An interview with Vicky Alvear Shecter, author of the following books:
- Alexander the Great Rocks the World (Darby Creek, 2006, ages 9+)
- Cleopatra Rules!: The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen (Boyd’s Mill Press, 2013, ages 10+)
- Anubis Speaks: A Guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the Dead (Boyd’s Mill Press, 2013, ages 9+)
- Hades Speaks: A Guide to the Underworld by the Greek God of the Dead (Boyd’s Mill Press, 2014, ages 9+)
- Thor Speaks: A Guide to the Realms by the Norse God of Thunder (Boyd’s Mill Press, 2014, ages 9+)
- Cleopatra’s Moon (Arthur A Levine Books, 2013, ages 12+)
- Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014, ages 12+)
It’s probably correct to say that you write about history in an unorthodox manner. Please describe your approach to the subject of history.
My motto is, if you find history boring, you’re probably reading the wrong books. History is beyond fascinating, filled with strange doings, quirky personalities, odd beliefs, sometimes scary violence, and often hilarious shenanigans.
For example, in my upcoming book (Fall, 2019), Warrior Queens, True Stories of Six Ancient Queens Who Slayed History, I write about an angry Roman emperor/general (Aurelian) who chased after the Palmyran (Syrian) queen, Zenobia, after she’d rebelled and conquered some Roman lands, including Egypt.
Aurelian was beyond furious about being bested by a woman, so he marched his legions to re-conquer what she’d taken. One of Zenobia’s cities refused to open their city gates to him. So he had a tantrum—he railed that he would destroy the city that not even a dog would be left alive.
They opened the gates.
But as a “good Roman,” he was a man of his word. And he’d promised he’d not leave even one dog alive. So, to remain honorable, he gave the order:
Kill all the dogs.
His soldiers slaughtered every poor puppy and pooch in the city! To us, of course, this is horrible—but to him, it was noble and honorable. This little story, normally overlooked because the city itself wasn’t very important, gives us unique insight into the Roman mind. It’s much more effective than just saying, “Romans were bloodthirsty and had rigid codes of honor.”
It’s the difference between telling and showing, as we writers often say!
Do you give presentations in schools and/or museums? What responses do you get from educators and children about your books? Do you get different responses from boys and girls?
I do give presentations wherever I can. I love to share my passion for history with kids of all ages. As I do in my books, my presentations focus on the funny and quirky while surreptitiously educating kids on the value of understanding our ancient roots. Both boys and girls respond equally to my work because who doesn’t like to laugh?!
Have educators mentioned any activities they’ve used with children to expand on the subjects in your books?
Educators have used my books in various ways to enhance their units on history and mythology. The most interesting activity I came across was an 8th grade geology teacher who sought out a classroom set of my novel, Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii. She wanted the kids to have a visceral experience of what they were studying in dry textbooks--the pre-eruption events and the deadly pyroclastic flows from the Vesuvius eruption that was so powerful it destroyed three Roman cities (not just Pompeii!) and extended the coast by a significant amount. I thought that was so cool!
Your historical novels are fascinating!
One Amazon review of Curses and Smoke said: “Pompeii, Vesuvius, and a love triangle. What more could you want?” Kirkus Reviews calls Curses and Smoke “a forbidden love story set in ancient Pompeii.” Your novel Cleopatra’s Moon is set in ancient Egypt and follows the life of Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of the famous pharaoh, Cleopatra, and the Roman general, Mark Antony.
Of course, these novels can be read just for the enjoyment of reading historical fiction. But I was wondering if educators have mentioned how they use these novels in teaching units about ancient Rome and ancient Egypt.
Many Latin teachers use my novels in the classroom. They appreciate the depictions of the ancient world through the eyes of teens and young adults as a way to help students connect the language and culture they are studying.
World history teachers often bring me in to talk about the ways in which we can look at historical patterns—even ancient ones—to understand our current political challenges. My mythology books—because they describe not just what people believed, but what it meant in their culture—are often used to add depth to mythology units. And, of course, Language Arts and Writing teachers sometimes bring me in to talk about writing historical fiction as well as nonfiction.
So, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If any of your readers are in Atlanta, or are coming to visit, and want a personal tour of the ancient Greek, Roman, Near Eastern, or Egyptian galleries at the Carlos Museum at Emory University, they should contact me through my website: www.vickyalvearshecter.com. As a docent at the museum, I’m constantly guiding groups through this amazing gem of a museum, sharing my passion for history and, hopefully, making everyone laugh while they learn. It’s my favorite pastime and I’d love to share it with others.
Thank you again for hosting me. It’s been an honor!
Vicky Alvear Shecter
Author of Historical Fiction and Nonfiction