Teaching Kids: Discovering the Magic in Writing

For a lot of kids, writing is a chore. Essays. Journal entries. Book reports . But this month Newbery Honor winner Gail Carson Levine, author of "Ella Enchanted," comes to the rescue with "Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly," a how-to-write guide for kids 10 and up.

The book's advice covers the basics: add a mix of narrative and dialogue; don't solve all the problems until the end; pay attention to details. But Levine makes it fun, with suggestions like "make your hero suffer" (she is, after all, the author who made gems and bugs fall out of girls' mouths in "The Fairy's Mistake"), and with exercises that ask kids to "turn someone you dislike into an animal." She encourages kids to write things they'd enjoy reading--and not to listen to naysayers. She still remembers a childhood teacher who called her story "pedestrian"--"a death blow," she says.

Librarians--and publisher HarperCollins--expect children to pay attention to Levine, a star in the kid-lit world. "She has clout," says Cyndi Phillip, president of the American Association of School Librarians. And that's a good thing. "Any practice that kids get communicating via the written word has to help them later in life," says Kathleen T. Horning, director of the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Levine's followers may not end up writing the next great American novel, but they should have fun while trying. And that, parents can agree, really is magic.

Karen Springen