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. 

Book Review - Out of My Mind

Author: Sharon M. Draper
Publisher: Antheneum (March 9, 2010)
Pages: 295
Reading Level: Grades 4 to 8
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there's no delete button. She's the smartest kid in her whole school - but no one knows it. Most people - her teachers and doctors included - don't think she's capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again.

If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows... but she can't, because Melody can't talk. She can't walk. She can't write.  Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind - that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice... but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.

From multiple Coretta Scott King Award winner Sharon M. Draper comes a story full of heartache and hope. Get ready to meet a girl whose voice you'll never, ever forget.

There are some books that when you begin reading them you know without a doubt that they will be shortlisted for several awards.  Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is certainly one.  I was only a few chapters in when I knew this would be the book I would use with my students and teachers during National Inclusion Week (month) in December.

For several years, I was a special education teacher working with young children with severe disabilities. Several of my students had severe cerebral palsy and others had Autism, or other Special Needs. I remember the challenges and frustration in trying to find a way for one of my students to communicate even simple thoughts or wants and needs. Also, I remember the challenges that the parents faced daily.

When I picked up Sharon Draper's OUT OF MY MIND, I was blown away at how she captured so many of the emotions, questions, frustrations, challenges facing children with cerebral palsy and the parents who love them. As I read Melody's story, I kept thinking "yes, I remember that" or "wow, that is so right on". Granted with any book that attempts to address these issues, there are some things that readers may challenge as not being portrayed appropriately, but I would have to remind readers that 1. This is a fictional novel and 2. Every child with a disability and his/her family has a different story.

While reading every chapter, I kept thinking that this book should be required reading for every special education and general education teacher out there. Though I think we are making more and more progress in addressing discrimination in many areas, I still believe we as a society still participate and support many attitudes and practices that enforce inappropriate stereotypes of children and adults with special needs. Draper has created an amazingly poignant story about discrimination and perceptions that still occur in present day. Her book will make you laugh, and cry. But most importantly it will likely make you think differently about a person trapped within a body that does not function with ease.

I highly encourage everyone to read OUT OF MY MIND. I have no doubt that it will be a contender for an ALA/Schneider Family Award (MG) for a character with a disability. This is going on my read aloud list for my students this fall.
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 ~