CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 22. . . .February 13, 2015
The Girl Who Writes is the counterpart of 2013’s The Boy Who Paints, the initial offering of writer Jane Watt and illustrator Richard Cole. While The Boy Who Paints focuses on Cole’s colourful exploration of his environment and the discovery of his artistic talents, The Girl Who Writes tells the tale of a young girl whose love of words transports her to new worlds from the imaginations of others as well as her own. While both books have gendered titles, Watt and Cole avoided stereotypical gender representations: The Girl Who Writes could have just as easily been titled “The Boy Who Writes,” which allows any young reader to identify with the protagonist. This tale is full of youthful hope and enthusiasm for writing, and it sets the perfect tone for encouraging young writers.
Using first person narration, Watt describes the protagonist as just “an ordinary person” who lives in “an ordinary, everyday town” (p. 2). However, she is able to describe this ordinary town using lyrical prose that transports the ordinary into poetry. Watt provides models for young readers to think creatively about their everyday tasks. While her imagination is not as fanciful as that of Anne Shirley’s, the protagonist defines reading as “harvest[ing] the stories of others and hold[ing] them in my mind” (p. 3). Young readers may be inspired by Watt’s use of sophisticated language and encouraged to incorporate new words into their writing.
Words are part of the everyday fabric of the protagonist’s life. Cole subtly weaves script into the illustrations: on page 4, the landscape has “words” incorporated into a field of wild grass. At other times, an outline of the protagonist’s figure is filled in with handwriting. This figure is shown travelling through diverse landscapes, from a starry sky to a medieval battleground as the protagonist gathers ideas and incorporates them into her imagination. These words are scribbled, overlaid and in draft form. It is clear that the physical act of writing on paper is important in the creative process of this young author.
Similar to The Boy Who Paints, the first half of The Girl Who Writes is a slow paced, meandering exploration of the protagonist’s environment. Watt’s love of words is on full display, and readers can clearly feel the joy that the author has for writing. The middle of the book, however, has a little too much telling. The protagonist enters a writing contest which, of course, she wins. Unlike the long, flowery sentences of the first half, this section has short, choppier sentences. The brevity of passages such as, “A letter came today. I won!” (p. 28), may jolt readers who have become familiar with a more lyrical writing style. The writer’s exuberance, rather than being expressed through an imaginative combination of words, is shouted out using punctuation. After this interlude, the text reverts to lyrical language, but it has a disconcerting effect and may cause readers to fall out of sync with the flow of the story.
Overall, this promising book with its partner, The Boy Who Paints, is a wonderful addition to any classroom or library. Its positive messaging encourages young readers to follow their dreams and look for beauty in the everyday. In Watt’s words, “[t]he promise of each day surrounds me” (p. 35).
Sabrina Wong is a librarian in Calgary, AB.
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