The Key to Extraordinary

The Key to Extraordinary
by Natalie Lloyd

Readers Theater

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Related Activities & Resources

Informational Resources

Author Information:

Meet Natalie Lloyd:

Natalie’s Blog:

Interview with Natalie:

Activities & Resources:



Start a journal of your own:

Ask your parents and family members for old family stories. Write these stories down and create your own book of days.

Learn about the history of your local cemetery.  Are there any famous people interred there? How does it represent your community?

Ask about how you got your name? Is it a family name? Why were you named this name? Some of the characters are named for colors. Do you think these names are significant?

Many cultures believe in destiny and in dreams. Learn about dreams. Keep a dream journal to record what you dream about.

Provide some potting soil, black-eyed Susan seeds and small paper cups. Have the children plant some Blackeyed Susans.

Compose your own poem, giving clues to a treasure of your choosing.


History of locks and keys:

Learn about the Underground Railroad. What was it? How did it work? Map out a few of the routes used.

Granny Blue was a boxer. Read about some female boxers and the history of boxing.

One of Emma’s ancestors was a suffragette. Learn about the women’s suffrage movement. Design and create posters and ribbons supporting the cause.

Another one of Emma’s ancestors was a spy in the Revolutionary War. Did women really spy for the colonies? Do some research on women in the Revolutionary War.

Spies, women, and war:

Land surveys:

Flowers and plants:

Flowers represent different things. Learn about what daisies, roses, violets and other flowers represent:

Learn and create a basic bouquet of flowers. You’ll need some flowers, a vase and your imagination:


Animals sensing disasters:

Animals and danger:


Have you ever eaten a fried banana sandwich? Or some muffins? With an adult, make one and try it:

Recipes for children:

Apple muffins:

Pumpkins muffins:

Blueberry muffins:

MakerSpace Activities:

How to press flowers:

Using shoeboxes, create a keepsake box. You may want to do some decoupage with old magazine pictures or scrapbook paper.

Using an old shoebox, or paper towel tubes, design and create a time capsule. What things would you include in it?

Discussion Questions:

What do you think it would be like to live near a cemetery? Do you think you’d like living near one? Why or why not?

What does it mean to be extraordinary? What does it mean to do something extraordinary?

Why do you think it’s so important to Emma to not let her mother down? How would you feel in this situation? Do you think she could let her mother down?

Emma gives tours of the graveyard. Is this something you would like to do? Why or why not? Have you ever taken a graveyard tour? If so, what was it like?

Lola Daniels writes that her mother says “a family is a family no matter how it’s stitched together.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

Mama says, “fear is just a flashlight that helps you find your courage.” What do you think this means? Do you agree? Why or why not?

Granny Blue ripped her page out of the Book of Days. Why do you think she did that? If you were in her place, what would you have done?

Ghosts appear throughout the novel. Do you believe in ghosts? Can ghosts be memories of things we haven’t let go? Can they influence us? Can one be haunted by one’s past? Why or why not?

Emma has been anxiously awaiting her Destiny Dream and when it finally happens how does she feel? How do you think you’d feel? Do you think she felt a bit let down? Disappointed?

Emma describes something she calls “the touch”. What do you think the touch is? Have you experienced something like it?

Periwinkle is a blueish-purplish color and it’s the name of a flower. Why do you think it’s Uncle Periwinkle’s name? Would you like a name like that? Why or why not?

What’s a thicket? Can woods really be a “wailing woods?” Have you ever seen a thicket? What do you imagine one would be like?

According to legend, lots of people went looking for the Conductor’s treasure and wound up lost, never to return. Why does Emma think she’s different? Do you think she’s brave to go searching for the treasure? What would you do?

Is there any symbolism in all the flowers mentioned throughout the story? Periwinkle, daisies, gypsy rose, violets and white daisies are mentioned. How do these flowers contribute to the story?

Emma’s mother said there are sacred places in the world, and that some of these places don’t have walls, but you get a special feeling being there. Have you ever experienced a place like this? Where were you? How did you feel?

Daphne Prescott wrote of her Destiny Dream and she says one is never too old to be daring. Have you ever known someone who was daring? What do you think to be daring means?

We learn from Rachel Miller that sometimes doing the right thing leaves scars. What do you think she meant by this? Should we always try to do the right thing? Can doing the right thing cause bad things to happen? Have you ever had to choose to do the right thing? Was it hard?

Can one be a hero and be afraid? Why or why not?

What was extraordinary to Granny Blue was her family. To the conductor, the runaway slaves were treasure. Are families and people treasures? Why or why not? Do you have journals or diaries from your ancestors? Would you like to begin keeping a journal?

Do you think Emma and Granny Blue extraordinary? Why or why not? What about the other members of the community, are they extraordinary? Why or why not?

Book Talk Teasers:

Scholastic book talk (video 1:02):

Read Alikes:


Kerley, Barbara. Those rebels. A dual portrait of two American founding fathers shares introductions to the many ways they helped a young United States in spite of their disparate views, tracing how they overcame interpersonal differences at key points in the nation’s early history. (NoveList)

Manning, Mick. Charles Dickens: scenes from an extraordinary life. This picture book vividly dramatizes Dickens’ life, beginning with his birth in Portsmouth and early childhood near the docks in Chatham, and follows the young Charles through the hardship of working in a blacking factory at the age of 10 to his years at school and his early career as a reporter. Key incidents that inspired the later novels are described, and his marriage, family life, dramatic readings and tours of the USA are included. (NoveList)


Newman, Leslea. The cat who composed. Composer Moshe Cotel adopts a six-toed, black-and-white kitten whom he calls Ketzel, and when he needs a piece to enter in a contest for music less than a minute long, it is Ketzel who provides the solution. (NoveList)

Park, Linda Sue. Archer’s quest. Twelve-year-old Kevin Kim helps Chu-mong, a legendary king of ancient Korea, return to his own time. (NoveList)

Riordan, Rick. The son of Neptune. Demigod Percy Jackson, still with no memory, and his new friends from Camp Jupiter, Hazel and Frank, go on a quest to free Death, but their bigger task is to unite the Greek and Roman camps so that the Prophecy of Seven can be fulfilled. Series: Heroes of Olympus, 2  (NoveList)

Trevayne, Emma. The accidental afterlife of Thomas Marsden. At age twelve, grave robber Thomas Marsden discovers a boy who looks just like him in an unmarked grave and begins a journey of discovery as he learns of faeries trapped in London and their hope that he can return them to their realm. (NoveList)

Wilson, Nathan D. The dragon’s tooth. After a mysterious, violent incident that results in the kidnapping of their older brother, Cyrus and Antigone Smith discover that they’re now part of the Order of Brendan, a secret society for explorers. The siblings head to the Order’s headquarters in Ashtown in search of answers, but instead they encounter immortal enemies, mythological creatures, magical artifacts, and shocking family secrets. — Description by Rebecca Honeycutt. (NoveList)

Yolen, Jane. A plague of unicorns. James, an earl’s son and bothersome child, may hold the key to saving Cranford Abbey, a dilapidated school where he is sent to be educated, that newly-appointed Abbot Aelian thinks can be saved if he can make cider from the golden apples now being eaten by ravenous unicorns. (NoveList)


Cheaney, J. B. Somebody on this bus is going to be famous. During a torrential rainstorm, a school bus goes off the road and, with the driver unconscious, it is up to her passengers to try to rescue each other and go for help. (NoveList)

Donaldson, Julia. Tabby McTat, the musical cat. Fred the street musician and his cat are “purr-fectly” happy, singing together all day long, until Fred gives chase to a thief and the two become separated. (NoveList)

Little, Kimberley Griffiths. When the butterflies came. Tara Doucet is grieving for her grandmother, and her family is falling apart around her, but it seems like her grandmother has pre planned an elaborate itinerary for her to follow which will lead her and her sister Riley from Louisiana to a South Pacific island and into danger–and everywhere she turns butterflies follow. (NoveList)

Luna, Kai. The theory of everything. When fourteen-year-old Sophie Sophia journeys to New York with a scientific boy genius, a Kerouac-loving bookworm, and a giant shaman panda guide, she discovers more about her visions, string theory, and a father who could be the key to an extraordinary life. (NoveList)

Walters, Eric. The rule of thre3. When a viral catastrophe causes a global technological shut down, 16 year old Adam realizes that his police captain mother and a retired government spy living next door are key to his survival.

Series: Rule of three trilogy, 1 (NoveList)

Historical Fiction:

Anderson, M. T. The astonishing life of Octavian Nothing, traitor to the nation: the pox party. At the dawn of the Revolutionary War, young Octavian is raised in highly unusual circumstances at the Novanglian College of Lucidity. Though the scholars give him a first-rate education, they also monitor him closely…too closely. As he grows older, Octavian learns the horrifying truth of his situation, and that truth leads him to question his understanding of himself and the Revolution: if the Patriots can fight for their freedom, why can’t he fight for his? — Description by Rebecca Honeycutt. (NoveList)

Malouf, Juman. The trilogy of two. Pursued by ominous Enforcers, identical twins Sonja and Charlotte, musical prodigies with extraordinary powers, must embark on a perilous journey through enchanted lands in hopes of unlocking the secrets of their mysterious past. (NoveList)

McCully, Emily Arnold. Wonder horse: the true story of the world’s smartest horse.  A fictionalized account of Bill “Doc” Key, a former slave who became a veterinarian, trained his horse, Jim Key, to recognize letters and numbers and to perform in skits around the country, and moved the nation toward a belief in treating animals humanely. Includes an author’s note. (NoveList)


Stewart, Trenton Lee. The extraordinary education of Nicholas Benedict. Nine-year-old Nicholas Benedict, an orphan afflicted with an unfortunate nose and with narcolepsy, is sent to a new orphanage where he encounters vicious bullies, selfish adults, strange circumstances, and a mystery that could change his life forever. Series: Mysterious Benedict Society, Prequel  (NoveList)


Sandler, Martin W. The impossible rescue.  Traces the 1897 survival tale of hundreds of sailors whose whaling ships were trapped in Arctic ice off the coast of Alaska by unexpected storms, in an account that chronicles the efforts of three rescuers dispatched by President McKinley. (NoveList)

Realistic fiction:

Blackwood, Gary L. Curiosity. In 1835, when his father is put in a Philadelphia debtor’s prison, twelve-year-old chess prodigy Rufus Goodspeed is relieved to be recruited to secretly operate a chess-playing automaton named The Turk, but soon questions the fate of his predecessors and his own safety. (NoveList)

Darnton, Kate. Chloe in India. “Though they’re divided by class, language, appearance–you name it–Chloe and Lakshmi have a lot in common. Both girls are new to Class Five at Premium Academy in New Delhi, India, and neither seems to fit in. But they soon discover how extraordinary an ordinary friendship can be and how celebrating our individuality can change the world”–. (NoveList)

Henkes, Kevin. The year of Billy Miller. Seven-year-old Billy Miller starts second grade with a bump on his head and a lot of worries, but by the end of the year he has developed good relationships with his teacher, his little sister, and his parents and learned many important lessons. (NoveList)

Reedy, Trent. Words in the dust.  Zulaikha, a thirteen-year-old girl in Afghanistan, faces a series of frightening but exhilarating changes in her life as she defies her father and secretly meets with an old woman who teaches her to read, her older sister gets married, and American troops offer her surgery to fix her disfiguring cleft lip. (NoveList)

Book Reviews:

Horn Book

Lloyd, Natalie The Key to Extraordinary.  233 pp. Scholastic 2016. ISBN 978-0-545-55274-5
(3) 4–6 Emma, whose family runs a café adjacent to an ancient graveyard, knows her Destiny Dream will illuminate her life’s path, but will the dream spell greatness? As Emma mourns her mother, her dream leads to buried treasure and a fight for her family’s home, with mountain magic guiding the way. Soulful characters take the lead in this fanciful tale of family and friendship.  From the Fall 2016 issue of The Horn Book Guide.                                  Reprinted from The Horn Book Guide by permission of The Horn Book, Inc.,

School Library Journal          

LLOYD, Natalie. The Key to Extraordinary. 240p. Scholastic. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545552745; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545552752.

Gr 3-6 –A young girl from a long line of special women fights to save her home. Emma, like all of the women in her family, is a Wildflower. Each woman is destined to live an extraordinary life, experiencing a Destiny Dream that reveals her unique path. Shortly after the death of her ex-rocker mom, Emma feels a deep emptiness, but she consoles herself by helping out in the Boneyard Cafe, the family business situated on the edge of a cemetery, and giving tours of the cemetery to tourists. The café has fallen on hard times, and when it looks like Granny Blue, her tough, tattooed, ex-boxer grandmother, might sell the place to a developer, Emma looks for answers within the local folklore about a hidden treasure and a ghost. When she finally has her own Destiny Dream, it seems to point to the treasure, but the clues are frustratingly vague. With the help of a small cast of quirky characters and magical flora, Emma finds her true destiny and eases her troubles through the journey. The prose is bubbly and light, with a cheerful, optimistic tone despite some of the seemingly darker elements. Though not as multilayered as Ingrid Law’s Savvy (Dial, 2008), this novel will be appreciated by younger middle grade readers who enjoy mysteries with an ample dose of magic and whimsy. VERDICT Fans of Lloyd’s first book, A Snicker of Magic (Scholastic, 2015), will be pleased with this frothy, pleasant tale.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal.  Reprinted with permission from School Library Journal,  Copyright 2016.

Booklist (May 1, 2016 (Online))       

The Key to Extraordinary.  Lloyd, Natalie (author).  Feb. 2016. 240p. Scholastic, hardcover, $16.99 (9780545552745); Scholastic, e-book, $16.99 (9780545552752). Grades 4-7. REVIEW. First published April 1, 2016 (Booklist Online).

Ghosts and magic weave through this warmly sentimental tale of small-town life. News that Granny Blue is thinking of selling the declining Boneyard Café to a developer is hard on 12- year-old force of nature Emma Pearl. Spurred to action, she searches the nearby cemetery for a fabled treasure said to be guarded by a ghost known as “the Conductor.” The plot plays second fiddle to a cast full of lovable, mildly eccentric locals, and to the setting itself: Blackbird Hollow is a Tennessee town where strange flowers bloom year round, ghosts exist, and Emma’s ancestors have left her a strange legacy. Emma makes homey observations about friends and neighbors, longs to save the café, and yearns for the life-changing “Destiny Dream” that comes to all the women in her family, and the result is a narrative as rich and sweet as the café’s own peach-lavender muffins. A climactic whirlwind leads to a triumphant close, but one character’s observation that “Everything wonderful is possible” is the tale’s true touchstone.— John Peters (Used with the permission of Booklist)