Monday, September 4, 2017

Writing Connections with Rachel Vail

Rachel Vail is the author of many popular novels for young people, including the Justin Case series, the Friendship Ring series, Unfriended, and most recently, Well, That Was Awkward.  In an interview with the KidsPost section of the Washington Post,  Vail talks about the play that inspired her latest novel and the middle-school experiences that helped inform it.

Like the 1897 French play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” Vail’s novel Well, That Was Awkward features a main character that tries to help a friend to further a romance.  The problem, though, is that the love interest is actually someone that the main character also likes.

Below are writing lessons for the classroom or for individual writers ages 8 and up. 

RE-IMAGINING A CLASSIC:  Classroom Discussion, Part 1: Talk about how Vail reimagined a play with adult characters as a story about a group of middle-school students in a contemporary school.  Other writers have done this, too.  For example, the movie “Clueless” in based on Jane Austen’s Emma.

Classroom Writing, Part 1:  Choose a scene or chapter from a book with adult characters, from a different time period.  For older students, this might be a book that the whole class has read.  For younger students, this might be a fairy tale like “Cinderella” or “Snow White.”  Ask them to brainstorm changes they might make.  Encourage them to feel free to switch characters’ genders.  For example, the evil queen in “Snow White” might be a vain football player or the prince in Cinderella might be a girl who is a wealthy science geek with a lab and Cinderella a poor guy eager to build his own robot. 

Classroom Discussion, Part 2: In the KidsPost interview, Vail is candid about her awkward middle-school years and how those embarrassing moments have helped her to create believable characters and situations that her readers can relate to.

Classroom Writing, Part 2:  Ask students to close their eyes and imagine their middle-school characters in an awkward or embarrassing situation.  What embarrassing thing happens to their middle-school Cinderella or prince?  How do they react?  Ask students to write their scenes.  Ask for a few volunteers to read theirs aloud.  Hilarity may ensue!

Additional Resources
Rachel Vail’s website -

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