An Interview with Isabel Quintero!

Honestly, I’m not one to watch the Grammys, the AMAs, the People’s Choice Awards, or even the Oscars.  But I do tune in religiously to the announcement of the winners of the Youth Media Awards every January at ALA Midwinter.  As with any award, I am awful at picking nominees and winners (good thing I don’t gamble!), but I always have my favorites.

I was able to attend Midwinter in Chicago in 2015 (during a rather spectacular blizzard) and meet Isabel Quintero, whose debut novel Gabi, A Girl in Pieces was up for the Morris Award that year.  And Gabi won!  We are really excited to have Isabel on TSU today to talk about Gabi and the writing process.

P: Gabi talks a lot about the accusation that she’s “trying to be White” or “not Mexican enough” when she’s just being herself.  Was that something you experienced and used for her character?  


I: Well, there are two things that are going on. The first is that Gabi’s mom is constantly worried about Gabi being a good girl–a good Mexican girl– and her mom has a clear idea of what that means. A good girl is pure, doesn’t question cultural, gender, or societal expectations, and she doesn’t talk back. Even though Gabi is technically an American, her mom doesn’t see her that way. For her mom, Americans are white and Gabi is not, and any behavior that deviates from what Gabi’s mom expects from a good Mexican girl means that Gabi is trying to be something she is not. Being bicultural is a tough road to navigate sometimes, and that is definitely something that I experienced growing up and even as an adult. My mom definitely had good girl and bad girl outlined, and I was usually not a good girl. Now that I am older, she and I can have discussions and talk through things and I can assert myself and tell her, “Look, this may not what you expected of me or how you think a woman should behave, but this is the kind of woman I am.” I think that what we ignore is that there is no one way to be Mexican or Chicana, however stereotypes reinforce single narratives which in turn people take as fact.


P: The body positivity and and love of food that Gabi has is so refreshing to read.  What was it like to write that aspect of her?  


I: Funny you should ask. It was both easy and difficult. Easy because that part of Gabi was very Isabel. I’ve struggled with body image issues my whole life and it wasn’t until after 30 that I started really loving my body. I look back and think of all the time I had spent hating it and punishing myself for not being thin, and it’s heartbreaking. When I wrote the book, I was having Gabi tell herself things that I wish I would have been able to tell myself before, in the hopes that young women reading it would realize that we need to love our bodies, all of our bodies because they are the only one we have. And it is tough to undo years of family and society telling us that we need to look different, but it can be done. Sure, sometimes I still struggle but for the most part I’m okay and happy in my skin. The food part, that was super easy because I love to eat and always have. Food is always on my mind.


P: Did you ever get any pushback for including two teen pregnancies and a coming out in your story?  


I: I’ve heard and read some folks say, “It’s too much stuff,” “That can’t possibly happen in one year,” and I’m like, “Yeah. It can.” Again, when we stick to a single narrative of what it means to be a teen, in this case a Chicana, an American teen, we don’t allow space for the plethora of experiences had by teens across the country.


P: Gabi is one of the most real books I’ve ever read–and when I booktalk it to teens, they always take it.  In fact, I rarely see it on my library’s shelves.  What’s the best feedback you’ve gotten from teens about the book?


I: This is a tough one. I’m glad to hear that your teens keep the book circulating. I don’t like hearing teens say, “I hate reading,” but it makes me feel good when they say, “I hate reading but I love your book and now I want to read more.” Or when I get emails from readers that tell me that it’s the first time they’ve seen themselves in a book, that it’s like I’m writing about their life, that makes me feel like I’ve done my job.


P: Gabi’s Boys Will Be Boys list is something I’ve read out loud to coworkers and teens.  To me, it’s the teen feminist version of Amy’s “cool girl” monologue in Gone Girl, only with fewer homicidal tendencies.  A lot of adults underestimate how much teen girls have simply accepted men’s sexist behavior.  What role do you see YA literature playing in changing this narrative?


I: (Hides face in shame) I haven’t read Gone Girl, but thank you for reading “Boys Will Be Boys” out loud. I am particularly proud of that section. I think YA can definitely combat what is acceptable in regards to sexist behavior.  Folks underestimate the power of YA and young people. When I think about how much Michele Serros’ Chicana Falsa or Sandra Cisneros’ Loose Woman helped me see myself in a more complete way, as a young woman who could be sexual, who had a voice, who had something worthy enough to say and to be heard, I know that there is a great power in literature. Those books were not YA but I think the same reasoning can be applied to YA; if feminist literature is put in the hands of young people (not just young women) and the work is discussed, it can surely change the narrative of misogyny. I mean think about YA that has romanticized the idea of a boy coming into your room at night to watch you sleep and how that idea has been proliferated. Yeah, YA definitely has a role in changing the sexist bullshit we are taught to accept.  


P: Carne asada or hot wings?


I: Oh man. This is a tough one. It depends on where the carne asada is from and what kind of tortillas are used. Nothing ruins a delicious carne asada taco more than crappy tortillas. If wings, lemon pepper and buffalo. With beer, always beer. Or ginger beer.


Thank you so much, Isabel!  If you haven’t read Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, I strongly urge you to check it out.  And be on the lookout for three (yes THREE!) new books from Isabel in the next year!




Reader vs reader: Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Woman Living History

Welcome to Reader vs. Reader (anyone have any wicked name suggestions???).  Two librarians who have read the same book will discuss it critically.  They may agree, agree on certain points, or completely disagree.  RvR will challenge your reading comfort zone and dig deeply into the text to find potential problems or subtle brilliance.  And maybe both.  

In , Andrea and Pam both read Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Woman Live History

Reader vs reader: Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Woman Living History

As a young girl growing up in the fifties, Hillary Diane Rodham had an unusual upbringing for the time-her parents told her, "You can do or be whatever you choose, as long as you're willing to work for it." Hillary took those words and ran. Whether it was campaigning at the age of thirteen in the 1964 presidential election, receiving a standing ovation and being featured in LIFE magazine as the first student commencement speaker at Wellesley, or graduating from Yale Law School-she was always one to stand out from the pack.

And that was only the beginning. Today, we have seen Hillary in many roles. From First Lady of the United States to the first female Senator of New York and most recently as the United States Secretary of State. An activist all her life, she has been devoted to health care reform, child care, and women's rights, among others. And she's still not done.

The Quick Reactions:

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Pam: As a readable and not snoozeworthy biography in YA, which I find difficult to locate, thumbs up.


Andrea: As a YA Biography, I found this one highly readable. While it is near 400 pages, I found in interesting and learned a lot I didn’t know about Hillary. Teens would probably learn even more.


Snippet of our conversation (Warning: spoilers everywhere!):


Ask an Agent: Activities for Teen Advisory Board?

askanagent2You’ve got questions,  we’ve got answers! Our volunteer Agents are on the job! Here’s what they have to say this week….

Question: What are some activities and tasks you give your Teen Advisory Boards to do? I am in the process of revamping the entire teen program and don’t want this group to simply be a glorified decoration making committee.


Teen Winter Reading

Winter Reading!

Almost all of us do Summer Reading but what about Winter Reading?

This summer my turn in numbers were down for Summer Reading turn ins. Not a lot, but definitely significant. Could it have been because of Pokémon Go or was I do something different than last time that teens didn’t like? Maybe it was the grand prize or the prizes in general? I wasn’t totally sure and my surveys didn’t help too much; they said that liked everything! So this winter, I decided to try something new and introduced Winter Reading.

Unlike the Summer Reading chart, this chart was BINGO style and it lasted only about a month, starting before school’s winter break and ending a week after. Teens has to complete one BINGO and were entered to win a prize basket of their choice: gift cards to local businesses, Fandom Basket, or Avid Reader Basket.

Seeing as this was my first year doing Winter Reading, I was really hoping for a return of 20 sheets. Unlike Summer Reading, there was no registration so I don’t know how many initially signed up. However, I had a better return than I thought I would with 45!

Also surprisingly, not everyone did the same BINGO line! Yes, there was a clear favorite but overall I was surprised by what was chosen. Also, because I am weird and love love love stats, I broke down how many teens did each BINGO. Yes, this was weirdly highly satisfying, gratifying, and enjoyable. I’m so weird, haha!

Overall, I would say that Winter Reading was a hit and I will for sure be doing it come winter 2017. What I liked best about Winter Reading was that it showed me that you can be versatile in how you make your reading charts and switching things up can be a really great thing. Keeping Summer Reading and Winter Reading fresh with new elements can be beneficial for you and your teens!

We want to hear from you! Do you do Winter Reading for your teens? How do you run it?

Developing your Personal Teen Services Model

This year, my library is working on a new strategic plan.  For those unfamiliar with the process, this includes surveying the public and staff, identifying a few key areas for improvement, and developing focused goals to address over the next few years.  One of the focus areas that my library has identified, is teen services. YAY! While this excites me and gets me chomping at the bit for the chance to really make some changes and start pulling together an awesome action plan, it’s also made me extremely aware of the fact that one of my services to teens is in the education of other adults about teens. Perhaps even starting with members of my own library’s staff.

For new teen librarians, and even for those of us who’ve been in the field for a while, this is a daunting task,  Trying to convince or explain to other adults what teens need and deserve, especially in the face of teen behavior, is difficult to say the least. I’ve had to develop a tough skin and prepare my own elevator pitch for what I believe about teen services.  If you’re really interested in making a difference in the lives of your library’s teens, here are a few tips I’d suggest for helping to build your service model:

  • ATTEND young adult and teen focused workshops whenever possible.  
    • Even if your position doesn’t have a professional development budget for this, keep an eye out for free webinars and workshops.  YALSA has a good core group of free on-demand webinars on their site.
    • Also, think outside of the library field.  Various mentoring groups and programs have trainings and education materials as well!
  • JOIN a special interest group for teen librarians.  
    • I’m lucky in that Illinois has a couple of different teen-focused networking groups for library professionals.  These groups provide the opportunity to share resources, ideas, and get advice on some of the unique hurdles we face in service this age group.  Check your state’s library association, or ask around.  If you can’t find one near you, consider starting one yourself!  Online groups, such as ours are great resources also.
  • LISTEN to the teens themselves, and also the adults who misunderstand them.
    • It’s easy to cringe at some of the things adults say about (and sometimes directly to) teens, but really listening to the comments and dissecting what’s really being asked for, will help you find a focus.  
    • For instance, patrons begin complaining about the number of teens congregating in the front of the building or in the doorway of the library.  Could it be that the front of the building is where teens wait for parents? Is it the best place for cell phone reception or charging in the building?    
  • COLLECT research to support your goals and data to back you up.  My favorite resources are listed below.  I also take photos of every program, jot down responses from teens themselves where possible, and take note of any positive reactions from adults.  These little program snapshots come in handy when you’re working to give a face to the data.
    • Presenting at conferences and workshops may be intimidating, but it’s important that you share what you learn with other teen advocates so that we can continue to build this dynamic network.  Also, professionally speaking, doing presentations and workshops helps to develop your credibility when speaking with your library administration, board, and community.
    • There will always be some nuts that are harder to crack, and you may hit some walls.  Perhaps the pushback from adult patrons is moving your library to make decisions about teens that you don’t agree with.  While adults can advocate for themselves, your teens need you to stand their ground for them in the places where they can’t be.   For some libraries, perhaps you can actually prepare and invite teens to speak to the library board for themselves.  In either case, trust that you know what you’re talking about, and remind yourself that they need you to speak up and stand firm.

Remember, no two teen advocates are the same, and that is awesome because no two teens are the same either.   For every teen that enters your doors, crosses your path, or becomes the topic of your library’s board meetings, your unique perspective on their needs, combined with the studies, research, and evidence-based materials that are constantly being released, acts as a shield for them.  With a clear focus in hand, and a repertoire of responses for common misunderstandings about teens, YOU have the power to change people’s perspectives on teens, and to help cultivate a brighter future for and with them.  

Are you doing some amazing advocacy work for your teens?  Have a great elevator pitch for your teen service model? Tell us about it in the comments.


My Favorite Resources:

Young Adults Deserve the Best: YALSA’s Competencies in Action

Standards for the 21st Century Learner

National Forum on Libraries and Teens

“The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: a Call to Action”

Urban Teens in the Library

The 40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents

What Your Manager Wishes You Knew

The Legacy format of Board Games

You’ve played Risk.  You may have even played Pandemic, one of my all-time favorite cooperative board games.  But have you played either of them in the Legacy format?

“Legacy format?  What’s that?” you ask.  Strap in, because you’re about to learn how fun a board game can be when you write in permanent marker on the board, rip up cards, and change the game each and every time it’s played.  That’s right, we’re going to deface public property – if, of course, your library owns the copy of the game.  If it’s your own, you’re really just destroying your own stuff, but that’s the whole point of this format!  The game evolves as you go along.

The Legacy format was introduced in 2012 with Risk: Legacy, and it’s an entirely new type of and way to play board games that you may have enjoyed for years and years.  It requires the purchase of the game, such as Pandemic: Legacy or Risk: Legacy, because the Legacy format has special cards, pieces, and various other items that aren’t included in the typical versions of Pandemic and Risk.  This is a totally separate game from the originals, not an expansion.

For Legacy games, the first game does start out and play like a typical game – at least, until the instructions instruct you to open an envelope or container and follow the new rules or alter the board.  That’s where the fun really begins.  The decisions you make in the early playthroughs affect the board state forever, and places that get destroyed or become inaccessible alter the strategy from that point forward.  Early playthrough strategies become impossible, and winning may get more difficult each time you play.

The Legacy format also means that the game is not re-playable forever, and thus isn’t really suited to a board game collection that circulates.  The format is best suited for a set group of people due to the investment of time and effort put in.  The game does eventually ‘end’ and may have a storyline to it, such as in Pandemic: Legacy.  To complete Pandemic: Legacy it would take between 12 and 24 playthroughs, and it wouldn’t be the same experience a second time through as you already know what could happen since some events happen at a set point in the game.

“If you can only play these games a limited number of times, how popular can they really be?” you may ask.  How about becoming the most popular game of all time on Board Game Geek, one of the most well known board game websites?  Pandemic: Legacy achieved that status in less than a year of being released, and I’m thoroughly unsurprised.  It’s a phenomenal game, and I haven’t even played through the whole first season yet!

So, how can Legacy games be utilized in the library?  What I would recommend is to have a group of teens play Pandemic at a board game program.  Let them play it a couple of times, get a good feel for the rules, and then tell them about the Legacy format.  Explain that they would get to change the game as they go along by ripping up cards, killing off characters, and possibly causing the world to fall into ruin.  I would be surprised if they didn’t jump at the chance.

Pandemic was already one of the most popular games at my library, so when I brought up the idea of running Pandemic: Legacy as an addition to the weekly gaming program for the 2016 Summer Reading Program, the Teen Advisory Board loved the idea.  As Pandemic: Legacy is a 2-4 player game, we decided that a maximum of 8 players could register to play the game throughout the summer so that they could stay invested in the game.  If more than 4 people showed up to play Pandemic: Legacy during a gaming program, the additional people could act as Center for Disease Control advisors to help the actual players succeed.  In practice, though, we generally had 3 or 4 actual players each week while the other registered teens decided to play other board games or video games.  While we didn’t finish the entire Pandemic: Legacy Season 1 over the course of one summer, it was still a blast and the teens reported that they really enjoyed it.

While Pandemic: Legacy and Risk: Legacy are the first two Legacy format games to come out, the original designer of the Legacy format has just released a new game in the same style called SeaFall – a seafaring exploration game.  While I haven’t seen any announcements of other upcoming Legacy format games, I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to be a trend over the next decade or more.

Board games have become more and more popular over the last 15 years and this is one of the ways in which the medium has started to evolve.  Try to keep an open mind to the concept of permanently altering a board game as you go along.  You’re paying and playing for the experience, not just an endlessly repeatable game.  It was hard for me to appreciate this format at first, but after I wrapped my head around it and looked at it as an experience rather than an addition to the collection, I appreciated the Legacy format for what it was.  Happy gaming!

Chilling Reads: Books to Keep You Warm this Winter–Display Board and Booklist

I work in a library with a separate teen space where we have a decent amount of shelf space but, sadly, no walls. I work around this problem with displays that I create on a foam core board that I display on a table with related books in front of it.

This month I wanted to set up a display that could be timely for a while (not tied to a specific month like New Year’s resolutions) and had a related booklist. Which led me to chilling reads:

I love a good pun and wanted to do something unexpected so I made a Chilling Reads graphic in PicMonkey with some stock clip art found through Creative Commons and put the display together with some exciting and thrilling reads.

I started with books I knew I wanted to highlight that had dramatic covers and then I used PicMonkey’s collage feature to make each graphic with a book cover, quote, and some background swatches offered by PicMonkey in different themes.

I made the booklist for the display in my library’s catalog (we use BiblioCommons) and printed out the list for patrons to grab if the display catches their attention.

My booklist, Chilling Reads: Books to Keep You Warm this Winter, includes eleven titles which I discovered (after some experimentation) fit perfectly on a double-sided sheet of paper when printed.

Here’s the fully stocked display:

What are some of your favorite chilling reads? Have you read any of the titles I included here? What displays are you putting in your library this winter?

Ask an Agent: Board Members Want Teen on Board?

askanagent2You’ve got questions,  we’ve got answers! Our volunteer Agents are on the job! Here’s what they have to say this week….

Question:  An adult library board member is asking to have a teen sit on the library board with all the adult board members. (We do have a library
Teen advisory group, too). He was inspired by the local school board having a teen as a member. This is GREAT that he’s thinking of teens,
and If the teens are interested, I’m for it, BUT…the meetings are pretty boring, albeit, potentially educational…how do I keep this from being token-ism? How do I make sure the teen has a real voice on the board vs. head patting. What expectations & responsibilities should the teen have? Any thoughts??


Free Comic Book Day- Prepare Now!

Free Comic Book Day should be an actual programming notation on library calendars, similar to the start of summer reading, International Gaming Day, and Dia de los Ninos / Dia de los Libros. Always held the first Saturday in May, this is the day when comic lovers and newbies alike come together and bond over their love of everything comic related. The comic industry has created special comics and pieces that vendors hand out, the movie industry has tailored its blockbuster releases in recent years to launch a comic-related movie over this weekend (this year it’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2), and more and more libraries are coming on board and celebrating FCBD at their locations as well.

But if it’s in May, why are we talking about it now? Because like all good programs, FCBD takes a certain amount of planning and coordination, and if you don’t start working on it now, you may be too late to do all the things you want to do for it. For example:


Making the most of vendor relationships

I’ve always been the kind of person who prefers independence while browsing a store. If a salesperson asks me if they can help me with anything, I generally mumble some version of “Just looking, thanks,” and try to move on as quickly as possible.

I’ve clearly brought some of my personal habits into my professional life when it comes to sales and vendors. I’ve always tried to figure out what I want quickly from online reviews, professional journals, or past experience, make a purchase without advice, and move on. But, I’m learning that there are definite reasons to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with the vendors I’ve chosen to use in my library.

When a vendor reached out to me earlier this year wanting to help make a customized book purchasing list for the library, I was just too busy not to give it a try.  I was looking to add more high-interest, low reading level books to add to the collection and knew it would be a week or two until I could start a good list myself with the other responsibilities on my plate at the time. The recommendations were great! I didn’t purchase them all because they weren’t all a perfect fit and I added a few others before making a final purchase, but it was just the help I needed to be able to get the books into the library a little faster. As a solo librarian, I’m learning that vendor relationships can help me get a little bit more done if I can build them and use them effectively, and it’s changing my approach.

A few quick tips for making relationships with vendors better meet your needs: 

  • Reach out to your vendors to get information about new products and targeted recommendation lists that will meet your needs. The more you reach out, the happier you will be with vendor recommendations and special offers because they will be more tailored to your library’s needs.
  • Many vendors offer free or low-cost webinars, book lists, or book talks that can help with your ordering or your work with teens. Check them out!
  • Accept invitations to special events or roundtables when you can. Sometimes, these events can be a venue for you to offer feedback about the kinds of services or improvements that would better meet the needs of organizations like yours.
  • Get to know new vendors when you attend conferences and consider setting up meetings with your sales reps from current vendors if they will be attending.
  • Keep vendor account information and contacts in a centralized location to make phone and email communication easier.
  • Be clear when products and services are not going to meet your needs and be clear about your budget for a particular order, service, or solution. For me, this has been just as important as starting to reach out because I’m still not keen on high-pressure pitches especially if it’s clear that the product won’t work for the library.