Librarians always love being the first to see a good new book that’s coming out. Often, we get to see Advance Reader Copies of books so that we can decide whether to purchase those books for the library. But this year, I got a really special opportunity to mentor and support young authors writing their very first novels! And it would be an understatement to say that I was more excited to read these budding novels than I would be for any ARC from a major publishing house. That’s because these novels were being written right here in Pasadena, right here in our midst!
A group of 23 young writers mostly between the ages of 9 and 12 joined me last November to tackle the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program challenge. See, NaNoWriMo has existed for many years as a program to encourage adults to write a 50,000 word novel draft during November, or “National Novel Writing Month.” But for writers under 18, you can do a Young Writer’s Program and set whatever word goal works for you. I encouraged the kids to write 10,000 words, which during 30 days works out to about 333 words a day. I didn’t require it though, and some kids chose a smaller word count while others chose higher.
We met every week to check in with our goals, discuss some of the foundations of good fiction writing, and do writing prompts with our own novels in view. The first week, we discussed the importance of conflict and of giving characters different motivations, and also how to write a great beginning that will pull the reader in. The second week, we discussed outlines and plot. The third week, we talked about dialogue and wrote some different kinds of dialogue with some writing prompts. The fourth week, after NaNoWriMo had ended, we discussed how to approach editing and revising our novel drafts and how to grow through that to become even better masters of language.
In thirty days, five of the children exceeded 100% of their word count goals, and two got to 80%! Regardless how far they got, I was extremely proud of all these kids for taking on this challenge. They truly are writers. They committed to writing on a regular basis and doing their best to churn out those words and not worry too much about perfection or spelling. Their goal was to tell a story, and the stories that came from these talented and imaginative writers were out of this world!
We will be doing NaNoWriMo again this year (2021). To ramp up for that, each week from now until November, I’ll share one or two of the stories written in last year’s (2020) NaNoWriMo, along with readalike suggestions you can check out from the library!
I am sharing these excerpts with permission from the authors. These are their original work. I have just edited for spelling and grammar, especially adding paragraph breaks for the sake of readability. I have put them in alphabetical order by the author’s first name. I also put some reading suggestions for good books that their novels reminded me of – in the publishing world, these are called “comps,” comparison titles. So, writers, take note of the comps I chose for you because you may want to draw on these when you get around to writing queries to agents!
Going in alphabetical order by the first names of our novelists from 2020, our first two are Aidan and Alana!
Aidan’s novel Phantom Avenue is about a boy who moves to a new town that isn’t on any map, and sees people that his parents and brother can’t see. His parents think he’s losing his mind but something strange is going on and he has to get to the bottom of it. I think it would be a great read for fans of Ellen Oh, Dan Poblocki or Kim Ventrella (click the links to find their books!)
Excerpt from Phantom Avenue:
“Mom, Mom our neighbor is inhuman! His eyes are red!” I yell.
“Andy, you are paranoid and are acting crazy. We just moved here and we don’t want to embarrass ourselves,” my Mom replies.
“I am not going crazy. His eyes are literally red!” I scream.
“Go to your room and I will call you when dinner’s ready,” Mom states.
“But, Mom,” I say.
“Your room, now!” Mom exclaims.
I head to my room and grab my laptop. I search up the town and it is not on the map. There is no “Wight Avenue.” This is creepy. Why would my parents move to a town that is not on the map? There is no history or anything about this place. Whatever this place is, I know that it is not safe for my family to stay here.
Check out these readalikes for Aidan’s story!
Alana’s novel The Red Jacket is not your usual fantasy story! It has all the adventure and vibrant world building, yes, but lots of laugh-out-loud humor too! It’s a book about discovering magic, and what “being good” really means. Talking animals, hidden worlds… I think it would be a great read for fans of Terry Pratchett, Lewis Carroll, E.D. Baker and Bruce Coville.
Excerpt from The Red Jacket:
Cordelia shrieked and said, “Rita, tell me that was you talking and not that gerbil you’re stepping on.”
Cordelia saw my pale face and whispered, “It was the gerbil, wasn’t it?”
I nodded slowly.
“Oh gods, help.” Cordelia murmured.
The gerbil screeched, “GET OFF MY TAIL!!!”
I obliged, and the gerbil sniffed haughtily and said with an air around him, “I am NOT a gerbil! I am a muskrat from the dignified family Drood, named Pen! Not that you know anything, mortals! And yes, I am royalty. I was sent to guard you by your fairy godmother.”
When Pen said the last remark, he looked at me pityingly. It felt strange, being pitied by a muskrat named Pen.
Check out these readalikes for Alana’s story!
Look out for more writers next week!