I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.
This month, as we did last October, we’re discussing horror. The first thing I learned from this is that the teens in my community are really into horror right now. Every time I do book talks, I start out by asking students what they’re reading and telling them what I’m reading. Many of them were interested in the horror novel I mentioned, in some cases more so than the books I brought with me. I’m definitely going to add more horror for the books I talk about next spring.
But I digress. As far as writing lessons learned from reading horror, this month reaffirmed just how important word choice can be. When describing a scary place, the right words and tone can make all the difference. “Snow white” conjures a different image than “bone white,” and an unpleasant smell described as “rank” isn’t as gut-churning as one described as “like rotting corpses.” If you want to scare your readers, you can use descriptions that evoke creepy images even if you’re talking about a sunny afternoon at the park.
Pacing is also key to increasing the tension, and the creepiness. If the characters are exploring a house we’ve been told is haunted, don’t have the ghost appear right away. Let the characters take their time going from room to room, finding slightly creepy/off-putting things, our dread slowly growing until finally we see the ghost. The more you draw out the tension, letting it rise slowly, the scarier the scene will be.
I’m looking into starting a Snapchat account for the library teens. Both the teens who are regulars already and the ones I’ve met at school visits overwhelmingly choose Snapchat over every other social media platform, so I feel like it’s one of the best ways for me to reach them. As someone who rarely takes pictures in my personal life, adapting to an image-based platform is going to be an adjustment. I’ve looked at the ways other libraries are using Snapchat, though, and come up with a few things I could do to connect with the teens there. My ideas so far:
– #ThrowbackThursday — recommend a backlist YA book
– #FridayReads — what the teen librarian is reading right now (and ask them to share what they’re reading)
– Snaps of the new teen books cart as I’m getting ready to check them in
– Snaps of new displays
– Snaps of behind-the-scenes program setup
– Snaps of publicity that can also serve as reminders for upcoming teen programs
– Snaps of post-it note reviews of books
– Contests, like entrance in a prize drawing for adding us on Snapchat or sending us snaps of their favorite books
I’m sure I’ll come up with more ideas as I explore further. I also plan to let the Teen Advisory Board help decide what our handle should be, to give them a greater sense of ownership of the account. Hopefully that will make them more likely to add us and encourage their friends to add us.
Do you use Snapchat professionally? What has worked well for you?
As a writer of YA novels and a teen librarian, writing programs at the library allow my two careers to intersect in the best way. I could talk about writing for hours, and love helping newer writers, whether that means pointing them to useful resources or providing feedback on their work. This week, in honor of Teen Read Week, I have a couple writing programs scheduled, and I’m really excited for them!
The first is more based on storytelling than writing specifically. We’ll basically be creating fan fiction and fan art, and I’m placing no limitations on format. People can write, draw, or even rap about their favorite (or least favorite) characters and stories. When I pitched this program at a school visit, one boy said, “We’re gonna rap at the library?”
Yes. Yes, we are.
After that I have a workshop planned that’s focused on novel writing. I’m determined to make the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program a thing at my library this year. I’ve put together a Young Novelist’s Survival Packet that includes lists of helpful websites, worksheets on characters development and plotting, a calendar so they can set a word count goal for every day in November (and plan for those days when they won’t be able to write), and more. I’ll also be signing teens up for the Young Writers Program, and depending on people’s interest, I may host write-ins or lead online writing sprints in November. I told our local English teachers about the program, and am hoping they send their creative writers my way!
Have you had any writing groups or programs at your library? What has been popular or successful?
I just returned from my first day of book talks at one of the local middle schools. I’ll admit, going into this, I was really nervous. I am not a public speaker. And I had to talk to a full class of seventh and eighth graders. For forty minutes. Six times in a row.
And it. Was. AWESOME!!! These students were respectful, engaged, and asked great questions. They liked hearing about books to read for fun, and about our digital resources (Freegal was really popular, and the teachers were all pushing Tutor.com along with me). Working the Information Services desk, I don’t often get to interact with teens who are excited about reading; those who come for a book usually know what they want and find it themselves. So seeing them give enthusiastic thumbs-ups to the books I brought was awesome.
But more than getting teens excited about reading, book talks are the most effective outreach I’ve ever done. I got to talk up the library to 130 teens who were a captive, engaged audience. Those students now all know me as the teen librarian. They’ve talked with me, and will (hopefully) be comfortable approaching me at the library. They know about our programs, and left class talking about game nights and edible bugs (yes, we’re having edible bugs at an Eat Around the World program in a couple weeks). Even if only ten percent of them come to these programs, that’s thirteen teens I hadn’t seen at programs before.
And, book talks gave me a chance to meet some awesome teachers! I had an opportunity to show them some of the library’s resources that can help their students. And when I found out about a series their students like that we didn’t have at the library, I was able to tell the teachers and the students that we could get those books. Two teachers even offered extra credit to students who show them their public library card. And hopefully, these teachers will vouch for me when I want to visit their colleagues’ classes.
If you’re a youth librarian, and there’s a chance for you to do book talks at your local schools, I highly recommend it. It’s a great way to build or strengthen partnerships with educators, and to show a lot of students what the library has to offer them. Plus, it’s just really fun to meet and talk with the students you might not already see at the library.