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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

Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Publisher’s description

poet XFans of Jacqueline Woodson, Meg Medina, and Jason Reynolds will fall hard for this astonishing #ownvoices novel-in-verse by an award-winning slam poet, about an Afro-Latina heroine who tells her story with blazing words and powerful truth.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This book was fantastic. It took me a little bit to warm up to Xiomara, not because of any flaws in the writing or characterization, but because Xiomara is a tough nut to crack—she keeps most everyone at a distance, is quick to fight, and is slow to reveal what she’s all about. But once this novel in verse really gets going—watch out! You won’t be moving anywhere until you’ve finished the whole thing.

 

15-year-old Dominican American Xiomara is used to being judged, harassed, and viewed only as a body with curves, not just from the male gaze, but even from her own mother. She’s close to exactly two people in life, her twin brother, whom she lovingly just calls Twin, and their best friend, Caridad. They are the only ones who really know anything about her, and even they don’t get to know it all. Xiomara’s mother goes to Mass daily and is extremely disappointed in Xiomara’s disinterest in church, confirmation classes, and religion. She’s very strict,but Xiomara has found ways around her rules to try to live the life she wants. She joins a poetry club at school while pretending to be at confirmation classes. She also begins seeing Trinidadian Aman, a kind, compassionate, music-loving classmate who is always ready to hear one of her poems. Her mother makes it clear that her sexuality is something to be repressed, to be ashamed of, to be denied, but Xiomara is having all of these first feelings for Aman, and not even the scolding voice of her mother in her head can override her beginning to make her own decisions and define her body and her sexuality on her own terms. But she has to keep all of this secret from her mother—just like Twin has to keep his relationship with a boy a secret. Everything begins to unravel when Xiomara’s mother sees her kissing Aman, and then further escalates when she finds Xiomara’s poetry notebook. Learning how to trust and how listen to her own voice—to find power not just in words but in the power of her words—is a rough road for Xiomara, but it’s also one filled with wonder, joy, and revelations. Powered by Xiomara’s strong but vulnerable voice, this intense, poignant, and extraordinary novel is a must for all collections.

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062662804
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/06/2018