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Copyright 2006 Julie Shepherd Knapp
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"Be a Writer" and "Be a Better Writer"
by Steve Peha and Margot Carmichael Lester

reviewed by Julie Shepherd Knapp, copyright 2006

Ever wished you could hire an expert to "fire up" your reluctant writers
and get them excited about writing? "
Be a Writer: Your Guide to the
Writing Life" is the next best thing -- it’s a self-help book written for
tweens and teens and the author, Steve Peha, is the kid-friendly writing
coach we've wished for.  His wife, Margot, an accomplished columnist,
passes along real-world  practical advice throughout the book,
reinforcing and elaborating on Steve's strategies.

I bought this book for my 12-year-old son and casually tossed it to him,
saying, "Here, this is for you -- I think you'll like it!" He suspiciously
opened to Chapter One and began reading.  Within two sentences, he
was reading to me from the book and laughing. "This guy is just like me!  
He hates to write, too!"

Steve's honest confession, that he "hates to write, but loves having
written" helps potential young writers see that they are not alone in their
dislike of the task, but that writing can also be a rewarding experience,
worth the trouble. His casual, friendly tone and (seemingly) offhand
advice work together to ease them into the writing process... so smoothly
that they hardly realize they have generated several lists of topics to
write about by the end of the first chapter.

The first half of this book addresses the major issues that bog down the
typical reluctant writer: finding a good reason to write; thinking of things
to write about; getting those first words down on paper; then fleshing
them out into a good piece of writing. Steve does a great job of taking
the misery out of these tasks, often using humorous examples from his
own writing.

The second half of the book introduces students to real-world writing
opportunities -- essays, memoirs, book and movie reviews, editorials,
and fiction -- and gives students effective strategies for organizing,
"detailing", editing, and publishing their writing for each of these styles.

Activity suggestions are sprinkled throughout the chapters, but this is
not a textbook in the typical sense... think of it more as a paperbacked
motivational writing seminar. This book is a great choice for students
who are reluctant writers by nature.  It could also be good therapy for
students who have lost their excitement for writing after years of
prescriptive school assignments.

The author does not teach how to do Five Paragraph Essays or Book
Reports, because he does not see that these forms translate into "real-
world" writing. He would rather kids learn to write about things of real
importance to them, and things that have actually happened to them --
so that more young people will start thinking of themselves as capable
"writers" with their own unique view of the world.

The second book in this series, "
Be a Better Writer" is well-suited for
kids who are already writing and want to improve their style and find
interesting content within their own experiences.  The two books bundled
together are called the "
Young Writer's Tool-Kit"