Books may encourage young writers to record their thoughts and dreams


December 31, 1993|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

I have no trouble keeping track of at least one New Year's resolution. Through the years it has been faithfully scrawled on the first page of assorted spiral-bound, cloth-bound, lined and unlined notebooks.

The entries are eerie in their sameness, be it Jan. 1, 1964, or Jan. 1, 1992. For years I have vowed to record my daily thoughts and troubles, dreams and worries.

Reading the words of my earnest, 8-year-old self, one thing is clear: You're never too young to start breaking resolutions. That year the entries in the pink "My Diary" petered out in mid-February, about the same time my brother learned how to pick the lock with a nail file.

Here are some books that can inspire kids to put pen to paper (for maybe more than one or two months).

"A Book of Your Own: Keeping a Diary or Journal" by Carla Stevens (Clarion, $7.95 paper, $14.95 cloth, 100 pages, ages 9 and up) is not as how-to as it sounds.

Ms. Stevens uses excerpts from diaries of the famous and not-so-famous to show you can write whatever you want, whenever you want. Tucked between paragraphs by Henry David Thoreau and Anne Frank are journal entries by Ms. Stevens' friends and relatives. Most were written in childhood or adolescence.

The many excerpts should be enough to get anyone going. But for those who need more prodding, the book offers suggestions. you're in a hurry, Ms. Stevens says, just list stuff that happened that day, or list 10 things you hate and 10 things you love, or five smells you like and five smells you detest.

Use your journal pages for drawings, or for pretend dialogues, or for letters you never intend to send. The author includes exercises such as setting a timer for three minutes and writing the first word that comes to mind, then the next, then the next. She also talks about using similes and metaphors -- "It feels like there's a rat trying to gnaw its way out of my stomach" -- and other imagery to help express thoughts and feelings.

Ms. Stevens includes a bibliography of the published diaries she mentions, and the index is well done. This is a book young writers can refer back to again and again.

Many folks freeze in front of a blank sheet of paper or a cursor blipping on an empty computer screen. The following fill-in-the-blank books can help overcome that fear.

"The Private and Personal Reading Journal" is a 16-page booklet for ages 7-12 that can be ordered for $3.50 directly from the publisher, R. R. Bowker, a Reed Reference company, by calling (800) 521-8110.

It gives kids plenty of space to write about books they have read -- just for fun. No stilted book reports, please. There are quotes and poems sprinkled throughout, and a few lists, such as "books remembered by world class readers." The book is a bit dated -- one of those world class readers is President Bush -- but that doesn't detract from its charm.

"My Soccer Book" and "My Ballet Book" are YourBooks published by HarperFestival (each $10.95, 48 pages, ages 8-12). Kids fill in the blanks about their soccer team or ballet class, with spaces for photos, drawings, and plenty of places to log your progress.

For ballet, you can grade your mastery of positions month-by-month. There's a place to write "What my teacher has me working on hardest" and "My mood during barre work this month is often . . ."

The same disciplined approach is found in the soccer book, which has a double-page spread for each of 12 games. There's room for the score, a chart where you can rate your team's performance and grade your own skills, plus write a few words on the things you did best and the things you need to work on most.

Both books seem obsessive to me, but if you know a driven-to-succeed kid, they might appreciate the structure.

Much more fun can be found in "My Pet's First Book: All about My Pet . . .By Me," by Shagg E. Dawg, Ph.D, edited by Peter Guren (Watermill Press, $2.50, 48 pages, ages 6 and up). In addition to spaces for photos, drawings, and an envelope to hold lock or hair, some scales or a feather from your pet, there are places to record visits to the vet, the pet's favorite toys and "things your pet got in trouble for . . .add extra pages if necessary."

* Signing sighting: Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, who has written about her Baltimore roots in "Chita's Christmas Tree," "Aunt Flossie's Hats (and Crab Cakes Later)," "The Train to Lulu's" and "Mac, Marie and the Train Toss Surprise," will lead a storytime for all ages at the Eastport-Annapolis Neck branch of the Anne Arundel County Library 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 13.

Registration isn't required for the free program, but donations of nonperishable goods for the Anne Arundel Couny Food Bank are welcomed. Copies of Ms. Howard's books will be available for purchase and autographs. For more information, call (410) 222-7371.

* A correction: In an earlier review of "Tumble Tower" by Anne Tyler, illustrated by her daughter, Mitra Modarressi, the wrong number of pages was listed. The picture book (Orchard, $14.95) is 32 pages long. I'm sorry about the error.

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