This year's Community Read culminated in an assembly during which students had the opportunity to interview the renowned author Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. During the holidays, all of the middle schoolers read her New York Times bestseller, Book Scavenger. The adventure tells the story of 12-year-old Emily and her friend James, who race to unravel a mystery by solving puzzles, clues, ciphers, and other challenges.
The students were excited to be able to speak with the Colorado-based author, and asked insightful questions about her work, such as:
What inspires you to write? The challenge of dreaming up a story in your mind and then figuring out how to put that into words for other people to have a similar experience to what you are imagining.
How did you come up with the codes in the book? I love puzzles and I like especially logic puzzles. There is a hidden message that Emily discovers through noticing typos. That ... was an idea I had, that if someone really wanted to, they could hide a message in a book by using typos. I also did a lot of reading about codes and ciphers.
How long does it take you to write a book? It varies. Book Scavenger took ten years. I have ideas for stories that I just don’t feel ready somehow to write them yet. Maybe I am not exactly sure what a character is about, so it takes time to ‘marinate’ in my head. Then the actual writing itself … sometimes it comes easy and sometimes it doesn’t. Every story is different.
Ms. Bertman encouraged the budding authors in the audience with some sage advice, “If you ever doubt yourself, just push those voices away and don’t listen to them. And have fun with it! Think about the kinds of stories you want to read and try to write them.”
The annual Community Read has become a much-anticipated TASIS Middle School tradition. Led by librarian Molly Wagner, this year’s selection was chosen by a committee of teachers who spent months vetting books and planning activities. “Book Scavenger was such a fun selection for this year’s Community Read,” commented Ms. Wagner. “Our committee had a great time coming up with ciphers and puzzles for the Middle School to solve both in and out of class – everything from simple codebreaking activities to in-class ‘Escape Rooms.’ Our students enjoyed the book as well, and we already have a waiting list in the library for the next book in the series.”