Inside Story – Creative Writing for Students

Inside Story – Creative Writing for Students

Inside Story – Creative Writing for Students











Inside Story – Creative Writing for Students

Sue Lawson & Jodi Toering

Guy Holt

Wild Dog Books, 2024

64pp., pbk., RRP $A24.99


Whether our students know it as “written expression”. “composition”, “exposition”, “essay”. “creative writing” or any of the other terms story-writing has been tagged over the generations, the first thing that they ask a published author is, “Where do you get your ideas from?”

And whether it’s a set topic with perfect spelling and grammar expected from the get-go, or the free-range experience of ideas first, editing later promulgated by the likes of Donald Graves and Lucy M. Calkins,  there are those who love to write and do it well, and those who struggle and find it a chore.  Whether the focus is product or process, there will be teachers who find this a tricky topic to teach and students who find it hard to achieve – just as those who find music, maths or any other subject tough going. Nevertheless, there is an expectation by society that students will be competent readers and writers having passed through the school process, being able to express themselves well verbally and in writing so others can understand their meaning and intent and so we must do what we can, AI, Chat GPT and text-speak notwithstanding.

So this easy-to read practical guide will be a boon to both teachers and students, because, regardless of any external aids that might be imposing all sorts of new considerations, those aids cannot edit or alter or improve a blank page.  But where to start to make those first marks on the page, whether they be with a pencil on a scrap of paper or keystrokes on a computer screen?  One of the first things the authors say is that you DON’T have to start at the beginning – either the beginning of the story of even the beginning of the book. If characters interest you, then look at the section that helps you develop credible characters that the reader cares enough about to want to find out what happens to them; if visualising and description is your thing, then start there… Thankfully, through the teaching of Graves et al., writing is seen as a process of refinement over time (unless you are sitting a standardised test where you have to get it right first go or else) and so this little handbook offers ideas and tips for getting started and keeping going, particularly for those whose imaginations might need a kickstart. 

In a nutshell a story has a complication and a resolution – a problem and a solution, made more interesting by the impact they have on those experiencing them,  and there are suggestions for story starters, ideas for creating the characters  who will be participating (even how to name them appropriately), tips for setting the scene – all the elements that complete and engaging story and all written in a style and language that directly addresses the reader so they are itching to get started, whether as teacher or writer. IMO, just acknowledging that we each have a different way of getting started is critical – some prefer to start with the end in mind and work back; others prefer to have the ‘what-if’ identified and work outwards; others  (like me) prefer to have the opening sentence set in place and flow from there.  There is no one way and no right way. 

Next to my storybook cushions, my author kits with engaging covers and basic tools of the trade are the biggest sellers on my little market stall as budding authors pester parents to purchase one, and apart from hearing, “My child loves to read”, hearing “my child loves to write” gives me the biggest tingle.

So if you have a child who loves to write or are a teacher who is not sure where to start to enthuse students, this little book is for you. 


Little Book Baby

Little Book Baby

Little Book Baby











Little Book Baby

Katrina Germein

Cheryl Orsini

HarperCollins, 2024

24pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Little Book Baby wakes soon after dawn, beginning the day with a cuddly book-yawn.

This little baby loves sharing books!

Books on the tram with Dad, books at picnics with Nanna and Pa, and even bath-time books with Mummy. Morning, noon and night, books make everything better.

If ever there were a book that encapsulates my philosophy and practice about reading, then this would be it.  From my first days of teachers’ college in 1970 and the imminent birth of my first child (who will be 50 this year) I have known and acknowledged the power of sharing stories with children from the day they are born. It’s the reason that literacy in early childhood was my passion throughout my face-to-face teaching years; the reason I began this blog with its focus on books for the very young; the reason that I now share books in my community for little ones to find; and the reason that my grandchildren are all avid readers.

Read to your child from birth.

To have the word-wizardry of Katrina Germein and the delicate artistry of Cheryl Orsini capture what has been my life’s work in this story that features the essential elements of early reading such as characters and situations that resonate as well as rhyme, rhythm and repetition, so new parents can appreciate not only the importance of sharing stories with their child but the myriad of opportunities throughout the day that there are a few minutes to do so, is just magical.  Being a new parent is a busy time for all, but here is almost a daily diary of opportunities to build the special bond that reading together creates so the oft-heard excuse that “I’ve no time” becomes obsolete. 

Apart from that bond of the closed circle where the sole focus is the reader, the child and the story,  there is so much evidence available about the academic advantages of children hearing the language they are learning, learning new vocabulary, using their imaginations, and all those other early reading behaviours that there are many programs now available to give parents access to books to share, many accessible through local libraries. and free. Just one book a day means a child can hear 1000 stories in less than three years, and author Mem Fox believes that  through three stories a day – a first-read, a familiar and a favourite – illiteracy would no longer be a problem.

So, for soon-to-be parents, this is a must-have to offer at the book baby shower, and for teacher librarians, it is one to recommend to new parents through your networks as you support their pre big-school endeavours.  And what better day to share it than on World Read Aloud Day. Read it to your Kindy kids and get them to tell you where they like to read.  Use this poem by Dr Seuss to create one by the class surrounded by photos of their favourite places. Encourage them to participate in one of Dr Booklove’s reading challenges

For more ideas see Reading with Your Child ,  Concepts About Print, and The Art of Reading Aloud and for particularly suitable stories do a category search of this blog for early childhood, early reading behaviours,  or language/reading development or just look for stories with rhyme, rhythm and repetition.


Dingley the Dancing Dinosaur

Dingley the Dancing Dinosaur

Dingley the Dancing Dinosaur











Dingley the Dancing Dinosaur

Karleigh White

Aleksandra Szmidt

Little Steps, 2023

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95


With his razor-sharp teeth, blistering roar and height, Dingley’s parents want him to be the next leader of the dinosaur pack, but all Dingley wants to do is dance.  But it seems a Tyrannosaurus Rex is not built for dancing – he always trips over his feet or bumps his head on low-hanging branches – and so he sets off to find his dancing groove.  However, after trying tap dancing with Trixy the triceratops, break-dancing with Benny the brachiosaurus, and the salsa with Sally the stegosaurus, Dingley decides that dancing is not for him and despondently, he heads for home.  And then he meets Bella the brachyceratops on her way home from ballet practice…

There have been many stories written for young readers about believing in yourself and finding your unique place in the world, but the premise of a dancing dinosaur is one that will reel in all those with a love of these creatures. As well as the characters and theme, it could be fun to explore the alliteration as they try to think of a name and dance style for their particular favourite dinosaur while others might want to learn more about Bella the brachyceratops , a species they may not be familiar with.  

And to top it all off, imagine the impact of a mural made by the students of the dancing dinosaurs talent show as they retell the story and add their own characters.  Fun!!!


Dear Unicorn

Dear Unicorn

Dear Unicorn











Dear Unicorn

Josh Funk

Charles Santoso

Viking, 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99


It is the beginning of the school year and Connie’s art class is partnering up with pen pals. Both Connie and Nic’s teachers encourage them to to ask their pen pals questions, to talk about their own lives, to be creative, share their likes and dislikes and to enjoy themselves. Even though Connie is a little reluctant to start with, soon both love exchanging letters despite the two of them seeming so very different. Connie takes her art seriously and thinks things like kittens are nothing more than a distraction, while Nic has a more whimsical approach to painting and knows the value of a good cupcake. Both are eagerly awaiting the end of year pen pal art festival where their two classes will finally meet, but what is the surprise that is in store for both of them?

Building on the original concept of Dear Dragon, the story has some clever wordplay (like Connie’s surname summing up her pessimistic outlook) that leads to some misunderstandings that carry both the letter-writing and the story along, and young readers will immerse themselves in the fantasy particularly as, through the illustrations, they can see what Connie and Nic don’t.  What would it like to have a friend such as Nic? Can we be friends with those who seem to be so different from us (even if that is not as extreme as this relationship?)

As well as being useful for exploring the essential give-and-take nature of relationships, and how we can learn from those around us to seek common bonds despite being unique individuals, the book also opens up the almost-extinct concept of penpals, letter-writing and the anticipation of a letter in the mailbox.  Perhaps it will be the spark for building some new connections between classes in this new school year, 


Where’s Bluey? At Christmas




Where’s Bluey? At Christmas

Where’s Bluey? At Christmas











Where’s Bluey? At Christmas


Puffin, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A16.99


Bluey and Christmas – can there be a better combination to put together into an interactive book for a surefire winner for a Christmas gift that will not only entertain but will educate at the same time?

Christmas in Australia is very different to the Christmas so often featured in children’s books and other entertainment at this time of the year, and so all the things that are familiar to our kids are featured in double-paged interactive spreads that encourage the young reader to engage with them.  Time in the pool, putting up the tree, playing backyard cricket, relaxing at the beach – each has its place with items to find in the pictures ensuring little ones continue to develop their visual acuity as they look at the details in the illustrations.


A peek inside

A peek inside

Then if the days to wait seem too long. offer them Bluey’s Christmas Craft  so brains and fingers are engaged in making and doing all sorts of Christmassy things that can become their contribution to the celebrations. Step-by=step guides offer all sorts of things that can be made from candy cane bunting to designing their own Christmas rashie to building an entire gnome village.


Combined with Bluey’s Advent Calendar, this could indeed by a Blue-y, Blue-y Christmas!



The Tiny Woman’s Coat

The Tiny Woman's Coat

The Tiny Woman’s Coat











The Tiny Woman’s Coat

Joy Cowley

Giselle Clarkson

Walker Books, 2021

28pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


A storm is brewing and the tiny woman realises she will need a coat to stay dry and warm.  But where will she get the cloth, the scissors, the thread, the needle, the buttons?

On the surface this is a lovely story about friendship and co-operation in the tiny woman’s community but to those who understand how little children learn to read it is so much more than that.

When I started my initial teacher ed course in New Zealand in 1970, Joy Cowley was the leading author behind the Ready to Read series, a collection of basal readers that was used in junior classrooms in every school in New Zealand for reading instruction.  In the 70s there would have been few Kiwi children who were unfamiliar with Early in the Morning , Grandma Comes to Stay and The Fire Engine, and the thrill of moving from red to yellow, blue and green levels before starting on ‘chapter books” like The Donkey’s Egg or The Hungry Lambs.  The series was revolutionary in its approach to teaching children to read because it used natural language rather than phonics or controlled vocabulary, drawing on the research on world leaders in early literacy like Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Dr Marie Clay. She then went on to be the talent behind the Storybox Library series with titles like Mrs Wishy Washy and The Kick-a-Lot Shoes.

And it is her knowledge and experience of how children learn that underpins this story so that they can experience “real reading” and consolidate their belief that they can be “real” readers. To start with the tiny woman wonders where she will get the cloth for her coat, focusing the reader’s attention of the sorts of things that will be needed to construct it so they can draw on their own experience to suggest the items that will be required.  Then each “chapter” starts with the repeated statement and question… “The tiny woman wanted a coat. “Where will I get some…” leaving the reader to suggest what the next word might be and possible solutions. All the while the sky is changing building the anticipation of whether she will get her coat completed before the storm hits.  

While there are hundreds of stories written and published for our youngest readers every year, there are few that are so deeply rooted in understanding those early reading behaviours and which consolidate our children’s expectations of being readers as well as those by this author.  While the world has clearly moved on from the scenario of Grandma arriving in a Vickers Viscount  (after 50+ years I still remember the theme of the stories) , the process of learning to read remains the same, and this is the perfect support to that. 

Parcel For Turtle

Parcel For Turtle

Parcel For Turtle











Parcel For Turtle

Shelley Knoll-Miller

Puffin, 2023

24pp., hbk., RRP $A14.99


Turtle and his friends are hiding under the rocks wanting to go back to the water but wary of a pesky pelican who is hovering with a hungry look in his eye. when Postman finds a unique way to safely deliver a parcel from Koala.  

But what could it be? It doesn’t sound like a remote control car that could whizz them to the water’s edge; it’s not the right shape for a beach umbrella that could shelter them as they ran and and it’s not big enough to be a trampoline so they could bounce back either.   There is one way to find out… open it.

As with its predecessors, Penguin, Gorilla and Koala, the contents are unexpected but perfect for solving their problem. And, as with those predecessors, the premise of the story is summarised in the intriguing endpapers so there are two stories that can engage our youngest readers as they put their predictive and deductive skills to the test – both key elements of mastering the printed word and becoming a reader! Bright, appealing illustrations, funky characters (even if they have evil on their mind), the opportunity to think about how the characters might be feeling as the story progresses, and the unexpected twist in the tale all make this a story that will move from a first-read to a favourite very quickly!

Apart from putting a smile of sheer delight on my face when I open each new title in this series, it is one that should become as much as a staple in a little one’s library as other classics like Where’s Spot , Ten Minutes to Bed and those by Hervé Tullet. Stories that first and foremost entertain and engage the reader so that start to develop the expectation and anticipation of being “real readers” are the foundation of literary and literacy success and this series is definitely one of those.  Originally intended to be just a collection of four stories, I, for one, would love to see more. 















Rob Biddulph

HarperCollins, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


A mulberry sky full of flashes and rumbles

An ocean alive as it flashes and tumbles

And there, ‘neath the waves of a sunny Atlantic,

There lives a blue whale and his name is Gigantic.

But Gigantic is the smallest whale in the pod, constantly taunted and tormented by his big brother Titan and his friends,. But  when Titan finds himself in trouble after another bout of teasing Gigantic and his best friend Myrtle the Turtle, he learns that sometimes you don’t have to be big to be mighty. 

The message in this story is quite clear – you can be tiny and tough – and young readers will probably have stories of their own to share about when being a kid really has its advantages. But it also reminiscent of the fable The Lion and the Mouse, so this could be an opportunity to introduce them to that and other fables by Aesop to show how stories have been used to teach such lessons for centuries. Investigating the stories and their meanings, and even extending  that to fairy tales which were also essentially didactic tales of good versus evil, can help young students start to develop their critical thinking skills as they learn to read between and beyond the lines, rather than just along them. Asking themselves about the key purpose of the author’s writing – to persuade, inform, entertain or reflect – and then unpacking the underlying intent helps them interpret and assess information sources as they mature. 

So, even though this is an entertaining and engaging story just as it stands, it has the potential to broaden the reader’s horizons far beyond the depths of the Atlantic. 

One Hungry Dragon

One Hungry Dragon

One Hungry Dragon











One Hungry Dragon

Alastair Chisholm

Alex Willmore

Hachette, 2023

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Deep in a dark and gloomy forest, a creature stomps through the trees.

“I am Bernardo, “he roars, ” and I am ONE HUNGRY DRAGON!”

So look out anything that crosses his path including two silly sheep, three hearty heroes, four proper princesses, and a host of other characters straight out of the fairytales of the young readers this is designed for.  But is it the end of the world for all those he swallows or is there a twist in the tale?  Maybe even more than one twist?

Despite Bernardo’s antics, this is a laugh-out-loud book rather than a scary one as both the illustrations and the climax will just delight little ones as they join in the fun, roaring with Bernardo, counting forward and back and learning about the delights of the picture book format.  

If the popularity of any of my storybook cushions featuring dragons is anything to go by, the attraction of dragons in stories remains unabated and this is the perfect addition to the collection. 

Etta and the Octopus

Etta and the Octopus

Etta and the Octopus











Etta and the Octopus

Zana Fraillon

Andrew Joyner

Lothian, 2023

100pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99



One octopus!

Likes to eat tuna sandwiches.

Goes by the name of ‘Oswald’.

It all began when Etta decided to take a bath . . . And realised she wasn’t alone. In the bath sat Oswald. Etta had never had an octopus in her bath before. At first, Etta thinks it might be fun to have Oswald around. But she soon learns that octopuses are not very good at being tidy . . . or cooking . . . or sharing . . . or even playing nicely. Just as Etta has almost had enough, someone comes to claim Oswald. Oswald isn’t perfect, but does Etta really want to send him away?

This is another in the collection of books for emerging independent readers that focus on a young person being befriended by an unusual creature – in this case, an octopus.  It has all the structures like a larger font, short chapters and plenty of illustrations that a young person needs; it contains instructions for the game that Etta and Oswald play, and Andrew Joyner has included a step-by-step guide to drawing Oswald.  But what sets it apart is that Etta starts making a list of the pros and cons of having an octopus as a pet, a strategy that our young readers can learn and adapt as they venture into the realm of persuasive writing.  Their growing maturity allows them to view a problem or situation from more than their own perspective and to be able to stand back and look at the advantages and disadvantages and then list these so they can make an informed opinion is the basis of a quality  argument which is at the heart of persuasive writing and being a critical thinker.  

So, having shared the story with the students, it offers opportunities to set up similar situations such as a dragon having taken up residence in the school playground, so they can start to explore and develop this strategy for themselves.

The ending of this story sets it up to be a series so perhaps there will be more to come that those who like quirky adventures can enjoy.