Writing About Mental Health in Youth Literature: Impact & Experience

May 13 - 27, 2021


Online (Facilitated)

COVID Reschedule/Refund Policy
What’s the difference between Highlights Foundation workshop types?


3 sessions (May 13, 20, & 27) + Optional Written Critique Opportunity




Writing about mental health is about both the impact for our readers and the experience of our writers. How do we translate our lived experiences while keeping our youth audience centered? What does it mean to develop authentic and precise character arcs that hold reality and hope across a story?

This workshop is designed to help novelists write about mental health topics in youth literature from a place of both support and empowerment:

  • Support in knowing that you are not alone in this creatorship journey
  • Empowerment in harnessing your story’s power to make a difference for young people.


Books are healing to both the writer and the reader. This workshop explores strategies for making those connections through story with care and efficacy.

Why do we mention this? Learn about the Highlights Foundation mission.


  • You’re writing a middle grade or young adult novel (all levels welcome).
  • Your story centers on an aspect of mental health–main character, secondary character, or globally.
  • You are interested in the intersection of creatorship and mental health in literature for children and young adults.


  • 3 weeks with Thursday 7pm EST live meetings (Note: If your schedule does not allow you to attend live sessions, that’s OK! You’ll have access to the recordings. They’re usually posted the day after the session, and they’ll be available through June 30.)
  • Independent work time (for writing exercises and reviewing resources in the virtual classroom).
  • Optional opportunity for written critique/feedback will require submission of 10 draft pages of a work in progress by 6/8/21 (only if you choose that option). Please note: Registration for the written critiques will begin on 6/1/21 and is only available to those who participate in the workshop.

Trying to figure out how this course fits into your schedule? Read some ideas about planning for the right level of commitment.


Week One
Part One, Thursday, May 13, 7pm Eastern
Live Webinar Panel Discussion

  • Guest authors will offer a panel discussion about mental health in their own books, facilitated by faculty
  • Faculty and guests will offer guiding questions and thoughts about mental health in the kidlit industry (from the perspective of creators, not mental health professionals)
  • Reflection exercise: Who Does the Story Center?

Week Two
Part Two, Thursday, May 20, 7pm Eastern
Live Webinar Writing Exercises and Analysis

This week will begin with a guided meditation from NoNieqa Ramos. A lecture and exercises from Bill Konigsberg will follow, centering some of the following:

  • How do we SHOW the feelings our characters experiences?
  • What is the balance in TELLING emotions?
  • What are the needs of our character’s emotional arc?
  • Writing exercises to explore character, description, and voice

Week Three
Part Three, Thursday, May 27, 7pm Eastern
Open Office Hour with Live Q & A
You will have the ability to submit your questions for the office hour following the week two lecture.

Throughout the Workshop

  • Access to robust resources and reading material in the virtual classroom
  • Informal and optional “book club” meetings to discuss guest author texts in more depth (attended only by participants; not facilitated by faculty or guests)

A note about workshop agendas and how they may change and evolve.

After the Workshop: Optional Written Feedback Opportunity
Workshop participants will have an opportunity to be paired with a faculty member or guest author to receive written feedback/critique of 10 pages of a work in progress, for an extra fee.

Registration for this add-on will occur 6/1/21-6/8/21. Those who choose it will need to register and submit by 6/8/21. You’ll receive your written feedback/critique in a document via email within 4-6 weeks.

Nervous about critiques? See how the Highlights Foundation approaches the process here.


5 Kidlit Authors Talk About Writing About and Living with Mental Illness
Writing Responsibly About Mental Health and Suicide in Children’s Fiction

Bill Konigsberg website
Bill KBill Konigsberg Aims To Spark Dialogue About Mental Health With Young Adult Novel, from HuffPost

NoNieqa Ramos website
The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary: An Interview with NoNi Ramos, from Meg Medina’s blog

Mike Curato website
Flamer: A Conversation with Mike Curato, on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog

Jasmine Warga website
Jasmine Warga’s Unromanticized Depression, in Interview Magazine


Bill Konigsberg

Bill Konigsberg is the award-winning author of six young adult novels. THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH won the PEN Center USA…
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NoNieqa Ramos

NoNieqa Ramos wrote THE DISTURBED GIRL’S DICTIONARY, a 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection and a 2019 In…
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Mike Curato

Mike loves drawing and writing almost as much as he loves cupcakes and ice cream (and that’s a LOT!). He…
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Jasmine Warga

Special Guest Jasmine Warga is a writer from Cincinnati, Ohio who currently resides in the Chicago area. She is the…
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