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Author: Sarah Carnahan

Member of YALSA (2010-present) and various committees (2015-present), Contributor for The Hub (2014-present), Arkansas Teen Book Award (2008-present), and an ALA juror for the MAE Award (2015).

Middle School and Upper School Librarian for an independent, private school. Mom of a preschooler and a toddler, who don't read YA, but hear it in the car.

2017 Nonfiction Award Finalist: An Interview with Linda Barrett Osborne on This Land Is Our Land

In the introduction to This Land is Our Land, Linda Barrett Osborne writes how she hopes her book acts as a conversation starter for such an important part of American history. Not only does she successfully cover the vast topic of immigration in this finalist for YALSA’s 2017 Nonfiction Award, but after reading This Land is Our Land, I was certainly eager for our conversation.

How do you think the topic of immigration can be addressed for different age groups?

Almost any age group can start with finding out their own family backgrounds. Then students can share their histories with their classmates and see how many places people come from in a class. From middle school on, students can talk about what they hear in the media. Do they think the stories/treatments of immigrants are fair? On the other hand, is it a problem to accommodate many new immigrants each year? After discussing how Americans have always been ambivalent about new immigrants, see if they are surprised that our doubts and objections stretch back to the beginnings of settlement in America. How would they wish their families had been treated? How would they like some or all first generation immigrants to be treated?

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YA Fiction about Overcoming Adversity

Teenagers choose what to read for a variety of reasons – topic, what their friends read, favorite author, or page number.  Often I am asked to recommend  books for a similar type of story, theme, or genre.  This is a collection of YA fiction that deals with overcoming adversity encompassing any trait, illness, disease, or life event.  In other words –  books portray life.  It’s a fitting topic for preteens and teenagers as they are not only facing obstacles in their own lives, but also developing their own thoughts and opinions as young adults.  overcoming-adversity-in-ya-fiction-2

Every book where there is a new challenge, readers not only gain experience, but also courage to battle their own challenges and empathy towards others facing their own challenges.  The Wall Street Journal recently published an article showing how reading different types of fiction affects the reader’s behavior and ability to emphasize.  Here are some struggles in fiction, and here are some characters who are brave, vulnerable, strong, and overcome hardships.  In other words, characters who portray a diverse group of people.

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Overcoming Adversity in YA Nonfiction

Part One of young adult books focusing on overcoming adversity was focused on fiction.  Now it is time to focus on nonfiction.  I find it more difficult to get teens to read a nonfiction of a hardship, I think because they view it as boring or like school work whereas fiction offers an escape. However, biographies are always an interest even if the student does not know much about the person.  They like the personal story.  For similar reasons as to why teens choose fiction based on plot or character traits, biographies offer details of a person’s life and reading offers a connection to that person and their situation.

Similarly with fiction, reading about people who face struggles or adversity in a memoir or nonfiction will offer insight to the reader.  With insight comes understanding and compassion.  Nonfiction also gives credible information in a respectful, actual representation as long as the books are published by a respectable source.  An added bonus is many nonfiction books provide notes, glossary of definitions, online resources, and where to look for more information.  Young adult nonfiction that covers illness, biographies of a personal struggle, and social justice provide accurate information on issues that many readers do not understand or have experienced.

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Out of Order: Young Adult Manual of Mental Illness and Recovery by Dale Bick Carlson (2013)

A manual that addresses what is mental illness, what are symptoms, how does one cope with it, and how can friends help friends cope. Personality disorders, learning problems, addictions (ranging in severity from substance abuse to TV or shopping) and treatment and recovery options are also mentioned. Each topic is given a clear definition, statistics on the number of those affected, symptoms, and coping mechanisms – whether personally or professionally.  Screening tests, mental disorder dictionary, online resources and hotlines, and a young adult reading list are provided.

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The Courage to Compete: Living With Cerebral Palsy and Following My Dreams by Abbey Curran (2015)

Abbey Curran was the first contestant with a disability to win a major beauty pageant when she was crowned Miss Iowa, and later competed in Miss USA.  She offers encouragement for girls to try for their dreams, which she has turned into a business. Curran began the Miss You Can Do It, a national nonprofit pageant for girls and women with special needs and challenges, which became the subject of an HBO documentary with the same name.

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Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk, and Rick Bundschuh (2006)

Bethany Hamilton was already respected as a young surfer before the shark attack that took her left arm.  Following the attack, and as she relearned how to surf, her personal determination and faith led her to not only overcome the physical struggles, but also get back on the board.

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Collection Development and Content Curation for National History Day

It’s a common scene across the country – hundreds of students in various grades, one research theme for all grades, and one school librarian trying to assist each student and provide a worthy library collection. Under the umbrella of a national theme, National History Day (NHD) allows students to choose a topic, event, or person from history to research and present upon.

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With more than half a million middle school and high school students participating each year, it is competitive, with the final goal being accepted to nationals each summer in Washington D.C.  This year’s theme is “Taking a Stand in History.” The format also varies; students can write a paper, or create a website, documentary, presentation board, or create a performance piece, which means a variety of resources can be employed during the research process.

Using NHD guidelines, grade-specific requirements, and resources provided both in the library and online, collection development and content curation for this project has evolved. It’s a collaboration between library and classroom. It incorporates the library’s physical and digital collections and online resources. The goal is to ensure hundreds of students use the library efficiently as well as meet curriculum guidelines by participating in this nationally recognized research project.

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Election Resources for Teens

Whether working in a public or an academic setting, or simply getting out in the community, yard signs and political ads bombard our lives during this election year. So how do we help teens navigate the serious issues, avoid bias, and understand the importance of voting?

By providing a variety of sources and creating an environment where teens can both ask questions in a safe environment and obtain accurate, and updated, information. In other words, we keep it professional and try to keep the teens respectful. We remain a library, a classroom, and professional. Here are some helpful election tools for your teens to learn about the election process and this year’s candidates.

Election Resources for Teens
CC image via Flickr user Michael Fleshman

 

Rock the Vote

Rock the vote is the “largest nonprofit and nonpartisan organization” where teens can register to vote, demystifying the myths of what is needed to vote ahead of and on voting day for each state. Celebrities and musicals of various genres are used heavily as PR tools. The goal is to get youth to the polls.

I Side With

I Side With provides a 10 minute quiz that covers foreign policy, environmental issues, social issues, domestic policy, and more. What makes this unlike any other quiz and far better than other quizzes is the depth of each question (Tip: expand each section for additional questions so that you take the full quiz). Don’t feel pressure to know all the topics, the I Side With quiz is prepared to help the most uninformed or confused quiz taker. There is a box in which the issue is explained in a lengthy summary should you need. I was a little surprised at the small percentage difference between my results.

Ted-Ed: Lessons Worth Sharing

This Ted-Ed video explains the Electoral College in a quick, informative layout of a Ted Talk.  Ted Ed offers lessons from professionals with the entertainment of animators. In this video, teens can learn the difference between the Popular Vote and the Electoral College and how different states have different levels of importance.

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Booklist: “Strong” Female Characters Who Also Embrace Aspects of Femininity

Female characters are getting stronger, wiser, and braver in young adult literature and while many are picking up weapons and symbolically wearing pants to counter the male characters’ image, elements of femininity remain in these evolved female heroines. This is a shift from strong female characters cutting their hair, changing their wardrobe, or going by a less feminine name.

A female can maintain aspects of femininity and still be seen as a strong and important major character. This redefines the stereotypical “strong female character” by offering female characters that are fearless, intelligent, flawed, and courageous – all while wearing dresses and exhibiting female pride. Wardrobe may not seem an important literary element, but it is important for authors to show not only a range of femininity in characters, but to show the struggles and strength of the protagonists. The topic of the variety of ways to be a “strong” female characters has been discussed before  here at The Hub, and it certainly is related to other topics such as gendered booklists.  March is Women’s History Month – let’s celebrate the strong and diverse females in our literary world!

Strength sometimes comes after a struggle. The phrase “rising from the ashes” exists to show that after a fall or hardship, we can survive and rise, whether in pants, a dress, with special powers, scarred, or rising to simply get out of bed the next morning. Strength means something different to everyone and we should encourage teens to read about strong female characters just as they read about strong male characters. People vary in personalities and society is motley. Let’s support authors who portray a full range of strong characters, a variety of femininity, and encourage readers to look outside of their world. Let’s enjoy the freedoms reading allows to see past definitions, stereotypes, and expected character development. Female protagonists exhibit a variety of traits, such as authenticity, accepting responsibility, helpfulness, and courage.  By showing honest emotions, these characters help portray empathy, that one can be brave, and that there is pride in all aspects of femininity.

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cc image via Flickr user Chris Alcoran

A Variety of Strong Female Characters from Recent Young Adult Fiction

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (series 2012-present) Celaena is a fighter who must battle for a King she knows to be evil. She does his bidding to earn her own freedom and must eventually decide what is more important: her life or doing what is right. She is a strong assassin who also loves to buy dresses – a killer fashionista with intense fighting skills!

The Rose Society by Marie Lu (2015)

In this second novel of the Young Elite series (2014-present), many different people are fighting for power and two of the strongest contenders are Adelina and Maeve who both try to survive as Malfettos (people with special powers who the Queen and Inquisitor are trying to assassinate) and claim power. Important topics like discrimination, disappointments in life, and heartache are addressed. Not a sappy teen romance, but more mature heartaches from being responsible for a friend’s death to overcoming such obvious hatred and abandonment from a parent. I often recommend this series for bold characters like Lady MacBeth (William Shakespeare) or power hungry characters like in Game of Thrones (R.R. Martin). Lu covers loss, greed, and power struggles very well with the added maturity of the negative side of love and how a sense of revenge can lead to isolation and possibly madness.

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Kwame Alexander’s Picks

Newbery award winner, Kwame Alexander visited my school, Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas, this month. His novel The Crossover (2014) has received recognition and numerous awards: the Newbery Medal (2015), NCTE Charlotte Huck Award Honor for Outstanding Fiction for Children (2015), Coretta Scott King Author Honor (2015). Penn State/Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award (2015), and Paterson Poetry Prize for Young People’s Literature (2015).

The appeal of The Crossover stretches beyond age and gender of the reader – and reading level as many reluctant readers have enjoyed the focus on basketball in this story. It focuses on fourteen-year-old twin basketball stars Josh and Jordan who wrestle with the highs and lows of high school (on and off the court) while their father ignores his declining health. The “Basketball Rules” mentioned throughout The Crossover are inspiring rules that can be incorporated in life, not just basketball.

 

 

 

After a very engaging talk to middle school students, I was able to sit down with Mr. Alexander and ask what were his 5 good picks for (older) teens.

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Readers’ Advisory, Bibliotherapy, and Grief in YA Literature

The benefits of reading go beyond entertainment and into therapeutic tools when focusing on loss and grief in young adult literature. This year, the practice of bibliotherapy celebrates 100 years* in assisting mental health professionals and readers cope with many issues through informed choices about reading material. It is especially relevant to young adult readers in understanding loss and the grief process.

readers' advisory, bibliotherapy, and grief

Teenagers today are said to have higher levels of anxiety and depression and informed readers’ advisory creates an opportunity to help teens by using the comfort and familiarity of reading. However, it is not to be misunderstood or considered as true therapy unless a therapist is involved.   Through readers’ advisory, especially in a school setting, adults can both assist in book recommendations and also listen to teenagers (and possibly notice when teens need to speak to a school counselor).  Just as librarians do not parent or restrict readers, we also do not assume any professional opinion about therapy or mental illness. See this article on the difference between bibliotherapy and readers’ advisory.  The actual practice of bibliotherapy includes a skilled therapist, but adults who are familiar with stories of loss can assist with recommendations.  After all, we already know the interest of our readers (and reading levels) and can offer novels that address grief and coping.

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Musicals Can Enhance Collections and Curriculum

Music has been in the classroom for decades, but not everyone highlights the musical, which then neglects some of the most amazing storytellers from classic writers and composers such as Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webb to modern and unique writers and composers Jason Robert Brown and Lin-Minuel Miranda.

CC image via Flickr user Gary
CC image via Flickr user Gary

Besides breaking up power point lectures and textbook readings with the entertainment of music or YouTube performances, musical performance can enhance the curriculum by offering an alternate voice to the same lesson.  Perhaps a song or two from 1776 will help students remember the founding fathers who wrote the Declaration of Independence.

While a musical is not 100% factual (most need to speed history along to fit in a 2-3 hour production) the positives of including musical theater into a curriculum or library collection outweigh the historical inaccuracies.  Find me any historian who doesn’t rise up to “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

Many libraries already include musical soundtracks or DVDs, but I want to encourage the partnership between libraries and the academic curriculum by going beyond books and articles.  Let the students listen to a different type of lesson.  Musicals such as Wicked are based on popular fiction, but people often forget about the musicals that can help teach history or culture, such as racial prejudices shown in Show Boat to Vietnam protests in Hair.  American culture has always been portrayed in music and theater, why not use musicals as another format to teach?

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