Young Voices in Book Publishing

Sometimes it can feel a little like the younger generation is passing you by. Recently, an eight-year-old girl from Alabama, Nia Mya Reese, hit the Amazon bestseller list.  Young authors have always managed to capture attention, at times due to their impressive accomplishments for their age, and at times due to the material they were covering. From Anne Frank to modern writers such as Nancy Yi Fan, Jake Marcionette, and Nia Mya Reese, society is often fascinated by the insights of its youngest members. Let’s take a look at a few of these young voices:


According to the Guinness Book of World records, the youngest “commercially published” author is Dorothy Straight (b. 25 May 1958). She wrote How the World Began, a picture book, at age four in 1962 at the behest of her mother. It was published in August 1964 by Pantheon Books after her parents were impressed by her work and sent it in. Some of her ideas may have come from a play put on in her preschool, and it’s unclear how much guidance her parents were giving her, but the writing and illustrations are clearly Dorothy’s. It even landed a short review in Kirkus.


Nancy Yi Fan was born in Beijing in 1993, and when she was seven years old, her family moved to Syracuse, New York. She began writing Swordbird after just five years in an English-speaking country. She completed it at age thirteen and also worked to translate it into Chinese. She then simply emailed it directly to the CEO of HarperCollins, who, presumably impressed with her bold move, published it in 2007. Oprah named Fan one of the world’s smartest kids. Her hero, Jackie Chan, also praised the book, especially because of her efforts to adapt to American culture while retaining her Chinese roots. She now attends Harvard, according to the HarperCollins website. 


Jake Marcionette wrote his semi-autobiographical novel at the age of twelve. Just Jake, about classic school life and “how kids can do big things,” was written in the summer of 2012 as an assignment his mother gave her children every summer: write a book. He got an agent at Writers House who sold the book to Grosset & Dunlap.  His novel was featured in Publisher’s Weekly and reached the New York Times bestseller list, hitting seventh in children’s middle grade books.


The topical inspiration for today’s article, Nia Mya Reese, wrote How to Deal With and Care for Your Annoying Little Brothera picture book, at age eight. It recently hit number seven on Amazon’s Bestsellers in Parenting and Relationships and is listed among Amazon’s Movers and Shakers. According to WTVY, Nia Mya’s first grade teacher “asked her class to write about something they were experts on.” For Nia Mya, this was her little brother. “With illustrations inspired by her cousin, an 11th-grader,” Nia Mya’s book was published by Yorkshire Publishing in November of 2016. CBS News was impressed by her accomplishment and came to visit her this past February, taping Nia Mya at school and at home and inciting this new wave of appreciation for her work.


The few young authors profiled here have had varying levels of guidance, motivation, and literary acumen, but they all share these important traits: they believe in the value of their voice, and they write. I think the biggest lesson one can take away from these ambitious young wordsmiths is to believe in yourself. Don’t put off starting (or finishing) that novel just because you don’t think it’ll be good enough. If you want to write it, it deserves to be written.