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

Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories
by Jack Gantos; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Farrar    203 pp.
8/17    978-0-374-30456-0    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-374-30457-7    $9.99

Gantos advises budding writers to keep journals as copiously as he has done since his youth, and the idea of maintaining one’s own “black book” serves as a focal point for a broader writing manual. Writers should be good observers and listeners, always on the lookout for fodder, he suggests. (Snooping is encouraged, and Harriet the Spy held up as a role model.) Gantos uses frequent anecdotes from his own life — both general and writing-specific — as examples of what writing things down has allowed him to remember and shape into stories with snappy dialogue, action and emotion, and evolving characters. The result is a guide that, while somewhat meandering, is both practical and entertaining, full of concrete writing tips and discussion of story elements and structure, and appended with three specific writing exercises. The funny, exaggeration-prone voice will be familiar to readers of Gantos’s other work, particularly the Jack Henry series (Heads or Tails, rev. 7/94; and sequels), whose stories he “took from [his] early kid journals.” Loose fountain-pen drawings both illustrate his points and, at times, advise readers, particularly in a chapter on “Story Maps.”

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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