Thursday, November 18, 2010

Words Are What We Have: Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan

"Is what you write real?" asked May.

Ms. Mirabel liked that question. "Real or unreal. They're just about the same. They are both about magical words."

"Do you write with an outline?" Russell asked.

Ms. Mirabel laughed loudly. It was a sudden, startling laugh, and we all laughed, too.

"Of course not," she said. "Outlines are silly. Once you write the outline, there's no reason to write the story. You write to participate... to find out what is going to happen."

"I write to change my life, to make it come out the way I want it to," she said.

Miss Cash frowned. That is not what she had taught us in creative writing class.

It is the final six weeks of fifth grade, and Miss Cash has bravely brought in an actual writer, Ms. Mirabel, to work with her writing class. Miss Mirabel has "long, troubled hair," and a offbeat take on the writing process. The four friends--May, Evie, Russell, Lucy, and Henry--are intrigued with her ideas. Each has something they fear will not come out the way they want in their lives: Lucy's mom has cancer; May's family has suddenly decided to adopt a baby; Evie's mom has left home; and Russell's beloved dog had just died. Henry's life is perfect, and considering his friend's problems, he worries that he can't hold on to that perfection.

Bit by bit Ms. Mirabel leads the children to begin to write about themselves, their fears, their sadness, the things they love, and gradually the magic of words, the magic of making something unreal and yet real out of them, flows through them.

Newbery author Patricia MacLachlan's latest Word After Word After Word (Katherine Tegen/Collins, 2010) is a short, easy read, but not a book for the early chapter reader per se, requiring the experience of the middle reader to really get her theme, complex but offered in simple narrative form, that middle elementary children can absorb. Pair this one with the Newbery-winning Sharon Creech's award-winning Love That Dog and sequel Hate That Cat: A Novel to help middle graders understand what poetry is and what it can do.

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