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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: http://seattletfiles.blogspot.com/



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:  http://ejsquires.com/about-me.html

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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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:”http://www.productivemindset.com/problem-solving/team-building-with-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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When Your Back Is Against the Wall, What Else Are You Gonna Do Except Hustle?: Tyrell by Coe Booth

Image found on Google Images

Image found on Google Images


By Alexandra Caselle

Extra! Extra!

Read all about it!

Urban schools

are failing, failing, failing!

People, people,

What must be done?

Our kids can’t read or

write ; they can’t do math.

Man, please.

I know how to read and write.

I know that 2 + 2 =4.

I am not illiterate.

See, where I come from

2 + 2 don’t always equal 4.

It equals me getting shot

if I walk on a certain set

or getting beat down for

what I wear, who I associate

with, or where I live.

I know how to read words.

I sometimes comprehend what I read.

But, I also know how to “read” life.

I got to “read” guys standing on

the block trying to find out if

they are trying to be down with me

or use or abuse me.

I got to “read” the cops patrolling

my hood, trying to figure out

if they are really trying to serve

and protect or are they trying

to put another brother in the clank.

I got to worry about if my mama

is coming home tonight or if

I  have to feed my little brother

and be both parents

and on top of that handle being

a kid my damn self.

Oh, yeah.  I know how to write.

But, writing on some bs topic about

why the principal should enforce uniforms

doesn’t help me.

Let me write about why society

doesn’t erase the class boundaries that

make junkies and the homeless

roam aimlessly.

Let me write about the importance

of daddies sticking around so

their daughters don’t seek love inside

a fifteen minute sexual excursion

instead of themselves.

I know I need to get the skills

needed to survive in the real world

and gain my e-co-nom-ic  mo-bil-i-ty.

But, every time I look around you telling

me how I am failing and I’m trying to push

all these obstacles out of my way.

And now you wanna wonder why so

many of us are dropping out.

You hear those bells ringin’?

Class is over.

tyrellBooth, Coe. Tyrell. Push: 2007. 978-0-439-83880-1.

Tyrell is facing a lot to be only fifteen years old.  His father has been sent to jail for the third time.  His mother is not the poster child for the typical parent.  She wants him to get out on the streets and hustle to bring in income.  The burden of taking care of his young brother falls squarely on his shoulders.  To add to the family drama, he has girl trouble.  A new girl, Jasmine, poses a threat to his relationship to Novisha.  But he discovers that Novisha may have some skeletons in her closet that may destroy his trust in her.  Will Tyrell succumb to the sway of the streets?

I truly enjoyed reading this book.  I had used this book as a read-aloud with 11th & 12th grade struggling readers who had failed the state assessment exam several times.  They connected to Tyrell’s story and looked forward to hearing about what happened next every day.  Some of these kids abhorred reading.  A book was the other four-letter word just like pork was the other white meat.  But Booth pulled the students into the narrative.

Tyrell is a gritty tale that includes some mature scenes.  With the read aloud format, I could skillfully skip over those sections and maintain the students’ interests.  Since my classes had no set curriculum, I read aloud young adult novels as an opening exercise for my classes.  It gave me an opportunity to model reading strategies, teach vocabulary, and hone comprehension skills.  I often created tests based on the read aloud books because I believed in the interconnections among curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

 I specifically chose Tyrell for another reason.  It highlighted the broader definition of literacy that our students function in today.  Learning the basic tenets of literacy such as reading, writing, and mathematics is very important.  Literacy also entails technology and discourses.  According to James P. Gee, author of Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses, literacy is a type of a discourse.  A discourse can be defined as ways of reading, writing, acting, believing, thinking, etc.

With school literacy (reading, writing), there is a certain way to interact with text.  Within one’s neighborhood, church, family, workplace, culture, or society itself, there is a certain way to act, believe, think, etc.   All of those literacies impact our students, and we should embrace those other types of literacies in our classroom as a stepping stone toward guiding our students to the mastery of school literacy.

Tyrell is an excellent example of how different types of literacies or discourses impact an adolescent.

Text-to-Text Connections

upstate Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon  This epistolary novel describes the relationship between a young girl and her boyfriend and how his imprisonment changes both of them. I used this novel as a read aloud as well and used the epistolary format to teach different reading skills and reinforce vocabulary development.

bronxmasq  Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes  This multigenre novel blends poetry and narrative to tell the stories behind each chapter’s character.  Adolescent readers see how domestic violence and other social issues affect young people.  This is another great choice for a read aloud because the chapters are short and it works well for teaching different reading strategies.

bees  The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd  Lily and Tyrell are connected by the impact their circumstances make on them.  Both live with one parent, and Lily’s father and Tyrell’s mom are cut from the same cloth.  One can’t say that kneeling in grits for a long period of time will not distract a child from learning the three R’s.  Adolescent readers also learn the discourse of sorrow as they read about May’s wailing wall.

firstpartlast The First Part Last by Angela Johnson  Being a teenage father is hard enough.  Raising a young daughter alone because her mother is no longer there is even harder.  This is the dilemma that Bobby faces as he takes care of Feather.  Johnson’s narrative style of alternating chapters between the past and present engrosses reader into Bobby’s life.

Teaching Exercise for Tyrell

This exercise depicts a scene that did not occur in the novel.  I used the cloze technique (removing words from a passage and requiring students to use clues within the passage to choose the correct word) to assess students’ understanding of the weekly vocabulary words. In the upcoming weeks, I will begin posting short stories that will teach a vocabulary word, a reading skill, or literary term because I believe that stories can teach concepts.

Directions:  Choose the word from the list below that will best complete the sentences.






Novisha was angry with Tyrell.  Her girlfriend, Tasha, stayed at the same hotel.  She saw Tyrell walk into Jasmine’s room.  She called Novisha on her cell phone and told her what she had seen.  Novisha cried at first. Then she wanted to believe that Tyrell would not cheat on her.  She felt (1) ______________.  Novisha caught the subway over to the hotel.  On her way there, she noticed several people from different countries on the train.  They were (2) __________________from their homelands.  Even though she was mad at Tyrell, Novisha felt badly about them leaving without choice.  Novisha got off at her stop.  She showed (3) _______________ as she walked quickly down the sidewalk with her Timberland boots, Apple Bottom jeans, and matching Apple Bottom sweater.  She went inside the building and found her friend in the hallway.  Tasha pointed to room 207.  Novisha cracked her knuckles and popped her neck. The door was slightly cracked.  She threw it open and cried about the sight before her.  Tyrell and Jasmine were kissing each other passionately.  They did not notice Novisha at all.

Tasha took off her earrings and put her hair in a ponytail.  “Oh, no!  Girl, let’s beat both of them up!”  Tyrell and Jasmine looked up.  Tyrell stumbled toward Novisha.  Novisha slapped him so hard that she left her handprint on his jaw.  Jasmine got mad and shoved Novisha.  Tasha jumped in and the girls started to fight.  While they fought, Novisha (4) _______________the room and looked for more signs of Tyrell’s unfaithfulness.  Tyrell saw his chance to (5)_____________the drama.  He paused at the door and smirked at the girls.  It made him feel good to see three chicks fighting over him.   Today was a good day.


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