Friday, March 12, 2010

New Poet Autobiographies

Do you like learning about the lives and working habits of the poets and writers you admire? I do! I find it fascinating to learn how they came to a writing career, how they approach the process of writing, and how their lives seep into their works. As a teacher, I also find it helpful to share these details with young writers who often think that the literary works they admire spring forth in perfection without a struggle! It can be reassuring and even inspiring for them to learn that all writers—of all ages—go through a process that usually involves a great deal of revision and their ideas are often drawn from their own lives.

One series of kid-friendly books that provides just such an introduction to many popular creators of books for young people is the “Meet the Author” collection published by Richard C. Owen. These are short (usually 32 page) informational works written by the authors, illustrators, and poets themselves and targeting kids in grades 2-5. I think I’ve mentioned individual titles before because the 35 titles include several poets—Karla Kuskin, Janet Wong, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Douglas Florian, George Ella Lyon, plus Lois Ehlert, Joseph Bruchac, Cynthia Rylant, Jane Yolen. One of my favorite elements of these books is the inclusion of photographs of the authors in their homes, as young children, and at play—that really personalizes them!

Well, they are now debuting a new series designed for older kids in grades 5 through 8, the “Author at Work” collection. Four writers are featured thus far: Nikki Grimes, Jane Yolen, Ralph Fletcher, and Margaret Mooney. These are 64 page paperbacks with many of the same elements as the series for younger readers: autobiographical information, writing commentary, and abundant photos. As the publisher has noted, “… the authors discuss their life as a writer and explore some of the books they have written for young people. They provide wonderful insights for students into ways in which they have organized their time, selected material to write about, and solved some of the challenges of writing.” 

I read Nikki GrimesOut of the Dark and really enjoyed it. Not only do you learn a lot about her life and the sometimes unexpected twists and turns in her career as a writer, but it’s all told in her strong, opinionated first person voice! It’s compelling and revealing and even provocative in its honesty (she discusses the difficulty of rejection, for example). Plus, the photos on nearly every page give it a personal scrapbook look and feel.

She even includes a poem she wrote at age 12:

by Nikki Grimes

I’m Black.

You don’t like that, do you?


Who’s that I see on the beach

with suntan lotion?

Is that you?

Yeah, I’m black

But you like it.
Can’t have it, though.

It’s all mine.

Grimes, Nikki. 2009. Out of the Dark. Katonah, NY: Richard C. Owen Publishers, p. 36.

Won’t kids love seeing that-- and discussing it?
I always enjoyed how Pat Cummings’ Talking with Artists series included information about the childhood of beloved book creators and these Meet the Author and Author at Work books do the same thing. How empowering for young readers to learn about the lives and struggles of the people behind the books they love.

For more poetry treats this Friday, go to Becky's Book Reviews.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.

Image credit:; richard c. owen


Anonymous said...

Very interesting, Sylvia! I'm glad this series is giving kids an "inside look" into poets and other writers. (Nikki's poem from when she was 12 was Wow! That's great that she saved her old poems.)

Donna Marie Merritt said...

Nikki Grimes writes wonderful poetry. The same poem speaks to children and, on another level, to adults (and to the child within us on yet another level). Thanks for clueing us in to her new book!

Anonymous said...

My book in this series, THE WRITING BUG is not one I recommend due to its being published over 17 years ago -- totally dated. My beloved dog, shown on the cover, is
long dead; I still get letters from children wanting to know about Royal Dude. I hate writing back telling them he died years ago. I no longer live in NY. I feel it is a publisher'sresponsibility to update such volumes. In addition
several of the authors in the series are as dead as my dog! ==Lee Bennett Hopkins

Sylvia Vardell said...

Interesting point, Lee. I guess that's true of nonfiction in general-- as information changes, books become out of date. Still, I'm glad that any series of autobiographies includes POETS and I think even an out-of-date book provides insight into the poet's life and the poetry writing process. As a teaching tool, it's still worthwhile.

Playing by the book said...

You might like this website:
"A fabulous new school resource of exclusive author, illustrator and poet profiles.
A unique insight into the creative process, enabling young readers to connect with published professionals."
It's UK based but there are lots of internationally known authors/illustrators and poets there too.

janet wong said...

Lee: You are so funny! I enjoyed your Meet the Author book very much. I also liked Karla Kuskin's book. The fact that Royal Dude and Karla are no longer with us...well, that simply makes the books even more important, I think!

Sylvia: Thanks for letting us know about Nikki's new book!

Richard said...

Although some of the facts in Lee's book are now dated,the underlying energy and creativity that led him to become a perceptive, skillful poet and anthologist is as valid today as it was when the book was published. I am disappointed Lee chose to make any comment about other authors. The light from their stars continues to shine brightly. Richard Owen