Books about Writing
Other sections : Books on Illustrating | Books About Books | Reference | Magazines, Organizations, and Websites
*You'll have to choose your own key resource here, as there is no one best book for all people.
* : Essential resources--the basic books you are most likely to need
N: New items--added since the 2nd edition was published
R: Revised items--new editions or significant changes to my comments
N Anatomy of Nonfiction: Writing True Stories for Children, Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas (Writer's Institute Publications, 2011). The only comprehensive guide to writing nonfiction for children, this excellent guide covers writing for magazines and for book publication and includes help with interviewing, photo research, and other essential topics.
The Business of Writing for Children: An Award-Winning Author's Tips on How to Write, Sell, and Promote Your Children's Books, Aaron Shepard (Shepard Publications, 2000). Perhaps not the glossiest or snazziest how-to book on children's writing, but nonetheless a useful how-to guide, especially for picture-book and folktale authors, from a successful writer. He also gives sound advice on working with publishers and the process. This is a thin book, but it's packed with useful information.
R The Giblin Guide to Writing Children's Books (4th Edition) (link leads to detailed review), James Cross Giblin (Writer's Institute Publications, 2006). A how-to by a noted editor and writer of nonfiction, now available in a revised edition. This covers writing nonfiction, novels, and picture books from the valuable perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the desk.
R How to Write a Children's Book and Get It Published (3rd edition), Barbara Seuling (John Wiley and Sons, 2004). Another general guide mostly on writing, but with some information about the publishing process too. Seuling is strong on the writing process and on working with a publisher. She is active online as a writing instructor.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel, How to Write a Damn Good Novel II, and The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth, James N. Frey (St. Martin's Press, 1987, 1994, and 2000). Great resources for any writer of young adult novels in particular, regardless of experience. "These books offer solid, step-by-step advice and are funny and really fun to read," says Laurie Halse Anderson.
The Invisible Child: On Reading and Writing Books for Children, Katherine Paterson (Dutton, November 2001). The author of such classics as Bridge to Terabithia discusses "what stories mean to kids" (Booklist review, August 2001). Read this to learn what books this revered writer loves and why, and to find out why she feels story is important above all.
Love and Death at the Mall: Teaching and Writing for the Literate Young, Richard Peck (Delacorte, 1994). Peck analyzes what young people read and why in his book. The author tackles such notable teen problems of peer pressure and suicide and how social issues relate to the writing to which young readers respond. A good reference if you strive for realism in your writing.
Origins of Story: On Writing for Children, Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire (editors) (Margaret McElderry Books, 1999). You'll read illuminating and inspiring essays by accomplished children's book writers and illustrators like Maurice Sendak, Gillian Cross, Ursula Le Guin, Madeleine L'Engle, and Susan Cooper. This collection provides writers with an understanding of children's interests and a look at the writer's mind and passion for writing.
Picture Writing (link leads to detailed review), Anastasia Suen (Writers Digest Books, 2002). Subtitled "A New Approach to Writing for Kids and Teens" this highly useful guide distills much of what she teaches in her highly respected online classes. This is a practical, not philosophical book, with exercises and other help for someone trying to find their way.
N Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults (link leads to detailed review), Cheryl B. Klein (Asterisk Books, 2011). Cheryl Klein works at the Arthur Levine imprint, and this book provides insight into her work as an editor as well as offering practical techniques for use in revision.
Take Joy: A Book for Writers, Jane Yolen (Writer, 2003). Jane is to some a guru of children's writing. I know her not just as the writer of this book's foreword but as a passionate and thoughtful speaker and a jaded but still engaged observer of the children's publishing industry. Her words on writing will inspire you, prod you, move you, irritate you--and get you writing.
The Way to Write for Children, Joan Aiken (St. Martin's Press, 1999). This inspirational and philosophical book not only gives an overview of what children's books shouldn't do--like be boring or condescending--but also reveals the obligations that the author believes children's authors have toward their audience--"to demonstrate that the world is not a simple place." Not a how-to, and not a book with which you will always agree. Joan Aiken is a noted British writer of such books as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
The Writer's Idea Book, Jack Heffron (Writer's Digest Books, 2000). Do you find yourself unable to put words to paper? This book provides prompts to get your creative juices flowing and begin writing. Though not intended specifically for the children's book writer, the more than 400 prompts are certain to help those interested in writing for children spawn ideas.
N The Writing Group Book: Creating and Sustaining a Successful Writing Group, edited by Lisa Rosenthal (Chicago Review Press, 2003). Writing groups, aka critique groups, can be extremely helpful to a writer--or a waste of time. This guide compiles more than 30 essays by members of writing groups, discussing how they started a group and how writing groups work or fail to work. The book looks at writing groups of all kinds, but quite a few essays are specifically about children's writers' groups, and the ones that aren't generally address issues that apply to writers working in different genres.
Writing Hannah: On Writing for Children, by Libby Gleeson (Hale & Iremonger, 1999). Australian author Libby Gleeson shares the writing process within a journal for aspiring writers. A good look at how to write a children's book by watching a children's book writer actually write one.
N Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly (link leads to detailed review), by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins, 2006). Though the author addresses upper elementary and middle-grade children writing fiction, this clear and concise guide has a few things to teach adults as well.
N Writing Picture Books: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication (link leads to detailed review), by Ann Whitford Paul (Writer's Digest, 2009). This is a comprehensive and practical guide to writing and revising picture books--highly recommended.
Young at Heart: The Step-by-Step Way of Writing Children's Stories, Violet Ramos (VR Publications, 1999). A mere 80 pages but this book works like a writing workshop with worksheets to help writers develop key components like characterization, dialogue, and even word choice. Look at this manual as a more programmed, step-by-step approach to begin writing.Feel free to contact me with suggestions or comments.
This list is based on the Resource Guide in the Appendix of the third edition of my Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books. It actually has more material than the print version and has been enhanced with hyperlinks direct to web sites and book pages on Amazon.com (for purchase or just for information--if you prefer to buy elsewhere, I have created a page of suggested bookstores).