Photo from Harper Collins
by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix
I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure, edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith, HarperTeen, 2009, ISBN 978-0-06-172684-2
Ask young adult, better known as YA, librarians about what memoirs teens like and they may draw a blank. However, ask teachers about the subject and they will say that students certainly like to tell their own life stories.
After creating the popular Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, the editors of Smith Magazine decided to challenge teens to write their own life stories in six words.
What resulted is a book that Smith bills as having “600 authors.” It is a useful teaching tool for encouraging concise, colorful writing.
Lives in brief
The broad range of subjects in I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets includes frustrations with family, disappointment with achievements, identity and sexuality. Here are some examples:
• Jocelyn wrote that she was, “Defined by numbers: age, weight, SATs.”
• Writing a romance for our digital times, Chris recalled, “Met online; love before first sight.”
• Creating a metaphor for the struggle of her life, Amanda said, “I’m army boots. Ready for battle.”
• The reader can’t help but want to send a hug to Traci, who wrote, “Ripped open, sewn back up, healing.”
• Clever Nic commented, “I’m just a simple human. Being.”
• And Martha offered a caution to all who love print a bit too much: “Spent more time reading than living.”
A rare read
I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets is one of those rare books that reluctant readers are guaranteed to crack open during reading and writing classes.
Here are six final words to consider: I found it at the library.
Photo from Candlewick Press
by Alicia Rudnicki, Library MixThe Brimstone Journals
, by Ron Koertge, Candlewick Press, 2001, ISBN 0-763-61742-3
Ron Koertge’s The Brimstone Journals
, a novel told in poetry, is a boiling kettle of teenage anxieties, both minor and major. Published shortly after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, its story about the importance of teens speaking up remains timely.Brimstone
is also a good literary vehicle for getting students to consider the storytelling power of poetry.Voices of small-town America
Nearly 100 years ago, Edgar Lee Masters perfected the art of the novel told in poetry. He wrote about small town America in his classic Spoon River Anthology
, in which more than 200 dead residents of the local cemetery share their stories and secrets through free verse poems, which doesn’t rhyme or follow a prescribed pattern.
Masters lived near the actual Spoon River in Illinois and based some of his characters on people that he knew while growing up. Koertge also grew up in small-town Illinois, just across the Mississippi from St. Louis, Missouri.
It seems appropriate that an excellent online list of teen novels told through poetry also comes from Illinois. The Brimstone Journals
is among the excellent choices recommended by Skokie Public Library.
In Brimstone, 15 fictional, small-town teens share their disquieting thoughts through free-verse poems. All the students attend Branston High, which is popularly known as “Brimstone.”
The novel opens with the chilling comments of Lester, a fat boy who has a semi-automatic pistol tucked in his sock drawer in case he should ever decide to wreak havoc at Brimstone, starting in the gym and making the jocks who have bullied him “crap their pants.”
In an article published at Goodreads
, Koertge said he began writing Brimstone
a few months before the Columbine High massacre, which was committed by two disaffected students.Familiar casting
To some degree, Brimstone is populated by recognizable types, including a totally self-absorbed anorexic girl, a cocky jock who picks on Lester, a preacher’s daughter who is attracted to the bad boy, the teen who loves to play violent computer games but would never imagine hurting anyone, a budding white supremacist, and a sexually active girl with a heart of gold.
Yet it also introduces some surprises such as Carter, an upper middle class African-American, whose parents unwittingly transfer him to Brimstone to avoid inner-city violence.
Fortunately, Carter manages to break through the reserve of another student outside Brimstone's cliques. He befriends Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant who prides himself on paying close attention to the gossipy “buzz” around him but never getting close to any of the students.
When Tran starts musically jamming with Carter, the two of them develop a circle of mutual friends. Tran begins to care about his classmates, and this causes him to tell the police about rumors he has heard concerning a student stockpiling guns.Speaking up is important
Brimstone demonstrates how disasters such as the Columbine massacre can be averted when students feel like they belong and care enough about the well-being of others to report their concerns.
Tran reflects that “These people are my friends./ Nothing should happen to them/ because of my cowardice or/ indecision.”
It was a YA—short for “young adult”—librarian who first brought The Brimstone Journals to my attention. YA librarians are good people to get to know whether you are a teen, a teacher or a parent. They truly care about young people. It’s obvious from The Brimstone Journals that Ron Koertge also cares.
Photo from iUniverse
by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix
Teen Guide Job Search, 10 Easy Steps to Your Future, by Donald L. Wilkes and Viola Hamilton-Wilkes,
Getting a job is a year-round concern for many teenagers who either need or want to earn their own money.
Unfortunately, there is a shortage of books on the topic available through libraries and booksellers.
But one useful title that teens and their parents or teachers may want to access is Teen Guide Job Search: 10 Easy Steps to Your Future, by Donald L. Wilkes and Viola Hamilton-Wilkes.
Consider what pleases you
First published in 1991, Teen Guide Job Search is now in its sixth reprint. The first chapter offers one of the most important pieces of advice that adults can offer young job seekers: think about your likes and dislikes before job hunting.
The authors suggest considering a number of questions regarding this issue, including whether you like working (1) outside, (2) with children or (3) with computers. Also, they say it helps to identify your favorite school subjects and whether you like to be alone or surrounded by people.
Other chapters cover topics such as creating a resume, looking for job openings, dressing for interviews, filling out job applications correctly, knowing what behaviors to avoid during interviews and being aware of all the various kinds of paperwork involved in getting hired.
Short and to the point
The book is only 104 pages long, so each chapter is short and to the point. Also, each chapter is followed by review questions and answers.
There is nothing like finding work to boost morale, and there is nothing like preparation to impress a potential employer.
Finally, the authors conclude, “Once you get a job, you need to know how to keep it!” To find out their eight-point list of dos and don’ts on the job, look for Teen Guide Job Search at your local library.
Photo from Back Bay Books
by Alicia Rudnicki, Library MixWinter's Bone
, by Daniel Woodrell, Back Bay Books, 2006ISBN 0-316-06641-9
Fierce, desperate, and relentless as a force of nature, 16-year-old Ree Dolly spins into action and unthinkable trouble in Daniel Woodrell’s novel Winter’s Bone
, a novel for older teens as well as adults.
Ree is chopping wood on an icy winter day when a sheriff’s deputy arrives unwelcome at her home in the fictional Rathlin Valley of southern Missouri’s rolling, hilly Ozark plateau.
He tells Ree the bad news that her father, Jessup, has skipped a court date concerning his most recent arrest for cooking crystal meth—the main industry of her extended family and community.Large, menacing dilemma
Ree last saw Jessup in the autumn when he paced the porch as walnuts “were thumping to ground in the night like stalking footsteps of some large thing.”
The “large thing” begins to take shape as the deputy explains that Jessup put up their house and woods as bond. Ree, her mentally ill mother, and her two small brothers will soon be homeless if she doesn’t find Jessup.
So begins a treacherous backwoods journey on foot from one threatening relative to another through frigid winter storms so intense that Ree’s hoody becomes “an ice hat and her shoulders a cold hard yoke.”
When no one in the large Dolly clan reaches out to help, Ree begins to suspect that her loving, yet ever-disappearing father has vanished forever and in the worst way .Woodrell owns the Ozarks
Woodrell lives in the country he chronicles and has written a number of novels in a style that some refer to as hillbilly noir
. According to an interview by John Williams in the London newspaper, The Independent
, Woodrell lives near where he was born, which is West Plains in southern Missouri.
Nearby, Williams writes, is “a valley lined with down-at-the-heels houses. There’s an air of gypsy camp about this place: Collinsville, the inspiration for Winter’s Bone
Woodrell is to modern-day, backwoods Missouri as William Faulkner was to small-town Mississippi in the early twentieth century. It has been said that Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County was his “postage stamp.” Similar to Faulkner, Woodrell is developing the Ozarks as his own postage stamp. As Williams notes in his interview, Woodrell “brings the region and its people vividly to life.”A tangled logic
Woodrell does this in fine detail, such as when he explores the bizarre logic of men's names in the Dolly clan. Ree considers this as she hunkers down in an ice storm outside the house of Thump Milton Dolly, who is considered the leader of her large, tangled family. Ree waits in vain for hours, hoping for an audience with him.
“To occupy her mind, she decided to name all the Miltons: Thump, Blond, Catfish, Spider, Whoop, Rooster, Scrap…Lefty, Dog, Punch, Pink-eye, Momsy…Cotton, Hog-jaw, Ten Penny, Peashot…enough. Enough Miltons. To have but few male names in use was a tactic held over from the olden knacker ways…. Let any sheriff or similar nabob try to keep official accounts on the Dolly men when so many were named Milton, Haslam, Arthur or Jessup…. But the great name of the Dollys was Milton, and at least two dozen Miltons moved about in Ree’s world. If you named a son Milton it was a decision that attempted to chart the life he’d live before he even stepped into it, for among Dollys the name carried expectations and history.”
Despite all resistance, Ree persists. In the harsh yet hopeful end of Winter's Bone
she proves to be just as indomitable as Thump Milton.
Photo from Tor
by Alicia Rudnicki, Library MixThe Web of Titan, A Galahad Book, by Dom Testa, Tor Books, 2010,ISBN 0-765-36078-0
Spaceship commander Triana Martell and her super-smart crew of 250 teenagers are space pioneers. They have been specially selected to flee Earth where everyone over the age of 18 is succumbing to a fatal virus caused by the infectious dusts of a strange comet.
Dom Testa’s The Web of Titan, A Galahad Book
is the second novel in the author’s popular Galahad series about a perilous voyage to the far edge of the universe to find a new home and perpetuate humankind.
Triana and crew have been in space for less than a year and are still adjusting to the loss of their families and recovering from a near collision with tragedy. During the first novel, The Comet’s Curse
, they thwarted a suicidal, middle-aged stowaway intent on destroying the crew and Project Galahad.
As it zooms toward deep space in Web of Titan
, the crew is worried about its mysterious, upcoming assignment to retrieve a “transport pod” orbiting Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The pod was launched by a research station that lost contact with Galahad after requesting help.
Concern turns to puzzlement when Triana and her council discover there is only a kitten aboard the pod in a tiny cryogenic chamber. The larger cryogenic chamber intended for the cat's owner is empty.
Puzzlement becomes fear when a bizarre illness and other unusual occurrences begin to cripple Galahad.
Testa, who is also a well-known Denver radio personality, has created a likeable cast of responsible, competent teens. While the story touches on loneliness, attraction, and romantic longing, it is the crew’s work and dangerous challenges that drive the plot.
The author has also created a fascinating spaceship environment, which includes farms located under clear domes that allow gardeners to view the stars as well as a recreational track for “airboarding,” which is like airborne skateboarding.
After self-publishing his Galahad series beginning in 2005, the success of Testa’s novels attracted science fiction publishing house Tor, which is reissuing his work. The third book in the series, The Cassini Code, A Galahad Book
, is now available for pre-order from Amazon and is due out in November.
It appears that the self-published copies of Testa’s books are becoming collectible. In particular, used copies of Galahad 3: The Cassini Code
, which originally sold for $8.95, are being sold by three major online booksellers for prices ranging from about $50 to well over $100.
Readers who have to wait until November for the new Cassini
, may enjoy visiting Testa’s Club Galahad
site, which includes Triana’s ongoing journal entries as well as space and science news.
Another site to visit is the Big Brain Club
of Testa’s Big Brain Foundation, which the author says he began “to help young people overcome the peer pressure to dumb down.” It contains reading, writing, math, and science activities for students as well as articles for adults.
Paperback cover photo from Hyperion
by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix
Perhaps you know someone like Ethan, Julius, Jake, Lizzie, Hannah, Amanda or Maggie. Perhaps after you read about them in Claudia Mills
’ insightful tween-to-teen novels, they will seem like some of the kids on your block or at school.
They are the boys and girls next door worrying about problems including absentee dads, bad grades, cruel classmates, first love and intolerance.Kids caught in the middleMills
specializes in telling stories about children in the middle—kids from third grade through middle school and kids caught in the middle of the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Although Ethan doesn’t like Lizzie writing lovesick poetry about him, he doesn’t know how to make her stop without hurting her feelings in the worst way.
Julius has decided to define himself as a slacker. He has given up trying to do well in school, thinking that nothing he does will gain his parents’ approval.
Hannah wants to make friends, yet she fears that by fitting in she will lose herself.
Amanda is caught between two parents she loves but whose bickering has created civil war at home.
And Maggie knows she shouldn’t be falling for bad boy Jake, but fall she must into life-changing trouble.Creating likable characters
In addition to having published more than 40 books, ranging from picture books to novels for young teens, Mills is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Philosophers excel at pondering problems about making choices.
Mills’ characters are good thinkers who strive to do the right thing, especially after they do what is wrong. The author succeeds not only at tuning in to the concerns of young teens but also at creating likable characters who seem real and really nice. That is why Mills has won many awards, including the 2008 Colorado Book Award for The Totally Made-Up Civil War Diary of Amanda MacLeish
. See Library Mix's May 8, 2010 Mix & Shake Blog
for more about this powerful book.
Here are five quick peeks into the lives of some of Mills’ characters beginning with Ethan, Julius and Lizzie, all of whom live in the same neighborhood and inhabit three of the author’s novels. Mills classifies these novels as being among her "oldies," but they are certainly goodies.Losers, Inc.,
by Claudia Mills, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997, ISBN 978-07-8-681274-5
Ethan would like to be an academic and sports all-star similar to his older brother, but he never feels like he measures up in his accomplishments or his height. Peter always towers over him. So Ethan begins detailing his shortcomings in a book titled Life Isn’t Fair: A Proof. His best friend, Julius, suggests that they celebrate their mediocrity by forming a club called Losers, Inc. But Ethan disappoints Julius by deciding to become an excellent student when he develops a crush on his new student teacher. Then he dismays the ever-kind Julius by participating in a mean prank intended to get his lovesick classmate, Lizzie, to stop writing poems about him.You’re A Brave Man, Julius Zimmerman,
by Claudia Mills,
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999, ISBN 978-0-37-438708-2
There is no time for Julius to give in to the temptations of summer. His mother has developed an ambitious plan to improve him. It includes lots of reading, a summer job babysitting a difficult preschooler, and daily French lessons with the dreaded Madame Cowper who mortifies him by making everyone do “le Hokey Pokey.” Poor Julius can’t understand when to put his right foot in, take it out or shake it all about. It also really stinks that he has to potty train little Edison Blue or spend the summer changing diapers. Worse yet, he would like to appear manly to Edison’s beautiful and mysterious neighbor, Octavia, but she teases Julius for playing in the sandbox with Edison and his potty chair.Lizzie at Last,
by Claudia Mills, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000, ISBN 978-0-37-434659-1
Lizzie loves school but dreads the beginning of seventh grade. She just doesn’t fit in. Classmates make fun of the romantic, old-fashioned dresses she loves and criticize her for being a brainiac in all her classes. Lizzie’s Aunt Elspeth treats her to a shopping spree at The Gap to help Lizzie take the first step toward fitting in. Then Lizzie seeks advice from her nemesis, mean Marcia, about how to make Ethan like her. That’s when Lizzie learns how to giggle, flirt, and act like she doesn’t know all the answers in math. The only problem is that while Marcia’s boyfriend begins to like her, Ethan grows more distant.Hannah On Her Way,
by Claudia Mills, MacMillan Publishing Company, 1991, ISBN 0-689-71754-7
At ten years old, Hannah still loves to play dolls and wear her long, blonde hair in a braid. She enjoys building ice sculptures with her parents and spending long, solitary hours sketching her cat. Unlike the popular girls, Hannah isn’t interested in make-up or talking about boys. But she has no friends. It bothers her when the noisy, new girl, Caitlin, must sit next to her. What bothers her more is the ease with which Caitlin befriends the popular girls. Then Caitlin surprises Hannah by trying to become her friend. Of course, the surprises don’t stop there, and some are uncomfortable for Hannah.Standing Up to Mr. O,
Farrar, by Claudia Mills, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, paperback by Hyperion, 1998, ISBN 0-786-81404-7
Similar to Lizzie and Hannah, Maggie is an excellent student. Her favorite teacher is Mr. O., the biology instructor who always cracks corny jokes at the beginning of class. Normally the best student in his class, Maggie gets in trouble with him when she expresses her moral aversion to cutting open a live worm. Instead of participating in the dissection, she chooses to earn an “F” on her lab assignment. When the class tough guy, Jake, joins in the protest, things start getting ugly yet romantic at the same time. Contacting the author
Claudia Mills is becoming increasingly popular, so chances are good that you will find her books at your local library. Although she enjoys all the awards that she has won, Mills says the greatest reward is hearing from students who have enjoyed her books. To send her a note or learn more about how she became a writer, visit Mills homepage
Photo courtesy of Scholastic Press
by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix
Teens who enjoy sharing their opinions about good books they have read, often can publish their views on public library websites. Many libraries nationwide now have teen blog pages where you can share your opinions.
Some libraries help edit the reviews before they are posted. Others post them exactly the way you write them.When vampires dry up
Do you love all the vampire, werewolf, and zombie tales crowding library shelves these days or are you beginning to feel like “been there; done that” and want something new? Publishers are busy asking themselves what will happen when Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight fades
By offering your opinions on what’s hot and what stinks, you help to determine what gets published. Maybe you have discovered the next big publishing phenomenon. Will it be the futuristic teen gladiators of The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins?Teen blogs around the nation
If your local library doesn’t have a teen blog, maybe you can help it start one. Here are some examples to check out.Teen Books & More
Carnegie Public Library, Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaTeen Book Blog
Cheshire Public Library, Cheshire, ConnecticutBook Reviews for Teens
Chicago Public Library, Chicago, Illinois Evolver Teen Picks
Denver Public Library, Denver, ColoradoRead It! For Teens by Teens
Jefferson County Public Library, ColoradoFor Teens Blog
Mead Public Library, Sheboygan, WisconsinYour Reviews
Multnomah County Library, Portland, Oregon Novi Teens Read
Novi Public Library, Novi, MichiganTeenspace
Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
So read on, write on, and let publishers know what you like!
Photo courtesy of Little, Brown
by Alicia Rudnicki, Library MixClick Here (to find out how I survived seventh grade), by Denise Vega, 2005, ISBN 0-316-05899-8
It is the beginning of Erin Penelope Swift’s first year in middle school, and she is scared of the social challenges to come. In short, she isn’t feeling too swift.
Erin’s feet are way too big and present a great opportunity for teasing. Her body is straight as a yardstick and holds no promise of curves. Her best friend, the beautiful, theatrical Jilly, has been assigned to another “track” and only sees her before school and at lunch. Her worst elementary school enemy, Serena, is on her track and out to get her.
Finally, Mark (also known as “Cute Boy” in Erin’s private blog) is friendly, but doesn’t seem to think of her as “Cute Girl.” She is just one of his best friends in the computer club and on the basketball court.
Welcome to Molly Brown Middle School. Welcome to Erin’s “Year of Humiliating Events.” Welcome to Denise Vega’s truly funny tween novel Click Here (to find out how i survived seventh grade)
won the 2005 Colorado Book Award
for young adult fiction. Vega
notes that it was the sixth novel she wrote and the first to get published. Four years later, she won the Colorado Book Award again for another teen novel, Fact of Life #31
. This year, Vega’s vibrant picture book, Grandmother, Have the Angels Come
, has been nominated for a Colorado Book Award for children’s literature.
In Click Here
, 12-year-old Erin is confused about a lot of things. Does she really not have a mind of her own as Serena Worthington (a.k.a. Serena Poopendena) implies by calling her a “puppet?” Is it true that she always lets Jilly dress her and tell her what choices to make? Will she be kicked out of school for popping Serena Poopendena in the nose? Is Jilly really blind to Erin’s crush on cute Mark? Doesn’t Mark see that it is torture for her to discuss Jilly while shooting hoops one-on-one with him?
The messier her life gets, the funnier Erin’s story becomes. Fortunately, she befriends the philosophical school custodian, Mr. Foslowski, who advises her not to be too sad about not having a boyfriend.
“Friends are like a good Tootsie Pop,” Mr. Foslowski. “They last longer.” Mr. F encourages Erin to reach for a cherry Tootsie Pop whenever life gets tough.
Like a Tootsie Pop, Vega’s novel is sweet and gives readers plenty to chew on. Readers who have just entered their teen years will likely also enjoy the novel’s sequel, Access Denied (and other eighth grade error messages)
, which is more bittersweet than sugary.