Review: "Writing Irresistible Kidlit" by Mary Kole
Were you one of those lucky souls who fell in love with reading as a child, when a work of literature tailored for children and young adults captured your heart? These books — often referred to as ‘kidlit’ — are the building blocks for a lifelong love of reading. Some might think that kids’ books are easier to write than books for adults.
But children are often the greatest critics. And they will walk away from your book — sprint, actually — if it’s too boring or dumbed-down or just plain “off.” Writing for children and young adults takes just as much work as writing for adults. Maybe even more.
If you know you were meant to write for this unique audience, though, don’t fear: Mary Kole will tell you what you need to know.
Kole’s Publishing Background is Priceless
Instead of jumping into the how-to of writing a book for children and young adults, Kole’s first chapter is titled “Kidlit Market Overview.” She then gives writers a breakdown of what the market looks like, how to tell the difference between middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) fiction, the popularity of series, the potential for future changes in publishing and reading styles, and more.
It’s amazing. Having Kole’s deep knowledge of the publishing marketplace adds an extremely helpful dimension to this craft book. And if you stick around until her final chapter — not a hard thing to do — Kole will give you an agent’s insight into how to write a winning query letter.
Kole Truly Cares about the Young Reader
This craft book covers the same things other craft books cover: growing idea seeds into complete stories with characters, plot, imagery, setting, and theme. But every piece of advice she gives, she gives from the point of view of the young reader.
For example, in the second chapter Kole tells us how kids in the MG range “live in a world made up of contrasts: You want to be loyal to your family, but you also start to crave independence from them. You want to define yourself as an individual, but you also want to fit in with friends and social groups at school” (16). By putting us in our young reader’s shoes, Kole gives us the power to create stories whose themes matter to kids.
The Examples from Authors and Books Are Fantastic
Throughout each chapter, Kole weaves in examples from relevant MG and YA books. And then at the end of each chapter she includes a “From the Shelves” section where she dives even deeper into the chapter’s lessons — antagonists, for example — by closely examining how several authors accomplish compelling antagonists in their own novels, with quotes from their books.
In addition, Kole also cites advice from authors, agents, and editors themselves. In a helpful section about which clichés and tropes to avoid, Kole brings in renowned MG and YA novelist Holly Black, who tells us to avoid story ideas about “The dystopian government that appears to be created just to mess with people’s love lives, since the system appears to benefit no one. The utopia that turns out to be a dystopia, completely surprising the characters, but not the reader.”
You’ll also hear from Alessandra Balzer of Balzer + Bray, young adult novelist Barry Lyga, and middle-grade author Andrew Harwell.
Some Examples Are Dated — Especially Anything by Jay Asher
Mary Kole wrote this book in 2012, when she worked for the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and one crucial thing has gripped the kidlit publishing world since then: the #MeToo movement. Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s own former client, Jay Asher, has been ousted from the kidlit world for his alleged abuses and unwanted sexual advances toward women.
Kole’s many mentions of Jay Asher’s problematic book, 13 Reasons Why, are distasteful in light of the many recent accusations against him. But Kole couldn’t have known that when she wrote the book. Still, it’s something to be aware of when reading.
This book approaches writing for children from every angle possible, which makes it an absolutely necessary craft book to read if you plan to write for children and young adults anytime soon!
Kole, Mary. Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers. Writer’s Digest Books, 2012.
About Laura Ojeda Melchor
Laura Ojeda Melchor holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and spends her days chasing after her adventurous toddler. A freelance writer and fiction novelist, she lives in Alaska with her family. She enjoys reading, writing, listening to music, exploring Alaska, and going for walks in her delightfully foresty neighborhood.
For her fiction, she’s represented by a fantastic agent at Upstart Crow Literary. She’s also a contributing writer for Book Riot. You can find her at her online home, lauraojedamelchor.com.