________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 22. . . .February 11, 2011.


Be a Writing Superstar.

Joel A. Sutherland. Illustrated by Patricia Storms.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2010.
122 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-98000-5.

Subject Headings:
Authorship-Juvenile literature.
Creative writing-Juvenile literature.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

** /4



Nuts and Bolts: Strap a Pair of Nikes on Your Creativity and Get Writing. Just Do It!

Writer's block, schmiter's schmock.

Dread filled writers dread the dreaded writer's block. Me? I don't believe it exists. Perhaps that's because I have a Three Step Plan to ensure I'm never beaten by the block (I also have a plan to survive the zombie apocalypse, but that's another book for another day).

The Three Step Plan:

1. Whether one minute or one hour, always set aside some time for writing each and every day. A quiet place may work best, but write wherever, whenever, you like. Write in the morning while you munch on your bran cereal. Write in the afternoon while sitting under a tree at recess. Write at night during the commercial breaks of your favourite singing/dancing/eating gross stuff reality show. I've said it before and I'll say it again: write, write, write! (Even during the zombie apocalypse).

2. Keep your writing area uncluttered and bright. A nice plant can breathe life into your workspace. Keep zombies at a safe distance.

3. Beware of distractions: television, the Internet, your little brother who's lurching towards you with a spaced out look in his eyes while muttering, "Braaaiiinnnsss." If you've set aside some time to write, don't do anything but.

If you are looking for a light hearted, entertaining and amusing romp through some reading and writing exercises, games, activities and advice, you may want to browse through Be a Writing Superstar that promises to "prove that writing is fun." The comical introduction in energetic language sets the tone for the book's various sections that are presented in a repeating rotation of small bites: Nuts and Bolts (mainly prewriting, post writing), Game On (word fun inspires creativity), Write Like a Wizard/Superhero/ Alien/Monster/Heartthrob (about genres), Don't Forget to Read (sources of good reads), 5 Silly Questions (posed to authors).

     The Librarian/Author offers excellent ideas to encourage reading: book sharing, discovering nonfiction, using the library, choosing what you like to read, getting to know favorite authors. The 'silly interviews' with 21 Canadian writers don't always give a true 'voice' for these authors, but they do introduce names, book titles and provide some insight into each writers' style.

     The section about genres presents criteria to consider if one is interested in trying to write fantasy, science fiction, horror stories or romance. Much of this is brainstorming, a good skill to emphasize for the would be writer as it brings the focus back to the need for a good foundation in reading as a source of ideas. Largely, fostering a love of reading (as in, 'every writer must be a reader') is this book's strength. The introduction states "You'll be taught the Nuts and Bolts of the writing craft from brainstorming ideas straight through to hosting your own book launch..." but not in textbook or manual form.

     In keeping with that pledge, detailed guidance about actual writing is limited to brainstorming for ideas and editing (barely scratches the surface, but stresses positive criticism). Other basic writing skills (characterization, settings, conflict, plot) are given cursory mention "...if man is fighting something, you've got a conflict" and "A good story needs some sort of conflict" - with additional useful tips sprinkled throughout the book. Even though the author devoted several pages to discussing how enjoyable the reading of nonfiction can be, unfortunately there is nothing about writing nonfiction.

     A good deal of the humor relies on cliches. Inconsistent age targeting arises since the games and the idea of silly interviews will appeal to the middle grade or preteen reader while some of the humor in those same interviews may go over their heads. Adults needn't bother reading the 'Introduction for Adults' hopeful of finding out "how to use this book to encourage your kids... to write." The intended audience is anyone who can read well enough independently (compact text with line drawings), and who is self motivated enough to take some of the suggested pre writing activities and have fun with them.

     Be a Writing Superstar might have benefitted from a subtitle as it may be more likely to motivate youngsters to read with a purpose than to write. That, in itself, is a fine starting point, though.


Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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