How to Write a Girls to the Rescue Story

by Bruce Lansky

I came up with the idea of writing Girls to the Rescue stories because so many of Grimm's fairy tales portray girls as beautiful but helpless wimps. So, the main challenge in writing a story of this type is to create a story that showcases a main character who is clever, courageous (rather than witless and helpless). I'd like to suggest that you have your class read some Girls to the Rescue stories, so they'll be familiar with the unique stylistic requirements described below:

1. Main Character: Ask the students to think of ideas (brain storm) possible main characters for their stories. They can use:

  • famous fictional females (e.g., the further adventures of Maid Marion)

  • famous historical females (e.g., a particularly heroic incident in the life of Joan of Arc or Kate Shelley, a brave Iowa girl featured in ("Railroad Through and Through" in Girls to the Rescue: Book #5)

  • girls from some other country or culture (from anywhere on earth or in the galaxy, for that matter)

  • someone they know (a friend or relative)

  • themselves (something real or fictional that they did or wish they could do)

2. Rescue: Ask the students to come up with ideas for who/what their main character will "rescue". Note that we use a very broad definition of rescue. (It doesn't have to be an action/adventure story. Read "Grandma Rosa's Bowl" in Girls to the Rescue: Book #1 for a very emotional rescue.) For example:

  • Maid Marion could trick the Sheriff of Nottingham (as in Young Marion's Adventures in Sherwood Forest)

  • Kate Shelley crawled over a wrecked bridge to warn a train that the bridge was down.

  • A big sister could rescue a cat from a tree.

  • A popular student could help a shy student become accepted by the group.

3. The "Crux":

a) Because the heroine is not only courageous but smart, the rescue should be accomplished in some clever, surprising way. For example:

  • In "Sarah's Pickle Jar" (Girls to the Rescue: Book #3), Sarah used a pickle jar to win a court case for her father.

  • In "Lisa and the Lost Letter" (Girls to the Rescue: Book # 2), Liza wanted to return a valuable letter to Princess Margaret, but had to figure out a way to get past the gatekeeper and the princess' secretary, both of whom wanted a bribe.

  • In "Carla and the Greedy Merchant" (Girls to the Rescue: Book # 1), Carla had to come up with a way to trick a greedy merchant who had cheated her father out of his horse and wagon.

  • In "Temper, Temper" (Girls to the Rescue: Book #4), Franceska had to come up with a way to trick the crooked farmer who had taken advantage of her brothers and gotten them to work for nothing.

  • In "Kim's Surprise Witness" (Girls to the Rescue: Book #2), Kim proved that a greedy landlord had promised not to evict her family when her parents couldn't come up with the money to pay the rent--even though there was not human witness present.

Needless to say, if the main character is clever, then her "rescue" should contain an element of surprise to the reader.

b) However, some of the Girls to the Rescue stories feature courage beyond what anyone thought the main character could do. For example:

  • Tulia rescues a baby from a burning house in "Tulia" (Girls to the Rescue: Book #5)

  • Kate Shelley warns an oncoming train that the railroad bridge has been destroyed in a storm in "Railroad Through and Through" (Girls to the Rescue: Book #5)

  • Chardae risks her life in order to stop a cruel Sultan from killing the finest young women in Persia in "Chardae's Thousand and One Nights" (Girls to the Rescue: Book #1).

Suggest that your students read these stories so they can understand how important it is for Girls to the Rescue main characters to be clever and/or courageous.

4. Suspense: To build suspense, it's important that the main character not make the rescue quickly or easily--otherwise the rescue wouldn't demonstrate her brains and courage. Suggest that your students' main characters use the "rule of three" to build suspense. For example:in "For Love of Sunny" (Girls to the Rescue: Book #1) Princess Meghan has to do kill the giant troll, kill the dragon and then answer three difficult questions to prove herself to the mean queen.

5. Plot Outline: After selecting a main character and a clever or courageous rescue, ask your students to outline a story idea that shows what happens in the story. This is a good stage at which to test whether the key elements outlined above (an appropriate main character, an appropriate rescue, an appropriate crux) have been established.

6. First Draft: When the main elements have been included in the plot summary, your students are ready to write a first draft. Make sure they understand that you expect them to read this draft to friends and/or family for feedback before writing a final draft which takes advantage of constructive criticism they've received.

7. Publication: Here are some fun ways for your students to share their creative work:

  • Ask them to illustrate their stories (or find art or photos from various sources for that purpose. (No use discouraging kids who aren't confident of their artistic skills.)

  • Ask them to read their stories (or perform their stories as "readers' theatre") for a small group of students or for the entire class.

  • Invite parents or another classroom to enjoy the performances.

  • Donate the books your students have made to the school library, so others can enjoy them. (You might want to find an inexpensive way to "bind" the books so they last for more than a few readings.)

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