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From Reader to Writer: Teaching Writing Through Classic Children's Books

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As a child, Sarah Ellis made up plenty of stories but could never think of any when called upon in school. As an adult, she discovered a way to encourage children to express their creativity. The result is From Reader to Writer, a trove of suggestions and activities that use classic children’s literature to inspire and liberate kids’ imaginations. Each of the 17 chapters c As a child, Sarah Ellis made up plenty of stories but could never think of any when called upon in school. As an adult, she discovered a way to encourage children to express their creativity. The result is From Reader to Writer, a trove of suggestions and activities that use classic children’s literature to inspire and liberate kids’ imaginations. Each of the 17 chapters consists of an intriguing anecdote about an author, from Louisa May Alcott to Susan Cooper, that describes their childhood, what they read, and the sources for their books. Each anecdote leads into a writing activity, which can range from simple to sophisticated and can be adapted to different classroom situations. Letter and journal writing, wordplay, fantasy and riddles, and “story-starter” ideas are among the entertaining and original techniques for encouraging a young person to take up a pen and start writing.


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As a child, Sarah Ellis made up plenty of stories but could never think of any when called upon in school. As an adult, she discovered a way to encourage children to express their creativity. The result is From Reader to Writer, a trove of suggestions and activities that use classic children’s literature to inspire and liberate kids’ imaginations. Each of the 17 chapters c As a child, Sarah Ellis made up plenty of stories but could never think of any when called upon in school. As an adult, she discovered a way to encourage children to express their creativity. The result is From Reader to Writer, a trove of suggestions and activities that use classic children’s literature to inspire and liberate kids’ imaginations. Each of the 17 chapters consists of an intriguing anecdote about an author, from Louisa May Alcott to Susan Cooper, that describes their childhood, what they read, and the sources for their books. Each anecdote leads into a writing activity, which can range from simple to sophisticated and can be adapted to different classroom situations. Letter and journal writing, wordplay, fantasy and riddles, and “story-starter” ideas are among the entertaining and original techniques for encouraging a young person to take up a pen and start writing.

30 review for From Reader to Writer: Teaching Writing Through Classic Children's Books

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lucas Hill

    Sarah Ellis opens her book, From Reader to Writer: Teaching Writing Through Classic Children’s Books, by asking the pertinent question: “Can creative writing be taught?” She outlines two types of writers: those that believe it can be taught through hard work, those that believe it is all risk and determination, something that cannot be taught, and a third more gentle option. This third option focuses on the community aspect of the creative process, highlighting that “writing grows from reading a Sarah Ellis opens her book, From Reader to Writer: Teaching Writing Through Classic Children’s Books, by asking the pertinent question: “Can creative writing be taught?” She outlines two types of writers: those that believe it can be taught through hard work, those that believe it is all risk and determination, something that cannot be taught, and a third more gentle option. This third option focuses on the community aspect of the creative process, highlighting that “writing grows from reading and that writers are not alone.” Writing is, or can be, collaboration and community. Whether Ellis is outlining worldbuilding tenets framed by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island or how to build your own conlang as inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien, she focuses on real-world applicable writing projects from a variety of genres. Perhaps my favourite, I humbly declare, is Beatrix Potter’s Letter-writing Tips from the Great Correspondents. Here, Ellis has gleaned from extensive research into Potter’s communiques such writing gems as ‘Write As If You Are Talking,’ ‘Notice Things, Then Share Them,’ and ‘Be Immediate.’ From these lessons, often collaborative, she suggests further reading to capture the imagination. Most interestingly, Ellis paints a humanizing portrait of the artists she features. She focuses on a biography of the author, showing how they went from reader to writer themselves, developing a voice and their craft along they way. Suddenly, Beatrix Potter becomes a contemporary of Lewis Carrol, and J.R.R. Tolkien a friend of C.S. Lewis. This demystifying of the author helps hopeful writers to see that readers, just like Kit Pearson and Jean Little, can be writers, inspired by the very same works of literature. Quotes of Note: “The first is that all writers were readers. Writing and reading are inextricably linked." (Ellis, 2001, p. 10) “One of the satisfactions of writing lies in the opportunity to make use of everything in your life. Everything you experience, think about, study, investigate, encounter or invent is potential material.” (Ellis, 2001, p. 102).

  2. 5 out of 5

    David

    This book was given to me by Dr. Brad Wilcox the day I defended my thesis, so it holds a bit of extra sentimental value for me. I think this book has good strategies to invoke the inner creative writer in all of us, and great teaching strategies. I found it interesting to discover some excellent works of literature were not necessarily meant to be excellent works of literature. For example, Lewis Carrol's timeless Alice in Wonderland, was originally told to a set of girls verbally, on the spot, This book was given to me by Dr. Brad Wilcox the day I defended my thesis, so it holds a bit of extra sentimental value for me. I think this book has good strategies to invoke the inner creative writer in all of us, and great teaching strategies. I found it interesting to discover some excellent works of literature were not necessarily meant to be excellent works of literature. For example, Lewis Carrol's timeless Alice in Wonderland, was originally told to a set of girls verbally, on the spot, while they were in a rowboat until the girls begged Carrol (pen name) to write it down, which he did. It's hard to fit many of these strategies into the curriculum that I teach, but if I had a creative writing class this would be a great place for ideas. Perhaps I can create a mini-creative writing unit????

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ashlee

    Great handbook on developing writing skills. Written with children in mind but anyone could benefit from the ideas and tools in this book. You could design writing activities or programs for home, classrooms, or libraries with this book as a guide.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Christy

    A book about teaching kids to write, but I’ve been using it for a totally different purpose. Each chapter skims the life of a famous author, and then tells what books that author read as a child. I’ve found this fascinating, since I always like to know what books other people like. But even better, at the end of each chapter is a list of young people’s books based on a major theme of that author. This has been a gold mine for me, since I’ve found several new favorites to add to my own library. W A book about teaching kids to write, but I’ve been using it for a totally different purpose. Each chapter skims the life of a famous author, and then tells what books that author read as a child. I’ve found this fascinating, since I always like to know what books other people like. But even better, at the end of each chapter is a list of young people’s books based on a major theme of that author. This has been a gold mine for me, since I’ve found several new favorites to add to my own library. With a slew of grandchildren looking over my books every week, I have a lot more to offer them now.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Yoshiki

    A nicely written book, but just bored to me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carmyn

    I reread this book in connection to a workshop I participated in "Authors as Mentors" with the Red River Valley Writing Project. This book features 17 famous authors in 16 chapters each offering a lesson from their works, their methods, their starts. Some authors include: Beatrix Potter, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carroll, P.L. Travers and more. Each chapter includes various features like, "What did J.R.R. Tolkien Read?" or "A Read Aloud Suggestion." Some of the chapters end with book lists of I reread this book in connection to a workshop I participated in "Authors as Mentors" with the Red River Valley Writing Project. This book features 17 famous authors in 16 chapters each offering a lesson from their works, their methods, their starts. Some authors include: Beatrix Potter, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carroll, P.L. Travers and more. Each chapter includes various features like, "What did J.R.R. Tolkien Read?" or "A Read Aloud Suggestion." Some of the chapters end with book lists of titles that are either structured similarly or contain a similar feature. Nearly every chapter contains a "Classroom Script" that offers a way a teacher might incorporate a writing prompt or method for the reader or a classroom of children. I love classic children's literature and so I was fascinated by the stories behind the stories, but this book is so much more than that. It broadens those stories into WAYS that a writer can use the stories as seeds to grow a story of their own. I would recommend this to anyone interested in children's literature and writing and how those two worlds meet.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Baker

    Rich resource for exploring classic children's books. There are lists of books written by the authors, books the authors liked read, and books of similar styles by less known authors. Books! Books! Books! Also writing exercises that evoke different styles and genres. Rich resource for exploring classic children's books. There are lists of books written by the authors, books the authors liked read, and books of similar styles by less known authors. Books! Books! Books! Also writing exercises that evoke different styles and genres.

  8. 4 out of 5

    V

    (As of 2012), outdated. Some interesting sections, especially the book lists. Other than that, generally applicable to teachers.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Staci

    Interesting life stories behind some famous authors, activities to get kids thinking about writing based on some of their famous novels. More likely for upper grades. Too old for my five year old.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ami

  11. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Austen

  12. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

  13. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jennie Smith

  15. 5 out of 5

    Deb

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alicia Gregoire

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joelle Bass

  18. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Tolentino

  19. 5 out of 5

    Amy Edwards

  20. 4 out of 5

    CaitFitz

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  22. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sandy

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brittany Cuenin

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jameka S Gathers

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jaide B

  28. 5 out of 5

    Margaret McMaster

  29. 4 out of 5

    Christy

  30. 4 out of 5

    Karen Rodriguez

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