exclusive author notes - spoiler alert!
On this page, I give away information about how I wrote 10th Grade with My Interesting Interactions, My Terrific Travels, & Me. This includes sensitive information about the plot as a whole, so if you haven't read the book yet, PLEASE don't scroll any further down this page! Instead, buy the book on Amazon, read it, and then you'll be welcome to explore this page :)
stories behind the stories
I'm including Book 47, "America The Beautiful" here because it was originally going to be part of 10th Grade, but was separated into its own Kindle e-book due to length. On this page, you'll find scans of the original covers and notes about how I came up with the plots of Books 47-56.
Book 47: America The Beautiful
In 2011, when I was seventeen, my family took a cross country RV trip from our home in Nashua, New Hampshire, all the way to California and back again. We left on June 12 and returned on August 20—about ten weeks in all. It was an absolutely amazing experience.
I used the actual trip my family took as a baseline for Allisen’s. Of course, since our trip was longer, there were a few things that had to be cut out or condensed from a multiple day stay to a one-day visit. But I was actually able to include almost everything, eliminating the parts of the trip that wouldn’t be relevant to Allisen’s family, such as the relatives we visited in Ohio, Oregon, and Texas!
And some of the quirkier aspects of Allisen’s trip were taken directly from mine. Creepville, Missouri, for example—yep, that happened. The snowball fight in June—that was a good time. Breaking down at Devils Tower—aaaaa! It must be aliens! And then there was the most amazing, unbelievable part of the whole trip, which is something I’ll never forget—seeing whales in the Klamath River in California.
I’ve always tried really hard to preserve the realism of the series in regard to dates, but here I fudged it a little. The mama and baby whale were there when my family visited in 2011, and someone said it was a very rare occurrence; the last time it had happened was something like thirteen years ago. Since Allisen’s vacation takes place in 2009, the whales actually wouldn’t have been there. But I really, really, really wanted to include them, and hey, this is fiction anyway!
Book 48: Words Apart
I wrote the first draft of this book in 2015. But I had the title and plot for it ever since the summer of 2010.
That summer, a 10-year-old girl from Japan came to stay with our neighbors down the street. My brothers and I (ages 16, 13, and 8 at the time) were excited to meet her. We spent a lot of time with her, jumping on our trampoline, swinging on our rope swing, and teaching her some of the outdoor games we played with our neighborhood friends. And just like with Chunhua, it was amazing to see how much English this girl picked up in such a short amount of time. I remember finding it so cool when she asked me to tell her the story of how I’d gotten my dog, and I told her (much the way Allisen tells Chunhua) and she understood! And then the night before she left, after we all enjoyed a big Japanese meal at the neighbors’ house and an ice cream social at ours, she and my brothers and I were all playing with my old dollhouse up in my room. We were having the dolls do all sorts of crazy things, and it was so awesome that she was able to play so interactively and use so much English, when just a couple months ago she’d barely known how to say “hi.”
Chunhua is somewhat based on the girl from my neighborhood. I decided to have her be Chinese rather than Japanese because I actually know a little bit of Chinese, and I wanted to incorporate some words and know I was saying the right thing. The girl from my neighborhood was a big fan of Hannah Montana and the Disney Channel, and there was a day when she came over and asked me to teach her English. I also remember shortening “Ghost in the Graveyard” to “Ghostyard” for her. Oh, and her birthday occurred during the time that she was here, so we got to celebrate that with her.
It was a really fun time in my life, and I wanted to capture what it was like and have Allisen experience it too. Every time I read it I’m reminded of the girl who came to my neighborhood the summer of 2010, and the great friendship we formed despite the language barrier.
Book 49: Don't Bug Me, Buddy
When I was in college, I participated in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. I was matched with a “Little Sister” at Girls Inc, and went there a couple times a week to hang out with her. Just like Melissa, my Little Sister wanted me to come more frequently than was required, so I did, but not to the extent that Allisen did. And while we ran into a couple of the little hiccups that Allisen and Melissa did, our relationship was mostly very good. We had fun painting, hanging out with other Big and Little Sisters, playing board games, and going in the gym.
The “Are your friends pretty or are they like you?” comment was something that a girl actually said to me, but it wasn’t my Little Sister. It was a seven-year-old girl I was babysitting, and she was ticked off at me for not letting her do something she’d wanted to do earlier. I’m still not entirely sure whether she meant it how it came out or if she was using “pretty” to describe girls who are interested in fashion, makeup, etc., but judging by the fact that she pushed limits the entire time I was with her, it was probably the first one.
Book 50: Gotta Be Aware
This story is important to me, because there are a lot of people in my life who have various disorders and disabilities. I think it’s crucial for people to be informed about the conditions others may have, so that they can understand why people act the way they do.
I developed the character of Rushton because of someone close to me who has Tourette’s. The real person doesn’t have anywhere near as many tics as Rushton does, and in fact, most people don’t even know he has Tourette’s. But he does, and it affects him in ways that aren’t as readily noticed. I wanted to bring awareness to the condition, because it’s something that can be easily misunderstood and that a lot of people are misinformed about. I also wanted to bring someone onto the scene who could really be a positive role model for Ellie and help break her out of her shell some more.
When the real person was in high school, he was popular, friendly, and liked by just about everyone who knew him. That’s what I was going for when I created Rushton, except I wanted to give Rushton all the visible tics too, to give an example of someone who’s a little different but still super well-liked because of his personality. Rushton himself is not based on the real person, but the real person is where I got the idea for him.
I worked in a middle school special education program for three years, spending time with kids who had a range of differences—intellectual disabilities, autism, behavioral disorders, you name it. And it was always interesting to watch my students interact with the mainstream kids at lunch and during specials. I was happy to see that the kids who very obviously presented as having special needs were almost always treated kindly by their peers. However, that wasn’t the case for the kids whose disabilities weren’t as easily seen. Two of the eighth-grade boys I worked with were reading on the same kindergarten level, and while the one who “looked like” someone with a disability was always applauded for his efforts at sounding words out in class, the one who looked “normal” often received comments like, “You can’t even read?”
I believe that it is so, so important to educate people about the kinds of struggles others may be facing. A lot of behaviors can look really bizarre until you discover the reason behind them. Looking back, I wonder how many of the “bad kids” from my high school classes were struggling with some kind of behavioral disorder, or built-up frustration from an unrecognized learning disability, or stress and anger from the kind of home life I couldn’t even imagine. Knowing where someone is coming from is key to understanding why they do the things they do. And that’s what Allisen and her friends were trying to get people to realize through Awareness Day.
Book 51: More Than A Feeling
I’ve always loved the stories about a boy and girl who are best friends with each other and finally fall in love, usually after quite a while of pretending they’re not interested or trying to deny their feelings while literally every interaction between the two of them might as well be a glowing neon sign that says “WE LIKE EACH OTHER!!! A LOT!!!!” I just find that kind of thing adorable.
I knew Jack and Allisen would eventually become boyfriend and girlfriend since… well, I think since I first introduced Jack in Book 6, “Love, Love, Love.” There were a lot of cringeworthily obvious clues about Jack’s crush on Allisen in the first drafts of many of the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade books, and when I re-wrote for publication, I took all of them out because I wanted it to be a more subtle kind of obvious.
Back when I was writing the first drafts of the 7th grade books, I had it in my mind that Jack and Allisen would have their first kiss at the Valentine’s Day dance in eighth grade. By the time I started writing the 8th grade books, though, I decided that maybe eighth grade was too soon; maybe it should wait for ninth grade. Then I came up with the idea of Allisen having a crush on someone else, seeing him kiss a different girl, and being comforted by Jack in the study room afterwards. The kiss was going to take place there. I went over that scene in my mind so many times when it was still so far off in the distant future.
And then, at some point along the line, I realized that that would actually be super tactless, to kiss your crying friend right after she’s finished pouring her heart out to you about this other guy she had a crush on. So I decided they would kiss at the end-of-school dance instead. And I went over that scene over and over in my head.
It might have been as I was actually writing “A True Commitment”, or maybe a little bit before, that I realized I wasn’t actually ready for them to get together. I really like all those little awkward/cute moments where it’s painfully obvious to the reader that the two characters have a thing for each other, but the characters haven’t figured out what to do about it yet. I wanted to have more time to incorporate those kind of moments into Allisen and Jack’s story. So I decided to hold off on the kiss until November of tenth grade.
In a lot of books and movies, the kiss that everyone’s been waiting for comes close to the end, and it’s pretty much implied that they live happily ever after. But in real life, a first kiss doesn’t mean that everything’s perfect now. There’s still stuff to work through, including—and this is the part you hardly ever see in the media, which is why I like it—the whole figuring-out-what-our-relationship-means thing. I wanted to really explore that in Allisen's story, because I think it's realistic and relatable.
Book 52: Santa Claus Is Comin'
I’ve done Secret Santa numerous times—with my family, with my friends, and at various places I’ve worked. Most of the times I’ve done it, each Santa has only given their person one gift. However, at the place where I was working when I wrote this book, each Santa was expected to give their person three gifts, one per week, each with a small clue about their identity. I really liked that and decided to go with that model for the book. The mix-up wasn’t something that ever happened to me; I just thought it would be fun to incorporate into the plot!
Book 53: Straighten Up
This plotline comes directly from my own experiences! My front teeth had always been a bit crooked, and the older I got, the worse they became. Although my dad always said that I would need braces, the dentist never recommended them at any point in my childhood or teenage years. I was twenty by the time I started shopping around for orthodontists.
I based Allisen’s “consultation” experiences on my own, and although I was careful never to specify the name of the place Allisen ended up choosing, in my mind it was the same place I ended up choosing. Allisen’s experience with getting the 3D scans made, her difficulty in taking the trays out of her mouth the first time, and her painful adjustment to wearing the aligners all mimicked my own experiences. I had to speed up the process a little for the sake of the story—for me it was a couple months between my first consultation and the day I actually got my aligners. But I was faithful to the amount of time it took to get used to the feeling and to be able to speak correctly! I didn’t go on a ski trip with my friends, but I vividly remember what a nuisance it was to be on vacation, or out and about somewhere, and have to worry about brushing my teeth all the time.
Much earlier in the series, I’d had the idea that a future plot would revolve around Allisen getting braces. I decided to push it off for a while, because I always thought I would get braces, and I wanted to wait until I could speak from experience. That’s why I ended up having Allisen get aligners instead—so I could ensure accuracy.
Book 54: Shh! Don't Tell!
For a while, I’d had the vague idea of a plotline relating to secrets, but I didn’t know exactly how it would go or what the secrets would be. I knew I wanted several small, harmless secrets and one major, harmful one. I considered having Vee be the one with the big secret, but Books 43 and 45 had kind of already covered that, so I decided to have it be Melissa instead.
Melissa’s secret was NOT something that actually happened to my Little Sister; however, it is something that happens more often than we realize. Like Melissa, kids often don’t want to tell anyone that they’re being abused, because they’re afraid of making the problem worse. But telling a trusted adult is the right thing to do—it’s the path that will lead to actually putting an end to the situation.
Book 45: Stand Or Fall
Like the secrets plot, I’d had an idea for a rumor-related plot floating around my head for a while. In the first draft of this book, I tried to overload the plot with a bunch of different rumors, and it didn’t work out very well. For the final version, I decided to just focus on the rumors regarding Jack.
Over the years, I have actually grown to really like Vee as a character. Because she’s literally just such a mess—and that’s what makes her realistic. I don’t see Vee as a bad person; I see her as a sad, lonely, desperate girl who wants to be loved and accepted but deep down inside doesn’t really feel like she deserves anything good. She’s a walking contradiction who wants to break free of her old ways, but is scared to lose the people she considers her friends.
Book 46: A True Commitment
Of all the books in the Allisen’s Notebooks series, this might be the one that relates the most directly to my life. I took a mission trip to Nicaragua in 2016, and Allisen’s trip is almost an exact copy of mine, the only difference being the characters.
The trip I went on was through my church, and it was open to anyone in high school or older. There were ten “adults” (ranging in age from maybe thirty to seventy) and ten “kids” (including 22-year-old me, my 19-year-old brother, a 24-year-old guy, and seven high schoolers). We “kids” enjoyed staying up super late and hanging out in a big group, doing a lot of the things Allisen’s group does in the story.
Our days went pretty much exactly how Allisen’s days went. We taught a morning session and an afternoon session at the learning center, each time opening with reading, then splitting off into our four groups, and closing with songs. I was in the Exploration group, and we really did make up the “Egypt, Egypt” song and introduce a new verse every day! And the Recreation group really did teach the kids a dance with moves called Sphynx, Pyramid, Pharaoh, and Cleopatra. The dance lesson, the church service, the party, the hike, the trip to the black pottery cooperative and coffee farm—all of that actually happened. Nicaragua was even actually experiencing a drought when we went!
Although I never specified what part of Nicaragua Allisen and her friends were working in, I pictured it being Jinotega, which is where my group worked. Everywhere they went can be mapped to a real place (The mountain with 998 steps and a huge iron cross on the top is called Peña de la Cruz). My reason for not using specific names of places was twofold. First of all, the learning center is an actual, specific place, with actual, specific kids who go there. Although the fictional kids as a whole are based on the real kids as a whole (we were so impressed by their English, their desire to learn, and their knowledge of other countries, particularly the United States), none of the individual fictional children represent any of the individual children we interacted with. Secondly, as I’ve said before, I like to keep the Allisen’s Notebooks series as historically accurate as possible. Book 56 takes place in 2010. The learning center I volunteered at didn’t even exist until 2012.
That is also why I created a fictional organization for Allisen and her friends to work with. The organization my group was working through is called Outreach360. Mission Possible is heavily based on Outreach360, and, as I mention in my Author’s Note in the book, I highly recommend volunteering with them if you get the chance.