Book Review: Steve Peha’s Be a Better Writer
Half the fun of the NCTE conference is the spontaneous conversations that occur over meals, at the sessions, in the exhibition hall. One conversation happened when I was at the Norton booth chatting with Jim Burke and a gentleman with a pin that said “optimism.” That gentleman was Steve Peha, and not only did he gift me an optimism pin of my own, we had a great conversation about teaching, metaphor, and writing. We exchanged cards and went on our way.
Lo and behold, a month later Steve’s book Be A Better Writer arrived in the mail for me, and while it took me a bit to read it (end of the marking period, you know how it is) I am so glad I did. Be a Better Writer has the kind of voice and approach that balances knowledge with concrete activities, and a bit of fun mixed in. Although the cover says “for school, for fun, for anyone ages 10-16” these techniques are useful for any beginning writer. I particularly appreciated the checklists before each chapter, as they served to let me know what the chapter would be about–better than a chapter table of contents. My favorite might have been #9 for chapter 2: “There are things that need to be said in the world. You might be the only person who can say them.” Great advice.
Be A Better Writer also gives teachers a way to teach strong writing with concrete approaches. For example, writing memoir can sometimes be hard to teach, but Peha gives us 3 ways to start an essay that could even be combined to create a strong introduction to a memoir. Using a thought, a description, and a question together, and you’ve got a powerhouse introduction. I found myself noting useful portions of the book with sticky notes, and now the book seems to have a pink sticky-note mane encompassing it. I have to admit, though, seeing Peha reference Moby Dick when writing about punctuation might have been my favorite portion (I am a bit of a Moby Dick-head, as Stephen Colbert has said).
So if you’re a new teacher, a new writer, or even an experienced teacher or writer, this book is worth the read.And I also didn’t mention yet Margot Carmichael Lester, journalist and founder of the Word Factory, weighs in on each of the chapters with her views, too. Well organized, with strong content (I didn’t even mention the author interviews, the writing samples, and the vast lists of activities and ideas), this book should be on every teacher and student’s shelf of writing advice. So if you see a nice guy at NCTE next year walking around with an optimism button, stop him for a conversation, you won’t be sorry.
Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA