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On Writing For Children (When You Aren’t One), a guest post by Sabrina Kleckner

Cover Designer: Jake Slavik
Illustrator: Ana Bidault

I started writing my first novel when I was twelve. It was about murderers, because sure, and despite having no actual world-building, it did include a magical language I painstakingly crafted and a very intricate (definitely too intricate) plot. Needless to say, it was not a good book. But something I do think it had going for it was the voice. I was twelve, and my characters were thirteen. Even though I didn’t understand how to write a cohesive story or that character arcs are a thing that exist, I knew how kids sounded because I was one. Fast forward, and my debut releases this month. There are no murderers this time around (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), but I did write another young protagonist. She’s twelve, and I am now twenty-four. I’ve lived double her life, and am thus far removed from her perspective. When it came to getting her voice right, I wasn’t sure if I could do a good job.

(Thirteen-year-old Sabrina probably thinking about her murder book)

(Twenty-four-year-old Sabrina definitely thinking about her debut!)

If you’ve read my book, you might think I failed on the voice front. While querying, I got several rejections because agents did not think Maisie sounded her age, and I understand why. My protagonist is much more confident than I was at twelve, and is very independent. While this could be considered a flaw in my writing, I don’t see it that way. In order for THE ART OF RUNNING AWAY to work, Maisie needed to be bold enough to flee to another country with her estranged older brother. She needed to make rash decisions while trying to save her family’s art shop because, despite being an adult, her brother isn’t in a position to help her. And she needed to be self-aware enough to understand when her careless actions caused harm, because that is the crux of the story.

When I first got the feedback that Maisie sounded too old, I worried. I considered re-writing the novel from the ground up before sending out more queries. But then I thought back to my twelve-year-old self. Whether or not I was actually mature on the outside, I felt like I was on the inside. I already had a passion I knew I wanted to pursue—writing—and I didn’t care that I was a kid or that my stories weren’t up to par yet. I was convinced that, once I finished my murderer novel, it would immediately find an agent, become a bestseller, and land me a five-movie deal (lol). At the same time, I had friends who didn’t know what they wanted for dinner, let alone what they wanted to do for a career yet. And then there were the twelve-year-olds who were already achieving unimaginable things. I was so jealous of the occasional teen who got a book deal. I used to watch the kids on Disney Channel and wonder what it was like to have a full-blown career as a middle schooler. Outside of writing, I was a competitive swimmer, and I couldn’t wrap my head around the kids my age who qualified for the Olympics.

All this to say: I realized there is no universal twelve-year-old. Children mature at different rates. They have different life experiences and personalities that lead them to thinking and speaking in their own unique ways. I don’t actually think there is a wrong way to write a child, so long as you aren’t speaking down to them. Now: this post isn’t to encourage you to ignore editorial notes—feedback is essential to publishing, and my book wouldn’t be where it is today without all the wonderful eyes that offered critiques. But if you believe a bold and confident child protagonist is necessary for your story, go for it! If your book requires a messy and immature adult main character, don’t hold yourself back! People don’t fit into neat boxes so I don’t think we should force characters into them, either.

Character Art by @kidovna


Meet the author

Sabrina Kleckner is the author of THE ART OF RUNNING AWAY, a middle grade contemporary novel about family and identity. She began writing at the age of twelve, and is grateful to not be debuting with the angsty assassin book she toiled over in her teens. When she is not writing, she can be found teaching ESL or gushing about her three cats to anyone who will listen. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @sabkleckner, or at https://www.sabrinakleckner.com/.

Where to buy the book: https://www.sabrinakleckner.com/books

About The Art of Running Away

Twelve-year-old Maisie is an artist. When she’s in front of her sketchbook or apprenticing at Glenna’s Portraits, the family-run art shop her grandmother started, the world makes sense. She doesn’t think about Calum, her brother who mysteriously left home and cut ties with her family six years ago, or her parents’ insistence that she “broaden her horizons” and try something new—something that isn’t art.

But when Glenna’s Portraits falls on hard times, Maisie’s plan to take over the shop when she’s older and become a lifelong artist starts to crumble. In desperation to make things right, Maisie runs away to London to reconnect with her adult brother, hoping he might be the key to saving the shop. But as Maisie learns about her family’s past from Calum, she starts to rethink everything she’s ever known. Maisie must decide not only if saving her family’s art shop is worth it, but if she can forgive her parents for the mistakes they’ve made. 

ISBN-13: 9781631635779
Publisher: North Star Editions/Jolly Fish Press
Publication date: 11/16/2021
Age Range: 8 – 14 Years

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