Author Guest Post: “Guide Them like Lighthouses to the Shores of Success” by Preston Norton, Author of The House on Yeet Street


Guide Them like Lighthouses to the Shores of Success

When I was in second grade, I considered myself to be the dumbest kid in my class. I came to this rather tragic realization when my teacher instituted a math exercise where we would be given a sheet of fairly simple math equations and a time limit. Those who finished the series of equations before the time was up received a sticker that was placed in front of our name on a very pretty poster board display. Every successful completion within the time limit resulted in another sticker. Some of my classes finished every single math quiz within the time limit and had the unstoppable line of stickers to prove it. Other kids missed the occasional day, but overall, had a fairly mean lineup of stickers. There were other kids still who struggled but achieved the occasional sticker, and I’m sure the few they possessed meant a great deal to them.

And then there was poor, dumb Preston who had not a sticker in the world.

At this point, my teacher must have realized her error because she began the practice of “skipping” days. Whenever she skipped a day—and we did not have one of these timed math quizzes—everyone got a sticker. I finally had my sticker. There was only one problem: I knew I hadn’t earned it. As the school year progressed, more and more of these “skip days” occurred, and before I knew it, I had enough stickers to hide from the untrained eye the fact that I had not earned a single one of these on my own. None of my second grade peers made fun of me for how few stickers I had. But that didn’t change the fact that I had earned a tremendous new bully: myself. Nothing tanks one’s self-esteem more than knowing you’re the dumbest kid in the class and having the stickers (or lack thereof) to prove it.

I wish I could tell you that this was the origin story of how I went on to become the world’s greatest mathematician. Alas, this is not that story. I wager my math skills to this day are only marginally better than the fifth graders to whom I teach (environmental science). Math is not something I was born to be good at. This is not to say I think one needs to be born good at something in order to succeed at it. But I do think we are born with innate interests and desires. And the sooner we can key into what these things are, the sooner we can unleash a world of potential, either in ourselves, or—in the case of teachers—from these young minds whom rely so deeply upon the light of our learning. As teachers, we can—and should—guide them like lighthouses to the shores of success. Now I realize, as a children’s author, that I am a somewhat biased source, but I can think of no better beacon than the power of literacy and books.

Flash forward to the Scholastic Book Fair.

As a second grader—even one with zero stickers (real ones anyway)—the allure of the Scholastic Book Fair was powerful. Born into a relatively low-income family, I had enough money to buy one book—a single book—and as such, I had to make it count. The book I settled on was one about dinosaurs. I was probably eight years old. Of course, I liked dinosaurs. This purchase was made purely on the appeal of the cover with absolutely no understanding of the sort of book I was walking into. And that was nonfiction. Now, as someone who adores nonfiction, I can tell you with certainty that I was ill-equipped with the literacy required to tackle such a read. What essentially happened was I would “read” the words on the page and have zero comprehension of what I’d just read. It was the most surface level act of reading with none of the understanding behind it. This could have been a relatively painless failure, if not for my cousin Tobin—in the same grade as me—who bought the exact same book as me. And let me tell you, he was simply gushing with newly learned dinosaur facts. Hey, Preston, did you know that a stegosaurus was roughly 30 feet long, weighed 11,000 pounds, but only had a brain the size of a dog’s? Oof. I suddenly felt a terrible kinship to stegosauri.

Needless to say, I felt pretty defeated. The thought occurred that if couldn’t even understand a book someone else my age was reading for enjoyment, I might never amount to anything. This is a terrible thing for an eight-year-old to feel.

I may have been my own worst enemy, but I did have someone in my court: my mom. As a lover of books and even writing, she knew I had the desire to read—even if I hadn’t found the right book just yet. With that said, she’d heard a thing or two about this spooky book series called Goosebumps. And so, as I entered the third grade, to a brand-new school, a new start, and a slightly lower than normal self-esteem, she hooked me up with my very first one: Goosebumps #2: Stay Out of the Basement.

Holy f***ing s***! What the f*** was I reading? I had no idea—it was weird as s***—and I was here for it. Their dad was a f***ing plant monster thing? Hell yeah! And thus, I fell down the slippery slope of a book series with just way too many books and where every chapter ends on a cliffhanger.

I wasn’t long before my mom had realized her child’s sudden new hobby was about to get expensive. And so, without further ado, she introduced me to the library. While there were plenty of Goosebumps to spare, I burned through these faster than a teenage boy burns calories. At a certain point, I was forced to redirect my attention elsewhere. I had a great science fiction run with the works of Bruce Coville. But perhaps no chapter book had a greater impact on me than Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery (1979).

The premise is this: a family called the Monroes has a pet dog, Harold (the narrator), a pet cat named Chester (a vaguely paranoid orange tabby who loves literature and milk), and a brand-new pet rabbit—the titular Bunnicula—who may or may not be “sucking the life” out of vegetables. I can tell you the exact moment when this novel changed my life. Keep in mind that this is a recollection of events from the nostalgia-fueled memory of a thirty-eight-year-old, who has not reread the novel since they first read it as an eight-year-old (give or take). Picture this: Chester, jealous of all the attention the family bunny has been receiving of late, is contemplating an attempt on Bunnicula’s life. After reading that vampires can be slain by pounding a stake through their heart, Chester interprets this murder weapon as a juicy slab of steak, which he removes from the fridge, proceeds to throw on top of the bunny, and then hops on top of it, attempting to somehow pound it through this poor rabbit’s heart.

“I think it’s supposed to be sharp?” Harold asks (according to my memory).

“Of course, it’s sharp,” says the version of Chester who lives rent-free in my head. “It’s sirloin.”

Somehow, someone had forgotten to pass on the memo to me that books could be funny. This was undoubtedly the funniest thing I had ever read. To this day, it might still be! And it was in this moment, when a moment of humor conveyed through written word irrevocably tripped a dopamine neurotransmitter in my brain, flooding it with hysterical euphoria, that I came to a life-altering realization: I wanted to write.

When I was maybe eleven years old, I attempted to write my first novel. It was about a dog and a cat who get lost in Australia and befriend a dingo. I maybe wrote a chapter or two before I quit. Whether or not it was a good chapter or two is inconsequential. What it was instead was an important chapter or two—perhaps the most important chapter or two I’ve ever written—because it taught me one of the most powerful lessons that eleven-year-old me could learn: I could write. I could tell a story. I had stories inside of me that I wanted to tell.

When I was fourteen years old, I made another attempt, this time in the fantasy genre, of which I was growing quite fond. I got further this time; wrote more pages, more chapters. Did not finish.

I made another attempt again when I was sixteen years old, and this was an important one. Because I did not stop. I kept writing. Maybe on and off, but I kept on going, even when I turned seventeen.

When I was eighteen years old, I finished the novel that I started when I was sixteen: a high fantasy novel called The Mark of Mekken, starring a young protagonist named Aidan Cross. Once more, whether it was good or not is far less consequential than how important it is to me. Amidst my (failed) attempts to publish it, I asked for publishing advice in a fan letter I wrote Christopher Paolini, of whom I was a big fan at the time. Paolini’s success at such a young age was endlessly inspirational to me. To my surprise and delight, Paolini wrote me three pages of letters back in encouragement. Oh, and he also recommended me to his agent, Dan Lazar, who would keep an eye out for my manuscript! I’ll spare you the suspense: Dan Lazar did not sign on to represent my novel. But he did write me the most encouraging rejection letter I have ever received, particularly in regard to my protagonist, Aidan, whom he hoped would succeed on his journey.

Some eagle-eyed readers might recognize that my major middle grade debut, a queer ghost story called The House on Yeet Street—to be published August 27, 2024 by Union Square Kids—also features a protagonist named Aidan Cross. This is not by coincidence. The House on Yeet Street might be middle-grade horror—perhaps not so distant from the Goosebumps stories that inspired it and, indeed, changed my life—but it is also a story about creativity and identity and how closely the two intertwine. In The House on Yeet Street, my thirteen-year-old MC, Aidan Cross is writing a fantasy love story starring a fictional version of his best friend, Kai Pendleton—reimagined as a merman named Kai Pendragon—and a genderbending version of himself named Nadia (Aidan spelled backwards). When I originally pitched this MG book idea to my agent and editor, it was with three other ideas, two of which I was convinced would be selected over it. Not only was I surprised that The House on Yeet Street floated to the top, but I was also elated, especially as it has easily turned into the personal favorite and possibly most personal of all my novels. It has also caused me to reflect on the version of Aidan Cross I wrote all those years ago and the queer subtext I may or may not have fully understood in his story and my own.

I know what you’re thinking: what does this have to do with teachers? To which I would reply: everything! I would also pose the question: who is a teacher? Or better yet: who can be a teacher? To which I would reply: everyone. A teacher can be a mom, an author, even a literary agent. I believe a teacher can even be a book—even one about monster plant dads and vampire bunnies. What better teacher than the one who is born inside a child’s mind? There is a reason evil and ignorant people across the nation are organizing to ban books—of all things—from children, even as the whole entire internet sits at their fingertips. It is much easier to stop a child from becoming literate and learning to think independently—by carefully censoring and curating their access to literature and ideas—than it is to stop a young person from thinking for themself once they have learned how to do so.

To teachers, to librarians, to every adult with a child in their life: don’t stop shining your light. These children see you. These children need you.

The future needs you.

Publishing August 27th, 2024 by Union Square & Co.

About the Book: A hilarious ghost story about a group of thirteen-year-old boys whose friendship is tested by supernatural forces, secret crushes, and a hundred-year-old curse.

When Aidan Cross yeeted his very secret journal into the house on Yeet Street, he also intended to yeet his feelings for his best friend, Kai, as far away as possible.

To Aidan’s horror, his friends plan a sleepover at the haunted house the very next night. Terrance, Zephyr, and Kai are dead set on exploring local legend Farah Yeet’s creepy mansion. Aidan just wants to survive the night and retrieve his mortifying love story before his friends find it.

When Aidan discovers an actual ghost in the house (who happens to be a huge fan of his fiction), he makes it his mission to solve the mystery of Gabby’s death and free her from the house. But when Aidan’s journal falls into the wrong hands, secrets come to light that threaten the boys’ friendship. Can Aidan embrace the part of himself that’s longing to break free…or will he become the next victim to be trapped in the haunted house forever? 

About the Author: Preston Norton teaches environmental science to fifth graders. He is the author of Neanderthal Opens the Door to the UniverseWhere I End & You Begin, and Hopepunk. He is married with three cats.

Thank you, Preston, for this reminder that we are guides to the kids in our lives!

Student Voices: Favorite Characters from Dhivya R., Hajirah Q., & Omayma H., 7th grade, and Azuri, 8th grade


Favorite Characters

“Twenty Book Characters That I Want to Meet in Real Life” by Dhivya R., 7th grade

Jameson Hawthorne- Jameson is one of the four Hawthorne Brothers from the Inheritance Games series. I would want to meet him because he is super smart, adventurous, and always up for a challenge. 

Grayson Hawthorne- Grayson is another one of the brothers from the Inheritance Games series. I want to meet him because he will always help his family and friends that need it, and like his brother, he is always ready for a game. 

Juliet Grayson- Juliet is a character from the Inheritance Games series that you will meet in the 4th book, The Brothers Hawthorne. She is super sweet and lively, and will never fail to make you smile. 

Phineas Smith- Phineas, or Finn, is one of the main characters from the book If He Had Been With Me. I would want to meet him and be friends with him because he is described as one of the nicest people you will ever meet. He always puts other people before himself and will always be ready to lend a hand. 

Jack Murphy- Jack is one of the three characters POV that If Only I Had Told Her is told through. Jack is one of Finn’s best friends, and he would do anything for him. If you were one of his friends, you would know that you could always count on him for anything. 

Minho- Minho is the Keeper of the Runners from The Maze Runner series. He is a super hard working person and will always push you to do and be your best.

Daniel Wing (Day)- Day is one of the two main characters from the Legend series. He would do anything for his family and friends, no matter the cost. He would always put his friends first, and is not afraid to take on a challenge. 

June Iparis- June is the other main character from the Legend series. She is a hard working leader and does not ever give up. She is also really sweet and seems like a really nice person to be friends with.  

Peeta Mellark- Peeta is the male tribute from district 12 in the Hunger Games series. He will do anything it takes to protect Katniss, and he is super sweet as well. 

Primrose Everdeen- Prim is the younger sister of Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games. She is the most kind hearted, caring person and would always be able to put a smile on your face. 

Katniss Everdeen- Katniss is the female tribute from district 12 and the main character of the Hunger Games series. She is full of confidence and bravery, doing everything she can to protect her family and friends. 

Lucy Gray-Barid- Lucy is the district 12 tribute in the 10th hunger games from The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes. She is a very strong and determined person, and just a really kind person overall. 

Ally- Ally is one of the four main characters from I Know Your Secret. She is a very quiet and shy girl, but will take the lead when it comes to her family’s animal sanctuary, doing anything that she needs to do to keep it open. She will take initiative when she needs to, and will help her friends do everything they need to protect what they love as well. 

Marcus O’Mara- Marcus is the main character from the Surrender the Key series. He is really brave and will always try to do the right thing, even if it comes with a cost. 

Cassandra Hobbes-Cassie is a profiler from The Naturals series.  She will not stop until she gets what she is looking for, doing whatever it takes. She is super brave and courageous as well. 

Dean Redding- Dean is the first profiler accepted by the Naturals program from The Naturals series. He is really smart and will try to protect his friends whenever he can. 

Parker Jimenez – Parker is a hacker that was befriended by Katrina in Concealed. He helped Katrina find the truth about her identity and her family, even if it meant that he would have to make some sacrifices. 

Drew Ellis – Drew is one of the few kids of color at the private school in the New Kid series. He is brave and always stands up for himself and the other kids of color in his grade, even if it means he has to break the rules. He always does what is best for him and his friends, helping them and getting help as they go.

Omar Mohamed- Omar is the main character from When Stars Are Scattered. His main priority is always taking care of his brother, putting Hassan’s needs before his own and doing whatever he needs to do for his little brother. He is a hard worker, never giving up even when times get tough and making his way through life while also trying his best to follow his dreams. 

Fred and George Weasly- Fred and George are twin brothers from the Weasly family in the Harry Potter series. They are super funny and will never fail to put a smile on your face. They always put each other before anything else and would do anything and everything that they could dream of together. 

“Characters I Would Want to Be Friends With in Real Life” by Hajirah Q., 7th grade

Xander from The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes:
I would be friends with Xander in real life because his personality is to try and make people feel. But he can also be serious and supportive when he wants to be. He tries to make Avery feel at home and comfortable even when no one seems to trust her.

Kenji from Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi:
I would want to be friends with Kenji in real life because he jokes around a lot with his friends and has a funny personality. Even when things seem to be out of sorts, he thinks of a way to cheer everyone up. But in serious situations, he always tries to think of a way out of whatever case they’re in. 

Taylor from The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han:
She can sometimes be a little annoying and self-centered but she helps Belly whenever Belly needs it and is a great friend. And even though they fight with each other often, Taylor still tries to be a perfect friend.

Susannah from The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han:
She is such a sweet person and cares for Belly like a mom. When Belly doesn’t want to tell her mom something, she knows she can tell Susannah. Even though Belly likes one of Susannah’s boys’, whenever Belly tells her about them, she always gives motherly advice.

Chris from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han:
Even though she’s wild and does her own thing, she still takes time to care for Lara Jean whenever she needs it. If Kitty can’t make Lara Jean feel better, she makes sure to help Lara Jean get better in whatever way.

Lauren from A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson:
Even though she’s not as close to Pip, she still tries to be a great friend. She knows she’s not as close to Pip as Cara is, but she still tries to be there for Pip when she can, and when Pip lets her be there for her.

Cara from A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson:
Even though Pip is not telling her things, she tries to be a magnificent friend. Even when she herself is feeling down, she makes sure to be there for Pip when she knows Pip needs as much help as she can get.

Abigail from I Hope This Doesn’t Find You by Ann Liang:
Even though she hurt Sadie, she was trying to help her and did it out of the goodness of her heart. She is a great friend through Sadie’s ups and downs. And she listens to Sadie about all her problems and whatever drama is going on in her life.

Easton from Check and Mate by Ali Hazelwood:
She is a great friend to Mallory. Even though she has to move away from Mallory, and doesn’t get in touch with Mallory for a while, she surprises Mallory to make sure Mallory understands they are still friends. Because she knows Mallory could be worried about Easton not wanting to be friends with her anymore.

Bee from Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins:
She cares about Harper and loves her like a sister. And she tries to be an excellent friend to Harper. Even when Harper doesn’t tell her everything, she still forgives her and tries to be great friends with Harper.

“Top Five Favorite Book Characters” by Omayma H., 7th grade

Books are fun to read but you want to know what makes them better? The Characters! So here are my top 5 favorite book characters and why! (Note: These are not in order! I can’t choose between them all)

1. Sophie Foster from Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Sophie Foster is the Protagonist in the series The Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger and I think she is amazing! Sophie Foster was born in the human world but she is an elf! When she finds out and is taken to the Lost Cities (That’s what they call all the cities) her life completely changes. She makes friends and lives with a wonderful family. Sophie Foster is one of my favorite characters because she never gives up, Always tries her best, Cares TREMENDOUSLY about her friends and family, and she is brave! The book definitely would feel wrong without her (and not because she is the main character)! 

2. Keefe Sencen from Keeper Of The Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Keefe Sencen is one of the main characters in The Keeper of the  Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger. He is one of Sophie Foster’s closest friends and the most supportive of all of them. Even though he has his own problems you can notice that he ALWAYS puts Sophie before himself (and for specific reasons too!!!!!!!). Sophie tends to go to him A LOT whenever she has a problem and I think it is ADORABLE!!! Keefe is the “Clown” in the friend group. He is always making jokes and pranks to make everyone laugh. I think Keefe is one of those characters that all readers like and enjoy having in books. He makes everything better and happier for his friends and everyone around him. Keefe DEFINITELY makes the book more fun!

3. Dex Dizznee from Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Dex Dizznee is one of the main characters in the series. He is Sophie Foster’s adoptive cousin and best friend. He was one of the very first elves Sophie met after she moved into the Lost Cities. Before Sophie arrived, Dex had no friends. He ate lunch all by himself and was always bullied but that never stopped him from being funny and kind! Dex’s character is one of those funny kinds and he LOVES to play pranks on people using his mad alchemy skills! Dex’s personality fluctuates often, ranging from pushy and competitive to kind and gentle.  He is a really good friend and I really can’t imagine the story without him!

4. Kestra Dallisor from The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen                               

Kestra is an independent woman who just wants to do the right thing. Kestra’s mother died when she was little and her dad is the evil king’s closest advisor. I think what I like best about Kestra is that she never gives up no matter what. She always tries to do the right thing and has to go through a lot. During her Journey she is forced to make, Kestar is forced to be accompanied by  Simon (A boy who used to be her friend until she betrayed him) and Trina ( A girl who doesn’t want to be anywhere near Kestra) and I just think that without that part of the story, the story just won’t be complete! What I mean by that is during the story Simon and Kestra fall in love and it creates a romantic tone in the story. Also Trina and Kestra become friends and understand each other better. 

5. Moonwatcher from Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland

Moonwatcher (Moon) Is one of the students at Jade Mountain Academy (An academy for dragons from every tribe to come live and learn together). Moon is a really nice dragon and cares for people’s privacy except there is one problem she has that prevents her from keeping people’s privacy to themselves. She can read minds! How? Well before the dragonets of destiny (Clay, Glory, Starflight, Sunny, and Tsunami) Nightwings claimed that they had mind-reading and prophecy-receiving/vision powers, but after the war was over the night wings revealed that they didn’t have those powers anymore. But Moon was different. That’s what I liked about her! She was born in the rainforest under a full moon which granted her the powers.

“My Top Ten Favorite Book Characters” by Azuri Z., 8th grade

Pippa Fitz-Amobi from A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
I honestly love this book/series and the missions Pip goes on! Pip has to be one of my favorite characters because she is fearless and is not afraid to do what is right to save her friends. She has sacrificed many things in her life just for her to solve midden mysteries. She has also uncovered mysteries and long-lost secrets that not even the police can crack!

Joe Sylvester from Save Me a Seat
Save Me a Seat is one of my favorite books ever and Joe is the best character in this. He has really good metabolism and struggles with APD. He teams up with another kid in his class, Ravi, and comes up with a clever way to trick his class bully with an epic prank! The way he talks makes me laugh, and he has a great story to tell in this book!

Jen from Stepping Stones
Jen is kind, brave, and can draw very well. She is getting used to her new stepsisters and her annoying stepdad. I can relate a bit to how she feels sometimes, which is another reason why I like her character. She is adventurous, outgoing, and an excellent artist.

Kristy from The Baby-Sitters Club
I would love to meet Kristy from The Baby-Sitters Club because she is extroverted, funny, nice, and has great leadership skills! I feel like she would be a fun person to be around. She loves sports and has the greatest ideas. I love the Baby-sitters Club books, especially the ones where it’s about Kristy, Like Kristy and the Snobs or Kristy’s Big Day. She always knows how to make the story interesting and fun to read!

Bristlefrost from Warriors: The Broken Code
Bristlefrost is a Thunderclan warrior and lives in the forest with the rest of her clan. She has to be in my top 5 because she is courageous, sweet, and always puts her friend’s needs in front of hers. She has saved many lives of her friends and even gave her life to save everyone. I would absolutely love to meet Bristlefrost and I 100% recommend these books!

Jacky from Jacky Ha-Ha
I love these books and Jacky’s point of view. She is talented, fun, and hilarious. She is smart and has sisters. She loves to sing, perform, and tell jokes. She is a great friend and not afraid to stand up for her friends, and what’s right. I think she would be a cool and funny person to be around, and we would get along super well.

Jules from Maybe A Fox
I love this book so much; the story was amazing and so well written. Jules is such an awesome character in this book. She is smart, kind, and collects things like I do. When her sister Sylvie, who always had to be faster than fast, goes missing, Jules is devastated and just questions herself always why Sylvie had to run fast. I would love to get to meet Jules.

Gabe from Wayward Creatures
Wayward Creatures is such an amazing book that I would reread over and over and over again. Gabe is nice and I can relate to him sometimes. In an attempt to impress his friends who have no time for him anymore, Twelve-year-old Gabe sets of fireworks in the woods and causes a huge forest fire that burns acres of woodland. He comes across and helps an injured coyote named Rill who is tired of her family.

Nat from the Nat Enough
This book/series is hilarious and have a good story. Nat is sweet, funny, and smart, and never feels like she is enough. She loses her best friend from elementary when she goes into middle school and tries her hardest to get her back. As she tries to get her best friend back she learns more about herself and her natural talents and realizes she is more than enough just the way she is.

Antonio from Puppy Love
This book was… Uh- interesting. Antonio was the main character’s best friend, and he basically kept the story together. Antonio is hilarious and a good friend. He plays the piccolo and says the funniest things. I think he would be a fun person to be around and it would be really cool to meet him.

Thank you so much to my student voices today and their look at favorite characters!

Student Voices: Favorites and Recommendations from Zunaira S., Anja K., Caeden S., and Alena K., 8th graders


Favorites and Recommendations

“My Top 10 Best Reads of the 23-24 School Year” by Zunaira S., 8th grade

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewel

Then she was gone was definitely one of my best reads of 2024. Everything about this book was just amazing. After finishing the book I was left with my jaw open. The book talks about Elle, who goes missing days before taking her final exams and has no trace left of her disappearance. Laurel, Elle’s mom, is still in disbelief about Elle going missing and doesn’t believe the idea of her running away from home like others around her say. She eventually gets closure when Elle’s body is found and they finally have a proper funeral for her. While Laurel tries to move on from Elle’s death, she meets her future boyfriend, Floyd. She and Floyd go on a date and eventually get together from there. But there’s something strange about his youngest daughter, poppy. Poppy has so many features that are just like Elle’s.  Laurel doesn’t think too much about this and focuses on herself and her new relationship with Floyd. Weeks go by, and Laurel is now a lot closer to both Poppy and Floyd, but she still feels like something is off. She finds out that Floyds ex-girlfriend, Poppy’s mom, was the same woman who had tutored Elle to better prepare her for her exams and was one of the last people she was seen with before her disappearance. The ending of the book had me so shocked and throughout the whole time I was reading the book, I was always so invested in the book.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

A good girl’s guide to murder was such a good thriller book and I enjoyed reading it so much. Even though it was mainly a mystery book there was still a small bit of romance between the two main characters. The book kept me on the edge of my seat every time I opened it up and couldn’t put it down. Even when I thought I knew who the killer was, I was nowhere close to who it actually was by the end of the book. Reading this kept me so invested and I always had the thought of who the killer may be in my head. I would say from my experience that this is a great book to start for someone who wants to get into mystery/thriller books but don’t know where to start.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

I only recently just finished reading this book but oh my gosh was this book such a good read. The selection had the perfect balance of romance and thriller and that made the book so much more fun to read. I loved how America, the main character, had created a sort of friendship alliance with the prince and watching their friendship grow into something bigger was so entertaining to read about. Every time I picked this book up I would always get indulged into it and wouldn’t want to stop. I really do wish I had learned about this book sooner enough to have finished reading the series before the school year ended but this book was definitely worth ending the school year with.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Inheritance Games was another amazing romance plus thriller book that I’ve read. Compared to the selection, the inheritance games mainly focused on the thriller part of the book while the selection juggled the romance and thriller parts and balanced them. Nevertheless, the inheritance games had such an interesting plot and build up to the climax. I loved reading about Avery, the main characters’ goal to figure out why a stranger had just left her his whole inheritance rather than giving it off to his own family. I also enjoyed reading about Avery developing a type of relationship with the strangers’ grandsons and watching them work together to also figure out why Avery had gotten their inheritance. This book has always been my number one recommendation to those who came into the library and it still is.

The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Hawthorne legacy is the second book to the inheritance series and it was just as good as the first book. This book had gone more in depth into the real reason why Avery had been the one inheriting this so-called strangers’ things. But not only does it go more into the thriller part of the book, it also goes into the romance part as well. I haven’t finished the whole series yet but I do plan on reading the third book over summer and ending the series.

Better Than The Movies by Lynn Painter

Better than the movies was my first romcom type of read and I loved it so much. Before the beginning of each chapter it usually had a quote from a popular romcom movie and it was always fun reading them especially if I had watched the movie before. I loved reading about Liz and Wes, the main characters, going from childhood enemies, to friends, and finally, to lovers. The small romantic gestures were so sweet to read about and always kept a smile on my face while reading the book.

True Beauty by Yaongyi

True beauty was a really fun and entertaining graphic novel to read. I loved the drawings and the facial expressions of the characters when they had a minor convenience were always so funny to look at because their faces would get scrunched up. It was a really good book that gave me a small break from the traditional chapter books and was really easy to just breeze through but still enjoy the book at the same time.

Spy X Family by Tatsuya Endo

Spy x Family was one of those books that I started because of other suggestions but ended up really liking it. I loved how all three characters seemed normal to each other but in reality had their own secrets. Learning about each characters secrets was a little shocking but always made me wonder if one of them would ever catch them in their secret. I did hope that they did find out since I thought it may actually benefit them rather than harm them. The book overall though was really interesting to read about but I did sometimes wish it had more color, but that might just be me since I like colorful books.

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

I read this book over summer during a road trip but it helped me pass time so quickly. Not because it kept me distracted but because I was so engaged in the book. I did originally start it because of the show but I am so glad I read the book first because it helped me take note of other details while watching the actual show. The book was definitely a really cute and romantic book to read and I loved reading about the rising romance between belly and the fisher brothers. I felt like reading this during the summer also made it a lot more fun for me to read as well.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter me was one of the first dystopian books I had read and it ended up being a pretty entertaining book to read. At first it was a little hard for me to get into it cause I found it a little boring but eventually the more I had read it, the more I became interested. I did think the book would mainly just be a type of fantasy book and didn’t expect things like romance but there was a lot more of that than I thought. Reading the book in Juliet’s perspective really helped me get into the setting of the book and I really liked that. I do plan on reading the rest of the series before the year ends since the first book left a really good impression on me.

“My Top Ten Favorite Authors of 2023-24” by Anja K., 8th grade

Stephanie Perkins

Stephanie Perkins is one of my all-time favorite authors that I will be talking about. She has written Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and Isla and the Happily Ever After. Anna and The French Kiss was one of my favorite books in 2023-2024. I loved how she wrote this book and how cute the romance was! I feel like the plot of this book was so adorable and I loved how she put the setting in Paris! Stephanie Perkins has a writing style that I love and will continue to read! She has a nice personality and she writes my favorite type of genre, which I love.

Tahereh Mafi

Ms. Mafi is an amazing writer who has created an all-time favorite series called Shatter Me. This is one of my FAVORITE series that I love and will continue to do. She has an amazing writing style and an amazing personality that thrives in her books. She puts so much emotion into all her books which makes me cry and have butterflies in my stomach. The Shatter Me series is filled with such emotion which thrives from book to book and was recommended by peers. 


LambCat is also one of my favorite authors. LambCat writes webtoons that are so entertaining including the Cursed Princess Club Series. This series looked very childish in my opinion but when I started reading it I got sucked into it and it became one of my all-time favorite webtoons that LambCat has created! I feel like LambCat is very likable because of the books they make and how their writing style is very cute and fun! 


Yaongyi is an amazing webtoon creator who wrote the True Beauty Series. The True Beauty series is really good and I recommend it to peers! It is a cute little webtoon that inspires us teenagers to be ourselves and not to worry about our appearance as much as we do now. Yaongyi teaches lessons in her books and that is why I love her books so much!

Alexis Castellanos

Alexis Castellanos is an amazing author who created a book called Isla to Island. This book is very inspiring because it is about a girl that is moving from a small city with no population to a big city which is New York City. She is taking care of random people who do not speak her language Spanish. Ms. Castellanos made this book very descriptive without any words in it that had a special meaning to it. She describes her books very beautifully and that’s why I love her so much!

Ali Hazelwood

Ali Hazelwood is an author who creates Adult romance novels that are not age-appropriate for middle schoolers but came out with a Young Adult novel called Check & Mate. I read this and I thought it was so good for her first YA book I was really happy! I love how she wrote this book and explained the character’s feelings in the book and also how the book just flowed to how it ended. Her writing style IS TO DIE FOR I love how she wrote the book and how she expresses and makes every single one of her books so descriptive.

Rachel Renee Russell

Ms. Russell is another amazing author who wrote the Dork Diaries series and I LOVED this series when I was younger and still do to this day. I just love the concept of these books and how she wrote them is stunning. The main character Nikki always expresses her feelings about being bullied and not having such a fun time with her new school. But, her friends always push her through these situations and help her through tough times which is real friendship! 💖

Naoko Takeuchi

Ms. Takeuchi is the author of the Sailor Moon Series and is a series I read twice! That is how you know I loved it! Naoko Takeuchi is an author who took her time and dedication to create this beautiful series that is very viral in the Anime Community. Ms. Naoko is a very lovely and nice person who takes her time with fans to have individual conversations with them and makes them feel like they are family.

Kelly Starling Lyons

Ms. Lyons is another amazing author who created one of my all-time favorite American Girl children’s books called A Girl Named Misty. This book is very inspiring to me because as a ballerina Misty had to go through some terrible financial problems to be where she is today. She never quit being herself and fought to be a ballerina. Ms. Lyon is another one of my favorite authors because she writes inspiring stories of women to one day inspire children who read her books to work hard to complete their dreams one day.

Vashti Harrison

I LOVE Vashti Harrison! She writes inspiring books such as Big. Big is about a little girl who is seen as a big ballerina in the world and wants to be smaller because of people making fun of her but then she learns to love herself and not get taken down just by words that people spread. This book is written beautifully for little children and the main theme of them is to never give up and to strive for greatness. 

“10 Books for Readers Wanting Something New” by Caeden S., 8th grade

If you like mythology…

The Trials of Apollo (Specifically The Hidden Oracle) by Rick Riordan
(It might be a good idea to read Percy Jackson First)

The first book in this series is so cool! Taking a god, and putting him in a situation where he has no power, and is just a regular human being is such a cool scenario that I think reinvents some ideas created when Rick Riordan was writing Percy Jackson and The Heroes of Olympus (which are also extremely good series.) 10/10

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Such a perfect book! Plot, Characters and topic! One of my favorite books about mythology I’ve ever read, and one of my favorite graphic novels I’ve ever read!  10/10

If you like action and adventure, but comedy too…

Spy School by Stuart Gibbs 

This is easily one of my favorite book series I’ve read (even though at the time of writing this, I’m on the 5th book out of 11) the third book throws an absolute wrench into the story, and that’s why it’s interesting to read for something different. 20/10

Wing of Fire: The graphic novel series by Tui. T Sutherland 

This series has some comedy, not a lot, but some. And it delivers it so well, that it’s got me laughing a couple times. The graphic novel adaptation is also so well done, I love seeing the characters in an art style, so I don’t have to imagine what they look like. 9/10 

If you’re a fan of romance… 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green 

John Green has to be one of my favorite romance novelists of all time, because dang, this book is good! Excellent romance tension when it’s needed, detailed writing, and overall an excellent way to write a romance novel that doesn’t read like a typical romance novel! 1000/10 

Bloom by Kevin Panetta 

An actual masterpiece! 10/10 characters, art and plot. Everything is delivered so well, and I couldn’t ask for a better LGBTQ+ book. 1000/10

If you’re looking for an LGBTQ+ book…

Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

There’s nothing I can say about this series besides the fact that it’s absolutely perfect! Perfect characters, perfect storyline, and perfect pacing! I can’t stop reading these masterpieces, and they take an interesting spin on the LGBTQ romance novels in my opinion. 2000/10

Rick by Alex Gino 

Such a good way to introduce someone to LGBTQ! I loved the plot, and the character’s inner thoughts contribute so well to the overall plot. The characters are really well thought out. Such a good book. 10/10

If you’re looking for sports…

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

You might think this book is all about basketball, but it’s not! The character (aka the actual author) writes the book so beautifully, and manages to tell a story about the history of basketball, the history of the school he works at, and about the author himself! 1000/10 

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

One of the only sport books I’ve read that isn’t about a mainstream sport! 

The internal struggle of the main character trying to push through the lessons because she wants to play, and also struggling in her own personal life is such a good way to write a book like this! 10/10 

If you’re looking for some good graphic novels… 

Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi 

Such an amazing series! The final book is just indescribable in how detailed it is, and the top 5 greatest series I’ve read ever. 30/10

New Kid (But specifically Class act) by Jerry Craft 

O.M.G. Literally the top #1 graphic novel I’ve ever read, and top 5 in greatest books. The plotline is something I never thought I’d see in graphic novel form, but here it is! 10000000000000/10 

“Recommended Books” by Alena K., 8th grade

Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

Liv Varanakis is a teenage girl about to graduate high school in hopes of becoming an artist. She has a happy life with her family Mom, Stepdad, and her younger brother.  But she has dark thoughts about why her real dad left her. A few of her memories of her real dad were about trying to find Atlantis with her dad and trying to pinpoint where it could be. Back in the present day, she received a letter from her real dad urging her to come to Santorini, Greece to help him find Atlantis.

Opinion: Honestly, the plot is great. I like the world-building, it did feel like I was ‘in the book’. Reading this book only made me want to visit Greece even more.

Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

A high school student named Lina has to spend the summer in Italy for her mother’s dying wish. In Italy, she has to spend time with who seems to be her father, but as the book progresses the characters find out the truth about her actual father. With the help of her mother’s journal that her caretaker gifted her she could get to the truth faster. 

Opinion: Again with the world building- BEAUTIFUL! It felt quite cool looking through the main character’s eyes in this book, having a great group of friends and everyone being happy that I was there.

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

With every start of Summer break, Belly, and her family have a tradition of visiting her mom’s friend- Susannah at Cousins Beach. Susannah has two boys around Belly’s age (one of them being her crush). After years and years of crushing over one of Sussannah’s boys, she finally glows up.

Opinion: I read this back in the Summer of 2023, and it was the Perfect read to set me up for a long break of summer, the heat, the beaches, pools, and adventures!

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Lara Jean has a secret stash of love letters that she wrote for all of the boys she loved, only 5. Unexpectedly, all of them get sent away right when her big sister has to move out for her college. With all of the stress of having the letters sent away and keeping the house clean with her younger sister being in the way- there is Josh, her big sister’s ex and one of the boys she loved before. 

Opinion: After reading this book I was left in shock. The BIGGEST plot twist happened right at the end of the book (not saying it was a bad thing), but it was unexpected.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

A chance of a lifetime- The selection. Thirty-five girls are being selected to be the next new Queen to the throne of the kingdom where your rank means everything to your family. We meet our protagonist- America Singer. She was a part of the artist’s rank when she was forced to be enlisted by her family and then later to be picked up by the Selection.  Will she survive the tension between the other thirty-five girls or snap immediately?

Opinion: When I first read this book, it was like I was translated into a life of celebrity (I kind of envied the main character but it’s whatever). A good and fast read deserves a ten out of ten.

Red Queen by Aveyard Victoria

The whole world is divided by the color of your blood- red and silver. The red bloods were the peasants, meanwhile, silver bloods were a part of the royalty and had god-like powers too. Mare was a red blood, struggling to survive in the world, working through poverty and stealing. But finally, Mare had found a stable enough job as a maid in the silver palace! She finds that she is one of the silvers, but her blood is red… How could it be?

Opinion: This book has very fancy language but I could understand most of it. The characters were very easy to understand and their intentions.

Flowers for Algernon by Keyes Daniel 

Charlie Gordon is about to embark upon an unprecedented journey. Born with an unusually low IQ, he has been chosen as the perfect subject for an experimental surgery that researchers hope will increase his intelligence – a procedure that has already been highly successful when tested on a lab mouse named Algernon. As the treatment takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment appears to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance, until Algernon suddenly deteriorates. Will the same happen to Charlie?

Opinion: This book was recommended to me by my parents who read it back in their country… and let me tell you I WAS SOBBING BY THE END OF THIS BOOK.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

An orphan named Alina Starkov. She is one of the most valuable people in Ravka because she is a Sun Summoner discovering her gift while crossing the Shadow Fold, filled with creatures beyond the human mind. She is the only person that can stop the Shadow Fold from spreading. But, it does require a lot of skill and practice to master such a gift as being able to summon light to her hands. Will she be able to beat the Shadow Fold and free Ravka?

Opinion: The world building is great and it was inspired by Russian culture, and it was a great feeling having something written about your culture and where you used to live. The hard part is memorizing the system and how it worked after getting side tracked by other books.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera 

It’s September 5th, on this day Mateo Torez and Rufus Emeterio might die. Death-Cast is a call that only lasts a few seconds but could change everything. Somehow people have found out how to predict the day you’ll die. Being lonely on such a day is no fun but an app called ‘Last Friends Inc.’ is where Rufus and Mateo met. They are hoping to get through the day and somehow not die in the process. Will they be able to do it, or just die like the rest is? 

Opinion: A very sweet story about how love technically never dies. The most clever part about this book is- the cover! It has so many hidden secrets, like how Mateo’s and Rufus’ shadow looks like the grim reaper and how the skull looks like a skull. The author was even kind enough to put the relationship chart between the characters at the end of the book.

Matched by Ally Condie

In a dystopian society, a system was made- a Matching system.  Where the 18-year-olds are taken to a nice mansion and have a system pair them up with another person who is psychologically compatible with them. There was rarely an instance where the matching system wouldn’t give someone their special somebody compatible with him. Cassie is the rare case, having no compatible person was her worst nightmare. At the last second, her match was made! She got matched with her best friend but before that, she could’ve sworn that someone else was matched with her. Now she is dreaded with the choice between perfection and desire. What will she choose?

Opinion: The book had a lot of moments where I would be at the edge of my seat trying to find out how it would continue! I was talking about the book so much, now my mom is reading the book!  

Thank you so much to my student voices today and sharing their recommendations and favorites!

Author Guest Post: “Creativity, Collaboration, and Cookies” by Tracy Badua and Alechia Dow, Author of The Cookie Crumbles


“Creativity, Collaboration, and Cookies”

When you mention group projects, how many of your students groan?

With grades at stake, there’s so much potential for conflict: some people may battle for control, some may disagree about what the overall project should look like, and some might not even complete their assigned tasks. To some students, having to partner up often feels like extra work.

But group projects get a bad rap. Collaboration doesn’t have to mean more conflict or more work: it can be an opportunity to excel together. Learning how to work well in a team proved to be a vital skill when we embarked on our own group project: writing a middle grade murder mystery. In The Cookie Crumbles, two best friends must solve the mystery behind a celebrity judge’s collapse at a kids baking competition.

  • Why did you choose to co-write THE COOKIE CRUMBLES?

Alechia: The Cookie Crumbles, in my mind, was the type of story that would be a blast with dual perspectives and voices. Add that I’ve been friends with Tracy for nearly eight years, and it made the project that much easier to develop together. Tracy and I have similar styles, we have the same work ethic, and we complement each other. Knowing that she will find the things I forget (descriptions are tough), and I’ll think of the things she might’ve missed, means we’re a good team. A lot of communication and establishing an order of operation made collaboration seamless.

  • What do you think you each brought to the process?

Alechia: Food is a huge part of my life and is absolutely in my element. So bringing that to a story that features food heavily meant I could rely on the skills I learned in pastry school––creating fancy desserts, sure, yet also food writing. I have to add that when Tracy and I work together, we tend to laugh a lot. Many of our jokes ended up making it into the final version of this book. How much you enjoy the process seeps into the story and I think (I hope) the reader feels that too.

Tracy: I brought in my intense love of organization. I took notes on all of our brainstorming conversations and had spreadsheets mapping out everything from what happens in each chapter, what they’re baking, and who wins which baking competition round. Collaborating on a project requires a lot of clear communication, and I tried my best to use whatever tools we had handy to make the process run smoothly.

  • How do your characters work together as a team?

Laila is a talented kid chef, and she’s invited to compete at the Golden Cookie Competition at the prestigious Sunderland boarding school. Her best friend, newscaster-hopeful Lucy, comes too, hoping to write a strong piece that will wow the Sunderland scholarship committee. But when one of the celebrity judges collapses after eating one of Laila’s cookies, there are whispers that Laila had something to do with it.

Together, Laila and Lucy work to not only clear Laila’s name, but to also figure out the real culprit. This means poking around for clues, tag-teaming interviews with the judges and other competitors, and covering for each other so they can thoroughly investigate. They do hit some stumbling blocks along the way, and you’ll have to read the book to see if this friendship can weather all the storms!

  • What other co-written middle grade works do you recommend?

Alechia: Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan is adorable! Time After Time (Best Wishes #3) by Sarah Mlynowski & Christina Soontornvat is one of my daughter’s favorite series. Camp Sylvania: Moon Madness by Julie Murphy & Crystal Maldonado is going to be a blast, no doubt!

Tracy: I love The Secret of the Dragon Gems by Rajani LaRocca and Chris Baron and You Are Here: Connecting Flights, an anthology edited by Ellen Oh.

Published June 11th, 2024 by Quill Tree Books

About the Book: Best friend duo works to solve baking competition puzzle in charming story.

The Great British Bake Off meets a tween-friendly Knives Out in this fun and propulsive middle grade novel following two best friends who must solve the mystery behind a baking competition gone awry.

This sweet treat early readers are calling “completely sublime” comes from author buddies and Middle Grade favorites Alechia Dow, an American Library Association notable and Indie Next Kids pick novelist, and Tracy Badua, a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ multi-award winner.

Laila gave Lucy a cupcake on the second day of kindergarten, and they’ve been inseparable ever since. But the summer before eighth grade, they find out that since they live on opposite sides of town, they’ll go to different high schools. Yuck!

Then Laila’s invited to compete at the Golden Cookie competition, which awards its winner admission and a full ride to the prestigious Sunderland boarding school, and it’s the perfect opportunity. Sunderland doesn’t just have an elite culinary program;
it’s also home to an elite journalism track, if only newscaster-hopeful Lucy could build up a strong enough portfolio to impress the scholarship committee.

But when one of the celebrity judges collapses after sampling Laila’s showpiece, rumors of foul play swirl, with Laila rising to the top of the suspect list. Even worse, a major storm has effectively cut off all access to the outside world. Can the girls find the real culprit and clear Laila’s name before it’s too late?

About the Authors: 

Tracy Badua is an award-winning Filipino American author of books about young people with sunny hearts in a sometimes stormy world. By day, she is an attorney who works in national housing policy, and by night, she squeezes in writing, family time, and bites of her secret candy stash. She lives in San Diego, California, with her family.

TikTok: @tracybwrites | Instagram: @tracybaduawrites | Facebook: U | Twitter: @tracybwrites

Alechia Dow is a former pastry chef, a librarian, and an award-winning author of acclaimed young adult sci-fi fantasies, several short anthology pieces, and magical (sometimes mysterious) middle grade stories. When not writing, you can find her having epic dance parties with her family, baking, reading, taking teeny adventures, and exploring her local food scene.

Instagram: @alechiadow |

Thank you for sharing this fun interview and an inside look at The Cookie Crumbles!

Author Guest Post: “Let Kids Read Below Their Reading Levels” by Adrian So, Fourteen-Year Old Author of The Groundworld Heroes


“Let Kids Read Below Their Reading Levels”

As a high school student, most of my friends around me are reluctant readers. They don’t seem to have a connection with any of the books they’ve read, and often take a long time to finish them. But that comes with one big exception: Books with pictures, and less words.

Even those who despise reading the most would happily flip through pages of Big Nate, Dog-Man, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. One thing teachers might take notice of is that these books are well below the reading level of grade nine (the grade I am currently in). Hence a teacher of mine condemned it when one of my friends pulled out a comic book during silent reading.

My book, The Groundworld Heroes, is intended for young children, but I believe that anyone interested shall be able to read it. So I think educators should leave room for students to choose their preferred reading material. If there isn’t freedom of choice, students will lose interest or even develop a hatred of reading altogether.

Having the ability to read is instrumental to the success of our next generation. We shall encourage them to select what they read and not limit them to a specific reading level.

You can order my “under-the-reading-level” book here:
Barnes and Noble

Publishing August 6th, 2024

About the Book: “An original voice and a fun, funny adventure underground.” Adam Rex, NYT Bestselling Author of THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY

When Groundworld is on the brink of extinction, it takes one mole with courage to save the day.

When Benjamin, a junior mole digger, witnesses a human invasion of his homeland, he must find his long-lost courage and unite two culturally distinct realms to fight the intruders and save his kind from extinction. What perils lie before him as he ventures into the unknown? Can Benjamin go up against a rough bunch of illegal animal trappers before it’s too late?

Meet the Groundworld heroes as they defend their country’s sovereignty and save their fellow citizens from capture and extinction.

Perfect for fans of Kate Dicamillo and Roald Dahl.

About the Author: Adrian So is a young writer who lives in Canada. In his free time, he likes to read, write, hang out with his gang of crazy friends, and play soccer. He is currently a high school student.

Thank you, Adrian, for supporting something that we truly believe here at UR!

Author Guest Post: “So What You’re Really Saying Is…” by Adam Borba, Author of This Again


“So What You’re Really Saying Is…”

By the end of the sixth grade, most students have been introduced to the concept of a thesis statement by their English teachers. That infamous sentence that typically appears in the first paragraph of an essay declaring the main point or purpose of the paper in a concise summary. It gives a paper direction and informs readers what the author intends to discuss. For years, I dreaded them. I found thesis statements daunting and believed their prescriptive nature took the fun and art out of writing and made it more formal, like science or math (never my strong suits). But while I loathed thesis statements as a kid, as a storyteller, I love a strong, clear theme. The irony is thesis statements and themes are essentially the same—it’s just a successful rebrand. Like Blue Ribbon Sports changing its name to Nike or a restaurant deciding their menu’s underwhelming fettuccini alfredo is actually amazing cacio e pepe. Let me explain!

A theme (or message) is the essence of a story—what it’s all about. Themes tend to be strongest when they’re simple, clear, and universal, so they’re relatable to everyone. A single sentence, often only a few words. They’re not always a line that’s written verbatim (or spoken in a movie) and rarely are themes stated definitively up front, but even buried in subtext all the scenes in a story with a strong thematic build to that idea. Themes are something that I learned to appreciate while developing and producing movies, which I’ve done for over twenty years. Early in my career, I discovered having a clear theme tended to be one of the things that allowed an audience (or readers) to have a strong emotional connection with a story.

When I’m beginning a movie or writing a book, one of the early goals I have is to get to that one sentence message. Again, preferably something universal. And it’s always something that my colleagues, the director, and the film’s writers have agreed to. A few examples: In Pete’s Dragon it was “Everyone belongs somewhere.” In Timmy Failure it was “It’s okay to be different.” In Peter Pan & Wendy it was “Everyone grows up at their own pace,” In A Wrinkle in Time it was “Everyone is deserving of love.”

When I’m writing, I try to figure out the theme before I begin a rough draft, so I can tie it to narrative and character as much as possible, because ideally, it’s the theme that the protagonist learns that ultimately allows them to get out of trouble and succeed in the end.

My first book, The Midnight Brigade, is about a shy boy named Carl with a big heart who has trouble sharing how he feels. The book is set in Pittsburgh and one night Carl finds a grumpy troll named Frank living under one of the city’s four hundred bridges. Carl decides to keep the troll a secret with his friends which leads to all kinds of trouble. Ultimately, the troll teaches Carl to be bold (the story’s theme), which sets the kid on a stronger path.

In my novel Outside Nowhere, the main character, Parker Kelbrook is an extrovert. He’s funny, and charming, and talks a lot. He’s a Ferris Bueller-type, the opposite of Carl and he doesn’t take life seriously. When the story begins, Parker is more concerned about himself than other people. So, as a character, he’s got a lot of room to grow. The kid loves pulling pranks, and in the opening scene, he pulls one that goes too far, pouring sixty gallons of fruit punch mix into a community pool. Afterwards, his dad sends him halfway across the country to work on a farm in the middle of nowhere.

The farm has three rules:

  1. Do your chores
  2. Stay out of the farmhouse
  3. Don’t eat the crops

The other kids on the farm are roll up your sleeves, get the work-done-types. So, Parker doesn’t fit in. They don’t find him charming or funny because he’s not getting his chores done and he’s making more work for everyone else.

Parker needs learn how to turn things around for himself. And when he does, magical and mysterious events begin happening. For instance, one morning he wakes to discover a cow on the roof of a barn, which makes Parker realize that things on this farm aren’t as they appear. Eventually, when Parker accepts the story’s theme that it’s less important how you start something, and more important how you finish, he sets off on a quest to right his wrongs.

My new novel, This Again, is in the spirit of Back to the Future or Groundhog Day. It’s about an anxious, perfectionist kid named Noah who’s running for class president and has no shot of winning, until one day in a bowling alley he runs into a kid who looks exactly like him. The double explains that he’s Noah from nine days in the future and has come back in time to help Noah make all of his dreams come true. As long as Noah does everything he tells him to do no matter how silly and ridiculous it sounds.

This Again is about the funny misadventures of a kid who attempts to orchestrate the perfect day with the help of his future self and a time machine. It’s a story about fate and free will. But more importantly, it’s a book about a kid wrestling with anxiety and perfectionism, learning to accept that life doesn’t always go according to plan and that he’s good enough. And once again, the book is driven by a universal theme: No one can do everything. Much of Noah’s anxiety comes from comparing himself to others (family, friends, classmates), a fear of failure, and trying to do too much at once. Along the way he learns the importance of balance, and that sometimes people appear to have their lives more under control than they actually do. And by learning and accepting this theme, Noah just might have a shot to win in the end.

So, readers can go on these fun rides and take away the same lessons that the protagonists learn, because the themes are universal, but also, they’re so baked into the story, that they’re one and the same. Like the importance of a strong thesis statement that my wonderfully patient, darn-near saintly English teachers growing up attempted to instill on me. And while I didn’t appreciate thesis statements when I was younger, I’ve realized how important it is to define the core of a piece, whether it’s in a film or a book. It not only helps you as a writer to tell a compelling story, but helps readers connect with the material. The next time you read or watch something that you love, beyond the plot and in the subtext, take a step back and ask yourself what the creator was really trying to say. Chances are, it’ll be a message that resonates with you.

Published April 16th, 2024 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

About the Book: Noah Nicholson focuses on the could’ve-beens, should’ve-beens and wish-I-dids in his life. Still, there’s plenty to be grateful for— he gets solid grades, he has a nice group of friends, and he’s becoming closer with Lucy Martinez (who he’s had a crush on since the second grade). Most excitingly, he might have a chance to be voted class president next week.

But one day, Noah sees the oddest thing—he sees himself. It turns out, this lookalike is Noah from the future, and he’s here to make sure that Present-Day Noah snags the class president spot. It’s up to the two of them to make sure everything goes off without a hitch, but fate just might have other plans…

Perfect for fans of Finn and the Intergalactic Lunchbox and Operation Do-OverThis Again? takes readers on an incredible journey through time, mind, and middle school.

About the Author: ADAM BORBA is a writer and filmmaker from California who helps develop and produce movies for Walt Disney Studios. He is the author of The Midnight Brigade and Outside Nowhere.

Thank you, Adam, for tying together lessons and reality!

Educators’ Guide for Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions by Navdeep Singh Dhillon


Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions
Author: Navdeep Singh Dhillon
Published: February 8th, 2022 by Dial Books

Summary: For fans of Sandhya Menon and Adam Silvera, a prom-night romantic-comedy romp about a Sikh teen’s search for love and identity

Sunny G’s brother left him one thing when he died: His notebook, which Sunny is determined to fill up with a series of rash decisions. Decision number one was a big one: He stopped wearing his turban, cut off his hair, and shaved his beard. He doesn’t look like a Sikh anymore. He doesn’t look like himself anymore. Even his cosplay doesn’t look right without his beard.

Sunny debuts his new look at prom, which he’s stuck going to alone. He’s skipping the big fandom party—the one where he’d normally be in full cosplay, up on stage playing bass with his band and his best friend, Ngozi—in favor of the Very Important Prom Experience. An experience that’s starting to look like a bust.

Enter Mindii Vang, a girl with a penchant for making rash decisions of her own, starting with stealing Sunny’s notebook. When Sunny chases after her, prom turns into an all-night adventure—a night full of rash, wonderful, romantic, stupid, life-changing decisions.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide I created for Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

You can learn more about Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions, including a play list!, on the author’s webpage.

Recommended For: 

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