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Author Stephanie Kuehn Visited For Banned Books Week

Author Stephanie Kuehn Visited For Banned Books Week

Stephanie Kuehn, author of Charm and Strange, Complicit and other books beloved by Casti students, visited last week during Banned Books Week. Elle G. and Supriya L. wrote a recap of her visit.

Stephanie Kuehn is a young adult author who visited Castilleja on September 26, 2016 for Banned Books Week. Some of her books have been challenged, and she talked to the eighth graders about her views on censorship. Ms. Kuehn believes that many young adult authors’ intentions are misunderstood, often being blamed by adults and parents as being “too dark” when these authors are just being honest. She thinks that YA authors should be able to express their ideas about dark subjects without feeling the need to sugarcoat, and therefore shield shield the message from readers.

She talked about the ways that YA authors give stories the positive overlay that some adults feel that they need. One of the main ways that they do this is by incorporating hope. She said that stories with hope either have a character finding their voice or their identity, the character’s life has meaning, or it shows that the characters can be themselves (or learn to be themselves). However, the main point that she stresses about these themes is, is it true? Do we really live in this idealistic world? Of course not! So why should we tell our YA readers that we do? After all, aren’t most of them going to be looking after themselves in the real world soon enough? Now this begs the question, why should we hide this from them? Well, Ms. Kuehn said that it sometimes has to do with control. She said that if you’re a parent and are used to regulating what your children read, it may be hard to let them read about dark ideas, such as suicide, and violence, unless there is a way “back up” from the dark place. Nonetheless, readers should be able to understand their own development, and choose books which correspond to this development.

In conclusion, Ms. Kuehn’s visit enlightened us about Banned Books Week, and told us a lot about herself as well. She grew up in the Bay Area, and went to boarding school in the East Coast, which partly inspired the setting of her first book, Charm and Strange. In addition, she started writing at a young age, particularly being influenced by her father, who was a writer, journalist, as well as editor. We are so glad that Ms. Kuehn came here to talk about censorship during Banned Books Week, and be sure to check out all of her books, especially her new book, The Smaller Evil, in celebration of Banned Books Week!

Written by Elle G. ‘21, and Supriya L. ’21


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Ebooks for Summer

Ebooks for Summer

Looking for something good in our digital library for the summer? Here’s some books to get you started!


Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi: A girl with a killer touch rebels against the society that uses her as a weapon.

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau: The last bastion of humanity is failing. Is there a way out?

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau: To rebuild the world, this group of teens must first survive the Testing.

Arclight by Josin L. McQuein: The alien Fade can’t get across the lights protecting the last of humanity. But when one does, only one girl can save the city.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver: In a world where love is a disease we must be saved from, a rebellion begins.

The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke: With the land all but dead, a group of genetically altered children must begin creating a new future under the sea.

Stray by Elissa Sussman: Girls must not stray from the Path. But what if the Path is wrong?


Space Themed

The Martian by Andy Weir: Alone on Mars, an astronaut struggles to survive.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis: When cryogenically frozen Amy wakes on a spaceship 50 years before she’s supposed to, she must solve the mystery of who woke her and why.

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass: Three narratives weave together as thousands gather to watch a solar eclipse.

Boom! By Mark Haddon: Charlie and Jimbo are certain there’s something weird about their teacher…

Across a Star Swept Sea by Diane Peterfreund: This gender swapped, science fiction take on The Scarlet Pimpernel is sure to delight fans of spies, romance, or futuristic technology.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: Arthur Dent is lying in the mud protesting his house being bulldozed to make way for a freeway when aliens show up to destroy the earth to make way for an interstellar hyperloop. Try this bonkers classic of science fiction to finally understand the importance of towels.


Historical Fiction

The Uninvited by Cat Winters: Ivy’s world is falling apart as World War I rages in Europe and the flu epidemic rages in the United States, but most troubling for her, she is seeing more and more ghosts.

Soulless by Gail Carriger: Alexia Tarabotti–half-Italian spinster, possessed of an extremely annoying family, and not possessed of a soul–has just been attacked by a vampire. How rude.

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig: On her father’s ship, Nix can go anywhere in time as long as they have a map–except the one place her father is intent on getting to.

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz: Sick of her family’s cruelty, Joan runs away to make a new life for herself and gets hired as the shabbas goy for a Jewish family.

Jackaby by William Ritter: Cross Sherlock Holmes with Supernatural and a smidge of Doctor Who, and you’ll get paranormal private investigator Jackaby. Whatever you do, don’t look at the frog.

Something catch your fancy? Check it out from our ebooks here!


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Summer Adventures

Summer Adventures

TA Elyse has kindly put together some recommendations for books featuring summer adventures!

Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

If you love fantasy novels or enjoyed reading The Odyssey, Summer of the Mariposas is a good book for you! This novel is about five sisters who find a dead body and go on an adventurous journey to Mexico to return him to his family. After they had returned the body, they meet a ghost, La Llorona, who guides them while returning home to Texas. Along the way, they meet other supernatural beings such as a witch, a warlock, a half-human barn owl, and a vicious chupacabras.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Towards the beginning of the First World War in Europe, Mrs. Ramsay, her peculiar husband, and their children come to the Hebrides, a few islands near the west of Scotland, for their summer holiday. After having postponed a visit to a lighthouse, their trip begins to open complex tensions and conflicts between the men and women of this family. War breaks out in Europe and their joy comes to a close as they face tragedy, jealousy, and grief.

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

Rose and her parents spend every summer in a house by Awago Beach. They often bring Rose’s friend Windy, and the two have a very close, almost sisterly relationship. One summer, however, Rose’s parents face conflict and fight often, so the two girls spend their time away to distract themselves from it. Unfortunately they get caught up in an issue revolving some of the local teenagers, who have done something horrible and life threatening. This summer turns out to be a time of growing up, keeping secrets, and staying close to true friends.

I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan

A group of college-aged friends meet up at a party and accidentally kill a boy. After such an incident, Barry, Helen, Ray, and Julie all swear to keep it to themselves, until a year later they receive a note that says: “I know what you did last summer.” The four friends must team up together to outsmart this anonymous killer, or else they will be the next to die.

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull

Two sisters wake to find out their parents have disappeared in the middle of the night. When Summer and Bird go on a quest to find them, they find their way to a gate in the woods. Soon they are lead to a different, fantastical world, inhabited by talking animals and a Puppeteer queen. The two sisters are separated and have to find their parents and defeat the evil queen on their own.

That Summer by Sarah Dessen

Haven grows overwhelmed due to all of the change in her life: her sister gets engaged her old boyfriend, her father gets remarried, her best friend changes a lot, and she does not know where she fits in. She misses the previous summer when she was happy and everything seemed to be going just right. She decides to run away and as time passes, she realizes that change is perhaps a good thing.

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Congratulations to Our Scholastic Art and Writing Award Recipients!

Congratulations to Our Scholastic Art and Writing Award Recipients!

picture of 6 scholastic award winners

Some of the Scholastic Award honorees. Left to right: Riya B., Sara B., Tiffany M., Gwen C., Noel P., Margaret Z.

This year, thirteen Castilleja students were among the West Region at Large winners of the Scholastic Art & Writing Competition.

The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards are presented by the Alliance for Young Writers, an organization dedicated to celebrating extraordinarily talented student writers and artists. This year, students aged 7-12 across America submitted nearly 32,000 works in 29 different categories of art and writing. Students are awarded based on the affiliate region they live in (all Castilleja students are in the Western Region at Large), and those whose works receive Gold Key advanced to a higher round for national adjudication.

The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards are divided into two sections, Art and Writing. Categories for the Art section include: Architecture, Comic art, Jewelry, Mixed media, Photography, and more. Categories for the Writing section include: Drama, Humor, Journalism, and Personal essay/Memoir, and more. The contest also offers sponsored awards, such as Neiman Marcus Award for Fashion, sponsored by Neiman Marcus, and the Gedenk Award for Tolerance, sponsored by the Gedenk movement.


In the art division, the following students were recognized:

Gold Key: Emma Glickman ‘16 (Photography); Gabrielle Occhipinti ‘16 (Photography); Grace Stevenson ‘17 (Photography); and Isabella Wang ‘17 (Painting)

 Silver Key: Emma Glickman ‘16 (Photography); Grace Stephenson ‘17 (Photography);  Mimi Tran-Zambetti ‘16 (Painting); and Isabella Wang ‘17 (Painting)

Honorable Mention: Tiffany Madruga ‘16 (Painting); Gabrielle Occhipinti ‘16 (Photography); Mimi Tran-Zambetti ‘16 (Painting); and Isabella Wang ‘17 (Drawing and Illustration).


In the writing division, the following students were recognized:

Gold Key: Sara Bell ‘17 (Poetry, Journalism); Riya Berry ‘18 (Critical Essay); and Noel Peng ‘17 (Poetry)

Silver Key: Riya Berry ‘18 (Humor); Gwen Cusing ‘17 (Poetry); Sho Sho Leigh Ho ‘19 (Personal Essay/Memoir, Short Story, Poetry); Katie Mishra ‘18 (Critical Essay); and Margaret Zhang ‘17 (Poetry, Journalism, Flash Fiction)

Honorable Mention: Sara Bell ‘17 (Personal Essay/Memoir, Poetry); Gwen Cusing ‘17 (Journalism); Sho Sho Leigh Ho ‘19 (Short Story, Poetry); Noel Peng ‘17 (Poetry); and Margaret Zhang ‘17 (Poetry, Personal Essay/Memoir).


Congratulations to all our winners, and a special thank you to all the Castilleja teachers who helped those students get where they are today! For more information about the Scholastic Art and Writing awards, please check out their website here.


-Riya B., ’18

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Paraphrasing with Taylor Swift!

Paraphrasing with Taylor Swift!

A notebook, pages blowing in the wind, sitting on an electric keyboard.

Image source: “Music with Lyrics” by Tarun Kumar from Flickr

Original: “But I’ve got a blank space, baby/And I’ll write your name.”   (“Blank Space,” by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, and Shellback)

Paraphrase: I’m single, so we should date. (Lindsey E., ’21)

It can be challenging to learn to use your own words to express ideas and facts that you get from reading you do while carrying out research. Conveying an idea from your reading in your own words is called paraphrasing. Recently, the seventh graders got some great paraphrasing practice, translating Taylor Swift lyrics into “everyday” spoken English. Here are some lyrics, if you want to give it a try:

  • “’Cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.”(“Blank Space,” by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, and Shellback)
  • “But she wears short skirts/I wear T-shirts/She’s cheer captain/And I’m on the bleachers” (“You Belong with Me,” Taylor Swift and Liz Rose)
  • Nice to meet you, where you been?”(“Blank Space,” by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, and Shellback)
  • “Someday I’ll be living in a big ole city/And all you’re ever gonna be is mean” (“Mean,” by Taylor Swift)

Students listed tips on paraphrasing effectively, which included:

  • Read until you understand what the sentence is saying,
  • Identify terminology that is specific to your topic (you can use it in your paraphrase),
  • Articulate the big idea, and
  • Cover it up the original source and say it in your own words.

Of course, when you paraphrase, what you write is often about the same length as the original.

When you want to quickly convey the big ideas of a longer passage, that is called summarizing.  A fun way to practice summarizing is picking a song you love, and telling the story or the moral that song conveys in one, short sentence:

Song title: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman)

Summary:A fun word to say and make you feel good with also confusing people.” (E. Lewis, ’21)

Song title: “Sorry” (Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter, and Justin Beiber)

Summary:I let you go and now I want you back.” (E. Smith, ’21)

Can you take your favorite song and summarize its meaning? How about paraphrasing some of your favorite lines? It is a great way to get a feel for the difference between the two skills.

Of course, whether you are paraphrasing or summarizing, you have not done it right if you don’t give credit to the source that gave you the information or ideas that you use. So, a huge “Thank you!” to Amber Lovett, a library school students at the University of Michigan, for the idea of using Taylor Swift lyrics.

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Book Review: Kafka on the Shore

Book Review: Kafka on the Shore

TA Margaret Z. ’17 reviews Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

“Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom.

As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.”

This inside cover summary does not begin to display the metaphysical and surreal nature of the book. Kafka on the Shore is a winding, complex, confusing, philosophical adventure that will keep you turning the pages. However, despite its intriguing and original premise, a few flaws that made it hard for me to put the book on an all-time favorites list.

The only two prominent women in the novel are viewed almost entirely through a sexual lens, not serving much purpose in the plot other than their sexual encounters with the men. In the second half of the novel, another woman — a prostitute — makes an appearance. Her only significance in the story is that she has sex with one of the men. This detail doesn’t change the course of the plot at all, and her character never appears again. The scene is arbitrary and does not add much to the novel except — well, a sex scene.

Also, every time Kafka runs into his love interest, Murakami feels the need to describe each article of clothing that the love interest is wearing. Yes, I get it — she’s wearing the same blue blouse and pearl necklace and skirt from last time. No need to repeat it every single time.

Additionally, there’s a transgender character in the novel, and while I was originally ecstatic to see this, the way Murakami portrays the character confuses me. Oshima, the transgender man in the novel, is described to never have gotten his period and to never to have developed breasts. To me, this setup felt like Murakami was trying to almost make him “less transgender” and make readers think of him as “more masculine” in order to justify his identity. However, I also understand that Kafka on the Shore was originally intended for a Japanese audience, an aspect that likely affected the portrayal of Oshima. Furthermore, Oshima may have been intersex, but if so, the novel did not make that clear.

Lastly, the resolution of Kafka on the Shore felt anticlimactic. Much of Haruki Murakami’s work is open-ended and leaves room for interpretation and conjecture, such as Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage. However, Murakami doesn’t reach a point in this story that gives the reader enough material to actually interpret; instead, he leaves readers grasping at tendrils of smoke. Kafka on the Shore contains too many arbitrary details whose purposes are unclear. While I normally love bizarreness if it plays even a small role in the plot, many central mysteries of the novel that kept me reading — the fish falling from the sky, the ability to talk to cats, the mysterious flute — are never resolved or explained.

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