CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 18 . . . . May 12, 2000
Moving day. Groan. All that stuff. For most of us, moving day doesn't happen too often. For Michael Kusugak, growing up in the far north, moving was a way of life. Michael lived in the age-old Inuit tradition of traveling. The family traveled by dog-team in search of whales, seals and cariboo. In summer they pitched a tent. The nomadic life is not a life for collecting possessions. The family had only the essentials - furs, weapons and tools. But they also had something that required no space and had no weight, but which was essential to their survival. They had stories.Using a combination of stories, quotes from well-known authors and blank journal pages, this book is guaranteed to inspire young writers. Going far beyond the usual story-starter format, it is divided into eight main sections, each with its own theme. Children are encouraged to draw ideas from their dreams, diaries and letters and from interviewing their families and examining interesting or unusual newspaper clippings.
Each theme is introduced by a related story explaining how a famous author began to write. For example, the section entitled "Clip and Write" (using found stories in newspapers) tells how Lucy Maud Montgomery read in the paper about an "elderly couple who applied to an orphan asylum for a boy, but by mistake a girl was sent to them." With just this tiny snippet of a plot, Anne of Green Gables was created. Following the introductory story, Ellis provides readers with some useful strategies to kick-start their own writing. Activities range from drawing a map or a monster to writing parodies of songs, ads and nursery rhymes or keeping a trip diary. Lined journal pages are included, each of them featuring a writing tip, a quote or an interesting fact about an author. ("Lois Duncan's first stories were a series of disaster tales invented in the dark to give her little brother nightmares.") Lists of books related to the theme are included as well, with a descriptive paragraph for each title.
The book's strengths are many: a wide variety of themes and practical writing strategies are provided, a good cross-section of children's authors are represented, and the follow-up reading lists give students additional "references" to explore. Small cartoon-like illustrations add spots of colour and life without detracting from the text. Even the end papers demonstrate an attention to detail. At the beginning of the book, the papers contain opening lines of several well-known novels; at the back of the book, Ellis gives some famous final lines. Readers will have fun trying to guess the titles.
Teachers could use the ideas in this book to help their students focus on a topic; however, the format of the book lends itself more to home use. This book would make a wonderful gift for a budding young writer.
An idea that is long past due - bravo, Sarah Ellis!
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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