Breaking the Binary: Novels about Teens Who Transcend Binary Gender Identity

“I’m so glad you guys have books about gender-ish stuff!”  – One of my regular teen patrons, after telling me thought she might be gender fluid.


There are many different gender identities that fall in between or outside of the male-female binary. In the past couple years, I’ve had quite a few teens (and parents of teens) come to me looking for books about being transgender and/or gender non-conformity.  A few of these teens are trans, a few are gender fluid, and a few are simply questioning.


As allies, it’s important for us to be well-versed in the many ways gender identity is expressed, and to strive to provide books reflecting that diversity. Thankfully, this is becoming easier every day as more and more diverse books are being published. Since June is Pride Month, it’s a great time to examine your collection to make sure it contains materials that help raise awareness about teens who transcend binary gender identity. Here are just a few suggestion to get you started:

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

Eighth grader Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy on the outside. When she meets Dunkin, a boy struggling with Bipolar Disorder, they slowly learn to show each other their true selves.


The Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Riley is a gender fluid teen who is struggling to fit into a world that does not understand non-binary gender. Further complicating things are Riley’s politician father, and the kids at school who can’t handle not knowing Riley’s biological sex. At a therapist’s suggestion, Riley starts writing a blog, but when it goes viral, Riley must decide whether or not to make their secret public.


When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

In this lyrical work of magical realism, Sam and Miel, both outsiders, have grown up loving and protecting each other. Miel knows that Sam wasn’t born a biological male, and Sam accepts the roses that grow from Miel’s wrists, and paints moons around town to calm her fears. When the Bonner sisters learn that Miel’s roses might be magical, they threaten to destroy Sam and Miel’s special bond.


Girl Mans Up by M.E. Girard

16 year old Pen is a girl who looks like a boy. She’s fine with it, but everyone else is uncomfortable–especially her Portuguese parents and her best friend who doesn’t always get it. Her parents want her to dress like a girly girl, but her friends want her to be one of the guys. Can’t she just be Pen?


Tomboy by Liz Prince

This graphic novel memoir is about Liz’s life as a tomboy. Growing up, she always preferred boy clothes and never had any interest in stereotypical  girly things like princesses, but she still identified as a girl. Liz explores all the different ways someone can “be a girl” challenging traditional notions of femininity.

I’m just scratching the surface with this short list. What are some of your favorite books about gender non-conforming teens? Please share in the comments!


Ask An Agent: How Do I Get Teens to Stop Trolling?

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:  How do I counteract the influence of internet troll culture in my public library teen room? There’s a troubling worship of bullying via trolling going on among many of my regulars, and while I can shut down instances of the behavior, I’m having trouble attacking the root causes. I’m working on a display but I’m not sure what else I can do beyond hammering away at it not being acceptable behavior.


Tween to Teen Crossover Programming

At my library teen services is in the adult department instead of the youth department, which can create quite a gap when it comes time for the kids to transition over to teen. Due to this a coworker in the youth department and I chose to start creating crossover programming for grades 5 to 8. By doing this it gave the kids a chance to know me before officially moving over so they were more comfortable attending programs and participating in the teen summer reading program.


One of the programs we created was our library’s version of Battle of the Books. This Battle of the Books is for grades 5 to 8 and we have the kids read all of the Rebecca Caudill Award Nominees. To promote this we did book talks at the surrounding grade and middle schools. This was our third year doing the program and we actually broke the fire code (oops!) during the informational meeting.


For this program we have groups of about 5 to 6, with each child reading 4 or 5 books out of the 20, though some chose to read them all! We attempted to break them up into teams with multiple ages so they get to know kids outside of their grade and their school, as well as getting to know me. We also have teacher teams participate after we have the final battle and they compete against the winning student team. This program has been a great way to introduce kids to new friends, new teachers, and new library staff!


Another program we implemented was The Margin Project. The Margin Project is where there are specifically labeled books that patrons can write in while they read. They can highlight, underline, draw pictures, ask questions, and respond to previous readers. We have a collection in both the youth services and teen services department. By having this in both departments, it is something similar that they will find when they transition into the new department. It is also great crossover as many older tweens/teens in youth services are reading young adult books. This gives them a way to be involved in the department before they are officially in it.


We are coming up with more programs that we would like to implement and we are constantly looking for new ways to help the tweens and teens interact more with each other, interdepartmentally. Are there any crossover programs that you’ve found have worked great at your library?

Bring Them Back! Strategies for School Library End-of-Year Materials Collection

The summer reading list is finished. The research projects have been presented and graded. It’s almost time for summer break. But before school librarians pump up the volume on a little Alice Cooper there’s one more important task that must be completed: end-of-year materials collection. It’s that special few weeks at the end of the school year when school librarians turn into stalkers, lurking at every locker and cubby clean out, hounding students as they file by during morning arrival and afternoon dismissal and generally trying every trick in the book to have library materials returned.

Over the years I’ve developed some strategies for maximizing returns that play on students interest in pop culture, anything video/internet-related, candy and, of course, peer pressure. I never seem to quite get all of the materials back (some books were surely abandoned and/or met untimely ends in puddles and the like), but here are some of my tried and true methods for getting the “Lost” book count down to single digits.


Do your students love YouTube? Mine sure do. Knowing this, my amazingly talented library assistant created a short video that we played at morning meeting and followed it up with an announcement that homerooms with all materials returned by a certain date would receive a treat.

Wanted/Missing Posters

In addition to trying to get back materials that we know students have, we always have a bunch of books that seem to grow legs and walk out of the library without ever being checked out. At the start of May we do a full library inventory to determine what’s missing and then put forth an effort to encourage their return with fun “Missing” posters hung in the library’s front windows. Any student who returns one of these books receives a piece of candy, no questions asked. It’s amazing how hard a teenager will look for something if there is candy involved.

Peer Pressure/Friendly Competition

As mentioned previously, any homeroom with all materials returned gets a special treat. This friendly competition gets students to badger one another to return materials without me having to do anything. To respect the privacy of students, I won’t say what materials a person has checked out, but I provide the homeroom teachers with a list of names of students who still owe library materials. When a homeroom has all materials returned, their name goes on the poster in the front window for all to see. The treat is typically either candy or a freeze pop. Cheap and easy!

Summer Reading Prizes

It’s official. Summer Reading is here. We thought we’d kick things off with talking about prizes that our teens were excited about this year.

Andrea says: I’ll admit my teens didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm this year. They were happy with my suggestions but didn’t get super excited about anything. (Seriously, in the past they’ve had 10-minute discussions on how they wanted a mother-duck stuffed animal/chest/etc that opened to million of baby duckies inside. They love those oriental trading duckies a little too much.) However, the thing that probably made them perk up the most was that I was putting fidget cubes in the end-of-summer gift baskets and that we were doing weekly raffles for $5 gift cards.

Jenni says: My teens are divided into two camps. The larger group wants fandom-related prizes like Pop figures, buttons, and anything related to SuperWhoLock. The smaller group (I call them anti-fandom in my head) would prefer something more practical, like gift cards.

Molly says: At my last TAB meeting, I asked my teens what kind of prizes they wanted and it was a unanimous vote for gift cards, which I expected. There were a couple of suggestions for movie tickets (which the closest movie theater generously donated!) and also for art supplies. One mentioned wanting gift cards for “Android stuff”, so I have 2 $10.00 gift cards for Google Play. I’m changing things up this year and making scratch tickets for the teens, so I will have some small prizes like books, candy, etc. and one or 2 larger prizes (gift cards, mostly) to win every week. Losing tickets will go into a raffle for a grand prize, which will be a $50 Amazon gift card. Hoping this increases my stagnant teen summer reading numbers! Here’s the most recent link for how to make scratch tickets (“scratchies”)for summer reading and how to run the program from 5 Minute Librarian.

Elizabeth says: For lo, these many years, we’ve had a treasure chest full of kitsch from Oriental Trading, but we’re switching it up this year. Our prizes are lanyards, stylus pens, earbuds, and free books. The little kids still have their treasure chest full of goodies, but the teens are excited for their prizes. Our grand prize for teens is an Amazon gift card.

Casey says: I give one prize and then the rest of their achievements receive raffle tickets. My young adults, who are mostly middle schoolers, asked for fidget cubes (but I asked too early and they weren’t in total craze form yet so I dropped the ball – I probably will have some in my summer raffles) and then candy and chips. Last year, I went with sunglasses that had our library name on them and the leftovers are still a very hot commodity. This year, I went with color changing cups with our library name and they are over the moon. Especially for the one that turns yellow and makes water look EXTRA appetizing…..

Sleeper Books You Might Have Missed

Hype is huge when it comes to promoting books–especially social media hype and the general furore of bloglandia when a new book is announced. Of course, it always helps if a title has a gorgeous cover (sparking #coverlust) or a delicious-sounding ship or a wildly popular author. I enjoy fangirling as much as the next girl, but sometimes I feel sad about books that I read and loved and don’t hear many people talking about. If you like this list, I encourage you to check out Julie’s feature #QuietYA on Twitter and the associated Tumblr.

A Season of Daring Greatly by Ellen Emerson White.

Drea and I just talked about this one, but I refuse to stop talking about it. If I, who find myself perpetually bored by baseball and hoping for a dugout rush-to-fight, was captured by Jill’s love of baseball and her determination to make it in the big leagues, anyone will. If you’re sad that Pitch didn’t get renewed, grab this book, and then let’s petition White for more in the series.


Flying by Carrie Jones

This book is hysterically funny and features some of the most creative euphemisms for sex that I’ve ever read (solely for comedic effect. The main characters have agency, believe me). Mana’s always been good at cheerleading, but never jump-10-feet-straight-up-good. And when her super-boring, super-nice mom disappears, she quickly realizes that something extraterrestrial is going on. Silly book seekers only for this one–but sometimes, that’s just what a teen needs.

Jonesy by Sam Humphries and Caitlyn Rose Boyle.

This is not your typical superhero comic. Jonesy’s superpower is being able to make anyone fall in love with anything–except it doesn’t work on herself. Dangit. But whatever. Jonesy is an ultra-sarcastic, super-skeptical emo-goth Latinx high-schooler who is always having The Worst Day Ever. It doesn’t help that her dad is a perpetually perky guy who runs the best, happiest donut shop in town. Pitch-perfect dialogue, retina-searing color work, and cranky heroine make this series one to watch.

The Death and Life of Zebulon FinchVols. 1 & 2 by Dan Kraus

These hefty tomes require a time-commitment, and it’s time well-spent. If your teens can’t find anything gory enough, give them Dan Kraus. His quiet brand of horror is somehow infinitely more terrifying than slasher ax murderers. Zebulon Finch also has great crossover appeal, with its infinitely-seventeen protagonist, who also happens to be clinically dead and mildly psychopathic.

Rootless by Chris Howard

I’d categorize this as eco-dystopian horror, if there is such a thing. Banyan follows in his father’s footsteps by sculpting trees, now extinct, out of scrap metal. But when rumors spread that there may still be living trees in the world, people will do anything to get it. Anything.

Want by Cindy Pon

Okay, so technically this isn’t out yet. But it’s still flying way too low under the radar for my comfort. Cindy Pon (Serpentine, also a good one to check out!) has written an Own Voices sci-fi set in near-future Taipei. This has everything: smart girls, teen heists, flying motorcycles, and mouth-watering descriptions of food.

Any books you’d add to this list? What are your lesser-known favorites?

YA SMACKDOWN May 2017 Round-up

Welcome to our YA Smackdown Round-Up! For those of you who haven’t heard about it, YA Smackdown is an informal, guerrilla-style idea-sharing activity for teen library service professionals. It’s always fun and there’s something to learn for everyone.

You can join in on a Smackdown at various professional events, start your own with our handy downloadable kit, or join in on a TSU-hosted challenge on social media every Wednesday! (Find us on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr.)

After each month, we’ll post a collection of some of the more noteworthy responses. We hope you’ll all join in every week!

Describe Your Dream Teen Area

An entire floor, a fully stocked fridge, fully staffed, booths and bean bag chairs, one velcro wall, one chalk board wall, tons of windows, TV, video games, plenty of tech & computers, AND SO MANY BOOK SHELVES. I need more book shelves. – Katy K.

Fully staffed. – Cindy S.

One half of the library, more shelves, chairs/rug/bean bag chair aka “Chill Area”, area for computers, windows for natural light, wall space to hang posters, whiteboards for interactive passive teen activities as well as to use for studying, a reference desk for me to be of service for them, study room that can be signed out to, charging stations, funding for supplies so they can print, staple, glue, etc. – Kelly L.


What is Something that Every Teen Services Librarian Needs?

A sense of humor. – Rachel E.

A good poker face. – Mandy H.

A supportive staff/coworkers who are consistent and fair to the teens when the teen librarian isn’t around/is busy. – Jessy G.


Favorite Craft Program?

Perler beads. Hands-down, this is the most popular craft I do with my teens. They BEG to have programs centered just on Perler beads (and it gives me a chance to teach them how to use an iron, which many of them have never done). I even keep some of their in-progress projects on a shelf in my office between programs. – Jenni F.

Candy sushi. – Drue W.

Bento boxes. A lot of work, but we filled every available space two years running. – Sandra G.


Positivity Post-Its

Last November was the first time I ever heard one of my teens talk about politics. Everyone was edgy–even teens who really didn’t have an opinion one way or another picked up on vibes from adults. I had to do something–but something inclusive. I didn’t want to be partisan, I just wanted to be positive. And with a drawer full of leftover Post-Its from summer reading, I had a passive program ready to go.

Because alliteration is fabulous, I made a sign in Canva that just said “Positivity Post-Its: Write a short, positive message on a Post-It. Spread kindness and positivity. Make someone’s day!” Then all I did was set out Post-Its and colored pencils. Seriously, that’s it. Well, I also added the first few Post-Its to get them going.

When I left that position in February of this year, the positivity had spread from my original three Post-It squares to half the wall of the teen space. I only remember having to remove a few inappropriate notes, and they were more of the “U Suck” variety, although there was a memorably misspelled profanity, which I found hilarious. Teens sketched pictures and wrote down favorite quotes. There was a lot of encouragement to not self-harm. Sometimes, I would come in early in the morning, look at the notes left overnight, and cry.

We don’t need fancy materials to make a great program. We don’t need $600 plastic stools to make our teens spaces awesome and welcoming. We just need words. We need to give our teens agency, ownership of the space, and the safety to speak their minds. We need to try to spread positivity even in our darkest moments. So just try this. See what they come up with. Spread the love.


Links of the Month: May 2017

Links of the MonthEvery month we’ll be rounding up some can’t miss online resources from the wide world of teen services and beyond. Here’s what we’ve been reading in May.

It’s been a big month for books on screen. The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why debuted last month with its fair share of controversy. The discussion continues as the show has been renewed for a second season. Publisher’s Weekly’s Cynthia Compton reports that in Indiana, one bookstore used the book and the series as a springboard for a community discussion. Amy Kaufman of the Los Angeles Times spoke to several educators about how the book and series affected their students.

Also on Netflix, Anne with an E, the latest adaptation of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, premiered this month. The Guardian’s Samantha Ellis wrote about the things she learned from Anne Shirley.

Meanwhile, Everything, Everything, the movie based on Nicola Yoon’s novel of the same title, hit the big screen this month. School Library Journal’s Kent Turner has a review.

And it’s not too early to start planning your watch list for next year! Ginny Mies at ScreenRant has a list of book-to-screen adaptations heading our way in 2018.

We talk often about diversity in books, but what about diversity in fandom and geek culture? Daniel Jose Ruiz of The Millions has thoughts.

Here are some great booklists that came out this month:

How about some program inspiration?

  • The New York Public Library now features Drag Queen Story Hour! Read the article from the New York Times.
  • Bring the best of the ‘80s to your next art program with Slinky painting form Shaunna Evans at Fantastic Fun and Learning.
  • Check out the cheap crafty potential of magazine beads from Red Ted Art.

And last but not least, just in time for the insanity of summer, Travis Bradberry of has ten ways to stay calm.

What have you been reading that’s been insightful, inspirational, or just plain interesting? Tell us about it in the comments!

Books to Look For Over the Summer

We all have our favorite books we’re looking forward to over the summer, just as our teens and tweens are begging us to give them first crack at copies of Sarah Dressen’s newest or Cassandra Clare’s. But are these on your watch list yet?