MLABooklist-LiteratureOUTLoudToday I gave a workshop at the 2012 Michigan Library Association Annual Conference called “Literature OUT Loud: A Guide to Young Adult Literature for Trans Teens.”  The workshop went spectacularly and I plan on writing about it in greater depth soon, but I had some requests that I share the book list I gave out and discussed during the workshop so I thought I would make a quick post sharing it.  It says this on the book list, but I’d like to just reiterate that this list is not meant to be a list of the best young adult literature for trans youth, it is a list on the existing young adult literature for trans youth and there are some titles on there that I cannot or would not endorse.  This is derived from a list I created on GoodReads which I have added to over time and which has also grown via crowd-sourcing over the year+ since I created it.  Some titles are omitted from this list but I tried to omit titles on the basis of them either being a) not teen/ya books or b) not featuring trans characters, rather than based on quality, but the list on GoodReads is ever expanding so I would recommend checking that out too.

I encourage readers to please feel free to use this list however you would like (I would prefer that you use it for good), but I ask that you please try to credit me if you use it when possible/appropriate.

Book List: Literature OUT Loud: A Guide to Young Adult Literature for Trans Teens

*Edit: the link has been updated to include the correct author for Being Emily by Rachel Gold (see comments below)


It’s been ages since I’ve updated my blog and this is not because I have been lacking in interesting things to write about, but rather because I have had too many interesting things to write about that I have been busy doing instead of writing about.

A short, completely incomplete update would tell you that I have moved to Toronto and subsequently left both of my previous library internships and begun a new one that is tied to my last term of grad school.

In my current internship, I’m working on a project involving the topic of introducing new technologies into the Teen Zone.  I am doing projects involving the forthcoming integration of Smart Boards, iPads and a video gaming room (called the Game Cube) into the library.  The bulk of the work associated with this project involves a lot of research surrounding the educational/developmental value of video gaming.

Now, I am not of the mindset that materials need to have educational value to have value, nor that public libraries should have to justify the value of materials we select.  It is our job to select a well-rounded collection of resources that will benefit the needs of the community.  It is the community’s job to find the value that each resource brings to their own lives.  We would never feel the need to justify the educational value of a book we have selected, that value is probably there but it would seem almost condescending to the community to prescribe value to the resources we are making available to them with their money.

The fact is, video games in the library have become popular, particularly amongst teens.  As someone who has run lots of teen programs centered around video gaming, the value in gaming at the library is so obvious to me.  It’s obvious when teens who may have been sitting at home playing video games alone are suddenly spending time socializing with other teens while video games happen to be the center of that social activity.  It is obvious to me when showing up for a gaming program opens the door for community involvement and spending a large percentage of their leisure time at the library with they types of teens who hang out at the library.  And it’s obvious to me when gaming programs cause teens to naturally step into leadership roles through helping newcomers feel included, teaching people how to play games, setting up the gaming equipment because they are infinitely more adept at quickly knowing what gets plugged in where than the adults in the room and taking the initiative to plan and execute gaming events they’d like to see happen.  The educational and developmental value the same value that comes through being really involved in and committed to something and if the thing that teens are interested in being involved in is gaming, then we are creating educational opportunities by planning the type of programs in which teens actually want to be involved.  So the educational and developmental value in the actual games themselves was never something I had spent much time pondering.

So that said, I definitely get why the library is putting effort into justifying the educational value of the games we are selecting.  Although gaming-related library programs have been a big thing for some years, the Gaming Cube we are installing is not a library program, but rather a space for gaming that patrons can use at their own convenience, which is a relatively new thing (I know of one other library that offers something like this) and I think when you propose something like this for the first time, you can expect to have to cover a few more bases as you implement it so you can blaze a trail for those that follow your lead.  Library patrons love to complain about teens (I think this is a universal truth, not just in libraries, it’s my personal opinion that they seriously envy teens’ youth and the possibilities ahead of them and are just bitter,) so having a bunch of teens playing video games in a room visible from the study room intended for teens but often taken over by seniors is a perfect opportunity for adults to complain about the fact that we have games in the first place (“in my day…”)  So having a written justification for the educational value of the games and gaming in general is something of a convenient way to help librarians spend our time helping people find books and other exciting resources instead of justifying our programs to grumpy patrons.  Kind of like that one time a patron showed up to the library with no pants on and didn’t understand why we wanted her to leave–we could have spent a bunch of time arguing with her about why it was not okay to hang out in the children’s section of the library with no pants on, or we could hand her a copy of the code of conduct making her aware of the library’s policy (then it’s out of the poor librarian on desk’s hands, if she really doesn’t agree with the policy, she can take it up with the library’s board of directors.)  So although I for sure do not believe we should have to justify our use of video gaming, I think that doing so, especially for something so new, is a smart way to stand behind something we actually believe in.

I was not allowed video games as a kid and thus just don’t have the same aptitude for them as other people of my generation.  My parents didn’t allow (or rather did not invest money in) video games at home because they said they would rot my brain.  And on a personal level, I do agree with them to some degree and will probably not allow console gaming in my home if I ever do raise children–let them go to the library and be force to be around other people and daylight if they want to play video games!  On a professional level, though, I of course see the value in video gaming and when it is in a library or other social contexts I think it can actually be a great thing.  So it is interesting to approach this research from the point of view of a non-gamer (I’m sure there’s some degree of creepy “here we see the typical gamer in her natural habitat” vibes to my research, oops.)

I’m actually finding that I’m really having a great time nerding out about this research.  I’m coming to care about gaming as a valuable library program even more than I already did and coming up with new ideas for the possibilities of really fun gaming-related library programing that has secret hidden educational value for teens.  It’s very sinister.  I’m also getting excited about possibly even playing some of these games (playing them very poorly, that is–side effect of having a game un-rotted by video games as a child is that I am horribly inept at playing video games as an adult)!

One thing I’m particularly excited about is the OUYA, a new gaming system that is fairly cheap (under $100) and runs Android, so it’s completely open source.  As you may recall from earlier posts (particularly those from the summer of 2011 if you don’t recall and are digging around in my archives), I am a huge fan of open source software and the free software movement and I get really excited about ways that open source software can be used in library programs.  Beyond the fact that OUYA (or more likely whichever gaming system that is spawned from the concept of OUYA wins out) is a really exciting addition to 8th Generation console gaming and could create some really neat changes in the gaming world, I think there are some specific possibilities for its use in the library about which I’m really excited.  The biggest being that, because it is open source, it makes it possible and relatively easy for people to make games they design available to a wide audience of gamers, meaning that it will be possible to talk about supporting a local economy when it comes to gaming.  I love the idea of bringing in local game designers to give talks the way that authors might come in to give talks but I also love the idea of having workshops where teens learn to design their own games, possibly even having game design competitions.  This adds several extra dimensions to the educational value of gaming in the library and I’m so excited about it (and about so many other cool things I’ve found while researching console gaming)

So this post is getting long and I should probably end it for the sake of my readers, but I wanted to share this brief article called 10 Truths About Books and What They Have To Do With Video Games by James Paul Gee.  I liked this article for librarians (especially those who are non-gamers like me,  trying to get up to speed on teen gaming in the library) in particular because Gee frames his discussion about the value of video gaming through talking about some of the things gaming and books have in common.  He turns the discussion around and gives some points discussing the value of books as well and as a pseudo-English major, forcing myself to question the inherent value of literature was a helpful tool in the context of reframing my understanding of the value of video games.  Check it out!

So this summer for our summer reading wrap-up party, we’re doing a giant after-hours lazer tag party in the library that is Hunger Games themed. Pretty awesome, right? Only teens who have completed the summer reading program are invited to come–it was loads of fun last year (and it wasn’t even Hunger Games themed then, just laser tag after hours in the library) so the fact that they don’t get to come if they don’t do summer reading is a huge incentive for a lot of teens to read.

We’ve rented a giant inflatable laser tag arena to set up in the auditorium (I know, doesn’t just renting the laser tag guns and having it be a free-for-all in the entire libraries with everyone hiding between the stacks sound like the most fun? But considering that this is at the library I’m pretty sure that our insurance company would not be too happy with that, plus the basic fact that letting a billion Mountain Dew-feuled teenagers run around the library after hours with laser tag guns through the entire giant library is a horrible idea. However, the part of me that is not a responsible adult disagrees.) Since only ten or so teens can play laser tag at once, we have a bunch of other things going on too. Some of those things are Hunger Games-ified versions of stuff we did last year but we’re also trying to come up with some new ideas.

We’ve just decided we are going to do this thing that involves having the teens make bows out of popsicle sticks and rubber bands and using q-tips as arrows to shoot some sort of target. They will win candy for hitting the targets (because Katniss hunts with a bow and arrows to feed her family, right?)

We’re also going to have a cupcake decorating station which will be Peeta’s family bakery. Peeta does all the cake decorating for the bakery so there’s the Hunger Games tie-in. Last year we did cupcake decorating and prior to that I spent the entire day baking a billion cupcakes using this just-add-water cupcake mix. It was fun and all but I think we’re going to purchase pre-made plain cupcakes this time.

We’ve been talking about other ideas though. I found this list of games, most of which are probably not that cool and geared towards younger kids, but there’s one that I think sounds really fun. It’s called “Tracker Jacker Sting” and is basically like tag, only 3 people are tracker jackers and 3 people have the anecdote to tracker jacker venom. From what I can tell, when you get tagged by one of the tracker jackers, you have to spin in circles. Then the people with the antecdote come find you and hand you some leaves (the antecdote) and you are then immune from being stung. I’m not quite sure what the goal is once you’re immune but the spinning around part sounds kind of fun. Another one I found on the same list of games involves accomplishing some sort of obstacle while pretending to have a broken leg (like Peeta does at some point) which sounds kind of interesting.

We’ve also got a polaroid camera and a ton of film and are getting a bunch of costumes and face paints and other stuff so that people can dress up like they’re from the Capitol and take pictures. A lot of teens are coming dressed up as characters from the Hunger Games so this will be a good opportunity to get fun pictures of their costumes. The teens have decided that I have the option of dressing up as Seneca Crane or Cesar Flickerman. I have told them that I wish I was talented enough at growing facial hair to have Seneca Crane’s beard but that I’m just not. They offered to draw it on my face with a Sharpie and I told them they are not drawing on my face with a Sharpie. They are now obsessed with the Cesar Flickerman idea. I guess this is all they know how to do to process the fact that they think I’m probably gay (I’ve never told them one way or another because I tend not to want to make my interactions with them about me, although I am outspoken enough about LGBTQ stuff and I also just can’t really turn off the fact that I’m really effeminate so I think they just know. I have told teens who have said they were LGBTQ themselves so maybe everyone knows but doesn’t say anything about it.)

We’ve talked about doing some sort of edible plant identification but all we’ve really come up with for that is putting out a glorified vegetable tray so that idea needs some work. I also think it would be neat to put out a bowl of blueberries or something and label them “Nightlock” but I’m not sure whether that would be giving the teens the message that it’s a good idea to eat poison (?).

Does anyone have any other cool ideas for a Hunger Games themed after hours teen party at the library?

Yesterday we had a giant program at one of my libraries to celebrate the upcoming release of the Hunger Games movie.  It was at the library where I run my Guys Read book club but had not otherwise gotten much chance to bond with the teens.  I definitely got my first chance to bond with these teens en masse and they are so awesome!

The program was really successful and also tons of fun, so I want to write a little about how we ran it.  I definitely cannot take credit for the ideas except that it was my idea that we should have goat cheese as one of the foods because Katniss’s sister, Prim, has a goat in the books and makes and sells goat cheese.  I also wanted to find a simple recipe in the Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook and make it with the teens, but we didn’t end up doing that which was fine.  But here’s what we did do:

  • We had one of our librarians who is really into doing makeup doing cool/crazy makeup on the teens to look like the tributes and/or the extravagant people in the Capitol.
  • We had a craft table where we had supplies for people to make mockingjay magnets, buttons and necklaces.
  • We did a group-wide trivia thing–we had a powerpoint presentation with questions from the books and the teens all sat down with paper and answered the questions, keeping score as they went–they actually all sat down and paid attention and were really into it when we did this.  I think this was the initial part where I started to bond with the teens I didn’t know because I was asking the questions and it was really clear by the way I was asking them that I was as into the books as them, which they liked.
  • Finally, we did this really cool game involving a “Cornucopia Challenge”.

You can find the full instructions we used for the Cornucopia here.  When I first read the instructions and the teen librarian planning this tried to explain it to me, it seemed really complicated and weird and I didn’t really understand how it was going to work out, but it was actually quite simple and really fun!  We put a bunch of stuff in the center of the room (the stuff listed in red–we had a sling shot, a tarp, twine, “anti-venom”, a bow & arrow, matches, a knife, beef jerky, a book on edible plants, water bottles, etc.  All the weapons were fake, of course, and the matchbox was empty, which the teens were disappointed about.  They were really into the jerky.) and that was the Cornucopia.  All the teens were swarming around it trying to figure out what it was before it started, so I told them they couldn’t go near it because there was a forcefield around it.  They promptly reminded me that it was landmines protecting the Cornucopia, so I told them we had both.

We divided the teens participating into two teams and placed them equidistant from the Cornucopia on opposite ends of the room.  We then did this sort of relay race thing where one person ran into the center and grabbed something, then tagged the next person who ran and got something.  I am definitely in favour of games that make teens run and get out a little energy and this definitely did that, but I will say I kind of wish we had come up with a better way to make the game accessible since as it stood, we ended up letting the teen who was in a wheelchair designate one of his team members to run into the center for him and he advised the kid he chose about what his top choices of items were, so it ended up working out alright anyway.  We encouraged the teens to choose items based on how useful they might be in the actual Hunger Games.  One thing we should have discussed a little more was when it ends–does it end when each person has one thing, or do they get to keep going back and getting more things until the cornucopia is empty?  We did not discuss this before and different teams had different interpretations, so we had to have them all put whatever the second item they got back to be fair.  This was actually kind of fun because it meant there were items in the center that no one had taken and everyone was kind of wishing they did as we learned their usefulness.

So then we had them all sit on either side of the Cornucopia with their team.  This was when we read the story in the instructions above that details what happens in the arena each day.  As the story progresses, they can get points for having items listed that will help them with what is going on in the arena.  I read the story while the other librarian kept tally for the teams on an easel.  This was really fun and the teens loved it.

As the story went, they had some really creative ideas of how they could use the supplies they did have in place of ones they didn’t, which I thought was really awesome.  Unfortunately, the game did not have anything built in to reward this, so I kept saying, kind of jokingly, to the teens “Sorry, creativity will not be rewarded in this game,” but then when I heard them start repeating that, I ensured them that creativity would be rewarded in every situation outside of the game so they shouldn’t let me squash their creativity.  If I was doing this again, I think I would have come up with a system where the teens could make a case for how they would use something they did have to fulfill the function of something they didn’t (like if they didn’t have a knife and needed to cut meat but came up with a plausible system to use the wire to cut it or something).

I also might write my own story about what happens in the arena each day–not because this one was not good, but just because I think I’d only want to use that story once.  It worked out really unbalanced for us–one team got a billion points and the other hardly got any and they both had useful stuff.  But that was okay, everyone was having fun and were all good sports about it.

Anyway, it was a very successful program and I think I had as much fun as the teens.  We all talked about the Hunger Games a ton which was a blast.  I also recruited a ton of new teens for my Guys Read book club.  Only problem is that somehow we ran out of books for the book club a couple days ago (we normally give them each a paperback to keep) so I had to run grab whatever copies we still had checked in–I think I could have gotten a few more teens if I’d had more books, but that’s okay.

It was a very successful program, though, and a lot of fun.  We had been so worried that no one would come because as of earlier this week, there were only 2 people signed up, but we ended up with more than 20 teens and every one of them was having a great time!

To any other teen or youth librarians who have done Hunger Games programs (if you’re reading this)–what activities have you done?  How did they go?  If you haven’t done Hunger Games programs, do you have any ideas for cool ones?

I recently took over running a book club for teen boys at one of the libraries where I work.  Yesterday was my first time running the book club by myself!  This month, we read Everlost by Neil Shusterman and I loved the book, but got nervous that maybe they teens would think it didn’t have enough action in it and wouldn’t like it.

But they loved it!  They had even all already gone out and read the sequel and asked about the third book in the series (which we, by some mishap, only own on audiobook, which I promptly took care of as soon as the book club was over).  They also stayed on topic the whole time (which does not really happen with this group, or so I’ve heard, this is only my second month running it) and had so many smart and wonderful things to say.  They actually even touched on most of my prepared discussion questions without my even having to ask them.  We had this great discussion that was the perfect combination of silly and thought provoking and it made me feel really good to be able to run this group on my own.

None of us actually knew when the group was over–I assumed they knew and would tell me when it was time to go and I guess they assumed I knew.  We were having so much fun that we stayed at least a half hour later than we were supposed to and didn’t leave until someone’s parent came in to take their kid home.  I’m actually still not sure when it was supposed to end, I guess we don’t really list that anywhere but I should probably figure that out for next time.

While I was at the OLA Superconference, I attended this workshop about running book clubs for teen boys.  I think I was actually the only one there who runs a book club for teen boys (the presenters had started a group at their school (they were school librarians) and were really involved in promoting them, but they were both women and had chosen male staff members to actually lead the book clubs) and I had just taken over at that point.  I got a few good ideas from the workshop, though, and it was great to get to put them into practice a little.

I really can’t wait to have my own teen librarian position so I can run more teen book clubs.  I am really interested in running an LGBTQ teen book club some day, which is the major reason I really hope to find a job in an urban public library rather than a suburban one, since I’m not sure that would fly or be well attended in most suburban public libraries with which I am familiar.  I just really love interacting with teens like this–talking about books with them, hearing all the smart and exciting and weird things they have to say about the books and also trying to say the little things that will spark their minds to take it a little further.

Anyway, it just felt good to do this.  I have run tons of teen programs on my own before, but most of them have been stuff more along the lines of gaming or anime club or chess club where there is not really much I have to do once I’ve set everything up.  It was fun and challenging to run a program on my own with the teens where I’m facilitating the discussion.  It was also cool because it was at the library where I don’t actually know the teens as well, so it’s fun to get to know them.

So it has only taken me a week to update (as promised, but with the assumption I would have done it way sooner) about the awesome workshop I attended at the Ontario Library Association Superconference by Nancy Pearl.

When Nancy Pearl first took to the podium, she told us that, although she is retired, as a celebrity librarian and readers advisory superstar, she often gets approached in the street with those sometimes-exciting, sometimes-terrifying open-ended readers advisory questions.  I was so shocked to hear her say that she actually gets this sick-to-her-stomach feeling every time she is asked one of these questions–isn’t she supposed to be some sort of goddess of readers advisory?  Isn’t she immune to that feeling of terror I sometimes get when someone asks me those questions?  The one where for one second I forget about every book and book review I’ve ever read as I go through the motions of the readers advisory interview, only to have them all (usually, hopefully, eventually) come flooding back in this exhilarating rush.  I guess there is this well-kept-secret that Nancy Pearl is actually human deals with the same human reactions to things–even librarian things–that the rest of us do.  This made me feel great–like relating to her about this brief and familiar moment of terror could be the key to my success at the readers advisory desk.

Ms. Pearl went on to talk to us about what makes a good book–a good book, she said, is a book that a reader enjoyed.  It is useless, she said, to classify literature as “good” and “bad” by any other standards than an individual’s own experience reading the book.  While Hopping Freight Trains in North America by Duffy Littlejohn might be my idea of a good book, someone else might hate that book, but love Miley Cyrus’s Miles to Go, which is not really my kind of book (although I did actually read some good–and some really bad–reviews about it)–but who am I to judge readers on the books that speak to them?  Nancy Pearl made a point of saying that no two of us will ever read the same book.  It may have the same cover, text, ISBN, etc. as a book that someone else read, but our experiences, values, likes, dislikes and what we are going through right now really write the books we read–that one line in that one book that changes my life may be a line that every other reader has just glossed over, or it may change a different reader’s life in a completely different way.  So with that, the rules that define what books are “good” or “bad” needs to change based on every reader we encounter.

Keeping with the theme that good and bad books change depending on the reader, Nancy Pearl encouraged all of us to read out of our comfort zone.  She told us to “read promiscuously,” which has sort of become my new motto, new favorite thing, and newest obsession as far as tattoos I need to get go.  She encouraged us to read at least one book a month that pushes our comfort zones and to read across all genres.  As someone who often wishes that they would stop publishing new books for a year or two so I could catch up with all Young Adult books that already exist, the thought of having to read from different genres on top of trying to read every Young Adult book seems a little overwhelming, but it’s also exciting and liberating too.  She told us, though, that we don’t actually have to read the whole book.  If we’re really not into the book we chose outside of our comfort zone for that month, we only have to keep reading until we are in touch with what kind of reader would love that book (“no one could possibly love this book” is not an acceptable answer, so if we’re reading a book and still feel like that about it, that means we have not completed the challange of finding a reader for that book and have to keep reading!)

Because we all read different books when we read, it does not do much good to ask someone what books they like during a readers advisory interview.  “I liked Harry Potter” does not mean much when there are actually millions and millions of different Harry Potters.  Instead, Nancy Pearl said that she like to say, “tell me about a book you loved.”  She described four different reasons people read (for plot, character, setting or language) and asking this question will encourage readers to give some clues about what the book was about to them, which will help a readers advisor figure out which of these 4 catagories they read for.  Readers don’t read for just one of these things, but generally one or two areas will be more important than the others.

If someone says, “I loved Harry Potter because it was such a page turner–I couldn’t put it down!” and gives a plot description, they are likely someone who reads for plot.  The majority of books are plot-centered and most readers read for plot.  You can easily recognize a plot-centered book by a lot of white space on the pages, because paragraphs are short and there is a lot of dialogue.

If someone says, “I loved Harry Potter because I couldn’t wait to find out what made Professor Snape the way he was,” or says “I felt like Ron was really me” they are someone who reads for character.  Character is the second most common thing people read for.  If you are having trouble finding a character driven book, Nancy Pearl suggested trying one with the character’s name in the title.

If a reader says “I liked Harry Potter because I wished I could go to school at Hogwarts,”  that reader reads for setting.  She suggested Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Historical Fiction books for readers who  read for setting, and actually suggested throwing in Historical Fiction recommendations to Sci-Fi/Fantasy readers and Sci-Fi/Fantasy books to Historical Fiction readers.  Setting is the third most common thing people read for.

Finally, if a reader says, “I liked Harry Potter because I kept finding myself savoring every word,” or if they kept copying down phrases from the book because they wanted to remember them they read for language.  Books centered around language are the least common books most people read.  They are the books that people read really slowly.  You can quickly tell a book written for language because these books tend to be award winners.

I always thought I was special because I read for character, but after hearing her talk about all of this, I realized that I probably read for plot (which makes me feel way less special and insightful!)  Honestly, though, and maybe this is just me flattering myself, I do sit around waiting to learn what happened in a character’s life to make them the way they are and I put down books wanting to know more about how the character will change and grow after the book is done, so maybe I am one of the special ones who reads for character.  And I have been having recurring dreams in which I live at Hogwarts since probably even before I read the first Harry Potter book, so maybe setting is important to me too!

This post is getting long and I could go on about this workshop I attended just over a week ago for a lot longer, but I would actually like to post it some time soon!  The final thing I will leave folks with, though, is probably the most exciting little thing I got out of Nancy Pearl’s talk.  She suggested that we end every single readers advisory interaction by saying, “be sure to come back and tell me what you thought!”  How many times have I suggested books to people and had no clue about whether I was making a good suggestion?  Or how many times have I suggested a book to someone that I knew they would love and (selfishly) wanted to hear all about this book through their eyes?  They generally never come back (well, a few have for me), but why can’t I just let them know I’m interested in hearing what they think after they read it?  Of course, not all of them will, but this could also potentially help build a trusting relationship with the patron where they feel like I am interested in their thoughts on the books they read (because I actually really am) and will approach me for more suggestions in the future, or else will feel free to tell me they hated the book I suggested, which is a potentially equally meaningful bit of information.

I took some great notes about the readers advisory talk I just went to given by Nancy Pearl and will probably come put it together in a legitimate post later on, so check back because she totally blew my mind and got me even more excited about readers advisory than I already am.

I just wanted to give a quick update that due to the fact that I’m outside of the US, I can’t use the Internet on my phone right now, but anyone interested in reading my totally nerdy librarian updates should read my twitter @jacksonradish