesday program in a panic: “It rained & my braids got wet they have to be taken down now!”

Now, usually, doing hair of a teenager is not something I’d ever do. But I know that his mom recently left his life, & his look was so pathetic & heartbreaking… so I attacked it with the pick he offered. What an experience! My fingers ached by the time I was done with his entire head, which was covered in what felt like a million tiny, tiny braids.

At least no one can say I didn’t rise to the challenge!

Books with Beat!

Teen Read Week is upon us! What are you up to this year? I’m running a month-long giveaway disguised as a survey of their music tastes. Music is probably the most challenging to figure out; you can’t just judge what’s on the radio any more. A good part of my “usual” teens just keep bouncing from Japanese star to Korean teeny-bopper week to week, & we can’t get a lot of that music in our library. In return for filling out a three question survey (favorite musician, favorite book, favorite part of the library), I’ve giving away a prize pack of books & other various stuff I’ve always got lying around.

As part of our usual “Teens on Tuesday” programming, I’m doing our own version of Silent Library.

Here are my notes on what I’m planning to do:

Silent Library

I’ll hand out cards; whoever gets the skull & crossbones must complete the challenge! You can only win a prize when you complete the challenge without laughing. NO ONE is allowed to make a lot of noise (silent laughter!), if you laugh too loud, you’ll forfeit your chance to win!

Round 1: Eat an oreo without your hands
Round 2: Wrap someone in toilet paper, using the whole roll, in two minutes
Round 3: Write your full name with your feet as legibly as possible within 90 seconds
Round 4: 3 pieces of bubble gum; blow five bubbles within 60 seconds
Round 5: Rattle Race: attach a shaker to your knee; make it to the finish line without making a noise. If noise is made, start again. Everyone who finishes within 2 minutes wins!
Round 6: Eat 5 brussels sprouts, one at a time, within 2 minutes

Final Round: Lifesaver Relay!
Includes everyone, divided into two teams
Everyone sit in a row at the table, with teams on either side. Put a toothpick in between your teeth. The first person, without using their hands, picks up a lifesaver with the toothpick. Once they get it, the next person does the same thing. First team to finish wins the prize!

For every challenge they complete, they’ll win a small prize (pencil, candy, etc). Nothing too bizarre, gross, or painful, but it ought to be fun!

Bringin' the 90s back

This summer, instead of more focused programs, I decided to do once-a-week hangouts. For two hours, the teens could play the Wii, watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, & do various crafts. I picked up clay, beads, plastic thread for lanyards, duct tape, origami paper – it kept them occupied all summer long. Whilst roaming the local craft store for easy & inexpensive stuff, I happened upon bags of nylon loops – something we made over & over again as a child of the 80s & 90s. We didn’t make pot holders; rather, we made scrunchies, headbands, bracelets… honestly, I don’t know if we ever used the items, but the neon loops were always all over the place. The bags were really cheap, & in more colors than I remember being available, so I grabbed them & figured that if they didn’t like them, I was only out a few dollars.

Ha. Well, I succeeded in bringing the 90s back to my little rust belt city. The teens LOVED them – I went back & bought more halfway through the summer. The girls like them, the guys like them, & I think they appreciate how simple they are to make. Pick up a bag the next time you need an easy craft!

Go books go!

I was going to do a typical “hey, I’m back, sorry I disappeared for six months” post, but you know what? This is far more exciting. Hot Topic has Hunger Games t-shirts!

This is exciting for two reasons: 1.) MOCKINGJAY IS COMING OUT SOON OMG YAY!!, & 2.) I honestly cannot remember a time when Hot Topic stocked merchandise that was only related to books. Anime, yes. Popular tv shows? Yes. Books that have been turned into movies? Obviously. But I don’t even remember Harry Potter stuff being in the store until the movies came out.

Go Hot Topic for noticing a really popular teen thing that isn’t media!!

When books don't belong at the library…

Linda Braun, the teen-tech guru, wrote a very good post over at the YALSA blog late last week. Now, before I go any further, I will say that although Linda Braun is amazing at what she does, I don’t always agree with her views of teens & technology – or at least, the view she sees is very different from what I see. The teens in the area I serve know very little about the Internet outside of myspace & Runescape; in fact, when I asked about it, none of them had even heard of Second Life, never mind played there. But what she does is invaluable to a lot of us (even me!) who don’t use all the new-fangled technology as soon as its out there – & she often comes up with fabulous ways it could be implemented in the library.

Anyways! So there’s a school that’s decided to turn its library into a digital paradise – which means no more books. It turns out that as of last spring, only 43 books had been checked for the year, & many of those were children’s books for the facultys’ children (staff remain on campus). The librarian at this school is heartbroken, & librarians & bibliophiles everywhere are responding in hysterics, as though this one library (in a 9-12 boarding school; my guess is that its college prep) will be the first of many to do this. & of course, the eternal TEENS DON’T READ mantra that the media loves to tout; a thriving teen lit industry begs to differ. I’m very grateful to Linda for writing her post in which she asks us to give this more in-depth thought, rather than simply panicking over the loss of the printed word. Her points are valid & absolutely right – there are cons, but there are lots of pros as well.

Things that I would like to say about it, sans hysteria:

Thing 01: Many libraries spread themselves way too thin trying to offer everything, when in reality it would be better for resource expenditure & for their patrons if they simply sat down & really took a good look at the purpose of their library. Research? Popular fiction? Classroom support? My guess is that this school took a look at what was being offered, & chose to turn the library into a research center. The best way to do that, especially in a college-prep, boarding school with very connected teens, is to go digital.

Thing 02: If you didn’t have to buy books, magazines, & other physical materials, think of the databases & information you could purchase! These students will have access to so much fabulous material!

Thing 03: As an MLIS student, I didn’t use my academic library once. Well, no, that’s not entirely true. Rather, I should say, I relied on the electronic resources made available by my university that were accessible via the Internet – and from my apartment. But as for all those expensive reference volumes? Nada. In my reference work at my job, I only rarely need to use one.

Thing 04: If this campus is affluent, there’s a pretty good chance that these teens are used to purchasing their fiction. Generation X & later prefers the bookstore – it’s more hip, more inviting, & often times, friendlier. Sorry – the reference librarian stereotype exists for a reason. As long as these teens’ “reading for fun” needs are being met elsewhere, I’ve no problem with this approach.

Thing 05: My guess? These teens are connected. These are the teens all those companies aim their products at – these are the teens that use everything digital; their photography, their books, their music. They download tv to watch on their iPods. They do their assignments on their laptops at the mall. A digital library is going to be incredibly helpful for these teens.

Thing 06: If the librarian had no input, that sucks. Big time. What’s the use of her professional opinion if they didn’t even bother to ask her?

Thing 07: The printed book still reigns supreme, no matter what this school or what the folks at Kindle may hope you believe.

Thing 08: This school won’t be the last one to do something like this. It remains to be seen if this will be a viable option for more of us.

Basically, to sum up: is this radical? Sure! But if this meets the needs of the students, bravo for them. Isn’t the purpose of a library just that – to meet the needs of its users?

Teen Read Week 2009 ideas


Good grief, it’s the end of August already! & at least for me, it means my favorite time of year is just around the corner: Teen Read Week!!

I adore Teen Read Week for a multitude of reasons, number one being that I get to showcase, first & foremost, what I love most about my job: getting amazing literature into the hands of teens. Reader’s advisory (wherein I pull book after book off the shelf for a potential reader & invite them to choose from among them) is by far my favorite part of the job. I get a thrill seeing teens walking to the self-checkout (which is why they never know what fines they have, le sigh) with a huge stack of books in their arms – especially when I know they didn’t used to a reader. In my time here, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch several of my “regulars” go from just-computer users to voracious readers who will read pretty much anything I give them.

Just as an aside: I firmly believe that anyone who says they don’t like reading just haven’t found that one book that gets them going. For me, it was the Redwall series first, & then Harry Potter that rekindled my love of reading. For many teens of late, it was Twilight. For at least one of my teens, it was the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series. I take it as a personal challenge when a mom drags their teen to me & tells me they don’t like reading – that’s when the pile begins.

But anyways, TRW 2009 is creeping ever closer! I’ve been brainstorming some ideas for potential programs of late, & I thought I’d share them with you. This year’s theme is fantasy/sf-themed, & wow! The potentials are endless!

» Anime cosplay party! Let the teens choose the best-dressed & offer a gift card to their favorite place tp purchase anime & manga – usually Borders, FYE, Best Buy, or if you have one, the local comics shop
» Movies! Let your TAB or other group choose their favorite book-to-movie feature: Eragon, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Jumper, Star Wars, any of the comics movies – so many choices!
» Host a D&D campaign; invite local DMs to come & run the games!
» Get in contact with your local SCA & invite them to give a presentation on what they do
» Find a make-up and/or costume artist & create a program discussing costuming, etc in recent sf & fantasy movies
» Host a costume party & invite teens to dress up as their favorite sf/fantasy character. Be sure to invite those anime fans as well!
» Host a craft program & offer teens the chance to make their own dolls, felt plushies, or characterized teddy bears (or rubber duckies!)
» Is there an author or writing professing in the area? Host a sf/fantasy writing workshop!
» Hold a massive Runescape game at your library – the teens at my library are still obsessed with this!
» Hold a fantasy/sf-themed book swap at your library – mass markets are great for these!
» Wish a belated happy birthday to everyone’s favorite wizard, or host a Wizards’ Ball for everyone!
» Invite teens to a fantasy/sf book discussion – they can talk about their favorites, get recommendations, & connect with fellow readers!
» Invite teens to create their own trailers for books & books they’d like to turn into movies! Turn it into a contest, & have a “short film festival” where you watch all the entries!
» Host a “Battle of the Books” where teens can vote for their favorites fantasy/sf series – Harry Potter, Twilight, Protector of the Small, Mortal Instruments, etc. Have your TAB come up with the categories!
» Host a TRW Extravaganza where they can win books & play in a huge Jeopardy-style trivia contest!

Do you have other ideas? Share them in the comments!! :)

Sometimes, things just feel right.

In addition to feeling that what I do is important & enjoying teen lit, I honest-to-god love teens. I find them fascinating & wonderful in all their annoying ways – they’re just discovering so much for the first time & are finally old enough to emotionally handle most of the things life throws at them. I love talking with them, spending time with them, & doing as much as I can to make their lives all the more amazing, whether that means ordering extra copies of their favorite books, wiping out a few bucks worth of fines, or offering programs that make their days. I know that teen services falls below just about everything else libraries offer, & I know I’ll never get much recognition for my efforts, but it really & truly is my bliss.

So whenever I see teens with a big pile of books, or sitting about Teen Central reading, I always bound up to them & ask what they’ve got. Sometimes I’m met with a face that’s terrified to say anything (I am a bundle of energy when dealing with them, & since nearly every other adult who would speak to them in our library would do so simply to yell them, it’s understandable), but those who know me cheerfully let me know.

Today, as I was sitting at the desk, a guy around 13 or 14 sat down on the chairs near our desk, a teen book in hand. When I asked, “Whacha readin’?” I recieved this answer in response:

The second Triskellion book! You gave me the first one, & it was the best thing I ever read!

And then he buried his face in said book. Today, the Universe feels just perfect. No award could ever replace the feeling I have right now.