Cilla Lee-Jenkins returns to pursue her dreams of becoming a successful author while dealing with her Chinese-American family in Cilla Lee-Jenkins: The Epic Story by writer Susan Tan and illustrator Dana Wulfekotte.
“Anyone who spends time with Cilla Lee-Jenkins will look forward to reading her in the future.” –Booklist, starred review, on Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire
Pricilla “Cilla” Lee-Jenkins has already written a "Bestseller" and a "Classic"now it’s time for her to write an Epic Story. Epics are all about brave heroes overcoming Struggles to save the world, and this year, Cilla is facing her toughest struggles yet:
· Cilla is in fifth grade and, unlike her classmates, not at all ready to start middle school
· She has two younger sisters to look after now and they don't exactly get along
· Her beloved grandfather YeYe has had a stroke and forgotten his English, and it’s up to Cilla to help him find his words again
With humor, heart, and her mighty pen Cilla Lee-Jenkins will use her powers to vanquish every foe (the mean girls in her class), help every citizen (especially Ye Ye), and save the world.
About the Author
Susan Tan has lived many places in her life, but calls Concord, Massachusetts, home. She grew up in a mixed-race family, and, like Cilla Lee-Jenkins, had very little hair until the age of five. After studying at Williams College, she earned her PhD from the University of Cambridge, where she studied children's literature. She currently lives in Somerville, enjoys frequent trips to Chinatown to eat tzuck sang, and teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. susantanbooks.com
Dana Wulfekotte is a children’s book author, illustrator, and animator. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Queens with her boyfriend and two rabbits (whom she now regrets not naming Supernova and Sparkledust). danawulfekotte.com
Read an Excerpt
OVERHEARD IN FIFTH GRADE
My Epic Quest begins in fifth grade, right around the time I realized that despite its name, Ms. Paradise's class is no paradise.
I used to be something called Literal, which means I thought words meant exactly what they sounded like. For example, I'd get upset when my mom said things like "I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse" because no, Mom, horses are our friends, and there's plenty of food in the refrigerator, and WHY WOULD YOU DO SUCH A THING?!
But now I know this is just an expression. So when my mom says this, she just means she's really hungry. Understanding expressions has made life a lot easier (though I still don't quite understand why adults can't just say what they mean, but that's a separate issue).
So I wasn't expecting Ms. Paradise's class to be perfect. I knew that wasn't realistic, and that her name had nothing to do with it. But then I discovered that there actually IS something to being Literal. Because my dad's favorite expression is "trouble in paradise." And that's EXACTLY what I've found in Ms. Paradise's fifth-grade class.
This is disappointing, because over the summer, I was really excited for fifth grade in general. I'm usually scared about a new school year (or about anything new, really) because what if it's terrible and everyone hates me? But this year, for the first time in all of elementary school, I knew I was ready for it. Because what can go wrong when you're the oldest kids in school?
On the first morning back, everything felt so familiar. I walked down the hallways I knew so well and waved hello to all my old teachers. I saw younger kids looking nervous as they walked in to their new classrooms, and I wanted to say, "Don't worry,you're going to have the BEST time with Ms. Bloom!" or "It's okay, Mr. Flight's leaf project is hard work, but it's worth it!" When I walked into Ms. Paradise's class, I was ready to take on fifth grade. I was sure this would be the best year EVER.
So it was a bit of a letdown when I realized that Ms. Paradise is what my mom would call "A Bit Much."
Ms. Paradise is new to our school this year, and came from teaching third graders. She's big on following rules, and doing exercises and worksheets, which doesn't leave much room for creativity (though her big fluffy dresses with flowers all over them ARE very creative, so at least there's that). And whenever she talks to you one-on-one, her voice gets very high and syrupy, even though it definitely doesn't sound that way when she talks to adults.
Ms. Paradise covers the walls of our classroom with neon paper cutouts of pineapples, which are VERY bright and distracting. They're also kind of a strange choice (I love food as much as the next person, but if I had to pick a class Theme, I'd at least pick food with a little more variety, like sandwiches).
Plus she put me in the blue reading group, not the purple (which is the highest), because she says my reading comprehension needs some work when it comes to grammar.
Which is ridiculous.
* * *
In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not the biggest fan of Ms. Paradise. My mom keeps saying things like "Give her a chance," and "Cilla, you've only been in school for a month!" But I'd argue that when you're faced with the kind of person who says "My, it's roasty toasty back here!" when the classroom fans aren't working, you're probably never going to get along.
Worst of all, on that first day, instead of talking about all the exciting fifth-grade things we'd be doing in the year ahead, Ms. Paradise began talking about middle school. Specifically, how much we need to do to get ready for it.
I don't think I'm "being bad with change" (which is what my mom says I am) for wanting to enjoy fifth grade. Also, for not wanting to talk about middle school ever, and possibly maybe never going. I'm not looking forward to when the middle schoolers come to visit our class later this year to tell us about it, or any of the other middle school–related things Ms. Paradise keeps talking about.
In fact, I wish we could just enjoy elementary school, because there's SO MUCH to love. Fifth grade has so many exciting parts — like field trips, and science projects, and band, which is a special fifth-grade elective. This summer, I started playing the TUBA, which is big, Dramatic, and VERY loud, which means it's probably the best instrument ever. Mr. Kendall, our music teacher, says I'm a "very strong player" (even if all I can play so far are scales and "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star"). And I love the tuba so much that when Ms. Paradise had us do beginning-of-the-year introduction cards with facts about ourselves, after "writer," "great older sister," and "cheese connoisseur," I put "Tuba Player."
So everyone would know.
And I don't know why Ms. Paradise feels like she has to mention middle school every day, when there are things like band to focus on instead. In fact, sometimes I wonder if she's a Trickster Figure trying to distract us from the REAL Adventure, which is fifth grade. (Tricksters come up a lot in Quests, and you have to watch out for them, and possibly solve riddles to get away.) And sometimes I pretend that my tuba is a Magical Talisman that can help me resist her and protect me from the worried feelings I get whenever she mentions next year.
But the tuba can only do so much. So even though I've been trying hard to like Ms. Paradise, it's been a whole month and things are only getting worse. Especially since Ms. Paradise has started to talk about things like "middle school Expectations." And I'm sorry to say that she's ESPECIALLY big on these Expectations, and what counts as middle school material, when it comes to writing.
I learned this last week, which is also when I realized just how many Struggles I had to overcome before fifth grade was over.
It happened like this:
We were doing a writing unit, and even though I still wasn't sure how I felt about Ms. Paradise, I was excited to show her my stories.
Ms. Paradise wanted us to follow a worksheet that was all about how stories are like watermelons and ideas like seeds (which was a nice Simile, which is a Literary way of saying comparison). Ms. Paradise said that instead of telling the whole watermelon, you start with a seed. So instead of "I went to an amusement park and ate ice cream, rode some rides, and had a great day and came home," you start with a tiny part of that. Like "The ice cream dripped from the cone down on my hands and was sticky and delicious." That way, you start with details, and it's easier for the reader to imagine your story, and they'll want to know more and keep reading.
The assignment seemed fun. I love specifics and details, and since stories are my life's work, I felt good about the examples I'd picked (plus I didn't even say anything about how surprised I was about the whole watermelon Theme, given Ms. Paradise's obsession with pineapples).
My story began:
On Zebulon 5, a prophecy was known. That one day a hero would save the planet from its endless war, a hero who would fly on feathers of steel.
But the people of Zebulon 5 didn't believe the prophecy. They laughed and said it was a Silly story.
And so did Tilly the baker's daughter.
Until one day, she woke up, and she had grown silver, metal wings.
I thought this was a great start. I didn't start with Tilly growing wings — I started with the seed of the prophecy. I knew this beginning was perfect for drawing a reader in. They wouldn't be able to resist asking how it ends, and where the wings came from, and when Tilly will discover that she can also shoot golden light out of her hands and use it to bring her world to peace (Spoiler Alert). I was sure I'd done a good job.
Only apparently my story wasn't what Ms. Paradise had in mind.
"Um," she said, her voice chirpy, "this is certainly interesting."
"Thank you," I said (because interesting is a good thing to be).
"But why don't you write about something a little more relatable?" she went on. "Remember, next year you're going to have teachers with high expectations of your writing — middle school expectations. They're going to want your work to make your readers feel real emotion. So be a bit more serious, okay?"
Ms. Paradise said all of this with a smile, like she was just trying to help. Then she walked away with her big sleeves bouncing as she went.
I was frustrated because, this IS Serious. We're talking the fate of Zebulon 5.
And if you don't feel real emotion when you hear that an entire planet might be torn apart by galactic war, then I can't help you.
For the rest of the activity, I sat and looked at my story and tried to figure out where it could be more Serious and why it didn't meet middle school Expectations.
It didn't help how I was feeling when Ms. Paradise asked Mimi Donnelly to read her story out loud as an "excellent and strong example." Mimi also wants to be a writer (and yes, fair, writing is the best career you could ever choose but, also, couldn't Mimi want to do something else?). And as she read, I didn't understand why her story — which was one whole page about reaching out to touch a doorknob, and the feeling of turning it — WAS right for middle school. Even though it had some nice descriptions, who wants to read a story all about reaching for a doorknob without actually opening the door and seeing what's behind it?
But luckily, I have my friends, who are all in Ms. Paradise's class with me.
"Zebulon Five sounds so cool," Colleen said.
"I want wings," Melissa said. "Will you tell us the story at recess?"
"Will there be explosions?" Alien-Face McGee asked.
I appreciated all of their support, and the answer to both of these questions was, of course, "Yes!"
* * *
There was plenty of time to tell Tilly's story at recess. Now that we're in fifth grade, there's less playing or making up games, and more sitting and talking. For the most part I really like this new way of being together. We tell stories and make jokes, and sometimes Melissa brings in paper and teaches us origami, because she's taking a class at her library. Usually, Colleen, Melissa, and I like to sit on the swings, and Mimi Donnelly and her friends sit on the tire swings or sometimes the picnic benches, and a group of kids from Mr. Mason's class have claimed the climbing structure.
But we still run around too. Sometimes we play tag, and other times Colleen and Melissa kick a soccer ball around the field and I'm their Coach. (This is VERY fun. Even though I don't know anything about soccer or sports of any kind, I'm great at saying Dramatic things like "This is everything you've trained for!" and "You can do it; you were born for this!"). And this way I can help Colleen and Melissa improve their Muscle Memory, which is how you teach your body to remember things even faster than your brain, and Colleen says it will help them win the championship this year, which is an exciting idea.
Alien-Face McGee doesn't spend that much time with us at recess now that we're in fifth grade, which is too bad. But he runs by a lot with the other boys he plays with, and he always waves when he passes us, so that's nice. And if Melissa and Colleen are playing a kickball game, he'll usually leave his game and keep me company cheering for them.
* * *
That day at recess, I told Colleen, Melissa, and Alien-Face more about Zebulon 5, and after Alien-Face went to go play with the other boys, Melissa told us her story, which was about a talking watermelon seed (which is a Literalness that I support).
We were talking and joking and coming up with names for her watermelon seed, and ideas for how Tilly would get around (when she's not flying, she rides a jet-black motorcycle), when Tim #2 came by like he does every day now, to say, "Hi, Colleen!" Then he just stood there. And after a little too long he said, "Oh, um, hi, Melissa. Hi, Cilla." And then he ran away.
This is another funny fifth-grade change. It just seems to keep happening. Tim #2 and Melvin and Shelby all walk by at least once every recess to say, "Hi, Colleen!" I'm not sure why they do, or why Colleen always trips or knocks things over when Melvin's around, or why Alien-Face blushes and giggles when Tim #1 smiles at him.
But it's no big deal. We all still have a great time (and it's also kind of funny), so I don't think much about it. Plus Melissa also doesn't quite get it either, so when it happens, we smile at each other and giggle (but nicely).
On this particular day, Melvin ran over right behind Tim #2, so Colleen got up to talk to him. Melissa hopped down from her swing to talk to them too, and I decided I'd stay and keep swinging and wait for them to be done. I was imagining what it would feel like to be actually flying, just like Tilly, when I heard a voice from the tire swings where Mimi Donnelly and her friends had been sitting and, I realized, had overheard my story.
"Well, you make up Silly stories too, right, Mimi?" her friend Lisa said in a teasing voice.
"No way." The familiar voice of Mimi Donnelly was loud and made it very clear that these "Silly" stories were bad things. "My stories are grown-up," she said. "They're not about made-up things like people growing wings. That's immature."
"Yeah," Lisa said. "What a baby."
My feet scraped the wood-chip-covered ground. Without meaning to, I'd stopped swinging, and my swing came to a stop with a small squeak.
Mimi turned and saw me.
Her face got red.
But then Lisa giggled, a not-very-nice giggle. And Mimi went on.
"No offense," she said, shrugging like it was no big deal. "But ... you should really stop telling stories like that when you get to middle school. My sister's there now, and she says no one in middle school would ever talk that way."
Lisa and Mimi's other friends giggled some more.
"Yeah," Lisa added. "But you're the girl who always talks about the tuba, right? I don't know why you play it. It's a boy instrument. Right, Mimi?"
"Well ..." Mimi looked at Lisa, then back at me. "I guess," she said, the redness staying in her cheeks. "I mean, all the other girls play the flute, or clarinet, or sometimes the saxophone," she added.
"Yeah." Lisa nodded.
I didn't know what to say.
I wanted to tell them that my story wasn't Silly — it was a good one (which I know because of the whole Literary Greatness thing). And the tuba was AMAZING, and she was just jealous because she wasn't playing it. Plus I wanted to tell Mimi Donnelly and Lisa and everyone on the tire swing that they were NOT very nice.
There were so many other things I could have said too, like, "Well, your sister in middle school sounds kind of boring," or "Maybe no one in middle school would read a story about doorknobs either."
But I couldn't find the words. And Colleen and Melissa were standing over with Melvin and hadn't heard, so I didn't have any friends to be on my side.
So I just said, "Oh."
The whistle blew, telling us that there were ten minutes left in recess, and I'd never been happier to hear it. I jumped up from the swing and walked away, trying not to imagine how Mimi and her friends were probably watching me go and giggling.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Colleen wave, and I knew she thought everything was fine. So I gave a small wave back and headed into the school building for what's usually my favorite time of the day.
Because in fifth grade, during the last ten minutes of recess, we have Library Privileges.
"Cilla!" Ms. Clutter called as I walked in.
"Hi, Ms. Clutter," I said, smiling in spite of Mimi Donnelly.
Ms. Clutter is our school librarian. She came to our school last year in fourth grade, and she's been one of my favorite people ever since. Ms. Clutter knows EVERYTHING about books and stories. She always has a good book to recommend, and we both LOVE Adventures and Selena Moon and the Jenny Ojukwo: Pirate Queen series. Ms. Clutter also has the BEST style ever. That afternoon, she wore a purple dress with a silver belt and matching silver glasses. She always wears a scarf over her hair, and that day it was covered in a pattern of swirling galaxies that flowed around her head and down her back and fluttered behind her like a cape. This is also, incidentally, why I sometimes make up stories that Ms. Clutter is really a superhero. Because you can't be that great, and know so much about books and libraries, and just be a normal person, now can you?
I go to the library almost every day. Sometimes it's to get a new book. Sometimes, if I'm still in the middle of a book, it's just to say hi to Ms. Clutter and to tell her about the story so far. Ms. Clutter is always really interested in what I'm reading, and she loves it when I act out the books, and she'll always talk about parts that I don't understand or didn't like.
That day, I told Ms. Clutter my Zebulon 5 story, which she LOVED.
Then she suggested other science fiction books she thought I'd enjoy. She said they were some of her favorite books too.
So I felt better. And when she handed me a book with a winged centaur on the cover flying over a rainbow planet, I suddenly found myself asking, "Do you think this is a middle school–kind of story, Ms. Clutter?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cilla Lee-Jenkins"
Copyright © 2019 Susan Tan.
Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
An (Epic) Start,
1. Overheard in Fifth Grade,
2. Fourth Grade and Family: A Year in Haiku,
3. Synonyms Are Serious Business,
4. A Not-So-Normal Day,
5. If the Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword, Then How Come I Keep Losing My Pen?,
6. A Super(Hero) Strategy,
8. Take Care,
9. Maturity Is Hard, But Cookies are Great,
10. Honey Tea,
11. Beware the Peacocks, and Other Conclusions from the Zoo,
14. The Epic of Cilla Lee-Jenkins,
Glossary: Cilla's Guide to an Epic Vocabulary,
Praise for Cilla Lee-Jenkins,
Also by Susan Tan,
About the Author and Illustrator,