ALA & ALSC Honor Readergirlz

The readergirlz website has been awarded this seal of approval by the ALA and named one of the ALSC Great Web Sites for Kids. The committee informed us that they evaluated over 400 sites and selected only 34 for inclusion. Wow! The readergirlz divas thank our 2007 authors for their participation and our webdiva Little Willow for her amazing, generous service. Thank you to the ALA for this honor!

Readergirlz Issue 13 (February 2008)

Happy Valentine's Day, Readergirlz!

Talk about celebrating heart. This month's featured book, Bronx Masquerade, beats with heart and poetry. The divas -- Justina Chen Headley, Lorie Ann Grover, Dia Calhoun, Janet Lee Carey and Mitali Perkins -- are thrilled to welcome award-winning author Nikki Grimes this month!

This February we move beyond the masquerade to bring down the barricades that separate us all. Nikki Grimes shows us how:

I dare you to peep
behind these eyes,
discover the poet
in tough-guy disguise


Download this month's poster (PDF)

Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

Something's going on. Something more than a high school poetry assignment. Kids are taking a look, leaning in close, asking why or how.

Wesley Boone, writing a poem for Mr. Ward's class and actually wanting to read it aloud, poetry-slam style. Lupe Algarin, desperate to have a baby so she will feel loved. Raynard Patterson, hiding a secret behind his silence. Porscha Johnson, looking for an outlet for her anger after her mother ODs.

One by one, eighteen voices speak up, show themselves to the world, and deal with the consequences. Through the poetry they share and the stories they tell, their worlds and lives show what lies beneath the skin, behind the eyes, beyond the masquerade.

What People are Saying

"As always, Grimes gives young people exactly what they’re looking for – real characters who show them they are not alone."
-- School Library Journal

"Creative, contemporary premise will hook teens, and the poems may even inspire readers to try a few of their own."
-- Publishers Weekly

2003 Coretta Scott King Award
Best Book for Young Adults
Quick Pick for Young Adult Reluctant Readers
NY Public Library Book for the Teen Age
Notable Books for a Global Society

The While-You-Read Playlist

These tunes were hand-picked by the readergirlz to accompany Bronx Masquerade.

I Have a Dream - Common
Where is the Love - The Black-Eyed Peas
These Words - Natasha Bedingfield
Remember to Feel Real - Armor for Sleep
No One - Alicia Keys
We Live - Superchick
How Do I Breathe - Mario
32 Flavors - Ani DiFranco


Live Chat

The readergirlz forum is open all day, every day. It's easy to strike up a conversation with other readergirlz all over the world. Post about your favorite books and tell us what you think of this month's spotlighted title. Check it out!

We hold one hour-long chat per month with the author of that month's selected title. This February, join readergirlz on our group forum for our live chat with Nikki Grimes.

Starting last month, the live chats moved to a new time: 6 PM PST / 9 PM EST

This Month's Guest: Nikki Grimes
Date: Tuesday, February 19th
Start Time: 6 PM PST / 9 PM EST

Be a Book Winner!

The 10th poster will win a copy of Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes.

The 20th poster will win a signed copy of My Sisters' Voices: Teenage Girls of Color Speak Out by Iris Jacob.

Community Challenge: Host Your Own Poetry Slam!

1. Read Bronx Masquerade.

2. Learn more about the poets and writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

3. Encourage friends to take Nikki Grimes's Poetry Challenge in Poems To Go.

4. Now you're ready to host your own Poetry Slam.

5. Send donations from your Poetry Slam to your favorite charity.

If you're looking to contribute, check out United Teen Equality Center. UTEC's mission is to be a "by teens, for teens" safe haven for youth development and grassroots organizing. UTEC reaches out to young people through intensive street outreach, builds upon their unique strengths within a youth development framework, and creates opportunities to best support them in becoming agents of social change and organizers in the community.

UTEC has four main centers of programming: Streetwork, Youth Development, The Open School, and Youth Organizing.

Songwriters and Bloggers

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) is having a songwriting contest! Students between the ages of 12 and 18 may enter individually or in groups of two, three, or four people. Songs are to be between one and half minutes and three minutes long and should "promote libraries and the many technological resources they offer." Learn more at the YALSA website.

The deadline is Saturday, March 8th, 2008.

Download the entry form (PDF)

Make sure to follow the guidelines and include the completed entry form and lyrics with your entry. Paperwork may not be your idea of fun, but make sure that you don't miss out on this contest due to a technicality!

For more information about the contest, contact Nichole Gilbert: or call 1 (800) 545-2433 ext. 4387

YALSA is also looking for teen bloggers between the ages of 13 and 18.

Download the application (DOC)

For more information about the YALSA teen blogger position, contact Linda W. Braun:

Postergirlz Recommended Reads

Our February theme is Self-Worth. Try these great companion reads.


Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper


My Sisters' Voices: Teenage Girls of Color Speak Out by Iris Jacob
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou


The Ultimate Book Celebration Guide

Gather your favorite readergirlz together to discuss Bronx Masquerade. Make sure to e-mail us a picture of your readergirlz celebration. If we post it, you'll win a special readergirlz prize!

Here's how Nikki Grimes recommends you celebrate her book with your best readergirlz friends:


How about a masquerade party? Each person could come as her favorite poet. Invites could be in the shape of a mask.


Bronx Masquerade is a fondue of people, dipping their individual lives into a shared pot of poetry -- and what a savory sauce it is! So, why not serve fondue at your party, with fruit or veggies. Spicy sauce or chocolate (yum!) Mix it up. That's what the characters in Bronx Masquerade do.


Picture frames, poster poems, poetry bookmarks, and magnetic poetry coasters.


1. Freedom Writers
2. Finding Forrester

Discussion Questions

Questions from the author herself:

1. Lupe Algarin was desperate for love. Have you ever felt that way?

2. Janelle Battle knows she's beautiful on the inside, but she struggles with her body image. Can you relate? What advice would you give her if she were your friend?

3. Devon hides his love for reading so he can fit in with the other jocks. Have you ever played dumb to fit in with a group? Do you wish you hadn't?

4. A few weeks ago, I ran into the person who inspired Sheila Gamberoni. This person is still pretending to be something she's not, and it makes me sad. She was such a beautiful person on her own. Is this something you struggle with?

5. Chankara witnessed her sister being beaten by past boyfriends. Have you ever seen anybody like that? Is it ever all right for a boy to hit a girl?

6. Steve's aspirations clash with his parents' hopes for him. They're worried about him making a living. He's more concerned with making a life. Whose side are you on? Is there a compromise?

7. Who do people think you are? Who are you, really? Why do you hide?

Author Chat

The readergirlz divas had a wonderful talk with Nikki Grimes.

Justina Chen Headley: Where did you get your inspiration for your novel?

Nikki Grimes: My earliest inspiration for a book of this type goes back to Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. I read it maybe five, six years before I wrote Bronx Masquerade. Spoon River showed me the marvelous possibilities of telling a story in multiple voices. That masterwork planted a seed in me that I've been watering, fertilizing, and harvesting ever since. Years after reading it, I decided I wanted to write a novel about a classroom of high school students, exploring their individual lives, and the ways those lives intersected. Spoon River was an early roadmap that showed me the powerful place poetry could play in telling that story.

Lorie Ann Grover: Is any part of the book autobiographical?

Nikki Grimes: There is an element of autobiography in everything a writer writes. I'm no exception. In Bronx, the skeleton of the story is plucked from real life. I have a friend named Drew Ward who was a high school English teacher. He taught a segment on the Harlem Renaissance, during which time he invited me to visit his classes. He wanted them to meet a living poet from Harlem, influenced by the poets of that period. Enter moi! The poetry movement depicted in Bronx took place at his school. As for the characters, they are primarily figments of imagination, although there are two inspired by actual people I have known over the years. None of the characters represent me directly. However, Sterling represents my faiths, and I understand Lupe and Gloria, because I was an unwed mother, though not until age nineteen. I lost a parent at an early age, as did at least two of my characters, and like Diondra, one of my parents sought to dissuade me from pursuing the arts. Each character’s story is different from my own, but my personal history connects me with each on an emotional level.

Dia Calhoun: What is your writing process? Do you ever get writer's block?

Nikki Grimes: I never know how to answer this question. Hmmm... Well, I believe that writing is 90 percent perspiration, and 10 percent inspiration. I begin my planning to write. I set aside time every morning, six days a week, to work on a project. Usually, it is a work-in-progress: a collection of poetry, a novel, a chapter book, an essay for a magazine or journal, etc. I lay out whatever materials I'm going to need for that project, so that they are handy. (Notes, journals, books I want to quote from, etc.) I try to go for a 3-mile walk every day, so I'll read my notes for a passage or a poem that I want to work on, go for my walk, and work out that piece in my head as I go. When I get back to the house, I grab a pad and jot down whatever I’ve come up with before I forget it. Then, for the remainder of the morning, I continue working on that piece. The work is sometimes dry when I begin, but that's to be expected. That’s what rewrites are for. The early draft is just to get the basic idea down on paper, so that you have something to work with. My final version takes several drafts. Thank God for computers with cut and paste!

As for writer's block, everyone gets it, though I don’t very often. When I do, I read a few pages of Gary Soto, Lucille Clifton, or California J. Cooper. There is something about their work that resonates with me, that takes me back to my own voice. I don't question it anymore. I just know that it works for me.

Janet Lee Carey: How did you manage to write Bronx Masquerade in so many viewpoints?

Nikki Grimes: I think I answered this already. I might add, though, that everything was going fine as far as keeping my character's storylines straight until my editor starting asking me to move the characters around! That made me a little crazy. Whenever I moved a character, I also had to reshuffle the details of their story that connected with someone else's story, or the overall plot. Storyline sequencing was a headache, but
it was all worth it in the end.

Justina Chen Headley: Has your family been an important factor in your career?

Nikki Grimes: Yes. My mother was totally against it, which was a negative impact that drove me to prove her wrong. My father introduced me to the world of professional art, taking me to my first art opening, my first ballet, my first literary agent, getting me my first autographed book, and, most importantly, signing me up for my first poetry reading. I was all of thirteen at the time. What a rush! As for my sister, Carol, she is, and has always been, my biggest fan.

Lorie Ann Grover: What is your favorite part of writing?

Nikki Grimes: These days, I'm tempted to say my favorite part of writing is writing! I have so little time for it, what with travel, promotional events, Web site maintenance, etc. But, to the point, I love the poetry of it all. Whenever I discover a fresh, new way to paint a picture or capture an emotion, it makes me smile. I still love being able to make an emotional connection with my readers, and I love the way metaphor, simile, and imagery make that possible. Sometimes, I'll read back a line I've just written, and think, "Damn, I'm good!" And I'll feel brilliant for about two seconds. Then I get stumped on the next sentence, and all the air rushes out of my balloon! Still, those moments are priceless, especially since that wonderful piece of writing was usually preceded by hours of grunt-work.

Dia Calhoun: What are you working on now?

Nikki Grimes: I'm finishing a two-voice YA novel, similar to Dark Sons, and I'm also working on a new chapter-book series. There are a couple of other projects, but I don't feel free to talk about them yet.

Divas: Thank you, Nikki, for the wonderful interview.

Enjoy Other Titles by Nikki Grimes:
Dark Sons
Jazmin's Notebook

To learn more about our featured author, please visit her website:

Additional interviews with Nikki Grimes:
Reading Rockets
Reading is Fun

Discuss the book with Nikki Grimes this month at the readergirlz forum:

Next Month's Feature

Readergirlz Welcomes Sarah Dessen!

Sarah Dessen will be the readergirlz author in March, when we spotlight her book, Just Listen.

Last year, Annabel was "the girl who has everything" -- at least that's the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf's Department Store.

This year, she's the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong. Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.

In this multi-layered, impossible-to-put-down book, Sarah Dessen tells the story of a year in the life of a family coming to terms with the imperfections beneath its perfect facade.

The Ultimate readergirlz Group Guide

How to set up your own readergirlz group:

Ten Tips for Starting Your Own readergirlz Book Club

1. Contact other girlfriends who love to read and chat about books as much as you do, and invite them to join readergirlz. Be sure they stand by the readergirlz Manifesta!

2. Your group can be any size, but staying below 12 seems to work well. Everyone has a chance to share. Will your group be all girls or will it be a mother/daughter group?

3. Consider if there's one girl who will always be the leader or will the leader change from month to month? That person might download readergirlz monthly info and discussion questions for the group and send out meeting reminders.

4. Consider where you'll meet. Homes, a library, a bookstore, or a school classroom are great choices.

5. Is your group going to have a party each month where you follow the great readergirlz suggestions? Who will take care of the food, decorations, and music? The fun preparations might rotate through the group.

6. How long will your meeting last? Two hours is a good amount of time to gab about a book.

7. Have a commitment from everyone to keep to the readergirlz monthly pick and avoid gossip. Redirect discussion that strays.

8. Share your opinions, but be willing to hear other points of view. Everyone doesn't have to agree. Differences make great discussions!

9. Once your group is meeting regularly, be respectful of the other members and ask before inviting another readergirl. Groups can be tight with each other, and everyone needs a say before an addition.

10. As all true readergirlz are, be a great friend in the group and out. These are friendships for a lifetime!

Readergirlz Ground Rules

So here's the deal: readergirlz encourages healthy discussion and debate about the books we're celebrating. What does that mean?

1. Keep it clean: no swearing and definitely no personal attacks, threats, porno, or cybersex. That is very uncool and un-readergirlz-ish.

2. Keep it pure: no ads of any kind, please. This is about the book, the whole book, and nothing but the book.

3. Keep it safe: don't share your personal info in any of our public forums.

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