I was struck recently when I walked into a WalMart store and saw a group of trees aligned in a neat little row. It wasn’t the trees themselves that grabbed me, but what the trees represented: Christmas. All of the sparkling lights wrapped around their limbs; the shelves of baroque ornaments beside them; the glowing, backyard reindeer and the blow-up Santa Claus – they all represented one religion and one religion only.


As a celebrator myself, I really haven’t questioned Christmas decorations before. They have been a permanent part of December shelves my entire life. The weighted preference for Christmas shows up essentially everywhere in my life: at school, signs for “Merry Christmas” are hung rather than “Happy Holidays”; kids are asked what they want from Santa for the daycare I volunteer at; nearly every commercialized product – movies, TV commercials, even TV networks – show Christmas bias. And with nearly everything catered to the holiday I celebrate, why should I have any reason to balk at an ordinary line of Christmas trees?

The balking started when I placed myself in the shoes of a Hanukah or Kwanza celebrator. Read More →

There is a recipe for success. It is top-secret, completely secure … and entirely hidden from prying human eyes. Even those that have made it all the way to the top can’t express in words exactly how they’ve turned straw into gold. How they’ve turned an apartment-based operation into a multi-million dollar company. How they’ve turned a simple idea into an icon. Or even how they’ve gone from secretary to CEO. They can guess. They can assume. They can ponder. But no one knows this recipe, the ingredients involved, or the directions for preparation.

Beyond the super minds of the world like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, or the movie stars like Reese Witherspoon and Angelina Jolie, most successful people will tell you their success started from somewhere. In many cases, that somewhere is college. Ah, yes, the institution of higher education that, by nearly all social, logical, and statistical data, leads to a better life. Regardless of the controversy today surrounding student debt, student loans, and high unemployment rate of college grads, for those that pursue worthwhile degrees, what does make success? Why is it that some people end up having their shoes shined and some do the shoe shining?

All the best equations and best success calculators say that it’s you. You’re the one that paves your own way. You’re the one that brands your name into the fecund earth. And while all that may be true, college gives you a head start on that branding. The real question than is which college can give you the most bang for your buck?
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Blogger Natalie K., a high school junior from Colorado, will be sharing some of the issues teens today face with YALSAblog readers…if you’re a young person who would like to write for the YALSAblog,‘ let us know!

If you could be any color of crayon in the crayon box, what would you be? Piano black? Cotton candy pink? Tangerine Lime? There may only be seven known colors in the rainbow, but Crayola has crafted a virtually endless palette.


The same concept applies to careers. Like the seven known colors, there are the basic, standard paths: mathematics, science, social studies, and English. But within each category are infinite subcategories. Math can be broken down into mechanical engineering or chemical engineering or petroleum engineering; science is shattered into chemistry or physics or environmental science; in social science, there’s history or geography; and, in English, there’s creative writing or journalism. And within each of those subcategories, there’s even more subcategories and specializations.

Of course, careers are much more complicated than just breaking down each group into a million possible paths. After all, at that point, a career aspiration is simply like a crayon sitting in the crayon box.’  What matters is which crayon we choose to pick up and draw with. Because, as much as we’d love to, we simply cannot use every single crayon in the box beyond the colorful pictures we drew in pre-school. For our careers, we have to choose one single color.

So you’d better pick your color wisely… Read More →

A weekly short list of tweets that librarians and the teens that they serve may find interesting.

Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between September 6 and September 12 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.
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I am currently reading David Levithan’s new novel, The Lover’s Dictionary. This is the first of his novels, at least that I’ve read, that hasn’t been filed in the YA section. As I’ve been reading it I’ve sort of kept a check list of reasons for this in my head, but what I’ve found is that the major rationalization seems to be the age of the characters, who come across as just past young adulthood. My other thought while reading this novel is that it is probably one of the best solo novels I have read by David Levithan.

This got me thinking about cross shelving. My mother is a children’s librarian, and she has told me before that some novels (like the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books) are shelved in both the Children’s and YA sections. It makes sense to me; some kids are still okay looking for books in the Children’s section, but other kids who might not be ready for everything in YA would still like to start browsing there. Read More →

Jonathan is a kid dealing with the death of his twin brother Telly. He focuses on music and poetry to help him through his grief, which means that school takes a back seat. As a result, Jonathan is assigned the task of writing the life story of WWII veteran David O.H. Cosgrove II. With the help of his close friends (his “Thicks”), a veteran, a guitar, an angel, and a girl with ever-changing hair, Jonathan reaffirms his belief in the value of life.

I enjoyed this book, so I was really disappointed when Jonathan used the word “faggy” so casually, without mentioning how homophobic it is. I mention this right away because it colored my opinion throughout the rest of the book. Read More →

I know a ton of really great YA librarians, so I’ve been thinking about the difference between those who are just doing their jobs and those who are committed to the teenagers who come to their libraries. With that in mind, I tried to make a list of what I think makes great YA librarians so successful.

  1. They have read the Twilight books. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t like the Twilight series at all and I wish it wasn’t as popular as it is because I think the relationships it discusses are really, really unhealthy. But I think YA librarians who haven’t read them are distancing themselves from a lot of the kids checking books out at their library. Read More →

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is the story of two people who first meet on the pages of a red moleskin notebook. One day Dash is perusing the shelves of his favorite bookstore, the Strand, and instead of a first edition Salinger, he finds a notebook challenging him to follow the dares left for him by a girl named Lily and leave some of his own in return. As they follow the clues (and dares) of a total stranger, Dash and Lily end up everywhere from NYC’s Macy’s during the week before Christmas to a club in the middle of the night (listening to a band called Sorry Rabbi, Tricks are for Yids). Each dare reveals something new about Dash and Lily and brings them closer to the day they will actually meet. When that day finally arrives, they are forced to reconcile the versions of each other they had in their heads with the real thing.

This book has a frenetic energy about it, like everything is happening so quickly that neither Dash nor Lily can keep their changing opinions straight. It’s like an explosion of hormones and opinions and pretentious language and really honest emotion, all barely contained within a shell of insecurity and feigned apathy. It’s like this book is screaming, “READ ME IF YOU ARE A TEENAGER. NO, SERIOUSLY.”

In true Levithan-Cohn style, this book is full of snarky dialogue, the craziest and most awesome array of characters ever (from a gay Jewish hipster couple to a family not unlike the mafia, if you replace violence with Christmas cheer), and a plotline so ridiculous and serendipitous that it’s almost impossible not to enjoy yourself.

Even with all of this to choose from, what I love most about this book is that it is a romance that isn’t really a romance. In most YA romances, the narrator is usually a girl who develops an all-consuming crush on a boy, they meet, and then lots of sexy scenes are spliced together with lots of mushy, let’s-express-our-feelings scenes. While these books are definitely fun to read, they aren’t always the most honest or healthy portrayal of what a couple can be like.

For most of this novel, Dash and Lily never actually occupy the same space. The promise of romance is always there, but it takes a backseat to the emotional development of the characters. Because of the dares they challenge each other with, both Dash and Lily are forced to look at the world through someone else’s eyes: they challenge each other’s ideas, they unknowingly push each other outside of their comfort zones, and they ultimately help each other form a better understanding of themselves.

Recently, a man named Wesley Scroggins wrote an opinion piece in the News-Leader (Springfield, MO) in which he condemns three books: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. From the perspective of a teenager, a student, and a person, I have a lot to say about this, especially concerning Speak.

In his own words, Scroggins calls Speak “soft pornography”. This totally freaks me out. If he had chosen the word ‘disturbing’ or ‘terrifying’, I could maybe understand his reaction. His word choice seems to imply that the fact that Melinda (the protagonist) is raped is irrelevant. What’s more important to point out to the school board is that there is SEX in a book that CHILDREN are reading in SCHOOLS. This is one of my biggest issues with book banning. In so many instances a book will be challenged because it mentions something that scares people, whether it is sex or drugs or swear words. It only takes a few f bombs for a book to be placed on the “bad” list. What is pretty consistently overlooked in these cases it the impact of a novel as a whole, mostly because challenged books are so rarely read by their challengers.

Rape is a serious, scary issue that affects the people from whom Scroggins is trying to keep this book. What makes it more relevant, in my opinion, is the fact that Speak deals with date rape: something fuzzy, difficult to define, and largely unreported. In a time where “she was asking for it” and “I was drunk and it’s not his fault” are acceptable explanations, Speak is more important than ever.

When I first read Speak, I was close to Melinda’s age. Reading it, all I could think was: “Why isn’t she saying anything? How can she just let him get away with that?” But then I realized something important; Wesley Scroggins is not my parent. A librarian is. My mother is a librarian who never told me I couldn’t read a book, even if it contained something with which she was uncomfortable. It’s because of this encouragement and this freedom that I could read Melinda’s story and not understand her reluctance to say anything.

Scroggins can keep anything he wants from his children. If he thinks that something is immoral or pornographic, he can choose to prevent them from reading it. What he cannot and should not do is keep anyone else from reading it.

Melinda doesn’t say anything about her rape because she has been taught that sex is something you can’t talk about and rape, especially date rape, is almost worse than that. Speak is, at its core, a beautifully written novel about finding the strength to overcome a traumatic experience and, in doing so, discover what it means to speak your mind and think for yourself even in the face of people who don’t want to listen.

Teenager’s opinions are so often dismissed because of hormones or naivety. Speak teaches us that our beliefs are important and our feelings are honest and worthy of attention. It teaches us that what we have to say matters, that speaking up and speaking out can create positive change, that remaining silent means suffering for something we didn’t deserve in the first place . Speak teaches us that we need to make people listen if we want to be heard.

Banning books teaches us to keep things inside, unspoken, and well contained. It says that rape is pornographic, immoral, and filthy and that we shouldn’t talk about it. That’s why Melinda never said anything, because she was taught that rape was her fault, it was a dirty secret that she should just keep to herself.

On her blog, Laurie Halse Anderson asked her readers to post about what Speak means to them. For me, it has always been about using your voice when it matters and learning to speak up for yourself when it’s clear that no one else will. Speak is about everything, in my opinion, that book banning prevents.

I like weird books.

Books like Punkzilla by Adam Rapp,
The White Darkness by Geraldine Mccaughrean, and
Going Bovine by Libba Bray.

These books have something more than their weirdness in common. They’ve all been recognized by the Printz Committee in some way.

I think this is because the committee members know something that everyone needs to know: weird books are good.

Punkzilla is a stream-of-consciousness narrative about a boy who travels across the country to be with his dying brother. It’s full of weird characters and scenes that leave your brain feeling muddy and full of fuzz. But it’s also a book about humanity and connection. Zilla says things that make you want to cry they’re so beautiful because everything else is so confusing that only the really true things make sense.

The White Darkness is about a girl following her (possibly insane) uncle to Antarctica on a mission to find a world that may or may not exist. It’s also about that same girl finding her own voice and her own sight, something that she was unable to do in her everyday life. It took a journey into nothingness, a place where her mind was stretched to the limits, for her to discover herself. And the reader gets to go there with her.

Going Bovine, the winner of the most recent Printz Award, is about a kid named Cameron who gets Mad Cow Disease and sets off on a cross country rode trip to save the world accompanied by a dwarf, a lawn gnome who may or may not be a Norse god, and a punk rock guardian angel addicted to sugar. But it’s also about a new interpretation of what reality is, and what it means to each of us individually. The most commonly accepted reality is not the only one that exists, nor is it the most important. Cameron’s hallucinations were as real to him as any of his other experiences were. Going Bovine takes you inside the mind of a sick kid, and when you come out the other side it leaves you thinking that maybe it’s okay that none of it was “real” because it was real for Cameron, and sometimes that’s enough.

The weird books can take you places that you’ve never been before, and sometimes they take you places that you never really wanted to go. But by the time the journey is over, they leave you with something new and something important. The best part is that you might not even know what it is right away. You might have to sit with your own thoughts for a while, which is one of the best things a book can do.

While I think there is a place for fluffy romance and adventure stories in every reader’s life, the weird books need to be there too because they dare you to make sense of the ludicrous and then make it impossible to leave empty-handed.

I love the Printz Awards for seeing what I see in weird books and I love them even more for pointing those books out to the people who can do the most with them-the librarians. Librarians are in the business of opening minds and I think the weird books are a vital tool of the trade. I’m so excited to know that at least the librarians are drawing people’s attention to more than just Twilight and Gossip Girl. I guess I wrote this blog post to tell them that I really appreciate what they’re doing and that I hope they aren’t planning on stopping anytime soon.

So librarians, thanks for the weird ones. I’m not sure I would have found them without you.