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The best children’s and young adult novels take readers on wonderful outward adventures and stirring inward journeys. In The Magic Words, editor Cheryl B. Klein guides writers on an enjoyable and practical-minded voyage of their own, from developing a saleable premise for a novel to finding a dream agent. She delves deep into the major elements of fiction—intention, charac The best children’s and young adult novels take readers on wonderful outward adventures and stirring inward journeys. In The Magic Words, editor Cheryl B. Klein guides writers on an enjoyable and practical-minded voyage of their own, from developing a saleable premise for a novel to finding a dream agent. She delves deep into the major elements of fiction—intention, character, plot, and voice—while addressing important topics like diversity, world-building, and the differences between middle-grade and YA novels. In addition, the book’s exercises, questions, and straightforward rules of thumb help writers apply these insights to their own creative works. With its generous tone and useful tools for story analysis and revision, The Magic Words is an essential handbook for writers of children’s and young adult fiction.


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The best children’s and young adult novels take readers on wonderful outward adventures and stirring inward journeys. In The Magic Words, editor Cheryl B. Klein guides writers on an enjoyable and practical-minded voyage of their own, from developing a saleable premise for a novel to finding a dream agent. She delves deep into the major elements of fiction—intention, charac The best children’s and young adult novels take readers on wonderful outward adventures and stirring inward journeys. In The Magic Words, editor Cheryl B. Klein guides writers on an enjoyable and practical-minded voyage of their own, from developing a saleable premise for a novel to finding a dream agent. She delves deep into the major elements of fiction—intention, character, plot, and voice—while addressing important topics like diversity, world-building, and the differences between middle-grade and YA novels. In addition, the book’s exercises, questions, and straightforward rules of thumb help writers apply these insights to their own creative works. With its generous tone and useful tools for story analysis and revision, The Magic Words is an essential handbook for writers of children’s and young adult fiction.

30 review for The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Greendale

    The Magic Words is a book of lists -- of lists within lists. It's list inception (listception?). While the book covers a broad range of topics like Point of View, Narrative Voice, Plotting and Prose, much of it reads like a very general, surface-level overview. Though examples are few in number, the book offers myriad exercises for writers who are either in the process of creating a novel or who have a completed manuscript that needs editing. Tackling a more modern topic, the author discusses the The Magic Words is a book of lists -- of lists within lists. It's list inception (listception?). While the book covers a broad range of topics like Point of View, Narrative Voice, Plotting and Prose, much of it reads like a very general, surface-level overview. Though examples are few in number, the book offers myriad exercises for writers who are either in the process of creating a novel or who have a completed manuscript that needs editing. Tackling a more modern topic, the author discusses the need for more diverse books, written about diverse characters, crafted by diverse authors. Helpful tips are provided on researching culture, avoiding tropes, and steering clear of cultural appropriation. Unfortunately, a fair amount of the material in The Magic Words was taken from the author's previous book, Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults. On one hand, it was good to review the material. On the other, it was disappointing to have paid -- twice -- for the same material. The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults provides a general overview of basic writing and editing tips, and the author demonstrates a thorough understanding of how books impact young readers: Through the invocation of the right words in the right order -- the magic words -- books can change lives. And that is never more true than in childhood and young adulthood, when books introduce their readers to worlds both fantastical and right next door, inhabited by characters who share their challenges and joys.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Francisco

    Cheryl Klein is my editor at Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. The five books that we worked on together are much better than they would have been without Cheryl Klein's editorial genius. Still, one thing is to be a good editor and another is to be a good teacher, which is the role Cheryl Klein plays in this her own book about what makes children and young adult literature good. The essence of good teaching is discovery. That moment when insight springs with clarity and certainty in the student's min Cheryl Klein is my editor at Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. The five books that we worked on together are much better than they would have been without Cheryl Klein's editorial genius. Still, one thing is to be a good editor and another is to be a good teacher, which is the role Cheryl Klein plays in this her own book about what makes children and young adult literature good. The essence of good teaching is discovery. That moment when insight springs with clarity and certainty in the student's mind. Insight is not the same as the handing down of knowledge by the teacher. Insight is the result of the teacher's careful arrangement of truth, fact, example in such a way that the student sees and understands for the first time what she never knew before or knew only in a vague, inarticulate way. Insight rather than information is important in a book about writing because you don't want to come out from reading this book with a list of the fifty things you must do to get published, or write a bestseller. You could come out of reading this book with such a list. I'm saying you shouldn't. You can come out of this book with something much better: a new perspective on the book your soul wants to write, the one story that is uniquely yours. Your book. In practical terms what this means is that, if you read this book the right way, what you will get is a thrilling, almost irresistible urge not to imitate or even to follow but to assimilate and adapt into your own being what some very good writers have already done - an infusion of literary blood that you will now forge through your own heartbeat. The potential transformation of universal principles of good writing into individual vision is the true magic in this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl Klein

    I wrote this, and I believe it is both useful and thought-provoking. And a few other people think so too: “The Magic Words manages to articulate, in clear and compelling language, what others rely on intuition to understand. The result is a comprehensive and engaging examination of what readers will recognize to be true about the best novels―and yet have never heard expressed.” ― Eliot Schrefer, two-time National Book Award nominee for Endangered and Threatened “Inspiring, comprehensive, and insig I wrote this, and I believe it is both useful and thought-provoking. And a few other people think so too: “The Magic Words manages to articulate, in clear and compelling language, what others rely on intuition to understand. The result is a comprehensive and engaging examination of what readers will recognize to be true about the best novels―and yet have never heard expressed.” ― Eliot Schrefer, two-time National Book Award nominee for Endangered and Threatened “Inspiring, comprehensive, and insightful, The Magic Words ably fills a gaping hole on the shelves of developing and experienced writers alike. An essential guide to the art and craft of writing for young readers.” ― Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs “Insightful, enlightening, and practical, The Magic Words is a book that belongs on every writer’s shelf. Loaded with concrete examples and specific strategies, it’s likely to end up dog-eared and well worn―that favorite book on craft that writers revisit again and again with each new project.” ― Kate Messner, author of The Seventh Wish and the Ranger in Time series “What Cheryl B. Klein talks about when she talks about writing is what every aspiring children’s and young adult novelist needs to hear. She offers generous insights, frank talk, nuts and bolts advice, editorial wisdom, and ample encouragement. The Magic Words is all the inspiration and guidance you’ll need to get your novel started, and more importantly, to get it finished.” ― John Dufresne, author of The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction and I Don’t Like Where This Is Going

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I said above that I'd finished this book this past week, but that's not quite true. This is not a book to be read at a sitting. It's a book to be dipped into, worked through, thought about, and admired. Everyone who writes can take away something useful from it. I certainly did! It's just fascinating, for example, to see how Ms. Klein analyzes the beats of a story. She has lots of great examples from books like "Marcelo in the Real World" and "the Hunger Games" showing the points she is making. I said above that I'd finished this book this past week, but that's not quite true. This is not a book to be read at a sitting. It's a book to be dipped into, worked through, thought about, and admired. Everyone who writes can take away something useful from it. I certainly did! It's just fascinating, for example, to see how Ms. Klein analyzes the beats of a story. She has lots of great examples from books like "Marcelo in the Real World" and "the Hunger Games" showing the points she is making. Really inspirational and useful. However, I am taking off a half point for an error. Ms. Klein refers to "The Lord of the Rings" as a children's book. It's not. It was written by an adult, for adults. It's a common mistake to relegate to children's literature any books children can read and enjoy. It's still a mistake. Nonetheless, I found this book fascinating and helpful, and I recommend it warmly. If you've ever wanted to know just what an editor does, or how books are made, you'll gain from reading it, and writers and aspiring writers will want to own it and refer to it over and over again.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Theresa Milstein

    I loved Cheryl Klein's previous book Second Sight. And I am beyond impressed that she got to be an editor for the Harry Potter series. I'm kind of kicking myself for not preordering this book, so I could've been entered for a critique by Cheryl Klein. I didn't know if she could put out something just as good but different. It's been a long time, but I didn't feel like there were too many repeats. Last time I think Cheryl Klein used Harry Potter a lot for examples. This time, less HP. She used Ma I loved Cheryl Klein's previous book Second Sight. And I am beyond impressed that she got to be an editor for the Harry Potter series. I'm kind of kicking myself for not preordering this book, so I could've been entered for a critique by Cheryl Klein. I didn't know if she could put out something just as good but different. It's been a long time, but I didn't feel like there were too many repeats. Last time I think Cheryl Klein used Harry Potter a lot for examples. This time, less HP. She used Marcelo in the Real World a lot, which is also a book she worked on. I'd previously read this book, so I found it particularly helpful. Not all the exercises or the ways to get to my characters or story would work for me. But she acknowledges that these ideas aren't a one-size-fits-all. She even believes doing every exercise would actually detract from the job of finishing the manuscript. I think the beginner would get something out of it (while maybe feeling overwhelmed over how many parts have to be juggled in a manuscript), but there was enough for a seasoned writer, especially with getting to the heart of the story and character. Definitely worth reading.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alex Baugh

    I always know when I read a book that has been edited by Cheryl Klein, it is going to be truly worth my while. As a critical reader, I appreciate a good editor, and Klein really knows her stuff as far as that is concerned. I think most people will agree that nothing ruins a potentially good book more than poor editing. Now, she has turned her sights towards writing. Now, I personally have no aspirations to become a writer, but I still want to read this as a reader. I was curious to hear from an I always know when I read a book that has been edited by Cheryl Klein, it is going to be truly worth my while. As a critical reader, I appreciate a good editor, and Klein really knows her stuff as far as that is concerned. I think most people will agree that nothing ruins a potentially good book more than poor editing. Now, she has turned her sights towards writing. Now, I personally have no aspirations to become a writer, but I still want to read this as a reader. I was curious to hear from an expert just what she has to say about writing a children's book. And I was substantially rewarded. Analyzing why some books/characters are successful, there is much to be culled from within this relatively short (184 pages) book, which also includes writing exercises for aspiring writers. This is the one book I will be giving to my Kiddo, one of those aspiring writers.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    Of the many books on craft I've read in the past 5 years, this is one of my favorites (mostly because, having read so much ABOUT craft, I still found new kernels of truth and information to be had here). Particularly loved Klein's recommendations on the editing process (a stage I'm in now with a current work in progress).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Amanda at Nerdification Reviews

    Extremely detailed and full of examples. I would recommend it to a new writer to learn a lot in one go. If you have been writing for a while, it might be too much to wade through to find what you are looking for.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John

    This may be the most useful advice book for wannabe-writers that I've ever read. It's chock-full of exercises and planning techniques aimed at specific aspects of writing--tone, character and story arcs, hooks, reveals, conclusions....

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ginny Kaczmarek

    A classic in the making, great for writing workshops or DIY MFAs. This book should be on every serious writer's bookshelf, whether writing for kids or adults. After hearing glowing reviews, I finally picked up a copy, and it did not disappoint. Packed with in-depth info, this dense text not only offers the hows of character, plot, scene, and more, but also the whys. Readable and packed with examples and exercises, this will also serve as excellent reference when writers encounter sticky spots in A classic in the making, great for writing workshops or DIY MFAs. This book should be on every serious writer's bookshelf, whether writing for kids or adults. After hearing glowing reviews, I finally picked up a copy, and it did not disappoint. Packed with in-depth info, this dense text not only offers the hows of character, plot, scene, and more, but also the whys. Readable and packed with examples and exercises, this will also serve as excellent reference when writers encounter sticky spots in their work. Highly recommended.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    Outstanding resource

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elissa Matthews

    This is not a feel-good, "go-get-em, you too can write the blockbuster fantasy series for young adults" kind of book. This is a textbook, dense and writerly, packed with crucial information. I might go so far as to say, it’s not a beginners textbook at that. It references all the standard material without going over it all again, and then moves on to the subtleties. For example, there is a section that discusses the nuances of when “show don’t tell” does not apply. It does not cover the standard This is not a feel-good, "go-get-em, you too can write the blockbuster fantasy series for young adults" kind of book. This is a textbook, dense and writerly, packed with crucial information. I might go so far as to say, it’s not a beginners textbook at that. It references all the standard material without going over it all again, and then moves on to the subtleties. For example, there is a section that discusses the nuances of when “show don’t tell” does not apply. It does not cover the standard breakdown of the the hero’s journey (or the character arc) but it takes off from there to discuss subtleties that will help move a work from good to great. The chapters were organized a little oddly, making the material harder to absorb. Overall, an excellent advanced writer's resource.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Yvonne Olson

    Overall, the information in this book is great. it drives into writing for a specific genre that there isn't THAT much information on. The author ties in a lot of references that any reader of said genre will recognize and gives insight to problems she as an editor sees often. My only problem with this book is that it's very repetitive and quite dry, making me have to push through it because I couldn't get into learning about it. This is definitely a good read if you're interested in writing for Overall, the information in this book is great. it drives into writing for a specific genre that there isn't THAT much information on. The author ties in a lot of references that any reader of said genre will recognize and gives insight to problems she as an editor sees often. My only problem with this book is that it's very repetitive and quite dry, making me have to push through it because I couldn't get into learning about it. This is definitely a good read if you're interested in writing for children and teens, though!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Zoe

    Wow, I love this book! I checked it out from the library and knew immediately after reading the first few pages that I needed to own it, so I went out and bought it. It's the kind of book you can return to throughout your writing process, so whether you just have some vague idea for a book or you're in the midst of revisions, I think Klein's advice is sound and thoughtful. Even if you're not writing a book for children or young adults, she has great tips for developing characters and designing a Wow, I love this book! I checked it out from the library and knew immediately after reading the first few pages that I needed to own it, so I went out and bought it. It's the kind of book you can return to throughout your writing process, so whether you just have some vague idea for a book or you're in the midst of revisions, I think Klein's advice is sound and thoughtful. Even if you're not writing a book for children or young adults, she has great tips for developing characters and designing a plot. Highly recommended!

  15. 4 out of 5

    LeAnne

    More practical and organized than the writing books I read when I was first getting into this buisness. I started out borrowing a library copy, but I know I will come back to this repeatedly, so I bought it. Although it can be used earlier, she is really assuming you have a completed draft and are ready for major revisions. Lots of exercises and lists. Also a bibliography of juvenile and YA books that demnstrate what she is talking about. She uses Marcelo in the Real World a lot. I was glad that More practical and organized than the writing books I read when I was first getting into this buisness. I started out borrowing a library copy, but I know I will come back to this repeatedly, so I bought it. Although it can be used earlier, she is really assuming you have a completed draft and are ready for major revisions. Lots of exercises and lists. Also a bibliography of juvenile and YA books that demnstrate what she is talking about. She uses Marcelo in the Real World a lot. I was glad that I was already familiar with the book. Also Hunger Games and a few others.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Katrina

    Super helpful, even if you're writing for adults. I liked getting an editor's perspective, because she has experience with a wide range of books and authors. Writing books by authors are always interesting, but are always rooted in the author's own process. And so many other writing books push one process or plotting system as the solution for every book. Cheryl focuses on plot and structure, but in a way that felt more organic and flexible to me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    A comprehensive and detailed book about writing and revision. The emphasis is on really delving into your writing and seeing exactly what works or doesn't work and why. Klein uses MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD often as an example, so it's helpful that I've read and loved that book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Serena W. Sorrell

    Very insightful and filled with useful activities for brainstorming and streamlining your work. I'd say it's quite useful no matter what age you write for, but does have a bit more advice specific to the MG and YA readers.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Katie Evans

    This is a book that will serve as a reference to me for years. I don't even know how many pages I dog-earred or lines I highlighted. Cheryl Klein's insight in incredibly helpful and, in many cases, eye opening. I highly recommend this to children's and young adult writers and aspiring writers.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jason Strayer

    This is a must read for any author or potential author of children's fiction. I scrubbed this thing from cover to cover, ran through every exercise, and I'm still going back for tips and tricks. Hopefully some day I'll publish a book that will do justice to what I learned in this one.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anna Kopp

    A fantastic read for those interested in writing their first book. For those who've been through the trenches, it has good exercises to get you into the mindset of the potential reader. A good how-to book for beginners.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Still reading intermittently, but the knowledge and helpful guiding questions will be a reference I see myself referring back to over and over again.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly Sabatini

    It's like a private master class with Cheryl Klein! A must have for those writing in kid lit.

  24. 5 out of 5

    A

    The most helpful section is “Structure and Sensibility: The Power of Plot.”

  25. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Wilde

    Consider this book a must-read for any aspiring novel writer MG, YA, or Adult. Writing groups of any genre or skill level would be well served by making The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults required reading before entry is permitted or submissions examined. To those familiar with works on writing you will find comfortable new insights on old lessons. As you imagine yourself writing for young people (and you should imagine them), whether your presumed reader has a Consider this book a must-read for any aspiring novel writer MG, YA, or Adult. Writing groups of any genre or skill level would be well served by making The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults required reading before entry is permitted or submissions examined. To those familiar with works on writing you will find comfortable new insights on old lessons. As you imagine yourself writing for young people (and you should imagine them), whether your presumed reader has a hard defensive exterior or the soft strivings of the safely ensconced introvert, you'll remember that all readers no matter what their age long for you to flirt with their souls. This book will offer practical and informed guidance, worthwhile exercises, reading suggestions, and covey seasoned expertise from an editor who not only understands what the market wants but can clearly explain how publisher expectations translate directly to the story, structure, and character development you must compose to satisfy and fulfill the most insatiable reader expectations. Where other books impart the notion that writing a successful novel is the result of reverse engineering best sellers into constrained algorithms, Cheryl B. Klein manages to inspire writers to see their own manuscripts as both author and audience, providing a bevy of transformative lessons to free you from doubt and quicken your talent. A word of warning. This book contains a feast of piquant morsels that will seem so satiating with each swallow you will be tempted to push back from the table, wipe the savory juices from your lips, and rush toward your own unfinished works as if you could handle a rich dessert. You will likely find you can consume no more than sorbet or a tongue's lap of pastry cream off a fruit tart. Do not waste your effort, go for a walk, make notes of your inspirations for later, return, and finish the whole book. You are not enjoying the fullness of a finished meal, merely the relief of the starved undergoing the steady absorption of deprived nutrients. Don't short yourself looking for an answer to your immediate writing challenges. Use Klein's book to refashion yourself as a deliberately authentic writer who's realized there are no obstructions to novels merely roads to readers along which all puzzles can be playfully solved.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlyn

    I borrowed this book from the library, and I intend to buy a copy for myself. The book is very list-heavy, which may be a turn-off for some readers, but I liked it. There were tons of exercises to do before writing, during, and after, as well as some to do whenever. Lots of examples were given, and I especially appreciated a section towards the end where she annotated an example first chapter and showed where the problems were. The reason I docked a star is that Klein's focus is heavily, heavily I borrowed this book from the library, and I intend to buy a copy for myself. The book is very list-heavy, which may be a turn-off for some readers, but I liked it. There were tons of exercises to do before writing, during, and after, as well as some to do whenever. Lots of examples were given, and I especially appreciated a section towards the end where she annotated an example first chapter and showed where the problems were. The reason I docked a star is that Klein's focus is heavily, heavily literary. She reads and edits children and YA novels that has a point and a message. She believes that all books should too. She acknowledges once or twice that most readers don't actually care if the book has a message (and in fact, it turns a lot of readers off to have an obvious message), but she still pushes forward with it. There is a single chapter on speculative fiction that points out that most speculative fiction is fun and adventurous and probably not making grand statements about life. That being said, the rest of the book was very useful.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christy

    The best children’s and young adult novels take readers on wonderful outward adventures and stirring inward journeys. In The Magic Words, editor Cheryl B. Klein guides writers on an enjoyable and practical-minded voyage of their own, from developing a saleable premise for a novel to finding a dream agent. She delves deep into the major elements of fiction—intention, character, plot, and voice—while addressing important topics like diversity, world-building, and the differences between middle-gra The best children’s and young adult novels take readers on wonderful outward adventures and stirring inward journeys. In The Magic Words, editor Cheryl B. Klein guides writers on an enjoyable and practical-minded voyage of their own, from developing a saleable premise for a novel to finding a dream agent. She delves deep into the major elements of fiction—intention, character, plot, and voice—while addressing important topics like diversity, world-building, and the differences between middle-grade and YA novels. In addition, the book’s exercises, questions, and straightforward rules of thumb help writers apply these insights to their own creative works. With its generous tone and useful tools for story analysis and revision, The Magic Words is an essential handbook for writers of children’s and young adult fiction.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Zoraida Rivera Morales

    This book was read in 12x12 and commented. Although I couldn't keep up with their schedule, I'm so glad to have brought this book and read it. There is so much to learn from it about the whole process of writing, revising and even publishing a book. Each topic is explained thoroughly; it has questions and exercises that guide you without violating your space as a writer. This isn't a book to read quickly (unless you're going to return to it)! What writer won't is a mystery to me! I have fantasy This book was read in 12x12 and commented. Although I couldn't keep up with their schedule, I'm so glad to have brought this book and read it. There is so much to learn from it about the whole process of writing, revising and even publishing a book. Each topic is explained thoroughly; it has questions and exercises that guide you without violating your space as a writer. This isn't a book to read quickly (unless you're going to return to it)! What writer won't is a mystery to me! I have fantasy novels waiting to be revised with this book and great ideas that I still need to be contained to finish other manuscripts. The Magic Words will be in my library for a long time. And if the pages can take it, I hope to pass it on to another writer!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    One of the best books on the craft of writing that I've ever read. Cheryl Klein draws from her experience as an editor of children's / YA fiction to offer in-depth, methodical, and practical advice on writing stories that are not only accessible and enjoyable for younger readers, but also well-crafted, period. She addresses ways of expanding the initial spark of inspiration into a full-fledged story, the building blocks of story-writing (plot, characters, etc.), and techniques for improving pros One of the best books on the craft of writing that I've ever read. Cheryl Klein draws from her experience as an editor of children's / YA fiction to offer in-depth, methodical, and practical advice on writing stories that are not only accessible and enjoyable for younger readers, but also well-crafted, period. She addresses ways of expanding the initial spark of inspiration into a full-fledged story, the building blocks of story-writing (plot, characters, etc.), and techniques for improving prose (word choice, pacing, etc.). Plus, sooooooo many writing prompts and exercises! If you're a writer or editor of children's or YA fiction, THE MAGIC WORDS needs to be on your bookshelf. <3

  30. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    This is an extremely dense but informative reference-style book that can also be read straight through...though I had to put it down about half way through when I realized that the strategies were beyond what I had written and that the tips were getting overwhelming instead of eye-opening. Upon finishing a first draft of my manuscript, I returned to this book and found it a perfect fit for the work that comes next. I plan to use Klein’s many helpful lists and insights to guide my revision proces This is an extremely dense but informative reference-style book that can also be read straight through...though I had to put it down about half way through when I realized that the strategies were beyond what I had written and that the tips were getting overwhelming instead of eye-opening. Upon finishing a first draft of my manuscript, I returned to this book and found it a perfect fit for the work that comes next. I plan to use Klein’s many helpful lists and insights to guide my revision process. She writes honestly and compassionately about all aspects of writing and the business of writing- great for all authors no matter your publication status or level of experience.

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