For teens and preteens interested in theater, film, and screenwriting, I recommend three books: Break a Leg! The Kids’ Guide to Acting and Stagecraft, by Lisa Friedman (Workman, 2002); Screen Teen Writers: How Young Screenwriters Can Find Success, by Christina Hamlett (Meriwether, 2002); and Attack of the Killer Video Book: Tips and Tricks for Young Directors, by Mark Shulman and Hazlitt Krog (Annick, 2004).
Break a Leg! is informative, engaging, and well written. Beginning with the basics, Friedman includes chapters on body and voice warm-ups, theater and improvisation games, and stunts such as falling, fainting, and dying onstage. The information and activities become increasingly complex as readers explore in-depth script and character analyses; dramatic genres such as comedy, tragedy, and avant-garde; blocking and stage etiquette; set design, special effects, and costuming; and advice for pursuing theater arts professionally. Colorful sidebars define terminology, highlight historical developments in stage and cinema, profile famous actors and actresses, and provide practical tips. A helpful appendix recommends additional books and Web sites and provides dramatic monologues appropriate for auditioning.
Lively and straightforward, Break a Leg! lacks any hint of condescension. Friedman highlights her cast—a dozen young actors and actresses, ages 10 to 18, ranging from novice aspirants to movie and Broadway veterans. Photographs of the cast in action and quotations describing their experiences are showcased throughout the book. Examples from award-winning movies, such as a fight scene from Good Will Hunting and choreography from West Side Story, also illustrate chapter topics. Break a Leg! is an excellent choice for all middle and high school students interested in drama. It fosters creative and critical thinking and allows for broad applications and interests.
Screen Teen Writers approaches the dramatic arts from the screenwriter’s perspective. Various chapters cover the writing process from nurturing the germ of an idea; to drafting, revising, and editing a screenplay; to getting the polished product noticed. In-depth chapters on character development, dialogue, beginnings and endings, and point of view encourage close critical analysis of the screenwriter’s craft. Hamlett provides practical advice on legal and copyright issues and on finding agents. She also offers insightful reflective activities on what writers learn about themselves while completing a screenplay. Throughout Screen Teen Writers Hamlett includes interviews with industry professionals, among them Jerry Abbitt, chair of the Department of Theater Arts at California State University, Northridge; Carolyn Miller, an award-winning screenwriter and Emmy nominee; and Laurie Durrett, a director and producer.
Screen Teen Writers is primarily a self-help book, intended to assist the young writer both by furnishing structure and by allowing creative license. It fosters critical analysis of the creative process and the product of screenwriting. Though sometimes more informative than interactive, it is an appropriate choice for gifted middle school students and high school students interested in screenwriting. A major drawback, however, is the absence of photographs, graphics, and illustrations to engage the reader further.
For filmmakers age 10 and older, Attack of the Killer Video Book provides lively, entertaining instruction on the art of filmmaking and features terminology and technique throughout. Shulman and Krog present the process of filmmaking from start to finish: imagining, planning and storyboarding, filming special video and sound effects, editing and premiering, and playing the role of the director effectively. The technical details of framing a shot—choosing between long, medium, and close-up shots and panning, tilting, and tracking—are well explained and illustrated. Lighting and special effects are also clearly described. Cartoonist Martha Newbigging provides colorful, creative artwork that reflects the authors’ humorous perspective.
While the artwork is effective and the overall effect is entertaining, Attack of the Killer Video Book may be juvenile for anyone beyond the eighth grade. The technical information, though broad in scope, is sometimes sparse in details. But Attack of the Killer Video Book is a good choice for preteens interested in making videos for artistic and creative purposes or for school projects.
—Sarah Boone, MA
Sarah Boone holds a master’s degree in teaching and is certified in gifted education. She teaches at Meredith College.
- Break a Leg!
- Screen Teen Writers
- Attack of the Killer Video Book
- Selections can be found at online stores or in local bookstores.