Allison's Book Bag

What Do Authors Do? by Eileen Christelow

Posted on: September 24, 2011

One of my favorite lessons to teach during our writing launch at school is based on a mentor text called What Do Authors Do? by Eileen Christelow. Told through a combination of short sentences and comic-illustrations, What Do Authors Do? is surprisingly thorough in its coverage of the writing process for primary grades. The bright and bold artwork also makes it a fun read. When I heard Eileen Christelow was one of the guest authors at our local Plum Creek Literacy Festival this year, I decided it was time to buy my own hardcover copy. Hopefully, this Saturday, I’ll hear her speak and get my book autographed.

What Do Authors Do? covers all the basics. Authors get ideas, write, revise, share, submit, persist, and publish. It even touches on finer details. For example, authors get ideas in strange places such as by watching one’s dog chase the neighbor’s cat. Authors also (believe it or not) struggle to find the right words and get stuck in their plots. Then authors can make lists, take notes, write outlines, or just plain take a break. You see, authors don’t give up when writing gets hard, but instead they persist with their work. When authors are ready to share, family and friends and even writers’ groups can offer feedback. Later on, so might editors. Eventually, authors will submit their book to an editor, who will either accept or reject it. Christelow covers the whole process, even to the point of taking readers full-circle back to starting a story with an idea. Ah-ha! Writing is a cyclic process!

Because I use it as a fun and realistic introduction to the writing process, I have three quibbles to What Do Authors Do? Christelow notes more than once that authors get stuck. I’d like even more suggestions for how writers can move forward without actually taking a full-fledged break. For example, what about reading similar books, creating character sketches, rewriting in poetic form…? Christelow also notes that at some point authors will submit their book. What about recognition of our short story writers? I know: These are minor points! They also probably aren’t needed in a book for primary readers, but this writing teacher thinks that they could enhance an otherwise awesome mentor text. My last quibble is more substantial. This picture book is supposed to be about what authors do, right? Okay, so how come almost half of it is about the publishing process?

Those complaints aside, I really enjoy this picture book. As I said, one of my favorite lessons to teach is based on it. In a light-hearted and fast-paced way, Christelow shows how writers work. She also offers gentle encouragement to every student who has protested: “but writing is hard!” Even famous authors get stuck, but every author perseveres. In the end, authors have written a story that they can share with family and friends. They might even get published. No matter what, the most important things authors can do is look for ideas and write, write, write. It’s a message I try to teach my struggling writers every day.

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

How would you rate this book?

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