Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Women of Wednesday: Patricia Reilly Giff

The Write Sisters are always amazed when we meet people who claim to want to write for children and yet do not read children’s books. Would you trust a physician who never picked up an anatomy text? Would you fly with a pilot who’d never studied aeronautics?

I just finished reading Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff. If you are a beginning writer and want to study an interesting technique, I urge you to pick up the book. Giff uses an alternating chapter technique to tell the story of a foster child, Hollis Woods.

The foster child/orphan character often is used by writers because the story has an immediate problem that needs solving: who will care for and love this child? It’s been used in many books: The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson for example, or Linda Sue Park’s A Single Shard. The foster child/orphan story is popular with the Newbery committee. (Go through the list and see how many of the winners feature this type of character.)

Giff’s use of the alternating chapter technique is not new either. Many authors use it, especially to present two points of view. Giff makes her story unique by alternating the chapters in Hollis’ present and past. Her past is told through descriptions of Hollis’ detailed art work. The details in her art hold the key to her future. Read this book for its story but also read this book as a writer and dissect the techniques the author uses.

Patricia Reilly Giff has written many great books for children. After finishing Pictures of Hollis Woods I was curious to know more about her. Her publisher, Random House, has a short biography posted on its web site. The following paragraph tells us where Giff’s skill with words came from:

“Reading and writing have always been an important part of Patricia Reilly Giff's life. As a child, her favorite books included Little Women, The Secret Garden, the Black Stallion books, the Sue Barton books, and the Nancy Drew series. Giff loved reading so much that while growing up, her sister had to grab books out of her hands to get Giff to pay attention to her; later, Giff's three children often found themselves doing the same thing. As a reading teacher for 20 years, the educational consultant for Dell Yearling and Young Yearling books, an adviser and instructor to aspiring writers, and the author of more than 60 books for children, Patricia Reilly Giff has spent her entire life surrounded by books.”

So follow the lead of this Woman of Wednesday. It has been said that writing begets good writing. Reading begets good writing, too. Read what Patricia Reilly Giff has written, then read the books she read.

1 comment:

Andrea Murphy said...

I love learning about an author's writing roots. Thanks for a quick look at Patricia Reilly Giff and the excellent advice to read, read, read.