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Reading Like a Writer

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Today, on Read Across America Day, we celebrate reading like a writer, and share more advice from children’s and YA authors. Previously on this blog, we shared a post with words of advice on writing from YA authors.

To see the full author talk from which each excerpt is drawn, click on the links listed after each quote.

Jacqueline Woodson, former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, author of Brown Girl Dreaming and Harbor Me

Jacqueline Woodson, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, 2018-2019. Photo credit: Shawn Miller, Library of Congress.

The way to write, the way to learn to write is by reading.  I can’t say that enough and you don’t have to read hard books, I think reading picture books teaches you a lot about writing because from the very first line you start getting a picture, it’s a very short story… I say start with the picture books and really study them, read the same books that you love again and again and again…  …If you’re reading very slowly, if you’re really studying what you’re reading, you’re reading like a writer, you’re reading as an engaged reader…  And read the same things again and again, like I said, because you’re studying.

When you get to the end of a page and you’re crying over something the author wrote, go back and find out what words the author used to get you to that feeling.  The author didn’t say “oh, she was sad, the author really showed you how that person’s sadness looked.  And this really teaches you how to write, how to get to sadness, how to have emotion in your characters…  Some people read books really quickly, some people read books really slowly, I still read books really slowly…Taking your time to figure out words and decode language, it might take some people longer than others, but that doesn’t mean they’re not as bright, it means they do this differently…for me my passion was writing and I’m sure people are like, ‘well how is she going to be a writer when she’s such a slow reader?’ and what they missed was this is exactly how you become a writer. National Book Festival, 2018

Raina Telgemeier, author of graphic novels Smile, Guts, and Drama

Raina Telgemeier at the 2019 National Book Festival

My dad noticed that I was reading a lot of comics, and he handed me this book, which is called Barefoot Gen, A Cartoon History of Hiroshima…  Some of the kids might know that Hiroshima is the very first city to ever have an atomic bomb dropped on it.

So I’m reading a comic book, and I’m thinking, well it’s definitely going to have a happy ending in the last chapter of this volume. The bomb falls and half of the characters in this story die, and I was shocked.  Because I thought that comics were supposed to make you feel good.  And it turns out, comics can make you feel a lot of different things… And it is part of why I’ve realized the power of comics, and that they could tell just about any kind of story.  So I also experienced a ton of empathy for these characters…and so that also is the power of books, the power of reading, the power of putting yourself into somebody else’s world and experiencing it through their eyes.  So it’s super important to read books, because it can help you feel less alone.  National Book Festival, 2019

Jewell Parker Rhodes, author of Ghost Boys and The Louisiana Girls Trilogy

You know when people say, “I want to be a writer, how do I do it?”

Jewell Parker Rhodes at the 2018 National Book Festival

Well, the very first thing you do is read and read and read some more. Because as you’re reading, you’re learning about styles and ideas and plots and things that you like. And they all go inside you. And one day when you start to write a story you will actually start drawing that out of you.

Secondly, never ever believe that your experience isn’t worthy of a book. Everything about you, everything you do, everything you will do can be written in a book and shared with someone else. It’s an act of love, an act of communication…We need you. We need diverse books. We need all stories. So grow up, read, and write, and make the world better. National Book Festival, 2018

After reading these authors’ words of advice, discuss together:

  • What book have you read the re-read a lot? What do you like about it? What parts in particular stand out to you?
  • Re-read the book again, or think about what you remember about it. How do you feel, and what words make you feel that way?

We hope you are as inspired as we are by these authors. Let’s listen to others’ stories, feel their lives, and learn about what came before us.



  1. I really like this box because maybe I want to be a writer!
    My family really loves books! Mostly my sisters, but I really like writing.

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