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An Interview with Nayanika K., Author and Castilleja Student

An Interview with Nayanika K., Author and Castilleja Student


Our intrepid TA Margaret Z. ’17 interviews Nayanika K., Castilleja senior and the author of Skye’s the Limit and The Accidentals.






Hometown: Transylvania

Favorite Novel: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Favorite Song: Ocean by Andreas Moe



A prominent theme in both of your books is the importance of friendship. What role does friendship play in your own life?

Friends are a crucial part of my everyday life. They are cool as heck, and they always make me laugh or smile. I think it’s important, especially during the high school years, to have a good support system inside and outside of school. You really need people who you can count on during this time of life.

What I value most in my friendships is loyalty. You can never really build deep connections with someone unless you know they’re going to be there for you through everything and make you a priority in their lives. It’s hard to open up to someone if you know you’re just a backup.


Your books also focus on social status and popularity in school. What role did popularity play in your life when you were in middle school?

Popularity actually did not play a large role in my middle school life. I went to Castilleja for middle school, and at Castilleja, there aren’t as many distinct social levels as there would be at, for example, a public, co-ed school. I had friend groups throughout my time at Castilleja, but there was a lot of mixing of the friend groups, which is a totally different experience from what I portrayed in my books. Most of my knowledge about popularity and social status from what I’ve seen in pop culture and what my friends outside of school have told me.


Why did you write based on pop culture?

At the time, I wanted to write about stuff that a greater majority of the population would find more relatable. The Castilleja experience is not exactly relatable: what I experience in high school on a day-to-day basis is not what most people experience. I wanted my books to be accessible to a larger audience, and I made them more relatable by balancing my own experiences with what the majority of teenagers experience, in terms of high school at least.


Do you feel like you’ve missed out?

I feel like I haven’t experienced the “conventional” high school or middle school experience. But if I had the choice now to have gone to a different high school instead, I would not.


Do you have a favorite book? Why do you like it, and how does it inspire you?

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, makes me feel intellectually stimulated. It’s such a real, raw story about a world that we don’t always get to see, and that is fraught with stereotypes in our society. I appreciated getting to see it from a different perspective. It’s also an immigrant story with a whole new twist.


Why do you write?

So that nice people like Margaret can interview me. Just kidding!

So I can be rich and famous. Just kidding! That makes me sound like a terrible person.

I write so I can connect with and understand people better. There are so many different perspectives and experiences in this world, and writing often allows me to better empathize with people through thinking about how their values have shaped them, or what feelings they may have been feeling in a certain situation.


What inspires you?

Cool people inspire me. By cool people, I mean people who want to make a change in the world, and who actually follow through with what they want. People who, despite obstacles, beat the odds and still end up helping people and doing good in the world.


Any advice for young writers who want to publish?

Just write. Get everything out, and don’t be upset if it’s not exactly what you want. As you grow as a person, your writing is going to grow, and your ideas are going to change. You’ll go back and find something in your writing that resonates with you on a deeper level.

In terms of the publication process, there are so many resources online. There are so many different options to explore for your specific needs and wants, and you’ll definitely find one that you’re happy with.


Nayanika’s books are available through Amazon >HERE< and at the Castilleja Library!

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Gene Yang Visits Castilleja!

Gene Yang Visits Castilleja!

Gene Yang










Last Wednesday, Gene Yang, the author of American Born Chinese, visited the seventh grade to talk about his new book. Linnea L. ’21 wrote a recap for us.

Gene Yang is a graphic novel writer and a coder, and though he loves both of those things he had never before been able to connect them in an organic way. He has finally been able to, by writing a book called Secret Coders. This book is a story about three kids who learn to code, and as you follow along their journey, it teaches YOU the basics of coding, too! Gene Yang introduced us to binary, the base method of coding that all programs are created from, and also showed us a programming language called Logo.

We didn’t just learn about coding, though—we also got a chance to ask him about American Born Chinese, which we had just finished reading in English class. Our class had a lot of questions about the themes in the book, because he does a wonderful job of including symbolism in the story. It makes the reader question what is real and what is a representation of something else deeper. We got to delve deeper into the meaning of the book, and make up some of our own stories, too, to wrap everything up.

I’ve read a few other of this author’s books, and they all addressed one of the many issues that lots of people struggle with in our daily lives. My personal favorite, Level Up, made me think about what happiness really is, and about how much parents should control about their children’s’ lives. It was a wonderful experience to have Gene Yang at our school, and I hope he comes again!

By Linnea L. ’21

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BookMusic: Tell The Monster That I’ll Give Him Home

BookMusic: Tell The Monster That I’ll Give Him Home

Sky Y. ’19 is back to give us more books paired perfectly with songs.


Tell The Wolves I’m Home By Carol Rifka Brunt
Let Your Heart Hold Fast By Fort Atlantic:

Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is a book that will stay with you. A quirky and poignant novel, Tell The Wolves I’m Home revolves around fourteen year old June Elbus during 1987. June’s uncle, Finn, is dying of AIDS and as a last masterpiece paints a portrait of June and her sixteen year old sister Greta. Although losing any family member is heartbreaking, June is incredibly close with her uncle, more so than with her parents and sister, and has been in love with him for a while. In the wake of Finn’s death, June drifts more apart from her parents, and from her sister, especially once she meets Toby, Finn’s boyfriend. The story goes on to beautifully weave together themes of family, grief, opportunities, choices, and their consequences. The beautiful and often unseen exploration of the different and complex kinds of love will remain with you well after you turn the final page. Let Your Heart Hold Fast by Fort Atlantic is a perfect match in both melody and lyrics for Tell The Wolves I’m Home. The bittersweet tone and melody of the song align well with the incredibly joy and sadness of June’s story, as something that somehow breaks you and puts you back together all at once. The storyline of the lyrics deals with grief, and lost chances, while also offering hope and solace. The lyrics almost perfectly embody some of what I would want to say to June and Greta if given the chance to comfort them. Tell The Wolves I’m Home and Let Your Heart Hold Fast will leave you with a unique bittersweet and heartfelt feeling, a feeling that can sometimes hard to find in books.


A Monster Calls By Patrick Ness
Put Your Lights On By Santana & Everlast

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is a vivid, heartbreaking, and incredible book with beautiful illustrations that centers around themes of letting go and the complexity of people, morals, and emotions. The story revolves around a boy named Conor who suffers from terrifying reoccurring nightmares in which he his sick and dying mother is falling off a cliff, and his grasp on her is the only thing keeping her from falling. Conor always drops her, and that’s when he is awakened from his nightmare. The story opens with Conor waking up to find that the giant yew tree in his backyard has turned into a monster. The monster will over the course of the book tell Conor three different stories while Conor deals with difficulties both at home and school. Conor is first upset by the monster’s stories, stories as they have no clear morals or ties. By the end, however, he has decided that the monster must be there to save his mother. In Conor’s mind, this is the only thing that makes sense, because it must be the right and moral ending of the story. The monster is not actually there to save Conor’s mother, but to help Conor let go of his mother. He is also there to help Conor learn that sometimes it is okay and sometimes kinder to let people go, and that death is nobody’s fault, so guilt does not rest with him or anybody. Put Your Lights On By Santana & Everlast is a beautiful song with an intricate and lulling guitar line. The lyrics match the themes and plot of the book extremely well: “Hey now, all you children/Leave your lights on, you better leave your lights on/Cause there’s a monster living under my bed/Whispering in my ear…/There’s a darkness living deep in my soul.” This song really speaks to Conor’s character arc as he learns that everybody possesses both dark and light, and that there is nothing wrong with wishing something horrible is over. It also speaks to the book’s motif of nightmares, morals, and light versus darkness. When things are hard and dark, we all sometimes need someone to save us, and sometimes that someone is not a hero, but a monster.



20820994I’ll Give You The Sun By Jandy Nelson
Needing/Getting By Ok Go

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson is a gripping and engaging book that flips between the perspectives of twins Noah and Jude and flips between their stories at ages thirteen and sixteen. Noah narrates the story of Jude and him at age thirteen, while Jude tells the story of her and Noah at age sixteen. Once incredibly close, Jude and Noah have been driven apart by tragedy, lost connections and misunderstanding. I’ll Give You The Sun touches on something indescribable about family, as well as offering a narrative that will have you racing to turn the page. If you’re anything like me and you cry at most movies, I would recommend against reading this book in public, as it can be heartbreaking at times. However, at the same time, it leaves you in the end with feelings of hope, optimism, and faith that connections can be reconstructed after they’ve fallen apart. The reason that Needing/Getting by OK Go is a great song to listen to while reading I’ll Give You The Sun, is mainly because of its title and its lyrics. Part of the reason that I’ll Give You The Sun is sometimes heartbreaking is because, we see the characters struggle between what they love, what they have, what they want, what they are given, and what they think they need. As in life, the characters often make choices based more on themselves and what they think they need, and it breaks or constrains their relationships with others. The lyrics of Needing/Getting also match the tone, of wanting, and regret over broken connections that is explored throughout the book: “There ain’t much that’s dumber/Than pinning your hopes on a change in another/And I, yeah I still need you, but what good’s that gonna do?/Needing is one thing, and getting, getting’s another/” Both I’ll Give You The Sun and Needing/Getting are interesting and complex works of art that reveal as much about the reader or listener as they do about the characters along the way.
By Sky Y.

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Author Skype With A.S. King for Banned Books Week

Author Skype With A.S. King for Banned Books Week

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Last week, A.S. King came to Castilleja through a Skype call! For those who are not familiar with the name, A.S. King is a Young Adult Fiction author, who has written many high-quality books, including Everybody Sees the Ants, Reality Boy, Dust of 100 Dogs, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and Ask the Passengers. Unlike many authors, A.S. King does not plan out her books but instead starts off with a character, then builds the story from there. Please Ignore Vera Dietz, her second novel, revolves around Vera Dietz, who sees more than she says. When she is the only one who actually knows how her best friend Charlie dies, she doesn’t know whether she has the courage or desire to clear his name. This novel won the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book, as well as an Edgar Allen Poe Award nominee for “Best Young Adult”.

During the Skype interview, students learned about the dangers of censorship as well as freedom of speech. The 8th graders gained interesting insight from A.S. King’s responses and opinions.  Many people admired how she was able to speak the truth without hesitation and regret, and the 8th grade sent letters to thank Ms. King for taking the time to speak with them.

Although each student had their own, unique impression of A.S. King’s powerful words, the entire grade was inspired to contemplate censorship, freedom of thought, knowledge, and the reigning controversy as to how to balance all three.

By Minhee C., ’20

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Reflections on Denis Belliveau’s In the Footsteps of Marco Polo

Reflections on Denis Belliveau’s In the Footsteps of Marco Polo





After last week’s author visit and presentation from Denis Belliveau, sophomore Sara Z. kindly wrote us a piece on her thoughts…


In our history classes, we are often told that we need to cultivate historical and cultural empathy in order to be informed citizens of the world, and I can think of no better way to do so than by observing. Observation is the act of learning without interfering. Most people think this means stepping back to get a broader view of  the situation, and while that often works, the best way to observe is to integrate yourself so fully into your surroundings that your presence and your actions won’t affect what you’re observing. This kind of observation is not something we get to do very often, but it is by far the best way to understand a different perspective. Our guest speaker, Mr. Denis Belliveau, had the opportunity to do that sort of immersion for two years while following the footsteps of Marco Polo.

And what did he learn from all this observation? Did he find anything in common amongst the different cultures? Surely, warlords in Afghanistan don’t have anything in common with monks in Mongolia. We assume this because of the information we have already acquired. We have learned about Buddhist beliefs and rituals in history class, and they sound nothing at all like the ideologies of the gun-wielding Afghans. Sure, they have the same biological makeup, but their historical differences created two completely different cultures that foster two completely different mindsets. Beyond the fact that both groups are Homo sapiens, they can’t have anything in common. Or do they? When asked during the assembly, Mr. Belliveau said that throughout all his travels across Europe and Asia there was one common thread shared by everyone he met. And that thread was kindness and hospitality towards all humans, a sense of kinship with a stranger.

When Mr. Belliveau met with an Afghani warlord to try to obtain safe passage through war-torn Afghanistan, he didn’t know if  he would be killed on the spot by any one of the countless rifles propped against the walls. When the travelers handed the warlord a letter they had received from an acquaintance, the man replied, “The man who wrote this  is my brother. I will do anything in my power to help you.” To this man, it didn’t matter that the travelers were from America. It didn’t matter what their political ideologies were. All that mattered was that someone he respected had asked him to help these people. They had come to Afghanistan to observe, not to interfere. They came simply as human beings. And for that reason, they were treated kindly.

I think that an essential part of nurturing our historical and cultural empathy is understanding that the people we talk about are all human. Sometimes this sense of humanity gets tucked away in our minds because of more pressing issues that draw our attention to the differences between us. When we target terrorist groups, we can’t worry about the fact that those terrorists are people, too, with lives and families. It’s far more important to take actions in the interest of our safety and for the safety and liberty of other countries.

But most situations are less extreme than that. If we are ever to going to create a world in which everyone understands and respects each other, we need to remember that the people we may disagree with are humans, too. When we establish that in our minds, we can begin to see how their emotions, loyalties, and beliefs may factor into their decisions, culture, and ideologies. When we can remember that they are human, we can remember that they have needs and feelings and a heart. With that in mind, we can truly begin to observe in a less biased and self-righteous way. Unbiased observation can only lead to understanding and empathy. And with understanding, we can find ways to engage that are in everyone’s best interest. All we need is our humanity and an ability to step back, watch, and reflect.

By Sara Z. ’18


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Boovish Dictionary

Boovish Dictionary


In honor of Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday and the release of the movie adaptation, Home, Castilleja students compiled a helpful translation guide from Boovish to English (the language of the Boov). Take a look to see what your name means in Boovish! Don’t see yours here? Tell us what it means in the comments below.

  • Aly; pumpernickle
  • Anaïs; moist
  • Ananya; indecisive
  • Anika; slimy
  • Anna; variegated or thief
  • Bridget; epic
  • Brooke; river
  • Catherine; to smile
  • Charlotte; moist
  • Christy; anime fan
  • Dani; awesome
  • Elisabeth; dinglehopper
  • Ella; shiny
  • Ellie; cheese
  • Emmeline; wing
  • Georgia; carrot
  • Grace; to jump
  • Honor; noodles
  • Izzy; sarcastic
  • Jas; life
  • Jenna; movies
  • Julia; fabulous
  • Kaavya; broccoli
  • Kate; root beer
  • Karly; spiky
  • Kayla; bae
  • Kelly; twinkie
  • Kiana; round
  • Kristen; eccentric
  • Laura-Ann; ice cream
  • Lauren; peach or mac and cheese
  • Leila; crocodile
  • Lila; to run
  • Linnea; danger! get out of here!
  • Lishan; buttons
  • Mabelle; bunny
  • Marisol; cat
  • Maya; fishy
  • Megan; boots
  • Mili; human
  • Minhee; humanscar
  • Molly; heart
  • Naira; the most amazingly awesome person in the universe
  • Roxy; fabulously perfect
  • Sam; cat or awesome
  • Samina; potato
  • Sara; the feeling of not being able to remember a word
  • Sarah; nothing or vivacious
  • Sophie; to smile
  • Tevah; colorful
  • Winter; summer
  • Zoe; upside down

Now, you can make whole sentences using Boovish. The following Boovish was overheard in the library:
“I grace for joy when you wear your tevah megans with lishans!”
Translation: “I jump for joy when you wear your colorful boots with buttons!”

Linnea! That kaavya is too charlotte and anika!”
Translation: “Danger, get out of here! That broccoli is too moist and slimy!”

*Image: Left: drawing of J.Lo from The True Meaning of Smekday by its author, Adam Rex. Right: reimagined as Oh in the movie Home.

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