Allison's Book Bag

Student Writers in Fiction

Posted on: November 26, 2011

Do you know the six traits of writing? Can you use caveman notes and graphic organizers? Do you know what a rubric is and how to use it? How familiar are you with “quick writes,” “sloppy copy” and “bed-to-bed” or “sandwich” stories? If you know these terms, either you are a student writer or you have one in your life. Because I am once again featuring reviews by students, I thought it time to review books that feature student writers.

Cover of "Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining...

Cover via Amazon

EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING

Abbey Hayes is the heroine of her very own series by Anne Mazer, a name which should be familiar to you from my previous reviews. Abbey has curly red hair, collects calendars which is a quirky hobby, and is starting fifth grade. Her family is super talented. Older twins Isabel and Eva are sports stars, younger brother Alex is a genius, while Abbey’s mom is a lawyer and her dad owns his own website business. In contrast, Abbey feels small and insignificant. In the introductory book of the series, Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining, Abbey wishes to be like anyone else in her family. Then Abbey’s fifth-grade teacher announces that this year their grade will have a special creative writing workshop every week. As part of this special writing class, Abbey receives a notebook in which she can write whatever she wants. You might know this as “Plan B” writing—which is what students can do when they are finished with assigned writing. Soon after Abbey receives that notebook, she gets so caught up with writing in it that her teacher has to reprimand her: “Put the notebook away. We’re going to begin our math quiz.” My writing club students would know how she feels—and so do I. Yet Abbey continues to believe that she needs to become a sports star for her to be a “super member” of the Hayes family and so she diets, trains, and works out. I’m not sure why she latches specifically onto sports, but ultimately Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining is a light-hearted story about a girl who struggles to find her talent in all the wrong places. The rest of the series, which portrays Abbey continuing to grow as a writer while dealing with all of life’s various issues, is equally fun.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

THE SLOPPY COPY SLIPUP

Brian Higman is the hero of The Sloppy Copy Slipup by DyAnne DiSavlo and is about to be in big trouble. Like Abbey, Brian is in fifth-grade. Unlike Abbey, he feels he never has anything to write about. He could write about his family, but he figures writing about them is boring. Brian reminds me of many boys that I know in thinking that nothing in their life is of interest. So I found it odd that Brian began to write in his journal while waiting to pass in another blank assignment. Oh, I admit there certainly are kids who have no trouble in filling up their school journals but struggle with actual writing assignments. However, the majority of struggling writers I’ve taught would rather talk to their neighbors, flick things, or even nap. But back to Brian. In a classic saved-by-the-bell scenario (literally), school is interrupted by a fire drill. While his class files outside, Brian’s thoughts drift to the electric guitar he bought the previous weekend. Ah, no wonder he didn’t have time to write his sloppy copy: He had an “emergency”. Once again, Brian reminds me of several students I know. They’re the ones about whom adults say, “If only you put as much effort into your work as you do into avoiding it….”  When the class returns from the fire drill and Brian finally has to face his teacher, he launches into a story about his weekend. His teacher, classmates, and even the principal apparently find his escapades so compelling that they beg throughout the day to hear installments. Not only did I find it unrealistic that Brian would be allowed to interrupt a school day like this, but I found myself yawning through his rambling and long-winded story.  When Brian’s teacher finally requires him to put words to paper, Brian views her request as a second chance and completes his assignment without any further delays. Unlike the struggling writers I know, he whips it off without any mistakes or further qualms. As for the next time he has an assignment? Brian comes prepared with a pad and pencil in his pocket and a new motto: “A writer is always prepared to write.” If only it were so easy to encourage struggling students to write!

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

LIBBY ON WEDNESDAY

Libby on Wednesday by Zilpha Keatley Synder is an entirely different book. For one thing, Libby McCall has been home schooled. Now, at eleven, Libby is in public school for the first time because her mother thinks she needs to be “socialized”. Being precocious, Libby is placed in eighth grade, a grade where even so-called normal students are often subject to ridicule. Libby doesn’t know how much contact she can take with her peers, who make fun of her because she is small and smart. Another thing that makes Libby on Wednesday different from the first two is the book’s tone and length.  The previous two books are light and fast-paced and clock in at about one hundred pages, whereas Libby on Wednesday is slower-paced and twice as long. This allows for an in-depth exploration of what happens after Libby wins a writing competition. When she discovers that the prize is a weekly writing workshop with four other students, rather than risk more ridicule, Libby announces to her family: “I’ve decided to quit school.” Her family denies her request and so Libby attends her first workshop  where she learns that participants will critique each other’s stories. At the end of that first day, she writes in her journal: “I’m sure it will be terrible—horrible—unbearable—next time I’ll have to read for sure, but this time—this time, it wasn’t so bad after all.” Some have criticized Libby on Wednesday for its unrealistic portrayal of homeschooled children. I can’t speak to that, but I loved reading a full-length novel about a serious aspiring writer in the school environment. Moreover, I appreciated how each of the participants brought their own baggage to the table and ultimately needed to work through it as part of the writing process. How Libby adjusts forms the heart of a sometimes sad and dark but always riveting story.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read it.

How would you rate this book?

In reading my reviews, you might have noticed some commonalities amongst the three student writers. To start, each keeps a journal. All of them also like to tell stories. They also all know something about the editing process: Abbey brainstorms ideas for an article, Brian keeps a notebook and writes sloppy copies, and Libby exposes her stories to an audience for constructive criticism. Last, they all desire an audience. Although Brian might not care about being published the way the girls do, even he likes keeping others absorbed in his tale. These are all important writing lessons, tucked within the pages of fiction.

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October: Plum Creek

Every fall for the past six years, I have attend the Plum Creek Literacy Festival. In previous years, I've written about the author presentations and plan to do the same in the weeks ahead. Unlike in the past, I also intend to review my book purchases. I'll also continue to include reviews I write for our local multicultural group and for our local dog club. Enjoy!

  • El Deafo by Cece Bell
  • Daisy to the Rescue by Jeff Campbell
  • Max and Ruby Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells
  • Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies
  • Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos
  • Dead End to Norvelt by Jack Gantos
  • Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
  • Bad Kitty School Daze by NIck Bruel
  • Have You Seen Mary? by Jeff Karrus
  • Tale of Jacob Swift by Jeff Karrus

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Thirty days. Minimum average of 1666 words per day. A total of 50,000 words. I am a NaNo Winner for two years in a row and my novel in its second version.

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