Monday, May 3, 2010


Messner, Kate. (2009). Met any good authors lately? Classroom author visits can happen via Skype (here's a list of those who do it for free). School Library Journal. Retrieved from

“Good morning, Kate!” says Chamberlin’s librarian, Cally Flickinger. She introduces the students, who start off quietly, a little wary of this newfangled sort of author visit. But soon they’re taking turns sharing their favorite characters and we forget the computers that connect us. It feels like we’re all in the same room, and the questions fly across the miles (Messner, 2009).

Met Any Good Authors Lately? Classroom author visits can happen via Skype (here's a list of those who do it for free)
by Kate Messner

This article provides an excellent resource for those of us just starting out and/or veterans with book clubs/talks. What better incentive for reading than an author visit. However, with budgets being the way they are and the need for authors to publicize their work, Skyping is the wave of the future. What is Skyping? It's one way to do a video conference and have a virtual experience. Imagine setting up your LCD as if you were doing a PowerPoint presentation. Then wham ala kazaam! Your author appears on the screen and interacts with your audience. A virtual author visit. I know at first it will seem weird, but as you start to discuss the author's work (have one that likes to chat with a riveting book and a good discussion leader-facilitator).

Messner further highlights the advantages and disadvantages of a live versus virtual author visit. Not everyone who has tried this technology of course likes it, but if you have the capability and might be short on funds, it's worth a shot. In addition, she includes a list of authors who are willing to Skype- For FREE! Yes, free for twenty minutes. If you go over, or need more time, there will be a fee accessed. The list includes both children's and Young Adult literature authors, with more authors wanting to be added. She also goes on to give tips for how to set up your book club author visit.

Dahlings, I am going to try this! Over the summer, I will read some of the books by the authors to see which novel would make a good book club selection.

By the way Ms. Messner is a Young Adult author herself. Check out her website at .


Monday, April 26, 2010

Who's Afraid of the Real World!

...the line that separates the time when you're a child, when most things are provided for you, from the time when you're out on your own, taking care of yourself and forging your own way. That line is not often an age but an event... We're thrown into this so-called real world before we're ready (Jill Santopolo, Introduction).

No Such Thing as the Real World by An Na, M.T. Anderson, K.L. Going, Beth Kephart, Chris Lynch, and Jacqueline Woodson Harper Collins Publishers, 2009, 247 pp. $16.99 Short Story Collection ISBN: 9780061470592

Royal Readers,

That statement matches my thoughts exactly. Oftentimes it is how we handle events in our lives that help define who we are. Lovers, haters, bullies, victims, home wreckers, dreamers, thinkers, creators, destroyers to whatever comes in between will shape what the "Real World" will be like. It takes all kinds to make the world go round.

Six authors, six varied tales from realistic fiction to a bizarre tale that I'll say is science fiction and an invitation for Young Adults to submit their own "Real World" short stories are pretty cool. I recommend this for high school because of language and explicit and implicit sexual situations.

In An Na’s Complication we meet a young single mother with an agenda for revenge, but like the title suggests there’s a complication.

M. T. Anderson’s The Projection: A Two-Part Intervention needs an intervention, we meet two people (you really aren’t sure of their genders at first) who might be actors-hmm…the story is interesting at best and intricate as we find ourselves suspended from reality.

K.L. Going’s Survival is perhaps the realest and ultimate story of betrayal (or is it) and a classic case of sibling rivalry at a high school graduation no less.

Beth Kephart’s The Longest Distance is about suicide and its aftereffects on those left behind.

Chris Lynch’s Arrangements was a humorous look inside a father-son relationship, a funeral and a pawn shop business.

Jacqueline Woodson’s The Company is about the goings on in a Dance Company-enough said honey.

I chose this collection of short stories because I am familiar with the last author, Jacqueline Woodson who I have reviewed in the past. I could see these stories used in literature circles, for plot development and character studies. I would definitely use this book in a Creative Writing course. These short stories were written by some of today’s hottest and award winning young adult authors. Moreover, some of the plots alone are worth the price of admission.

Check out each author by clicking on their name:
An Na
M. T. Anderson
K. L. Going
Beth Kephart
Chris Lynch

Grab A Thunder, Steal A Lightening!

But if you recognize yourself in these pages-if you feel something stirring inside-stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it's only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they'll come for you (Percy Jackson, p.1).

THE LIGHTNING THIEF: Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book One by Rick Riordan Miramax Books/Hyperion, 2005, 375 pp. $7.99 paperback Fantasy/Mythology ISBN: 0786838655

As a princess, I loved reading mythology. Imagining the gods and goddesses wrecking havoc on mortals and demigods displaying feats of courage. Ah youth! To explore and seek understanding while learning something of other cultures. Well Royal Readers this is a gateway for new readers of this genre. Dahlings I would slide this book to tweens ages 10 and up (older YA-ers might like it too-maybe). However, since they made the book into a movie you'll get more buy in for the hype.

For readers who are not familiar with mythology (in this book Greek) this tale will lead them to discover who Zeus, Poseidon, Ares, Hades, and Medusa (to name a few) are and their respective stories. Think of the lessons this would generate for teachers and librarians across the curriculum.

For those of you who know the main characters, this is an opportunity to reacquaint yourself with these zany characters and storylines.

Now I must confess that I thought the storyline of Percy and his two friends sounded an awful lot like the central characters of Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. However, there are enough differences to make it enjoyable to readers. The struggle that Percy has with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder (ADD) should relate to children and young adults alike who have experience with these issues. Actually, you'll find that this helps Percy to fight against some of the immortals out to get him.

Percy's motivation above all else is to help his mother. Most teens (especially males) whether they will admit it or not will do for their mother. The plight of not knowing your father and growing up around cruel or distant stepparents is also something that is identifiable.

Moreover, Percy and friends will have to go on a quest to find a stolen object of the gods. Percy goes on this obstacle filled journey-some hilarious, with the knowledge that he will be betrayed by a friend and will not be able to save what he loves most. If you found this out would you still risk everything? Would you try to find a way out of no way?
The story is set in modern day United States from New York-the hippest place in the world to the Coast of California with some other cool places and landmarks in between. Riordan does a good job of convincing readers that the Olympians see America as the Gold standard of the West and moved Mt. Olympus above New York City and that the Underworld is out west between Las Vegas and California.

I recommend that you continue on this journey with the series Percy Jackson and the Olympians .

Also check out this Greek Mythology Pathfinder from Emerson Middle School.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Real Chocolate War

"My name is Jerry Renault and I'm not going to sell the chocolates..." (Jerry, p. 168)

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier Pantheon Books. 1974, 272 pp. $19.95 Realistic Fiction/Young Adult/ ISBN-13: 978-0440944591

Royal Readers, I knew the title was too good to be true. I had a feeling Robert Cormier did not write a story about chocoholics and the last Godiva chocolate left in the store. However, we are asked to "Dare to disturb the universe", with this dark and controversial tale of manipulations, mind games, mental and physical abuse... (this seems to be a recurring theme-remember Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games?). In Robert Cormier's tale, The Chocolate War, we meet Jerry Renault. Here is an average Joe attending an all boys Catholic school circa 1970s. Echoing today's headlines of Catholic schools closing due to funding and low enrollment, Jerry's school-Trinity is also facing this same crisis. What started out as a school fundraiser selling chocolate, takes a dramatic twist as Jerry is caught between the shady dealings of two warring factions. Brother Leon, the fanatic teacher versus Archie- a cult like figure in the school's secret society (gang) The Vigils, known as the Assigner. Brother Leon knows that the school in order to stay open, needs to sell more chocolate this year than any other year in the school's history. He calls on his nemesis (The Vigils) to back up the candy sales-an un-holy alliance if you will. With the assurance of 'cooperation', the sale is about to begin. However, Archie assigns Jerry the task of refusing to sell the chocolates (he is only supposed to do this for ten days) then change his mind. Consequently, Jerry's conscience and sense of justice prevents him from 'selling out' and ultimately selling the chocolates. By the end of this disturbing tale that Cormier brilliantly weaves, we find Jerry brutally broken down in body and in spirit.

Dahlings, the realism of this story still holds true today. Change the year, clothes, music, add technology and a few other culturally relevant facts and you would still have a story. Issues of belonging, peer pressure, justice, conformity, cruelty, morality, sex, just to name a few, will never be outdated. Even though Jerry is the focal point, one cannot help but analyze Archie to find out what makes him tick. What drives him to torment others? Is there any hope for him in the future, after all he is not yet an adult. A character (Obie) tells him that he will get his in the end. He just might in the sequel, Beyond the Chocolate War.

This story deals with issues of multi-aged young adults, however, some of the scenes (sexual in nature) would be more appropriate for older readers (9th - 12th graders). Chapter and character studies are excellent ways to introduce this book to students, as there is so much that could be covered and discussed. The only drawback to teaching this book is the possibility of parental/community censorship. Did I mention that ever since being published, The Chocolate War has always been in danger of being banned (it was temporarily) and pulled from shelves? While I am not a fan of the theme, I can appreciate the literary value and good storytelling that Cormier brings. This multi awarded story will always be known as one of the forerunners of young adult literature.

Moreover, after reading this story, I recommend that you compare Cormier's The Chocolate War to William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Next, read the sequel-Beyond the Chocolate War and Kevin Waltman's Learning the Game. For an in depth look at the author and his writing style, skim Patty Campbell's Robert Cormier: Daring to Disturb the Universe.

Click on the book jackets above for more information.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Portrait of a First Lady

"You've got to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. All right? Trust me, I was right where you guys are. I grew up in the same kind of neighborhood. The thing that made me different from a lot of other kids who didn't have opportunities was that I tried new stuff and I wasn't afraid to be uncomfortable" (excerpt of a speech given by Michelle Obama to young girls in South Carolina during the 2008 presidential campaign, p. 62).

Michelle Obama: An American Story by David Colbert Sandpiper Books, 2008, 151 pp. $15.99 Biography ISBN 978054724941-4

Royal Readers, for Women's History Month I chose the biography of the United States of America's historical first African American First Lady, Mrs. Michelle Obama. No matter what you think of her husband, another historic first, she will be forever entrenched in our history. David Colbert chose to cover Michelle's developmental years to her courtship and early years of marriage. However, we do get a glimpse of what married life, motherhood, and life on the campaign trail (senate and presidential) was like. Interviews with close friends, relatives, acquaintances, and the subject herself, provide a candid look and a sense of connectedness.

For most people, especially women and people of color, it is often difficult to relate to people in power or in the majority. Growing up in the United States, most of us were taught to value the American way and to believe in the pursuit of happiness and that individuals can achieve anything with hard work and determination. Michelle Obama is truly reflective of this value system. When she was growing up, she knew that she was destined for greatness and not only talked the talk, but walked the walk as well. Young people who are striving for excellence or maybe need a role model to emulate will be able to identify with the portrait of a humble but proud woman that Mr. Colbert writes about. In addition, readers will crave more information about her life in the White House, as he only provided a few references including family details that will interest young adult audiences. Two sections of color photographs were added to make this a highly readable biography.

Dahlings, by now you know me, etc., etc.. While I enjoyed this book, I am warning all the gossips that you will not find any trashy details, controversial-yes, trashy -no. Michelle's story from start to finish is inspiring! From facing what the younger crowd calls 'haters' (people who are always trying to put you down) to overcoming racism growing up in Chicago and later on in her academic career in high school and later Princeton. Although we are not privy to all the details (spice), Michelle herself through interviews is quite candid and saucy. When asked what the First Lady she thinks she is like-most compare her to the fabulous Jackie O (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), she replied on page 137, "...I think I can only be who I am in this role. And that's going to come with all the pluses and minuses and baggage and insecurities and all the things that I'll bring into it, plus my hopes and dreams along with it." For this reason (To thine own self be true) , I am crowning her as an honorary Queen, even though she dubbed herself as the "Mom-in-Chief". From one Queen to another-"You Go Girl!"

I recommend that you check out the National First Ladies' Library at to find out more about the lives and times of all our First Ladies. Also check out the Inaugural Gowns and First Ladies exhibit at the Smithsonian museum at


Monday, March 15, 2010

Hypnotic Poetry

Sitomer, Alan Lawrence. (2008). Yo, Hip-Hop's got roots. The ALAN
Review, 35. Retrieved from

Alan Lawrence Sitomer and Aspiring Poet/Hip-Hop Artists

That’s how you need to look at classic poetry. Some of it just needs a bit of time, a chance, but trust me, once you start to “get it” and see its connections to Hip-Hop and modern life and love, sex, war, loneliness, ecstasy and desperation (I’m telling ya, classic poetry is Deep with a capital D) you’ll start to discover that some of this classic poetry I am yapping to you about is off-the-hook! (Sitomer, 2008).

The author, Alan Lawrence Sitomer, wrote The Hoopster, Hip-Hop High School, Homeboyz, a trilogy of young adult novels published by Hyperton, as well as an English textbook called Hip-Hop Poetry and The Classics. He was also voted the California Teacher of the Year in 2007.

Royal Readers, have you ever read something with a good/great line? Well, the article Yo, Hip-Hop Got Roots grabbed me from the side. No wonder Mr. Sitomer was the teacher of the year!

In the article, Mr. Sitomer describes the similarities between today's hip-hop artists and the bards/poets of yesteryear. Through his tone and language you can almost hear him introducing his students to poetry. Instead of moans and groans, connections were being made as trivial factual details about the background and writing styles of present and past artists were explored (he played a guess who game). Although, Sitomer has a good grasp on his audience, he is also imparting a valuable teaching tool for professionals to motivate young adults to appreciate poetry. Make those connections.

Oftentimes, readers no matter what age do not like certain genres/writing styles because of a lack of meaningful connection. When one can 'get into' and/or go beyond to expand your knowledge of a work, it is thought that you have achieved a higher level of literature appreciation. Poetry is one of those gateways. It is like a canvas waiting for a masterpiece. Everyone takes away from it something different every time. When a poem is set to a beat track, you get hip-hop.

Mr. Sitomer and I have a similar teaching style. I have found it easier to introduce unpopular topics with something relevant to my students' lives or the sign of the times. Music truly does make the world go round. For the past four years, my students have put on the show Hip-Hop Poetry (also a title that Sitomer uses) where they recite classical poets or compose original works of art to recite with an instrumental beat in the background.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet

"I tell you, Jeeta, your tongue is too sharp and your coloring is too dark, so for your sake, when your time comes, say yes to the first man that says yes to you." (Mummy, p. 125)

Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet by Kashmira Sheth Hyperion Books, New York, NY, 2006, 224 pp. $15.99 Young Adult/Peoples and Cultures/Non-Western Setting/ ISBN: 0786838574

Royal Readers isn't Mummy something! Our next story is Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet. It has the non-western setting of modern day Mumbai, India. Our author, Kashmira Sheth takes us through the life of a girl named Jeeta and her family. Sassy 16 year old Jeeta often gets into trouble with her mother who feels that she is too outspoken and independent, among other things. Although the story is set in the present, the author gives the reader an insight into cultural and generational clashes. The idea of an arranged marriage looms heavily for Jeeta, as her two older sisters-Nimita and Mohini have been married off to suitable men of their caste (socio-economic status). What is a girl to do? The East meets the West and mama knows best. Is an arranged marriage the best kind of marriage? In the western world where divorce rates are high, does the east do it better the old fashioned way?

Readers will find the landscape and marital issues enlightening. However, the author presents a problem that has plagued women of color for ages; the darkness of skin tones. In this story we learn that Jeeta is darker skinned (hence part of the title Koyal Dark-a koyal is a black bird about the size of a robin with a sweet song), which has the potential to lower her beauty and perhaps value as a wife. No matter the culture, women face so much adversity, especially over appearance. Despite the odds, Jeeta and her mother see education as important, but for different reasons. Mummy wants her to get a science degree to make a man overlook her darkness, while Jeeta wants to become a lawyer. She befriends the daughter of a judge –Sarina, and reacquaints herself (secretly) with a boy named Neel she met at the pool who turns out to be the judge’s nephew.
While the story is lush with details, it is a little bit of a slower paced read, but picks up in the end. The glossary really helps the reader to understand the backdrop and cultural references made. Ms. Sheth has done a good job with writing about a young girl coming of age dealing with gender, cultural and generational issues and realistic relationships. Teens of all cultures will be able to identify with Jeeta’s issues of growing up and finding her place in life. They will also get a glimpse of what life is like for a teen growing up in another culture.
Will Miss Jeeta find love and a possible marriage match with Neel? Are both of her sisters happy in their arranged marriages? Will Mummy and Jeeta ever agree or agree to disagree? Will we as a society stop judging ourselves and others by looks alone?Oh, yes, royal readers, be sure to join Kashmira’s weblog to let her know what you think of the story’s ending at

If you like reading about teens from other cultures check these out:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang