Dueling in the Library, a guest post by Marc J. Gregson
After I told my students I was getting published, they badgered me with questions. And I vividly recall describing my book to them for the first time: “Think of The Hunger Games but throw it into the sky. A deadly competition where skyships must hunt giant sky serpents, and the ship with the most monster kills at the end of the tournament wins. But the problem is, all the people on the ships want to become Captain, and some will do anything—mutiny, or worse—to accomplish their goals.”
When I finished my description, one student said, “Whoa.”
In my classroom, getting questions about Sky’s End became a rather common experience. Many students were rather distraught to learn they’d have to wait until 2024 to read it!
One afternoon, a 6th grader came up to me with a notepad.
“Mr. Gregson,” she said, “can you tell me what those giant sky serpents look like from your book?”
I blinked at her, then grinned. “Well, they’re gigantic, steel-scaled monstrosities that soar through the sky. Think of a giant, flying snake. No limbs. Five-hundred-feet long, and vicious tempers. They’re not innocent creatures, either. They’re the aggressors.”
She smiled, jotted something down, stuffed her notepad into her backpack, and hurried to follow her classmates out as the bell rang. A few days later, she brought me something as a gift. My first fan art!
I was so excited that I immediately stuck it on the wall. Not long after that, other students started asking me questions about the creatures and ships of the Sky’s End. Then, their drawings came. The wild thing is many of the drawings came from before the cover was even done. And the wall that started with a single drawing, exploded into this:
With the Wall of Sky’s End growing, I knew the school was absolutely buzzing about my book. The school librarian started asking me to join the library during lunch as a visitor for her Brown Bag Book Clubs. The Brown Bag Book Club involves students bringing in their lunch and talking books.
“What would I talk about?” I asked a colleague later.
We looked at one another and laughed. Sure, yes, I should talk about my book. But how would I present my book in a fun way that’d be engaging? Well, I thought back to how I approach teaching. Speaking at kids for thirty minutes? Boring. That’s how you get misbehaviors. Students need engagement! Give them activities, lots of chances to respond, and maybe get them out of their seat and interact with one another.
So, how would I go about that and discuss Sky’s End?
Then, I got an idea.
I arrived at the library during lunch, and first, I discussed the meaning of the word “Meritocracy” with the students.
In Sky’s End people get ahead in life a little differently than we do. Sure, in the Skylands, you can do well in school, get a good job, make some money. But the difference is, in the Skylands, someone can take what you have from you in an instant. All they must do is beat you in a duel.
This led to an explanation of the social hierarchy in the Skylands.
The Hierarchy of the Skylands
Low -> Middle -> High -> Duke/Duchess -> Archduke/Archduchess -> King/Queen/Sovereign
Theoretically, a Low could rise all the way to Queen if she wanted to. She’d have to challenge a Middle, beat them, then a High then a Duke/Duchess and so forth. But she’d likely die well before she’d ever get to challenge for Queen. This is because the Lows are undernourished, have weaker dueling weapons, and probably don’t have formal training.
I knew the dueling system was the perfect way to engage the students. So, I called for volunteers. One to be the Low. One to be the Middle. One to be the High. I gave them each a paper labeled with their status and emphasized that they weren’t actually supposed to attack one another! Then I told a short story about the Low’s character. Their desperation to rise and feed their family. And somehow, miraculously, they managed to defeat the Middle. The Middle survived and fell to Low. The two students swapped papers. Then, I discussed with the library what would happen if you became a Middle: better food, more money, warmer home. Better training. Our former Low, now a Middle, could duel for High. This time, the duel, as they sometimes do, led to death. And I had the student with High status drop to the ground. The whole library laughed. And our former Low was now a High.
After I finished this demonstration, which really engaged the students, we discussed that the dueling system is unfair to those who are not built to duel. Or to those whose strength is their mind. But in the Skylands, you can also rise by entering the Selection. This is where the Twelve Trades can pick you. The problem is whichever Trade picks you has you for life. Have a strong distaste for Politics? Guess what? They might pick you.
Then, I told a story about how the Trades were coming to our school. And I chose 12 students to come up front. I printed out the Trades and had the students pick a paper with their eyes closed. Then, they’d hold up which Trade picked them. The library filled with laughs as some students got Selected by a Trade they had no interest in.
|Agriculture: To grow and manage the crops of the islands.|
|Architect: To design and construct ships, homes, and buildings for the islands|
|Art: To provide entertainment and artistic sensibilities to the islands|
|Disposal: To dispose and recycle the waste of the islands.|
|Explorer: To seek out new islands and discoveries|
|Hunter: To hunt the beasts that cause harm to the islands. Law: To provide justice and judgement|
|Mercantile: To provide structure for equitable trade and commerce to the islands|
|Order: To provide order, policing, protection, and structure to the islands.|
|Politics: To provide laws and guidelines of the islands|
|Scholar: To educate, heal, and philosophize|
|Waterworks: To provide clean water to the islands|
The students remained engaged during the entire visit. Many got to get up and participate. Some asked to be “re-Selected” and even when it was over, I had students who came up to me in my classroom and asked to be Selected and see what Trade they got.
Sky’s End is book one of a trilogy coming in January 2024. It is a YA fantasy blended with sci-fi. My publisher has called it “reminiscent of The Hunger Games and Attack on Titan.” And I can’t wait for people to read it.
Meet the author
Marc J Gregson attended the University of Utah, where he graduated cum laude and received his bachelor of arts in English teaching. Marc’s pursuit of learning has led him into the classroom, where he teaches middle school English. He believes in the power of words and that stories can unite people from all origins. Sky’s End is his first novel for teens.
Visit Marc Online:
Website – https://marcjgregson.com/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/mjg_write
TikTok – https://www.tiktok.com/@mjg_write
Twitter – https://twitter.com/MJG_Write
Visit Peachtree Teen Online:
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/peachtreeteen/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/peachtreeteen
About Sky’s End
Plummet into a kill-or-be-killed competition where a scrappy underdog hell-bent on revenge must claw his way to the top in this thrilling YA fantasy debut
Exiled to live as a Low, sixteen-year-old Conrad refuses to become heir to his murderous uncle. But Meritocracy is a harsh and unforgiving rule on the floating island of Holmstead, and when his ailing mother is killed by monstrous gorgantauns, Conrad cuts a deal to save the only family he has left. To rescue his sister from his uncle’s clutches, Conrad must enter the Selection of the Twelve Trades.
Hunter, the deadliest of all the Trades, gains a fresh recruit with Conrad. Now he must endure vigorous training, manipulative peers, and the Gauntlet—a brutal final test that yields riches and status to whichever skyship crew kills the most gorgantauns. Forced to serve in the lowest of stations and unseen by all, Conrad overhears whispers of rebellion in the dark. Conrad had never known anything existed below the toxic black clouds of the Skylands . . . until now.
Grab your copy of Book One of the Above the Black trilogy today! This fast-paced series is reminiscent of Attack on Titan and will appeal to fans of Pierce Brown. It’s a great pick for reluctant readers and those who love action-adventure.
Publisher: Peachtree Teen
Publication date: 01/02/2024
Series: Above the Black
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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