Sunday, January 13, 2013



Author Research Panel

This past November I gave a presentation with four other authors (Kersten Hamilton, Betsy James, Carolyn Meyer, and Vaunda Micheaux Nelson) at the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Literature Symposium in St. Louis. We had a wonderful view of the arch out the window of our presentation room. There were over 100 librarians at our session and I was afraid they would all be looking at the skyline, but we kept them entertained with book giveaways and fun stories about how we, as authors, conduct research. We discussed the types of non-fiction sources that we use while working on our novels and made several suggestions for incorporating non-fiction into the reading of fiction in the classroom.

Social and Contemporary Issues – Exploring Hot Topics

Common Core Standards place greater emphasis on reading non-fiction. Many contemporary works of fiction may serve as a springboard for exploring non-fiction sources.

1. In my young adult novel, Take Me There, one of the topics I explore is the death penalty. There is an excellent NPR audio recording called "Witness to an Execution" which may be found at Sound Portraits. Another site I highly recommend for exploring a variety of controversial topics is This site offers viewpoints on various debatable issues.  It provides the history of a topic, presents both sides by quoting a variety of sources, and also evaluates the quality of those sources. Graphs and charts related to the subject are often available. For more details about using these sources in the classroom, visit the YALSA page
on my blog.

2. Another book I recommend is Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Not only is the prose style beautiful and poetic, but the book may be used to explore topics such as body image, peer pressure, and the influence of the media on eating disorders.

3. Rx by Tracy Lynn is about teen abuse of prescription drugs. The class could discuss the over prescription of pain medication, how this affects teen abuse of prescription drugs, and what should be done about it.  

Weaving History and Fiction

After studying a culture or a specific time period in history, discuss the social/cultural, political and religious implications. Consider issues like rules for marriage, women's rights, political structure, elements of warfare, crime and punishment, freedom of speech, etc. Then use that knowledge to:

1. Have students make a list of rules for a fantasy or dystopian society based upon the historical context being studied. This could tie into the reading of a novel like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for an example of a dystopia. Check out Kersten Hamilton's Tyger, Tyger series or Listening at the Gate by Betsy James for examples of fantasy. Also, note how the latter two authors weave Celtic mythology into their stories.

2. Instruct students to write a scene from the point of view of a historical figure, or take one event from history and have different students write a scene from different points of view. Explore Carolyn Meyers' books for examples of first person narratives written from the point of view of famous historical figures such as Cleopatra or The Bad Queen. Look at Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's No Crystal Stair to explore a story based on historical facts with multiple points of view. Discuss how authors and movie makers create dialogue and flesh out missing information with their own ideas. Debate how to test this information for accuracy. Check out the Lerner website for a study guide for No Crystal Stair at

3. Ask students to create a picture book based on historical settings or events. Read students a variety of picture books with historical settings such as Sadako by Eleanor Coerr, Almost to Freedom by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Elsie's Bird by Jane Yolen, Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco, Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, or Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki

Using Science as a Springboard for Science Fiction

1. Read a novel such as Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi and discuss what research the author had to do to create a fictional world where children scavenge old oil tankers for parts and fuel. Relate it to a debatable topic such as the importance of alternative energies.

2. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer explores cloning. Students could discuss medical ethics and health care. Are all advances in science and medicine good? What happens when they're not?

3. Encourage students to take a scientific topic and ask the question What If? Then use that question as the basis of a short story.

4. Ask students to take a scientific principle and use it to explain a sci-fi concept like time travel or a fantasy concept such as the origin of werewolves.

For more information about our panel, visit the YALSA page  on my blog.

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