Review: Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School #1) by Jen Calonita

Title: Flunked
Series: Fairy Tale Reform School #1
Author: Jen Calonita
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pages: 256 
ISBN: 149260156X
Source: ARC from Publisher

Synopsis (from Goodreads):


Gilly wouldn’t call herself wicked exactly…but when you have five little brothers and sisters and live in a run- down boot, you have to get creative to make ends meet. Gilly’s a pretty good thief (if she does say so herself).
Until she gets caught.

Gilly’s sentenced to three months at Fairy Tale Reform School- where all of the teachers are former (super-scary) villains like the Big Bad Wolf, the Evil Queen, and Cinderella’s Wicked Stepmother. Harsh. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there’s more to this school than its heroic mission. There’s a battle brewing and Gilly has to wonder: can a villain really change?

There’s a boy up there, standing on the crystal chandelier! He has slightly curly blond hair and is wearing a uniform—­a navy sweater vest over a white shirt with khaki pants—­but his boots are muddy. He’s stepping on priceless crystals with cruddy boots? Is he insane?
“Jax! What are you doing up there?” Kayla whispers heatedly.
“I’m cleaning the crystal for Flora,” Jax says and rolls his eyes. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m making
a break for it.”
Kayla applauds. “Yay! This time I know you can do it.”
I shade my eyes from the light bursting through the stained-­glass window next to the chandelier Jax is perched on. “Busting out? Why?” I ask Kayla. “I thought you said this place was cool.”
Jax laughs loudly and looks at me. I feel slightly stunned. I’ve never seen violet eyes before. “FTRS was fun for a while, but strange things have started happening and I don’t want to be here when something bad goes down.”
Strange things? What kind of strange things? Why does Kayla suddenly look pale?
“He’s exaggerating,” Kayla tells me, but she doesn’t sound convincing.
Drip. Whatever Jax is holding is leaking. Kayla and I move out of the way so we don’t get wet. “Grease,” Jax explains to me. “It lubes the window.” He swings the chandelier, and as it nears the window, he uses a fork to try to pry the window open. “A few more tries and I’ll have it.”
“Then what are you going to do, genius?” I ask. “You’re two stories up.”
Jax’s eyes gleam. “I’ve jumped from higher spots before.”
“It’s true,” Kayla says to me. “Jax once jumped from the gym to the dining hall turret. That was three stories up. We call him the Escape Artist. One time he even managed to break into Azalea and Dahlia’s rooms and borrowed their keys to the indoor pool so the whole dorm could take a midnight swim.”
“Impressive,” I tell him. “And I thought I was good at tricking obnoxious royals.”
“She stole a dragon’s tooth clip from one this morning,” Kayla fills him in.
“Nice,” Jax says. “Your first pull?”
“No, I’ve been doing it for a while,” I brag.
“Me too,” Jax says. “My father is a farmer. You can only get so far trading vegetables. I needed to kick things up a notch.”
For some reason, I don’t think any of us are going to make the transformation Headmistress Flora is looking for. “Why do you want to break out so bad?”
“I’ve got places to see, and Enchantasia isn’t one of them.” Jax swings the chandelier so hard the crystals clang together. The window latch pops open, and I watch Jax leap from the chandelier to the tiny window ledge. I’m in awe. Jax looks down at us smugly before pushing open the window. “Are you sure you two don’t want to join me?”
“There’s no time for us,” Kayla says. “Get out of here. Wait!” Her eyes widen. “You deactivated the alarm on the window, right?”
“There isn’t one,” Jax insists. “If there was, I wouldn’t be able to do this.” But when Jax lifts the window, we hear:
EEEEEE! EEEE! EEEE! Unauthorized exit! Unauthorized exit!
The shrieking sound is so intense that Kayla and I cover our ears. Within seconds, Flora is out of her office and running toward us.
I feel something brush past me and I whirl around. When I look up at Jax again, a large, muscular man with a long mane of hair is hanging on to the window ledge, his furry hands pulling Jax back by his shirt. How did the man get up there without a ladder?

“Mr. Jax,” the man says in a low growl, “we really must stop meeting like this.”

Jen Calonita is the author of the Secrets of My Hollywood Life series and other books like Sleepaway Girls and Summer State of Mind, but Fairy Tale Reform School is her first middle grade series. 

She rules Long Island, New York with husband Mike, princes Tyler and Dylan, and Chihuahua Captain Jack Sparrow, but the only castle she’d ever want to live in is Cinderella’s at Disney World. 

She’d love for you to drop her a line at jencalonitaonline.com or keep the fairy tale going at http://books.sourcebooks.com/enchantasia/

Ever wonder what happened to the evil step-monster in Cinderella? Or perhaps the Evil Queen from Snow White or the Big Bad Wolf? Chances are, they've attempted to turned their lives around. Imagine Cinderella's castle and Hogwarts had a child...it would be the Fairy Tale Reform School. Ran by Cinderella's ex evil step-mother, the school is a place to help the creatures of fairy tales set on the right path.

Gilly lives in a boot with her family. She has developed a habit of stealing to help feed them, and after being caught one too many times, she is sent to the reform school. This is the school's 5th anniversary, and there will be a ball that all the Royals will be attending. During preparation, Gilly begins noticing some shady behaviors and mysterious happenings that cause her and her friends to set out to save the school.

If you love storybook legends, magic, and charming humor, you'll get sucked into the world of Enchantasia. There were a lot of times I laughed because the writing is very witty. The main characters were great, and I enjoyed watching their personalities unravel. The secondary characters do seem a bit underdeveloped, but this is a short Middle Grade book, so I had to lower my expectations. However, some of the scenes left more to be desired. I wanted the world around me to be built a little more, but the environment lacked detail. For the size and audience it isn't that big of a deal, but I would have enjoyed those elements being added into the story.

This is a charming book, and it's a very light, quick read. I look forward to the sequel!


World Travelers: Japan

World Travelers: Japan
Grades K-5

My goal with this series is to bridge cultural gaps in children's literacy. The best part about it is that I learn a lot about the countries in the process, and even the parents get involved with asking questions. Sometimes I bring in a special guest or two that has lived or visited that specific country and they tell about their experiences and share items from there. The more this program develops, the better it gets!

Each child that attends gets a passport. I created a template to save ink, then filled in the space with the airplane and the quote with stamps. The inside pages are from this template, and each time a child comes to the program, they get a special stamp on the inside. If they "travel" to so many of the locations, they get a prize!

I checked out this CD from the library from the soloists of the Ensemble Nipponia. It includes traditional vocal and instrumental music featuring traditional Japanese instruments such as the shakuhachi, biwa, koto, and shamisen (a few of these we demonstrated during the presentation). You can find a copy and more info on this CD on Amazon.

Through the Ozarks Chapter of the Missouri Writer's Guild I met a new friend, Majetta. Majetta, her husband, and her daughter spent several years living in Japan and agreed to come in and present. What an amazing time we had! The presentation was only supposed to last 15-20 minutes, but people were so interested it turned into 45 minutes! I couldn't have asked for more. 
They brought authentic paraphernalia to share with kids and families, some of which included Kokeshi dolls, a Shamisen (stringed instrument), Taiko drums, a Japanese drivers license, and rice paper eggs that each attendee took home with them as a souvenir. I had also provided free chopsticks for everyone. It was an enjoyable and educational experience for both children and adults!

Each child received a page of questions and had to find the answers hidden around the room. I've asked what they remember from last time, and they relayed some facts back to me! I was impressed. Here are some random facts I used:
1. The Japanese name for Japan is "Nihon" or "Nippon" which means "sun origin".

2. Japan belongs to the continent of Asia. Japan is an island nation surrounded by the Sea of Japan to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West.

3. Japan is made up of 6,852 islands.

4. The highest point in Japan is Mount Fuji, which stands at 3,776 meters (12,388 feet).

5. As of July 2012, there are over 127 million people living in Japan, which is the tenth largest population in the world.

6. Tokyo is the capital city of Japan and also the largest city. Other major cities include Osaka, Nagoya, and Sapporo.

7. Japanese if the official language of Japan.

8. Japan sits along the "Pacific Ring of Fire," so it has many volcanoes and experiences many earthquakes. In 2011, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 hit Japan and created a tsunami which resulted in much devastation.

9. Almost three quarters of Japan's land is either forest or mountains and is difficult to be made into farms, industrial, or residential areas.

10. Ancient warriors of Japan were known as Samurai. They were very skilled fighters and swordsmen. Their main weapon was the Katana, a sharp sword with a slight curve to it.

11. Due to gases produced by power plants, Japan sometimes suffers from acid rain.

12. Japan is an industrialized nation, producting some of the most technologically advanced motor vehicles, electronics, and machine tools.

13. Some of the most well-known companies in the world are Japanese, such as Toyota, Honda, Sony, Nintendo, Canon, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Sharp.

14. Japanese cuisine has become popular around the world. Some well-known dishes are sushi, sashimi, and tempura.

15. Sumo is recognized as the national sport of Japan, although the most popular spectator sport is baseball.

Each station has a description of the history and uniqueness of the specific craft they are making. I also provide examples as well.

Koinobori (Flying Carp) Kite
In Japanese culture, the carp symbolizes courage and strength because of its ability to swim up a waterfall. Originally, the banners were used by samurai warriors on the battlefield. Now, they are used for Children's Day and family order, being flown above houses from biggest "fish" to the smallest. 

Printable carp found at Activity Village 
(Flat) wooden skewers to create a handle or "pole"

Kids were flying kites around the Children's department all day!

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai
I chose to integrate the infamous Great Wave Off Kanagawa in this simple art project. I also offered questions for them to consider: What is the first thing you notice? This is the focal point. What shapes do you see? What colors? Is there movement in the piece? How does it make you feel? Have you been to the ocean? What was it like? What time of day and season do you think is it? Does this painting look realistic or imagined? Try smearing the chalk with your fingers, what kind of effect do you see?

Brown and blue construction paper
White, purple, and blue chalk

Just draw your waves, color the sky, then cut and paste your waves to the brown paper.

Mt. Fuji Diorama
I printed this out at Canon Creative Park, but when I went back to find it, it wasn't there. So hopefully it isn't gone forever...but there are still plenty of really cool, educational crafts on there!

Japan Inspired Sensory Bin
Rice, origami, chopsticks...anything I wanted to fit into the program somehow could go in here. I had a lot of kids play with this for a long time. I actually got some complaints when it was time to put it away!

Otedama Games
Another great find from Activity Village! If you want to make traditional bean bags for these games, head on over there to find out how, but I just used some bean bags we already had in the office. To find different games you can play, go here.

RECEPTION: Wow! This was probably the best program in this series so far. The excitement and interest between both parents and children was thriving and I received a lot of great feedback. The program is originally set for 1 hour, but I had people stay for 2! I felt that it was very successful and I'm really happy with how everything turned out.

Check out my list of books related to Japan HERE.

See my Japan themed Pinterest board HERE.


Author Interview: Carole P. Roman - Cultural Children's Author

Carole P. Roman is a notable author to add to your storytime collection. She writes about pirates, frogs, yoga, and my personal favorite, culture. For an assignment at school, I had to develop a proposal for something within my chosen career that I was passionate about. The American Library Association put out an article from the School Library Media Research journal about bridging cultural gaps in children's literacy. In a nutshell, it suggests that kids are less likely to become strong readers if they can't relate to what they are reading (authors, characters, content, etc.). In 1985, the Cooperative Children's Book Center began documenting such information, and it looks a lot like this (the following chart is one I created for my project):

Roman noticed something else about the world around her. We are constantly surrounded by culture outside our own, but we don't understand how it relates to us. This epiphany inspired her to write the "If You Were Me and Lived In..." books. I love these books because they simplify cultures not just for children, but for adults, too! They are short enough for storytimes, and they allow children of different cultures to relate to what they're reading, while also educating their peers. I believe these books are the beginning of a new era in children's literature, and I hope we continue to see this gap diminish.

During research for my project, I had the opportunity to call Miss Roman and learn more about her aspirations via phone interview. The passion she has for reaching a generation of children and educating them to understand the world around them was evident in her voice. It was incredibly moving for me to hear her story and how she came to act upon her convictions to write about what she felt the world was missing. It inspired me to start a program at the library called "World Travelers" where I aim to educate children about different countries and their cultures.

Please welcome Carole P. Roman to The Indigo Quill with me, and be sure to check out her books for your collection!
Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best of 2012 for her first book, award winning author Carole P. Roman started writing as a dare from one of her sons. Using an imaginary game she played with her grandson as a base, Captain No Beard was born. It has followed with four more books to the series.

Motivated by her love of yoga, Roman has written a book that not only teaches four poses, but shows how easy and accessible yoga can be.
She has just finished the first of six books in a groundbreaking new nonfiction series about culture around the world. "If You Were Me and Lived in..." combines her teaching past with her love of exploration and interest in the world around us.

Writing for children has opened up a whole second act for her. While she is still working in her family business, this has enabled her to share her sense of humor as well as love for history and culture with the audience she adores. Roman lives on Long Island with her husband and near her children.

What inspired you to write multicultural books for children?
I’ve always been interested in different cultures. I have a multicultural background and I was a Social Studies teacher—I graduated as a History major and taught Jr High for a while before I and quit. 

One night, I just thought I should write about what I know. Alexander (my grandson) was in Vegas with me and didn’t understand the concept of different countries. So the first multicultural book I wrote was If You Were Me and Lived in Mexico… (because I lived closest to there).

I asked myself, what is culture and what does it mean? Alex was exposed to cultures but didn’t understand them. He’d ask what the eiffel tower was, and even after telling him, he still did not understand what it was and why it was relevant to him.

What elements do you ensure are included in your multicultural books?
I ask myself questions about what the child should know, such as…
  1. what would you call your parents?
  2. what could your name be?
  3. what a doll would be called?
  4. what would you call school?
I tackle things kids would read and make them understand why it’s diverse.

Where do you find your inspiration for which country you’ll write about next?
Restaurants…I write about what country the places I go inspire. Everywhere I go I notice I’m surrounded by these cultures. Korea, Greece, Kenya, Hungary…etc. We are surrounded by culture in everything we do!

How do the kids respond to learning about different cultures?
Kids are delicious and wonderful, and they love it!  They like to talk about themselves…so if they have some kind of relation or story with it they get excited.

I printed out post cards and would have them write about what they would know or do if they wanted to go there.

What do you hope your books achieve?
I feel the books are really important for tolerance. They give knowledge….the goal is to give children information and not hatred.

When I was a substitute teacher I had my class write down their Thanksgiving menu. The menu always had turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie. But there was always an ethnic dish. These kids are already experiencing culture and they don’t even realize it.

What is one thing you want readers to take away from reading your books?
The most important lesson that comes out of my books is that the world is very large, but  yet it is very small, and we are so connected. If we don’t learn to appreciate the differences and embrace them then the world is not going to be a safe place for our children. There is no better than the other, they are all beautiful! 

Each book has been a labor of love. 


World Travelers: Kenya

World Travelers: Kenya
Grades K-5

My goal with this series is to bridge cultural gaps in children's literacy. The best part about it is that I learn a lot about the countries in the process, and even the parents get involved with asking questions. Sometimes I bring in a special guest or two that has lived or visited that specific country and they tell about their experiences and share items from there. The more this program develops, the better it gets!

Each child that attends gets a passport. I created a template to save ink, then filled in the space with the airplane and the quote with stamps. The inside pages are from this template, and each time a child comes to the program, they get a special stamp on the inside. If they "travel" to so many of the locations, they get a prize!

This time I didn't include a playlist from YouTube, but instead checked out Putumayo Kids' African Playground. It was perfect and I didn't have to deal with random ads.

This time, I had mounted a map onto a big piece of cardboard that I had cut out to show the month's country in relation to us. I always include the country's flag and a close up of the country as well.
I was lucky enough to have my friend Ruthie and her new husband, Devin, come in as my guest speakers. Both have spent time in Africa and Ruthie spent several years specifically in Kenya. They shared stories of what it was like to live there, cultural differences, random interesting facts, and passed around some novelty items as well. They were great presenters, and everyone became involved in asking questions!

Each child received a page of questions and had to find the answers hidden around the room. Today, it we called it a safari! Here are some random facts I used:
1. Kenya is located in East Africa, on the Equator.

2. In 2012, the population of Kenya was estimated to be around 43 million.

3. Hydroelectricity is the largest contributor to Kenya's electrical supply.

4. The capital and largest city is Nairobi, Mombasa is the second largest city.

5. The two official languages in Kenya are English and Swahili, although there are dozens of other languages spoken in other parts of the country.

6. Kenya is a developing country and half of the population live in poverty.

7. Kenya features many national parks and wildlife reserves, with safaris being a popular activity for visitors.

8. Agriculture is important to Kenya's economy. Especially tea, coffee, and flowers.

9. Large animals such as lions, buffalo, leopards, elephants, and rhinoceroses are present in Kenya.

10. In Kenya, they drive on the left side of the road.

11. Kenya is named after Mt. Kenya, the tallest mountain in the country (5,199 meters, 17,057 feet).

12. In terms of sports, Kenya is perhaps best known for its middle and long distance running, with the country frequently producing Olympic champions.

Each station has a description of the history and uniqueness of the specific craft they are making. I also provide examples as well.

Learn Swahili! Flash Cards
This was a fun passive activity. I just found a website with some English-Swahili terms and made my own. I laminated them to make them last. By the way, "hakuna matata" really DOES mean "no worries!"

African Masks
One of the main characteristics of culture of African peoples is use of masks in rituals and ceremonies. It is believed that the earliest masks were used in Africa before Paleolithic era. They represent spirits of animals or ancestors, mythological heroes, moral values or a form of honoring of a person in a symbolic way. This became an open-ended art project and all I did was lay out a bunch of random craft pieces and printed off this mask from Nuttin' But Preschool.

Traditional African Music
Traditional African music is polyrhythmic; 2 or more rhythms are present. The rhythm of the drum is predominating while string, wind and shake instruments accompany. People become a third instruments by clapping, stomping, singing and chanting. The kids really enjoyed experimenting with sound and rhythm!

Soccer, or football, is huge in Kenya! I took the lid to a board game, some green construction paper and a white crayon and made this table-top football field. Then I provided cut up straws and a pom-pom for the kids to try and blow the pom-pom to the other side. I made sure to provide a trash can underneath the table to dispose of the used straws.

Shisima is a math game that both the parents and kids enjoyed. One family stayed and played it for an hour! I got the idea from B-Inspired Mama (you can also find the rules of the game there).

Felt Board Safari
For the younger kids I pulled out this nifty African animals felt set we had in the office. It provided a more sensory experience, but the older kids ended up playing with it as well!

RECEPTION: This was another successful World Travelers! Everyone really enjoyed the presentation and hearing about life in Kenya. There was a good turn out and we had some kids who returned with their passports. One of them has been writing the dates underneath the stamps. It's so cool to see how this program is becoming real to them! Next stop...Japan!

Check out my list of books related to Kenya/Africa HERE.

See my Kenya/African themed Pinterest board HERE.