Archive for the ‘Alumni’ Category

Introducing the Classics…Or Maybe Not

Introducing the Classics

by Amy Frantz, Brave Writer alum

I am passionate about classic literature, but as an adult I’m also a little resistant to reading it.

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I can trace this resistance to my teens when the idea that classics were superior to modern genre fiction began to pervade my social interactions. As a teenager, genre fiction was my bread and butter, but a constant parade of sneers at my chosen reading matter ignited my stubborn streak, and so I flat refused to read classics for all of my teen years (except for Shakespeare. You would pry Romeo and Juliet from my cold dead fingers). To this day, I still have not quite shaken off my resentment of the classics, which is honestly a tragedy.

My childhood, however, was a different matter. It was filled with Charles Dickens books (read aloud by my wonderful homeschooling mother), every Jane Austen adaptation available (especially Pride & Prejudice), and multiple film versions of Jane Eyre. In fact, my primary introduction and contact with the classics as a child came through screen.

There is a pervasive line of thought that holds to the notion that movies and television are inferior forms of storytelling and that “the book is always better.” Although the limitations of screen adaptation can certainly result in a film with less detail than, or noticeable plot deviations from, the source material, I do think we should be cautious in throwing the whole lot of them out entirely in favor of making kids and teens “read the classics.”

I am dyslexic and as a child experienced significant reading delays, so in many instances I either watched the movies or I didn’t experience the stories at all. I met Jane Austen’s heroines exclusively through screen and what a sadness it would be if I had never met them at all due to insistence that I read the books. And when I did start finally reading? I fed myself on a steady diet of Star Wars novels and Harry Potter; definitely not Homer. But my mother was simply thrilled that I was reading; what I was reading seemed to matter less than the act of reading itself.

I didn’t actually get around to reading Jane Eyre until my mid-20s, but my passion for the story is rooted in countless childhood hours comparing films. In fact, I probably would have never sat down to read Jane Eyre if it hadn’t been for those movies. I still have not as of yet completed reading a Jane Austen novel, I blush to admit, but Pride & Prejudice is still one of my favorite stories. I became passionate about the stage musical of Les Misérables in my early 20s and not only did I read Victor Hugo’s 1,400+ page masterpiece, I own five different English translations of it.

If the goal is to nurture a love of stories and a desire for literacy in kids,
I think it’s okay to take a backdoor approach.

That’s what worked the best for me growing up, anyway. I was allowed to consume the easiest versions of classic literature, which enabled me to sidestep my dyslexia and dive right into these stories which are considered important by so many people. Loving the stories first made me more willing to pick up a heavy book filled with tiny print that would otherwise send my dyslexia running and screaming.

When I was told as a teen that I was reading the wrong stuff and that my reading matter was inferior, it certainly didn’t make me want to go home and reach for the Tolstoy. It made me all the more stubborn in my reading choices and closed me off to things I genuinely would have enjoyed. In other words, it made me resistant. The exact opposite of the intentions of the people who were trying to get me to read classics.

Full disclosure: I am not a parent. But I do know what fostered a love of literature in me as a child and what didn’t. Shaming and blaming from peers and well-meaning adults was ineffective. Being allowed to compare different versions of Jane Eyre without the expectation that I had to read it was what eventually lead me to read it.

For me, the most important thing was loving the stories in whatever medium I could best handle them at the time. And to this day, my bookshelves are filled with Shakespeare’s works, Harry Potter, Les Mis, and Star Wars (a lot of Star Wars) all jammed in together.

Encouraging a love of classic literature might not look like a child reading Austen contentedly on the coach. It might look like movies, popcorn, and a whole bunch of science fiction books, but if there’s a love of stories plus a desire for literacy the classics will follow.

Brave Writer Lifestyle

How I Found My Writing Voice

Finding Your Writing Voice

by Brave Writer student, Finlay Worrallo

What does it mean to find your “writer’s voice”?

Different writers write in different ways. Some use short, snappy sentences, using only a few adjectives; others write in a great torrent of colour, using all five senses. Some write as though they’re chatting away to an old friend; others write like they’re addressing an audience. The particular way a writer chooses words, puts sentences together, and expresses ideas to the reader is known as their writing voice.

When I was younger, I spent a long time finding my writing voice, and most of that time was spent copying my favourite writers. I wanted to write wild fantasy stories, so I looked at my literary heroes and followed their examples. So I wrote about bears named after places (like Paddington Bear). I wrote about a flat planet on the back of a giant turtle (like The Discworld). I even wrote about a school of witchcraft and wizardry (can you guess what I was reading at the time?).

A lot of my earlier stuff is…a bit embarrassing to look back on, but it was an important part of my development as a writer and helped me find the voice I wanted to use—colourful, humourous, informal and (I hope) easy to read. Nowadays, I write more than just short stories, but my poetry, articles, and fiction all have that underlying writer’s voice.

If you haven’t isolated your writer’s voice yet, it’s worth doing. It will give you more confidence, will make your work more distinct, and will generally make writing more fun.

Here are some tips you might try:


Pay particular attention to the voices of your favourite writers. What sort of voice do you like to read? Do you enjoy lots of jokes? Do you prefer long or short passages of description? Do you like being personally addressed by the writer or do you find this distracting?

Bear this in mind when you’re writing. The voices you enjoy reading will often inform the ones you produce. For example, I love reading beautiful descriptions, clever jokes and unexpected twists, all of which I at least try to achieve in my own work. Not sure how often I succeed.


It might sound counter-productive but if you’re still discovering how you work as a writer, there’s nothing wrong with noting how other writers do it and then trying out their voices to see how they feel for you.


If you always use long sentences, write a page where you only use sentences of nine words or less. If you usually write comedy, write with no jokes at all—or use a lot more if you tend to write more seriously. It’s through trying out different approaches that you discover what works best for you.

Pay Attention

Make a conscious effort to notice the voice you adopt when writing. Do you sprinkle adjectives liberally or use them sparingly? How many senses do you normally use? Do you use much slang and informal language?

The more you write and experiment, the more confident your voice will become. You’ll be able to isolate exactly what you want to say, and how you want to say it. But if it takes you a while to find your voice, don’t worry. Some writers don’t like the idea of “finding your voice” at all because it’s a process.

My writing voice changes just as much as my speaking one. New styles and verbal tics surface and take the place of old ones. I find myself using more dialogue than in the past, when I preferred writing description. And I’m sure my writing voice will continue to evolve. Maybe in ten years time I’ll look back at the way I write now and wince, just like I look back at my younger self and wince at the adventures of a bear found at Wembley Stadium.

If you love writing, and keep on doing it, you’ll create the voice that’s perfect for you sooner or later. Write as much as you can and explore all the unexpected paths you find yourself on.

Do Formats Hush the Writing Voice?

How Movies Made Me a Reader and Writer

why you should let your kids watch adaptations

By Brave Writer Alum Amy Frantz

I would often hear, either in the homes of family members or in the aisles of stores, a parent telling their child, “You have to read the book first,” when the child asked for a movie. I heard this all through my childhood outside of our home and it never made sense to me.

Movies made me a reader and a writer.

Allow me to explain:

I am severely dyslexic. By the age of eleven, I still could not read well. In fact, I didn’t start reading well until my teens. Reading is physically painful for me, but I did it and do it for long chunks of time a day anyway. Reading is vitally important to me, but for a large part of my childhood and adolescence I couldn’t read or couldn’t read well.

So, I watched movies and TV shows instead. I first travelled to Narnia through the television and the BBC’s excellent Chronicles of Narnia adaptations. I met Harry Potter and journeyed to Hogwarts through the cinema, not through the written word. I had adventures with Peter Rabbit through animation. Film and television ignited my love of stories, a love which has lasted my entire life.

I was quite lucky to be raised outside the school system by a homeschooling mother who was calmly undismayed by my difficulty reading. My mom steadfastly believed that I would get there in my own time, in my own way. And I did.

I was raised in a language rich environment. My mom read to my brothers and me daily. For long car rides, we had audio books. Mom would take us to the library and I would go to the kid’s section and take a seat beside the Beatrix Potter books. I couldn’t read them, but I liked to be near her words. I would flip through the books, looking at the illustrations, and running my fingers over her words. I checked out books I couldn’t really read ‘cause I wanted to take the words with me and I was allowed to do that.

But more than all this, my parents allowed me to have access to adaptations of books. No one insisted that I “read the book first.” I was allowed to check out the BBC Chronicles of Narnia from the library as many times as I wanted. I’m sure I watched the first Harry Potter movie until my entire family was sick of it.

I loved these stories so much and I loved words even if their written form was a tricky foreign country with unreadable road signs. Because I loved stories so much, I wanted access to their source material.

Movies and television not only made me want to read books,
but they made the reading easier.

When I begged my mom to let me have the first Harry Potter novel, it was a struggle for me to read it at the age of eleven. But because I already knew the basic story, because I knew how most of the pieces fit, if I had to skip sections or couldn’t understand large swaths of paragraphs, that was okay because I wouldn’t get lost.

Adaptations gave me a road map for this strange land of written words that can still be difficult for me to navigate even today. If I don’t concentrate, the words will fracture and all their meaning will run right off the page. Movies and television helped me to put the meaning back when I was still struggling so hard to read.

I honestly don’t know how my development would have gone if I had been raised in an environment that limited my access to stories. I might not enjoy reading now and I probably wouldn’t be a writer.

When I was young, my parents gave me a bulky red tape recorder that I could carry around with me, and I told my stories into that because I couldn’t yet write. It was counted as writing even though there wasn’t a pen in my hand.

My mom accommodated my learning disability. While she still diligently worked with me at handwriting and phonics, undeterred by my seeming lack of much progress, she also gave me access to the forms of language and expression that were easiest for me, instead of insisting I restrict myself to the forms which were painful, difficult, and limiting.

Developing reading and writing skills in children don’t always look like a child sitting with a book open in their hands or physically putting a pen to paper. Sometimes a child developing reading and writing skills looks like watching Harry Potter for the thousandth time or speaking into a recording device. I think it’s important to give kids access to stories and language in the ways that are easiest for them. While still teaching the ‘hard’ stuff, sure, but not letting the hard stuff dominate the child’s linguistic landscape.

I grew up with fantastical stories and words, so many words, running through my head. I grew up with Narnia and Hogwarts and Wonderland, Winnie-the-Pooh and Shakespeare, and so many more. I had a childhood rich in language, but it oftentimes might have looked to an outsider like a kid “just watching television.”

I put forth for your consideration that a child who wants to watch the same Disney film for the third time this week is a child who wants to actively engage with a story and with words spoken and sung. That’s a child loving a story just as much as the child curled up on the couch with a book. And sometimes kids need to come at stories through a screen before they can pick up the book. If a child loves stories, they will probably want to pick up the book when it’s right for them, and that’s the most important thing.

Movie Discussion Club

Meet our 2015 summer interns!

We are fortunate to have five talented young adults as Brave Writer interns this summer, and you’ll be seeing them on the blog from time to time. You’ve already read Hannah’s lovely teatime post. We look forward to featuring all of our interns in the weeks and months to come!

Here are the 2015 Summer Interns


Amy Hughes took many Brave Writer classes during her homeschooling years. As a child, she started talking early and didn’t really stop. Now at university in her home country of New Zealand and studying German, English Language Linguistics, and Law, she still loves words. Writing (especially blogging), reading books, and talking to other people are her favorite kinds of activities.

Brave Writer 2015 Summer Intern Charlotte Meert

When future historians refer to Charlotte Meert’s life, they’ll mention such things as, “She was born in France,” and “She ate excessive amounts of Nutella from the jar.” But they might miss out on the important aspects of her life, such as her utter obsession with the written word, and her appalling lack of skill with a pogo stick. It is to be hoped that her gleaming sense of humor and awkwardness in writing about herself third person are not overlooked. The year 1994 will always be remembered for having given birth to this oddball personality.

Brave Writer 2015 Summer Intern Finlay Worrallo

Finlay Worrallo is fifteen years old and lives in Swaledale, a beautiful valley in Britain. He enjoys reading books, writing stories, and watching Doctor Who. He loves studying languages, especially Spanish. People are always telling him how tall he is, which he’s heard before, and how good he looks in hats, which he likes to hear. He plans to write novels, act in plays, and travel the world when he’s an adult.

Brave Writer 2015 Summer Intern Hannah Hayes

Hannah Hayes has spent the eighteen years of her life growing up in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She feels very fortunate to have received her writing instruction from Brave Writer, the place where writing becomes fun! Hannah hopes to study biology, English, and philosophy at a liberal arts college in pursuit of a medical degree. In her free time, she enjoys horseback riding, dancing, studying music, volunteering with the local garden club, and working as the page at her community’s library.

Brave Writer 2015 Summer Intern Vanessa Chebli

Homeschooled from kindergarten through high school, Vanessa Chebli is currently a senior at American University in Washington, DC, majoring in Political Science and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Writing is one of Vanessa’s passions, and Brave Writer was an integral part of cultivating that love throughout middle and high school. She is thrilled to be returning as one of their interns for the summer!

Student Spotlight: Megan Jula

Student SpotlightFormer Brave Writer student, Megan Jula, is a rising senior as a Journalism major at Indiana University!

Megan was one of five students chosen to participate in the 55th annual William Randolph Hearst Foundation’s Journalism Awards Program’s writing competition.

She also had an article recently picked up by USA Today.

Image LinkedIn

Congratulations, Megan!