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 Grimes’ Out 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
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: experthow.com; richard c. owen