Interview a Librarian

How do they keep up with YA books? How do they develop their collection? What kinds of reading or other programs do they do? How do the promote reading to teens? What have been some challenges and successes had they had developing programming for teens? What do they think are important knowledge and skills librarians should have to work with teens? What advice do they have for you when working with teens? 

I had the good pleasure of interviewing a local high school librarian. The interview started with a tour of the library, which is genrefied by fiction and organized with Dewey for nonfiction. The organization of the library encourages students to make their way throughout and allows for easy browsing. I was told that roughly 150 students are in the library daily for study, additional students visit for lunch, and others are in periodically throughout the day. One thing I learned, which was surprising to me, is that this particular librarian does book talks with students. Now, as a middle school librarian, I do a lot of book talks because I have grade-level visits to the library where students are expected to check out a book. That said, I assumed that because high school schedules are so different and classes do not typically visit the library, that students do not get to attend book talks. I was wrong.

Between the collection and the book talks, students are encouraged to read. Further, there are books on display within each genre section, on top of each nonfiction bookshelf, and then throughout the library on display tables. Books are purchased a number of different ways: School Library Journal, Booklist, student recommendations, teacher recommendations, and discussions with the public library’s YA librarian.

In terms of non-book related library projects, the librarian told me that the bulk of her teaching work centers on research. She provided me with IIM resources and lent me two books to read with research writing tips. While she developed her own curriculum for research based on elements of other curricula, she noted that getting teacher buy-in has not always been easy.

Overall, my biggest takeaway from this interview is maintaining consistency across the elementary, middle, and high school programs with the IIM research methodology. I also really liked seeing the collection. I have a lot of books to add to my TBR list thanks to the visit to this school library.

Reading Log #1

Monday’s Not Coming

Contemporary Realistic Fiction (+audiobook)

Jackson, T. (2018). Monday’s Not Coming. Katherine Tegen Books.

Monday’s Not Coming was a gut-wrenching book that charts Claudia (the protagonist) as she searches for her best friend, Monday, who’s not been attending school. Claudia is an 8th grader living in Southeast, DC. As she searches for her best friend, she enlists the help of a friend from church, school teachers and administrators, the school social worker, and the police; she risks her safety and her own livelihood by asking Monday’s family for information about Monday’s whereabouts. The character development in this story was phenomenal and the setting of SE, DC was accurate (particularly, some of the Anacostia-specific references like Go Go Music and the use of the word, “bama”). One setback in this book is the way it’s organized — with chapters titled Before the Before to show the flashbacks Claudia is having, there can be some confusion, which should be mentioned to any student looking to read this book. Overall, this book can be suggested as an independent reading assignments to any mature student in grades 8+. One thing to note is that when this book started to make its appearance on banned book lists, the author noted that restricting access to this book also restricts knowledge of the reality of missing girls with brown or black skin — such a powerful statement and rings true because in addition to having such a strong emphasis on that throughout the text were the barriers faced when searching for a young Black girl.

The Poet X


Acevedo, E. (2018). The Poet X. Quill Tree Books.

The Poet X is a profound book of poems that note the protagonist, Xiomara, and her experiences as a teen with an over-developed boy and an under-developed relationship with her Dominican parents, specifically her mother. Xiomara faces internal conflict over trying to be true to herself all while trying to be the daughter and twin her family wants her to be; not surprisingly, she falls short on both accounts because she is trying too hard to be who she’s not and not enough to be who she is. The Poet X is a book that examines vulnerabilities within oneself and within family dynamics; it looks like relationships and how the simple belief in oneself can truly guide life’s experiences. The Poet X can easily be recommended to any student in 8th grade (and also any English teacher or librarian or really anyone else who can read because it is such a spectacularly woven story that is full of raw experiences and emotion). This would be a great book to use during a poetry unit or during a lesson on Hispanic Heritage Month, as Poet X was a 2019 Pura Belpre award winning text.


Historical Fiction

Yang, G. L. (2013). Boxers. First Second.

Boxers is a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang. This graphic novel has coming of age elements all while making note of the boxer revolution that took place in China. Four Girl (protagonist), who wasn’t given a name based on the pattern of fours that followed her: Fourth in the birth order, born on 4/4, is considered bad luck by her family because of the stronghold the number four has on her life. In Chinese culture, the number four is representative of the word ‘death’ and thus her family relationships are different from those of other family members. As a result, she sets out to find her fate and decides to take hold of Christianity. Through her life experiences, she figures out her place in the world all while living through a historical time in Chinese history. This book makes note of Chinese culture and historical elements that have contributed to the culture as whole all through following Four Girl’s journey into finding herself. Boxers can be accessible for students in 8th grade and up; understanding the historical context of the book would be helpful. Using Boxers as a companion text to history is another way this book could be used.


Books that feature diverse characters

Walters, E., Ellis, D. (2007). Eleven. Alto Nido Press.

Bifocal is a book that contains two parallel stories of high schoolers, Jay and Haroon. Jay is a star football player and has white skin; whereas, Haroon is on the school trivia team and has brown skin. The chapters in this book alternate between the experiences each of these boys face when a classmate, Akeem, is accused of being part of a terror cell in their Canadian city. At first, Haroon is also accused of terrorism based solely on the color of his skin and as the story goes, police continue to harass and threaten Haroon despite setting him free for having nothing to do with the terror plot. There are other happenings like harassment and the internal conflict Jay faces on doing the right or wrong thing but overall, the impact of skin color resonates as the reader learns of how two races can experience the same events in such different ways. Overall, this book could be read by mature 7th graders, but would likely be more appreciated and understood by high school students. This could be used as a classroom read and would be great as an assigned book specifically for the purpose of perspective taking.


Graphic Novel

Anderson, L.H. (2018). Speak. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.

The graphic novel version of Speak is just that, graphic. The story is heavy and dark and so are the images; so much so that they could be described as haunting. In Speak, the protagonist, Melinda, recounts her freshman year experience — how she is dealing with school, her parents, and peer relationships after being blamed for calling police to a summer party. One thing that none of these people know, aside from Melinda, is that she was sexually assaulted at that party and is having a great deal of difficulty figuring out what the right course of action is. As she works to figure out how to share her truth, she cuts, she ditches class, and she fights with peers, parents, and teachers. There is a clear heaviness illustrated in this text, which lacks color and uses primarily heavy lines and dark shading. The graphic novel version of this book could be read by a mature 8th grader but might be more appropriate for high school students, though the traditional text could be better suited for the middle grades students due to the lack of graphics. While some teachers do teach this book, independent reading would be a totally adequate assignment for a text such this.

Teen Reading Memoir

From as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved reading books. I spent much time during childhood at the local public library and looked forward to book checkout days at school. That did not change much when I got to high school. I went to a Jr-Sr High and for better or worse, I have memories in seventh grade of a classmate calling Super Fudge, “Super F***” – not everyone was as enthusiastic about reading as I. As high school progressed, I remember reading assigned texts (largely because there was no public Internet and no way to gain access to online summaries) but I also really enjoyed the assignments that allowed for creativity and written expression as a way to prove understanding and classroom readiness. I never minded standardized tests that scored reading skills and dutifully read all of the short stories in our English anthologies that were used in class.

In eighth grade English, I remember watching a clip of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart after reading the story in class. That has haunted me since in a way that etched elements of it into my brain more than a way that startled me. In ninth grade, I read Romeo & Juliet in English class and thus started my love of Shakespeare (which continued through college where I  had the opportunity to study abroad and head to Stratford – it also has continued through my adult life as I’ve seen plays at The Globe and have watched Shakespeare on the Boston Common in summers and have taken advantage of traveling theatre productions in Sidney Harman Hall in DC. In tenth grade, we read Hamlet, Tale of Two Cities, and Moby Dick; nothing more than titles were particularly memorable but those are some of the readings I recall.

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Eleventh grade readings started in the summer after sophomore year – we were handed a bag of books: Catcher & the Rye was one that stands out to me. I remember not particularly enjoying the reads that year but with an AP course load, they were mandatory. Paradise Lost is the material I remember most from senior year but at this point cannot recall much in terms of detail. Many of the texts that I read in school were manageable but were not keen interests of mine. I rarely saw myself in readings and never really understood the importance of connecting to a text because connections of any kind were never really emphasized.

In order to connect with texts, I relied heavily on my interest reads. Three books that I recall diving into were Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks, Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, and She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb; I also would pick up a Stephen King book here and there. It turns out, my interest in reading heavy books started in high school and rings true today. And while I rarely, if ever, will recommend a film of any kind because I largely find watching movies a form of slow torture, I used to really like the Sunday Night Movies that were broadcast on NBC and later syndicated on Lifetime like the rendition of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery (a classic that is still a favorite of mine today).

Favorite YA Book

It’s been a minute since I’ve blogged but taking my last literature class has me back to blogging. For the first assignment, I’m to write about my favorite YA book and this is an easy, hands-down decision for me: Monster by Walter Dean Myers.

My love of Monster runs deeper than this though; it was the first book I ever taught as a 9th grade English teacher. This book reminds me of Anacostia High in SE, DC and really just takes me to place of contentment around teaching. I love this book for all of the personal growth my teaching experiences brought me and the storyline isn’t too shabby either.

Enter Steve Harmon, a 16 year old who is on trial for murder and robbery. Monster is written as partial screen play that offers a series of flash-backs and glimpses into the plot-line of all the events that went down to land Harmon in his current predicament. Opposite the screenplay is a series of journal entries where we get some solid character development and learn that Harmon is no different than any other teenage boy who thinks about school and friends; a mere child who is incarcerated and misses his parents and teachers.

I’ve book-talked this book with both 7th and 8th graders this year and sold it well to both grade levels. One thing that I like to focus on with students during my book talks are the various text features throughout this book because sometimes, it’s nice to read a novel that is not in paragraph form. To me, Monster is a classic text that I will continue to reference year in and year out.

Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. Amistad Publishing. 2001.