In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott says, “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

My hope is that this is what books become to you—as important as almost anything else on earth. This blog is about helping you find the miracle in these small, flat, rigid squares of paper while you are in middle school and beyond. Once you read alongside me, you are forever a member of my tribe of readers. No matter how you old you are, when you need to be reminded of the power of a good story, you will find me here, waiting to place one in your hands.

Friday, April 11, 2014


copyright date: February 2014
primarily marketed for: young adults (high school)

Reading Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith felt like being let in on a secret. 

The flap copy had me completely baffled as to why I wanted to read a book about an unstoppable army of hungry, horny, giant praying mantis creatures.  However, after reading Winger, I was sure Smith’s writing would be brilliant, and the buzz amongst my social media connections was that the book kept people thinking long after they finished reading.  There was no way to know for myself other than to jump right in and start reading, to hear the secret firsthand. 

From the very start I was equally shocked, amused, and charmed by Austin Szerba and his friend Robby Brees. They are pretty typical teenage boys living in a small town in Iowa.  Austin is struggling with typical teenage boy things, like confusion over his feelings for his girlfriend and his best friend, who both happen to be in love with him.  He is also dealing with family issues, including a depressed older brother who was recently injured in Afghanistan.  An additional challenge, or perhaps a means of coping with the challenges he faces, is his sense of connection to the men who came before Austin in the Szerba family history. 

All of these strands of Austin’s existence intertwine as a plague strain is accidentally released, causing humans who come into contact with it to turn into unstoppable hungry, horny, giant praying mantis creatures.

Although it is at this point that the story sort of becomes about it being up to Austin and Robby to save their town, their world, and themselves, Grasshopper Jungle is so much more than an epic battle between boys and beasts. 

The secret to this book is not in the story it tells, but rather the secret lies in how the story is told.  The secret is in the voice of Austin Szerba, in his history.  The secret is the lambent craft of Andrew Smith.


  1. Loving this book! My students watch me read it in class every day just to see my reaction and hear me read whatever it was that made me laugh (I'm not sure I could do the whole book as a read aloud!)

  2. Would you like a signed copy of this book? I will bring it and others to All-Write.

    1. Yes, yes, and yes!! Another fabulous reason to look forward to All-Write!