Welcome to the latest installment of Brightly’s Book Club for Kids, where we provide you with engaging books and book-inspired activities young readers can enjoy together. Our latest pick, Shine! by J.J. and Chris Grabenstein, is the inspiring story of a science-loving girl named Piper whose music teacher dad gets a job at an elite private school — forcing Piper to transfer there as well. When an ambiguous “reach for excellence” school-wide contest is launched, Piper knows she’s the only student who doesn’t have a chance because she isn’t exceptional or talented at anything. What she doesn’t realize is that she does shine in how she treats other people.
About the Book
Best For: Kids ages 8 to 12.
You’ll Like It If You Like: Heartwarming stories where the underdog wins and the true meaning of success is not based on achievements but who you are as a person.
Major Themes: Kindness, friendship, self-discovery, identity, anti-perfectionism, and science.
What It’s About: Piper transfers mid-year to the elite Chumley Prep school because of her father’s new teaching job. She is probably the only student in the school who isn’t trying to win the school’s Excelsior excellence contest. In fact, most of the school’s students become overly competitive and paranoid about the award and attempt to be exceptional in academics, sports, and the arts — but not Piper. She’s aware that she isn’t a musical talent like her father or her deceased mother and that she belongs in the background. In fact, unlike her classmates, she doesn’t care if she gets in trouble for being late to class because she’d rather help people in need like the lost kindergartners or the distressed substitute teacher. But her belief that she’s not talented unexpectedly changes when Piper wins the science fair. She’s influenced by her peers to find new “talents” and to start competing for the Excelsior award, ditching her magician friend Tim in the process. Fortunately, during the talent show, Piper realizes exactly who she does and doesn’t want to be. She abandons her solo performance in order to help Tim’s magic act, deciding it’s more important to be a good friend than to win an award.
Why We Picked It: In this day and age of perfectionism and anxiety, readers can relate to the pressures of middle school and achievement-oriented competition. We like how this story shows that excellence doesn’t have to be about academics or other achievements, but rather about who you are and how you treat other people.
The Book Club Meeting
As your children read this book, have them keep in mind that they’ll be discussing it with others during the book club meeting. To that end, suggest that readers interact with the text by marking favorite parts, connections, and/or questions to use during the discussion.
- How would you describe Piper’s personality? How about Ainsley’s and Tim’s?
- Piper’s teacher asks her who she wants to be. Who does she want to be and how does this change throughout the story?
- Apply this to your own life. Who do you want to be right now?
- Do you think Piper did the right thing when she gave back the money that she and Hannah found at the mall? What would you do?
- What do you think about Piper’s other acts of kindness? Would you do the same things that Piper did? If not, what would you do instead?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it for you to get good grades and excel in school, sports, and/or the arts? How does this make you feel?
- What do you think the Excelsior Award was trying to teach the students about the definition of excellence? How do you define success and excellence? How about your parents and your community?
- Depending on the culture and area in the world, people see the moon’s shadow as something different. It makes Piper realize that a lot of things look different depending on your point of view. Can you think of an example in your life or an issue in the world where this applies?
- Why does Piper get mad at Tim about the science fair? Has this ever happened in your own life?
- Piper says her dad is like her North Star — do you have someone in your life that is that for you?
- Why is this book called Shine!? What do you think the message of this book is?
Activities to Dive Deeper into Shine!
A Capella Music: Piper’s dad leads an a capella music group. Listen to the different a capella groups listed below. Notice what you like and/or dislike. After you’ve listened to each group, vote to decide which is your favorite.
Random Acts of Kindness: Piper helps the incognito judges with their unfortunate accidents and other crises. Brainstorm a list of at least 10 ways to show kindness to others. Pick one random act of kindness you will do this week.
Community Service: Influenced by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Piper and her classmates help clean up the highway so there still will be spring and birds in the world, and then organize a Chumley Prep Social Awareness Club. Pick one of these sustainability activities to do with your book club.
Constellations: Piper says that the “Big Mama Bear is always showing the whole world how to, no pun intended, find its bearings.” Study the North Star, also called Polaris, then replicate it on your own piece of paper with stickers. Download this free constellation book, and then use gold stickers to make your own constellation.
Galaxy Cookies: Make and decorate star cookies either during your book club or before so you can eat them while you have the discussion.
Journal Writing: Answer the prompt that Piper’s teacher asked, “Who do you want to be?” Free write for 10 minutes with as many details as you can provide to answer this question. If you’re comfortable, share with the group.
Famous Quotes: Piper loves quotes from famous scientists, real and fictional. For example, Carl Sagan is quoted as saying, “Science confers power on anyone who learns it.” Also, Piper’s favorite (fictionalized) scientist Nellie DuMont Frisse says, “You are not the center of this or any other known universe” and “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Look through these inspirational quotes from scientists on Brainy Quote and find one that you like. Share it with the group and tell them why you like it.
What to Read Next
If you like Shine!, you’ll want to read these other heartwarming stories of friendship, self-discovery, science, and kindness.