THE MAGIC WORDS by Cheryl B. Klein


Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults
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An industry leader offers a manual for aspiring writers of fiction for children and teens.

As executive editor at the Arthur A. Levine Books imprint of Scholastic, Klein has edited such well-regarded titles as Millicent Min, Girl Genius, by Lisa Yee (2003), Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork (2009), and If I Ever Get out of Here, by Eric Gansworth (2013). With this substantial volume, she distills years of experience into an intensely practical, appealingly conversational manual. Klein discusses what makes good writing, parses the differences between the middle-grade and young-adult markets, and identifies the many different points an author must consider in making choices that affect characterization, plotting, worldbuilding, voice, pacing, and more. She assumes that her readers are themselves readers, speaking to them with collegial authority and confidence in their familiarity with touchstones of the literature. Presenting real-world examples, she then analyzes what makes them work, showing readers how Suzanne Collins establishes Katniss as a character readers can empathize with in The Hunger Games (2008), for instance, and how David Levithan and Rachel Cohn balance narration and dramatization in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2006). Discursive analysis is complemented by exercises that frequently challenge readers to analyze how they introduce characters or to rewrite a dramatized scene as a narrated one. Klein’s prose can sometimes overwhelm, as in her description of creating a bookmap, a seemingly daunting task that may send readers to her website to see an example that could bear out their first impressions. Her use of technical terminology can also get in the way, as in a paragraph on plotting in which the seven uses of the word “obstacle” become itself an obstacle. Still, there is wisdom aplenty in this book, and the discussion of writing outside one’s own culture is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Readers serious about writing for young people could do far worse than start here.

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-393-29224-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2016


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