Teen Ink

Bibliographic Information: Teen Ink (magazine). Newton, MA: The Young Authors Foundation, Inc.

Plot/Content Summary: Teen Ink is a magazine that does not employ writers, reporters, or artists.   The content of the magazine is entirely made up of submissions from teens from all over the country.  Topics covered are diverse, from health issues to discrimination, teen activism to sports.  Teens write fiction and non-fiction and provide paintings, photographs and other forms of artwork for the magazine.  Each monthly issue contains articles written around specific themes, in the December 2011, issue the themes were “Celebrating the Season” and “Sibling Stories.”  The magazine is organized with the following “sections:” Art Gallery, College Directory, College Reviews, Community Service, Environment, Feedback, Fiction, Health, Heroes, Nonfiction, Points of View, Poetry, Pride & Prejudice, Reviews: Book, Reviews: Movie, Reviews: Music, Reviews: Video Games, Sports and Travel & Culture.  The wide range of topics covered provides a place for teens with varying interests to enjoy both reading as well as contributing to Teen Ink.

Critical Evaluation: Teen Ink is packed full with interesting and high quality writing and artwork.  The honest, authentic teen voices that can be found throughout the pages of the magazine lend it depth and significance.  The teen contributors to Teen Ink, both young women and young men, are creative and intelligent, interesting and interested.  Teen Ink provides an opportunity for teens to become published writers and artists, “Hundreds of thousands of students have submitted their work to us and we have published more than 45,000 teens since 1989,” (Teen Ink: About Us, n.d.).  Teen Ink empowers and engages, it provides an important forum for teens to exchange ideas and discuss issues important to them.  It is by teens and for teens making it a great resource for information and inspiration.  The magazine is used in English, creative writing, and journalism classrooms across the country.  Several books have been published by the Teen Ink organization, they are entitled Teen Ink and contain themed collections of essays gathered from the magazine.  The Teen Ink website contains content from the magazine as well as content unique to the web and is an additional place for teens to engage and exchange thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Genre/Format: Print and Online Magazine

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 -18

Challenge Issues: There are many real issues that young adults deal with covered in this magazine, so there might be a challenge to some of the content.  However, this magazine has been praised by The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Teacher Magazine and many more.  In response to challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this magazine included? Teen Ink is the perfect magazine for older teens of both genders to include in a library collection.  I found it when I was in search of interesting and independent teen magazines that do not simply repeat the same beauty tips and celebrity gossip as many magazines on the market.

Hear Me Out: True Stories of Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia a Project of Planned Parenthood of Toronto

Bibliographic Information: Planned Parenthood of Toronto. (2004). Hear Me Out: True Stories of Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia. Toronto, ON: Second Story Press.  ISBN: 1896764878.  197 pages.

Plot/Content Summary:

We all need a space to tell our stories, to be heard.  So for me being able to tell this story is an important act of resistance.  I tell my story often and loudly.  I tell it to break the silence, to educate, to inspire.  I tell my story in the hope that someone who hears me might think about the revolutionary potential of simply loving themselves and sharing their stories.

 ayden isak hoffman-scheim

Hear Me Out: True Stories of Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia, pg. 51

Hear Me Out is a book of stories, teen stories, true stories by teens about themselves.  These teens are volunteers with Toronto’s Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia (T.E.A.C.H.), “a peer-based program run by Planned Parenthood of Toronto to educate and change negative attitudes about gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, transsexual, and transgendered [GLBTT] people.”  These teens are brave, they’ve been through a lot, and they are here to tell their stories, to educate and inform, and, perhaps most importantly, to make sure other GLBTT young people know that they are not alone.  Each chapter is written by one young person, the chapters range from coming out stories to stories about homophobic violence and bullying to stories of first love and family acceptance.  Issues of culture and race are woven throughout the book, as the teen voices come from diverse backgrounds.  Through it all, the wise, honest – and brave – voices of teens come through loud and clear.

Critical Evaluation: This book is important, as it addresses serious subjects from the perspective of the teens experiencing what is being discussed.  Hearing from the teens themselves makes this book powerful and moving as well as telling and illuminating.  One only has to read the first page to realize that reading Hear Me Out is going to be a different experience than reading any other book.  It is honest, authentic, and interesting.  Even people in GLBTT communities will learn from the diversity of experiences and voices, and people outside the community will get a glimpse into what life is like for the young people in the book, and possibly other GLBTT youth that readers may know.  Many of the teens also speak specifically about the T.E.A.C.H. program, which could be useful for those interested in starting a similar organization.  The back of the book includes a brief glossary and section of short biographies of each of the 19 teen contributors.

Reader’s Annotation: Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, and transgendered teens tell their stories in their own words of what life is like for them.  Their stories describe adversity and struggle as well as achievement and triumph.

Information about the Author: n/a

Genre: Non-Fiction

Category: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, and Transgendered youth

Topics Covered: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Transsexual, Homophobia, Racism, Bullying, Violence, Family, Friends, Identity, Coming Out

Curriculum Ties: Gender and Sexuality

Booktalking Ideas: Read a piece from any of the essays, like the quote included above in the “Content” section.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12 -19

Challenge Issues: This book is all about GLBTT youth and sends a message of the importance of acceptance, so it could very well be challenged.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, including reviews by VOYA and Booklist.

Why is this book included? Initially found in the YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults 2006 list, under the GLBTQ heading, this book is included because young adult collections should address the needs and issues of the diverse communities they serve.


Planned Parenthood of Toronto. (2004). Hear Me Out: True Stories of Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia. Toronto, ON: Second Story Press.

Gale Biography in Context

Bibliographic Information: Gale Biography in Context (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ic.galegroup.com.ezproxy.sfpl.org/ic/bic1?userGroupName=sfpl_main via the San Francisco Public Library eLibrary: Articles and Databases page (library card barcode and pin number required).

Plot Summary/Resource Description: Gale Biography in Context is an online reference source for those interested in researching people.  It contains over 600,000 biographies, with “50,000 new or updated bios added annually, in addition to daily updates to account for awards and events,” (About Gale Biography, 2010).  This updating is possible because the reference source is online.

This is a great resource for young adults interested in satisfying their own curiosity about their favorite singer or athlete or, of course, for use with school assignments.  The Biography in Context database also includes the Lives & Perspectives Collection which “supports high-school curricula and university coursework by providing multidisciplinary content on notable figures and the societal forces that have shaped their lives,” (About Gale Biography, 2010).   So, content of the database is “curriculum aligned.”

Each biographical entry contains an essay plus a plethora of additional media sources, from newspaper and magazine articles to reference books and academic journals to photos, videos, and audio clips.  Biographical subjects include current and historical figures from the United States and around the world.  A “fact box” allows information seekers a quick glance at relevant information for each person covered.

Critical Evaluation: With such a wide breadth of information provided for each biography, this resource is invaluable for those in need of biographical information.  The essay provides a thorough, but not overwhelming, overview, and then the additional resources allow information seekers to go into whatever level of depth they need or desire.

Another great feature, that enhances the value of Gale Biography in Context, is that there is a “resources” page with many tools to help users with the database. A few examples of these “resources” are training video tutorials, research tips and tools, and, specifically for students, there are “Access Tools To Help Complete Your Assignment: Tools for Getting Started and Wrapping Up” (Resources, 2010).

Reader’s Annotation: The Gale Biography in Context online database contains over 600,000 biographies of contemporary and historical figures from all over the world.

Information about the Author/Editors: Editors and subject-area experts provide authoritative content that can be updated as often as necessary (Gale, Cengage Learning, 2011).

Genre: Non-fiction

Category: Online Reference

Curriculum Ties: Useful for any areas of the curriculum in need of biographical research

Booktalking Ideas: What one place can you find Adele, Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King?

Reading Level/Interest Age: All

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this well-known and respected reference source.

Why is this book included? High School teachers often require their students to do biographical research for assignments.  This database contains useful and accessible information for teens, college students, and adults.


About Gale Biography in Context. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.gale.cengage.com.ezproxy.sfpl.org/InContext/bio.htm

Gale, Cengage Learning. (2011). Gale Biography in Context (fact sheet for public libraries).  Retrieved from http://www.gale.cengage.com.ezproxy.sfpl.org/InContext/downloads.htm

Resources. (2010). Retrieved from http://ic.galegroup.com.ezproxy.sfpl.org/ic/bic1/resources/?

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.

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.

Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America 2nd edition

Bibliographic Information: Dassanowsky, R., & Lehman, J. (Eds.). (2000). Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America 2nd ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.  Retrieved from the San Francisco Public Library website here.  (library card barcode and pin number required)

Plot Summary/Resource Description: As The United States diversifies more and more, the Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, 2nd ed. (GEMA) provides important information about a variety of ethnic groups for “high school and college students, librarians, and general reference seekers alike,” (Preface).  Endorsed by the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table of the American Library Association, the GEMA not only provides information about specific ethnic groups it also provides references so researchers can seek additional information.

The second edition of the Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America expands upon the first edition, which was published in 1995.  The GEMA provides entries covering 152 “ethnic, ethnoreligious, and Native American cultures currently residing in the United States,” (Preface).  Each entry includes a detailed essay about the group, written and edited by scholars in the field.  Each entry also includes a suggested reading list and a directory of information about that group, including email addresses and URLs for media, organizations and museums related to that group.

Groups are included in the encyclopedia based on either group population data from the 1990 census indicating a significant population or recommendation by the advisory board.  Some of the groups recommended by the advisory board are small, but the board felt that they were likely to be studied or researched by students, and hence warranted inclusion.  Essays include information about countries of origin, in the case of immigrant groups, but focus mainly on the group’s experiences in the United States.  In the case of Native Americans or “First Americans” the encyclopedia covers 18 ethnic groups, which is by no means comprehensive, but represents a six-entry increase from the 12 essays in the first edition.  In the preface the editors make a point to speak about the importance of Native American cultures to the United States.

Critical Evaluation: This is an important, valuable, and unique resource with well-researched and thorough information, so it would be quite useful to students researching, or even comparing, the experiences of, particular ethnic groups.  But, unfortunately, the GEMA is over ten years old.  Not being current does not render this resource useless, but since the data used is from the 1990 census that makes a lot of the data more than 20 years old, and, hence, likely inaccurate.  Much of the cultural information is still relevant, and the historical information remains accurate, but when one uses this resource it must be understood that some of the information lacks currency.   This encyclopedia is also available in three-volume book format, available in the library reference area.

Reader’s Annotation: The Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America is a comprehensive resource documenting extensive historical and contemporary information about 152 individual American ethnic groups.

Genre/Category: Non-fiction, Online Reference

Curriculum Ties: Useful for Social Studies, Multicultural Studies, and Biographies

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Where would you go to compare the immigration patterns of Irish Americans to Asian Indian Americans?
  • Mention unique foods enjoyed by Americans from a variety of ethnic groups with which the students may not be familiar.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 through Adult

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this well-known and respected reference source.

Why is this book included? The Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America is a unique reference source that provides a wide breadth of information about America’s many ethnic and cultural groups.

Hardwear: Jewelry From a Toolbox by Hannah Rogge

Bibliographic Information: Rogge, H. (2006). Rafter, M. (Ills). Hardwear: Jewelry from a Toolbox. New York, NY: STC Craft.  ISBN: 1584794801.  144 pages.

Plot/Content Summary: Shopping for supplies in a hardware store is nothing new for most do-it-yourself (DIY) crafters, but making beautiful, elegant and even delicate jewelry out of hardware store basics might be a bit more of stretch.  Enter Hannah Rogge, a designer of exhibits and displays, who needed holiday gifts for her friends who “are creative, interested in innovative design, and have great taste,” (p. 9).  The problem: Hanna had very little money to spend on gifts for her stylish friends.  The solution: jewelry made out of common hardware store items.

Hardwear contains detailed instructions, illustrations, and photographs for making 24 items.  The book is organized buy chapters that focus on a particular piece of hardware: washers, rope, metal connectors, nuts, and vinyl, plastic & rubber.  For each item crafters are advised of the supplies and tools that are needed and then numbered and illustrated step by step instructions walk users through the process of creating the jewelry piece.

Critical Evaluation: Teens interested in DIY jewelry making will be excited and inspired by Hardwear.  With easy to understand instructions and budget-friendly projects, this book is very user-friendly.  The writing is casual and approachable, and Rogge encourages her readers to have fun and experiment.  Not only are there 24 projects, but there are many opportunities for creativity, as most projects can be adapted in multiple ways to create a totally different piece.  The book has a hard cover, but is psiral bound, allowing it to lie flat, which is helpful when reading directions while working on projects.  Fill-color photographs of the finished product allow users to see what they are trying to achieve.  A glossary explains the items used in the book in detail, and Rogge has also included a page of online supply sources for those items not found in the neighborhood hardware store.  From washer chain earrings and hair hinges to hexagon necklace and coupling nut choker, these designs are sure to intrigue and inspire.

Reader’s Annotation: Hardwear: Jewelry from a Toolbox details how to create beautiful jewelry from items found at the local hardware store.

Information about the Author: Hannah Rogge is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and she is currently works at a custom design and fabrication studio.  She is a creative thinker, who is inspired by everyday objects.  “For me, the contradiction in making jewelry out of hardware is perfect because I love breaking boundaries and challenging the ‘norm.’” (Rogge, 2006, p. 10).

In addition to creating window displays and other cool stuff for her day job, Rogge has written a book about what to do with t-shirts for DIY crafters: Save this Shirt: Cut It. Stitch It. Wear It Now.

Genre: Non-Fiction

Category: DIY, Crafts, Jewelry Making

Curriculum Ties:  Art

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Hold up a coupling nut or washer, etc. and ask people if they can picture a piece of jewelry that this item could be a part of.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 to Adult

Challenge Issues: none

Why is this book included?  As a craft lover, I immediately looked for this book when I saw it on the 2007 Annotated Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list.  Crafty teens love making things themselves and the low budget nature of the supplies makes this book accessible and fun for many teens.


Rogge, H. (2006). Rafter, M. (Ills). Hardwear: Jewelry from a Toolbox. New York, NY: STC Craft.

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

Bibliographic Information: Gantos, J. (2002). Hole in My Life. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR).  ISBN: 0374399883.  208 pages.

Plot/Content Summary: Sometimes a person does not realize that he is making a huge mistake until it is too late.  Sometimes a person forgets to think about the consequences of his actions.  Jack Gantos, now an accomplished author of books for pre-teens (including the Joey Pigza series), was in his late teens when he made a mistake that would change his life.  In the early 1970’s $10,000 could buy even more than it can now, and that it what Gantos was promised as a payment if he could help a man sail a boat full of hashish from The Caribbean island of St. Croix to New York City.  “I didn’t think of the danger involved with braking the law.  I didn’t even consider that I had no idea how to sail a large boat…that anything bad could possible happen.”  But we know something bad did happen, because Gantos opens the book with a discussion of his time in prison and the fear of random violence he lived with every moment of every day.  Always interested in becoming a writer, but never following through, Gantos also started writing in earnest while he was in prison.  This memoir was not his first or even second book, it was published over 30 years after he started his life in prison, but his words describe his past life as if the visceral memories or not, in any way, forgotten.

Critical Evaluation: Gantos’ voice is honest and frank.  He manages to tell his story with a careful balance to the point of almost being objective.  He’s not self-aggrandizing or egomaniacal nor is he overly self-deprecating, all traps into which memoir writers can fall.  Gantos’ story is compelling, and though, as mentioned above, readers know from the start (the front cover shows his mugs hot) that Gantos will end up in prison, the path to get there take enough twists and turns that the story is still suspenseful and engaging.  There are parts of the story that could probably have been edited a bit to speed up the pace, it felt a little long at times, but overall this book is well worth the read.  There are many episodes from Gantos’ life that could inspire interesting and exciting class, book group, or family discussions.  There are lessons to be learned from Gantos, not because he preaches and not because he feels sorry for himself, but because he earns his readers’ respect through sometimes brutal honesty and his willingness to make himself vulnerable and open for to truly see him and learn from his mistakes.

Reader’s Annotation: In the early 1970’s, Jack in Gantos was an aspiring writer who didn’t have the money he needed to attend college, and he was in a job he hated.  So, when he was offered $10,000 to help sail a shipment of drugs from the Caribbean to New York City he said, “Count me in.”

Information about the Author: Jack Gantos is an award-winning author of children’s, tween young adult, and adult books.  As a child he wanted to become a writer, in fact, according to his website, “The seeds for Jack Gantos’ writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister’s diary and decided he could write better than she could.”

It was in college that Gantos published his first children’s book; he received a BA and an MA from Emerson College in Boston.  At Emerson he became an instructor in children’s book writing and eventually created a masters program in children’s book writing.  Gantos also taught at Vermont College in the M.F.A. program for children’s book writers.  “He now devotes his time to writing books and educational speaking.” (Jack Gantos’ Bio & Photos)

Genre/Category: Non-Fiction, Coming of Age, Suspense, Crime

Topics Covered: Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse, Illegal Activities, Incarceration, Growing Up, Coming of Age

Curriculum Ties: Health, Responsible Decision Making, Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The immense and intense fear Gantos felt in prison
  • Can one mistake ruin your whole life?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues: Drug Use, Alcohol Abuse, Drug Selling, Illegal Activities.

Why is this book included? Hole in my Life won the Michael L. Printz and Robert F. Sibert honors; it is a compelling and moving story of a young man facing himself and not liking what he sees sometimes.  It is non-fiction with all of the drama of fiction and the emotional honesty only a memoir can provide.  In other words, it’s a great book, and a great addition to a non-fiction section for young adults.


Gantos, J. (n.d.). Jack Gantos’ Bio & Photos.  Retrieved from http://www.jackgantos.com.vhost.zerolag.com/bio-photos/

What Are You? Voices of Mixed-Race Young People by Pearl Fuyo Gaskins

Bibliographic Information: Gaskins, P. F. (1999). What are you? Voices of Mixed-Race Young People. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN: 0805059687.  273 pages.

Plot/Content Summary: “What are you?” a question some people hear every day, particularly people of mixed racial heritage.  Pearl Fuyo Gaskins, herself a mixed-race child of an Asian-American father and a European-American mother, interviewed 80 mixed-race young people about their experiences growing up in the US.  Gaskins’ book includes poetry, essays and portions of interviews with approximately 45 of these young people.  The young people address discrimination, racism, dating, family dynamics, identity.  They discuss that issues that are unique to being mixed race as well as issues that are universal to young people in general.  Readers of mixed race heritage are likely to find validation and reflection from the book as well as new ideas to consider.  Those reading the book who are not from a mixed race background will likely find a great deal of insight and information from the brave young people who share their stories.  The book also includes an extensive, annotated “Resources” section at the end.

Critical Evaluation: In What Are You? Gaskins has managed to take on a big and complicated topic with grace and intelligence.  The diversity of the voices in the book lend it great accuracy.  Chapters are organized by common themes experienced by multiracial youth, and many of their voices appear in multiple chapters.  Gaskins explanatory and exploratory pieces throughout the book reflect and expand on the young people’s thoughts and feelings.  Their voices are authentic and clear and leave readers feeling as if they have gained insights into hard-to-grasp topics.  These issues are complex and multifaceted, but hearing directly from the people who experience them brings the issues down to a human level, reminding us that no matter what we are, we all have similar needs to be accepted, celebrated, and loved for exactly who we are.  Derek Salmond, age fifteen says, “People often ask me the question, ‘So, what are you anyway?’…I say, “I’m a human being.  Why?  What are you?” (p. 21).

Reader’s Annotation: Mixed-race young people, in their own voices, tell of the joys and pains of living in a culture that wants them to “check one box.”

Information about the Author: After the dedication page, the first line of What Are You? is, “I’ve wanted to write this book since I was fifteen years old,” (p. vii).  Gaskins was herself a mixed race child, born in 1959, a time when interracial marriage was illegal in many states.  As Gaskins grew up she experienced many of the same things that the young people in her book describe: racism, discrimination, feeling invisible and alone.  Gaskins watched as consciousness grew within multi-racial communities as well as in society as a whole.  She wrote this book for the mixed-race young people today, it is a book, she says, “I wish I’d had when I was a teenager,” (p. 8).

Genre/Category: Non-Fiction

Topics covered: Identity, Mixed-race, Multi-racial, Racism, Discrimination, Family, Friends

Curriculum Ties: Social Studies, Race in America

Booktalking Ideas:

  • There are so many great quotations to read to stimulate discussion, like, “People often ask me the question, ‘So, what are you anyway?’…I say, “I’m a human being.  Why?  What are you?”

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 -25

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? A good collection includes a diversity of books.  This book contains the voices of mixed-race youth, a group often underrepresented in literature, so is an important piece to include in a collection for young people.


Gaskins, P. F. (1999). What are you? Voices of mixed-race young people . New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

Conquering the Beast Within: How I Fought Depression and Won…and How You Can, Too by Cait Irwin

Bibliographic Information: Irwin, C. (1998). Conquering the Beast Within: How I fought Depression and Won…and How You Can, Too. New York, NY: Times Books.  ISBN: 0812932471.  105 pages.

Plot Summary: Cait Irwin was no typical thirteen-year-old.  Every minute of every day she had a constant companion — the beast – her name for her depression.  At first, partially due to the nature of the disease, she kept it to herself.  She isolated herself and “the beast” was able to exert a lot of influence over her.  But, eventually she sought and received help, and fought the beast, and won.  Part memoir, part self-help book, part how-to book, and part comic book, Irwin takes readers on her journey through her words as well as her cartoon-like drawing of the beast and his teen victim.  Not only does Irwin give practical suggestions for steps to take for teens struggling with depression, she most decidedly wants to offer those teens hope.  The book ends with letters to the reader from some of Irwin’s family members about how they supported her and, in some cases, how they would have behaved differently.

Critical Evaluation: Depression is a real disease, but sometimes we do not want to acknowledge it.  We do not want to look at it.  We do not want to deal with it.  We want to pretend it is not there.  People with depression as well as those around them are sometimes more comfortable pretending “the beast” is not there, BUT, Irwin warns us, when “the beast” is ignored he grows.  Telling her story, while at the same time speaking in general terms, could really help a depressed teen both not feel so alone and find ways to cope with her/his illness.  In a dramatic, but straightforward and not overly emotional, way, Irwin paints a picture of depression as an illness.  In fact, Irwin compares depression to a broken leg, both takes a teen out of full functioning, they might miss school time, sports practices, afterschool activities, even socializing with friends, but when the healing begins, these things can start to come back into a teen’s life again.  Wise beyond her years, Irwin clearly wants to help other teens battle the beast of depression.

Reader’s Annotation: Thirteen-year-old Cait Irwin fights and conquers, “the beast,” depression and wants others to learn from and be inspired by her journey.

Information about the Author:  At 13, Cait Irwin’s life was devastated by depression, but she fought her way out and shared her story with the world in Conquering the Beast Within: How I Fought Depression and Won…and How You Can, Too.  In 2006, Irwin co-wrote Monochrome Days: A First-Hand Account of One Teenager’s Experience With Depression with two psychology experts.

Cait Irwin, now 31, is a working artist who expresses herself in many ways, including painting, wall murals and stenciling an original piece of artwork the side of a barn silo.  She continues to be a strong suicide prevention advocate.

Genre: Non-Fiction, Issue, Illness, Mental & Emotional Problems

Format: Graphic Book

Category: Non-Fiction

Topics Covered: Depression, Suicide, Mental Health

Curriculum Ties: Health, Mental Health, Biology

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Use one of the graphics from the book
  • Talk about just how down Irwin became

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13-19

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? Many teens suffer from depression.  This book gives teens hope as well as concrete suggestions for fighting depression.  As the author, when she wrote it, was a teen herself, teens (and their parents) reading the book will be able to feel its authenticity.  This book’s unique format makes it a great choice, as providing books that speak directly to depressed teens would be an excellent service for the library to provide


Cait’s website: http://sites.google.com/site/realityimpairedartworks/Home