Reading Group Guide
The School Story is a novel about the power of friendships, specifically the one between best friends Natalie Nelson and Zoe Reisman. But other friendships (obvious and not so obvious) are also explored in this story. Identify the different friendships included in the story and discuss them. What is your definition of a "friend"? Is it possible to have friendships with your parents, your relatives, your coworkers, and your teachers?
Natalie and Zoe have a "push and pull friendship." What does this mean? Do you think Natalie and Zoe's friendship is stronger because they are so different from each other? Which girl would you most likely become friends with: Natalie or Zoe? Why?
The topics of cheating and fairness are explored throughout this book. Natalie is initially dubious about adopting a pseudonym to submit "The Cheater" to Shipley Junior Books; she feels like she's cheating by doing so. Do you agree? Do you think it's fair that Natalie is able to use her contacts to get immediate attention for her book while numerous other manuscripts linger on the "slush pile" for months? Would you do the same if you were in her position?
Ms. Clayton is initially wary about getting involved with Natalie and Zoe's plan, but she decides to forge ahead anyway. Do you ever doubt that this is a good decision on Ms. Clayton's part? How does helping the girls with their project help Ms. Clayton in the end?
Why do you think Zoe works so hard to get Natalie's book published? Do you think the book would have been published without Zoe's resourcefulness and determination?
Sometimes taking risks in life is necessary in order to grow as a human being. Other than Natalie and Zoe, identify the characters who take risks in The School Story. Why do they take these risks, and what is the outcome? How do these risks contribute to their self-discovery?
The father/daughter bond is a prevalent theme in The School Story. Natalie writes "The Cheater" to feel closer to her late father. But how does she in reality become closer to her mother by writing the novel? How does Natalie's relationship with her mother change over the course of the book? What other father/daughter bonds are explored?
Andrew Clements writes in The School Story that "some people are talkers, and some people are writers." Which are you, and why?
Activities and Research
Research the children's publishing industry. Read back issues of Publishers Weekly online (www.publishersweekly.com) or at the library. Log on to the Internet to do additional research about the various children's publishers. The Children's Book Council Web site (www.cbcbooks.org) is a good place to start. How many children's publishers exist? What are the editorial guidelines for each company? Discuss what you learn from your research.
Find out about authors who currently write under pseudonyms. Can you discover why they adopt pen names and do not use their real names? If you assumed a pseudonym, what would it be, and why?
Based on the information provided in The School Story, make a chart that shows the different jobs people do in a publishing house. Did you realize that there were so many people involved with the creation of a single book? Which job discussed in The School Story intrigues you most?
Invite a local children's book author or illustrator to come to your school to talk about his or her experiences writing books for children. Attend a book signing by an author or illustrator at a local bookstore.