A welcome guide to teacher and parent

Nandini Nayar

book-reviewWriting anything – even letters to the bank manger – can shake the faith of the most stout hearted and leave them staring in despair at a blank page. Most people believe that creative writing of any kind is strictly not for them and shy away from the idea of putting thoughts, emotions and ideas on paper. Anyone Can Write, by Cheryl Rao, Gita Iyengar and Meena Murdeshwar, is a book that can awaken hopes in the heart of even a dyed-in-the-wool non-writer.

Published by Foundation Books, this slim volume begins with this emphatically voiced opinion that anyone can write and then proceeds to show exactly how this is possible. The book is divided into three sections – with the one on writing features for magazines/newspapers coming first, followed by writing stories and ending with the section on writing poems.

The first section, written by Gita Iyengar, launches directly into teaching children how to write features. A short introduction to features and a note on where children (and teachers) are likely to come across this kind of writing would have helped enhance this section. This section has five different tasks – writing features, group features, book reviews, writing movie and television reviews and the finally writing middles. Each task comes equipped with detailed information on how to approach that particular form of writing. These tips are sure to be of great help to teachers and parents trying to introduce children to the mysteries of writing. However, the reasoning behind the organization of the tasks is a little hazy – four of the tasks are theme-based (writing features, book review, film review, writing middles) but the fifth one – on writing group features – does not fit into this list. This is based on the number of people writing it and seems to have been added only to increase the number of tasks.

This section also contains several examples of children’s writings and these make for interesting reading. However, including examples of features, book reviews, movie reviews and middles from newspapers would have helped illustrate the points made in the guidelines. As such, this section places the onus of preparing for a class on feature writing on the teacher.

The section on poetry, written by Meena Murdeshwar has an introduction to this genre of writing and includes, aptly enough, a long description, in verse, of the process of writing poetry. The introduction to each task is presented in verse, sure to enthuse the reader to try her own hand at poetry. This section begins by presenting children with an ‘heirloom’ poem and inviting them to alter it. This is sure to convince even the most confirmed non-writers that they can indeed write, besides providing some truly hilarious poems. The second task offers ‘Stems that bloom’, another innovative idea that teachers and parents can try, presenting the child with a stem of an idea and stepping back to see what he/she makes of it. Task three builds on ‘Some Childhood Anxieties’ and invites children to scribble their fears away! An amazingly cathartic exercise that will surprise children and adults alike with the results. ‘The Wannabes’ invites children to give free rein to their imagination and write about what they would like to be. ‘Personal Glimpses’ presents another opportunity to write about deep dark secrets, inviting children to write about their memories.

Other tasks, like ‘Be ‘Sense-sitive’, ‘Movement- Magical and Actual’, ‘Catch the Passion’ and ‘Tragedy touches Hearts!’ all guide children on the way to tap the depths of their hearts and memories to come up with poems. These writing tasks will not only help children write, but also help them see how writing poetry is inextricably linked to our emotions.

The section on ‘Writing Stories’ is the longest and therefore far more detailed than the other two. Cheryl Rao, the author of this section, presents a comprehensive introduction to the writing of stories, introducing children to the basic elements of story writing. These include the various parts of the story – the title, beginning, middle and end, and the planning necessary before writing a story – the ‘who, what, how, why where, when’ aspects of any story. This section includes the largest number of tasks and Rao manages to cover practically every type of story through the 31 tasks provided. Rather than create tasks that introduce children to the various story genres, Rao’s focus remains the actual writing of a story and hence the tasks are centered around the possible variations that can be offered to encourage children to write. These clues, or stems include perennial favourites of children and one is likely to meet various kinds of horrible but extra intelligent aliens, thieves, detectives, monsters and zombies.

The tasks in this book are all based on a series of writing workshops that the three authors conducted at various schools in Hyderabad and the examples chosen reflect the writing attempts of children who attended these workshops. This book can be used both as a means of awakening an interest in writing fiction, features and poetry in children and as a way to guide children who have exhibited some interest and skill in writing. Parents whose children exhibit a spark of creativity are sure to find this a welcome guide to helping their children discover the various facets of writing. This book can also be a boon to an innovative teacher, who can use it to enhance the writing skills of her students.

The reviewer is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad. She can be reached at [email protected].

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