The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

reviewed by Elvira Sanchez Kisser, Woodburn Public Library

scarboysA story told in a form of a college personal essay about the  journey of “Harry,” Harbinger Robert Francis Jones, the kid who was almost struck by lighting, his struggles to live with his scars, his trouble finding friendship, and eventually learning to find solace in music. Harry navigates through school being bullied because of his scars and lives a life of solitude. Until the day comes when he is befriended by Johnny, the good looking athlete, who becomes his first friend and teaches him about friendship, betrayal, and acceptance. Even though the idea of starting a band wasn’t his, Harry learns to find salvation and confidence through creating and performing music which changes him forever.

Harry’s story is told through a series of short chapters with song headings providing a theme and a great soundtrack for those who know the music. The story is set in the 1980’s so the music will probably not be familiar to most teens of this generation, given that many are fairly obscure songs to begin with. Those that are interested in music may take the time to look up the music online, but I fear for many they will ignore the references. Though the story has many musical references, the story is about Harry living with his physical and emotional scars from being burned as a child and learning how other’s react to him, such as his dad calling him a “toaster”. Vlahos peppers his writing with geeky references to Star Wars and Star Trek, decision making lists, and fantasy scenarios that bring a lightheartedness to some of the more serious scenes, such as getting bullied or getting over a broken heart. Overall an engaging story for teens and adults alike that will provide a glimpse of why people form bands and what music can mean for these people.

My strange summer discovery: Teens LOVE Perler Beads

by Sonja Somerville, Salem Public Library

perler dispicableIt all started because I needed an activity and we had SO MANY Perler Beads and I was looking for a third station for a craft program. My small stroke of genius was investing a few hours in looking up and printing “teen interest” Perler Bead patterns.

There are hundreds. I found:

  • Dr. Who themes
  • Hello Kitty
  • Minecraft
  • My Little Pony
  • Angry Birds
  • Super Mario
  • Hunger Games
  • Despicable Me
  • Spongebob Squarepants
  • Star Wars

The teens flocked to the table, boys and girls alike. I could hardly pry them away from the table at the end of the night. It was so popular, I trotted it all out again at our End-of-Summer Party where kids were so desperate for access, they were sitting on the floor with their trays of beads and Perler boards just to get in on the fun.


Interview with Jill Williamson, author of The Safe Lands Trilogy

Interviewed by Elvira Sanchez Kisser

JillWilliamsonJill Williamson, award-winning author of several young adult books including the Blood of Kings trilogy, Replication, the Mission League series, and the Safe Lands trilogy. She also enjoys working with teenagers and gives writing workshops at libraries, schools, camps, and churches. And she was kind of enough to be interviewed for our newsletter.

 Can you tell us a little about your latest dystopian series, Safe Lands?

Sure! The people who live in the Safe Lands are dying of a plague. Their scientists need uninfected people to study if they’re going to find a way to survive. So Safe Lands enforcers raid the village of Glenrock and take the survivors captive. The series follows three of those captive brothers. Levi wants to get his people—and his fiancé—out of the Safe Lands and back to life as normal. Mason would like to help find a cure for the thin plague, which would solve the problem for good. And Omar thinks life in the Safe Lands is so much better than what he had in Glenrock. The series follows each brother as they strive to succeed in their goals and become drawn into the plight of the Safe Lands people.

Your final book in the Safe Lands series, Rebels, has just been released, how do you feel and do you think you will revisit this world again? 

It always feels good to finish a series and hear that my readers are satisfied. The only way I might revisit this world would be to publish the prequel, which takes place in current day and follows the story of the three brothers’ grandfather when he was a teenager. That book is called Thirst, and I’ve written about half of it. So I might have to finish it someday.

While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?

 I always feel as if I am every point-of-view character as I’m writing the book. I think that helps me really get into their heads. Sort of like acting. I need to know what it feels like to be each of those people if I’m going to portray them well in print.

Where do you seek inspiration for your stories?

For me, ideas are everywhere! I just look around me. One way is finding the right “What if?” question. Sometimes an idea will just pop into my head, like the idea for Replication. I was riding in a car on our way to pick apples. We passed farm after farm and I thought, “What if there was a farm that grew people? Clones. They could call it Jason Farms!” And I was ready to start writing!

Another thing I like to do is combine two unrelated things. For my Blood of Kings trilogy, I was on a walk with my son and we came upon a house that had burned down. There was a tree in the yard that was half charred and half leafy green. I thought it was the coolest image. I ran home and Photoshopped it. I knew I wanted to write a story about that tree. But on its own that wasn’t good enough. So I eventually combined the tree, or the idea of a land half-cursed in darkness, with telepathy. And that was enough to get me going.

What books/authors have most influenced your writing?

 J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series were the books that made me want to be a writer. I was so taken in by her story-world building … I wanted to do something similar. And world building is one of my favorite aspects of writing speculative fiction. I also love Tolkien, Peretti, and Jane Austen, though I don’t know how much Jane’s work has influenced my own.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

 Getting that first draft written is always my biggest challenge. I love editing. I love going back in and adding details and perfecting my world and planting clues. But I can’t do any of that until I write the first draft. And that sometimes takes me a while, especially on the first book in a new series when I am creating a world and haven’t got it all figured out yet.

On your website, you state that you are a Whovian. Which doctor is your favorite, and what do you like most about him?

 The Tenth Doctor is my favorite. I love David Tennant. I love his voice, his crazy hair, that long coat, his pinstripes, his glasses, his sneakers. I think the fact that he became an actor with the goal of one day playing the Doctor makes him the very best at it. He just IS the Doctor to me.

Do you have any advice to librarians on how to inspire teens interested in writing?

GTWBN-662x1024Encourage them to finish their first draft. So many new writers get stuck rewriting, trying to perfect their beginning. And they’ll spend years writing and never finish a book. Give them permission to write horrible first drafts. That’s what I do. Because I know that I will fix it later. And I also know that I can’t fix it until I have something to fix. I can’t paint my pottery until I create the pot! Writers learn so much from finishing a book. It’s something they must do.

Give them books like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King, Writing for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson, or anything by James Scott Bell. I learned so much from writing-craft books, and those are some of my favorites.

And you can also send them to check out the blog. We blog five days a week for teen writers. There they can connect with a community of other teen writers, find critique partners, and enter contests that will continually encourage them.

So you are a Photoshop addict, did you have any influence in your cover designs and do they meet your expectations? If you didn’t what would you have liked to see on your book covers?

 I have been so blessed in my book covers. I think they’re all beautiful. I did have some influence. Each publisher asked me to fill out a form on which I was able to describe my characters and scenes from the books. But the publishers and graphic artists took that information and came up with their own ideas. I love my covers. The only one I designed myself is the cover of Storyworld First. I did that myself because I was in a hurry to have it ready before Salt Lake Comic Con, and I couldn’t find a designer to work on such short notice.

darknesshidchristy-194x300You worked as a fashion assistant before becoming a writer, has your experiences as a fashion assistant helped you in your writing, if so how?

 I think all my life experiences help my writing because they made me who I am. Specifically, though, the fashion industry taught me about cutthroat business, about being the little guy, about being under-appreciated. It also taught me that sometimes our dreams aren’t what we hoped they’d be, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t chase them anyway. It also taught me that I should always respect my dream, whatever it is. I did that for fashion. I studied and worked hard for almost ten years. It was a fascinating time in my life, and I’m so glad I went for it.

When I first started writing, I’d forgotten that. I thought, How hard could it be to write a book? I figured anyone could do it. But I was wrong. When I first started writing, I hadn’t respected the dream at all, and it showed! When it hit me, I pretty much put myself back to school. I spend the next four years honing my craft, writing, writing, writing. I read every writing craft book I could get my hands on. I went to more conferences. I learned everything I could. And it made a huge difference.

Can you give us your top 5 current YA author recommendations?

 Brandon Sanderson. Anything by him is brilliant, but his YA series is called Steelheart.

I love Megan Whalen Turner’s books, The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia.

I adore Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes trilogy.

Then I’ll have to say Suzanne Collins and her Hunger Games and J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books, of which only the last four were YA. Both those series were so perfectly executed that I marvel each time I read them.

Can you share a little about what you are currently working on with us?

 Yes! I’m writing an epic fantasy trilogy tentatively called The Kinsman Chronicles. The first book, King’s Folly, will come out in September 2015.

Here is the log line for book one: In a fantasy world, a grieving prince struggles to solve his beloved’s murder—a mystery that uncovers a conspiracy of apocalyptic proportions.

This series takes place on the same planet as my Blood of Kings series. These are some of Achan’s ancestors, so the story happens long before Achan was born. I hope my readers will enjoy it!

Thank you for taking the time for this interview for the Oregon Young Adult Network Review.

 Thanks so much for talking with me! Come find me online at, and we’ll talk more.


Coldest Girl In Coldtown by Holly Black, read by Christine Lakin

reviewed by Kristy Kemper Hodge, Corvallis-Benton County Public LIBRARY

ReColddestgirlincoldtowncently, I listened to the audiobook of Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, read by Christine Lakin, and I highly recommend giving it a listen. This is vampires as you have never experienced them before! Black creates a semi-post apocalyptic world, a world where vampirism spreads like a disease and infected cities are quarantined behind guarded walls and called Coldtowns. At the center of this story is Tana, a strong 17-year-old girl, older sister, and general bad-ass who rises to the ever-escalating occasion as the story progresses.

 Tana wakes in a farmhouse at the end of an all-night party as the lone uninfected survivor of a vampire massacre. She rescues her infected, charismatic ex-boyfriend and a chained up vampire, who then join her on a madcap adventure to a famous Coldtown. On their journey they encounter many dangers along the way, including violent vampires hunting them down, crazed vampire wannabes, and themselves as they deal with their own vampirism and infection. Well-timed flashbacks fill in Tana’s horrific back story as well as the impact of her nationally-broadcasted story on her family. Once they arrive in Coldtown, there are increasingly terrifying dangers to be faced and Tana is constantly pushed further and further down a road to brutality just to survive.

 With twists and turns you won’t expect – and some that you will see coming due to Black’s subtle foreshadowing – this compelling story will have you ensnared. It’s got just the right blend of action, suspense, gore, horror, romance, and humor as only Holly Black can deliver. Hopefully, you, like me, will find yourself thinking about the characters and their mad world whenever you’re not reading or listening to this excellent new teen vampire novel. The characters are incredibly engaging and endlessly fascinating. This is especially so because of Christine Lakin’s skillful voice acting; she has distinct, identifiable voices for each of the characters that help them come alive in the listener’s mind.

 If you like fast-paced, enthralling stories with a sci-fi-fantasy twist and appreciate a great voice actor, then give this audiobook a listen. I dare you to turn it off midway or not spend your non-listening time thinking about the characters who you will doubtlessly get attached to.


Creative Mad Libs

By Violeta Garza, Multnomah County Library, Troutdale Branch

White Lotus,  Japanese Club, Troutdale Library

White Lotus, Japanese Club, Troutdale Library

Leave it to teens to turn something old into something new. My White Lotus Japanese Club is full of love for old-school stuff like Queen, the Narnia books, and yes, Finding Nemo. When one teen recommended we do Mad Libs, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I couldn’t help but think, “Uhhh… okay.” Really? Mad Libs? Mad Libs is a word game where players receive a list of parts of speech (ie, noun, verb, etc.) and they have to fill in the blanks that correspond to a story. Of course, the players fill in the gaps before even reading the story, and then they plug in their guesses to make a really disjointed tale.

So with the help of the internet, I concocted a Mad Libs piece that I thought they’d enjoy. Oh, they more than enjoyed it. At one point, the meeting reached fever pitch. They couldn’t wait to share their pieces once they got to witness the possible results. One teen– the one who was most resistant to the activity at the beginning– wound up saying, “I think I might die from laughter!” after she read her story. When we did it again at the next meeting, they were no less excited, and it’s become a tradition of sorts.

Some tips to make this opportunity go as smoothly as possible:

  • You may have to talk a bit about the parts of speech. Even though I had examples next to each one, some of them still needed to hear that “adjectives” are simply descriptive words.
  • Set some ground rules. In my experience, they love pushing the envelope, so to speak. If you want this to be a “family friendly” activity, let them know ahead of time, or you might get some borderline adult content. And hey, if you’re cool with that, cool beans.
  • Encourage them to write their own Mad Libs, but be prepared to do your own if they don’t step up to the plate. Writing them isn’t nearly as fun as filling them out.

At one point, they might be totally over it, but for now, it’s been really low-budget fun!

Check out these examples:

A Focus on Non-fiction for Young Adults Workshop Materials

by Sonja Somerville

OYANMeetingWith Textcollage

Just a quick note to let those interested that the materials from the October 24 OYAN Fall Workshop – A Focus on Non-Fiction for Young Adults: Selection, Suggestions, and How It All Relates to Supporting the Common Core – are now available on the resources page of NW Central:

Thanks again to everyone who presented and attended. It was an great workshop. We hope the materials can be useful to those who attended and those unable to attend.


Back to School: Making New Connections

by April Witteveen, Deschutes Public Library (originally appeared in the YALSA blog)

Courtesy of the National Library of Australia

With the end of summer reading and learning programs on the horizon, thoughts turn to the quickly approaching school year (perhaps with a well-earned vacation in between…).  For front-line public librarians, it’s a new year full of opportunities to make connections with area school library staff.  Perhaps you’ve tried this type of outreach in the past with minimal success; maybe there’s been a staffing change at a school where you’ve had a continuous presence but now you’re not sure how things will go. If you’re lucky enough to have an excellent relationships that will pick up right where you left off, then share your advice in the comments at

This is not a time to be retreating, this is a time to sell your incredible and unique services and support for both students and teachers. Stepping outside your comfort zone and making a tough cold call, email, or in-person visit can yield amazing results.  Here are some ideas on how you could get started:

  • Create a one-sheet that clearly and succinctly lays out what your services are (instruction/database presentations, book talks, lunchtime outreach, etc.).  Include this in a promotional packet with library swag and business cards, and deliver to school libraries before school starts.
  • Browse online staff directories of area schools to identify teachers who might be most likely to take you up on services: traditionally this would be language arts and social studies teachers, but with the STEM/STEAM movement it’s time to expand our message to science and technology teachers.
  • Try a lunch time outreach pilot project in conjunction with school library staff. This could be a lunch book club meeting or providing a presence in the cafeteria with library information and swag to bring attention to you and your public library. This also helps you create relationships with students and school staff.
  • Check in with career and college preparation offices in your high schools to let them know about your resources and services for this population.  You could find out about hosting a booth at college and career fairs.


These ideas all sound great at the outset– but then what?  Patience and perseverance!  Follow up is going to be incredibly important– we don’t want to pester but we want to be sure that our message is heard.  Being aware of any school’s given reality is also important; perhaps they are going through an intense testing year or drastically changing their curriculum.  Both of these situations have impacted my own school outreach in the past, but hooray, it’s a brand new year!  It’s also great to reassure school library workers that we aren’t looking to take over their jobs or their libraries, we want to add value and create relationships that will help students succeed and give teachers additional support.