Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories

Jack Gantos. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-30456-0

In an excellent guide for aspiring authors, Newbery Medalist Gantos distills his creative writing expertise into breezy chapters, emphasizing the value of keeping a journal—and using stories he wrote in his youth as proof. Gantos provides concrete examples for developing technique (set writing goals, create suspense, give characters emotional depth) and activating “Writing Radar,” or heightened awareness: “You need a certain writerly attitude as you walk down the street—a kind of stealthy, snoopy, slinky, shifty, sinister, and silent confidence.” Assisted by drawings, maps, word lists, tips (“Every painful moment in life is a story waiting to be told”), and extracts from his juvenilia, Gantos exemplifies the steps to authorial success. Though encouraging (“I want you to be the best brilliant writer”), he doesn’t minimize the work involved and advises multiple rewrites (each with a specific purpose), illustrated as a layer cake. And while the book is directed at serious writers in the making, there’s enough exaggeration and grossness to keep readers laughing, too; no doubt, Gantos still has a few more tricks up his sleeve. Ages 9–12. (Aug.)