Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Five-Star Revision Tip and Tool!

     R is for revision
           You see your draft anew.
       A second chance,
          to make tales dance.
               Lucky, lucky you!

Ironically, almost 2 years to the day the above poem appeared in my Sleeping Bear Press book S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet, I need to revise the second word in the third line so it reads….
                …another chance.

The revision process demands more than two passes to get the story, the telling and the language right.
In fact, way more.
The Good News is, as shared in the Robert Cormier quote that appears at the bottom of S is for Story’s R page,
“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.”

To celebrate IRA’s “Revision Week,” my fellow TeachingAuthors and I are offering up helpful insights, resources, tools and books gleaned from our at least 120 years total experience writing for children.

Here’s my offering, a five-star revision tip and tool if ever there was one:  before you’re ready to write your very last revised draft, write the book review you wish to receive, then keep it nearby to reread often, stuck or not. 

For the record, it helps to read reviews of similar, comparable books to the one you’re writing – in genre, in format, in subject matter, in time or setting, in style, before you write your own review.  It also helps to read several reviews of those similar, comparable books as expressed in different review journals.

If you’re writing for children, the most notable print review journals, available at your local library, online or by subscription, include the American Library Association’s Booklist, The Bulletin of the Center of Children’s Books, School Library JournalPublishers Weekly, Kirkus and The Horn Book.  Each review journal has its own style, its own set of elements on which the reviewer focuses.

[FYI: reading all of the above journals helped me learn my craft – as well as - the stellar body of children’s literature and my Children’s Book World residents and players.]

No matter the journal in which the review appears,
  • note the one-sentence description that summarizes the book for the reader – the what’s-it-all-about-anyway statement;
  • study the brief outline of the plot, usually accomplished in 5 or so sentences that usually include the story’s major turning points;
  • focus on the theme and its connection to the storyline;
  • pay attention to critical comments concerning elements of narrative – i.e. characterization, voice, plot, etc., as well as the story’s craft and the writer’s talents;
  • consider the selection of and reference to comparable, similar titles;
  • read and reread the reviewer’s opinion as to the book’s value and its likely impact on readers.
What I love about this tool? 
Writing the one-sentence summary and multi-sentence synopsis requires my mastery of the story’s action.
The critical comments force me to assess how I crafted (1) the key elements of narrative and (2) my use of language.
Citing comparable books shows me how I want my book to distinguish itself from the others on the shelf.
Best of all?  Most of all?
Writing the review I wish my book to receive helps me remember why my book grabbed my heart in the first place, the reasons that kept me going no matter the revisions necessary, what I so want my book to do for my readers. 
I stay atop my story’s physical and emotional plotlines, but also tuned in to my own writer’s vested heart.

Though non-fiction, here’s the review I kept on my desk top while writing the last draft of S is for Story:
"Hershenhorn’s thoughtful and spirited telling of this abecedarian
journey through a Writer’s Life and Process is certain to inform, inspire and
ready young writers, not to mention once-young writers who remain
young-at-heart.  A joyous celebration of the all-important Reader-Writer
Connection, the rhymed verse for younger readers and the accompanying
side-bar narrative for older readers serve as mini-lessons to keep writers
writing.  Peeks inside a writer’s life, the inclusion of Writer’s Tips and the
appearance on each double-page spread of treasured authors’ meaningful
quotes multiply each lettered entry’s value and enjoyment.  Pullen’s 
singular, imaginative illustrations successfully offer a narrative all their own
while underscoring how lucky writers are to write.  Re-title this Writer’s
Alphabet “S is for Stellar.” 

I’m happy to share  the boxed Booklist review, written by Gillian Engberg – to prove the revision tool proved five-star indeed.

"Among sleeping Bear’s growing collection of themed abecedarian titles for middle-graders, this engaging, instructive introduction to writing stands out. The concepts paired with each letter cover elements of story (plot, characters); technique (revision, journaling); and basic practices for fostering creativity (observe). Short poems; clear, enthusiastic explanations; tips; and quotes from well-known children’s authors appear on each page, and a “P.S.” includes more interesting facts. The large color illustrations, featuring sometimes oddly proportioned figures, don’t shine as brightly as the warm, substantive text, which both teachers and students will return to repeatedly for reference and inspiration.” —Gillian Engberg, Booklist (Boxed review)

Looking for elements of a good book review? Try the folks at Scholastic (How to Write a Book Review by Rodman Philbrick).

Finally, Kathleen Horning’s revised and updated From Cover to Cover (HarperCollins) is considered the definitive guide to reading, reviewing and critically evaluating children’s books since its original publication in 1997.

      See your draft with new eyes.
Another chance to make tales dance.
      Lucky, lucky you!

Happy Revising!

Esther Hershenhorn

Note from Carmela, added 9/25/11: Esther's post is mentioned in the September YA Lit Carnival. You can see the carnival here.


  1. I've never tried this, but it sounds like it would be so helpful in guiding a revision. Thanks, I'm going to try it.

  2. Hi Esther (and other other teachers). When I asked my readers yesterday which other blogs I should follow, one of them suggested yours.

    Now I'm glad they did because this is brilliant. I especially love that quote about writing versus brain surgery.

    So anyway, I'm following you now. Nice to meet you!

  3. Okay this is a terrific tip. It takes my tip, of keeping your logline in front of you, one step further. I love the idea of focusing on a review because it inspires you to elevate your manuscript to that "star" level. Thanks also for the Scholastic link. Very helpful.

  4. Welcome, Matthew! I'm glad you're now following our blog.
    And,thanks for taking the time, Andrea and Jean,to thank me for sharing the Revision Review Tool.
    It's one of my favorites.

  5. Esther,
    I absolutely love this post, as well as "S Is for Story". It's my favorite of the Sleeping Bear series. I intend to share this with critique group friends, my students, and teachers in my workshops.
    You pulled it all together in one post, and your links are outstanding.

  6. Thanks for sharing this post with your fellow writers, teachers and students, Sandy.
    Thanks, too, for sharing Cyn's Critique and Revision Questions. :)
    I love our writing community's generosity, as well as generosity of spirit.

  7. LOVE this idea, Esther! I was actually getting ready to try a similar exercise for my WIP--writing the novel's "flap copy," but I'm going to give this a shot instead.

  8. Thank you! come enjoy Pirate Alphabet starring some of your favorite authors and illustrators.

  9. Belated Happy Birthday, Hilde!
    And, how could I - NOT - have seen you and your Writing Group partners filming your wonderful Pirate ABC's at the SCBWI Conference?!
    How clever.
    What fun.
    Aren't children's book writers (and illustrators!) the best?!

  10. You told me to do this YEARS ago, Esther, but I was so confused about my book and how to get my arms around it, I couldn't do it. Today, after reading your post, I've written a review that makes me smile. Progress!

  11. I absolutely love the idea of writing a book review. That's brilliant. The post is up on the Carnival of YA Lit now. Sorry I missed it. I must have deleted it accidentally.


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