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Landa List, The Dirty Thirty, The Writing Process, and Word Clusters Review by Kathy Gelzer

David Hatcher and Lane Goddard
Landa Books
1873 Meadowbrook Drive
Winston-Salem, NC 27104

I received four small books (5" by 8") from Landa Books. They are each about an aspect of writing and are written to older students or adults.

Landa List is a general mechanics book with sections on punctuation, rules for writing numbers in text, capital letters, grammar, spelling, language and gender, proofreading, confusable words, and references. This 48-page book is a writing reference book--not a teaching guide--and seems to be written to the college/career writer. The book is written simply and clearly. It contains some great tips for remembering rules, such as, "Periods and commas go inside the closing quotes. (Remember: they're small, so they slip inside easily.)"

Spelling rules are concise but not comprehensive. "Change y to i before adding ed and most other suffixes, but not before adding ing." It then lists attorney as an exception to this rule without explaining the rule for words ending in ey. A helpful suggestion is to create your own spelling list of tricky words, and space is provided in the book for this. The section on Language and Gender bows to political correctness and claims that using singular pronouns is sexist while ignoring the convention that words such as mankind and he refer to male and female alike.

One of the Proofreading Hints says, "You can't see your own mistakes, so have someone else proof your writing." While having someone proof your work is helpful, I believe we can learn to see our own mistakes. Another tip suggests, "Read aloud to someone else." I would add that reading aloud to yourself will also help you catch errors.

The annotated references chapter contains some interesting opinions by the authors. About Elements of Style, they say, "Strunk and White's book is popular and easy to read, but we think it's highly overrated. We haven't found it useful for answering specific questions." Perhaps that is because it is a writing style book, not a grammar reference book. Here's what they say about Roget's Thesaurus: "A book of synonyms, it can help you find words with similar meanings. We keep one around, but almost never use it."

While not a substitute for a larger writing handbook, Landa List is a helpful portable guide to keep handy for general writing.

The Dirty Thirty, subtitled "Words Even Smart People Misuse," covers 30 sets of tricky words such as imply/infer, adverse/averse, and your/you're. This book contains practice exercises after each concise explanation of the differences between the word sets and when to use which one. Mnemonics are included for each set of words. There are also cumulative exercises, usually after six lessons but sometimes after just three. Answers are in small print upside down at the bottom of each respective page. Having the words listed alphabetically would have made it easier to locate the section on specific words. This book could effectively be used for younger students with a parent's help by choosing the word sets that apply to the child.

The Writing Process details how to write a paper step-by-step. Beginning with a definition of good writing, the authors say your writing should be clear, concise, and correct. Next, the eight steps of the writing process are explained: establish your purpose and identify your reader, get organized, write a first draft, age the draft, reread the draft, revise, edit, and proofread. There are two chapters giving further information on your purpose and organization of your paper. The last three chapters are about paragraph structure, sentence structure, and word choice.

This would be the perfect gift for a child going off to college or entering the work force. It would also be an excellent source for a crash course on writing if you have neglected to give enough time to writing in your homeschool. All the essentials are here in a brief, accessible format.

Word Clusters is a vocabulary-building workbook divided into 11 units of word clusters having to do with a particular subject: people, time, money, doctors, government, the sciences, words about language, phobias and manias, words from myths (perfect for classical homeschoolers!), animal words, and foreign words/phrases. The introduction justifies vocabulary study: scholastic achievement, career success, increased knowledge, and just plain fun.

Each unit follows this format: a short introduction, definitions of the words (including pronunciation help for some of them), and a short fill-in, matching, or multiple-choice exercise. Answers are in the back of the book. It should be noted that the definitions include much more than just a definition. Explanation, etymology, examples of use, and a bit of good humor all help to cement the word in the student's brain. The final unit, "Going on from Here," gives seven suggestions for continuing to increase your vocabulary. There are even three pages to log words you want to learn.

Word Clusters would make a great independent vocabulary study for high school students. It would be especially useful before annual test-taking time. Adults who want to increase their vocabularies will also find this an excellent, doable aid.

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February 2010