Monday, October 22, 2012

Featured Sweetheart: KAREN JENSEN

Hi! P. J. Hoover here, and today I'm thrilled to feature an amazing librarian who has contributed so much time and energy to the teen librarian community! Please help me welcome

Karen Jensen!


TxSandS: You run an amazing teen book blog! Thank you for helping spread the word about books for kids! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do, and who or what inspires you? What were your goals when you started blogging, and how has that vision changed now that some time has gone by?

Karen: I was working at my dream job in Ohio (nice library that I felt was my family, teens I loved), but my husband was not. He got a job in Texas and I knew that when I left that it would be hard to find a library position given the current state of the economy and continual cutbacks in libraries (my Ohio library had lay-offs twice in the past 4 years). I also knew that every ounce of my being is a ya librarian and I wanted to continue to be involved in my profession and serve teens - so I started my blog. I never realized how much I would love doing the website. It gives me the opportunity to be creative, express myself, and now instead of serving local teens, I serve even more teens by (hopefully) equipping other librarians. I have been very honored and blessed to be blogging now with a group of other dedicated ya librarians that include Stephanie Wilkes, Christie Gibrich and Heather Booth. We often get great post series and discussions going and it is very invigorating and rewarding. I have also been lucky to meet and talk with a lot of authors and learn more about the other side of what I do: the writing and publishing side. All in all, I feel like my vision has grown and I personally am just encouraged to be a part of such an amazing group of people that care about and works with book and teens and our future.

TxSandS: What has been the biggest surprise since you've started?

Karen: How much work it is! Reading, writing, organizaing, responding to e-mails, contacting authors and publishers. Honestly, it could be a full-time job if you let it (and could figure out a way to make money from it). But the flip side is: it is so rewarding and encouraging and invigorating. And it really makes you think about why you do what you do as a librarian and as a reader. Honestly, it has been the most rewarding experience of my professional life. And I love getting to talk with other readers about books, why we like the ones we do and why we don't like the others. Being a part of this community is so very rewarding.

Hands down awesome: this past year I have gotten to meet some of my favorite authors and librarians and it has rocked! And yes, I do have some librarian superheroes of my own. And a couple of times someone has told me I am their librarian superhero and that does not suck.

TxSandS: How do you see reading changing for teens in the next couple years? What challenges do you see? And what can we do to help?

Karen: Yesterday my tween's teacher sent me an email (well, the whole class) saying that we had to sign off each night that our child had read 10 pages a night. 10 pages! I was thinking in my head, way to underachieve there. And these past 2 years I have really seen how AR has negatively affected her as a reader. She read Fudge but was told she couldn't read Superfudge because it was outside her level, too hard. I have a better idea now why when these teens get to me they are starting to hate reading. I think we undermine the value of reading as a culture, in our schools, and we really set up obstacles. We're already competing with video games and million dollar budget movies with amazing special effects, do we really want to create more barriers through our policies and procedures? You see it in the libraries, too: Teens often travel without parents so they can't get library cards and check books out right away - how do you solve that problem?

Challenges facing teens reading and libraries:
  • Increasingly overscheduled teens
  • A cultural devaluing of reading for enjoyment
  • AR testing and other systems that take the "fun" out of reading
  • Shrinking library budgets which mean we have less titles and less multiple copies of titles and makes teens have to wait longer for popular titles. At one point you had to wait over 2 months to get a copy of The Hunger Games in my library. Less money also means less staff and less access via hours open, trained staff, etc.

Of course we can't ignore the way that technology is changing reading with e-readers and e-books. This is a topic I think we are all still trying to work out. Libraries are definitely behind the curve on this one.

And I think we need to see more diversity in books still, and more books written for boys. Truthfully, a lot of really popular titles - like Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi - I think would have appeal for both genders but are marketed to girls, which is unfortunate. I think we - writers, publishers, whoever - are forgetting parts of our audience and alienating them. It's really hard to get someone back once you have sent the implied message that you have nothing to offer them. We need to change the message because we do have something to offer them. In fact, reading and information literacy is very, very important. And ther is a lot of learning that takes place in fiction reading. I personally feel that empathy, compassion and the understanding of others is one of the most important things we can give our kids and teens and fiction is one of the best tools to do it.

But I would love to see writers bust out of some of the current trends and send a different message:
Empower girls and de-emphasize looks. Same for boys. I worry about how we are affecting self-esteem and development in the way our teen characters are presented in teen lit. Seriously, all the guys are always hot swoony guys. That is not the way I remember high school. That has to be just as hard on guys as it is on girls to see all the really thin girls on book and magazine covers.

Send a different message regarding relationships: creepy, stalker, controlling dudes are not hot and sexy and don't usually turn out to be the misunderstood hero in real life. In fact, they usually turn out to be creepy, stalker, controlling dudes who hit and control with psychological abuse.

I would love to see more natural, slow building (simmering) romance in teen novels. Sometimes you do fall in love with your childhood best friend.

I would also like to see more classic science fiction, in outer space with aliens. That's just a personal preference.

Spend time with teens. They are living lives that can break your heart. They need to know they are not alone and there is hope.

All in all, this is a rich time in teen literature and I am thankful every day to be a part of it. That's what we need, is to get these books into the hands of teen readers. They need to be real, relatable and accessible. And everyone who can should make sure and contact their local school and public libraries and ask how they can work with them. Some libraries have Friends groups which provide supplemental funding, very necessary in today's age, so see if you can work with them. Definitely get to know your local teen librarians and be in dialogue with them; I am sure you have information that can help them be better at their jobs. I am a firm believer that everyone is better the more they know...

TxSandS: Would you consider yourself a Sweetheart or a Scoundrel?

Karen: I am going to go with a Sweetheart who has Scoundrel tendencies. I am passionate about books, libraries and serving teens - which are Sweetheart goals. But I can be a Scoundrel when it comes to standing up against censorship, being radical in my ideals or outspoken in my beliefs. Some people may consider that Scoundrel like behavior. I personally call that super hero behavior :)

TxSandS: Thank you so much, Karen, for being here with us and for all you do!



Karen Jensen has been a Young Adult/Teen Services Librarian for 19 years and loves working with teens, teen fiction, and graphic design (free RA posters here). She reads, she doesn't cook. Karen has an undergraduate degree from Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Youth Ministry with a minor in Psychology and received her MLS from Kent State University in 2002. Karen has been a reviewer for VOYA magazine since 2001. For the past 2 years she has been a part of the Wild Child Conference board.  Karen believes in the power of the 40 Developmental Assets and that the right book in the right hand can make all the difference.

TLT is her attempt to share her passion with her fellow teen services librarians - and you.  You can read her articles, Mpact: Building and Asset Builder's Coalition (VOYA, October 2011) and If You Feed Them, or Not, Will They Come?, (VOYA, February 2012) in VOYA, the Voice of Youth Advocates.

She is currently the Youth Services Librarian, focusing on tweens and teens, at the Betty Warmack Branch Library in Grand Prairie, Texas.  This year she is also honored to serve as the Publicity Coordinator for the North Louisiana Teen Book Festival (mark your calendars for April 6th, 2013) with the amazing Stephanie Wilkes who is working hard to put this thing together.

Her favorite reads include Chris Crutcher, Sarah Dessen, Scott Westerfeld, fantasy, science fiction and zombies (Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry is her absolute fave zombie book series thank you for asking). She is not so secretly in love with Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver.


If you know of someone who would make a great Featured Sweetheart, please let us know! The best part? If you nominate someone, we'll send you a $5 Starbucks gift card :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Happy Halloween from
seven authors & illustrators who write for kids and teens

October means the Texas Book Festival and Halloween and many other activities for the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels! We love seeing so many old and new friends at the festivals and other events that proliferate in the fall. Many of us are still scheduling school and library visits, as well as festival and event appearances, and hope to see you soon!

We love the Texas Book Festival and next to Halloween it is the biggest celebration in Austin every year. Several of the Sweethearts will be featured presenters and you are likely to spot a few of the rest of us around the Capitol grounds. Come to Austin during the weekend of October 27th-28th for a feast of literature.
Kari Ann Holt will be moderating two panels this year: Lunch Ladies, Mummies and Class Clowns with Jarrett J. Krosoczka, James Luna, and Kirk Scroggs, Saturday Oct. 27th at 10 am. And then Captain Underpants! with Dav Pilket, Lisa McMann, Jarrett J. Krosoczka and Mac Barnett on Saturday Oct. 27th at 2:15pm.   

We knew it but now it's official. Don Tate is a Reading Rockstar! On Friday, October 26, he and R. Gregory Christie will participate in the Texas Book Festival's Reading Rockstars program, where they'll present to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders at Ortega Elementary School.

On Saturday, October 27
at noon, Don Tate, R. Gregory Christie will present at the children's Read Me a Story tent (13th and Colorado Streets). Then from 2 to 3 p.m., Don will participate in the panel discussion Drawing on the Lives of Artists, in the Capitol Extension, Room E2.010. Don Tate, R. Gregory Christie and Duncan Tonatiuh will discuss their nonfiction picture books.

Jo Whittemore will introduce Elaine Scott on Saturday,  October 27 at 3:30 p.m. in the Capitol Extension, Room E2.012.


Several of the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels are featured in the Dear Teen Me anthology coming October 30th, 2012 from Zest Books! There are some amazing letters from some amazing people that are going to be perfect for sharing with your teens! We highly recommend this as a book to read along with your teens to help with those difficult conversation starters. Those of us who are not in the book are probably in the blog that started it all so check us out.  

For those who live in or around the Austin area, there will be a book launch party for Dear Teen Me. Come for the fun!  

When: Saturday, November 10, 2012, 2:00 
Where: The Book Spot, 1205 Round Rock Ave #119,
 Round Rock, TX 78681  
What: Book Release Party for Dear Teen Me

This now-annual festival was a big hit. Jessica Lee Anderson was thrilled to have participated !  Here she is pictured with fellow Sweethearts PJ Hoover and Jo Whittemore. If you have a chance, be sure to attend next year's Austin Teen Book Festival.

KA Holt is taking her vitamins to prep for an extra busy late October. In addition to a lot of school visits (see below), she just returned from a week at a Highlights Foundation workshop on verse novels in Honesdale, PA, studying under Sonya Sones, Linda Oatman High, and National Book Award-winning Virginia Euwer Wolff. What a productive week of intensive study and writing!

Jeanette Larson has been teaching an online class for librarians on collection development. Of course she has recommended that every library should have copies of every book by a Sweetheart!

We love the Book Spot, an independent book store in Round Rock, TX. Why? Because in addition to being a great store, the Book Spot always carries our books! And you can order our books by mail and we can sign them for you.

They also host a range of author
events. If you are in the area, plan now for December 8. We expect that all of the Sweethearts (and a Scoundrel or two) will be there from noon-2:00 p.m. We'll be reading, doing some crafts with the kids, and signing our books. We don't have to tell you that books make great holiday gifts!

Check out the calendar for other events at the Book Spot at


Look for the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels at your regional librarian event! And if we are not coming to an event near you, invite us. In addition to programs about our books, some of us do teacher in-service training and workshops.

Jeanette, Jessica, P.J. and Kari are scheduled to be at the ESC Region XII (Waco) Library Jubilee on November 6, 2012. We'll be talking about our writing and how to use our books with your students and presenting some of our books as reader's theater. It will be fun to watch us being dramatic!

Interested in an author visit? The Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels would love to visit your school. We understand that library budgets are tight, so our honorariums are flexible and reasonable, and visits can often be combined with other trips to your area.  
Don kicked off the new school year with his first visit at Rutledge Elementary in Leander, Texas. He looks forward to sharing with students his story about how he became a published author. And he draws! Lots of drawing! Contact him soon as his schedule is filling up.     

Jeanette recently spoke to (gulp) adult birders at the Rockport Hummer Bird Celebration. She added to her experience for school presentations by watching bird banders (have you ever been up close to the south end of a north bound bird?) and taking some great photographs. She also spoke to students at Sacred Heart School in Rockport. Contact Jeanette about speaking at your school or library event at
Later this month, Kari is thrilled to be joining Westview Middle School in Pflugerville, Texas as the first visiting author in their new Writers' Den program. Kari will be spending lunchtime with several groups of middle schoolers, sharing work, answering questions about writing and revisions, and helping students gain confidence in their writing abilities. And rounding out the month will be an impromptu visit (shh!) to the 5th graders at Zilker Elementary in Austin to talk about horror books, zombie haiku - and maybe, just maybe - to give a quick lesson on the proper way to apply zombie make-up.Kari enjoys letting students in on a few of her secrets - authors are just regular people, and just because you write about zombies and chupacabras doesn't mean you can't write poetry. Contact to bring Kari to your school!

Creating new worlds, mythology, and monsters is what P. J. Hoover loves to talk about the most. As a former Electrical Engineer, P. J. will share with students her transition to writing, inspirations for her books, and tips that will help even the most reluctant kids believe being a writer is possible. P. J. also partners with Jessica Lee Anderson for school visits. Contact P. J. at
Jessica Lee Anderson looking forward to an upcoming school visit at Westwood High School, Austin (TX). She is a certified teacher and loves sharing her journey from struggling writer to published author. She is happy to customize any presentation. Jessica also pairs with P. J. Hoover to provide exciting, interactive programs. Contact her at


Can't afford to bring a Sweetheart to your school? Skype provides a great way to introduce us to your students for a fraction of the cost.   
Not sure how Skype visits work? Win a free 10-15 minute Skype  visit with a Sweetheart (well, it's possible that you might get a Scoundrel). Click here to send us your name, school, and contact email. We'll draw one name on October 31 for a free Skype visit (time and date to be arranged) with Sweetheart Jeanette Larson.   Forward our newsletter to your friends and colleagues and encourage them to join our mailing list so they can also enter to win a free Skype visit. We'll be offering them throughout the year. 

Friday, October 12, 2012


Hi, there! It's Jessica Lee Anderson here and I'm so thrilled to announce our newest Featured Sweetheart--Valerie Burleigh! When I first met Valerie IRL, she was wearing a shirt that said,


Well, I totally want a shirt that says "Teachers and librarians are my rock stars!" And let me just say that Valerie Burleigh falls in this category.

We met through our beloved Round Rock indie book store, The Book Spot, and immediately, I was amazed by her zeal for her students and for young adult literature! Valerie Burleigh grew up in Louisiana and recently moved to Texas. She's been teaching for thirteen years, and I have to add that she's made quite an impression on the community!

TxS&S: You're such a rocking teacher and an enthusiastic supporter of young adult literature! Can you tell us how you got your start about what keeps you motivated?  

VB: From the very first year I started teaching, I shared my passion and love of reading with my students. Whenever I find a new author, a new book in a genre that we love, or come across a book trailer or cover reveal, I am so excited to share it with them. They are the most enthusiastic readers I know and keep me motivated.

 TxS&S: What has been one of your most rewarding surprises? VB: One of my most rewarding surprises as a teacher has been encouraging my students to reach out to authors that they have been influenced by or inspired by and sharing the excitement of a response from that author with them. It is powerful and wonderful to experience.

TxS&S: To what do you attribute your passion for young adult literature?  

VB: My passion for young adult literature comes from a love of the genre. The stories are so rich and the characters so memorable and I remember the difficulties I faced as a teen and can relate to the characters. I also have a fondness for young adult literature because it wasn't around when I was growing up. I went right from Judy Blume to Stephen King.  

TxS&S: If you could make a wish for teens and reading in the future, what would it be?  

VB: If I could make a wish for teens and reading in the future, it would be that each student I teach and teens everywhere get connected with a book they can identify with and feel that powerful connection created by words. If they can make that one real connection, they will be hooked on finding more books they like and be on the path to becoming a lifelong reader.

TxS&S: Would you consider yourself a Sweetheart or a Scoundrel?  

VB: I am so a Sweetheart. I love a good story with a happy ending and the bigger the book is the happier I am! Thanks for featuring me this month and a special thanks to Jessica for reaching out to my students and making a difference! TxS&S: Thank YOU, Valerie! You are definitely a ROCK STAR SWEETHEART!


If you know of someone who would make a great Featured Sweetheart, please let us know! The best part? If you nominate someone, we'll send you a $5 Starbucks gift card :)