Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Gifts of Writing

As a follow-up to my reviews of two favorite writing guides from my childhood, I thought it might be fun to share some of my own samples with you. They will be from different sections of Gifts of Writing, as well as different stages of my life. Unfortunately, I don’t have any from my students to share, as I’ve been allowing them to take their work home without my making copies. Maybe another time!

HandBoundJournalThe first sample is my most treasured creation. It’s a hand-bound book I created used the instructions in Gifts of Writing. To create such a book, one needs paper, cardboard, scissors, glue, fabric, cloth tape, and a ruler. My having created the journal during my early teens, I don’t recall how difficult the task is or what obstacles I faced. The Tchudis do note that such a process can take a long time. They warn to be careful when using the glue, due to it sticking to everything. Also, they said that a hard-bound book can be used for many of the writing projects they refer to in their guide. I used mine for a journal. You can see that through repeated use and the passage of time, the journal shows wear and time but I still like it better than all my store-bought ones.

The next sample, that of a nature entry, includes two variations: one from my teens and one from my adulthood. Some ideas that the Tchudis listed for such a project included taking note of seasonal changes for animals and plants, writing descriptive poems that draw on the senses, and including photographs or pressed flowers. Both of my entries are a simple combination of words with art. The first is kind of gushy while the second, influenced by reading of full-fledged guides to nature journals, is more objective. Although my entries about everyday nature aren’t all that faithful, one direct result of them were pet journals. Some of those latter now serve as my main source of memories about pets whom I have lost.


The final sample, that of an About Me poster, is one I created as a teacher for school. It’s more elaborate than my students have ever made. That’s because mine includes photographs, while theirs generally consist of magazine clippings. Since the first one, which I’m displaying here, I’ve created others. I enjoy the process of selecting photos, writing captions, and organizing everything onto poster board. My students similarly seem to like flipping through magazines, finding pictures and words that describe them, and creating About Me posters. I display all of our work the first of every new school, as a way for classmates and visitors to get acquainted.

My being hired to teach two writing clubs this summer prompted me to review Gifts of Writing and The Young Writer’s Handbook. Over the next few weeks, I’ll review other relevant books and let you know that clubs go. Stay tuned!

YoungWritersHandbookA few years after giving me Gifts of Writing, a guide which overviews creative projects involving both words AND art, my dad gave me a second book by Susan and Stephen Tchudi: The Young Writer’s Handbook. The focus of The Young Writer’s Handbook is strictly on words, being a guide to the beginner who is serious about writing, but yet this guide has also remained part of my library from adolescence into adulthood. Like its predecessor, a huge appeal of The Young Writer’s Handbook is that it contains many project variations. An additional appeal is that the guide will broaden one’s writing experience, maybe even aspiring one to make writing a lifetime work.

Because of its emphasis on words, The Young Writer’s Handbook might initially seem no different from the dozens of writing guides already on the market. However, the Tchudis who spent twenty years classroom teaching and conducting writing workshops for young people, truly know the type of projects that will interest young people. Hence, they don’t just talk about stories or articles, but also discuss journals, letters, reports, and school newspapers. My earliest attempts to keep a journal proved a struggle, because I didn’t know what to record besides a mundane account of my day. The Tchudis encourage aspiring writers to also analyze opinions, collect sensory experiences, record dreams, collect world news, and explore words, expressions, and dialog. While it might seem dated in our technological age to talk about letters, my elementary-aged students at some point or another all want to write them. If nothing else, The Young Writer’s Handbook can teach the format, as well as point out the numerous audiences that letters can have. Reports is the only project covered which has never appealed to me, perhaps because this is the one most often already frequently-taught in school. At the same time, without fail, I always have at least one writing club student who wants to pick this as their project. Hence, I can see the reason for the Tchudis including a chapter on this writing mode.

A second appeal of The Young Writer’s Handbook are the opening and ending chapters. The first chapter talks about the history of writing, the uses of it in our current world, the future of writing, and the place of writing in each of our lives. Because the entire course of civilization can be traced in and through writing, a brief overview of its history seems like a totally appropriate way to start a handbook on the topic. Although in some ways the rest of the info will seem dated in our technological age, in other ways the info remains amazingly modern. News, laws, agreements, observations, literature, and journals all still rely on words—even if now they’re often online instead of on paper. The last chapter talks about publication, but again the Tchudis draw on their experience in working with young people to cater their suggestions specifically to them. One can publish for family, friends, school, and the local newspaper. Should one want to try a form of publication where one remains the boss, self-publishing is an option with distribution being to local youth groups, church organizations, and the YMCA.

Having been published in 1984, how does The Young Writer’s Handbook stand against the guides available today? Due to technological advances since its publication, there are admittedly ways The Young Writer’s Handbook is dated. A more current all-purpose guide would be expected to refer to computers and social media. However, even with technology, the modes of writing really haven’t changed and so The Young Writer’s Handbook can still serve to inspire those young people who desire to do “more writing than is customarily required of them at school”. Moreover, just like with Gifts of Writing, it can remind writers of all ages and levels of the real reason we should write: for the joy of it.

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

How would you rate this book?

GiftsWritingIn the 1980’s, my dad gave me Gifts of Writing by Susan and Stephen Tchudi, and the guide received much use from me during my formative years. When I eventually prepared to move out on my own, and so began to sell books, Gifts of Writing is one that I kept. Even my younger sister entered high school and developed an interest in creative activities, I sought out a second-hand copy for her rather than part with my own. Finally, a few years ago, when I first began to teach after school writing clubs, I developed a curriculum around the guide. As you can see Gifts of Writing has been a constant part of my life. Hence, my wanting to finally review it.

What about Gifts of Writing appealed to me as a both a young person and a fledging writing teacher? Unlike the norm of creative writing books, this particular guide overviews creative projects involving both words AND art. The first section in particular emphasizes this combination, showing how to make stationery, postcards, greeting cards, and posters. Other sections rely more heavily on words, but still draw on art, showing how to make books, graffiti walls, photograph-autograph albums, and nature journals. While I have always loved to write, the guide had high appeal to me because it allowed me to explore other creative modes too. At some point or another, artistic, musical, and theatrical expression have all appealed to me. As for my students, one reason a curriculum that combines two creative modes works is that levels of writing ability and interest can vary, even among those who join a writing club. Being able to integrate art helped those with more average literary talent to still produce fine publications.

A second feature that appealed to me is that like many creative writing books, Gifts of Writing provided a huge variety of variations on each type of project, meaning it serves the same function as a prompt book. Consider that just the section on making your own books contains nine made types of books: scrolls, accordion, quartos, mini-books, hand-bound, books for children, collaborative, stories and mini-novel, journals, and diaries. Within those types, there are also more variants too. For example, under collaborative books, these types of stories are covered: surprise, circle, and collection. My favorite during high school was the hand-bound book. I still have my journal that I created using this guide. The final section in the guide is about holiday projects. Inspired by it, I taught my students not only how to write blessings and curses, and wishes and warnings, but also nature descriptions and scary stories.

The final feature I wish to highlight is that because Gifts of Writing is for young people, the instructions for creating projects aren’t too short or too long but just right. For instance, there’s the section on how to create fortune cookies. To start, it lists materials for the fortunes and then outlines the procedures, which include cutting thin strips of paper and writing a funny fortune on each strip. As part of the procedures, there are also examples of fortunes written by young people. Next, it lists materials needed for the cookies. Then as one would find in a standard cookbook, it outlines the steps for baking the cookies, as well as provides tips on what to watch for and how to know when the cookies are baked. There are even diagrams, showing how to place the paper strips inside the cookies.

Does the guide ever fall short? Sure. Having being published in 1980, some material is outdated. To help my students write epitaphs, I had to look online for more modern examples. Also, as with any guide, one might at times wish for more detailed explanations. When my students latched onto writing stories, I had to draw on other sources for info about how to develop plot, character, setting, and theme.

Negatives aside, for myself as a young person, I always viewed the guide as perfect. Now, as a teacher, I find that very few other guides that focus on crafty writers and so it remains a much-used resource. Available second-hand, Gifts of Writing will prove an invaluable addition to the shelves of any creative person, whatever your age.

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

How would you rate this book?

The past few years I have taught an after school writing club for elementary-aged students. One of the inspirations for the activities I teach is a book called Gifts of Writing by Susan and Stephen Tchudi. I’ve mentioned it before as part of my Roundup of Writing Guides for Young People. This week, I plan to post a full review of it.

My custom is to promote an upcoming review with a teaser. However, to my dismay, I have been unable to find much info about the author pair. The back flap of Gifts of Writing, a guide published in 1980, tells me that Stephen Tchudi used to be a professor of English at Michigan State University and his wife Susan used to be a professor of English at Central Michigan. Both contributed to professional journals. Many of the ideas from Gifts of Writing grew directly from their work with young people in writing workshops. At that time, they lived in Michigan and were parents of four children.

From Heinemann, I also discovered that Stephen Tchudi later taught and retired from the University of Nevada, where he coordinated the interdisciplinary university seminars program and directed graduate programs in rhetoric and composition. He also edited an interdisciplinary humanities journal and served as the past president of the National Council of Teachers of English. Together, his wife and him wrote several books about the English classroom, because they believed classrooms “should be places for joyful exploration of the word and world”.

As I continued to dig, I found one more item of interest. As part of a 2009 project called Growing Into Who We Are, the two both submitted essays that reveals insights into their personal lives. Stephen Tchudi wrote about becoming an artist, a process that involved his struggling with shading, creating 3-D art in high school, and cartooning in college. The latter not working out, Stephen turned to teaching English, taking up art only again when he retired. Now he likes to both pencil draw and watercolor. He’s also an organic farmer and justice activist.

As for his wife, Judy wrote an essay on equality. Besides her involvement with farming and justice activism, Susan and her husband have a weekly radio show. On it, they interview guests and focus on environmental issues. The two apparently now live in California.

Gifts of Writing by Susan and Stephen Tchudi is one of the first writing guides I used heavily as a young person. It’ll also serve as the foundation for a writing club I’ll teach later this month. For both of these reasons, I’m reviewing it tomorrow. Save the date: July 1!

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