You guys have asked great questions about The Serendipity Journal! This is my first foray into fiction chapter books for middle grades students and the process has been so much fun and so much work. Let’s start where it all began. (And, if you’d rather watch a video than read this post, click HERE.)
I wanted to write a book like this since I was teaching middle grades. Or, rather, I wanted to have a book like this to help students learn important skills within a compelling fiction story, but I couldn’t find the book I wanted. Just this week I actually found a draft of the start of my very first book from the year 2000. In the same file was information I had printed out on how to self-publish. Young 24-year-old Allyson was a dreamer and not much has changed because 20 years later, I am still dreaming. (I know you just did that math!)
In The Serendipity Journal, the story is about a character named Kipalee who likes to be called Kip. My mom’s name was Kipalee and it is so special to me to use her beautiful name. In the book, Kip has some of the same struggles that my mom did with having such an unusual name. There are multitudes of other biographical or autobiographical details embedded in the story and “behind the scenes” information about these connections are included in the bonus features in the back of the book.
Kip’s dad loses his job and her family has to move across the state to live with her grandpa, which means that Kip has to start sixth grade at a new school. She meets some great people but also encounters a boy who seems determined to make her life miserable. Serendipitously, she meets Mrs. Holiday, a teacher who has students journal back and forth with her. In the book, students get to read the actual journal entries between Kip and Mrs. Holiday–in their own handwriting.
Mrs. Holiday teaches Kip valuable lessons that help her navigate new friendships and her bullies. Kip learns the motivation behind others’ behavior, how to focus on what is within her control, and she learns how and when to lean on others for help. The book provides an opportunity for students learn those same lessons alongside Kip and to make connections to apply them to their own lives.
There are incredible illustrations by Genesis Kohler included in every chapter, which will hopefully help the book appeal to even reluctant readers. Another fun feature is that Kip thinks in songs–whenever she feels big emotions, she thinks of a song that she connects with that emotion. Students will be introduced to all sorts of new music throughout the book. You can check out Kip’s playlist using this link.
The ending of the book was greatly influenced by my student editors. You see, back in October of 2018, I started posting drafts of my chapters online and asked students to edit them and give me feedback. Over the course of the next six months, students from literally around the world (Japan, Mexico, Australia, Canada, US, etc.) gave me feedback on the chapters. They taught me what they are looking for in a chapter book, which was super helpful since I had never written a chapter book before. You can check out their feedback using this link. I wrote about some of the things they taught me in this post.
As I mentioned, in the back of the book there are fun bonus features that include “Kip’s Guide to Taco Tuesday”, behind the scenes information, Kip’s playlist, and discussion questions. In addition, I am filling my website with more bonus features for both students and educators. It is a work in progress, but already there is a Flipgrid for readers and Quote Cards for teachers.
One might wonder why I keep foraying into different genres, and I don’t blame you. Here is the bottomline–my goal in life is to be a light and a lightbulb for as many people as I can. My venue for doing just that is to share the “serendipity mindset” because I truly believe that we will all live happier and more fulfilled lives if we look for the beautiful gifts in everything we experience. And, if at a young age we learn that others’ behavior is purposeful rather than personal and we learn what is within our control and what isn’t, chances that we will live effective and fulfilled lives are much better. Also, I am an Enneagram 7, so I like a party. And, The Serendipity Journal is a party in a book. There’s even dancing at the end.
This book is specifically geared toward all children in grades 4-6. It also works great as a read aloud, as a class book study, or as a family book. My 13-year-old son loved it, as do the adults who have read it. I may even write a sequel, but you can bet all your tacos that I will be getting input from student readers for the next book too. I can’t wait to start hearing about the connections students are making to the characters and the story! Kip’s journey is only just beginning and I hope that my mom is smiling down from heaven at her namesake character.
The Serendipity Journal is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you live in West Michigan, please join me at Barnes & Noble in Holland, MI for a book launch event at 2pm on Saturday, February 22.