Writing “In” Books

A Book Review Column

Linda D. Labbo
Reviews Section Editor
University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia, USA

Beth Matlack
Guest Reviewer



Editor's Note: Letters, birthday cards, notes, and journaling are the forms of writing that play interesting roles in the five books reviewed in this column. Authors of these books, which include a short story collection, two novels, an informational picture book for young children, and an engaging history book, masterfully weave the use of writing into their unfolding tales. As a bonus in this column, the reviewer has included a list of suggestions for extending children's engagement with the books through various types of writing response activities.

The reviews of this ecclectic book collection are sure to be useful for adults who want to help younger readers understand the central role that writing plays in stories, in history, and in our lives. Readers who enjoy this column may also be interested in Beth Matlack's review of Paula Graham's Speaking of Journals, in the Professional Materials area of the Reviews section.

The books reviewed are as follows:

Where possible, links to authors' and publishers' websites are provided. Clicking on any of these links will open a new browser window.




Gone from Home: Short Takes. Written by Angela Johnson. New York: DK Publishing, 1998. ISBN 0-7894-2499-1. 112 pages. Recommended for ages 13 and up.


  1. After reading “A Summer's Tale,” invite students to consider the notion that everyone has a story to tell. Ask them to see a potential character in everyone they see. What might the untold story of someone's life be? The students may then select and write a fictional character sketch about a person they have observed.

  2. Ask students to use the character from activity 1 to create their own “short take.”

  3. Have a discussion with students about the stories. Ask which stories and characters they most identify with, and why. Have students write about their responses, in a letter to the character or the author, or in a journal.

  4. Have students keep a “quick write” journal in which they write their thoughts and emotions immediately after finishing a story.

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In My Neighborhood: Postal Workers. Written by Paulette Bourgeois and Kim LaFave. Toronto: Kids Can Press, 1999. ISBN 1-55074-504-2. Unpaged. Recommended for ages 4 to 7.


  1. Ask students to write a letter to their parents. Invite them to use information gathered from the story to work on letter-writing format and to discover the proper way to address the envelope. Stamp and mail the letters. Ask students to borrow the letters from their parents once they have been received, and bring them back to school. Discuss what happened to the letters, and how they made their journey.

  2. Create a post office within the classroom. Large boxes make great post offices and mailboxes. The students can create mailbags and their own personal mailboxes for letters being delivered. Have students take turns role-playing the parts of the process. Encourage all classmembers to write positive notes and letters to one another for delivery.

  3. Discuss with students their experiences with the mail. Do they have to go to the post office to send and receive mail, or do they have a mailbox? Is their mailbox by their house, or is it next to the street? Do they have a separate mailbox, or is their a central neighborhood mailbox, etc.?

  4. Arrange for a tour of the local post office or distribution center, or a classroom visit from a postal worker.

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My Name Is Seepeetza. Written by Shirley Sterling. Toronto: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1998. ISBN 0-88899-165-7. 126 pages. Recommended for ages 10 to 12.


  1. Invite students to write quick responses on several issues of diversity. For example, they could write about the time they became aware of discimination, what cultural diversity means to them, and why and how cultural heritage serves as a source of strength during troubling times. Then ask students to select the topic they feel strongest about and develop it through the writing process of drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.

  2. Relate the discrimination theme to current events. Provide students with copies of current newspaper, news magazine, or Internet articles about the topic. Ask them to step into the shoes of today's victims of discrimination and create Seepeetza-like journal entries about the situations.

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Weep Not for Me, Dear Mother. Written by Elizabeth Whitley Roberson. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 1998. ISBN 1-56554-389-0. 168 pages. Recommended for ages 11 and up.


  1. Assign students to research a figure in the Civil War. Ask them to write letters home as if they were that person. Emphasize realism in state of mind, conditions, rank, allegiance, events, etc.

    Variation: Allow students to work in pairs to exchange the fictional but historically based letters. One student can take the role of a soldier writing home while the other could take the role of a friend or family member writing back.

    Variation: Have students research and write letters from the perspective of a solider who fought for the Union.

  2. Have students create a newspaper of the time. Sections can include front page news, local news, political cartoons, obituaries, etc. Students can take on various roles such as editor, journalist, printer, etc.

  3. Investigate Civil War-related websites for supplemental information.

  4. Create a timeline of Eli's life. Encourage students to be creative in their presentation, using words, pictures, drawings, etc.

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Wings to Fly. Written by Celia Barker Lottridge; illustrated by Mary Jane Gerber. Toronto: Groundwood Book/Douglas & McIntyre, 1997. ISBN 0-88899-346-3. 209 pages. Recommended for ages 10 and up.


  1. Ask students to select someone famous who has displayed courage and determination. Then have students discuss what they would like to know about their chosen hero. Whether the person is alive or not, students will benefit from composing a letter to him or her. Invite them to articulate their admiration and the characteristics they would most like to develop in their own lives.

  2. Ask students to think about anything in their environment that has captured their attention (as the silver house did for Josie). Students may draw a picture of their mystery, and then write a story to accompany it.

  3. Small study groups may work to find out more about famous women in history and the women's movement. Ask students to select one famous woman in history, and create a drama about her achievements.

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About the Reviewer

Matlack (e-mail georgiabam@mindspring.com) holds a bachelor's degree in speech correction and received her M.Ed. in early childhood education in Spring 1999 from the University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA. She believes that children need to be offered authentic opportunities to write, both at home and in the classroom, and finds that the most meaningful instruction -- even for preschool children -- bridges reading and writing. Beth is currently working on her own journal writing at home while caring for her young family. She looks forward to returning to the education profession some time in the future.

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Reading Online, www.readingonline.org
Posted November 1999
© 1999-2000 International Reading Association, Inc. ISSN 1096-1232