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Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8 Review by Dawn Oaks

By Carol Baldwin
Maupin House Publishing
2416 NW 71st Place
Gainesville, FL 32653

Creative writing in homeschooling can be quite a challenge at times. Students often struggle in getting their creativity and imagination to meet with their pencil on the paper. In Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8, Carol Baldwin does a wonderful job of helping parents and students break apart the creative side of writing from the mechanics. As a professor of mine once said, "Any great work is 80% planning and 20% actual producing." This is so true of the writing approach found in Teaching the Story.

The author begins the writing process by having the student become very familiar with the main character. Don't just name him or her, but imagine that person right beside you. What does he look like? What kind of clothes does she wear? What things excite her? What is his greatest fear? Is he funny? Is she popular? Does she have any hidden talents? Is he or she a good student? The writer (your child) is encouraged through drawings, character sketches, and other tools provided in this book to have their main character come alive. Once well acquainted with his main character, your budding writer will bring to life any other story characters, even the bad guy or antagonist of the story.

This same type of approach is used in considering the setting, plot, dialogue, and other aspects of your child's story. Carol Baldwin provides many information banks and reproducibles that can be printed from the Resource CD included in the back of the book. The text demonstrates the different techniques for a general fiction work, but it also explores the different genres of fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, science fiction, and sports stories. There are genre-specific reproducibles for each level of planning of your child's story.

Baldwin also includes wonderful checklists for the student to use for self-evaluation. These checklists are quite helpful when the student begins the mechanics of accomplishing the rough draft, revisions, and finally the published work. There are also guidelines for you as the parent in grading your child's work.

This newly revised second edition incorporates the Internet and computer technologies. However, as a homeschooling mom, I did not really see much benefit in these additions, as most of them are more applicable to the classroom environment (interactive whiteboards, wikis, podcasts, and digital portfolios). In place of some of these technology connection lessons, we incorporated role-playing scenarios to help bring characters to life or drawings to help us truly picture the setting of the story.

The book includes a suggested reading list organized by genre and grade level. The author stresses the importance of reading material in a genre to become more familiar with good writing in that format. I agree with the principle, but I must encourage you as always to be mindful of what your children read. The books contained on this list may be excellent examples of writing in these genres, but the content may not be consistent with the principles that you abide by within your home.

All in all, I would recommend that you consider using this product to help your children write more imaginative fiction works. It has wonderful tools to help keep the "creative" in creative writing. There are many sections in this book that I may pull out as stand-alone lessons whenever my children hit a stale point in their writing.

Product review by Dawn Oaks, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February 2009