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What in The Hound is That? Fellhounds & Fantasy Make Great YA in Farr’s Moon Chase and Moon Crossing


Picture found on Google Images

They stared each other down,

eye-to -eye, flesh-to-fur, waiting

for the magic to begin.

What really drew me to Cathy Farr was not only her books and the fellhounds, but her decision to write different versions of her books for struggling readers. As a former English teacher, I have worked with struggling readers across all grade levels, from middle school to college level.  I admire writers who want to create stories that can be read and understood by all of their readers.


Cathy & Finn B & W



Cathy Farr has always loved stories; listening to them, reading them and writing them. She lives in South Wales with her husband and her Irish Wolfhound, Mojo. It was Cathy’s first Wolfhound, Finn who inspired the magnificent Fellhounds of her books. Nine foot long nose to tail, Finn weighed almost fifteen stone and Mojo, now only 18 months is almost that big already; Cathy is 5ft 7inches but her weight remains a closely guarded secret.


Author Interview

How did you come up with the idea to write MOON CHASE & MOON CROSSING?


The original idea came to me when I was working in Scotland about 30 years ago. That was where I saw my first Irish Wolfhound. I came home and asked my mum if we could have one but she said no (too big, she said!) so I started to write a story about massive hounds that I called Fellhounds. But it was only after I got my first wolfhound Finn, six years ago, that I really started to get a feel for what the fellhounds might be like, and walking with the dog in the gorgeous countryside around my village gave me lots of inspiration for the land of Thesk and the adventures the hounds have there.



How did you come up with the character of Wil? How do you flesh out your characters? Do you write character sketches, or do they tell you whom they are?


Wil evolved from the original idea I had all those years ago. Back then he was older and had a different name but the more I thought of him as a teenager the stronger he got in my mind’s eye. His basic traits are based on my best friend’s son who is kind, helpful, a bit clumsy and tries but doesn’t always succeed. I used that as my base and developed Wil from there.

I decided early on that he wasn’t going to be some super-hero; I like the fact that he acts before he thinks and gets himself into some really sticky situations because of it. I also like the fact that he missed his mum so much and he isn’t afraid to cry – he’s human, after all.

All my characters tell me who they are. When I’m writing dialogue I always ask myself, ‘Would they really say that, and in that way?’ When I was working on Moon Crossing I re-wrote a whole scene in the middle of the book when they get attached by eagards (huge birds of prey) because Mortimer just didn’t sound right at all.

I spend a lot of my time walking the dog with my characters in my head – I think I know them pretty well now, but they still surprise me every now and then!


What are fellhounds, and why should young adults be interested in them?


Fellhounds are just like Irish Wolfhounds but they are much bigger. An Irish wolfhound stands eye-height to a child but fellhounds stand eye-height to an adult. They are brave and loyal but they don’t have human characteristics – they are animals and, largely, behave like animals. When I visit schools I take my wolfhound with me so that the children can have an idea of what fellhounds might be like. They have the most beautiful amber eyes that have a way of looking at you like they really do know what you’re saying. I love that – and so do the children. They are just awesome, beautiful animals that command respect – you just want to know more about them.


How can teen boys relate to Wil’s story?


Wil’s problem in Moon Chase is that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and is accused of something he didn’t do. He could run away, go home and hope he never gets caught but he knows he will always be looking over his shoulder; then, during the Moon Chase itself he realizes he actually cares about his companions, especially Gisella. He cares about his mother, too, has no idea what happened to his father when he was taken away by Lord Rexmoore and he worries about what people think about him; he doubts himself, too, and as I said before, he’s also not afraid to cry – so in many ways he’s not unlike a lot of teen boys today.


What YA genre best describes MOON CHASE & MOON CROSSING? Which features of this genre draw teen readers in the most?


They are fantasy adventures but I’ve been careful to avoid any overt magic; it’s all very subtle, so you think – was that magic or could that really happen? Both books are also very fast paced. I always worry about boring people – the same goes for my writing. I firmly believe something has to happen on every page, otherwise people might get bored and stop reading. One reviewer described the pace of Moon Chase as being like ‘a hare on roller skates’! He loved it.


How do the fellhounds compare to THE HOUND OF BASKERVILLES? Would you pair your book with Doyle’s work in a thematic study? If you could pair your books with a classic or contemporary book, which book would you choose?


I was walking with Mojo in the fog a while ago, out in the middle of a field. He was up ahead of me and stopped to see where I was; as he looked around I did think he really did look like the Hound of the Baskervilles. But in reality, no, the fellhounds are not the same. The hound in Doyle’s story was a victim; an animal that had been brutalized by neglect and bad treatment. The myth was far scarier than the reality, and of course, the Baskervilles hound didn’t appear until almost the very end of the tale. My fellhounds are part of the lives of the people of Thesk, just like Irish wolfhounds. They were originally bred for hunting wolves, bears and wild boar; they were kings’ dogs and were also used in battle to get men off horses and out of chariots – that’s why they’re so big. That was what I used as my inspiration for the brave and powerful beasts of my books.


As for pairing my books, I’m not sure: I think there are echoes of Wuthering Heights particularly in the second book, and some people talk about The Hobbit, but really only because Thesk is a made up land and the map in the book reminds people of the Shire, I think.


Tell me more about the idea behind and the concept of THE BRIDGE READERS.

At a book signing event last summer a young girl sidled up to my table, picked up a book and read the first page. Then she looked at me.

‘I just don’t get it,’ she said, her eyes full of genuine concern. ‘I can read the words, you know. It’s not like I can’t, you know, read. But I don’t know what they’re saying.’ She read the page again then looked at me and shrugged.

‘I just don’t get them,’ she said, put the book down and walked away. But that young lady stayed in my head and I decided to write a book she could read.

Now, the original version of Moon Chase is some 82,000 words and tells of a boy who, wrongly accused of a crime, sets out to prove his innocence helped by huge hounds called fellhounds; it is enjoyed by confident 7 years olds and octogenarians alike.

So how to go about re-writing a story that, as the reviewer described it, has a pace as fast as a hare on roller skates?

My mission was to keep that pace using vocabulary and grammar accessible to weaker readers while not being boring – or worse, patronising. Passive sentences and idioms were also a big no no because children struggling with language just don’t get them. The key was using words that would keep a struggling reader engaged while also giving them small hurdles to build confidence with the turn of each page.


What inspires you to write?


I’ve made up stories since I was very little. As a young child I had an imaginary friend called Stingray and I used to lie in bed at night telling him stories until I fell asleep. I love seeing a story evolve. I don’t write to a plan, I just start. I ask myself questions as I’m going: What could happen next? What if this happened? What would she do if he did this? I heard a writer say once that he wrote stories to find out what happens in the end – that’s why I write.


If someone were to write a fantasy or myth about you, what would your character be like and what unique qualities would the myth reveal to your readers?


I think I’d be like Lady Élanor in my books: she is mysterious and can read minds. I love her calm competence. But she is vulnerable, too, and can’t solve everyone’s problems – if she could there’d be no story as she could just sort it all out!


Today’s world can sometimes be scarier than the fictional world of your books. What advice would you give to adolescents?


Never forget you’re not the only one in the world. There are people all around you who have feelings, too; who get hurt, who are happy, sad, hungry, in pain. There is always somewhere in the world where someone is having a far better time than you …and somewhere else where they are having a much, much worse time. So think about others. There’s not nearly enough empathy in today’s world.


It seems like Wil undergoes a journey in each book in which he discovers something new about himself and about life in general. When you were around Wil’s age, what lessons did you learn on your journey of growing up?


When I was Wil’s age, my mum said to me one day, ‘Well, Cathy, there are pretty girls in this world, and there are ones with lovely personalities, so you’re just going to have to develop your personality.’ Harsh, yes, but at that age I just thought she was right and did my best to be interesting, caring and nice to be with – and I like to think that I did OK in the end.



Many writers want to leave their mark on the world. How do you want your work to be remembered?


I would love it if my books helped just one person to read and become interested in reading more. Books are so important; they hold the key to all that has made us who we are today. It would be a disaster for mankind if books were forgotten.




Moon Chase cover shot-1

Excerpt from MOON CHASE


Behind him, up on the Fell, deep, resounding barks echoed around the black hills, Fellmen shouted and horses snorted – the Moon Chase was now at full tilt.

Below, the wolf in the hollow had stopped. It took no notice of the noise from the Chase; it was concentrating all of its attention on the narrowing gully. Wil crouched. He could see that the beast was getting ready to spring – and right in the line of its gaze was the athletic shape of Gisella, picking her way down the edge of the rocks towards the wolf. Wil didn’t need to read the wolf’s mind; he could see clearly that it was watching the girl – what Wil didn’t know was if she could see the wolf!

There was no time to try to get back to get the others so Wil half-climbed, half-fell down onto the path and ducked behind the remains of a rotting tree. He listened and prayed that the wolf wouldn’t hear his pounding heart. Its throaty growl instantly brought back memories of the snarling heads mounted in the Great Hall – including the two sets of deadly-sharp teeth!

He counted to three, took a deep breath and quickly popped his head around the decaying stump. What he saw rooted him to the spot.

Gisella was standing at the end of the gully; once again, eyes fixed, feet apart and her shoulders square. But this time her crossbow was aimed directly at the body of a massive, snarling wolf that was getting ready to spring. Its hackles were standing in a ridge along its back from its ears to the base of its great black tail, which it was wagging in slow, deliberate sweeps across the ground.

But Wil’s sudden movement made Gisella look up – the wolf sprang.

Wil screamed, ‘GISELLA!’ and pelted forward.


Moon-Crossing front coverExcerpt from MOON CROSSING

Gisella opened her mouth to speak but another coughing fit robbed her of any words. She sat back, defeated, and by the look in her eyes Wil could see she was also frightened.

‘I’ll get you home, Giz,’ he said. ‘Trust me.’

She bit her lip and spoke again in a voice broken by her battle for air.

‘Have you got any of that… potion we gave… Mortimer…You know… the stuff for… blood loss?’

Wil looked down at Gisella’s blood-stained cloak and tried to fix his face into an expression that didn’t betray his alarm.

‘You’re not… are you… is it–’

Gisella gave a weak smile.

‘For Phinn,’ she said.

‘Oh, yes! I… of course. For a moment then–’

‘Wil! Give Phinn some of that… potion! If he’s going to get us home… he’s going to… need it.’

Then she sank back against a wooden plank that ran as a seat across the centre of the boat – behind the seat the boat no longer existed.

‘Oh, right. Yes. I’ll do that now. I’ve got it here somewhere,’ Wil lied. How could he tell Gisella he’d given her the remains of the potion back at the castle?

After a little searching, he found the little silk bag. It had been wedged up under the transom – during the landing, Wil guessed. He moved away before he sought out the bottle that he knew was empty; although he needn’t have worried – when he looked back Gisella’s eyes were closed.

‘Don’t die,’ he whispered and turned away.

From behind him, almost lost in the wind, he just caught her weak reply.

‘I’ll try not to.’



Cathy adapted Moon Chase as a Bridge Reader after working with ESL children in local schools and with the charity Afasic Cymru*. Bridge Readers help improving readers to develop their reading skills as they move towards Young Adult and Adult fiction. Ideal for weaker and improving readers and those learning English as a second language, they contain no bad language and no sexual content – they’re just really great reads.

Bridge Readers: bridging the gap between learning to read and reading for pleasure.

*Afasic is a parent led organisation representing children and young people with specific language impairment (SLI) and speech, language and communication needs (SLCN); their work has helped open the world of words to many who would otherwise still find that door firmly closed.


Thematic Connections

A boy and his dog has always been a common theme in literature.  Teachers can use Farr’s books in any grade level, 6-12, to explore this theme.  Students can examine how the relationship dynamics between animals and humans in each book.  A playful twist on the MTV reality show, Parental Control, can be having different characters from different books being interviewed by one of the dog characters.  The pet could be looking for a new owner or it may decide to stay with his current one. Each owner or character from the books would have to tell how they treated their pet in the novel.  Each contestant could also make a diorama or 3D model of their setting from the novel to aid the pet in its decision. The pet could also ask different questions. It allows students to use role play and their imaginations to connect with the literature.

  • Books That Feature Dogs/Wolves

meeting chance MEETING CHANCE by Jennifer Lavoie



rottenROTTEN by Michael Northrup



shiloh_bookcoverSHILOH  by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor



white fang WHITE FANG by Jack London



winnBECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE  by Kate DiCamillo



12th grade is usually the time that students explore British literature in depth.  MOON CHASE & MOON CROSSING would make great thematic connections.  Fantasy and Gothic genres are very compatible when pairing Farr’s works with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, or even The Hound of the Baskervilles.  But the British invasion of the literature classroom can branch out from the classics and include YA literature by British authors.

  • Books by British YA authors

entangled ENTANGLED  by Cat Clarke



tiberius found TIBERIUS FOUND  by Andrew Goodman



you against me YOU AGAINST ME by Jenny Downham




silenced  SILENCED by Simon Packham



Connect with Cathy Farr!



Twitter:  @cathy_farr



People can buy signed copies of my books from my website

OR they can get copies from Waterstones, The Times books on line, Amazon, or they can get their local bookshop to order it from their distributor (UK only).









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Flipping the Script on Fairytale Femmes: Debut Author & Awesome Teacher, Carey Torgeson

Cinderella, Belle, Arielle, Rapunzel, Snow White et. al

Fellow girls, no stranger to the ball

Flipped over pumpkin carriages, dwarfs, and the like

Tiaras strewn over faux yellow brick roads, thighs exposed due to petticoats they hiked

Tired of waiting for princes with complexes

The women hopped into a baby blue Lexus

Ditching the label of damsel in distress

Desiring to be more, not less

–By Alexandra Caselle






Introducing  Carey Torgeson, A Debut Author  on the Cliffhanger Press imprint

The Princess Paradox, expected publication date Christmas 2014


Twitter: @CareyTorg     Blog:



Author Interview

1)      How did you come up with the idea for The Princess Paradox?

I have a beautiful daughter who, at the time, was only around four years old and she was absolutely smitten with all things princess, as most girls are at some point. While watching her play with her dolls, all vying for the prince’s affections, I thought this is where it happens. When we are little girls we are kind of programmed to believe in this mythic fairy tale love. And at times I feel like this thought is all consuming as we get older. We begin to act out, in real life, what we have seen time and time again in Disney movies. We wait for a perfect love, our prince charming, our happily ever after, assuming that if we don’t find it the way we think we’re supposed to, something is wrong with us. Watching my daughter, I had two ideas. One: I would love to write something that becomes the antithesis of the perfect princess story. And two: I wanted to write a strong female role who is able to make it on her own. So The Princess Paradox is quite literally, what I envision a modern fairy tale to be. And the story follows all the tropes of the traditionally Disney tales, but then twists them and turns them inside out.

2)      How do you balance teaching and writing?

That is a tough one. I don’t have an answer. If you find a way, let me know. 🙂  I try to write on weekends and on breaks. I find that I go in spurts. When a story or character wants to talk, I literally find every spare minute to write it. I have written parts of my stories in class at times. I have always been pretty good about not taking my work home with me, so that part makes writing at home easier. I am pretty decent at compartmentalizing my time.

3)      What will make The Princess Paradox stand out among other books in women’s fiction genre?

Like I said, I have tried to take all the traditional romance tropes and break them. I think that is what makes my book stand apart. Also, I originally wrote the book with commentaries on characteristics of fairy tales then paralleled my main character’s journey with it. So, with lots of feedback and revising, it ended up being fairytale clichés. My book blends a bit of satire of the whole fairy tale story arc, while still telling my main character’s story. I think it’s smart “chick lit,” it comes off at first as very light and fluffy, but I think the story really tells about what, as women, we go through while navigating love and life. Because my main character, like all of us, have to figure out what we want versus what society has told us we want. The whole story, while funny and romantic and swoon inducing, is also a commentary on society as a whole, and how the princess phenomenon has become a part of who women are.

4)      If you could be a Disney princess, which one would you be and why?

This is so difficult. In many ways, I wouldn’t be one. Because, I think too often they put the needs of everyone else before themselves. Some have no backbone, and some just flit about from here to there oblivious of the world around them or how they might be being manipulated. That being said, I think I would be a combination of them. I would want Belle’s intelligence, strength and loyalty. I have always been enamored with Sleeping Beauty. Her beauty, her innocence, and her kindness set her apart for me. And I love Ariel’s sass and spunk. I love that she is willing to sacrifice for love. I think I would want a combination of all of them.

5)      If a Disney princess started attending the school in which you teach, which princess would it be and what would her typical day be like?

It would probably be Ariel because my school is literally less than a mile from the water. 🙂

She would have 5 periods of classes, science, math, PE, block (which is English and Social Studies –which is what I teach), and an elective. She would have lunch with her fellow classmates (by grade level) and probably be a part of the Leadership class and ASB. And hopefully she would think it’s a pretty positive school and that the teachers really care about the students.

6)      What advice would you give to teachers who want to pursue writing as a career?

Advice…I think the best advice ever given to me wasn’t even advice. It was from a literacy coach who was helping me hone my craft of teaching. She is the reason I started writing. If you want to write, read. First read like a reader, then read like a writer. When I began deconstructing stories at the structure and sentence level, it really demystified writing for me. It no longer was something others could do. It was like the veil was lifted. I realized when I looked at characteristics and structure of books and stories, I was able to then plan my own. I took what I liked from the masters of writing, and morphed it into my own style. I ask myself the questions “what did this writer do that has me hooked?” or “how did this writer structure the narrative” and that gives me things to work on and do in my own writing.


I would also say, share your process with your students. I think what is so cool is that through all of this I have become a better writing and reading teacher. And it’s because it’s what I live and breathe. How many teachers have people had that actually live what they teach? I am able to take them through the real process of writing, the messy part. The part where you want to tear your hair out. And I let them know it’s ok.


Finally, write your inspiration. Whether it’s from a day in class or something you experience, write what strikes you. Then you can’t go wrong.

7)      You are currently in the process of preparing your book for publication at Cliffhanger Press.  What have you learned about the publishing/business side of writing?

Well, one thing is that there is nothing in a book that is not there for a reason. EVERYTHING is well chosen and necessary, because if it doesn’t move the story forward in some way, it is not needed. Also, I have learned that there are a lot of people that go into creating a book. It is not unlike an assembly line or a well-oiled machine. All the parts are integral to creating a solid product. I also realize how much work is involved and as I near the release date, I know things are going to get crazy hectic so I’ll really have to work to balance it all. I am excited for it all though.

8)      What advice would you give new writers?

The best advice would be that if you think it’s going to be easy, or that it’s a hobby, maybe writing isn’t for you. Make no mistake, it’s a full time job and it’s work. It’s fun work most of the time, but it isn’t some “Sex and The City” glamorous life. And much like teaching, if you’re in it for the money, walk away now. Because like teaching, you have to do it because it is who you are, not something you do. It’s like breathing or sleeping, you need it to survive and without it, there’s an emptiness. That’s why I write. I teach because I love not only the content, but inspiring others. I write for very much the same reason. I hope in some way I can make a mark on this world, a stamp to say “Carey Torgesen was here…and she made a difference.”


Also, you must network. Find other writers to help you, to critique you and give you honest feedback, surround yourself with others who understand. And make sure you’re not only taking but you’re giving back to them too. But don’t take on more than you can handle at any given time.

Because there are times when your social life will suffer and people in your life may say you are giving too much to this hobby, that you’re ignoring reality for want of fiction. And it may be true, but it’s worth it.


Finally, know that sometimes, you aren’t going to know when a story is going to die out, when the voices are going to stop narrating, where the story is going and you will have doubt, doubt, doubt. But this is all part of it. And it’s how you deal with those setbacks that differentiate you from someone who writes and being a writer.


9)      How would you describe your writing process?

I usually am struck with an idea and then I map it out. I try to outline the basic plot. I usually try different methods; I’m not committed to any one type yet. I have done post-its for each chapter, written the query first, written a synopsis, plot lines, and even used some basic charts. So far, I’m still looking for one way that works enough to where I want to use it again and again.


I also reread as I write, editing as I go. So when I get to THE END, it usually isn’t a true first draft. It has gone through changes. Then I reread it again, making small changes. Then I send it out to my CPs and betas to get feedback. I DO have a great alpha reader who also sometimes gives me feedback chapter by chapter. THAT is indispensable.


And I have about three WIPs that I have pages for, so sometimes I go back and forth. I have a YA Contemporary Romance that I’m querying right now too, a Little Mermaid retell (YES AGAIN WITH THE PRINCESS THEME) So, I like to be in all stages at one time. It keeps things from being monotonous.

10) Name 5 books (young adult, classic, middle grade, children’s literature, etc.) that you recommend for any classroom?

This is my favorite thing to do. 🙂


Freak the Mighty


Fault in Our Stars

Mockingjay (last of The Hunger Games)


To Kill a Mockingbird

The Great Gatsby


11) What are some ways that you engage students in the learning process?

I try to remember they are just kids and that they work better when they feel safe and that I am someone who “gets them.” I try to make learning connect to the world. I want them to understand that reading and writing are simply forms of communication. We’re all just trying to be heard and understood. We write to tell the stories of our lives, or how we feel or what is important to us. We read to see that we are not alone in all of that. We read to live in other’s shoes, to learn what we go through is not so different from what others’ do and we also learn about the world we live in through books.

So, I try to make them work hard. But we play hard too. We have fun. And that is what my students always remember. They come back and say “You made learning fun” and “I didn’t realize how much I learned until (years) later.” One student who just visited looked at the essays we were doing and remarked that it was more rigorous than what they expected in high school. That is the best compliment.

I give my students a lot of privileges and I include them on decision making processes. And I ALWAYS let them know I have a clear purpose for everything we do. It’s never to fill time. It’s always because we are building on our prior knowledge and working toward a clear end.

I try to teach as if we are a team moving forward to a common goal. And because we are in it together, I think there is more buy in.

12) What is one lesson that has really made an impact in your students’ lives?

This one is really hard because I try to teach them not just academics, but about life. I try, all the time, to connect the books we read to their lives. And the common themes that run through all that we read is this idea that no one is really alone; we all go through things, have our crosses to bear, but how you respond to difficulty will build who you are and who you will become. My favorite quote is written in the front of my room. “The world is a stage, and we are merely players. That you get to contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” It’s from Dead Poet’s Society. And I think it captures what I try to teach my students. Whether they are “good” or “bad” in school, everyone leaves their mark. I tell them, “You don’t get to decide IF you affect people. You only get to decide HOW you affect people.” I also tell them constantly, I don’t believe people are “stupid”. There are people willing to work hard, and there are people who aren’t. Again, it’s a choice.

So, I don’t think there is one lesson. I use these threads throughout all my lessons for the entire year, and I hope by the time they leave my classroom, some of it has rubbed off.  🙂



Book Blurb

Jaded by fairy tales, twenty-four-year-old Nora Roseberry has written off the probability Prince Charming will come rescue her. Which is great. She’s not interested in being saved. But fate is about to step in, offering this “damsel in distress” a shot at happily ever after.


When Nora takes her love life into her own hands by placing a want-ad in the local newspaper, she’s shocked, not to mention apprehensive, when roguish neighbor Aidan O’Neill comes-a-courtin’. Aidan’s not the kind of prince who needs relationship help–evidenced by the sheer volume of maidens crossing his threshold. Besides, he doesn’t go for women like her. He dates knockouts. But his flirtatious manner and dimples-to-die-for are sure making her consider the possibility of becoming his princess. Which is why Nora is more than a little disappointed when Aidan reveals he answered the ad for his brother, Finn. Unsure of what fate has in store, Nora figures ‘what the hell?’ and agrees to the blind date.


She quickly finds out Finn is everything fairy tales promised and more. Romantic, sincere, and ready to commit, he’s totally husband material. And Nora knows she’s on her way to her fairy tale ending–just when Aidan seems to have decided to change his ways and pursue Nora himself. Talk about crappy timing. With magic in the air and two handsome heroes vying for her attention, Nora will need to make a choice. Prince Charming or Prince-Damn-He’s-Charming? Perhaps there’s a third option? Happily ever after is about to get messy.


Fans of Emily Giffen and Sophie Kinsella will enjoy THE PRINCESS PARADOX a lighthearted novel that unabashedly breaks the rules of traditional fairy tales. It’s Sex and the City meets Disney Princesses, with a twist.



Make sure you check out THE PRINCESS PARADOX later on this year!

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What is Hidden Will Eventually Be Unearthed–Wraithsong by E. J. Squires

Wraithsong cover-1

~Birthed from the cradle of humanity. Destined to break the boundaries of both worlds.~

Eve, mother of all living,

labored and toiled long days and nights.

One day, God came down and visited her.

Embarrassed that she only had enough time

to clean seven of her thirteen children,

she hid the six soiled ones from him.

God found them, and reprimanded Eve

for having been ashamed

of her own flesh and blood.

“Those you have hidden from me…”

God said, “…they will stand out

from the rest of mankind.

 I will clean them for you

so that all men and women will aspire

to be that which you have cast aside.

From this day forward,

they will be known as the Huldra,

meaning secret desire.”

–Origin myth excerpted from Wraithsong

Wraithsong is a YA paranormal romance in which Sonia is a high school senior approaching graduation and her eighteenth birthday.  She is dealing with typical adolescent girl problems: a Mean Girls Regina George  carbon copy, Savannah, harassing her over a guy she could care less about & Sonia’s unique conflict-resolution  style of spitting in the Savannah’s face leading to a principal’s office visit and a work detail punishment with a guy whom she would rather be with, Anthony.

Oh, yeah—the spit has a supernatural effect on people: it brings them under Sonia’s control.

As Sonia approaches her 18th birthday, other powers and secrets about her ancestry are revealed through a sensational chain of events and plot twists that will keep the reader engaged in suspense. She discovers that she is part of a mystical group of beings known as The Huldra.  They are very powerful and beautiful creatures who are facing extinction at the hands of someone deep within their ranks.  But who is it?  Is it Anthony, his mother–The Great Huldra– or someone else?  Things get really complicated as Sonia and Anthony get closer and Sonia’s mother is kidnapped.

Wraithsong is the perfect blend of mythology, the paranormal, and adolescent angst.  It would appeal to middle school and high school readers.  Teens will be especially drawn to Sonia and Anthony.

Six Questions For Evelyn Squires

1) Before you started writing, you were a ballerina and a dance studio director. What do you like about dancing? How are dancing and writing similar or different to you?
I started dancing when I was twelve, and immediately fell in love with the art form—I still love it. I love music, so that is a big part of it, but I also love the freedom movement gives and the creativity behind choreography. In ballet you learn hundreds upon hundreds of different movements or steps, and to choreograph, you weave them together. It is the same in writing, but in writing you use words and weave them together to create a story. They are also the same in that the art form makes you think and feel human experience and emotion if done correctly. They are very different because one words as the medium, the other uses movements with music. Both can be very powerful, if done right, in conveying.

2) How did you come up with the idea for Wraithsong?
My husband actually suggested I write a contemporary novel based on these alluring creatures, and I just started writing!

3) Why would Norse mythology interest young teens?
I think in general any type of mythology and folklore interests teens and adults. There is something compelling about Norse mythology and folklore in general, from Thor’s mighty hammer to light and dark elves, to trolls and beyond. So much of literature is base in Norse mythology (Think Lord of the Rings for example), and most don’t realize how many of these supernatural beings originally come from Norse Mythology (Elves, trolls, dwarfs, giants…)

4) If Wraithsong was made into a movie, which actor and actress would you like to see as Sonia and Anthony?
Sonia: Jane Levy (blonde)
Anthony: Alex Pettyfer

5) What makes Wraithsong stand out among other paranormal YA romance novels? What made you interested in writing for young adults?
It stands out from others because it takes a completely new supernatural creature and weaves it into today’s world. There are no vampires or witches, but a new being with some really amazing powers. Teens can relate to Sonia (the lead) because she goes through a lot of challenges as she matures and grows up. She doesn’t understand what is happening to her and why she is changing so dramatically, and the intense urges and feelings she is experiencing, and I remember feeling that way as a teen (though, of course I don’t have the power she does). I love the YA genre, because you are just coming to truly know yourself and it is an exciting time in life where anything can happen. The world is at your fingertips and there is so much to look forward to.

6) The Huldra have the ability to take certain qualities from humans. If you could select certain qualities or powers from real or imagined people, which five would you choose?
I would choose the following:

Patience (Could always use more!)

Assertiveness (So I would put myself out there more)

Wisdom (So I would know what to do in difficult predicaments or situations)

Humor (I am not too serious of a person, but more humor in the everyday would be awesome!)

Self-control (So I would stop eating so much chocolate!)

Author Bio
Evelyn J. Squires was born in Asker, Norway and is the second of eight children. Her father, being an entrepreneur, moved the family back and forth from the US to Norway, and finally settled in Utah in 1992. Evelyn completed high school and continued her education at Brigham Young University where she studied Comparative Literature and Ballet among other things, and in 2007 she opened a ballet studio in Florida. Evelyn has always loved to read and has written poetry, lyrics and short stories. In 2012 she decided it was time to change careers so she could spend more time with her three young children and started writing. Her first series, A Viking Blood Saga, though truly an Epic Fantasy, is centered around Norse Mythology and the Vikings. Being from Norway she enjoys learning about her heritage as she writes books. Wraithsong, the first book in the Desirable Creatures series, is her first contemporary Paranormal Romance and is based in Norse Folklore. Currently, Evelyn resides in Florida with her husband and three young children.

Connect with Evelyn on her website:

Where to Buy Wraithsong

Teaching Activity for Wraithsong

Mythology is one of the main genres of literature that is covered in 9th grade. Typically, adolescents become familiar with Greek mythology through works such as The Odyssey, The AeneidAntigone, & etc.  Wraithsong gives teachers the opportunity to broaden the scope.

With Roman & Greek mythology, students learn about the hierarchies of gods and goddesses.  Wraithsong has its own hierarchy as well.  The Huldra have the power to appropriate characteristics from humans.  Students could decide which powers or characteristics they can take from various gods and goddesses and create their own.  Since Wraithsong has the Huldra existing in modern day times, students could place their newly formed creatures in a modern high school setting and write their own stories. The idea of taking different qualities and merging them together seems similar to cooking.  All of those ingredients come together to create a uniform dish of flavors.  Instead of stories, students can describe the composition of their new gods and goddesses in the form of a recipe.  Each appropriated or newly created attribute or power could be listed as ingredients.  The directions could tell how to combine them into a new creature and explain how this creature would impact the world.

The YA novel also poses a real world problem:  people’s misuse or abuse of power.  Whether you are the Great Huldra trying to galvanize different groups within the supernatural race or a CEO running a large corporation, the famous quotes still apply:  1) “With great power comes great responsibility.”  2) “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  There are other real world and/or social problems that plague our society today as well.  In what ways could they be portrayed and solved?  How can the problems that Sonia, Anthony, & the Huldra be portrayed and resolved?

Students could pursue the answer to this question creatively, of course, through recipes and haiku.

Here are two examples that deal with Hurricane Katrina and language discrimination:

A haiku follows this pattern:

1st line—–5 syllables

2nd line— 7 syllables

3rd line—  5 syllables

Hurricane Katrina

Nature’s fury strikes,

Leaving her victims despondent.

Don’t blame; help rebuild.

Cooking up a solution to language discrimination

1 cup of acceptance

½ cup of change

2 teaspoons of each dialect and language

3 cups of grammar rules

4 tablespoons of code-switching

2 quarts of misconceptions

2 cups of stereotypes

Blend stereotypes and misconceptions until the mixture is smooth and all lumps disappear.  Stereotypes and misconceptions must be minimized before change is added.  Fold in change, a little at a time.  Pause during the process to allow the change to slowly dissolve the mixture.  Sprinkle grammar rules into the mixture gently.  They are needed for students to learn Standard English, but dumping them in all at once may threaten the texture of the mixture. Spoon in each dialect and language and stir slowly, allowing each one of them to be represented equally.  Sift code-switching into the batter.  This ingredient allows students to realize that certain situations call for certain types of language.  Pour the mixture into a classroom and cover with acceptance.   Bake at 180 degrees or days.  Give time for students and teachers to compromise on the use and variety of language.

Thematic Connections

(These novels also contain some of the themes and paranormal attributes found in Wraithsong.  Listed below is a mix of literature that involves Greek and Norse mythology and fantastical myths and characters representative of different cultures and settings. They can be paired together for whole group, small group, or a thematic feature for independent reading areas.  Wraithsong can also be paired with classical literature such as Dante’s Inferno & Paradise Lost because the YA novel’s detailed history of the Huldra includes similar elements.)

Fall of the Nine Realms ebook cover


WSW Final front cover brandi











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Synced by the Supernatural: Rooted by Amy Good

Amy With Rooted

Rooted by Amy Good

A YA Paranormal Novel That Will Stretch the Boundaries of Your Imagination

Perfect for Middle & High School Readers

Rooted Blurb

Rooted is the story of Chloe Chastain, a not-quite-average teenage girl living in the Pacific Northwest.  Chloe is a tree spirit doing her best to avoid the local werewolf pack, and she’s determined not to get caught up with the werewolf hunters that have descended upon her small town or fail her sophomore year of high school.  Or get stuck in detention.  Again.  But just because she wants to keep a low profile doesn’t mean she’ll be able to!  Soon Chloe’s friend is turned into a werewolf, she attracts a dangerous stalker, and she finds herself investigating missing girls and murder.  It turns out there is so much more at stake than her permanent record.


Image found on Google

Naturally Rooted

Lay your hands on its bark

Feel the energy humming inside

Place your ear against its core

Listen to what it is saying to you

Sync into its synergy

and start seeing the world

in a different light.

amygood ROOTED - SmallishRooted by Amy Good

This YA paranormal novel is an excellent addition to any middle or high school classroom library.  Chloe is a character that many adolescents would be able to connect to through the typical problems that she faces. But not every teenager has to deal with being a tree spirit.  Not every teenager has an undeniable connection with werewolves.  Not every teenager has a best friend who becomes a werewolf.

The mythological lore revolving around the two paranormal beings would spark the interest of reluctant teen readers.  It also invites thematic connections to other classic, contemporary, and young adult literature in the paranormal region.  Within each class of paranormal species, there is an order defined by rules.  There is a mystery that surrounds them and makes them intriguing.  As one studies Greek mythology and the supernatural powers and connections between the gods themselves and also humans, a teacher could bring Rooted into the discussion.

Who could forget the mystery and suggestion of a darker presence in Wuthering Heights?  Hints of the supernatural arise in the collection of stories by Charles W. Chesnutt, The Conjure Woman.  Rooted taps into the fantastical canon of literature that demonstrates how things we do not understand cannot always be explained, but only experienced and acknowledged.

Not only is  Rooted  an extraordinary story that shows how people can never deny their connections to others because they may be of help one day, but the author, Amy Good is an inspirational writer.  She establishes her own connections through her words and her videos.  Here are a couple of links in which she shares her experiences with aphasia and advice to aspiring writers.

In Rooted, Chloe teaches adolescents the importance of not denying who they are. That lesson is very important for teens and adults to learn and master.

Author Interview

Question#1—How did you come up with the story idea for Rooted? Did you choose the paranormal genre or did it choose you?

I’ve actually been told by a few of my early readers that I shouldn’t have veered into the supernatural with Rooted because I had a good-enough story without it!  But in my mind, it was always going to be a supernatural book. When I thought of Chloe, I immediately imbued her with all of my love for the Pacific Northwest and she became the physical embodiment of that, so of course she had to be a supernatural creature!

The rest of the ideas for Rooted evolved over a period of a few months. First and most importantly,  I watched a marathon of MTV’s Teen Wolf and by the end, I knew I wanted to write a story about werewolves!  I knew I wanted to fill the world with lots of different kinds of shapeshifters, though, and to give the female protagonist something unique that I hadn’t seen before. Around the same time, I had read a news story about an orphaned girl who had been bullied so badly she’d committed suicide, and somehow her story became part of Rooted.  And after having my daughter, I found myself wanting to explore how much harder it is to be a teen right now, as opposed to when I was that age. Because let’s face it…. teens today have things so much tougher!!

Question#2–Which characters do you think middle school and high schools would connect with the most and why?

I tried very hard to make Chloe an authentic character that mirrored – to the best of my ability – an actual person that could exist. She has insecurities and strengths, flaws and virtues. She is dealing with the world in the best way that she knows how. I only hope that readers of that age are able to connect with her and see some of themselves reflected back.

Question#3–Many adolescents struggle with some type of disability and may think they are limited in what they can do.  What advice would you give to them?  How would your experiences inspire them?

So many times, we set the limitations on ourselves. If we really look at the problem, it’s just an obstacle. It’s not a roadblock. There are many ways past an obstacle, and they’re usually not the ways we thought we’d take in the beginning. We may have to think outside the box and test the boundaries we put in place for ourselves. It’s a lot of hard work to get over the obstacles, but once they’re out of the way, it’s so worth it!

Gosh, it’s really hard to think of myself as inspiring. My experiences with a brain injury slowed me down, but I’m just too stubborn to let anything stop me from pursuing my dreams. So I guess if my experiences could inspire anyone, I’d hope they would be inspired to be more stubborn! You can get a lot done in life by just not giving up!!

Question#4–If you could be any supernatural creature and/or have a special power, which would you choose? 

Oh gosh! There are so many possibilities… how do I choose just one?? Um, okay, if I absolutely had to choose, I’d want the ability to teleport. No more commutes! Think how much time I’d save!!

Question#5– Tree spirits and werewolves are main characters in your book. What is the relationship between tree spirits and werewolves? Are there any other supernatural beings linked to werewolves or spirits that readers may not know about?

In my mind, they are all creatures of spirit, or creatures of a dual nature. They have a human side, but they also have a spirit side, and when their spirit sides take over, they shapeshift. In that sense, all the shapeshifters are linked…. And I don’t want to say any more because I might spoil something!

Question#6–It is often said that art is the imitation of life. With each book, readers learn at least one thing about themselves or their world.  How do you think Rooted will impact your readers?

Many of Chloe’s preconceived notions are tested, and she learns that her world is not what she thought it was, both in the supernatural sense and in the mundane sense. I think that’s an important lesson we learn as we grow up and I’m hoping that’s what will impact on the teens who read Rooted, since they’re in that magical place in life where all of their preconceptions are being challenged as they mature.

Question#7– If you were to write your own epitaph, what would you say?

Survived by a loving family. Outlived by vibrant characters.

Question#8–As writers, we love to create our own reality.  Describe the perfect world that you would create.

This world is filled with really terrible stuff. And I’d love to say a spell to get rid of all the terrible stuff, but if I did that, I’d get rid of all of the really wonderful stuff, too. Right now, there are millions of people rising above the terrible things life dishes out; they are actively working, each in their own way, to make the world better. And like any ecosystem, if you get rid of the cockroaches, you may end up inadvertently killing the butterflies too. So I think my perfect world is one where we’re all striving to rise above the terrible stuff…. But now that I think about it, dragons might be kinda cool!! 😉

Author Bio

Amy Good is a writer from the U.S. currently living in Dublin.  She writes part-time, but only when her tyrannical toddler allows it!  When she is not writing, she tweets about the joys and troubles of being a writer, a geek, a toddler mom and a non-native Dubliner.  Her first book, Rooted, is available (at no charge) for download at

Find Amy at:

Thematic Connections

beautifulandcursed The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan

beautiful and cursed2The Tempest Tales by Walter Mosley

beautiful and cursed  Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

beautiful and cursed3 Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves

beautifulandcursed4  Living Violet by Jaime Reed

beautifuland cursed5  The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer



Other Paranormal YAL


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Urban YAL, the Morpheus of The Literature Matrix

Image found on Google Images

Image found on Google Images

Street fiction or urban YAL is finding its way into secondary classrooms.  As a former English & reading teacher, it puzzled me how kids who scored in the lowest quartile of the state assessment tests and claimed they hated reading were so engrossed in books like The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah or Dirty Red by Vicki Stringer.  Those students who listen to entertainers like T.I., 50 cent, etc. may carry around their latest forays into the genre.

The tests identified them as not having the ability to read.  But they were reading in my rooms.  Some teachers are opposed to this type of fiction for various reasons, but these books keep making the YALSA/ALA list of books for reluctant readers. I believe interest is the key into reaching these students.  Once you can get them hooked to reading, then you can move them to other types of genres.  Let’s face it:  these students feel like they have received the scarlet “F” when they get these reading scores back.  I have worked with students who failed the FCAT in Florida several times and were close to dropping out because it held them back from graduating.  I used innovative techniques to work with them and get their skills where they needed to be.  I advocate the use of out-of-the-box techniques to reach them and then use multifaceted instructional methods to teach them what they need to know and make them into competent readers.  Now I have my ideas about why standardized scores are low and how to reach struggling readers, but I will leave that issue for another time. 😉

So here is a little representation of  the varying views of this genre.  I asked various authors and avid readers for their opinions. Afterwards, you will find some YAL and teaching resources. 

Now take the red pill and enter the literature matrix.

Images found on Google Images

Images found on Google Images

In The Matrix trilogy, Morpheus says:  “You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Remember, all I’m offering is the truth-nothing more.”

Urban literature/street fiction offers the same to its readers.

It is a genre whose origins trace back to Robert”Iceberg Slim” Jones, Donald Goines, and Sister Souljah.  It depicts the lives of people who exist outside of the margin.

Characteristics of Urban/Street Fiction

  • Edgy lifestyle
  • May include explicit depiction of drugs, violence, & sex  and/or excessive use of profanity
  • Sometimes mirrors hip hop culture
  • Depicts characters in lower socioeconomic environments
  • Gives a voice to those who are voiceless
  • Drama-driven
  • Shows real-life issues & character’s desire to overcome circumstances
  • May be written by entertainers in the hip hop music industry
  • Heavy use of slang/Black English
  • No apologies for “This is who I am” mentality

The Black literature matrix is a platform to represent aspects of African American culture. It contradicts the images often found in the literary canon.  Works such as Beloved, The Invisible Man, A Lesson Before Dying, Go Tell It on the Mountain, and thanks to Dr. Henry Louis Gates, The Norton Anthology to African Literature, depict the broad spectrum of black experience.

In the last few years, urban fiction/street fiction has made its way on the literary scene.  It has always been there before.  But now, the genre dominates the brick-and-mortar and digital books shelves.  Those who crave literary fiction have a time finding those books. Sometimes it is like searching for a needle through a haystack.

Everyone has different views on this new kid on block.  Some people question whether certain images challenge or perpetuate stereotypes. Some wonder if the use of slang is purposeful or if it is a sign of a lazy or unskilled writer.

Some writers and avid readers of literature shared their views on urban literature:

Shelly Ellis, author of Gibbons Gold Diggers series, thinks that the use of slang should be reserved for dialogue and the characters’ inner thoughts only.  It should not be used in the overall narrative.

In her opinion, Black culture isn’t monolithic. Street fiction only represents a small part of both.  She feels authors should earn respect based on their work and not their genre. Drama and copious bloodshed is not a substitute for cohesive plot and characterization.

Diamond Drake, author of Love’s Fool, has the same opinion about the quality of writing in urban literature.  Her issue is with static characters and excessive grammatical mistakes.

“I think the reason some writers and readers are opposed to urban/street lit is because of the negative images portrayed and glorified.  What bothered me about the ones I’ve read is that there was never anything redeeming about them,” said the author.

Jamie Broadnax, creator of BlackGirlNerds, shares a similar concern about storylines that do not illustrate advancement and upward mobility in the black community. She said, “I question if this lit is being used to romanticize the life of being a thug or if there is really a story to be told.”

Nita Bee, book blogger, disagrees.  “[Slang] is the language of the ‘streets’ and it should be reflected in the writing.  I believe those that are opposed to [street fiction] have to mainly do with how the story is told.”

Nicole Dunlap, author of Miss Scandalous, said, “All genres should be respected from Christian to erotica, but not all genres are for all people.  Street lit is the rawest form of African-American fiction out there.  The bare bones of what you can read.”

Perhaps urban literature/street fiction is our Morpheus.  Urban literature/street fiction is just a small part of the continuum of African American literature and culture.  This continuum involves generational, socioeconomic, and historical lenses. The lenses people choose to view it through depend on their own personal experiences.

The genre defines the reality of those who choose to identify with it.  

Perhaps urban literature is a genre that deserves its voice, has its own characteristics that define it, and is a taste that one must acquire.  Just like some people do not care for romance, science fiction, fantasy, adventure, mystery, etc., all genres are still written works of expression.

Reading is an act that exposes people to different worlds and views. People do not have to follow or agree with them, but the writers didn’t create it for that purpose. They created those works as a form of art.

As students of literature, adolescents can read those works of art as texts for critical literacy.

Image found on Google Images

Image found on Google Images

Teaching Resources:

  • Street Fiction—Teacher Tube (Click on Docs, & then search “street fiction.”  It is a Power Point presentation.)
  • List of Urban YAL books

  • “Street Fiction:  What Is It and What Does It Mean for English Teachers?” Marc Lamont Hill et al.  English Journal.  January 2008 issue.
  • “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy & Critical Literacy” by Dr. Ann Lopez

  • Critical Literacy in the Classroom:  The Art of the Possible  by Wendy Morgan

More about the Contributors

Nicole Dunlap’s books can be found at

Diamond Drake’s books can be found at

Shelly Ellis’s books can be found at

Check out Jamie’s BlackGirlNerds blog at

Check out Nita Bee’s buzzing book reviews and poetry at

What is a book that teens have read or you have used that has sparked a controversy?


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Using the Fantastical to Explore the Critical: More Paranormal YAL & Contemporary Literature

The paranormal presents

difference as “other.”

We marvel over

majestic worlds and beings.

If we open any door,

would it lead

to another realm?

We shudder at thoughts

of what-if, when in fact,

that alternate reality

is our very own.

—By Alexandra Caselle

Image found on Google Images

Image found on Google Images

The paranormal is a genre that is becoming more popular among teens.  It is more than the heartthrob vampires of Twilight & The Vampire Diaries.  The fantastical enthralls us, the new worlds, the new species, the new realities.  May I offer another use for this spectacular genre?  I remember reading an article where Stephen King mentioned that things happening in everyday life are the scariest.  Science fiction/the paranormal is a form of entertainment, but I think a deeper conversation lies underneath, one that calls for a critical examination of the social constructs in our worlds, our cultures, our everyday lives.  We can also explore natural disasters, historical events, and important figures.

The fantastical can help us become more critical, and therefore, leading us into a deeper understanding of ourselves.

Here are some wonderful suggestions:

ninth ward


book of night women




the healing






once again

Teaching Resources

  • Goodreads list of Paranormal YAL

  • Cynthia Leitch Smith’s Gothic Fantasy, Horror, & Urban Fantasy Suggestions

  • Teaching the Epic through Ghost Stories

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Redeeming the Redheaded Child of Black Culture

Image found on Google images

Image found on Google images

Redeeming the Redheaded Child of Black Culture

(creatively presenting theory, practice, & views through a fictional tale)

The estate lies behind iron gates and pointed pine trees. In the dining hall, the cadence of the tarp-covered drums collides with the harp.  Each instrument forces each other’s notes inside its staffs. The contact yields a composition of cacophony. It produces pidgin notes that later evolve into creoles, a living language raising the ire of the majority, yet validating the other.

If only the harp would invoke Clotho to spin a thread of life for the wayward drum-child to coexist, Lachesis to measure enough string to accommodate, and Atropos to angle away her shears.

If only the Fates could determine the destiny of Black English, the redheaded stepchild of Black culture hidden in the estate’s basement.

Instead, the bastard child of the English language is the centerpiece of the family’s conversation.

One side declares that Black English, aka BE, overturns the building blocks of “proper” language into a disarray of incomprehensible slang and butchered sentences.

Her speech must function as a silk slip and conceal her underlying background. She is pure gibberish that should be locked up. Her language isolates her in the classroom, drawing the focus on how she speaks instead of what she has to say.

Grandpère James Baldwin taps out ashes to a jazz tune that only he hears. He laments how his ma chérie cannot be free.  Her syllables expose truth. Her grandmère, Barbara Christian, cautions that literature has allowed BE to play in Hurston’s yard. She flits around her characters and collects colloquialisms like butterflies. BE is a narrative of survival and a lens for meaning-making. Her identity should not be dictated by a group of critics.

One of the guests, Shelly Ellis, author of the Gibbons Gold Digger series, suggests that Hurston’s sole literary purpose for BE is to authenticate the region in which her characters reside.  Hurston keeps her literary yard neat with all of the writing elements in their rightful places.

Diamond Drake, author of Love’s Fool, worries about how others may misunderstand BE.  When international fans read her novel, the stepchild causes them to miss some of its meaning.  She welcomes BE, only when the storyline and the characters demand it.

Keisha Rogers-Rucker, a poet and photographer, believes BE should come out when friends clink wine glasses around plates of shrimp kabobs–not when she enters the cubicles of the corporate world. The problem is not if BE can master the standards of English; the problem is if people want to understand who she is.

The other side makes a decision.  If writers can invite Black English into their worlds, then she can exist in certain social contexts. She is an intricate part of the culture. BE can serve as a text for language inquiry.  Literature has now redeemed her.

Both sides remain at a standstill as BE hopscotches out of the basement.  Grandpère retreats back to Giovanni’s Room while Grandmère chuckles out loud, “Oh, let the child BE.”

Teaching Implication:

Studying different dialects in the context of literature gives teachers the opportunity to teach inquiry and critical reading.  By examining the use of language in classic & contemporary literature and young adult literature, students can move beyond the surface of a text and learn its deeper shades of meaning. Students can also examine the representation of language in any culture.

Teaching Resources:

Baldwin, James. “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me What Is? “

Christian, Barbara. “The Race for Theory”  (a suggestion for a way to read literature critically through the social constructs of language, gender, race/culture, class, and power structures instead of traditional literary theory)

5 Components of a Language-

Fecho, Bob.  “Critical Inquiries into Language in an Urban Classroom”

Webquest:  “Cultural Connections:  From Senegal  and West Africa to Your Classroom”

Webquest: “Exploring Dialect”

Wolfram, Walt.  “Social Identity”  PBS segment.

Authors Who Have Used Dialect in Their YAL or Literature for Teens

Sharon Flake

Nikki Grimes

Nini Simone

Kelli London

Mildred Taylor

Walter Dean Myers

Rita Williams-Garcia

Lori Aurelia Williams

Kelli London

Virginia Euwer Wolff

Angela Johnson

Christopher Paul Curtis

Earl Sewell

Coe Booth

Janet McDonald

Kalisha Buckhanon

Learn More about Shelly Ellis & Diamond Drake:

Shelly Ellis

Diamond Drake

Let me hear from you!

How do you encourage language inquiry in your classroom? 

Writers, what role does language play in character development and your writing?


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Great Educational Sites for Adolescents & Adults

Black Girl Nerds Badge     Black Girl Nerds: A Site for Teens & Adults Who Embrace Their Quirkiness—-Let Black teens know that it is cooler to let their quirkiness show instead of hiding it behind the cliques of the in-crowd. It can also be a wonderful tool to bring popular culture into the classroom for study and inquiry. Click on the image and check out the site!

*Proud Blerd since I learned how to read and write 🙂

Suggested Websites for Educators Shared at ALA 2013 Conference

Some of the sites are also helpful for writers, especially for the purpose of helping them to generate ideas or come up with another perspective of their current piece as they revise it.  Some of the sites can also encourage students to be writers. If a student feels like his or her voice is heard, then the learning experience becomes more relevant.

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When Variables Unbalance the Equations of Teenage Love & Life: My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson

Image courtesy of Google Images

Image courtesy of Google Images

If I could only rearrange and eliminate

the variables of hit-and-miss relationships

to achieve the perfect balance.

–By Alexandra Caselle

Image courtesy of Google Images

Image courtesy of Google Images

Like a moth to a flame

Burned by the fire

My love is blind

Can’t you see my desire?

That’s the way love goes

–“That’s the Way Love Goes” by Janet Jackson

Image Courtesy of Google Images

Image Courtesy of Google Images

First love is like a Goody’s powder:

All that ails you goes away,

giddiness bubbles up inside,

the calm before the storm.

Then the effects wear off.

–By Alexandra Caselle


rhombus 2     My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson. 2007, Woodbury, MN:  Flux. ISBN13:  978-0-7387-1160-7.

Teen angst involves Mother Nature’s cruel joke of puberty:

Gangly arms grazing against the ground.  Boys’ voices echoing in alternating crescendos of thunder booming and frogs croaking after a summer rain. Fitting rooms brimming over with World War III battles of the hems between mothers and daughters.

Then Mother Nature wanted to add hormones to the mix.

Falling in love for the first time derails and disrupts.

If adolescents only knew that the first relationship creates a lens in which they will view every future, intimate connection.  It will propel them like caterpillars into a cocoon where they will eventually break out and transform into a monarch butterfly—each tear, each experience, each emotional, mental, and spiritual scar imprinted on the mosaic of their wings.

The next significant other bound by the coordinates on the x(ex)-y axis.

With Rhonda, she chooses to rely on the “comfort in the exactness of math and the precision of science (pg. 33)” to prevent future heartbreaks.  The whirlwind of fun, fumbling sex and the flowing legato of game ends when Rhonda gets pregnant.  Christopher’s choir boy image risks the chance of being marred not only socially, but physically by his father’s pummeling fists.

Rhonda’s dad decides to take her to Atlanta to end her pregnancy.  Rhonda returns home to focus her energies on studying and tutoring in the local college’s program. It isn’t until one of the most popular girls waltzes in with trig problems and baby issues of her own that Rhonda realizes that she may not have been totally sure of her father’s decision.

So the overlapping of Sarah’s problems into Rhonda’s life blurs the lines of order. Having a crush on Sarah’s brother, David, does not help the situation.

David is the inverse of Christopher, but Rhonda continuously wants to label him as a jerk like her ex, Christopher. She can’t deny the way she feels.  She soon realizes that she must see herself through a different angle before she can explore all of the contours of real love that David can offer.

There is an element of surprise when the father of Sarah’s baby is revealed. This climactic event also places David in conflict with Christopher.

Johnson’s writing style really draws the reader in. Throughout my reading of the novel, I thought Varian Johnson was a female.  He depicts each character with such deft detail, especially the way he is able to place himself inside the thoughts and emotions of a teenage girl in a predicament like Rhonda’s.  The reader can actually feel the steely personality of Rhonda and Christopher’s mother, Judge Gamble.  Forget about Miranda on The Devil Wears Prada and the mother in Mommie Dearest.

Dare I say, that this writer who has always been plagued by math anxiety thoroughly enjoyed the blend of math and literature.  Some areas of his book helped me, the mathematically challenged, understand some concepts through his writing.

And those adolescents who love numbers like writers love words (those extraordinary individuals affectionately dubbed as “blerds” or “nerds” by today’s social media communities) will enjoy Johnson’s use of word problems, graphs, Venn diagrams, geometry, and other mathematic functions to describe the complexities of Rhonda’s, Sarah’s, and David’s lives as the plot advances.

Johnson also dispels the stereotype that boys excel in math and sciences. Here, he portrays a young, African American girl who loves these subjects and plans to study a major.  Adolescent girls need to read about Rhonda so they can be motivated to enter those fields.

Through the language of mathematics, Rhonda breaks down the language of recovery: healing from the past, manipulating the variables of relationships between parents and children, and discovering new postulates of friendship and romance through Sarah and David Gamble.  She draws new boundaries of intersecting life lines.

The rhombus also becomes a significant symbol because of the way Rhonda negatively boxes her identity into it, but she inverts its meaning into something more defining and beautiful.

This book would be a great read-aloud for English/ reading classes and all levels of math classes.  It provides many opportunities for interdisciplinary teaching. Math teachers could also use the problems in the book to simplify the concepts behind the actual mathematical functions.  English teachers can show how mathematics can be used to tell stories mathematically and figuratively. It also will fit nicely into a Southern literature unit, high school or college-level, since Johnson sets the story in South Carolina.  Teachers can discuss how the characters and the themes/topics challenge or confirm Southern mores and how they compare to today’s Southern culture.

Since My Life as a Rhombus deals with handling different types of math, people and situations, teachers can bring the kinesthetic into the classroom and make the reading of this novel more concrete by participating in “The Marshmallow Challenge:”

I participated in this activity in a team-building training. It challenged my perspective on how our imagination and thinking processes change as we progress from kindergarteners to adults.

My Life as a Rhombus will also challenge readers’ perceptions of mathematics, romance, and tough decisions.

Text-to-Text Connections— Romance & Relationships in African American Young Adult Literature (YAL)

jason and kyra   Jason & Kyra by Dana Davidson

played   Played by Dana Davidson

a teenage love affair  Teenage Love Affair  by Ni-Ni Simone

boyfriend diaries  The Break-Up Diaries by Ni-Ni Simone and Kelli London

breakup diaries   The Break-Up Diaries Vol. 2  by Nikki Carter & Kevin Elliott

chasing romeo  Chasing Romeo  by A. J. Byrd

kelli london  Boyfriend Season by Kelli London

love on 145th street  What They Found on 145th Street  by Walter Dean Myers

romietteRomiette and Julio by Sharon Draper

born Born Blue by Han Nolan

woodsonIf You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Can you suggest any other YAL romances that can be paired with this book?

COMING UP IN BOOK REVIEWS (Yes, Virginia, there are African-American YAL paranormal books. They do exist!):  Ninth Ward  by Jewel Parker Rhodes, Asleep by Wendy Raven McNair, & Orleans by Sherri L. Smith


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