Adam Gidwitz’s new novel The Inquisitor’s Tale is proving as popular as his well-known “Grimm” novels, including A Tale Dark and Grimm. In an interview with the KidsPost section of the Washington Post , Gidwitz talks about his research process for this novel, which is set in the Middle Ages. As he traveled in Europe with his wife, a professor of medieval history, Gidwitz read about knights, saints and even a sacred dog. All these things became part of his fictional tale, but he added many of his own intriguing details. For example, the young peasant girl Jeanne is loosely based on St. Joan of Arc, of whom little is known of her childhood. And a farting dragon makes an appearance!
Below are writing lessons for the classroom or for individual writers ages 8 and up. Gidwitz’s website includes a teacher’s guide.
EXPLORING HISTORY: Classroom Discussion: Gidwitz makes the past come alive by centering historic events in the lives of three young people and a dog on a dangerous quest for sacred objects. You might apply his process to the classroom study of any historic time period—or even to the study of current events.
Classroom Writing: Depending on what issue or historical time period you may be studying, you might help kids to connect to it on a more interactive, dramatic level. Have each student make up a character who is involved in a historic event. For example, a girl or boy involved in a suffrage march or Civil Rights Era eat-in. Or a young neighbor helping the Wright brothers to fly the first airplane. Or a youngster trying to grow food in a weedy Victory Garden during WWII. What makes Gidwitz’s novel particularly compelling, though, is that the child characters must deal with uncertainty and danger, which creates suspense. Sinister knights try to kidnap Jeanne; quicksand creates problems for travelers.
Ask students to put their characters in a moment of realistic danger or in the midst of a big problem that they must figure out how to solve/deal with. Have them brainstorm some possible dangers/problems, alone and as a class. What does the main character do? Have students close their eyes and imagine this scene in their heads, focusing on what their kid character might see, hear, smell, taste, and touch as part of this experience. What do their clothes look and feel like? What’s their mode of transportation? Do they have a pet? Are they scared? Angry? Confused?
Students might do some internet or library or classroom book research. For example, looking at historic photographs might give them ideas of details of clothing or historic items to include in their Historic Moments pieces.
Ask students to read their pieces aloud. As a group, discuss what they learned by researching/writing these pieces—and by listening to others’ pieces.