This idea of choices has been powerful for my students. It's the reason they repeatedly do so well at writing -- something shown by test results, by writing projects, and mentioned over and over by their 6th grade teachers.
Simply put, I have taken the mystery out of writing and made it a choice. They choose whether to include a topic sentence or not. They choose whether to include quotes or not. They choose whether to elaborate on quotes. They choose to include creative writing strategies to enhance their point. They choose to write with adequate detail or not.
It's all about choices. And thus, their grade in writing is 100% their choice. Given this power over their own work, and putting all of it on their own shoulders, they choose to write at an extremely high level.
And a huge part of this idea -- choosing how to write -- is in Children of Pandora.
Genesis of the NovelWhen I first realized how much my students could learn from the writing process, I proposed an idea. I would write them a story, chapter by chapter, so they could see exactly what it is like to write at a high level. They could see my choices, I could explain why I chose what I did. I could also show them revisions -- how early drafts can be made much better through thoughtful re-reading. It is not a coincidence that my students' writing abilities shot through the roof after being able to see first-hand my own writing and revision process.
And, of course, I could also make sure the stories practice EXACTLY the reading skills being taught in 5th grade:
- Identifying and Expressing multiple main ideas about a test -- so each chapter has at least two main ideas.
- Identifying which details support the different themes in a text
- Understanding how point of view affects the way a story is told
So I asked what they wanted in a novel. They came up with a few things:
- An Island in the Sky
- The Island is called Pandora
- The protagonists are trying to get to the island, they don't start on the island
- A combo of fantasy and science fiction
- Both male and female protagonists
So, with these requests in mind it was now time for me to turn this into a story.
And Island called Pandora.
Why did my students choose this name? For very 10-year-old reasons. Because it sounded cool. Because Avatar had recently come out. Because they all knew about the music streaming service. Really, it was a random combo of all this.
But for me, the writer, if I was going to use this name I had to develop a reason. And so I went back to the Greek Myth of Pandora. The prologue itself hints at ways the Pandora myth is tied into my story:
The researchers at Pandora have accidentally created a catastrophe, and it's spreading uncontrollably. Diana, one of the researchers, talks about this just as the Island is going to be invaded:
“They have no idea,” Diana said, imagining the darkness of Pandora finding its way to the airships, to the other islands. “No idea what they’re going to find on this island. The Kingdom’s convinced that we are hiding magic and wonders, and they have no idea that it’s just going to devour them.”
“We can stop it,” James said. “Right now.”
Diana knew instantly what he meant. “Seal off the island," she said.
A bit later in the scene:
“We’ll have to face the darkness,” Diana said. “And we won’t survive."
“No,” James took his wife’s hand. “We won’t. But one day—centuries from now, perhaps—the Children of Pandora will return. And when they do ... we’ll make sure they have a chance to figure out what went wrong.”
“And perhaps, they can find out how to make it right,” Diana said.
“We can hope,” Jame said.
“We will hope,” Diana agreed. “It’s all we have left.”
This only gives the briefest touch of how the Pandora myth relates to the island and the entire story. I am very excited to see the entire mythology revealed.
Trying to Get to PandoraThe second main request was that the story is about trying to get to this place, Pandora.
So -- why? Why are they trying to get there? What's the purpose behind it all.
It so happens that this all began one year after The Hobbit movies came out. And while they were clearly not as well-crafted as the Lord of the Rings, to me there was one very tangible emotional anchor that I liked. It was a story of exiles who never forgot who they were, where they came from, or what they were supposed to be -- fighting to return home.
Which always makes me think of the Jews returning to Israel.
And so that became the emotional anchor to my own story. The Jews living in exile, longing to return to their home. My novel isn't meant to be an allegory. Nor some kind of direct parallel to the history of the Jewish people.
But their experiences over thousands of years gave me inspiration to draw from as I crafted a different story, about a different people, exiled but longing to return to their home.
So I even chose a name reminiscent of the Jews: Children of Pandora -- echoing a phrase from scripture: The Children of Israel.
And so my novel is about a group of exiles, the Children of Pandora, seeking to return to their homeland.