As the kids gear up to go back to school and face the obligatory "What I Did on my Summer Vacation" essays, a little motivation might be in order. As they wrap up their summer reading lists, they may find some inspiration from true stories of authors who turned their childhood memories into successful careers. Whether your children are pulled in by the literary legacy of Dr. Seuss or the staggering financial success of J.K. Rowling, they just might be convinced that a summer vacation essay is the first step toward a career as an author.
"The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss" by Kathleen Krull
Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Reading level: age 6 and up
So many children grow up with the books of Dr. Seuss, but few ponder the idea that he was once a little boy, too. Touching on the unfair treatment that little Ted Geisel endured as the child of German immigrants, this biography introduces kids to Dr. Seuss as a child himself. It also discusses his love for drawing the animals at the zoo his father ran and the inspiration he found there. With the story of Dr. Seuss as inspiration, this year's summer vacation essay might end up with colorful illustrations -- and perhaps written in verse.
"Boy" by Roald Dahl
Reading level: age 10 and up
If your kids loved "James and the Giant Peach", "Matilda," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," or "The BFG," then they'll adore Roald Dahl's childhood autobiography. "Boy" is peppered with real-life characters as colorful as those we encounter in Dahl's novels -- making even young readers wonder if he encountered a disproportionate number of weirdos or just saw the world in a wild light. Dahl's writing is a reminder that the retelling of a small, funny summertime moment might make for a better essay than a laundry list of recent activities.
"Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid" by Ralph Fletcher
Reading level: age 10 and up
The oldest of nine siblings, Ralph Fletcher grew up in the 1950s and 60s in a small town on the Massachusetts coast. He learned the art of storytelling from his big Irish family and went on to an extremely prolific writing career -- publishing picture books for little kids, chapter books for bigger kids, nonfiction books geared toward young writers, and even a couple volumes of poetry. "Marshfield Dreams," a collection of autobiographical vignettes, recounts Fletcher's boyhood from birth to age thirteen, the year that his father got a new job and moved his family to Chicago. Kids inspired by his stories may want to start one of Fletcher's instructive texts next, such as the boy-oriented "Guy-Write: What Every Guy Writer Needs to Know."
"Author: A True Story" by Helen Lester (author and illustrator)
Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Here, the author of "Tacky the Penguin" and many other children's books explains how the hurdles and disappointments of being a kid can make some great fodder for books. Helen Lester shares her own childhood struggles, finds humor in her own downfalls and encourages kids to persevere through tough times. She also shares some straightforward writing tips, such as writing down thoughts and ideas and keeping them in a "fizzle box" to open when inspiration strikes. "Author" is suitable for very young readers, but this sweet picture book has something to offer for writers of all ages.
"Who Is J.K. Rowling?" by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso
Ilustrated by Stephen Marchesi and Nancy Harrison
Reading level: ages 8 and up
This rags-to-riches biography touches on the real life events that influenced the storylines in the Harry Potter series and reveals how the success of J.K. Rowling's books has impacted her daily life. If the glory of literature alone doesn't provide enough incentive to get your kiddo to write a killer essay about his summer vacation, perhaps a description of Rowling's mansion will do the trick. Since the publication of this book, it was reported that Rowling is building $200,000 Hogwarts-style treehouses for her children. We can't think of a better incentive for a young writer-in-training.