A Variety of Powerful Voices Assist Young Writers

Last week I wandered into ‘Enchanted By Books’, a specialty book shop in the Melbourne suburb of Williamstown.  http://www.enchantedbybooks.com.au/   It is one of three book stores, I have so far discovered in Williamstown. The shop caters for readers 0 -14 and has a select collection of fiction and non fiction titles.  It was another chance to browse and seek out books suitable for teaching aspects of writing. Some time later I walked out with three great titles I firmly believe will assist me to more effectively teach young writers about  ‘voice’ These vastly different books have much to ‘tell’ us about voice in writing.  -A concept often difficult for students to incorporate into their writing.

I found Anthony Browne's cleverly constructed picture book, Voices in the Park, Doubleday, 1998,  where the author uses inventive voice and vision to create four interrelated tales based around the setting of the park. Browne describes their version of the events, altering light, colours and words. Browne also changes font to further reinforce the difference in narrating voice. The benefits in having students note the contrasting voices and how they contribute to the overall voice of a piece are most obvious. Browne’s characters reveal themselves through their words.

‘You get some frightful types in the park these days’ ( First Voice)

 'I settled on a bench and looked the paper for a job. I know it’s a waste of time really, but you’ve got to have a bit of hope, haven’t you?’ (Second Voice)

 ‘D’you wanna come on the slide?’ a voice asked. It was a girl unfortunately, but I went anyway. She was brilliant on the slide, she went really fast. (Third Voice)

 ‘I got talking to this boy. I thought he was a bit of a wimp at first, but he’s okay. (Fourth Voice)

 Students are more likely to begin experimenting with voice in their own writing. They may begin to look at how their favorite authors distinguish themselves and compare one author's style to another.  I can see much potential for teaching young writers about voice using this rich text.

The second book I purchased was Martin Jenkins and Vicki White’s non fiction title, ‘Can We Save the Tiger?’ Walker Books UK, 2011.  What distinguishes this book from many non fiction titles was the sense that the author was talking directly to me; the reader. I got the impression the author was indulging in a personal conversation with me. There existed an intimacy in the words. The author could well have been whispering in my ear with words like these:

‘The world’s quite a big place, you know…’

Still, I’m sure you’ll all agree that tigers are pretty special’

‘Or…I could go on and on. And I think that would be a shame, don’t you?’ (regarding the plight of various animals)

 These personal words are interspersed with factual data about respective endangered species, labels and detailed illustrations by Vicki White. The book also uses a variety of fonts and font sizes to draw attention to the messages in the text. What distinguishes this book from many non fiction texts is the narrator’s voice. It is neither detached or impersonal. There is a conscious attempt to speak directly to the reader. The voice shines through.

The final book in my bag was, ‘I Won’t Say Please’ written by Mij Kelly and illustrated by Ruth Palmer, Koala Books 2002. –a cautionary tale about a Queen Bee who is having a bad day and refuses to apologize for her lack of good manners. The book cleverly reveals the characters through rich exchanges of dialogue. The use of voice is self evident here, but it has much to teach young writers about effective use of speech in a text. The voices are clearly defined through exchanges such as:

‘Fetch me my clothes and my crown’

Look here, Queen Bee, You don’t have to beg or get down on your knees, but you could at least say please.’

‘Why should i?’

And later…

‘You see, Queen Bee, I shan’t make your breakfast until you say please.’

‘Oh go and hide your head!’ Queen Bee said.

Like the previous titles, this picture book uses a variety of font sizes to emphasize tonal differences.  

‘I feel stung! She wailed and moaned.

My new books will add to my growing collection of mentor texts. -Texts that serve to show students how to write well.  -Texts carefully chosen to illuminate craft elements (in this instance, voice) in a variety of ways. Using conversation and observation and my personal writing, I will utilize these wonderful books to strengthen the natural connections between reading and writing.



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