A self-proclaimed bookworm, Roseanne Cheng has always loved to read, yet she never saw herself as an author. “Writing has always been my dream,” Cheng says. She graduated with an English degree from Sacramento State University, then spent a few years in the business world, where she met her future husband, Larry. But Cheng would soon return to college to earn an education degree. When Larry’s employer offered him a position in Minnesota, the couple moved to the Midwest and Cheng accepted a teaching position at Chaska High School. The job provided the initial spark for Cheng to write her first novel, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High. In Cheng’s fictional world of Lincoln Junior High, she explores what would happen if a huge company came in with a whole lot of money in exchange for advertising space. “I really wanted to explore how we solve problems in schools,” Cheng says.
Cheng didn’t immediately begin writing the story. She took a hiatus from teaching to have her first child and began to sit with her characters and wrap her mind around the narrative. It wasn’t until she found herself with a little spare time, during naptime, that Cheng first sat down to write. “I thought to myself, ‘I can either watch Real Housewives on TV, or write,” she says with a laugh.
In the story, a sixth-grader named Andrew experiences an internal conflict wavering between excitement and skepticism. Andrew starts out in favor of the corporate sponsorship program that funds the band, school plays and the school newspaper, all activities he’s involved in. But as the book progresses, so do Andrew’s opinions. The climax of the story occurs when Andrew must debate the program in class. “I thought the book would resonate well with kids because they would like the story, and also with adults because it is one that they would want to read with their kids and talk about,” Cheng says. She also decided to include a chapter-by-chapter teaching guide with questions and writing prompts. Cheng says, “I kept thinking, ‘I want it to be a book that I would want to teach.’ ” She believes this story lends itself well to the classroom.
Others agree. Seventh-grade teacher Christin Carlson and 10 of her students at Rosemount Middle School read The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High before it was published and offered suggestions. Carlson says her students related to Andrew’s struggles and debated a similar program. “The theme and the message of having corporate sponsorships provide funding is a very relevant theme today,” Carlson says.
Kristin Cayo, fifth-grade teacher at Forest Hills elementary school in Eden Prairie, agrees with Carlson. “We really like books that have social situations that students can relate to,” she says. Cayo read the book to her students as a daily activity. “It has great life lessons and applications,” Cayo says. Cheng set out to tell a teachable tale that resonates and sparks discussion among middle school students. Mission accomplished.
The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High is available on amazon.com or at Magers & Quinn Booksellers. 3038 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.822.4611.