Friday, September 20, 2013

Readers and Writers

The truth is, it's only by writing that we become better readers. We begin to appreciate what it takes to write well. In Thrice Told Tales: Three Mice Full of Writing Advice, Catherine Lewis gives concrete examples of what effect different approaches to writing may have on the reader. She does this by putting teens--as the potential writers--in the reader's shoes. 
My Bible in high school

Perhaps you, like me, used Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers as your Bible while writing in high school and college. The trouble is, it's a great reference for research papers, but as a guide to drawing in readers (or listeners, when we had to give oral reports in front of the class), not so much. If we were lucky, a good teacher pointed us to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. But Lewis wrote Thrice Told Tales especially for teens, and lets them in on the tricks of the trade for great writers, and also gives them the tools to analyze--as readers--why a piece of writing moved them in a particular way.

A godsend in college
(It also warmed the cockles of my heart to see a sentence diagram [illustrated by Joost Swarte] in Lewis's pages--it reminded me of Mrs. Hecker, my seventh-grade English teacher at South Junior High, who taught us how to do sentence diagrams. No dangling prepositional phrases for her students!)

Lewis gives writers the nuts and bolts (such as sentence parts, as with those fab diagrams) with Three Blind Mice as her framework--a tale they know well--to get them walking. Once writers have mastered that, she let's them run--with secrets to the craft. Through the use of metaphors, similes, point of view and more, she offers up not just definitions, but their actual use in context. Because Lewis provides a loose narrative of a trio of mice with different personalities, she often offers contrasting ways of expressing the same set of facts, depending on the perspective of the three observers. She also lays out a smorgasbord of styles from a wide range of writers, such as Dickens, Homer, and Hemingway. She models critical thinking for readers, and also demonstrates for aspiring writers how the choices they make elicit different responses from readers.

Catherine Lewis reveals the tools for good writing, and encourages young people who wish to write well to practice with these tools. Thrice Told Tales is for writers, readers and teachers; it's made for dipping in and out, for mini-lessons or for first-aid "how do I get out of this mess" writing crises. Put this in teens' hands, and see how they run.

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