Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book Review - Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook

Author: Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer
Publisher: Flash Point/Roaring Brook Press
Pages: 288
Reading Level: Ages 9 to 12 years
Source: Personal Copy & ARC
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:
Practical advice in a perfect package for young aspiring writers. After receiving letters from fans asking for writing advice, accomplished authors Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter joined together to create this guidebook for young writers. The authors mix inspirational anecdotes with practical guidance on how to find a voice, develop characters and plot, make revisions, and overcome writer’s block. Fun writing prompts will help young writers jump-start their own projects, and encouragement throughout will keep them at work.

As an educator working with English Language Learners who are not particularly excited about writing, it is a challenge to find activities that they will like.  However, Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer has managed to do just that.  In their non-fiction book, Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook, they use a variety of practical activities to engage budding writers in the creative process.  Since before it's release, I have been signing the praises of this book.  So much so that I convinced the school's PTA to purchase of a copy of it for all the teachers at the school when the book was released. 

Though this isn’t a book that teaches the grammatical and technical aspects of writing, it does an amazing job with helping students understand the components of a story and how to craft a tale. I watched my students who frequently struggle to write become excited about writing for the first time.

You may be asking what it is about Mazer and Potter’s book that is so special. Through humor, frank dialogue, and practical examples and activities, the authors lead aspiring writers in the process of writing. In the chapter on Characters for example, children are taught how to not only create a character but how to bring their characters to life. I especially enjoyed the activity where Ellen encourages her readers to grab a cookie, a notebook and pen, and to sit down and pretend to have a conversation with their character.

Each chapter is filled with similar kinds of instruction, activities and small “dares” which challenge children to practice what they are learning. Ellen and Anne take turns sharing their own writing practice and lessons learned with their readers. And though the book is written for children, even adults can learn from the activities provided. I have to admit that thanks to the chapter on “Who is telling your story?” I finally understand second person narrative.

Before I even finished the story, I found myself telling booksellers, parents of elementary age children, and school librarians about Spilling Ink.  And since it's release in March 2010, I am certain that I have recommended it in person and on-line to hundreds of people.  If you are looking for a gift for your favorite teacher or budding student writer, then look no further. 


  1. Sounds like a wonderful book. Thanks so much for telling us about it. And a wonderful resource for developing fun activities for Author Visits, too!

  2. I love spilling ink!


I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. ~ Anna Quindlen

Good children's literature appeals not only to
the child in the adult, but to the adult in the child.
~ Anonymous ~