Gail Carson Levine: Author Study and Mini-Lesson By: Theresa Trageser

             In the following Author’s Study and Mini-lesson, you will find an in depth look at work of Gail Carson Levine. The Author’s Study begins by discussing her personal background. Then it moves on to a focused look at some of the different literary strategies Levine uses. I start by looking her structural choices and move on to her “Way With Words”. Following the name of the strategy and my own definition of it, I have included multiple examples and suggestions for use in writing.

           In the Mini-Writing Lesson, I have focused on Levine’s use of “Long Dashes” in her writing. I have the lesson broken down into five parts: Introduction, Teaching Point, Demonstration, Guided Practice, and Link (to own writing). The lesson can easily be adapted to fit your needs. Happy Reading and Writing! – Theresa Trageser

Author’s Study

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Background/History
            Gail Carson Levine was born September 17, 1947 (Wikipedia, 2017) and grew up in Washington Heights in Manhattan. She never saw herself as a writer even though, like all of us, she had to write throughout her educational career. She states on the homepage of her website, “I didn’t think of writing as work that any modern person did” (Levine, 2017), a sentiment that spans classrooms around the United States, and probably the world. One day, she had asked herself, “Why, since I adored stores, I never made up any?” (2017). It was not until the 1970’s that she started writing, first a play then an art appreciation book called The King’s Cure. While the play was performed by a local theater, no one would publish the book. She kept writing, taking writing classes and talking to other writers in order to expand her skills.

It took Gail Carson Levine ten years to get her first book, Ella Enchanted, published in 1997. After years of struggle, Levine’s dedication and determination to her craft paid off. Ella Enchanted was a 1998 Newbery Honor Book as well as ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and it was eventually adapted into a feature film. This is high praise for a book publishers were not interested in publishing. Levine’s inspiration comes from fairy tales, myths, fables and the Bible (FAQ, 2017). She also writes “to the reader she use to be,” so she writes stories she would have loved to read herself (2017). The way she creates stories is unusual since she writes characters who fit the story, instead of stories to fit characters. Levine writes for herself as well as for her audience, and it shows as she creates worlds, characters and stories that any reader picking up one of her books can appreciate and relate to in some way.

Books Read

 Ella Enchanted (1997), The Wish (2000), The Two Princesses of Bamarre (2001), Fairest (2006), Ever (2008)

Literary Moves/Strategies

 Structure

 Fairy Tales/Fables

Levine’s texts are mostly based on well-known fairy tales/fables. She incorporates many of the common elements of a fairy tale into her writing in order to keep it familiar to her readers. Fairy tales take on a wide variety of subjects, but they all incorporate different aspects of magical intervention into the character’s lives. She also includes magical “objects” in her texts including, but not limited to: ogres, gnomes, dragons, centaurs, wizards, fairy godmothers, mirrors, spells and potions.

  • Ella Enchanted (1997): “And so, with laughter and love, we lived happily ever after” (p. 232).
    • This line from the Epilogue wraps up the action and reflects the fairy tale structure. This text also includes gnomes, elves, ogres, centaurs, giants, fairies, and a magical book which the author uses to give the reader a look at what other characters are doing. (“Elementary Ella”, p. 5)
  • Fairest (2006): “And so, with song and love, Ijori and I, our family, and our beloved kingdom lived happily ever after” (p. 326).
    • Again, this line is from the Epilogue wraps everything up and reflects the fairy tale structure. This text also includes a singing kingdom, centaurs, magic books, magic potions, and a magic mirror with “someone” trapped inside.
  • The Wish (2000): “‘I can make your wish come true’” (p. 2).
    • The modern day setting of this text takes the main character, Wilma, an outcast in school and gives her a Cinderella story. Wilma performs a good deed for an old lady who is able to grant wishes. There is also a time limit to the spell, much like Cinderella’s midnight curfew.
  • The Two Princesses of Bamarre (2001):
    • This story includes: wizards, specters, griffons, dwarves, dragons, fairies, elves, magic travelling boots and a magic table cloth. Though not based on a fairy tale known to me, there are abundant fantastical elements throughout the entire book, including a dead mother and a dragon’s hoard.

Sub section of Fairy Tales- New (Fantasy) Languages– From Hocus Pocus to Bibbity-Boppity-Boo, fairy tales include nonsense words to add to the mystery and fantasy of the text. I think it’s important to discuss the languages that Levine has developed to give her fairy tale worlds depth. She has created individual languages for most of the fantasy races in her texts. By creating these languages, she is able to make her world seem more real and substantial, thereby giving the reader a glimpse into a fully fleshed out world. Extras in the 2011 edition of Ella Enchanted include “Gnomic Spoken Here” a behind the scenes look at Levine’s development of languages in this book and by extension Fairest. She starts by pointing out that she “liked the ones that J.R.R. Tolkien invented in his Lord of the Rings trilogy” (p. 9). She tried to give each race of creatures a language which reflected their collective psyche.

  • Ella Enchanted (1997) and Fairest (2006): (These texts take place in the same world so I decided to group them together for this section.)
    • Levine has created languages for many of the creatures in her texts. I think this does a good job of reflecting the real world where not everyone you meet will speak the same language as you. For example, used in both books, gnomes say, “,fwthchor evtoogh brzzay earth ymmadboech evtoogh brzzaY” (1997, p. 48), a greeting meaning “Digging is good for the wealth and for the health” (2006, p. 232). This greeting reflects the gnome’s lifestyle of living below the earth in caves and digging for precious metals and stones.
    • “’forns uiv eMMong FFnOO ehf nushOOn,’ he growled. (‘It will taste sour for hours.’)”, one ogre states when talking about eating the heroine (p. 96). The ogre language is gruff and harsh to reflect the roughness of their race. The translation of this language is also unfortunate as there are not many positive words in the ogre language.
    • A nearby kingdom (humans) is called Ayortha, where the people speak and sing in their language Ayorthian. In this language words start and end with the same vowel, “Ee ooshahsoo ukuptu axa ubensu,/ Inyi Uhu Ullovu./Usaru yvolky ahrha—“ (2006 p. 42). This is part of the “Song of Ayortha” their national anthem. The use of so many vowels adds a musical quality to the words. Translation: “The wind whips through you,/ My Three Tree,/ Your branches sway—“(p. 42).
  • Ever (2008):
    • This text takes us into a version of the underworld where there is a race of bird creatures call the Warki. Their language is, for lack of a better term, gibberish: “Rgnjioplder” (p. 159) and “Wsdrghuk” (p. 161). Levine gives us a glimpse into the language parallel from English to Warki. The Warki word(s) will change even if the English is repeated. I believe this is to show the reader that the world in which the Warki’s inhabit is meant to confuse and confound to keep the people turned into Warkis, trapped.

In my own writing… In order to be a writer, someone would need inspiration. Fairy tales are an excellent source material because they are constantly being evolved. They are full of elements large and small which could be pulled from to create a story. I would love to be able to adapt a fairy tale to tell my own version of the story. (This is one of my favorite genres.) I would find narrowing down the topics and elements the most difficult part. I think the idea of taking inspiration from other sources is a good way to start writing and to structure a story. While creating a language would be a more advanced skill, what kid hasn’t played around with a secret code or spoken in their own Gibberish? It might be fun to either create a new language for the purpose of a story or even use a real language, if you are fluent or know someone who can translate.

Way with Words

Poems/Songs-

In each of the books that I read by Levine, she incorporates poems, songs or prayers by the characters. (Here on out I will just say poems, because what is a poem but a song without music?) I think Levine decided to incorporate these alternate forms of story-telling to add variety, but to also deliver information in a creative way. She uses the poems to have characters express emotions and make connections with others. Beyond that, poems allow for the incorporation of many elements from a mixture of free verse poems and rhyming poems.

  • Ella Enchanted (1997) :
    • After Ella describes her mother’s death to a new friend the friend sings, “Hard farewell,/ With no greeting to come./ Sad farewell,/ When love is torn away./ Long farewell,/ Till Death dies” (p. 78). Through the incorporation of the song, Levine is able to address the feelings associated with death in a deeper way than, “I’m so sorry.” This short song also includes repetition of farewell to show emphasis on saying good-bye to someone who has died.
  • The Wish (2000):
    • After her brush with a fairy, Wilma receives multiple poems from an anonymous author who appears to have a crush on her. The anonymous poem/note says, “Wilma’s sweet./ She’s a treat./ Let’s make a date./ We’ll call it fate./ Boo hoo./ I love you.” (p. 21). The simplicity of the poem and rhyme scheme show that the writer is probably young and inexperienced at writing poetry with a deeper meaning.
  • The Two Princesses of Bamarre (2001):
    • Princesses Addie and Meryl quote from the epic poem of Drualt. The pieces of the poem quoted reflect the action in the text at the time. The whole book begins with, “Out of a land laid waste/ To a land untamed,/ Monster ridden,/ The lad Drualt led/ A ruined, ragtag band./ In his arms, tenderly,/ He carried Bruce,/ The child king,/ First ruler of Bamarre.” (p. 1) in order to introduce the beliefs of the people in the text. This poem also included alliteration in lines 1, 3 and 4.
  • Fairest (2006):
    • The setting is a land of singers, where they express their feelings through song. “I’m an/ innkeeper’s daughter./ An honest inn,/ the featherbed./ No rooms for/ deceivers.”(p. 198). When Aza, the main character, sings this, she is reflecting on her modest roots and how high she has risen, but also by what means her fortune has changed and how that makes her feel.
  • Ever (2008): “Evergreen Akka,/ Where the gazelle races the tiger/ And where the rivers/ Splash ribbons of foam/ On the gray-maned mare/ And her foal” (p. 100).
    • Olus, a god, is bringing his love to his homeland and so wants her to love his land as much as he does that he says this to her as they travel.

In my own writing…Poems can be used to break up a narrative and add to the creativity of the text progression. Just as in The Wish, a short little rhyming poem can be used to express one idea or feeling, while a longer poem free verse or rhyming could be used to tell a story, express emotions or just be a humorous adage in my own writing. It also shows that you don’t always have to use the same words or phrases to express specific emotions. Characters in Fairest sing whenever the mood (happy, sad, otherwise) strikes. A writer could bend all the different types of poetry to their will and incorporate them into their writing.

 The Long Dash

              Levine has developed a use of long dashes in her writing. She implements them in a way that draws attention to the action which is usually interrupting the speech. She also uses them to create phrases much like appositives, rephrasing ideas as well as nouns.

  • Ella Enchanted (1997):
    • “As I grew older, I learned to delay my obedience, but each moment cost me dear—in breathlessness, nausea dizziness, and other complaints” (p. 5). The information after this dash explains what side-effects Ella faces when she does not obey.
    • “’Hattie has five and a half trunks, Mother. And I have only—‘ Olive stopped speaking to count on her finger. ‘Less. I have less, and it’s not fair’” (p. 49). This dash draws attention to the fact that Olive is not an intelligent character.
  • The Wish (2000):
    • “After my strep throat, I wanted to get the flu, mono, a broken leg—anything that wasn’t terminal or disfiguring” (p. 11). Here the dash is used for clarification of an idea.
    • “And in this dress—unlike in my Claverford uniform—I had visible waist and breasts and hip, all of them proportioned about right” (p. 144). The author is drawing attention to just how different the two pieces of clothing are different. 
  • The Two Princesses of Bamarre (2001):
    • “Except for one, which stood empty, the cabinets were filled with treasure: one entirely with silver stirrup cups, another with jeweled tiaras, and another with weapons—long swords, falchions, poniards, pikes, halberds, maces—some of silver, some of gold” (p. 135). The author takes the time to point out that the weapons are not separated by type in the dragon’s lair. Instead they are just clumped together with no distinction made between the types.
    • “For me days of torment—knowing the cure and able to do nothing” (p. 169). While our heroine is trapped entertaining a dragon, the author takes the time to explain why the experience is a torment. Not because she is being threatened or facing ill treatment, but because she feels that there is nothing she can do.

 

  • Fairest (2006):
    • “I was certain my face was still ugly, but never mind—I was glad to be flesh and not stone” (p. 160). Levine makes it known through this dash that Aza regrets trying to use magic to make herself pretty since the side effect of being turned into stone was not worth it.
    • “The peddler bent over me, her expression a mix of remorse and gloating—just as zhamM had predicted” (p. 267). The author is pointing out that this is, indeed, the situation that the gnome zhamM had warned Aza about.
  • Ever (2008):
    • “I hope he isn’t angry with us—or with me” (p. 19). As Kezi thinks this about her god, Levine is trying to show the power of religion where people do not blame their god for negative events in their lives, but themselves for angering said god.
    • “Someone groans—a deep, male groan” (p. 135). This is just a moment of renaming, much like an appositive.

In my own writing…Levine uses these dashes to pause in thought, idea, or to give the reader more information, much the way an appositive is used. This would work in many different areas of writing. Not only for clarification purposes but also to be able to supply context clues for the reader to understand or identify unfamiliar words. They can also be used to pause the action, or dialogue to draw attention to something about the character, setting or plot.

Frantic Pacing of Sentences

During the most stressful parts of her texts, Levine creates a sense of frantic energy through her sentence structure and flow. She does this in two ways. The first is by listing with commas. The second is with short choppy sentences.

  • Ella Enchanted (1997): “I’d eaten the cake, drunk the Tonic, given up the necklace, slaved for my stepmother, let Olive suck me dry. They’d gotten all they wanted of me, but they weren’t going to get Char. Never. Never.” (p. 225).
    • At this point in the novel, Levine takes the time to review with the reader all of the commands Ella had done during the course of the text by using commas to list the events. This is the climax of the novel where everything is changing and Levine wants you to feel it as well as read it. She is also giving Ella the power to see herself as she was and how she wishes to be. Free.
  • The Wish (2000): “The spell was still on! I would stay popular! I would keep my friends! Thank you, old lady!” (p. 165).
    • Levine has the main character quickly go through these thoughts when things don’t immediately change when her wish’s time it up.
  • The Two Princesses of Bamarre (2001): “I scrambled away. He reached for me. Missed by inches. I drew my sword. He grabbed up a boulder. I stumbled back. He raised the boulder.” (p. 200).
    • During the climax of this text, Levine uses short choppy sentences to show the stress the characters are under and to force the reader to feel the pace of the battle.
  • Fairest (2006): “Still singing, I leaped up, overturning the chair. My connection to it snapped. Still singing, I made a fist and punched the mirror with all my strength” (p. 290).
    • Levine addresses the strength of her character through her will to make things right. The sentences and connection of words and phrases with commas allow for the momentum of reading to build along with the text.
  • Ever (2008)- “Hannu begins to clap. Arduk joins in. I have my beat. I thrust my right shoulder forward, then my left. Right hip forward, left. I raise my arms, still holding the goblet… Sway. Turn… Lower my arms. Don’t spill the therka. Hannu quickens the beat. Dip. Step” (p. 220).
    • Again a climatic part of a text, where Levine build momentum and suspense that is reflected in the actions of the characters. Kezi begins to dance and through the sentence structure the reader can feel her movements.

In my own writing…I think this way with words builds momentum in a text. There is also variety in how Levine achieve the faster pace as well. The act of shortening sentences could be useful in building a climax in a story just like Levine often does. If sentences are too long then the reader would not be forced to read faster they may even slow down. By writing in short sentences or in a list form readers tend to speed up their reading and by extension the action occurring in the text. I would use this technique to create the build to a climax.

Works Cited

“FAQ.” Gail Carson Levine Home Page. Gail Carson Levine, 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.

“Gail Carson Levine Home Page.” Gail Carson Levine Home Page. Gail Carson Levine, 2017.Web. 19 Mar. 2017.

“Gail Carson Levine.” Wikipedia. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.

Levine, Gail Carson. Ella Enchanted. New York: Scholastic, 1998.

Levine, Gail Carson. Ella Enchanted. “Elementary Ella” New York. HarperCollins, 2011.

Levine, Gail Carson. Ella Enchanted. “Gnomic Spoken Here” New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

Levine, Gail Carson. Ever. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

Levine, Gail Carson. Fairest. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

Levine, Gail Carson. The Two Princesses of Bamarre. New York: Scholastic, 2002.

Levine, Gail Carson. The Wish. New York: Scholastic, 2001.

Ray, Katie Wood. Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom. NCTE.1999.

Focus Mini-Lesson
Gail Carson Levine

Introduction/Hook

As we have been studying Gail Carson Levine’s style, it’s important that we keep looking at the different techniques that she’s using to write her books. We have already talked about her use of fairy tale structures, but today we are going to look even deeper at how she writes some of her sentences.

(Projecting the text on to a white board and then reading it aloud pausing at the “long dash” to emphasize it.)

In Ella Enchanted (1997):

“As I grew older, I learned to delay my obedience, but each moment cost me dear—in breathlessness, nausea, dizziness, and other complaints” (p. 5)

Today I want to focus on this (circle dash), using long dashes in our writing. We will discuss why you think the author chose to use this type of punctuation and how we can use it in our own writing.

Teaching Point

Let’s call this “The Long Dash”. You’ve seen me use a short dash before I write a definition or while I’m making a list, but this is a little different. In this case Levine is drawing our attention to the words after the dash, making us slow down/ take a pause, and also to give us more detail for understanding an idea. We can see many different authors use this same technique for similar reasons.

Demonstration

 (In the same word document with the Ella Enchanted quote include other examples.)

Let’s look at two more examples from Levine, before we look at how some other authors have used this same skill.

In The Two Princesses of Bamarre (2001):

“Except for one, which stood empty, the cabinets were filled with treasure: one entirely with silver stirrup cups, another with jeweled tiaras, and another with weapons—long swords, falchions, poniards, pikes, halberds, maces—some of silver, some of gold” (p. 135).

The Wish (2000):

 “After my strep throat, I wanted to get the flu, mono, a broken leg—anything that wasn’t terminal or disfiguring” (p. 11).

And then from two of my favorite books…

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1965):

“’I’m afraid I am, Sir,” said Alice. ‘I ca’n’t remember things as I used—and I don’t keep the same size for ten minutes together!’” (p. 51)

Hmm… now why did he write that sentence with a dash, start thinking about it, but for now here’s a line from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2009):

“I left the scene of his last hiding place on the bank of the steam untouched—how could I conceal it?—and we’re a scant fifty yards downstream.” (p.262).

If we look at our example from Ella Enchanted, the author is allowing us a moment to think before they give us a specific list of what Ella’s delay causes her to feel. It really draws our attention to the fact that Ella’s complaints are not good.

Guided Practice

 I know you all are excited to discuss these quotes. So now’s your chance. I want you to take a couple minutes to write down in your notebook, one reason why you think each author is using the dash in their sentences AND how could you include a long dash in your own writing? So two questions.

After about 3 or so minutes, I will give you time to talk with the person sitting next to you and then we will share out our ideas. I will be walking around the room to see what you’re writing for the first couple of minutes and then I will be listening to the type of discussions you’re having. Remember you’re to give me a reason… the answer to why the author chose to include our technique for the day. Also think about how you could add it in your own writing. Ok, go ahead and get started.

(As discussions in pairs start to wind down, I will redirect attention to the front of the room and have students share out their reasons for each example and then take volunteers to share uses in their own writing. Hopefully, students will discuss how both Katniss and Alice have dashes that show their own thoughts interrupting, while The Two Princess of Bamarre draws the reader’s attention to the organization in the room except for the weapons. If these are not address they will be before allowing students to work on their own writing.)

 Link

 (As I am walking around during the brainstorming and pair discussion of the last, I will help students work long dashes into their own writing, and developing some suggestions to share out with the class. For example…)

Ok, what great reasons and examples for your own writing. As I was walking around, I thought about Jorge’s* composition about a vacation he took that didn’t go well. He might consider a line in his introduction using the long dash like, “Most people think vacations are always awesome—not if you’re me.” This lets the reader know almost right away this isn’t a typical vacation story.

Hopefully, most of you are thinking about ways to include the long dash. If you can seamlessly include it in your writing, do it! If not, don’t force it. I just want you to be aware that there are many different ways to use your language. The rest of the class is yours to work. Happy Writing!

*Names have been changed.

Resources:

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass. New York:

Airmont, 1965.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2009.

Levine, Gail Carson. Ella Enchanted. New York: Scholastic, 1998.

Levine, Gail Carson. The Two Princesses of Bamarre. New York: Scholastic, 2002.

Ray, Katie Wood. Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom. NCTE. 1999.

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