Teen Voices

Bibliographic Information: Teen Voices (magazine). Boston, MA. ISSN: 10747974.

Plot/Content Summary: Teen Voices is not your average teen magazine.  It is a print and online magazine for teen girls, BY teen girls.  The mission: “Teen Voices supports and educates teen girls to amplify their voices and create social change through media.”  Teen Voices is not just a magazine but a non-profit organization that supports teens’ development in creating the magazine and mentors teens through the process.  Teen Voices also supports teen girls’ leadership development and social justice awareness and activism.

Articles in Teen Voices cover a wide breadth of topics, like arts and music, book reviews and author interviews, diversity and equality, food, health, the media, careers, teen activism, relationships, social networking.  The magazine also includes fiction and poetry written by teen girls.  Recent articles include:

  • Recent Events in Egypt from a Girl’s Eye View
  • Girl’s Hurt by Gang Violence
  • Got the Knowledge to Go to College? Teen Voices Helps You on Your Way!
  • When Relationships Get Tough, Can They Be Too Rough?
  • Got the Facebook Blues?

Critical Evaluation: The content of Teen Voices, like the voices it represents, is diverse and intelligent.  Since teens are creating content, the magazine is highly relevant and authentic.  Articles cover real-life issues and, while there is always room for fun, the magazine addresses young women as competent, intelligent people with the ability to think and analyze and question the status quo.  Other teen magazines, with their emphasis on appearance and social status, do not compare to the depth and strength of the content in Teen VoicesTeen Voices and its staff have received awards and honors, that acknowledge the important and life-changing work that the organization does.

Genre/Format: Print and Online Magazine

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 -18

Challenge Issues: There are many real issues that young women deal with covered in this magazine, so there might be a challenge to some of the content.  However, this magazine has won awards and has a positive review in School Library Journal.  In response to challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Rain is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Bibliographic Information: Leitich Smith, C. (2001). Rain is Not My Indian Name. New York, NY: HarperCollins.  ISBN: 0688173977.  144 pages.

Plot Summary: Cassidy Rain Berghoff knows about loss.  Her mother died when she was eight and her best friend, Galen, just died, on New Year’s Eve, the night before Rain’s 14th birthday.    Rain is a “mixed blood” American Indian, “I’m Muscogee, Creek-Cherokee and Scots-Irish on Mom’s side, Irish-German-Ojibway on Dad’s,” (Leitich Smith, 2001, p. 20).  She lives in a small town in Kansas with her brother and his fiancée and her grandfather.  Her father is in the military stationed abroad.  Living in a small, mostly white, town, Rain has had to face prejudice and stereotyping.  She explains that in school most talk of Native Americans comes up around “Turkey Day,” as she calls it.  Her response?  “I usually get through it by reading sci-fi fanzines behind my text books until we move on to Kwanza,” (Leitich Smith, 2001, p. 13).  This is a young woman who knows who she is and does not let others define her.  With the loss of Galen, Rain has put herself in a self-imposed exile for months, but when anti-Indian prejudice is expressed around Rain’s Aunt’s Indian Camp summer program, Rain has to decide how to respond.  She does so with grace, strength, and sensitivity.

Critical Evaluation: Leitich Smith lets us enter Rain’s world via Rain’s witty, sensitive, voice, and through journal entries at the start of each chapter, that add authenticity to the novel.  The writing is warm and appealing and the story deals with complex real-life issues for which there are no easy answers.  Readers may take the journey with Rain, as she attempts to figure out who she is and what her culture means to her.  This novel gives reader,s who are not familiar with contemporary Native American lives, a window into one family, dealing with every day life, facing anti-Indian prejudice, and celebrating the richness and gifts of their cultures.  Many novels with Native American characters are historic novels, keeping Native Americans locked in the past.  Beverly Slapin of Oyate sums up the book’s coverage of Native American issues, “Smith (Muscogee/Creek) deftly tackles such dominant icons and artifacts as football mascots, fake dreamcatchers, Elvis, and Anime and places them in a contemporary Indian cultural context alongside fried bologna sandwiches, two-steps, and star quilts,” (Slapin, 2001, p. 116).  This book was an Oklahoma Book Award Finalist; for this title Smith was selected to be part of the 2001 Writers of the Year in Children’s Prose by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

Reader’s Annotation: Six months ago, Rain’s best friend died and she’s been in a self-imposed exile ever since, but when anti-Indian prejudice is expressed regarding her Aunt’s Indian Camp summer program, Rain has to decide how — or IF — to respond. 

Information about the Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith writes books for all ages, from young children to young adult and adult.  She has published picture books in addition to short stories, essays, and young adult novels.  Leitich Smith’s website (http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/) is a wonder of resources for readers and writers.  It includes recommended reading lists, advice for those interested in becoming writers, and extensive information about Leitich Smith and her writing.

Leitich Smith is genuinely interested in the world and people around her and generously shares her talents and insights.  She is a tribal member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and some of her works include authentically portrayed American Indian characters, something that is unfortunately often lacking in books about American Indians.  She currently lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, also a writer, Greg Leitich Smith (http://gregleitichsmith.com/).

Genre: Multicultural Fiction, Issues, Contemporary Life, Realistic Fiction

Subgenres/Themes: Multicultural Fiction: Multicultural Americans: Native Americans; Issues: Social Concerns: Activism, Racism; Contemporary Life: Coming of Age

Curriculum Ties: Civil Rights, Discrimination

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Identity Development
  • Young Adult Activism

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 17

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.

Why is this book included? This book is included because of its critical praise as well as its subject matter.  There are not that many books for young adults about contemporary American Indian life.  And, though the main character is fourteen years old, the content is relevant for older teens as well, and the writing is accessible for older teens at a lower reading level.


Leitich Smith, C. (2001). Rain is not my Indian name.  New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Slapin, B. (2001). Rain is not my Indian name. MultiCultural Review, 10(3), 115-116.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Bibliographic Information: Collins, S. (2009). Catching Fire. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.  ISBN: 0439023491.  391 pages.

Spoiler alert: This review discloses the ending of The Hunger Games.

Plot Summary: In Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark return home to district eight and begin an obligatory Victory Tour throughout the districts.  Katniss is still uncomfortable with, but getting used to, being the center of attention with her stylists and interviews and public appearances.  Katniss and Peeta’s survival of the Hunger Games makes them heroes with many in the outer districts, but Katniss’s manipulation of the games to end up with two victors leaves the capitol angry, and perhaps even vengeful.  When President Snow visits Katniss’s home in Victory Village, he makes it clear that the only way to assuage the capitol’s fury is to make sure all the people of Panem believe that Katniss is desperately in love with Peeta, thus explaining her defiance.  But, Katniss’s relationship with Peter is more complicated than ever and her best friend, and potential love interest, Gail does not help matters, as he seems to be distancing himself from her more and more.  And there are rumors that Katniss and Peeta’s Hunger Games performance has sparked talk of rebellion in the districts.  She survived the Hunger Games, can she survive this next chapter of her life, filled with uncertainty and, just as in the games, the constant fear of punishment by the capitol.

Critical Evaluation: Catching Fire was a much-anticipated follow up to the New York Times Bestseller and hugely popular The Hunger Games.  Though Catching Fire contained many of the most compelling and inspiring characters of The Hunger Games, and it was an interesting story, it did not quite measure up in excitement and suspense to its predecessor; though it is still a worthy read.  Admittedly, it would have been a difficult task for Collins to write book two of the trilogy with the same level of energy and tension as the first.  Catching Fire satisfies the reader’s need to find out what happens next, as Katniss and Peeta return to District Eight and begin their lives as “victors.”  Catching Fire is by no means slow moving, though the pace is more subdued, in parts, than the pace of The Hunger Games, probably due to the fact that much of Catching Fire takes place outside of the arena.  Collins introduces, in Catching Fire, additional – and intriguing – plot twists, and readers’ understandings of the main characters deepen.  There is still plenty of action and adventure and excitement, and The Hunger Games fans will need to read Catching Fire, so that they can then go on to read the final book in the trilogy: Mockingjay.   Critics were mixed about Catching Fire, and, while it did receive many positive reviews, there were others less complimentary.  Also, Catching Fire’s list of honors is significantly shorter than The Hunger Games’, but they include: Time Magazine’s #4 top fiction book of 2009, People Magazine’s #8 Best Book of 2009, and Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Book of the Year for 2009.

Reader’s Annotation: When Katniss and Peeta return home after their Hunger Games victory, more awaits them than they expect.

Information about the Author: Suzanne Collins started her writing career in children’s television.  She wrote for several children’s and preschool TV programs and then wrote the first book of a five book series called The Underland ChroniclesThe Underland Chronicles is described as a “fantasy/war series” on Collins’ website (www.suzannecollinsbooks.com).

Catching Fire is the second in the Hunger Games trilogy, The Hunger Games is the first and the third is Mockingjay.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy

Subgenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Adventure, Dystopia; Adventure: Survival

Topics Covered: Poverty, Discrimination, Reality TV, Abuse of power, Hunger, Friendship, Love

Curriculum Ties: Social Science, Political Science, Environmental Science, Philosophy, Television Culture

Booktalking Ideas:

  • How would you go about proving that you are passionately and deeply in love with someone when this is not true?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12-19 to Adult

Challenge Issues: The issue most likely to be challenged is violence, as the book contains many and varied acts of violence, but the violence is not gratuitous, it is a integral part of the plot.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.

Why is this book included? As a sequel to The Hunger Games, I had to read Catching Fire to find out what happened next.  I expect other readers of The Hunger Games will feel the same way, so the entire Hunger Games trilogy deserves a place in a quality young adult collection.

Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands by Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., with Philippe Cousteau

Bibliographic Information: Berger, C. (2010). Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing and EarthEcho International.  ISBN: 1575423480.  128 pages.

Plot/Content Summary: “71% of Earth’s surface is covered by oceans…Our bodies on average consist of 70% water.”  From the planet to each one of our cells, water is important, essential, and under threat.  Going Blue follows a “service learning” model to provide the information tweens and teens can use to make a difference in the movement to protect Earth’s waters.  The service learning model of Going Blue is comprised of five “stages” that take its readers from where they are now to becoming stewards of the earth’s water.  The stages are:

  1. Find Out & Investigate
  2. Dive In & Prepare
  3. Get Going & Act
  4. Think Back & Reflect
  5. Tell It & Demonstrate

Each stage contains a description of the state and true stories of young people making a difference and demonstrating the actions of that particular stage.  The book is in full color and looks almost magazine-like in its design.  It includes sidebars, bios of earth scientists, charts, illustrations, and beautiful photographs.  How can we save Earth’s precious water resources?  Can you make a difference?

Critical Evaluation: Beautiful, accessible and packed-full of information, Going Blue is an in-depth guide to Earth’s waters.  Dense with facts, but accessible for teens, Going Blue provides ideas, resources, and, maybe most importantly, food for thought.  The service learning model, that the book both explains and follows, creates a natural path for readers to take in order to actually be able to make a difference in their own way.  Its magazine-like appearance and beautiful colorful images and spreads make it as visually appealing, as it is informative and empowering.  Below is an example of the inside of the book.

Reader’s Annotation: Beautiful, accessible and packed-full of information, Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands is an in-depth guide to Earth’s waters.

Information about the Author: Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A. is an expert in service learning, civic responsibility, and student leadership.  She consults internationally about service learning and is a former classroom teacher.

Genre/Category: Non-Fiction

Themes: Science, Water, Environment, Environmental Stewardship, Service Learning

Topics Covered: Environmentalism, Water Pollution, Oceans, Rivers, Wetlands, Lakes, Trash, Habitats, Conservation, Wildlife

Curriculum Ties: Science, Earth Science, Earth’s water systems, Civic Responsibility

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “71% of Earth’s surface is covered by oceans…Our bodies on average consist of 70% water.”  From the planet to each one of our cells, water is important, essential, and under threat.
  • If you could maybe make a difference, would you try?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 19

Challenge Issues: No obvious challenge issues.  In the event that the book is challenged, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this book included? The environment is getting a lot of attention these days, and it is important that there are books accessible for teens that can give them some information and perspective on environmental issues.  This book specifically talks about the various waters of the earth, an important topic within environmental discussions.  Additionally, this book introduces the concept of civic responsibility and taking action to make the world a better place, something many teens are interested in, but may not necessarily know how to accomplish.

Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell

Bibliographic Information: Carvell, M. (2002). Who Will Tell My Brother? New York, NY: Hyperion.  ISBN: 0786808276.  160 pages.

Plot Summary: Evan Hill was born to a white mother and Mohawk father.  Unlike his brother, Evan looks more like his mother than his father, so has to claim his Mohawk identity more explicitly.  His concept of his identity is confusing and complex, particularly because Evan is an artistic, sensitive, and thoughtful teen.  He is a senior in high school and decides to stand up and speak out against the racist and stereotypical Indian school mascot.  His brother, before him, tried to get the Indian mascot removed, but did not prevail, and Evan has taken up the torch.  Evan talks to teachers and students and attends school board meeting after school board meeting to express his point of view.  Those who want things to stay just the way they are are far less civilized in expressing their dissent.  Evan is harassed and even physically threatened by students, and then his family’s beloved dog is killed by people trying to send a message.  Evan wonders who will tell his brother about the dog’s untimely and undeserved death.

Critical Evaluation: Who Will Tell My Brother?, beautifully written in free verse from Evan’s point of view, is touching and inspiring.  It is accessible, even for reluctant readers, because, being in free verse, it makes its point eloquently, but with fewer words than many novels.  Addressing issues of anti-American Indian racism, stereotyping, bullying, and bystanders this book has a lot going on in it.  But, life has a lot going on in it, and this book makes these complex topics accessible through poetic free verse and deeply expressed emotions.  American Indian students who have felt this very injustice or other students who have experienced similar injustices will likely find strength and inspiration in Evan.  Students who have not been exposed to these issues will gain insight and empathy due to Evan clearly articulated outrage at an American Indian being used as a school mascot.  This book provides a great opening for discussion on racism, bullying as well as the roles and responsibilities of bystanders to bullying.

Reader’s Annotation: Evan Hill must face strong opposition from bullies and an unsympathetic school board when he fights to have his high school’s Indian mascot removed.

Information about the Author: Carvell says that Who Will Tell My Brother? was, “inspired by the experiences of my two sons.”  Carvell’s sons, like Evan and his brother in the book, have a white mother and their father is a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. Carvell’s books are well regarded by American Indian reviewers for their authentic portrayals of Indians.

Genre: Issues, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Subgenre/Theme: Issues: Social Concerns: Activism; Multicultural Fiction: Native Americans

Format: Free Verse Novel

Topics Covered: Racism, Violence, Bullying, Bystanderism, American Indian, Stereotypes, Family, Identity, Social Justice

Curriculum Ties: English, Social Studies, History

Booktalking Ideas:

  • What would YOU do?  If you saw bullying…
  • What would YOU do?  If your ethnic group was being used as a mascot…

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14-18 years

Challenge Issues: There are those who believe that Indian mascots should be allowed, but I doubt that would make them challenge this book.  There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources

Why is this book included?  This book is a high quality book in a unique format, that might have particular appeal for some teens.  It was well received by reviewers and covers an important topic not often addressed in literature.


Slapin, B. (2003). Who will tell my brother?. Multicultural Review, 12(2), 98.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Bibliographic Information: Doctorow, C. (2010). Little Brother. New York, NY: Tor Teen.  ISBN: 0765323117.  416 pages.

Plot Summary: When teen techno genius Marcus gets a message that the Harajuku Fun Madness game has a new clue available, he is not going to let a little thing like school get in the way of his fun.  And, it’s only right that his friends go to downtown San Francisco with him.  But what starts out as an afternoon ditching school becomes six days Marcus will never forget, when a terrorist plot blows up the Bay Bridge, leaving residents and law enforcement officers on high alert.  When homeland security teams swoop in to prevent any more terrorist destruction, they take Marcus and his friends into custody.  Marcus questions Homeland Security’s methods when he learns all that is happening in the name of protecting the city and its people.  Marcus, always a bit of a rebel, takes on those who would limit freedom and invade privacy for ostensible security, using his technological prowess, online connections with other hackers, and pure chutzpah.  Can one teenager really make a difference?

Critical Evaluation: Exciting, gripping, and immensely entertaining, Little Brother has cross-genre appeal.  Part science fiction, mystery, and adventure, part realistic fiction, dystopian novel and techno-thriller, this book has much to offer to many different readers.  The heavy use of technology within the plot, but just a bit more than we have access to now, gives the novel an “in the not too distant future” feel.  The book is relatively long, but maintains reader interest by being action packed and fairly fast paced.  From a lonely prison cell to a large-scale demonstration in a public park, readers take a fantastic ride with Marcus, portrayed by Doctorow as a complex character with depth.  Like many teens, his friends are of central importance to him, he falls in love, and he doesn’t tell his parents much about what is going on with him, but in other ways Marcus is quite unique.  He spends much of his free time living in a virtual world of hackers where nobody knows his real name.  Marcus doesn’t always follow the rules, and he is very adept at avoiding being caught, for example, he puts small pebbles in his shoes to throw off the school’s gait recognition software that would be able to identify him as he sneaks out during school hours.  Details like these bring the reader into the story and into the life of Marcus, who, for all his mischief, is shown to be intelligent, creative and a good person who cares about the people and world around him.  Doctorow’s opinions about freedom of speech and privacy online, he is NOT a fan of the PATRIOT ACT, for example, are obvious in the novel, but his treatment of the characters who express opposing views is not completely unsympathetic.  A New York Times Best Seller, Little Brother has won several awards and honors, for example, 2009 VOYA Science Fiction for Young Adults/Golden Duck Award, School Library Journal’s Best Books 2008, and the 2009 White Pine Award (According to Wikipedia, “The White Pine Award is an annual literature award sponsored by the Ontario Library Association (OLA) that has awarded Canadian young adult books since 2002.”).

Reader’s Annotation: What starts out as an afternoon ditching school becomes six days Marcus will never forget, when a terrorist plot blows up the Bay Bridge.  Marcus and his friends must stand up to the powers that be, who seem to value perceived security over freedom.

Information about the Author: Information about Cory Doctorow from the blog Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net/), of which Doctorow is an editor, “Cory is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger.”  Doctorow’s activism surrounds issues of free speech and privacy in online environments.   Doctorow, “has been named one of the Web’s twenty-five “influencers” by Forbes Magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum,” (http://us.macmillan.com/author/corydoctorow).  Cory Doctorow was born in Canada and currently lives in London.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Realistic Fiction

SubGenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Adventure, Dystopia; Adventure: Espionage and Terrorism; Techno-Thriller

Topics Covered: Freedom of Speech, Internet Privacy, Online Privacy, Love, Sexuality, Friendship, Activism,

Curriculum Ties: The US Constitution, The US Bill of Rights, Government, Internet Privacy

Booktalking Ideas:

  • What if every where you went someone was trying to get you?  And this wasn’t paranoia?
  • How much freedom would you give up for safety?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14-17

Challenge Issues: Anti-government sentiment, sexual activity, illegal activities.  In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors, three are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? Originally included as part of class readings, Little Brother adds genre diversity to a collection. Little Brother is also an exciting, entertaining, and though-provoking read.