Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Review: Your Child's Writing Life

Author: Pam Allyn
Publisher: Avery Trade (August 2, 2011)
Audience: Adult (Specifically directed towards parents)
Source: NetGalley (e-book for review)

Description from GoodReads:

New educational research reveals that writing is as fundamental to a child's development as reading. But though there are books that promote literacy, no book guides parents in helping their child cultivate a love of writing. In this book, Pam Allyn, a nationally recognized educator and literacy expert, reminds us that writing is not only a key skill but also an essential part of self-discovery and critical to success later in life. Allyn offers the "the five keys" to help kids WRITE-Word Power, Ritual, Independence, Time, and Environment-along with fun, imaginative prompts to inspire and empower children to put their thoughts on the page.

A groundbreaking blueprint for developing every child's abilities, Your Child's Writing Life teaches parents how to give a gift that will last a lifetime.

 "Reading is like breathing in, writing is like breathing out.  A child reading and writing, one from the other is building the capacity for reflection, synthesis, and inquiry." - Pam Allyn
In July, I reviewed Pam Allyn's The Best Book for Boys and have subsequently recommended it to a number of teachers, librarians, and booksellers that I know.  Pam is a teacher, author, motivational speaker, global literacy advocate, and a parent.  She is passionate about her work and is extremely knowledgeable about the field of literacy. 

Allyn's latest book is directed at parents.  Early in the book, she indicates that there are various books on helping your children to read but really no books on nurturing a child's writing life.  She sets out to provide that resource for parents.  As I read through the book, I had to remind myself of this fact, since often times I have on my educator's hat and in this case, I needed to switch gears and look at the book from a different angle.  Though the book does have useful information and reminders which can be used by teachers, the book is really directed at parents, and specifically parents who are interested in their child's writing.  I can see two groups of parents which will gravitate towards this book - the newer parent who is trying to make sure that he/she provides a solid foundation for his/her young child and the parent of an older school-age child who may be struggling with writing and wants to know more about how to support their child's writing.

Allyn makes an extensive case for the importance of early writing, as early as ages 1 to 2 years, in the role of children being better readers and more confident writers later on.  She discusses five writing pillars that are essential in this process: stamina, creativity, organization, fluency, and phonemic awareness.  Early, frequent writing exploration will stimulate and support each of these areas.  Allyn provides multiple examples from her own children's lives as well as from others about how a parent can encourage and support a very young child in this process and how to continue to nurture it as the child grows.  Additionally, Allyn share 5 Keys for Forever Writers which she connects with the word WRITE: word power, reading life, identity, time, and environment.

Two other sections parents will find particularly helpful are the developmental stages of writing and the section on how to help children when they are struggling with writing.  In the developmental section, Allyn breaks things down by a particular age of the child and focuses on the developmental characteristics of that age as connected with writing, the writing elements that are evident at this age, suggestions for writing activities, and suggestions for books.  This varies per age level and provides some additional information for parents are children become a little older.  With these sections, I can see parents scanning through the sections that are not relevant for their child at that particular time and reading more thoroughly the section relevant to where their child is at currently and then returning later to look at other sections.  I can also see teachers pulling out some of the information for a particular age child when speaking with parents about supporting their child's writing at home.

Though I am not a parent, I do have many friends with school-age children.  As I read through this book, many of them came to mind.  I tried to imagine them reading this book or picking it up.  Hence, my earlier statement that I believe this will be a book sought out more by newer parents interested in literacy development or parents of older school-age children whose child may be struggling with writing.  Most parents with pre-school or school aged children are extremely busy and though the activities provided by Allyn in this book are very practical, I am not certain I see parents sitting long enough to read the book or applying the information without some condensing of material (for example, a teacher using the book to provide a hand-out to parents on a child's writing stage, writing ideas for that age level, and some tips on how to support it at home).

Additionally, for teachers working with lower-income families, and families/parents who have limited literacy skills- especially in English, the information provided by Allyn will certainly need to be teased out and formatted in a manner that they can relate with.  Allyn is a passionate supporter of global literacy and I would love to see a companion piece to this book specifically for teachers working with families who the information in this book would be more of a challenge to access or for ideas that would not overwhelm families with limited literacy skills and different cultural values. 

Please note:  There were some formatting issues with the e-galley which were a bit distracting, and also made checking out the references or notations difficult. 

For more information about Pam Allyn, check out the following websites -

Her official website:  http://pamallyn.com/
Or her LitWorld page: http://litworld.org/
Or her LitLife page: http://litlifeinfo.com/

Friend her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pamallyn

Follow her on Twitter: @pamallyn