The Unwanteds Quests #1: Dragon Captives—Available Now!


About the Book

Alex knows that when he turns thirteen, he’ll be officially categorized as a Wanted, a Necessary, or an Unwanted. And since he’s been caught showing a creative skill, he dreads the inevitable—being labeled an Unwanted and sent to his death along with the other Unwanted children from the grim country of Quill because they have broken the law by drawing, singing, or writing. But instead of dying, Alex and the other children find themselves in the secret haven of Artimé, a joyful place where people celebrate the arts and practice magic. He and his new friends revel in their music, art, drama, and writing classes, and their newfound freedom. But the ominous shadow of neighboring Quill still hangs over them—especially when Alex secretly tries to convince his twin brother, a rising star in Quill’s tyrannical government, to join him in Artimé

Prereading Question

Why do the arts, such as music, visual art, drama, and writing, matter? What would our society be like without them? What
would your life be like without them?


The following questions contained in this section particularly address the following Common Core State Standards: (RL.4–
7.1, 2) (RL.5.5)

1. Describe the worlds of Quill and Artimé. How are they different? Do they have anything in common? Which one comes across as a better place? How can you tell? Give specific details and find specific words that describe each.

2. Look at the book’s structure in terms of how the settings of Quill and Artimé are developed. Does each chapter focus on just one of the two settings? Or do some chapters include both? Do you learn about Quill in the chapters set in Artimé? Look at the structure also in terms of how the characters of Alex and Aaron are developed.

3. The arts are at the heart of life in Artimé. Find details about the role that arts play there. How are the arts used in Artimé as weapons for fighting Quill? Are there ways that the arts are powerful in our society?

4. Quill is said to be a world that discourages creativity. Yet Aaron is working hard to solve problems about poor food and lack of water. Can this be considered creative? What other areas in life show creativity besides art, drama, music, and writing?


The following questions contained in this section particularly address the following Common Core State Standards: (RL.4– 7.1, 3) (RL.5–7.6)

1. Quill has three categories of thirteen-year-olds: Wanteds, Necessaries, and Unwanteds. The Wanteds and Necessaries go on to become adults in Quill. Find details about different roles of the Wanteds and Necessaries in Quill society. Why do the Necessaries accept their roles? Why do they let their children be removed? What would the Necessaries think of Artimé if they knew about it? Give specific details to back up your thoughts.

2. What does it mean to be an Unwanted? How does it make each of the four children—Alex, Lani, Meghan, and Samheed—feel? How does each of them deal with those feelings? Give examples about each of the four children, considering their similarities and differences.

3. Alex, Lani, Meghan, and Samheed become friends in Artimé. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each one? In what ways is each one creative? Do their special areas of creativity reflect their personalities? If so, how? Find specific details to support your views.

4. How does being in Artimé change each of the four newcomers? Give specific examples. How do their relationships with one another change? What incidents in the plot affect the characters and their relationships? For example, Lani starts teasing Alex. Why does she do that? How does it affect their friendship?

5. Samheed feels the most divided between the two worlds. How does this show in his actions? Why does he feel that way? Why does he eventually change his mind about where his loyalty lies? Cite specific examples.

6. Twins play an important role in this book. How do Alex and Mr. Today represent Artimé? How do Aaron and Justine represent Quill? What does Alex have in common with Aaron? How are they different? What does Mr. Today have in common with Justine? How are they different?

7. Although Alex’s and Meghan’s parents play minor roles, Lani’s father, Haluki, turns out to be important. What clues in the text foreshadow that Haluki is working with Mr. Today? Give details about his role.

8. Describe the narrator’s point of view in this novel. Besides describing events, does the narrator reveal the characters’ emotions and thoughts? If so, which characters? How does this point of view influence your understanding of the characters and events?


The following questions contained in this section particularly address the following Common Core State Standards: (RL.4.9) (RL.6–7.3)

1. Summarize how the battle between Artimé and Quill unfolds in a series of episodes. How do the four children respond to the fighting? How have they changed throughout the story to be prepared for their role in the fight?

2. In a school play rehearsal, Alex plays the role of Perseus fighting Medusa, a story from Greek mythology. What details are mentioned in the book? Find the myth and read it. Are there parallels between Alex and Perseus? If so, when do they occur in the novel?


The following questions contained in this section particularly address the following Common Core State Standards: (RL.4–7.1, 2)

1. Secrecy is a theme throughout The Unwanteds. Make a list of the secrets that different characters are keeping and why they’ve chosen secrecy. Would the outcome have been different for some of the characters if they’d known the truth? For example, Lani doesn’t understand her father’s role, Alex doesn’t confide in anyone about his hopes for Aaron, and Mr. Today doesn’t tell the children about his relationship to Justine or Claire.

2. Mr. Today says of Justine, “Her power is the fear she instills in people. She hides behind the palace so that Quill can’t see that she is afraid too.” Fear is a pervasive part of life in Quill; give details that show this. How does fear affect Alex and his friends in Artimé during the fighting? Describe what you think the future of Quill might be without the people’s fear of Justine and the government.

3. Mr. Today talks about not punishing anyone for their thoughts, only for their actions. Read the First Amendment to the US Constitution and discuss how it relates to Mr. Today’s ideas. Do you think Mr. Today makes the right decision? Why or why not?

4. Mr. Today decides to open the gates permanently between the two worlds. What is the symbolic role of the gates? How does he justify opening them? What are the arguments against doing it? Do you think he makes the right decision?

Use of Language

The following questions contained in this section particularly address the following Common Core State Standards: (RL.4–7.4)

1. Have students make note of unfamiliar words as they read, first trying to understand them from clues in the text. A second step would be to look the word up in a dictionary. Here are some words that may be unfamiliar:

• dispersed
• insubordination
• infraction
• disembark
• pungent
• queue
• emanating
• jeopardize
• egregious
• perpetual
• resigned
• biannual
• veer
• extinguished
• enticing
• arsenal
• cheekily
• brusquely
• remorse

2. Although McMann emphasizes dialogue and plot, she occasionally uses figurative language.

• “bland looks of sleeping fish on their faces”
• “his heart fell like a cement block”
• “pealed like a pleasant-sounding bell”
• “a prune of a woman”
• “to run Quill like a puppet show”
• “like a flouncy skirt”
• “Aaron’s face looked like a troubled sea”
• “like a swarm of bees was trapped inside his head”
• “watched Aaron like a dog watches a gopher hole”
• “like an empty paper cup”


Artimé Creatures: Artimé has creatures which combine two animals in their names and features. Have students find them in the novel. They include the following:

• Rabbitkeys—rabbit and monkey
• Squirrelicorns—squirrel and unicorn
• Owlbats—owl and bat
• Beavops—beaver and opossum
• Girrinos—giraffes and rhinos

Have students, alone or in small groups, brainstorm a creature that combines two other creatures. They should consider how it might look, sound, and move. Then have them write a four-line rhyming verse about the creature modeled on Mr. Appleblossom’s rhymes in The Unwanteds. After they’ve written the verse, have them draw a picture or create a painting of
the creature and incorporate the verse in the artwork. Create a wall or bulletin board that’s an Artimé menagerie.

School Brochure: The Artimé that Alex and his friends experience is very much like a boarding school. At the end of the novel, children from Quill may have a choice of going there, too. Have students (alone or in small groups) design a brochure with text that describes the school, its classes, and its grounds. Have them draw or paint pictures to illustrate the brochure. Word processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, have brochure templates as does NCTE’s ReadWriteThink website. Text and images can be uploaded, and the brochure printed out.

About the Book

With so many things gone wrong, Alex needs all the help he can get to restore the magic on Artimé and rescue his friends, Lani and Samheed, from the dangerous Island of Silence. Help comes from unexpected people, including the two mysterious Silent siblings and a blustering ship’s captain named Ahab. Alex gains strength and confidence as a leader, even when his plans flounder and their ship goes off course. Meanwhile, tension mounts as Lani and Samheed, enslaved on Warbler, fight to survive, and Alex’s brother, Aaron, gains support in Quill but faces unexpected threats from his own allies.

Prereading Question

How could you communicate if you and your friends suddenly couldn’t speak or write? What problems would it cause? Are there times that not speaking is a good thing?


The following questions contained in this section particularly address the following Common Core State Standards: (RL.4–7.1) (RL.5.5) (RL.6.3)

1. Mr. Today was originally from Warbler, the Island of Silence. He describes it as being “quite a paradise” when he left. Compare life in Artimé when it has magic to life on Warbler under Queen Eagala. Compare life in Artimé when it doesn’t have magic to life on Warbler.

2. How are workers treated on Warbler? Consider whether there are parallels between their treatment and how slaves were treated in the US before the Civil War. For example, slaves usually weren’t allowed to talk with each other while working. What are some other similarities? What are some differences?

3. How does the treatment of workers on Warbler compare to how the Necessaries were traditionally treated in Quill? How did the treatment of the Necessaries compare to slavery in the US?

4. While most of the chapters follow Alex, some chapters focus on subplots about Lani and Samheed, and about Aaron. How does the author structure the novel to tell all those stories? How does she create suspense about them?


The following questions contained in this section particularly address the following Common Core State Standards: (RL.4– 7.1, 3) (RL.4.4)

1. Sky and Crow, known at first as the Silent girl and boy, start to become part of the Artimé community. Describe the ways in which each of them is helpful. Describe some of the ways they change from the beginning of the book to the end.

2. With Lani gone, Alex starts spending more time with Sky. How do their feelings for each other change? What obstacles are there to the two of them becoming close? How does Alex feel about their relationship?

3. Meanwhile, Lani and Samheed are becoming close. In what ways do they become important to each other? Explain how their experiences in the cave and afterward contribute to their changing relationship.

4. A third relationship in the plot is the one between Claire and Liam. How did they know each other in the past? How do they treat each other now? How does Claire feel about Liam after her rescue?

5. Captain Ahab is a character from the classic American novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. In Moby-Dick, Ahab is obsessed with a whale and is seeking revenge against it. What role does the captain play in the rescue? Describe the whale he’s chasing and its role in the plot. Why do you think the author included these references to Moby-Dick?

6. Simber and Alex have become good friends. Describe Simber’s background and character, including his strengths and limitations. What makes Simber important to Alex? What makes him important to Artimé?


The following questions contained in this section particularly address the following Common Core State Standards: (RL.4–7.1) (RL.4.3)

1. With help from others, Alex slowly figures out the spell to restore Artimé. Describe the steps he takes in the process. Who helps him and how do they help? What problems does saying the spell solve? What problems remain?

2. The book includes several rescues, including those of Haluki, Claire, Lani, and Samheed, and the people in the Museum. Describe the rescues and the role that they play in the plot. What do they show about Alex’s character?

3. The rogue ship leads Alex and his friends to Pirate Island, even though they don’t want to go there. How does the detour affect the plot? Sky sees her mother and communicates with her. How does this relate to the secret plan Sky has near the end of the book?

4. Describe in detail Alex’s plan for rescuing Lani and Samheed. What roles are assigned to the different people and creatures? How are they going to communicate? How well does the plan work?

5. The last four chapters, starting with “Back to Normal,” bring the book to a close. What has returned to normal? What is now different than it was before the trip to Pirate and Warbler Islands? What hints are there about the future?


The following questions contained in this section particularly address the following Common Core State Standards: (RL.4– 7.1, 2, 4) (RL.4.3)

1. One of the main themes in this novel is the power of silence. Reread the excerpt from the handbook for workers. It says that the thorns are for the workers’ protection and that they “remove the burden of speech.” Discuss this document and the role silence plays in the politics on Warbler. Why was silence instituted among the workers? How is speaking used as
a reward?

2. Even though Warbler is referred to as the Island of Silence, people do communicate there through sign language. Describe the different uses of sign language and gestures in this book, including the gesture in Artimé to show loyalty. How does the sign language Lani and Samheed create help them? Consider everyday gestures that you use to communicate, such as a shrug or nod. Compare them to sign language. What are the similarities and differences?

3. Leadership is another major theme in the book. Alex gains confidence in his ability as a leader, but he is sure that being a leader will limit his life and relationships. What does he think those limits will be? Why does he think that? What changes his mind? Discuss how being the leader of a community or country, especially one that’s in danger, might affect
other aspects of the leader’s life.


The following questions contained in this section particularly address the following Common Core State Standards: (RL.4–7.1, 4)

1. The author has a playful approach to last names in this series. Make note of some of the unusual last names, such as Today and Rattrap. What does each name suggest about the person? Why does Carina change her last name? Why do you think she chose the new name Holiday?

2. Related to the theme of silence is the theme throughout the series of the power of spoken words. The spell to restore magic in Artimé turns out to be these words spoken in this order: “Imagine. Believe. Whisper. Breathe. Commence.” Discuss why these are the words of the spell and why they are in this order. How do they relate to building and rebuilding
Artimé? Why are words considered powerful?


Favorite Character Cube

Have students choose a character from the book and create a six-sided cube with pictures and information about the character. NCTE’s ReadWriteThink website has a tool called Cube Creator (

You can print it out to get a blank template by initiating the process of creating a cube and putting in a general name, such as “Ms. Smith’s Class.” Without adding other information, press Finish and then Print. This will give you the blank template. Or you could have students use the Cube Creator online. Have them put in brief text for each side of the cube, such as a character trait or an action the character took. The students can
then print the cube out and add pictures. Make a display of all the finished cubes. Create an Island Have students consider the islands in the book. It seems likely Alex and his friends will explore more islands. Have students work alone, in pairs, or in small groups and come up with their own island. They should brainstorm its geography, animals, flora, and inhabitants. What is the housing like? The government? And so on. Then have them name the island and create a travel poster for it that includes artwork and description. This could be done on poster board or using an online poster tool such as Glogster, which has teacher accounts for use with classrooms (