Terra Nova: Traceur Badge

I’ve been a teen librarian for…three months now, so I am still EXTREMELY new to this job. However, due to my excellent managers, I’ve been able to jump into this job headfirst, and have been able to try all sorts of new things with lots of support and encouragement.  This past Wednesday was the first full-length program that was my idea and execution from start to finish, and it went really, really well!

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Some of our goals for our summer program were to get teens out of the library and into the community, and to incorporate more physically active programs into our schedule.  With that in mind, and thinking about the success of a past capoiera self-defense program, I looked into parkour instructors and studios in the area that might be able to come in for a parkour event.  I discovered the wonderful people at FlipSide Academy, a local parkour gym that teaches classes and (it turns out) will send instructors to your event.

The turn-out wasn’t QUITE what I was hoping for (we got five teens) but, as you can see from the photos, we had an absolute blast. The teens were champions, committing to everything and going through an hour of different parkour basics.  The only change I would have made was to have some Gatorade or bottled water for the athletes afterward – it was hot and we all got a little sweaty!

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Terra Nova: Horticulture Badge

For day two of our programming, continuing the Dawn of a New World theme, we made terrariums. I was in charge of getting supplies, since I know my way around a craft store, so I went to Michael’s and was kinda dismayed by how fast my $20 went – in the future I will start somewhere a little less primo, although the stuff I got at Michael’s ended up being totally satisfactory.11014622_881117621961738_3347979416073012853_n

I picked up two colors of sand, a plastic flower sprig that we cut into pieces, a packet of shells, and a package of different kinds and colors of moss. We used mason jars that were surplus from another youth program happening later this summer (I wish we’d been able to get jars that didn’t have a pattern on the side, but it was a small thing.)

1508546_881115455295288_7578601513699422724_nSo far our programs have a very pop-up feeling – we go into the teen room, set up on a table, and let the kids have at it with very little guidance. It’s definitely working well so far, we’ve attracted some unexpected participants and it lets them flex their creative muscles because it’s such an non-restrictive and flexible format.

Granted, not all of our programs will be this unformatted; next Monday our food-based program is Petrifying Protein (eating bugs). I’m really getting to understand that flexibility is the most important skill a teen librarian can have, and I think I’m doing pretty well so far.

Terra Nova: Herbivore Badge

unnamedWe kicked off our teen summer reading program last Friday with a Big Bang Party, and today was the official start to our programming!  I’m really excited about SRP this year because our program encompasses SO much more than just reading (not that reading isn’t important!).  The title of the summer is Terra Nova: Create Your Own World, and our programs are focused on useful skills, physical activity, getting teens out and involved in the community, and exercising the creative muscles in their brains. It’s also going to be badge-based, with participants being able to earn badges for every program they attend (teens can also earn badges for reading, writing, and doing other creative activities outside of the library).  You can see to the left the badges we’ve given out so far – the Terra Nova badge, which everyone gets; the Terraformer badge, for coming to the kick-off party; and the Herbivore badge, which we earned today.

Our weeks are organized by the stages a world/civilization goes through while it develops; this first week is themed Dawn of a New World, and our Herbivore program was all about making delicious snacks with raw foods. Not only did we get teens to voluntarily eat hummus and bell pepper wraps, but I got a bunch to toss some kale into their smoothies for extra health benefits.

11108521_880597788680388_870923259754471674_nTeens making healthy smoothies and snack wraps

Mondays will be food programs, Tuesdays will be crafting programs, Wednesdays are movie nights, Thursdays are going to be physical activities (we’ve got parkour and archery teachers coming, which is SUPER exciting – especially for me, since I set up the parkour instructor with a local parkour gym), and on Fridays we’re starting an extended community activity where we’ll be turning an underpass wall into community artwork.  We’re doing some amazing things this summer and I’ll be sure to keep you updated!

Comic Women Collective

Thor.0.0One of my co-workers at the library worked part-time at a local bookstore until very recently, and one of the things she was in charge of while she was there was coordinating bookstore events.  Things like summer activities, storytimes, and book clubs. Before she left the store, she came to me and said that they were interested in starting a new book club, for teens, focused on comics, and would I run it?  It could be themed around whatever I wanted, they planned to meet once a month, and I could pick any books I wanted as long as they were in print and easy for the store to get.

Do I have to tell you how fast I said yes?

I decided that, since superheroes are really chic right now, that I wanted to focus on tights and capes books, but that every title we read would star a female character.  New Thor, Batgirl, Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl…I told them I wanted to explore the lady side of the Big Two, and the store loved it, and last night we had our first meeting.

I was a little anxious about it, since there were some snafus getting the Thor book in (I picked Thor: Goddess of Thunder to start us off because I felt like the controversy surrounding the switch from classic Thor to Lady Thor would be a good way to introduce some central themes), but after a quick discussion with the store owner we decided that the first meeting would be more of a meet-and-greet to introduce ourselves, talk about what the club would look like, and introduce ourselves, and to also let me get a sense of the teens who’d be coming and what topics were important to them. Luckily, we got the books in, so everyone could grab a copy to read for the next time we meet.

It went GREAT! I had seven girls, who had varying degrees of exposure to superhero books, but who were all enthusiastic about trying something new. Most of them had been watching the Marvel movies, and a couple were tumblr users, so even though they hadn’t read much in the way of comics they knew who the characters were and had some great things to say about comic culture, representation, and which characters they already had an affinity for (all of them wanted to know why the heck Marvel hasn’t made a Black Widow movie, which, right? That was the moment I knew we’d all get along just fine).

One of the best things about having our first meeting not be about a particular book was that it gave me a chance to bring up what I think will be the central questions of our meetings (representation and diversity for diversity’s sake vs. thoughtful character choices, mainly) and it also gave the girls a chance to let me know what’s going to be important to them to talk about (costume and character design came up a lot, as did questions about family and support structure. Also the “fake geek girl” fallacy, which made me sad that they were already running into that so young).

REVIEW: Don’t Fail Me Now, by Una LaMarche

So I told you guys that an incredibly generous sales rep at Penguin Random House sent me a bunch of ARCs of juvenile and teen lit to use in conjunction with the book clubs I’m starting. To help their promotion I’ll be reviewing the titles here, and so far it looks like it’ll be pretty easy because Don’t Fail Me Now, by Una LaMarche, was REALLY good.

Dont-Fail-Me-Now-Una-LaMarcheIt’s told in the first person present tense POV of Michelle Devereaux, a seventeen-year-old high school student with a mom that just got put in jail again (for drug use), two younger siblings she’s pretty much solely responsible for looking out for, and a dead-beat dad who left their family ten years ago. Michelle is a champion: she single-handedly protects Denny and Cass, her siblings, keeps them fed, safe, and in school, and does so while keeping up her own grades so that she can get somewhere better. Her mother is a druggie, in and out of prison, and the only other family they have is their Aunt Sam who tries to extort rent from Michelle to keep the kids out of the foster system.

The story really begins when a boy named Tim finds Michelle at work, tells her that his step-sister Leah is her half-sister (the half-sister their father left Michelle’s mom for, before leaving Leah as well) and that Buck (their father) reached out to them because he’s dying and has a family heirloom for the girls. Michelle sees this as the potential “Hail Mary” they need for some extra cash, and immediately launches a family road trip (Leah and Tim in tow) to find Buck in his hospice in California. What follows is a road trip fraught with tension: ducking Child Protective Services and the cops, foraging for supplies, tension between our protagonists, and ultimately, the forging of a new kind of family that defies definition but is stronger than what could be called “normal.”

LaMarche’s story is rough and full of heartache, and it should be. It was pretty much the ultimate in “check your privilege” literature; every time I caught myself thinking that the struggles Michelle and her siblings faced were exaggerated or unrealistic, I had to pause and remember that people do deal with these kind of issues. LaMarche creates a harsh and starkly realistic world for these children, but cushions it with an ultimately hopeful ending for the Devereaux family – an ending I needed after all the heartache I went through with these kids.

If it has a weakness it is that the ending wraps up a little TOO neatly – I felt like there were emotional jumps that happen way too quickly, and certain emotional plots get tied up too perfectly given the timeline of the novel. However, as I said, after the struggles the characters go through during the novel, I find it hard to begrudge them their tentatively happy ending.

This is a great book to discuss themes like family, race, racial privilege, classism, bullying…there’s a lot to mine here (I’m discussing it with a teen book club in a few weeks so I read it with potential discussion in mind). It’s also a great way to talk to teens about what they see in their own futures. I definitely recommend it.