The Writing’s on the Wallpaper by Megan Frazer Blakemore
The hardest part about publishing a book was choosing the right wallpaper sample for the cover. That is, that was the hardest part about publishing a book back in first grade. All that time spent writing and re-writing and then illustrating my words – I had to choose just the right cover carefully crafted by parent volunteers out of scraps of cardboard and wallpaper samples.
Mrs. Hilliker wanted us to write the words ourselves, and then she would write the correct version above. But that was not how real books looked. They did not have the author’s shaky letters and misspelled words corrected by their teacher’s neat handwriting. Mrs. Hilliker agreed that I could write out my final version on the soft yellow paper with blue lines that we used in her classroom, and she would write the text over for me in the book. Later our stories would be typed by the teacher’s aides, making them look that much more official.
Most of my stories were about real life events: one about my grandfather and two about his dog, a retelling of my Easter, and a particularly adventure-filled walk from school to the library. I also branched into fiction. I wrote two books about the ten little bears, who pillaged the local dump for their various bear-needs. An innocuous flower pattern held my first grade magnum opus: “Jennifer’s Hard Life.” The title was no exaggeration. “Jennifer is eight years old,” it begins. “Both of her parents are dead.” In Chapter II: The Adventure Starts, Jennifer follows her Cabbage Patch Kid down a hole where she ends up in Dreamland, a world peopled with characters from her dreams. Things are great and everyone is happy to see her, but then a monster from her dream showed up! You can probably guess what comes next: her brother John shakes her awake…Dreamland itself was all a dream!
Chapter III (oh yes, there’s more to this story), picks up when Jennifer is 21 and John is 28. They are walking down the street and suddenly John faints. Only he hadn’t fainted, he was shot. By Sargent Sammy! What does Jennifer do? She gets a job at the prison so she can feed the Sargent Sammy the worst of the food:
Then, logically, “she moved to England and became an actress. Life wasn’t so bad for Jennifer any more.”
Nerdy Book Club readers are nice, so you will probably praise the imagination of the story, just as you would tell your own students. But, trust me, it was pretty terrible. So were the maudlin, ripped from After School Special stories I wrote in middle school. And the novel I wrote as a senior in high school about a girl who lost her mother, but then her father falls for the girl’s sailing instructor who, in turn, suffers an aneurism and dies. These were not great stories, but they offered my teachers a chance to make me a better writer.
These teachers I had were experts, master teachers one and all. From them I learned about plot and character about language and the rhythm of prose. By writing every day and following a piece from the initial brainstorm through to its wallpaper publication, I learned the writing process. But in the end I think what they did for us as writers was simple: they valued our writing. They told us our writing was worth preserving, and so we kept writing. It’s a gift I will never be able to thank them for enough.
Megan Frazer Blakemore is the author of The Friendship Riddle, The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill and The Water Castle, which was listed as a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, and as a New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing. She is also the author of the young adult novel Secrets of Truth And Beauty which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was on the ALA Rainbow list. A former middle-school librarian, Megan lives in Maine with her family. Visit her online at http://www.meganfrazerblakemore.com or follow her on Twitter @meganbfrazer.