Reviewed by Kevin Hodgson
There are plenty of books out there that help a teacher inspire writing practice for students in the classroom. Give me Ralph Fletcher or Lucy Calkins any day. But not too many books help educators become writers themselves. Author Kate Messner aims to change that with her collaborative resource, 59 Reasons to Write.
Messner, an accomplished writer who has long forged direct connections with teachers in Skype visits and online forums, pulls together rich insights and reflections from a few dozen authors and teachers who have taken part in her free summer initiative: Teachers Write.
Messner likes to refer to Teachers Write as a “virtual summer camp for teachers,” as it connects classroom teachers and published authors together in blogs and on Twitter and other social media spaces, offering encouragement to educators who want to write but don’t quite know how to proceed.
59 Reasons to Write pulls together insights from Teachers Write camp experiences. Messner explains that while we can all acknowledge “there are so many reasons not to write”– the kids, the laundry, the shopping, life in general – “… there are also reasons to write – bigger, better reasons that go beyond the editor, patiently waiting for my manuscript.” (p. 196)
As Messner also points out, as a rationale for why teachers should be writing: “When we (teachers) write alongside them (students), we are more than teachers; we are mentors and travelers on the same rocky path of the writing process.” (p. 196)
A treasure trove of writing help
Inside this collection, you will find more than the labeled 59 reasons to write promised by the title. You will discover a treasure trove of writing prompts and ideas, reflective insights from published authors about struggles and success in the publishing world, examples of writing in various genres, images and charts and other visuals, and more. Messner works hard to pull in a wide range of voices, and the result is a menagerie of writing inspiration for teachers.
Let’s look at a typical chapter…
The book is organized around familiar themes: characters, setting, point of view, plot and pacing, poetry, revision, etc. But every chapter is like world unto itself, with multiple voices and words of encouragement.
For example, in the chapter on “Flowing Between Nonfiction and Fiction,” the reader/writer discovers:
- An introduction to the topic of non-fiction writing by Messner;
- A warm-up writing prompt (called Jo’s Morning Warm-up) by Jo Knowles;
- A piece by writer Sarah Albee about pushing beyond the boredom of history textbooks and turning the concept of a mentor text on its head;
- A mini-lesson on the power of research to inform writing by literary agent A.J Paquette;
- Writer Laurel Snyder’s take on how to write from another historical perspective as you bring a character and event to life;
- A piece by Donalynn Miller (aka, the Book Whisperer) on the importance of professional writing practice by classroom teachers, and how a network of support makes all the difference in the world;
- A writing assignment (called “Today’s Assignment”) that has readers telling a story of their own classroom as prelude to composing an article about a best teaching practice for an educational journal;
- A reflective piece by writer Elizabeth Rusch on story structure with science-themed books and how to use interviews of sources to inform a story;
- And a Question-Answer section, pulled out from Teachers Write blog posts, where educators ask questions about writing process and writers respond with honesty, humor and warmth.
Phew. And that is just one section. Every chapter is knee deep in advice and packed with opportunities to write. My only criticism of 59 Reasons to Write is that the chapters can feel over-stuffed at times. With so many voices in the mix, it all can make for some difficult navigation.
But that is not a reason not to write, nor is that any reason to avoid reading this rich book and getting inspired to pick up your pencil and start your story. Now is as good a time as any, and Messner and company are waiting in the pages to offer you support.
Kevin Hodgson is a sixth grade teacher in Southampton, Massachusetts, and is the technology co-director with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Kevin blogs regularly at Kevin’s Meandering Mind and tweets more often than is healthy under his @dogtrax handle.