When You Reach Me

Written by: Rebecca Stead

For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about When You Reach Me and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!


Twelve-year-old Miranda, a latchkey kid whose single mother is a law school dropout, narrates this complex novel, a work of science fiction grounded in the nitty-gritty of Manhattan life in the late 1970s. Miranda’s story is set in motion by the appearance of cryptic notes that suggest that someone is watching her and that they know things about her life that have not yet happened. She’s especially freaked out by one that reads: “I’m coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” Over the course of her sixth-grade year, Miranda details three distinct plot threads: her mother’s upcoming appearance on The $20,000 Pyramid; the sudden rupture of Miranda’s lifelong friendship with neighbor Sal; and the unsettling appearance of a deranged homeless person dubbed “the laughing man.” Eventually and improbably, these strands converge to form a thought-provoking whole. (Publishers Weekly)

Pre-Reading Activities

K-W-L Chart

Create a K-W-L Chart and have your child fill in the first two columns with information that s/he knows and wants to find out about the story.

What I Know

In the "What I Know" section, let him/her answer questions like, "What is a mystery? What is a clue? What are some other mysteries that you've read in the past? Did you like them? Have you ever read "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeline L'Engle? If so, did you like it?"

What I Want to Know

Include questions like, "Who is leaving Miranda notes? Why is she the one being contacted? Who is the "laughing man"? What will happen when Miranda's mother is on 'The $20,000 Pyramid'?"

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Timeline of Clues

Make a chart that will allow your child to keep track of the clues that s/he finds throughout the book. Start by folding a sheet of paper in half. On one side, write “Clues,” and on the other write, “Based on this clue, I think…” Your child can jot down notes about clues and conclusions as s/he goes. At the end of the story, look back over this timeline of clues. Were your child’s predictions or assumptions correct? Why or why not? 

Discussion Questions

  1. Who was the narrator of the story? From what point of view does she tell the story?
  2. What was your favorite part of the book? Why?
  3. If you could talk with one of the characters in real life, who would it be and what questions would you ask?
  4. How would you describe Miranda in the beginning of the book? What about at the end?
  5. Why do you think the author put the story's scenes out of chronological order? What clues helped you realize that they were out of order?
  6. What was Miranda and Sal's friendship like? When did their friendship start changing? Was it really the day Sal was punched? Why or why not?
  7. What obstacles does Miranda face in this story? How does she overcome them in the end?
  8. Why do you think Rebecca Stead wrote When You Reach Me? What message do you think she was trying to get across? Check out this interview with Rebecca Stead for information on what inspired her story. 
  9. STEM Extension: One of Miranda's assignments in the story is to create a scale model of a city block. Explain to your child that a scale model is a representation of an object that is built either larger or smaller than the original. For example, a toy train set or a miniature village is a scale model. Invite your child to create a scale model of their own. S/he may base it on Miranda’s neighborhood, which is described in the book. Or, your child could create scale models of buildings in your own neighborhood to display at home, or even at your local library. (Junior Library Guild)

Above all, be sure to engage your child in a discussion about the plot line and his/her thoughts and feelings about the book. Ask what s/he likes, encourage exploration related to the book, and every now and again, offer to read parts of the book aloud, just for fun!