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.
Aww, that’s so cute! I remember writing stories like that, with anyone and everyone dying. Kids are weird… It must be so amazing seeing how far you’ve come 🙂
Wowwww! This really hit home to me. I still have all my journals when I began writting a journal since I was young up till highschool. I love writting and the many reasons why I started a blog. Hoping to see more women to share on their experience and journeys on writting.
Please visit me toos at http://www,twentyfirstcenturymomma.wordpress.com
What a sweet read as we head into Teacher Appreciation Week! Not only did your teachers value their writing, they gave you the special gift of believing in yourself. I hope to do the same for my young writers. My team and I are celebrating our students’ writing at our (6th) annual Publishing Party later in May for our 8- and 9-year olds! I’d love to quote part of your journey to illustrate why writing with these young learners is important – and how it helps kids know they “matter!”
HA! I love this. In first grade I wrote a story about the Pea family (actual peas) and then brought them back for a 7th grade writing project nettled “The Pea Family and the Yellow Beans” which involved courtly intrigue. I don’t remember much of the writing instruction or conferencing with teachers, it was the 70’s after all.
I so enjoyed your blog, Megan. It brought back memories of a beloved grade school teacher who also valued my writing. Thank you.
This made my day! Today was a challenging day. On tough days I think educators including myself, need to remember that even though we may not touch everyone. We do touch some. It inspires me to hear stories of teachers who sparked a tiny flame inside a student’s mind or heart and that spark grew into a beautiful flame. It brings back a lot of my treasured school memories and teachers that took the time to truly see me….my strengths, my gifts, my interests.
Really adorable! Writer career indoctrination early. I am so incredibly jealous (in a good way!). I wish the hardest part about publishing now was picking the cover. We can only wish.
I LOVED choosing wallpaper book covers in elementary school! A fond memory indeed!
Absolutely adorable story line. I think I missed an opportunity to kill off my siblings fictionally as a child. (Now I have to wait for them to die to write a tell-all.)
I did have a love of novels of orphaned or abandoned children who had to find the moxie to make in on their own. Island of the Blue Dolphins comes to mind. Anne of Green Gables was another. The Secret Garden. Apparently my childhood reading list suggests I would have been best as an only child.
Love this post! I taught 4th grade for 35 years and we did a yearly young authors event as well as writers’ workshops a few times a week. How powerful it is to hear how teachers can inspire! I wrote my own such book in 6th grade (it’s now 50 years old!) and the teacher wrote in it, “Perhaps one day you really will have a book published.” And I did! I wish I could get in touch with her.
I remember being young and doing what Megan Frazer Blakemore did. Writing the words down on paper in hopes that they come to life one day. This post made me remember some of those stories that I had written long ago and now are lost. I hope children read this book and see that writing and reading are good things and you can start writing stories at any age.
This is fabulous! I love the picture.
LOVE that your teacher did this for your class!
Hey Megan, It is Mrs. Hilliker, retired and living on the coast of Maine…but still busy. I am glad that your writing experiences in my first grade classroom were part of the foundation for your future career as an author.
Mrs. Hilliker, I just came back to this post and saw your comment. I am so happy that you found this post — you, and all my Oyster River teachers, encouraged me to follow this dream, and for that I am so grateful!