Comparison of Books for English Creative Writing and Composition (in an Asian context)
English creative writing in Asia is an area where there is often little focus at school, and also limited environment for fully utilising the language to its full advantage. Where composition writing is done in schools, the model approaches are usually very specific and limited in their genres, and tuition centres thrive on being able to teach children the ‘winning’ approach. However, I’m sure it can be learnt within the home too – and this post reviews three books which are excellent companion texts to encourage English creative writing with your child. Each is good for different reasons, as described in this blog post.
Supporting a child to improve their writing really can be as simple as giving them good creative writing books, that are accessible and offer words, phrases, ideas or models for a child to create high-quality output. My kids have benefitted greatly from having all three of the books covered in this review.
High level comparison of the three books is given in the table below.
Descriptosaurus: supporting creative writing
Descriptosaurus is a thematic expansion of a dictionary and a thesaurus, designed for a student to be able to expand their vocabulary, and sentence structures. The book is loosely grouped by settings, characters, and creatures. Aside from the general Descriptosaurus book, there are specific theme-based books which can also be bought (such as Ghosts, Fantasy, Adventure, Myths and Legends) for a child who has a particular interest in a particular genre. The book is helpful for a reluctant writer to understand how words can come together to create beautiful descriptions, yet also wonderful for a passionate writer who needs to add more colour and variety into their pieces.
- Hugely comprehensive resource (possibly the ultimate resource for creative story writing)
- Covers a wide range of genres and scenes, from real life to fantasy
- Hard copy book which could be used and shared around a classroom
- The book has been created and refined over a number of years as a result of feedback from children inside and outside the classroom in the United Kingdom
- Wide appeal and usage from early primary school through to secondary-age writers
- For an Asian context, the book doesn’t have so many relevant descriptions to appropriately describe foods, weather, Asian facial features, hawker markets, festival, etc.
- For a Singapore-specific primary school focus, the book doesn’t have the so-called “powerful words” that teachers will be expecting students to contain in their essays, and nor does it contains any references to idioms/metaphor and intended structure for short composition pieces
- Size and weight of the book is big – the book itself contains a lot of of extra content (eg sample poems, stories, printable grammar pages, punctuation, etc) which are excellent, but perhaps more useful for a teacher or homeschooling parent than for the child themselves. This prevents the book from being something a child could easily carry around in their backup to/from school or the library etc.
- This book is intense – no pictures, and lots of word walls. For a child (or parent) who is still nascent with English, this could be off-putting.
- The price ….. the basic book is ~USD52 (Kindle versions are a better idea)
Write Like a Ninja: essential toolkit for young writers
Write Like a Ninja is an almost-pocket-sized book, designed to let students turbo-charge their writing with powerful descriptive words and unique vocabulary choices. The books is essentially a child-friendly thesaurus, with a few grammar tips too. It contains tonnes of alternative for overused adjectives, and also themed vocabulary wordbanks to describe settings, characters, foods, feelings, and more. Write Like a Ninja is clever, catchy, super user-friendly and very well priced. This book has been great in our family for giving to my kids to use as an alternative to a thesaurus and up levelling their writing, especially personal journal writing.
- Short and sharp, with all content being relevant and practical for a young writer
- Clearly set out, and highly approachable for a child, even a child with less confidence in English reading – it’s simple style, design, and layout, with some fun decorations
- Where explanations are needed, they’re simply and concisely written, with nothing extra that will confuse a child
- It’s really targeted for a younger learner, or a child who needs to be empowered in their writing
- For a more confident writer, a thesaurus might be a more helpful text than this book
- The book mainly has stand-alone words, rather than full phrases or sentences
- For a Singapore-specific primary school focus, the book doesn’t have the so-called “powerful words” that teachers will be expecting students to contain in their essays
A Way With Words: turn your compositions from good to great
A Way With Words is a creative writing resource to expand descriptive vocabulary and give structure to writing, especially composition pieces and journaling for primary-age students. The book is divided into a descriptions of people, places, and actions (including use of metaphors, proverbs and idioms). A Way with Words is specifically narrow and focused, with an emphasis on real-life examples (not fairy tales, monsters or villains) and culturally relevant to descriptions of scenes in a South East Asian context (eg tropical weather, hawker centres, moral values, etc). It follows the format recommended for composition pieces in a Singapore MOE and PSLE context, which in itself is very specific and unlike other creative writing approaches.
- Well-designed reference book that can assist you to walk your child through creative writing and journaling
- Based around the use five-senses, to show how words and phrases can generate images in the mind of readers
- Aligns with standard approach for Singapore composition writing in schools, yet with a fresh and unconventional perspective.
- Short, sharp, and contains wordbanks and descriptive words without other waffle or written exercises for a child to complete
- Provides practical advice on how to plan and structure an English composition piece.
- Better than most books on the shelves of Popular for composition writing
- Specifically for composition writing and journal pieces, rather than fantasy / fiction writing (it’s not going to make your child a good storyteller, but might help them attain a higher score in an English exam)
- Very focused on descriptions for Asian context, so some turns of phrase may not translate well for overseas readers (eg references to hawkers centres, HDB apartments, durians and tropical fruits, etc)
- Not designed to be fully comprehensive, but contains writing prompts for a child to unleash their own creativity
(DISCLAIMER – I am very good friends with the author of A Way with Words, so more than a little biased here. That said, I’m always looking for great English composition books in a Singapore context, so please drop me a line if you know of others worthy of mentioning here.)
Where to buy the books from
In Singapore, none of these books appear to be available from traditional bookstores. All are available from Amazon, and the links are below (note: these are not affiliate links).
What about other books for composition writing?
This post has been a very rare diversion from my usual focus on encouraging Chinese literacy. I would love to find books which encourage creative writing in Chinese, in an equally approachable and fun manner (note – just like many of the famed books for English creative writing are too convoluted for use in an Asian context, I’ve also found many of the mainland Chinese creative writing books are too advanced for use outside of China). Any suggestions or leads are welcomed in the comments below or via Lah Lah Banana FB or Instagram.