Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hey!!! Here is the list! While I’m not actively working on this committee, I am thrilled that everyone is carrying forth the charge. Once this list is out it’s important that we advocate for the places that we purchase books to carry these titles. I’m about to email Follett and Ingram’s right now. For those of you who are still following stuff I’m doing… I’m now the District Library Manager at Oakland Unified School District. If I ever had any time I’ll start another blog about the wild stuff I’m doing over there.

who do you serveNow in its fourth year, the In the Margins selection committee has released its full list of 2017 winners. The book award committee identifies quality and meaningful resources for librarians and library workers who work with teens in lockdown, foster care, homeless shelters, and other nontraditional venues in the margins. In addition, for the third year, a Social Justice/Advocacy Award winner has also be named. Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?, edited by Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, and Alana Yu-lan Price, has been recognized as the top book recommended for adults to highlight issues facing marginalized and resilient communities. The full list of the 25 chosen titles and its top 10 books can be found on the committee website. See the press release below for more information.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

01/30/2017

Contact: Dale Clark, In the Margins Book Award and Committee dngclark@shaw.ca

Burnaby, BC – We are thrilled to announce our fourth annual Fiction, Non-Fiction, Top Ten and Social Justice/Advocacy Awards along with our official list of 25 books published by and about those living In the Margins. Our list highlights a survival story of an often overlooked aspect of a teen’s life – aging out of the foster care system – as well as a stunning, self-published fiction debut with a great cover. In a world hungry for diversity in books, we strive to find small press and independent titles and bring them to light, while also acknowledging titles that may be more popular in the US and Canada but specifically resonate with youth living in the margins. Our Social Justice/Advocacy Award goes to the top book recommended for adults to highlight issues facing marginalized and resilient communities. Who Do You Serve, Who do you Protect? brings forth provocative and hard-hitting questions we collectively need to answer.

As we enter our fifth year, we are excited about our next year’s committee and are currently looking for an official sponsor.

In the Margins Official 2017 Top Ten List

  1. Abram, Christy Lynn. Little Miss Somebody. 259p. Humble Bee Publishing. July 2015. PB $9.99.  ISBN 9780692386224.
  2. McLellan, Michael.  American Flowers. 296p. CreateSpace Independent Publishing. August 2015. PB. $11.99.  ISBN 9781516830695.
  3. Carter, Alton. Aging Out: A True Story. 203p. Roadrunner Press. November 29, 2017. Tr. $15.00. ISBN 9781937054298.
  4. Glasgow, Kathleen.  Girl in Pieces.  416p. Delacorte Press. August 2016. Tr. 18.99.  ISBN 9781780749457.
  5. Westhoff, Ben. Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap. Hachette Books. September 2016. Tr. $28.00. ISBN 9780316383899. 
  6. Sterling, S.C. Teenage Degenerate. 252p. S.C. Sterling. January 2016. PB $14.99. ISBN 9780997017540. 
  7. Simone, Ni-Ni. Dear Yvette.  288p. Dafina. November 2016. PB $9.95. ISBN 9780758287762.
  8. Desire, C.  Other Broken Things. 256p. Simon Pulse. January 2016. Tr. $17.99.  ISBN 9781481437394.
  9. Johnston, Jeffry W. Truth. 256 p. Sourcebooks Fire. February 2016. PB $9.99. ISBN 9781492623205.
  10. Free Minds Book Club. The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison. 106p. Shout Mouse Press. October 2015. PB $14.99 ISBN 9780996927444.

In addition, for the third year, we have chosen a title for our Social Justice/Advocacy Award.  The winning title is:  Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? by Maya Shenwar

The Decision Making

This year’s choice for Top Fiction spot was highly debated amongst the committee members. Popular with our readers, Little Miss Somebody chronicles what so many of our young teens face in their daily lives. Wanting to belong, be part of a loving family and yet facing uncertainty in so many ways is a constant struggle for far too many of our youth. At the same time, American Flowers depicts the tragedy and downward spiral of drug abuse. This is a book which hauntingly highlights the consequences of a few bad decisions easily made by young people. The relevance of this book, in the face of the opioid crisis facing so many communities is undeniable.

Alton Carter’s book, Aging Out was chosen by the majority of our In the Margins committee. as Top NonFiction. We debated whether it best fit the Non-Fiction category or the Social Justice/Advocacy spot. However, throughout the discussions and as the year progressed, we realized that many of our youth were selecting this book to read and were recognizing so many areas of commonality with their own lives and experiences.

Across the continent, young adults face the desperation of racial inequality, social upheaval and economic disparity. Through reading, our young people can find solace in knowing that their struggles are the struggles of others. Most of us who work with marginalized youth are regularly amazed and inspired by the conversations and comments our kids make about the books that they read. (There is nothing more heartwarming than seeing a group of teenage boys debating the qualities of books in a juvenile detention center library.) It is incumbent upon us, as librarians, to provide them with the books that will continue to ignite their enthusiasm for reading.

The full list of 25 titles with annotations and more information on the committee, selections, and process can be found at:

http://www.youthlibraries.org/margins-committee

In the Margins identifies quality and meaningful resources for librarians and library workers who work with teens in lockdown, foster care, homeless shelters, and other non-traditional venues living in the margins.

2017 Committee MembersSabrina Carnesi, School Librarian: Crittenden Middle School; Newport News, VA
Dale Clark, Teacher-Librarian: Fraser Park Secondary; Burnaby Youth Custody Services; Burnaby, BC, Canada
Marvin DeBoise Sr., Library Supervisor: Free Library of Philadelphia, PA
Susan McNair, Librarian: Birchwood School; South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice; Columbia, SC
Maggie Novario, Teen Librarian: Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, WA
Jean Smith, HS Library Media Specialist: Atlanta Public Schools, GA

Great interview. 

RAWing with Paul Langan answering the five questions of doom

  1. Tell me how you got started writing, in particular writing for teens. Why did you focus on writing books with an urban setting featuring youth of color?

I wrote my first short story in 6th grade. It was almost Halloween, and my reading teacher challenged our class to write a scary story. The winning story would be selected by the class and receive a $5 prize. I was a new kid in the school, and I wrote my story about the thing that scared me the most—a classmate who spent much of his time shoving me in the hallways and threatening me on the playground. In my story, he met a glorious end at the hands of a horde of bully-hungry zombies. He got attention, which he liked, but I got that $5 prize and discovered a new tool to deal with difficulties in my world: writing.

Many moons later, I worked for Townsend Press as a coordinator for a summer reading program for Philadelphia 8th graders. My goal was to get kids reading. To do that, we created a reading contest. Kids would select a book straight off teacher recommendation lists and bestseller charts. They’d read it and call our toll-free reading hotline where I’d confirm they finished the book. Prizes, including cash, were awarded based on the number of pages each student read.

We had fun that summer, but I discovered our students, mostly African American teens, seemed uninterested in the titles teachers recommended. Instead, they gravitated toward novels set in cities, featuring protagonists that looked like them (a rarity in the YA world in the late 1990’s). In retrospect, we should not have been surprised that they preferred books that spoke to their experiences. But at the time, this idea was revolutionary. The kids schooled us. The lesson was simple: if we want young adults to pay attention to books, we need to give them books that pay attention to them. That idea sparked the Bluford Series.

2.      Bluford is popular for lot s of reasons, but in particular often with kids who can’t or won’t read other books. In your opinion, what are the elements of a successful book for reluctant teen readers?  

Confession. I’ve never liked the term reluctant reader.  I’ve seen many with this label become avid readers—once they get the right book. Why don’t they have it? One culprit is reluctant publishers. For too long, mainstream publishers refused to acknowledge or embrace young readers of color. This is well documented by greater minds than me, and it is changing (finally). But traditional publishing still seems reluctant to address the issue of access. Listing a hardback book for $19.99 online or in a suburban bookstore is evidence of the problem. In crowded neighborhoods in Philly, Chicago, or Detroit, for example, bookstores are rare. Municipal libraries are underfunded. School libraries are being shuttered. Money for books and eBooks is limited. As a result, many teens don’t get to experience exciting YA books. Is it fair to call them reluctant readers? I don’t think so.

And sometimes we actually teach them to be reluctant. Kids without access to books tend to have reading experiences confined to what’s taught in school. Often these books are far removed from students’ interests, and they come with baggage: quizzes, writing assignments, worksheets, book reports, etc. These tasks make reading a punishable activity. For strong readers, this work can be dull. For struggling readers (more often boys), this work can leave them discouraged or frustrated. Years of this in school can destroy enthusiasm for reading. It may even lead students to conclude books have nothing to offer—or to give up on reading altogether.

The Bluford Series was crafted to change this. Bluford stories attempt to reintroduce reading to teens who have, for whatever reason, abandoned books. Each novel is set in bustling inner-city Bluford High School, a place one reader called “Hogwarts in the ’hood.” Each story begins with a situation that has emotional hooks that resonate for young adults: the desire to connect and be accepted, the longing for love and respect, the pain of loss or rejection, the feeling of being misunderstood by family or friends, the sting of betrayal and rivalry, the difficulty of being young and confused and uncertain, the magical intensity of growing up. These sparks burn bright in young adults.

In addition, the books are short (less than 200 pages), giving teens who may think they dislike reading a chance to finish a book. Many write to me saying Bluford novels are the first they’ve ever voluntarily completed. Some describe feeling as if something was wrong with them because, for the first time in their lives, they stayed up all night reading. A few have even said they thought they were ill because their hearts raced and they forgot about dinner while reading!

To produce this reaction, Bluford novels move quickly and include lots of action and suspense, starting on page one if possible. They also, I hope, pack an emotional punch, leaving readers with something to think and, perhaps, talk about.  This combination allows the books to compete with smart phones, social networking, and video games for teens’ attention—not an easy task. It might also convince them to give books a second chance. That was the intent from day one.

3.      Tell me a little bit about the deal with Scholastic coming out with the Bluford books with different covers, and in one case, a different title.  What, if any other changes, did you need to make to make the Scholasticable? (is that a word?)

I like the word! I may have to borrow it. Yes, Scholastic approached us years ago and expressed interest in distributing the Bluford Series. Townsend Press, my employer, is a small educational publisher. We lack the reach, expertise, and distribution muscle of Scholastic and were delighted they felt our novels were potentially Scholasticable.

We agreed to terms in which both Townsend and Scholastic could distribute the books. Their marketing team felt that photograph-based covers made more business sense. They also requested that we change the title of one of our books—The Gun—for fear some bookstore chains may refuse to carry it. To appease them, I renamed that book Payback, an alternate title I had all along.

4.      Okay, the big question:  so I reluctantly read a blog review of Outburst in my The Alternative series. This book tells the story of an African American teenage girl coming out of detention and going into a foster home.  The review began with “Jones, who is white …” and I wished I would have stopped reading there. Have you faced this being a white male writing stories for and about kids of color?  Most everybody seems to be onboard with we need diverse books, but not if those books are not written by people of color.  What are our thoughts on this issue?

Ah, yes. The Big Question—worthy of more than a few paragraphs!

I’ve been around the block for a while now. Early on, I visited schools where readers—teens and adults—didn’t know I was white until my pasty face appeared in the front office. I heard readers exclaim, “Oh my God, he’s white,” more than a few times. I have also heard my books described as “ghetto novels,” a racially charged term with positive and negative meanings. Still others have suggested I’ve “neglected” or even discriminated against white readers by not featuring white protagonists. Others are angry that I’ve written such books, arguing that I have no right to do so.

Race is our cultural third rail, and it is woven right into our national DNA, whether we want to admit it or not.  We are all impacted, and we all play a part. If you choose to avoid the issue or look away, you’re playing a part too, a passive one.

Most writers, myself included, are not passive. If we were, we wouldn’t choose this path. When you decide to write, you make a commitment to be true to what you are creating. That means doing your homework and research, mining your experience, and delving through your own creative process to tell the Truth. Your readers deserve all you can give (and sometimes more). So do your characters. If you get it wrong, both will abandon you.

For Bluford, I chose to set events in a city school, similar to the schools students in our summer program attended.  For believability and realism, I made this fictional high school mirror the population in those schools. As a result, few students at Bluford High are white. That’s reality! Unlike most YA books, especially in 2001 when Bluford appeared, nonwhite characters are not relegated to the sidelines. They are not minor players or token characters. Instead, they are the centerpiece, the heroes and foils, parents and children, principals and janitors, bullies and targets, veterans and neighbors, police officers and thugs in every story. Sometimes they are many of these things at once. Like all of us, they are complex and multi-layered with their own histories, secrets, and mysteries. They are also, I hope, full of contradictions, flaws, talents, fears, hopes, beauty and ugliness—traits that are authentically human. Real.

I get letters all the time. My favorites are those that say, “I know you’re white, but it’s okay because you totally get it.”  I treasure these because as a writer and fellow human being, Iwant to get it. It is the prime directive.

Of course, there are some things as a white man I will never fully understand. While I have many experiences which inform my work, my white skin makes my American experience different than that of my characters and many of my readers. This is complex territory too big to fully address here, but as a white writer, I must account for it, examine what it means, own up to it, and always remember it. This is our cultural backdrop, but it is not an excuse to avoid or ignore readers of color. That approach has been standard practice for far too long, and we see where it leads. Let’s change it. I think all writers should join in this effort. All readers matter.

Regardless of background or history, writers share a single challenge: to breathe art and Truth into their work. Readers get to decide whether we are successful. It’s that simple. To paraphrase the Bard, the story is the thing.

Does the story hold up? Does the writer get it? Does the art resonate? If yes, there’s nothing more to say. I aim for yes.

5.      What are you working out now?  In addition to writing Bluford books, what else do you do for Townsend Press?

We’re a small independent educational publisher, but we have a big reach. We produce materials—novels, leveled books for emerging readers, reading/writing texts for schools and colleges—that engage students and help teachers teach. The Bluford Series is just one part of that. We also sponsor various programs to assist schools with limited budgets. As an editor at Townsend Press, I have many responsibilities outside the Bluford Series. Lately I’ve spent much time working to digitize our offerings. But I am happy to say I’ll be returning to the Bluford Series full-time next year, and a new Bluford book, in the works for some time now, will be out this fall. We’ll post details about it soon on Bluford’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Bluford.Series

Check out this great 38 minute informational video from Ryan Dowd of Hesed House: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYiEEhhrFh4&feature=youtu.be

It’s been really gratifying to see the interest and excitement about our In the Margins List. I love that people are finding new books for their libraries and communities through the work that we have done. In the Margins is really about outreach: outreach to the small publishers and those that are self-publishing, and to communities that perhaps we haven’t connected with yet. Outreach isn’t only external, but also internal: we need to let libraries know that our communities need these types of books on our shelves, and that sometimes spelling, grammar, and editing aren’t the most important things in the universe. If someone doesn’t have the access to education or resources, a good story can still be told and valued, even with semicolons out of place.

Let’s take a look at some titles that might not be on the radar of the library community at large.

41614leftfordead Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundI’ll start with Ebony Canion’s Left for DeadThere is no doubt about it—this is one of those non-stop trauma-rama books—this story proves the point that real life is stranger than fiction. The first chapter opens with a girl fight, and ends with Ebony being run over by a car, dragged for over 200 feet, and left in a coma. How did she get there? Wow. Oh wow. Sexual abuse, rape, abandonment, drug dealing, loss, death, and more death, and through it all, a strong survivor spirit. Canion adds life lessons at the beginning of each chapter and reflects upon her life throughout, looking back at her teen years with a wiser and more adult perspective without being preachy.

Published by Life Changing books, which brought us the fave three book series Teenage BluezLeft for Dead surpasses the popularity of those books and is the hottest book in the library right now. It’s a must-have for all libraries in urban areas. Yes, there are typos and some repetitions, but it’s all minor in the scope of a great action-packed true story.

41614accused Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundYasmin Shiraz’s book Retaliation won a spot on the Top Ten Quick Pick list in 2009. Her next book for young adults, Accused, follows the life of Tashera who is now in college, still going out with Ahmed. In this book, a serial rapist is putting a drug in girls’ drinks, sexually accosting them, and setting up Ahmed, a rival, to take the fall.

While my kids will definitely read this book and I’m going to buy multiple copies, it is, unfortunately, a mixed bag. The characters are one dimensional: Brandon, the rapist is a sociopath, Tashera is a superhero detective girl, and Ahmed is the perfect football player boyfriend.

Worse than the lack of complexity of characters and the cliches (“that fateful night”) are the problematic unrealistic plot points. When Ahmed is accused of rape, he is taken to jail and named in the press as the perpetrator with little proof. He is threatened with the death penalty (some states still have the rape of a child under 12 as a death penalty offense, but most have been revoked and none have been implemented. The girls in this story are all of age). The rape victim is immediately signed for a lucrative media deal. Tashera walks easily into the  prosecutor and lawyer’s offices, talks with them and gives them information—and the case is solved in a month. These are just some of many situations that don’t ring true and made it difficult for me to enjoy the book. There are good discussion questions in the back of the book that tackle more complex issues, but with the misinformation in the narrative, it’s hard to take them seriously.

3514Hidden Girl Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundShyima Hall’s Hidden Girl, is another true story that is hard to believe, yet clearly accurate. Born in 1989 in Egypt, Hall was sold into slavery and brought to the U.S., working 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Short on graphic details—after all, most of her life was drudgery—some kids will find it a little slow, but overall it’s an important addition to girls’ stories on the subject of trafficking and slavery.

 Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundOver the course of two years, over 100 oral history peer interviews were conducted of African American boys/men, ages six to 24. The result is a gorgeous book—The Griots of Oakland. Striking, full-color photographs and graphics make this volume wonderful to browse and look at. The book is specific to a time and place (Oakland, CA), yet universal in interest and information. Watch for a full review in the Adult Books 4 Teens blog soon.

41614jailhouse Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundMs. O is a teacher I’ve worked with for 12 years and who I’ve named an honorary librarian. She’s carrying Marybeth Zeman’s book Tales of a Jailhouse Librarian around for inspiration. Ms. O says, “I could identify with being in an institution and feeling powerless to make a dent in the oppressiveness of the system. But the book shows how it’s the little things, how valuable the school and library is, how valuable to have someone to talk to, to have human contact, to have an opening for conversation that allows you to take a peek into someone’s window.” Quotes at the beginning of each little vignette about Zeman’s experience or that of a child’s adds an extra layer of meaning to the text.

 Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA Underground41614knockout Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundAnother purpose of In the Margins book award is to lend legitimacy to our book choices in worlds other than our libraries. I’m excited to be blogging on the National Center for Youth in Custody  (NCYC) website, an organization aligned with best practices and the Office of Juvenile Delinquency Prevention. The library world is well aware of Alan Lawrence Sitomer and Greg Neri, two of our consistent rock stars on the YA Underground scene. New titles Caged Warrior (Sitomer) andKnockout Games (Neri) are solidly complex, interesting and accessible books from two authors that are deep in the hearts and minds of inner city youth. I expect them both to do well, and enjoyed the reads. But do educators and administrators across the country in lockdown and alternative settings (without librarians) know about these books? Hopefully if they don’t, now they will! Check out the interview with Sitomer on the  NCYC front page.

41614shards Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundFinally, I love a good corrupted cop story (a guilty pleasure?) and Allison Moore’s Shards, outlining her descent into meth hell with an abusive and controlling drug dealer, is as good as it gets.  Full review upcoming in Adult Books 4 Teens blog.

CANION, Ebony. Left for Dead. Life Changing Books. 2014. 199 p. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9781934230596.

HALL, Shyima. Hidden Girl. S & S. 2014. 232 p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442481688.

MOORE, Allison with Woodruff, Nancy.  Shards: A Young Vice Cop Investigates Her Darkest Case of Meth Addiction – Her Own. S. & S./Touchstone. 2014. 288p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781451696356.

NERI, Greg. Knockout Games. Carolrhoda Books. August 2014. 304p. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781467732697

SHIRAZ, Yasmin. Accused. A Retaliation Novel #2. Still Eye Rise Media, LLC.  2014. 274p. pap. $11.35. ISBN 9780971817487.

SITOMER, Alan LCaged Warrior. Disney-Hyperion. June 2014224p.  pap. $13.95. ISBN 9781423171249.

ZEMAN, Marybeth. Tales of a Jailhouse Librarian: Challenging the Juvenile Justice System One Book at a Time. Vinegar Hill Press. 2014. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9781495201899.

ZUSMAN, Angela Beth, editor. The Griots of Oakland: Voices from the African American Oral History Project. Story Bridges. 2013.  pap. $14.99.  Tr $59.99. ISBN 9780988763109.

First published at: http://www.slj.com/2014/04/teens-ya/reality-that-is-stranger-than-fiction-ya-underground/

 Lee & Low Interview

originally published here: ftp://blog.leeandlow.com/2014/04/04/interview-with-a-librarian-for-incarcerated-youth/

Thank you for being with us, Amy Cheney! Let’s start with the basics: how would you describe your job, for someone who has no idea what you do?

Entrepreneur, innovator and relationship builder. But my overall job title would be Schlepper.

 How did you become a librarian for incarcerated youth? Was it something you always knew you wanted to focus on, or did you begin your career with a different focus?

When I was a teen, a neighbor was friends with Maya Angelou, and they invited me to hear her speak in a church basement.  I remember clearly not wanting to be there, and then as Maya Angelou spoke with such passion and intensity, I felt the hard armor around my heart begin to crack. I remember the struggle to hold onto what I thought was me, or at least my

I am constantly trying to advocate and educate for the library to be a right, and not a privilege that can be taken away.protection: the rage, indifference and sullenness. I recognized that if I was struggling with it, then I wasn’t a fundamentally hateful person. That was life changing for me.  I felt such a deep connection with her as a result of this inner experience, I read every book she wrote as it was published.

 It took me a long time to realize that this experience is the basis of my passion for bringing in speakers and activities to stimulate the minds and hearts of those incarcerated. From Shakespeare to Cupcake Brown to Ishmael Beah to MK Asante (wonderfully, one of Maya Angelou’s protege’s), I see kids feel encouraged, enthusiastic and interested in a place that tends to dampen all of that.

In the 80’s I was a part of the anti-nuclear protests – when my friends were released from jail I was horrified to hear there were no books where they had been housed. I immediately started a book drive for the jail and that ultimately led to employment at the library serving those incarcerated in Alameda County.

What does your average day look like? Do you even have an “average day”?

Almost every day involves advocacy. Today one of the staff told me that going to the library was like a field trip, all the kids love it. But, she said, the girls had not “earned” a visit, so they couldn’t come. This didn’t make sense to me. I am constantly trying to advocate and educate for the library to be a right, and not a privilege that can be taken away. I am advocating for youth to be able to come here, as well as in general, advocacy for the youth, library, etc.

What kind of relationship with books do your students have? What kind of role do books play in their lives?

I think initially, many of them have a negative relationship with books and reading, and others have a non-existent relationship with them. Some students do have a positive relationship with reading before they come here, but there is a huge percentage—probably the majority—that start reading here and get excited about it and read more than they ever have in their life.

Regardless of their relationship to books and reading the library is a desired destination and activity. They are fully respected and acknowledged here. And the atmosphere is remarkably different from the rest of the facility. There are plants in here! And windows! And outside the window you can see trees and clouds and birds and grass! Real furniture and comfortable chairs! We play a game (Taboo) and laugh almost every library visit.

there is a huge percentage—probably the majority—that start reading here and get excited about it and read more than they ever have in their lifeThe majority of the kids here ultimately develop a positive relationship with books and reading. Books are a de-stressor, they are a life saver. In fact, the staff that call me the most, that request that I come down and talk to a kid or bring a kid a book, are the therapeutic staff. They also advocate with me for kids on suicide watch, etc. to be able to have a book. Today I went out and talked to a kid that has been under a blanket for hours if not days. He actually sat up and showed some life when I brought him some books.

 Are there any books that your students are scrambling for? What flies off your shelves?

The bottom line is a. anything with action, and b. something they can personally relate to. And c, it makes huge difference if the cover is dynamic. My job is to find those books that have the right combination of the above. It’s a constant part of my job. While there are a few authors

MIDNIGHT, Sister Souljahwhose books I can’t keep on the shelf no matter what  (Sister Souljah, Cupcake Brown, Tookie Williams, Coe Booth, Alison Van Diepen, Alan Sitomer), there are others whose books I work hard to bring to light.  Right now as I look around I don’t see any of MK Asante’s Buck, for example. That’s an accomplishment: a cover with only words and no visuals isn’t something that in general attracts them. He visited here and so his book has taken off. He also stimulated the youth to read about their history, the history of rap music and books about the educational system in the US. Yah Hoo!

 What kinds of books are allowed in a juvenile detention center? What kinds of books are not allowed?

In general, what is NOT allowed is anything that’s graphically sexual or violent or that outlines how to make a weapon or alcohol—something that would be a direct threat to the security of the institution.

What is “allowed” is a huge issue, and is one reason that we wanted to create a listserve, web page Library Services for Youth in Custody, and now the In the Margins book award. My hope is that the book award will lend legitimacy to our titles and hopefully enable more facilities to carry them. I am working with a facility right now that says, “Books must be limited in violence, sexually explicit material, promotion of drug or alcohol abuse and vampire stories.”  It’s just bizarre the things people come up with to exclude and how they word and interpret it.

In my facility, I’ve made the choice not to advocate for “street lit” mainly because I think that

There is definitely a group of kids - maybe 5% - I am unable to engage in reading due to my choice to not advocate for street lit.battle is too big to fight since I’m fighting for kids to get to the library. In addition, I spend a huge portion of my life finding books that I believe will work with both the authorities and the kids. Street Lit titles often do have a lot of violence and sex in them which is why I’ve chosen not to advocate for them – but it’s a hard choice every day, and one full of contradictions. There is definitely a group of kids – maybe 5% – I am unable to engage in reading due to my choice to not advocate for street lit.

 What do you wish people knew or understood about incarcerated youth?

They are super resourceful. They are caught in a trap not of their own making—poverty—and are punished for many of the things that I, and honestly, most of us did when teenagers. I am constantly amazed the privilege afforded the white middle class and what people of color and/or those from the poverty and working classes have to work extra hard for.

A recent example: Kareem, who is a college educated African American wrote me an email and then recalled it because of the typos.  Meanwhile I wrote an email to the head of a very lucrative organization. My email was typed in lower case, and even had the phrase, “gratitude for all you do, dude.” I mean, not exactly thoughtful. Would anyone question that I was college educated? I doubt it. Kareem, and his beautiful, eloquent email with a few typos—he felt the need to correct it in order to present himself in the best possible light. It’s exhausting to constantly have to do that. And that is a *minor* incident.

There is so much policing and criminalization of poor youth and youth of color, I don’t think the majority of white middle class people really understand the depths of the inequity and the daily assaults. The juvenile hall (criminal justice system) is the crucible of race and class inequity in America.

Being in a detention facility, what unique limitations are you working with that a public or traditional school librarian might not be dealing with? 

You know the supposed foundation of our country, that we are all innocent until proven guilty? For the most part, that’s not in operation here. And let me be clear: most of the kids here are pre-adjudication – i.e. they have not been sentenced and are waiting trial  or more likely placement. There are a lot of unspoken power dynamics and struggles. When I’m in the living units I’m on the staff’s terms to a certain extent. When they are in the library, it’s more on my terms, but they always have the power to override me. It is definitely a dance.

There is so much policing and criminalization of poor youth and youth of color, I don’t think the majority of white middle class people really understand the depths of the inequity and the daily assaults.There is a completely different culture in a facility and if you don’t learn what the norms are you can’t be effective. There are unspoken rules and meanings. For example, kids walking down the hallway with their hands behind their backs are living there—on their way to court or medical. Kids walking with their hands by their sides are on their way out of the institution. There is a spoken language that is not used “on the outs” with phrases like, “the tone is high,” “live scan,” “pods,” “talking is dead,” and “prepare for transition.”

 The biggest limitation is “security” issues. Those can run the gamut from zero to extremely limited access to the internet or books on tape to candy, pencils, and envelopes, or even to students being prohibited from getting out of their chair on their own volition.  Things that you would never imagine are security issues can be seen that way from a certain perspective (that I actually have come to understand on some level). These limitations force a creative response.

Are there any common misconceptions you’d like to correct about what you do?

I think the biggest misconception is that the kids are hard to work with. And I’m not saying they aren’t hard to work with. I’m also not saying we don’t have seriously disturbed and disturbing kids. But in actuality, it’s the entire toxic system of mass incarceration that’s hardest to work with.  Finding your correct place in that toxicity is challenging, ever evolving, yet doable. The kids are the least of the problems.

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