"When I was a child, I never thought I would be a poet. I hated poetry! I never imagined that I would be an author. I did not love books."
That delightfully honest beginning sets the tone for Before It Wriggles Away, a short autobiography that Janet S. Wong wrote for children. (The publisher gives the age range as 7 to 10.) After I read it, I thought, wow, this is the Bird by Bird for fourth-grade poets. (Do you know Bird by Bird, the guide to writing by Anne Lamott? Great book.) Janet Wong illuminates her writing process in a way that children will understand, and dispenses simple, helpful advice for young writers by sharing her personal story.
What was the turning point for the "regular kid" who became an attorney but wasn't happy with the law? She gives credit to her "great teacher," the poet Myra Cohn Livingston, and cites Livingston's Poem-Making as an influential book.
"Myra Cohn Livingston...showed me that I really didn't know enough about poetry to hate it. I thought I hated poetry, but what I hated was studying poems, picking them apart, trying to find a hidden meaning."
Won't kids be able to relate to that? The autobiography includes photographs of the author as a girl and shots of her today—visiting schools, reading, writing, hanging out with her husband and son. With National Poetry Month coming up in April, I'd be sure to read this one to the class if I were a teacher or school librarian.
Poets' autobiographies and books of letters have made up some of my favorite reading over the years. I happily add this one to the shelf with the others. You can visit Janet Wong's web site and read some of her work, and her books are available at online stores and in the library. Before It Wriggles Away is part of the "Meet the Author" series published by Richard C. Owen.