Our Story Begins
Edited by Elissa Brent Weissman
Have you ever wondered when your favorite authors and/or illustrators started writing or doodling? Well, here’s your chance to find out about a number of them, because “they share fun, inspiring, and occasionally ridiculous things they wrote and drew as kids.” Twenty-six artists and writers submitted early works of writing and drawing, some from the age of five. A number of the people in this book were inspired by a teacher or an author or a well-known illustrator. Many of the earliest works were stories or pictures about mythical creatures and events, but others wrote things happening to them. The group included in this book is an eclectic mix of authors and illustrators known for their more polished stories, but the reader will see the nuggets of talent shining through at early ages. The common thread is the prodigious imaginations and drive these artists possess. This is an interesting read and should be very useful for inspiring children to follow their dreams.
At age 5, Dan Santat saw an illustration by Norman Rockwell in Time magazine and was compelled to gather up his paper and crayons to see if he could duplicate the painting. He dreamed of being hailed as an artistic genius until he discovered his painting wasn’t anywhere near as good as the original. When he started to cry, his father informed him that had taken years before he got to the stage of painting that made him famous. When Dan saw that Rockwell was very old, at least a thousand years old, the boy decided there was still time to catch up. And that he did.
- J. Palacio started drawing at an early age, but she also wrote stories to go along with her artwork. I’d find her a kindred spirit since she loves horses.
Maria Frazee started on a chapter book series called “June and John.” She got three chapters written, but now she looks back to see how much of the story gives a nod to her favorite authors. Anybody heard of Beverly Cleary and her “Klickitat Street?”
Jarret J. Krosochzka also was in third grade when he wrote and illustrated his first book. He still writes and illustrates books, which now put money in his pocket. He can’t imagine doing anything else.
Thanhha Lại, who left Vietnam when she was ten, as the war was ending. She had to leave all her childhood stories behind. But the poetry of her native language has stayed with her. Poetry, not just in words, but in the rhythm of the language. It still stays with her even in English.
Eric Rohmann made a get well card for his aunt Helen when he was nine. It featured her long dead, but still favorite dog, Butchy. Drawing is part of who he’s always been. He doesn’t remember his aunt response to the card, but he does remember that she kept carefully folded away in her memory box and he found after she died.
Linda Sue Park has always written poems. It’s part of who she is, and she shared two in her remembrance of a younger Linda. Nice poems.
Phyllis Reynold Naylor who credits her love of writing to her parents and her kindergarten teacher. Her parents read to her, and her teacher sat on the floor with her students every afternoon so they could make up stories.
Gordon Korman had to dig deep to remember stories he had written before he was published since his first novel was published during his seventh-grade year. He published four novels before finishing high school.
Elissa Brent Weissman joins the students who found their niche in third grade. She was inspired by Gordon Korman but didn’t have as easy a start as he. The beginnings of a novel she submitted to publishers when she was in sixth grade did not gain immediate success, but she didn’t stop writing.
Kathi Appelt frequently wrote about horses, which filled up a bit of the empty space in her horse-loving soul. Fortunately, her writer’s soul brings us all good stuff.
Gail Carson Levine and three friends started the “Scribble Scrabble Club, newsletter when they were ten, and she published her story, “Adventurous Girls.” The newsletter didn’t last long, at least not with Gail as president. Her friends got tired of her pushy ways.
Chris Gall got in trouble for doodling on his desk in second grade. His teacher claimed he might be an artist one day before making him scrub all the desks in the room. All that scrubbing didn’t stop him from drawing.
Rita Williams-Garcia’s friends in elementary school were horrified when one girl signed her scrapbook, “To Rita, an off-beat but nice young lady.” Didn’t bother Rita. She relished her off-beat self.
Cynthia Leitich Smith dreamed of entering her school’s sixth-grade competition fair in language arts. She got a “thanks for participating” white ribbon. She did turn one poem into a Christmas card for her parents. Her mother still has it.
Peter Lerangis says he learned quickly that humor was his way to survive elementary school because he was the object of bullies. Though most of his teachers tried to settle him down, Mr. Shebar encouraged his humor, allowing Peter to use his talents.
Candace Fleming was a “journal girl,” which she started doing in fifth grade. She learned her writing skills by imitating her favorite writers. She discovered in the end that she was developing her writer’s ear.
Brian Selznick was encouraged from an early age to be an artist, which brought him great joy. He took lots of art classes during school and also after school. His portrait of a woman’s face is quite good, especially at age ten. He loved drawing the characters in movies such as Star Wars.
Tom Angleberger tells us about his first story about the world of Yodium. Boring, he says. Starting with not a sword fight, but a detailed description of the world’s government, our author thinks it’s because he “basically never shut up.”
Alex Gino, even as a kid, was set on writing a book, even going so far as finding out about vanity presses, but she discovered she’d have to pay them to publish her book, including having them design a cover for her masterpiece.
Tim Federle at age twelve wanted to be on Broadway. A passion he discovered at summer camp where he played in “Annie.” His mom sent him to camp with a diary which he discovered a wonderful way to write down his thoughts.
Kwame Alexander made his mother cry when he gave her his first poem—framed, no less. He figured he’d better keep at this writing thing if it could get that kind of reaction.
Grace Lin used the basis of her childhood story of a winning poem for her first novel The Year of the Dog, though the winning story in her novel is not the one she wrote back then. The story is the Dandelion Story for which she won fourth place.
Chris Grabenstein discovered the fun in writing when he started publishing his own comic books in the fifth grade. He was a big fan of newspaper columnist Art Buchwald, a seriously funny guy.
Yuyi Morales shows her artistic talent with a copy of her quite good self-portrait as an eleven-year-old about to enter middle school. No wonder she’s done so well.
The last entry is by Ashely Bryan, another impressive artist, who shares photos of some of his early works. Like most of the talented people in this book, he started young and just kept on drawing
BIBLIO: 2017, Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, Ages 8+, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
While I was reviewing this book, I remembered what both my brother Richard Maury and my son Stephen Swan have said about their artistic talent. They don’t know what else they could do. You can check out their work by Googling Richard Bunker Maury and Steve Swan. Have a good week and keep on doing your thing. Sarah