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!