Featured Guide of the Week - Not in the Script

Amy Finnegan’s Not in the Script (Bloomsbury, 2014) is a swoony, dreamy, delightful romp into the world of teen screen stars. Cleverly told in alternating points of view, I found characters Emma Taylor and Jake Elliot to be perfectly cast for their roles in the wildly popular television series, Coyote Hills.

Emma is stellar – on and off of the set. She’s an awarding winning actress in search of authenticity in life and, most especially, in love. Jake, a model of Abercrombie hunkiness, decides to step off the runway to join Coyote Hills television cast. His motive? His mother is disabled and he desires to be closer to her. (Who wouldn’t fall in love with a gorgeous guy led by a tender, loving heart?) Enter dastardly ego-charged leading man Brett Crawford; self-centered Rachel, the manipulative bestie; and paparazzi with piranha-like appetites and, my friend, you have the makings of a deliciously angsty drama!  

The Educator’s Guide reads like a Screenwriting 101 course. In it, students are presented basic formatting structure and terminology of scriptwriting. They are then led through a series of character analysis, plotting, and storyboarding activities. The culminating project is a book trailer starring the cast of Coyote Hills. Lights! Camera! ACTION!

Not in the Script is a fun read – the perfect balance of steamy and sweet. Feel free to download the Educator’s Guide to get a sense of the creative writing possibilities Emma, Jake, and Brett inspire!

Featured Guide of the Week - The Secret Side of Empty

This week I’d like to showcase a guide I made for Maria Andreu’s incredible A Secret Side of Empty, an important story about a good girl’s downward spiral and rise back to an authentic life.   

Here’s how Running Press Kids describes A Secret Side of EmptyAs a straight-A student with a budding romance and loyal best friend, M.T.’s life seems as apple-pie American as her blondish hair and pale skin. But M.T. hides two facts to the contrary: her full name of Monserrat Thalia and her status as an undocumented immigrant.

With senior year of high school kicking into full swing, M.T. sees her hopes for a “normal” future unraveling. And it will take discovering a sense of trust in herself and others for M.T. to stake a claim in the life that she wants.

This book is rich with depth and emotion – the perfect fodder with which to develop angsty, heart-felt discussion questions. I recall feeling such compassion for M.T., a bright girl who had done all the right things as a student and a friend, all under the guise of keeping her undocumented status a secret. For a time, the poor kid just gave up trying. It was painful to witness M.T.’s steady steps toward self-destruction. There are tons of kids who can relate to her struggle. What’s the use, right?

Click HERE to access the Discussion & Writing Prompt guide all-prettied up by Running Press’ graphic artists. Also, click HERE if you’d like review the others I’ve made for them.

Stay tuned. There will be more where these came from!

Featured Guide of the Week - Girl in Reverse

It is no wonder why NPR included Girl in Reverse (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014) as part of their Best Books in 2014 list. Folks, this is so much more than a gorgeous cover (Isn’t it stunning, though?). Friends, author Barbara Stuber created a masterpiece. It’s powerful and tender, poignant and thoughtful, unbelievable and unforgettable. Historical fiction at its best. I swear.

Here’s a short synopsis of this great book pulled from Simon & Schuster’s website: Being adopted isn’t easy—especially when you’re seen as a national enemy. When Lily was three, her mother put her up for adoption, then disappeared without a trace. Or so Lily was told. Lily grew up in her new family and tried to forget her past. But with the Korean War raging and the fear of “Commies” everywhere, Lily’s Asian heritage makes her a target. She is sick of the racism she faces, a fact her adoptive parents won’t take seriously. For Lily, war is everywhere—the dinner table, the halls at school, and especially within her own skin.

Barbara gave me many themes to work with in this book– poetry, history, family, the need to belong, isolation, friendship, and more. These topics are explored in the Discussion & Writing Prompt Guide through discussion questions and in-depth writing prompts for grades 6 to 12. In addition, there is a list of linked research topics that add even more depth to the reading experience.

 And, I must say that partnering with Barbara on this project was a delightful experience. She’s generous and kind. It’s no wonder she penned such a remarkable book as this one. I’m honored to not only have created a guide for her, but to call her my friend.

 Smart NPR. They know a good thing when they see one, right?

Yay, Barbara!!!! I'm so very happy for you!

School Visit Overview - Self Esteem with K. A. Barson

Title: 45 Pounds (more or less)

Author: K. A. Barson

Publisher: Speak Teen (Penguin)

Synopsis: Here are the numbers of Ann Galardi’s life:

She is 16.
And a size 17.
Her perfect mother is a size 6.
Her Aunt Jackie is getting married in 2 months, and wants Ann to be a bridesmaid.
So Ann makes up her mind: Time to lose 45 pounds (more or less).

Welcome to the world of informercial diet plans, wedding dance lessons, endless run-ins with the cutest guy Ann’s ever seen—and some surprises about her not-so-perfect mother.

And there’s one more thing—it’s all about feeling comfortable in your own skin—no matter how you add it up!

Download a .pdf copy of an overview of K. A. Barson's school visit programming and follow-up lessons and activities. 

A Graphic Designed Guide for Press Play

As I’ve said before, each guide I create invites a unique experience. Making a guide for Eric Devine’s hard-hitting Press Play was one of the best, ever. Running Press asked for a different format than we’ve used before. Plans were to take my content to the art department to let them work their magic. The end result is amazing!! I’m really excited to show you what it looks like.

This YA is powerful, I’m telling you. Press Play reminds me of Cormier’s The Chocolate War. It’s the type of story that lingers in the mind well after the last page is read. I won’t lie to you. There were some parts of the story that were hard for me to read. Yes, it’s violent. Yet, like in The Chocolate War, the violence serves as a catalyst for the protagonist, and the reader, to look deeply within and check in with their core values. Even though I love the story, I still had to read some of the passages with my fingers over my eyes. Whoa, boy.

The guide content is aligned with the Common Core. There is an in-depth discussion component as well as a book trailer construction guide. The book trailer section doesn’t focus on the tech skills required to construct a video. Rather, it hones on the literary elements necessary to make the book trailer not only an academically sound project, but one that explores metaphorical images and the like. Plus, it’s FUN to make!

Please take a moment to have a look at this guide. Running Press did a smash-up job with it! I’d love to know what you think about.

And, check out Eric's book trailer...if you dare.

Survival Colony 9 (YA)

Click on image to purchase bookAuthor: Joshua David Bellin

Genre: YA

Publisher: Margaret K. Elderry Books

ISBN: 978-1-4814-0354-2

Click here to download the Common Core State Standards aligned Discussion & Project guide create for ages 14 & up.

Overview: Querry Genn is in trouble. He can’t remember anything before the last six months. And Querry needs to remember. Otherwise he is dead weight to the other members of Survival Colony 9, one of the groups formed after a brutal war ravaged the earth. And now the Skaldi have come to scavenge what is left of humanity. No one knows what the Skaldi are, or why they are here, just that they impersonate humans, taking their form before shedding the corpse like a skin.

In a futuristic landscape ravaged by war, a colony’s hopes for survival hinge on one teenage boy.


Devin Rhodes is Dead (YA)

Click on image for publisher's information. Author: Jennifer Wolf Kam

Genre: YA

Publisher: Charlesbridge

ISBN: 978-1-934133-59-0

Awards: Winner of the NAESP Chapter Book Award 

Click here to download the Common Core State Standards aligned Discussion & Writing Prompt guide create for Grades 6 to 12.

Overview: High school freshman Cass is conflicted about her love/hate relationship with her best friend, Devin, and about her death. How did Devin's body end up at the bottom of Woodacre Ravine? Was Cass really responsible? Is concealing the truth haunting Cass or is it the ghost-like spirit of her dead friend?

Told in alternating before-and-after chapters, Cass details life leading up to the mysterious events that led to Devin’s “wrongful death.” The turbulent adolescent changes that challenge Cass and Devin’s friendship will seem familiar and real to middle-grade and young-adult readers. The mystery about what happened to Devin and if she is really reaching out from beyond the grave will have readers on the edge of their seats.