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GUEST BLOG POST: Savor a Book: Reading like a Writer

Edited by Ruth: Pssst…today is Mary Helen’s birthday! Won’t you join me in leaving comments on her blog post about one of her very favorite books?

Mary Helen Gensch is currently a literacy coach and Title I interventionist for Pierceton Elementary School in Indiana. Her journey as a writing coach began with the AllWrite!!! Consortium eight years ago.  After reading Wondrous Words by Katie Wood Ray, reading like a writer became an addiction that has blossomed into sharing books with teachers and students alike. She has presented at the AllWrite!!! Summer Institute for the past five years with her colleague, Tammy Shultz.  Thanks to the encouragement of Ruth Ayres, Mary Helen began her blog, Book Savors, where she practices reading like a writer with the books she enjoys.

I love children’s books! Reading like a writer has become an addiction, a passion I love to share. The more I read, the more I fall in love with words.  I read and reread and notice. I spend time lingering over words, learning how authors have intentionally crafted their writing. “Savoring a book” is what I call it.  In turn, I share my books with teachers and students. I want each to fall in love with books and to learn to read like a writer themselves.  Don’t you? By learning how the authors are crafting their books, kids will have endless mentors.

This addiction evolved over time. I remember at my beginning writing workshop training sitting in awe as my presenters shared their favorite books. I was amazed at how well each one knew the text, the craft for mini-lessons, and I wanted to be just like them! I speedily scribbled the title and authors of the books they shared.  (I still have that beloved list.) I wanted the craft to be burned into my memory. How would I ever become good at reading like a writer?

In Wondrous Words, Katie Wood Ray implores teachers to spend time reading children’s literature to mold their writerly eyes. Katie said to read, so I did. A LOT! I went to the library with the list of books from my workshop. I began to read other books by the same authors.  Books authored by Kevin Henkes, Patricia Polacco, Jim Arnosky, and Molly Bang.  I read them and wrote down craft moves and word choice from each book. I began to set aside time each week to read the books in our school library. On Thursday afternoons, I would sit on the floor for an hour, pulling one book off the shelf after another. I would read and make notes about the books I liked. Then I would reread each one, savoring the words. I needed to see beyond the storyline to the writerly craft. I was practicing reading like a writer.

Wondrous Words was my guide. I would look at the types of craft moves listed and began to notice those specifics in the books I read. I started with some craft techniques I knew well, like similes, alliteration, and Magic of 3. Here’s an example from Molly Bang’s book When Sophie Gets Angry… Really, Really Angry:

 “She kicks. She screams. She wants to smash the word to smithereens.”

The three sentences together crafted the Power of Three. Then I noticed the varied sentence lengths – short, short, long. As I reread the scene again, alliteration jumped out at me. Wow! Now I had three crafts to teach or use when conferring.

Sticky notes became a necessary tool to help me remember all the noticings. The 3 x 3 size allowed me room to jot the skills. I placed these notes inside my books for reference.  But what about the books from the library, you ask? I would place the sticky note on the front cover of the book. Then I would copy the cover and write down where the book was located.  .The copied cover served as a visual reminder for me (which I need), but it’s also fantastic for my students. When I needed to locate the book I had loaned out, I would hold up the picture and say, “Does anyone have this book?” Kids found it every time.

So what about you? Have you practiced reading like a writer recently? I would like to challenge you to take thirty minutes and read a book that you like. Have a sticky note nearby. What do your writerly eyes notice?

Enjoy reading like a writer. Read. Read. Notice.

Savor a book today!

11 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG POST: Savor a Book: Reading like a Writer

  1. “By learning how the author’s are crafting their books, kids will have endless mentors” – so very true. What a great idea to photocopy the cover page for your collection of sticky note observations! A binder full of these is so much more organized (and therefore useable) than my system of using the inside cover. Thank you for this insightful post, Mary Helen…and Happy Birthday!:)


  2. Like you, Katie Wood Ray spoke to me in “Wondrous Words”…so much so that it was one of two texts assigned when I taught a writing process class to teachers. Now every book I read (to my students or myself) I read with a writer’s eye and ear. My capstone project was to take popular children’s big books, find some of the author’s craft in them, and teach my students how we could use the craft to write our own version of a story. We started with structure and then moved on to word choice. We produced eight class books which were fabulous. My goal was to see if with that rehearsal, children would then begin to use some of the craft we discovered in their own writing, which they did! They did not let it stop there though…they began to recognize craft in their reading and in my read alouds. Soon reading and writing workshop crossed over each other so much it was hard to tell which workshop it was (reading writing or writing reading). Thank you Katie Wood Ray!


  3. Thank you for the great insight! I am all ready trying to figure out how I can utilize this in my high school classes and am eager dive into my young daughter’s (overflowing) bookcase to practice what I will teach.


  4. Your passion is contagious! I also appreciate how you make this feel so doable. The pictures help create a picture of how it might look for us and your enthusiasm has me headed for my bookshelves. Can’t wait to share this with others.
    Happy birthday!!


  5. Similar to Stacey, one of the most valuable aspects that I have learned about being a writer through reading about teaching writing is the value of reading like a writer and mentor texts. This week I just submitted my first presentation paper proposal and needed to read like a writer with examples first. I love that it is still true even when we are very familiar with a genre. It is fun to be surprised or notice that the author’s craft catches our attention in some unique way.


  6. I liked how you through in some photos of books you use–more book ideas for us! Your tips make for better writing/reading teachers–literacy at its best!


  7. Thanks for the reminder. I use post-its a lot in all of my books. I even keep to a colour code system. Your copying of the book cover just gave me an idea – I can take a photo of each of my covers to keep as a reference. These can also be shared with colleagues. Always have my camera around.


  8. A great post! Your enthusiasm comes through with every word. I love children’s books and often use them for all sorts of lessons in my classes. Thanks for sharing


  9. You have shown perfect and useful ways for capturing the ideas that you find in books for future lessons, and for sharing with teachers. I have struggled with a way to do that in order to remember what’s in each one so I can share with others. I’m excited to start doing the sticky notes for my books. Thanks very, very much!


  10. I practice reading like a writer when I read The New York Times. I’m working on an article right now and I’m trying to mimic some of the craft moves of some of my favorite NYT articles as I write.

    Thanks for this incredible post about reading like a writer in the classroom Mary Helen!


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