Zero Tolerance

(Margaret Ferguson Books/ FSG, 2013)

Junior Library Guild selection

Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) Choice Book 2014

Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books of the Year

How I Came to Write This Book:

This is the first time I ever drew an idea for a book from real life, that is to say, from the real life of someone I don’t personally know. Some years ago I read a newspaper story about a local middle school with a zero tolerance policy for drugs and weapons, which attracted national attention when one honor student faced serious penalties for bringing a knife to school by mistake, contained in her mother’s lunch.

What interested me in crafting the story was not writing a denunciation of zero tolerance policies, which do seem quite obviously flawed. What was interesting to me was seeing how a “perfect girl” can change when she confronts a world that is decidedly imperfect, as well as the question of how you respond to life’s unfairness. E.g., how fair do you have to be to someone who, however reluctantly, is taking steps to destroy you?

Teacher Resources for Zero Tolerance
Apple Snack Recipes

Published: 2013

Zero Tolerance


As a member of the Leadership Club and an honor student at Longwood Middle School, Sierra Shepard helped create the banner announcing its creed: “Rules Respect Responsibility Reliability.” The school has established an ironclad zero-tolerance policy on weapons, but when Sierra accidentally takes her mother’s lunch bag to school, she finds it contains a paring knife. A loyal rule-follower, the seventh grader turns the knife in to the office, assuming that her spotless record will exempt her from the consequences of breaking a rule. That is not the case. Sierra begins a weeklong in-school suspension during which she questions her assumptions about following rules, her classmates, her parents, and school administrators. Sierra also reexamines her feelings about Luke Bishop, the school “bad boy” who is more complex and interesting than she thought. Sierra is a realistic and appealing character whose experiences will resonate with readers who enjoy stories about school and friends. This compelling novel could also spark a discussion about the slippery nature of rules and how they are enforced. . . .
- School Library Journal, Shelley Sommer, Inly School, Scituate, MA

Provocative and fun, from a master of the school story.
- Kirkus Reviews