Writers' Own Stories

Article excerpt

Reading about authors can be inspirational

WHEN DID you start writing? When are you going to stop?" a child once asked in a letter to Sid Fleischman, the award-winning writer of such humorous historical fiction as 1998's Bandit's Moon, about famous Mexican bandit Joaquin Murieta. Although children often read without thinking much about the author, once they realize that authors are real people, they want to know more about their lives and writing. Fleischman's autobiography, The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life, which includes funny quotes from children's letters, is one of many books that answers kids' questions and describes how someone ends up as a children's writer. His humor lightens his life story, which describes his career as a professional magician, his service in World War II and his stints writing for newspapers.

In his newly published Author Talk, children's literature expert Leonard Marcus takes many of the questions children have and poses them to fifteen children's writers. The interviews start with the writers' childhood experiences, then move on to their work with questions like, "Do you know from the start how a book will end?"

Upper elementary and middle school students will find some of their favorite authors in the collective biography. As Marcus explains, "I wanted to have a broad range of writers--some people who were popular although they weren't likely to win major awards, and others I admire for the distinction of their work. And I wanted to talk to some people who wrote nonfiction."

Some of those interviewed, like Judy Blume and Ann M. Martin, author of the Babysitters Club series, had largely happy childhoods, while others, like poet Lee Bennett Hopkins and novelist Bruce Brooks, dealt with serious family problems. "Words and books became lifelines for them," Marcus observes. He believes that as children are learning to write, "They will find it comforting and inspiring to realize that the people who write their books started out in the same way they do." To emphasize this connection, a childhood photograph of the author, along with a current one, accompanies each interview.

Readers who enjoy Marcus' interviews with Lois Lowry and Gary Paulsen can read more in each of their book-length memoirs. Lowry's Looking Back: A Book of Memories combines black-and-white photos with stories about her childhood and adult life, many of which tie in to her novels. Paulsen, who endured a neglected childhood by relying on dogs for companionship, chronicles his past in My Life in Dog Years. By telling of his hard upbringing and his poor showing in school, Paulsen hopes to encourage all children to believe that they, too, can end up as fulfilled adults. …