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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Born to Write: What Students Can Learn through Author Study

How can studying an author create a better understanding and enjoyment of a novel?

In a previous post on Gary Paulsen: Living Literary Legend, I mentioned how that author's life experiences brought real authenticity to his earlier work, and how relentless research habits informed his later historical novels such as Woods Runner. Likewise, in The Most Misunderstood Advice for Young Writers, I passed along an interview with Laurie Halse Anderson in which she discussed her hands-on research for Forge. Both of these discussions make a solid argument for investigating authors and the ways in which they work.

Additionally, literacy coach Laura Kump (aka The Reading Lady) has this to say:
Author Studies are a powerful teaching tool. There is no better way to turn kids on to reading than to build a community joined by a great book. The goal of an author study is to make a connection between a book and an author's life. This shows children that authors are real people, develops motivation to seek out other work by the same author, and hopefully inspires children to write.
Reading Rockets provides their own 10 Reasons to Do an Author Study, and I've shared a few of my own below.

Teachers should engage students in author studies 
  • to develop basic knowledge of an author's education, experiences, and cultural background;
  • to determine how these variables have influenced the author's writing;
  • to hear what the author has to say about writing in general, and his/her own writing habits in particular; 
  • to discover those writers who influenced the author;
  • to begin identifying the author's style and patterns in writing;
  • to begin identifying the author's purpose through their choice of genre(s);
  • to use the author's work as mentor texts for improving student writing;
  • to create a common literary experience in order to discuss reading and writing from a shared perspective.
One book I'd recommend for a fascinating look into the lives of popular authors is Born to Write: The Remarkable Lives of Six Famous Authors by Charis Cotter. Through this book, the reader is given a glimpse into the formative years of writers Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables), Clive Staples Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia), Elwyn Brooks White (Stuart Little), Madeleine L'Engle (A Wrinkle in Time), Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass), and Christopher Paul Curtis (Bud, Not Buddy).

Madeleine L'Engle, for example, experienced frustration and failure in school as a child. She did poorly in academics, and a physical condition which caused one leg to be shorter than another caused the other girls to call her "cripple" during gym class.

As shared in Born to Write, her one escape was through the pages of her own stories:

At the top of the page was the title of the story she was writing: "The Strange Adventures of Annabelle Rose." Last night she had left Annabelle in a dreadful fix, tied up to a tree in the middle of a forest, surrounded by desperate bandits. Today she had to find a way for Annabelle to get loose, defeat the bandits, and release the king from their terrible clutches. Her fearless heroine had long, curly, dark hair and flashing black eyes. She was strong and smart and there was no bandit on earth who could keep Annabelle Rose tied up for long.

A small smile turned up the corners of Madeleine's mouth as she began to write. School, Miss Hathaway, her distant parents, and even New York City all vanished as she entered her secret world. Day after day she sat at her desk, writing stories and drawing pictures. Her heroines moved gracefully through their adventures, their two legs the same so they didn't limp. They conquered all obstacles and gathered loving friends and admirers around them. This was the real world. School and Miss Hathaway and the silent apartment were just shadows of an unpleasant dream.

The other author biographies are equal parts tragedy and triumph, and definitely worth the read.

Author Study Resources Online


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post!

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