Look at me, I’m a writer! Kids tell their own stories with this do-it-yourself book

Tell me a story, my 7-year-old daughter Helen pleads whenever we’re in the car for more than 20 minutes. Like all children, she loves stories. Whether they want to hear the same bedtime book three weeks straight or beg for a story while in the car, children are hungry for characters and action that draw them in.

Writing, however, can be a different situation. Persuading children to practice their printing or write a sentence can be a chore for parents. But a new book by Minneapolis children’s author Lisa Bullard makes the writing process more imaginative and fun for children.

You Can Write a Story! is a story-writing recipe for kids ages 6-9. Bullard’s book describes the “ingredients” of a story – character, action, setting – and takes readers through activities that stimulate their imagination. Children are prompted to pick an animal character, a place they would like to visit, and an activity they enjoy. Using these familiar components in a story makes the writing process more entertaining.

After picking out the key ingredients kids “add flavor” by deciding to write a fiction or nonfiction book, making up traits about the main character, imagining the details of the setting, and creating a conflict for the character. With the ingredients and flavorings, children have all they need to write a story.

An award-winning author of picture books and many nonfiction children’s books, Bullard also conducts story-writing workshops for young children in the classroom. Her teaching techniques led directly to the kid-tested recipe in her book. “Kids really love the idea they get to be the creators,” explains Bullard. Incorporating places, activities, and animals they like “jumpstarts their writing.”

In some of Bullard’s workshops, children wrote about issues like divorce, abuse, and bullying. “Kids are really hungry to tell their own stories and use their imaginations,” she says. By using an animal for the lead character, children are free to write about what might be troubling them.

While the book is based on Bullard’s teaching experiences and is readily adapted to any elementary classroom, the simple, step-by-step format makes it easy to use in the car or at home. Parents and children working together could tell a story while on an extended car ride. Or, children could work independently or supervised over a longer period of time, illustrating their story and producing a complete book.

Following Bullard’s recipe, Helen and I worked on a story in our backyard while basking in the sun. To my delight, Helen was immersed in the process. Within 20 minutes, she dreamed up an orange polar bear named FooFoo who lived on the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean. FooFoo loved to bicycle and eat bananas and wore his hair in pigtails. We giggled, imagining FooFoo bicycling along the decks of the Titanic and wondering how he could breathe underwater.

While the imagination gets revved up, Bullard says some children get bogged down by spelling and grammar. She reassures children their stories don’t have to be perfect by calling the first draft a “sloppy copy.” Minimizing anxiety over writing technicalities keeps the creative juices flowing.

With bright, playful illustrations and a spiral binding, the hardcover book is easy to handle and amusing to read. The process can be used with children younger than 6 to tell a tale, while 3rd and 4th graders can write stories independently.

With Bullard’s book, Helen has a template to rouse her imagination and inspire her writing. And I have a tool to spark my creativity to tell more engaging and humorous stories on those long car rides.

C.C. Strom is a Minneapolis writer and mother of two.

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