Thursday, January 11, 2018

All's Faire in Middle School

Title:  All's Faire in Middle School 
Author: Victoria Jamieson 
Illustrator: Victoria Jamieson
Publisher: Dial Books 
Publication Date: September 5th, 2017 
Genre/Format: Realistic/Graphic Novel
GoodReads Summary: Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she's eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she'll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind--she'll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it's not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don't) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family's unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all. 
What I Think: I love Imogene and her bravery in middle school. I talked to my 5th grader about this book (he read it before me) and we talked about how Imogene takes ownership of her actions. He pointed out that he was kind of bummed that she did something mean in the first place. It reminded us of Jack Will from Wonder. He gets sucked into being unkind to Auggie too. It made me wonder about how common this idea is in books and I think my son is right, we see it more often then not...but I think that's because it's so easy to get sucked in. It's not easy to stand up for what you believe in no matter what. I'm so glad we have Imogene's story to talk about, even if she makes a mean choice at one point, she faces her consequences and that's a great lesson.
     I found myself thinking a lot about how the story unfolds and how Victoria Jamieson made the story arc work. I was so excited after reading it that I went back to look at each chapter and study it as a mentor text. Short stories or even longer stories can be hard to write. It seems like they should be easy because there is so much room to make stuff happen but just because they're longer, it doesn't mean stuff has to happen or that the story doesn't have to move along. You better believe it has to move along. Most writers start by learning that a story has a beginning, middle, and end. And most writers know there has to be a problem a story. But beyond that, it's hard to see how a story moves along from beginning to end. Enter All's Faire in Middle School as an awesome mentor text.
     Here are the 13 chapters with a gist of what happens in each chapter (without giving away spoilers):
1. We get a hint at what our main character's journey might be but he/she/they don't know what they're in for yet!
2. Our main character prepares for an upcoming challenge.
3. Our main character is off to the challenge...and is kind of freaked out.
4. A celebration, things are going well for our main character.
5. Oh no, trouble ahead.
6. When there's trouble, our main character strategizes and comes up with a plan.
7. The plan is working...wait, the plan is not working at all.
8. Disaster strikes. Like really strikes. Everything that can go bad, goes bad.
9. Just when you thought everything that could go bad, went bad, things get even worse for our main character.
10. Our main character starts to face the consequences.
11. The main character tries to make amends.
12. Our main character tries even harder to set things straight.
13. Not every story ends in happy ever after...but the main character makes one more courageous act to at least try and make everything as right as possible.
      This was a great activity for me in reverse engineering an outline. The beats that appeared reminded me a bit of the beats from Blake Snyder's Save the Cat. That's a great resource too! Here's how I did it. I put a sticky note on the first page of every chapter. I reread each chapter and wrote 1-2 sentences about the chapter. Then I laid out the sticky notes in order and looked at characters, setting, and main plot points. I looked at a general gist of what was happening in each chapter and how the story arc unfolds. I also did this with Amina's Voice by Hena Khan. It's helpful to see how others have worked with plot so I can think about it in my own novels. You can easily have students do this and then think about how they might write a story by starting with 1-2 sentences with each beat in the story and then have them elaborate from there. So often student writers start writing their stories without a plan...I do this sometimes too but I've learned that sometimes it really is helpful to have a plan. When I have a plan, it's much easier to talk myself into writing each chapter or scene because I just follow my plan.
     Whether writers want to use this basic outline to loosely plan their stories before writing or not, it's important to discuss the idea of outlining with students. It's all about the mindset of writing and having a toolkit handy when we're writing. In my experience, every story is different and every story gets written differently.
Writing Prompt: Write about the different ways Imogene tries to make things right and share any connections to your own life that you notice.

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