This past week, I was lucky enough to attend the YSS conference in Schenectady. While it’s a short conference, the day was jam packed with great sessions, a powerful keynote and lots of conversations with all kinds of librarians!

Chris Crutcher gave the keynote address. To my shame, I have yet to read one of his books and I didn’t know much about him going into the conference. However, he was a compelling speaker and storyteller and several of his books are now in my TBR pile! 

Ostensibly, his speech and sessions were about censorship, but what he really focused on were the stories of children he’s encountered in his career as an educator and family therapist. He has worked with kids who have endured unimaginably traumatic experiences, and his takeaway for us is that those kids are brave and brilliant in the ways that they have developed strategies to survive. The characters in his books all reflect real stories and personalities.

His books have been banned dozens of times over decades, and he talked about how book banning doesn’t hurt the author – it hurts the abused kids who miss out on reading something that lets them know they’re not the only one, LGBTQ+ kids who hear that their life experiences are in some way unacceptable or wrong, traumatized kids who lose access to language to explain and process what has happened to them. While so many of the current book banning efforts focus on preventing certain populations from feeling uncomfortable, he emphasized that fiction is a safe way for those kids to experience other perspectives and build empathy, while for kids who identify with the characters, fiction may be a life-saving affirmation.

He said something that I found really powerful: “Don’t take kids’ language away from them unless you have language that will work better for them”. If I’m being 100% honest, he was talking about profanity, but it resonated with a deeper meaning. Every child is grappling with something – whether it’s surviving abuse, developing their identity, or understanding the world around them. The language and stories in books allow them to learn and live vicariously, and give them tools to wrestle with problems and solutions in the privacy of their own minds. Censorship undermines an important survival tool for the kids who need it most.

Early Literacy Resource – Decodable Books with Teach My Kid to Read

Another session focused on decodable books for supporting beginning and struggling readers. Even with experience as an elementary school librarian, I hadn’t heard of decodable books. Unlike leveled readers, decodable books take a phonics approach, and focus on using words that kids can sound out to build skill and confidence before introducing other letter patterns. The purpose is to teach readers to decode words rather than guessing at the meaning based on context, pictures or predictable text. Decodable books can be used to help kids build up to leveled readers and authentic texts. The presentation was given by a non-profit called Teach My Kid to Read, which partners with public libraries to provide professional development on the learn-to-read process. If you would be interested in having us bring TMKTR to the North Country to lead a training, please let me know. 

Engaging Teens in the Library

The final session of the day was a joint presentation from two librarians who have successfully engaged teens in planning programming and completing service projects. They are both from huge libraries, but many of their ideas can be scaled down for use in smaller settings. 

Both libraries treat their teen programs as volunteer advisory groups rather than a series of unconnected programs. They recruited teens by working with their local school districts to post flyers, share events on the morning announcements, and identify students who might be interested. In both cases, teens were called on to plan the programs that were offered for their age group. While they had support from the librarians, they had to take responsibility for planning and promoting them. 

Colonie Library maintains a breakneck pace of programming, and has enough participants to form committees around upcoming events – their teens meet every Monday night for either a program, a committee meeting or their monthly planning meeting. While that kind of schedule is not realistic for a single-person library, the structure of having a standing date at which there will always be either a program or a meeting helps teens plan and sets the expectation for attendance. 

My favorite takeaway from this session was Colonie’s amazing list of past programs! These were all teen-run or teen-suggested.

If you would like to review the slides from all the conference sessions, or reach out to presenters for more information, YSS has compiled a Google Folder with resources from each session here!

Starting Soon – Free Audiobooks all Summer Long!

AudioFile’s annual Sync program is starting next week! All summer, teens can download two free audiobooks a week through Sora. Books must be downloaded during the week they are featured, but they do not expire. They will stay available on the Sora bookshelf until they are deleted by the patron. 

PD Corner


Following this webinar, attendees will be able to:

• Determine if their collection allocation and placement is maximized for youth patrons interest, demand, and convenience.

• Understand the impact of signage as a user experience and how to incorporate it effectively and efficiently in a space used by non-readers, emergent readers, and early readers.

• Orient their materials, shelving, and service points with young patrons in mind.

• Use space creatively.

We will tackle each topic with options for libraries with little to no budget, some budget, and big budgets for improvements.

If you would like to view recordings of the presentations she did for us last year, we have access to them for a few more months! 




By popular request, we will be holding an in-person, hands on workshop so you can get all your StoryWalks questions answered by your colleagues who’ve done it before, see examples from other libraries, and practice making a sample panel. 


Join us for a discussion about the best resources for book discovery and reviews, how to keep up with release dates, and what goes into maintaining a balanced, robust collection in a small community library. We’ll also talk about avoiding self-censorship and the importance of your collection development policy.

Share Post

Recent Posts