The minute I finished reading this book, I turned to page one and started again. I wasn’t ready to set it aside. Since it was published five years ago, I’m not sure why I hadn’t seen it before this. I’m grateful I saw it when I was in the library a couple of days ago.
Title: Word After Word After Word
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Publisher: New York: Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Childrens, 2010
Genre: Chapter book, fiction
Audience Age: 7 to 10
Themes/topics: Writing, personal growth, words
Opening Sentences: Some things happen in fours. On the fourth day of the fourth month after the winter holiday vacation, a famous writer came to our fourth-grade class.
Synopsis: Ms. Mirabel, a famous writer of children’s books, comes to the fourth-grade creative writing class not just for an ordinary school-visit-by-an-author, but to spend six weeks with the class, teaching them about writing, and encouraging them to learn to listen for the words that are around them and inside them, the words that are waiting to be expressed.
The story is told by Lucy, one of the members of the class. She and her friends Hen (Henry), Evie, May, and Russell, each have some difficulty they are dealing with in their lives – for instance, Evie’s parents have separated, Lucy’s mom has cancer, and May’s parents are adopting a baby.
The action alternates between scenes in the classroom with Ms. Mirabel, and the five kids’ gathering place after school, under a lilac tree in Hen’s yard. Ms. Mirabel inspires them during classtime, and they discuss their writing, and encourage each other, under the lilac tree.
This book follows my Monday blog post perfectly (although it was serendipity that planned it, not I). On Monday, I asked the question “What books are your characters reading?” and this book asks and answers the question “What are your characters writing?”
Throughout the book, we get to read poems by each of the children, as well as seeing how they struggle with their writing, and with the challenges in their lives – and how the two intersect and support one another.
One of Ms. Mirabel’s statements feels to me like a manifesto on writing and on being a writer: “You have a story in there, Lucy,” she said, touching my head. “Or a character, a place, a poem, a moment in time. When you find it, you will write it. Word after word after word after word,” she whispered.
This book grew out of a request that Patricia MacLachlan write a book about writing. Instead of writing a nonfiction book, she decided to go at the book from the perspective of children like the ones she had encountered so often in school visits, and this fictional exploration of writing was born.
For Further Enrichment: I think it would enhance the book’s meaning for kids if they were to try writing the sorts of things Ms. Mirabel encourages the children in the book to write. It would be great to see what readers might come up with. I’d encourage the adults around them to keep in mind what Ms. Mirabel suggests about the discussion of the book-kids’ writing: “When we talk about it, we will be very kind. We will talk about what we like, and we will ask questions.”
There is an excellent interview with Patricia MacLachlan at Publishers Weekly.
HarperCollins has a teaching guide at the webpage for this book.
The blog Book Aunt has an excellent review of Word After Word After Word, at the end of an intriguing compendium of books about kids and writing.
Availability: This book is still available, although since it was published in 2010, it may not be in stock at your local bookstore. They should be able to order it in for you, or you can order online at one of the many independent bookstores that offer that service, such as The Red Balloon in St. Paul, Minnesota.