Thursday, May 24, 2007

Review: Meet the Authors

Whoever decided it would be a great idea to have well known children's writers tell their own stories in words and photographs is a genius. The concept behind the Meet the Authors series is sound: Children's writers know how to tell a story, and an autobiography--if told well--can be just as interesting as fiction.

I received three Meet the Authors titles--George Ancona: Self Portrait, Jim Arnosky: Whole Days Outdoors, and Janet S. Wong: Before it Wriggles Away. (The entire list is available here.) In just 32 pages, each author tells his or her life story for the K-5 reader.

George Ancona's life has been an international one--born in Mexico, he moved to New York as a child, then returned to Mexico City for art school. Now he works and lives in New Mexico. Ancona stresses his biculturalism and bilingualism when telling his story and how these aspects of life inform his work. Arnosky's autobiography focuses on his desire to live frugally, in nature, and on the back of a motorcycle. Janet S. Wong describes a happy, but normal, childhood, a suburban adulthood, and a life filled with travel as she loves "talking about my books" and "sharing my favorite books written by other authors."

Spouses, children, houses, and personal interests feature prominently in each autobiography, making their authors seem just like "normal people" who just happen to write books. This approach guarantees that children will see themselves while reading the story of an adult life.

Most central to each autobiography, however, is the creative process. Ancona goes into great detail about how he creates each new book, beginning with, "I'm curious about people and what they do. Whereever I go, I talk with them. What I learn I write down in my journal." Arnosky shares his journals and sketches, which are often composed outdoors: "Often when I'm afield, I'll abandon the camera and sit and write or sketch my impressions of where I am and what I am seeing. I carry a small pad in my shirt pocket for these scribbles and notes." These descriptions show a child how the creative process takes place all the time for writers--that they're always, in a sense, working.

To me, Janet S. Wong provides the best (and funniest example) of the writing process in this paragraph:
  • "If I get to the dentist's office early, I might write a first draft of a poem. While my mouth is wide open and I cannont write, I will let my mind wander. Those 'wandering thoughts' are part of the process."

A large photo of Wong in the chair, mouth wide open while her teeth are being cleaned accompanies this text. A true and honest moment, though I am thankful she left the drill out of the picture.

The Meet the Authors series is intended for the grade school reader. I'd like to keep these beauties to myself, but I know of a grade school library who needs them more than I do. These are books should be enjoyed by as many children as possible as they comprise an accessible and welcoming introduction to the world of writing.