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

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4.46  ·  Rating details ·  370 ratings  ·  64 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 6th 2016 by W. W. Norton Company
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Average rating 4.46  · 
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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
...more
Francisco
Oct 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Cheryl Klein
Feb 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Recommends it for: Aspiring writers of children's and YA novels
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
...more
Mary
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Theresa Milstein
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Alex  Baugh
Oct 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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
...more
Gail
Dec 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
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).
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.
John
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
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....
Ginny Kaczmarek
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jenny
Apr 25, 2018 added it
Shelves: writing
Outstanding resource
Elissa Matthews
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Yvonne Olson
Jul 14, 2016 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Zoe
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
LeAnne
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Katrina
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 0-kindle, writing
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.
Wendy
Nov 28, 2016 added it
Shelves: craft-books
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.
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.
Katie Evans
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jason Strayer
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Anna Kopp
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jessica
Apr 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reference
Still reading intermittently, but the knowledge and helpful guiding questions will be a reference I see myself referring back to over and over again.
Kimberly Sabatini
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: craft-of-writing
It's like a private master class with Cheryl Klein! A must have for those writing in kid lit.
A
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The most helpful section is “Structure and Sensibility: The Power of Plot.”
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
...more
Kaitlyn
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Zoraida Rivera Morales
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Writers of Children's books and YA
Recommended to Zoraida by: 12x12
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
...more
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 ...more
Melissa
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Melissa Killian
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was extremely helpful as I worked on my latest revision. I was focusing on the first four chapters of my manuscript, and the query and synopsis, and the exercises in this book helped me to really figure out what I wanted my book to be about. I was able to focus the query and synopsis better than ever before, and I was able to edit the first few chapters into the strongest version they've ever been. I referred back to this book often and I know I will definitely come back to it for any ...more
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Cheryl B. Klein is the author of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults, and three children's picture books: Wings, illustrated by Tomie DePaola; Thunder Trucks, cowritten with Katy Beebe and illustrated by Mike Boldt; and A Year of Everyday Wonders, illustrated by Qin Leng. In 2011, she self-published Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing ...more

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