Eragon. The Outsiders. The Diary of a Young Girl. All three books, classics in their genres, were written by teenagers. While electronic publishing and purchasing has revolutionized the book industry, the trend toward democratic publishing—if it’s good, it’s good—has also meant that an increasing number of ultra-talented young writers have emerged as published authors.
We at Why Not Books are particularly proud of our prodigy. We didn’t allow ourselves abnormally high expectations upon publishing (in 2012) 11-year-old Luke Herzog’s Dragon Valley—his 200-page fantasy novel about five baby dragons spawned in a laboratory, who are set free in a magical valley and navigate the evolution of themselves and their home over the next thousand years (there’s even a map and an extensive character glossary). Sure, children’s authors like Newbery Award-winner Kwame Alexander compared him to a young Rick Riordan, but we wondered: How would young readers react to a young writer?
Then we began to fulfill book orders from all over the country, and Luke started to receive emails from kids… It’s my favorite book. I’ve read it five times… I did a book report about it for school… I made a sculpture of Blue, the water dragon. Here’s a photo… Can’t wait for the sequel… All the while, he was busy writing his second novel, a fantastic fantasy tale called Griffin Blade and the BronzeFinger, the story of a good-hearted rogue who learns—during an epic journey of adventure and redemption—that his attempt to retrieve a personal treasure brings him something far more valuable.
So let’s celebrate the imagination—and sometimes, the off-the-charts talent—of youth by listing some of the most precocious publishing performances in history. To make this list, you must have been published while you’re still a teenager, sometimes far younger. So Bret Easton Ellis and Stephen Crane and Mary Shelley, all of whom first published novels at age 21? Far too old.
Starting with the most recent book but eventually traveling all the way back to the mid-17th century, here are 30 books from 30 prodigies: