Victoria Jamieson's Roller Girl was a huge hit when it released in 2015 (it was one of our editors' picks of the year) and is still incredibly popular with young readers. So did Jamieson stick with a roller derby theme for her next graphic novel? Absolutely not. She went with, of all things, a Renaissance Faire theme. Huh. Not something one might typically associate with a middle school age readership, but you know what? It totally works. Jamieson pulled from her own life experience and used the insight and humor of remembering middle school as it really was--mean girls and all--to give All's Faire in Middle School the laughs, empathy, and wisdom that make it a book kids want to read.
In the exclusive piece below, Jamieson talks about the challenges she faced writing All's Faire in Middle School, the Renaissance Faire community, and herself as a middle school-aged kid. We've also got a couple of early sketches from the book, which I always think are fun to see.
Writing the follow-up book to Roller Girl was difficult for me. For the first time, I really worried what the response to my next book would be. Would readers like it as much? I’ve heard from lots of readers, young and old, thanking me for writing a book with a strong female lead. That meant I should obviously keep writing books with strong female leads, right? The only problem was, when I thought honestly about the type of kid I was in middle school, “strong” and “confident” are not the words that came to mind. I was incredibly self-conscious and thought a lot about the clothes I wore and how popular (...or not) I was. I wasn’t a shallow or thoughtless kid; on the contrary, I thought a lot about… well, everything! In All's Faire in Middle School I really tried to take an honest look at the feelings I had in middle school. How I thought that looking and acting like the other kids- who all seemed so normal- would make me feel normal. The other kids seemed like they knew how to navigate life- if I just looked like them, maybe I would too.
The Renaissance Faire setting for All's Faire came from real life, too. Much like Roller Girl, I wanted to write about a community that I love and care about. When I was a teenager, I fulfilled my required high school volunteer hours by working at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival in Largo, Florida. My friend’s mom owned a shop, and along with another friend, we sold handmade dragon puppets using terrible Olde English accents. When we weren’t “working”, we were eating apple dumplings, watching comedy and juggling shows, and walking around and laughing and interacting with guests. It was a blast. I wanted to capture some of that festive spirit of the Ren Faire in All's Faire.
Finding the connections between the Ren Faire and middle school was a fun challenge. The main character, Imogene, is now a squire--so she’s training to be a knight just like her dad. The Renaissance Faire has a theme of St. George and the Dragon in its programming, and Imogene (Impy for short) finds herself identifying with the knight in the story… until she finds herself being less than noble in her interactions with kids at school. At various points she feels like the dragon, the hermit… and yes, even the princess in the story. It was interesting confronting my own feelings about princesses while writing this book! I feel like princesses get a bad reputation for being weak. But really, the animated princesses are kind to animals, they like to sing, they want to love and be loved… why is kindness and love considered a weakness? Writing this book made me think about where real strength comes from. Does it come from brandishing a sword and fighting dragons? Or does it come from being kind to others and expecting nothing in return? Somewhere in between?
Writing All's Faire in Middle School was one of the biggest challenges in my writing life thus far. I am so proud of the result, and I hope you will love it too.
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