Living a Writing Life: Books for Tweens and Early Teens

-posted by Ruth

Young authors can imagine themselves living the writing life–and learn important craft lessons–through reading novels where the main characters are immersed in their own writing, even as young teens.  The following books are not so much about writing as they are beautiful, complex novels where readers get a glimpse of how writing fits into the daily lives of compelling characters.  Great reads on their own merits, these novels would also be wonderful choices for book clubs and books circles in middle school classrooms.

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis

A talented author and illustrator team up to  create a delicious fictional autobiography of the renown Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.   Neftali (Pablo Neruda’s true birth name) has an intense sensitivity to the poetry in the world around him from an early age. He finds support for his craft from his step-mother and his aunt, but must hide his poems and his sensitivity from his stern father. The text weaves poetry, striking visual images, and a compelling story, creating an ode to the power of imagination.  While the novel is easily accessible for upper elementary and middle school kids, readers of all ages will be inspired by this magical tale.

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The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy

Flashback to the 1970’s and meet two 12-year-old girls, Joan and Fox who form a special bond as they write, explore the world, and become closer friends.  They call themselves “the wild girls.”   Joan is more of a follow-the rules-kind of girl until she moves to California and meets Sarah who calls herself Fox and lives with her biker/writer/dad  lives in the woods nearby.  Joan soon renames herself Newt and spends hours creating stories with her new best friend.  They end up up writing a very different story that gets them accepted into a summer writing workshop in Berkeley.  Lessons in life and in writing abound through off-beat characters like their writing instructor Verla Volante.  Great for girls discovering their voice in their lives and in their writing.  Actually, this is a perfect book for writers of all ages.

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Word After Word After Word by Patricia Maclachlan

This early reader chapter book takes place in a 4th-grade classroom, where the exciting Ms. Mirabel arrives to inspire the children about how writing can change their lives.  As a visiting poet, Ms. Mirabel works with Lucy’s class over several weeks, telling them “I, myself, write to change my life, to make it come out the way I want it to.”   The story is told by Lucy, whose mother is coping with cancer treatments, so the book is not simply a light read about young children becoming writers, but rather a story with depth about important life themes, including the power of friendship and story in coming to understand the world. The children learn the ability that words have as expression as well, and the poems that are woven into the book are small gems.  A great read-aloud for a writing workshop!

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Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes

We never meet 12-year-old Olive except through her journal and the few memories her classmate Martha recounts of a quiet girl she barely knew.   Just as Martha is leaving for a summer at the beach with her grandmother and family, she receives a visit from Olive’s mother with a gift of a page from her daughter’s journal.  Olive recently died in a car accident, and in the pages of her journal, she had written of her wish to be friends with Martha, of her longing to see the ocean, and of her desire to be a writer.  Martha carries these thoughts with her to her summer of writing at the ocean, as she shares Olive’s dream of being an author.  A touching novel, peopled with characters of complexity and depth–many who help Martha live the writing life.

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And of course there are always these classics, about young women who identified themselves as writers early on, and how that identification helped form and inform their whole lives:

Little Women by Louise May Alcott

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle

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