Monday, June 21, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Spilling Ink

Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's HandbookSpilling Ink: a young writer's handbook by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter, illustrated by Matt Phelan.  Roaring Brook, 2010

Over the years I have purchased many 'how to write' books for my entlings.  Avid readers all, they have all embarked on a writing life in one way or other.  

Spilling Ink is by far the best, most easy to read, and helpful "how to think about writing" handbook I have ever encountered for young (and not so young) writers.

Mazer and Potter have created a  book that is chock full of help, advice, and concrete ways to jump start characters, plots, settings, and dialogue. They offer methods for revising and critiquing. Each of the  short chapters is signed "by Ellen" or "by Anne" and concludes with a "I Dare You" challenge that underscores the point of the chapter.  Just perusing the "I Dare You"s will start imaginations spinning.
I DARE YOU:  Think of an event that you wouldn't ordinarily consider suspenseful. It might be waiting or the school bus, walking the dog, or visiting your grandparents. Create a situation in which this every day event suddenly becomes incredibly suspenseful. 

Their suggestions are practical, not abstract.  They share their own struggles with humor and candor.  They interview each other at the end of the book, sharing their early inspirations and adding more background about their writing lives. 

The book's design and organization  is thoughtful and well planned.  There was  not an index in my ARC but the table of contents can be scanned quickly.  Nicely-sized print with easy-on-the-eyes spacing encourages dipping in at any point or reading from the first page straight through to the end. Excellent use of white space and strategic placement of  Matt Phelan's illustrations further enhance the readability.  His boys and girls are of diverse ethnicities so any child can picture themselves as a young writer.  Phelan shows kids writing on computers, in notebooks, at desks and on window sills.

Potter and Mazer's discussion of different literary elements is useful not only to kids trying to write with them,  but for teachers trying to introduce them as a tool for literature interpretation.
Using Mazer's and  Potter's ideas for writing prompts could go a long way towards helping students understand these concepts.  It is easier to recognize a metaphor if you've had the experience of writing one. 

Do buy some copies for your library and then BOOK TALK it so they will know it is there.  Open it up so they see the kid friendly format.   This book could too easily disappear into the  800s of a library collection which would be a waste.  If there are  young'uns in your life who scribble away all day in notebooks, leave a copy of the book where they will find it.  Do tread gently.  Writing kids are fiercely protective of their writing and will brook no interference, no matter how kindly intended. 

When they do pick it up, Mazer and Potter are there with them, in the chair, on their bed, in the windowsill  as the ideas fly, offering assurance, encouragement and help.

1 comment:

Ellen Potter said...

Many thanks for this lovely review!