Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: Story Starters by Karen Andreola

Title:  Story Starters:  Helping Children Write Like They've Never Written Before
Author:  Karen Andreola
Format:  Softcover
Publisher:  Charlotte Mason Research & Supply Company
ISBN:  978-1-889209-04-3
Price:   $34.95

As a longtime proponent of Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy and methods, Karen Andreola re-introduced Charlotte Mason to the homeschool community.   Her books have inspired me and encouraged me throughout my homeschool career.   Her book, Charlotte Mason Companion, was one of the first books other homeschoolers recommended to me.

When I heard that Karen had written a writing curriculum, I knew it was something I'd want to add to my own homeschool.  Karen's Story Starters is a unique creative writing supplement, from a Charlotte Mason perspective.   Story Starters combines picture study with the use of story starters.  The story starters are more than just a writing prompt, but actually the beginning of a story which leaves off at an exciting point that inspires the imagination to complete the story.

Story Starters begins with an explanation of how the book is intended to be used, and how Karen Andreola used "exciting writing" in her own homeschool.   The first few chapters also include:

  • ideas for using the book in various ways (as a scheduled lesson or an occasional game)
  • instruction on how to use this book with different ages of children, and different writing abilities
  • grading suggestions to use with high school students

The majority of the book is taken up with the story starters themselves.  There are sixty-seven pictures, with exciting story starters, to get our children started on their creative writing journey.  Some of the stories are marked B for beginner, and some are marked I for intense.  Though any age student can use the B stories, they are especially suited for those just beginning.

At the end of the book, Karen has written a section entitled Hints For Polishing.  Since this is intended for the older students, it is written directly to the student.  It includes sections on adding descriptive language, engaging the reader's senses, choosing verbs carefully, and developing your character's description.

The next  section of the book teaches you how to use Story Starters in an even more challenging way for the older students:  having the student study the picture and narrate a story from the picture alone.  Twenty-four additional pictures are included for story writing, without provided story starters.  Karen walks the student through the major components of a story, so they will be able to develop their own plot, create interesting characters, have a point of conflict, and a resolution.

The final section of the book focuses once more on Charlotte Mason's views on narration.  Narration is a natural ability that children have, which can be turned into the ability to write, with guidance.   Story Starters helps provide the guidance by allowing children to practice their writing skills in a fun and non-threatening manner.

When I employed Story Starters in my own home, I chose one of the stories marked B for beginner, and read it to my three elementary age students.  The first grader dictated his story to me, and I recorded it for him.  Once he was done, he illustrated the story.  My fourth grader took the longest to write his story, which included several plot twists.  He needed encouragement and help with some of his spelling, as he isn't confident in his writing (or spelling) abilities yet.   My sixth grader wrote her story quickly, and easily.  All three of them were eager to read their stories to each other, to me, and especially to Dad once he was home.  Their stories were unique and reflected their age, gender, and interests.  The next day they begged for another story starter, though I didn't have it scheduled until later in the week.

With my junior and senior high students, I encouraged them to each choose their own story starter.  My eighth grade and tenth grade daughters each chose one that interested them, and then developed their stories.  Again, their interests and personalities were reflected in their stories.  There are areas that need to be improved, and some of the children struggled with the resolution of their stories -- but they enjoyed the creative writing process,  and that was my goal.

Story Starters made our first week of school fun!  The children enjoyed developing their exciting stories much more than writing an essay about their summer or jumping into a more serious writing assignment.  More importantly, they are looking forward to continuing to use Story Starters.  They  count down the days until their next writing assignment.

Story Starters does what it promises.  It helps students write like they've never written before.   Since Story Starters is reusable, non-consumable, and adaptable for every age of student, it's a great value for the homeschool family.

Thank you, Karen Andreola, for an excellent creative writing resource!

This item was provided free to me, for review purposes.  This is an independent review.

April E.


  1. Thanks for reviewing this writing curriculum. I just purchased it a week ago but haven't looked it over extensively yet, and you brought out a point or two about it which I hadn't yet noticed! :)

  2. It is supplemental, of course, but I do think it's great for encouraging creative writing!


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