Books for youth in custody

How do the administrators of libraries in the youth corrections systems in North America choose  new books to carry for their residents?

In a recent article in Voya Magazine, Jessica Snow talks about some of the resources that are available for the staff of these programs to help them to choose the books that will have the greatest impact on their young people. One of those resources is Library Services for Youth in Custody ( They provide helpful suggestions and book lists for those who are trying to stock their libraries with the best books for their youth.

All across America, youth are incarcerated or detained with little or no access to high-interest, culturally relevant library materials or engaging programming. The site provides a directory of facilities, booklist suggestions, collection development policies, collection development resources, and more.

One of the resources Library Services for Youth in Custody publishes is the In the Margins award. Jessica Snow interviewed ITM librarian Kerry Sutherland, who kindly gave a shout-out to yours truly.

We place a high priority on bringing attention to stories that reflect teens in poverty, on the streets, or in custody, either in foster care or the juvenile justice system. The need for books with protagonists managing transgender identities and LGBTQ orientations, as well as those dealing with human trafficking, have also come to our attention. The biggest challenge is finding books …

One of the authors is P. D. Workman, a prolific Canadian writer who produces gritty and realistic teen stories about life on the streets, in gangs, under the influence of drugs, suffering abuse, pregnant, in foster care, victims of incest, and more. Making the top of the lists in the past few years, Workman continues her Between the Cracks and Tamara’s Teardrops series, both of which have been popular with teen readers.

This is one way we differ from many other book selection committees and lists … we give the titles under consideration to teen readers for their input. The committee may like a story, but if the teens don’t, it won’t make the list. The teens are in poverty, sometimes homeless or in shelters, incarcerated, living with abuse … their experiences give them an entirely different perspective, and they need to see themselves reflected accurately in novels …

I am grateful for a program that is invested in finding appropriate books for this segment of society that needs it so badly, and am honored to have been selected by the committee more than once and to have my books in these facilities. When I hear from a librarian of a girl who wouldn’t read anything, and then picked up one of my books, and then the next, or from a reader who says that my books gave her hope through a very low period in her life, I am so glad that I have chosen this path.

I hope that my books can continue to inspire youth in custody and out, and adults and other readers who need to hear the perspectives of Ruby, Tamara, and the other characters in my books.

Thank you, Library Services, for all that you do.



  1. Venette Schafer says

    Congratulations on your books being chosen for this purpose! Thank you for providing voice to these young people! It is awesome that you have been recognized but it is even better that you have been able to reach out to these individuals and help them.
    I am impressed that books are being made available to these troubled teens! I know from personal experience how much a book can help a person.
    Thank you again for writing these books that are so important and helpful.

    • Thank you! My heart is always with these kids, even when I’m writing my adult novels (notice how many of them are from foster care or have had brushes with the law, homelessness, etc. in their pasts…) This really is an important initiative, and I’m so happy that they are getting books to kids that help them to feel like they are not alone, and could even save their lives.

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