Don’t Follow Vee is my ninth cHEwY creation, which came out in May 2019.
What is Don’t Follow Vee all about?
Veronica Lee, or Vee for short has her life flash across the screens around the world. Vee’s mum has documented Vee’s life since she was born on social media and by the time Vee turned 11, Vee’s mum has now over 100,000 followers and climbing.
Life for Vee is pretty surreal, no matter how many times Vee’s mum tells her to act normal. It’s hard to act normal when your mum is snapping your every move and putting a filter through it. Or when Mum gets a new sponsor and forces Vee to use something. It’s even harder at school when Vee has to work out which kids want to be her friends or want to be insta-famous. Vee’s mum made a vow with her, that Vee is allowed to have things that are offline and away from Instagram, which are put in the Vault. That includes one of her prized possessions and her best friends.
But when Vee’s Mum breaks their vow, and posts something from the vault, Vee wants her mum to stop posting things of her. Vee is determined to make her life worth not following…by creating an Anti-Vee. But what happens if Anti-Vee ends up being more wildly popular than her normal self?
Praise for Don’t Follow Vee
‘This is an excellent middle-primary book about the use of the mobile phone, of friendship and family. Phommavanh’s humour is a treat, easy to read and laugh out loud at the antics of Vee as she tries to subvert her mother’s interference in her life without causing mayhem in the house.’
Magpies Magazine, July 2019.
You would think that Instagram and social media would be my major starting point for this story.
But at its core, Don’t Follow Vee is about embarrassing parents who love sharing their kid’s lives with everyone. You may know it as ‘sharenting’. Growing up, we were one of the first families in my neighbourhood with an actual video camera and still camera. My parents would shoot hours of videos of my sister and I. My mum has five thick photo albums of baby Oliver. There were plenty of photos of me naked. And my Mum didn’t mind showing them to relatives, friends, and if she had the chance, random strangers.
These days, sharenting is much more widespread because of cameras on mobile phones and social media. You can track a child’s life from their birth and see them grow, month by month, day by day all on their parent’s Facebook or Instagram account.
It got me thinking, Facebook is a decade old now, so I’d imagine that there would be kids who have their own lives up there for the world to see. I wonder how does the child feel? What happens when the child grows up and they want to start their own profile someday? Can they ask their parents to take down those baby and child photos?
This dilemma is faced by Matty B, one of the characters in Don’t Follow Vee.
I wanted to take this story further with Vee, who not only has her whole life up on her Mum’s Instagram account, but has her real life revolve around social media. Vee’s Mum is always talking about followers, taking instagrammable photos and brainstorming ideas with Vee about what to post. It may be a little cynical, but I’d imagine that being an Instagram star requires a lot more thought than people think.
I also wanted to explore Vee’s close relationship with her Mum. They may be a team, but Vee feels like Mum needs to get out more and actually have her own life. Vee feels that her mum can be suffocating at times. I had a blast writing about this daughter and mother relationship.
Finally, there’s the social media angle of this story. I’ve been visiting schools for years now and I can see the impact of social media on the kids. A lot of them want to be YouTubers. Some of them have already started their own channel. They consume so much content through YouTube these days so they know about Twitch (people who stream themselves playing video games) A few kids may be too young for Instagram or Facebook, but they are still interacting online through playing video games or chatting through another messaging app. A friend is only a text away.
For the longest time, I avoided wanting to use Instagram or Facebook in Don’t Follow Vee because it date the book (hello MySpace) But I think it’s safe to say, bar something drastic or the end of the world, that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and insert the next big thing, are here to stay.
Veronica Lee (Vee) is a confident girl who is self-aware of her unique situation, being a minor Instagram celebrity. She’s also had to learn to be resilient, after years of being hounded by kids who want a shout out or have a few seconds of fame. She is quite cautious about being associated with anyone’s online account, not wanting to blur the lines between her real life and online persona. As a result, Vee is guarded about parts of her life, especially things that belong in her vault. She is proud to have things that none of her followers know about.
Vee enjoys calligraphy and playing games like most kids.
I based part of Vee’s personality on one of my university friends, also named Vee (ha!). She’s kind and a little cynical, with a snappy attitude, so I thought it would be a perfect fit for the book Veersion.
Vee’s Mum, Lynda is a bubbly girl who adores Vee (a little too much sometimes) and is just as witty as her daughter. Vee’s Mum started a blog with some funny posts about being a single mother, which led to Instagram. She has an ordinary job but dreams of doing Instagram full-time, like her other Instamum idols. Vee’s Mum falls into the category of an ‘everyday Instamum’ so she knows she can’t compete with the ones who look like supermodels or travel around the world. She’s very precious about what she posts and can become obsessed about each post, measuring her own happiness which how many likes she gets.
All of Mum’s interests, cooking and singing are pushed aside for The Chronicles of Vee (except when she cooks for Vee). She doesn’t have many friends outside of work, which is something that Mum wants to address.
Annabelle Murphy is Vee’s bestie, and one of the few friends in Vee’s inner circle. Annabelle is shy and meek, always happy to go along with the flow. She loves making slime and watches slime videos on YouTube all the time. Annabelle gets her positively from her parents, who have cheesy quotes all over their fridge.
Bryan is one of Vee’s old primary school friends, and has always been around her life. He has an uncanny obsession with burgers, posting burgergrams on his Burger Bryan Instagram account. He is trying his best to be kind to everyone in the burgerlover community, but has to deal with a troll who is closer to him than he thinks.
Bryan is basically me as a burger fan and burgergrammer. It was easy writing about how Bryan sets up his burgergrams and how he rates his burgers, because that’s what I do on a weekly basis. I’ve been lucky to be a part of a caring burger community online, so it’s definitely something that anyone can start on their own.
Matty is Bryan’s good friend and also helps him with his burgergrams, having access to Burger Byran’s account. Matty is facing his own battles, as he’s getting teased by his classmates because of his mum has all his baby photos up on Facebook. Matty has his own plan to get revenge on his mum by posting all of her old childhood photos online.
Emily and Hassan
Emily is one of the most popular kids back in Vee’s old primary school, with her trendy fashion posts and being quite active on social media. She is always annoying Vee in real life, with snarky comments. Emily would do anything to be in Vee’s position and can’t stand Vee for not taking advantage of her fame.
Hassan is a gamer who streams online, and is one of many of Vee’s classmates who wants a shout out or plug for more followers. Hassan gets himself in trouble often thanks to his big mouth.
Themes and activities
Use of social media
- Discuss how you use social media and technology in everyday life. How many hours per day do use technology?
- Compare the rules of using technology at school and home. Do you agree with them? What would you change?
Identity/Real life and online persona
- Create a Venn diagram of Vee in real life and online. Is Vee being herself online? Would you be yourself online? What parts of your life would you keep away from social media?
- Discuss, why would people pretend to be someone else online?
- Vee has a vault to keep her precious possessions. What kind of things (being specific is optional) would you put in your own vault?
- Why is Vee so determined to keep things out of her online persona?
- Do you have an obsession like Bryan’s burgers or Annabelle’s slime-making? Would you ever go on Youtube or online for it? Design a fake YouTube, Instagram account or website on paper about your obsession/interest.
- Start a blog or diary/journal about your interests and post/write about something over the course of the study.
- Vee’s Mum has Trysday Fridays where Vee tries something new. What kind of things would you try for the first time? What is something that you would never, ever do? Track how Mum feels about the funrun over the course of the book. What changes her mind?
- Compare how friends interact with each other through technology over the years. Create a timeline of communication methods and uses. From the home phone to mobiles to chat programs.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of using phones and gadgets to communicate with friends?
- How do your families embarrass you? Create an ‘embarrometer’ where you list some moments on a scale of 1 (not so embarrassing) to 10 (major embarrassment).
- Discuss how your family share photos and videos online. Would you feel like Matty and be embarrassed about having baby photos up?
- Vee comes up with a list of things that annoy her Mum. Make a list of things that would be annoying for your parents or family.