Our Story Begins


Our story begins with a box in a basement. It’s brown and heavy and one of many marked Elissa. And it’s filled, to the brim, with stories from my childhood. Stories I wrote.

Going through the box is like going backward in time. The stories on top of the pile are long and typed; they’re stapled pages from an ink-jet printer, with chapter titles in funky fonts. Below that are notebooks (spiral-bound, then marble-covered), then loose pages of text I once hammered out on my dad’s typewriter. At the very bottom are ruled lines on yellowed paper, my six-year-old handwriting large and exact. Some stories in the box made me laugh, they were so clever. Others made me laugh because they were so bad. Is it any surprise I became a writer?

I knew I couldn’t be the only one with a box in a basement. What, I wondered, did other children’s authors write when they were their readers’ age? Illustrators, too. What did they draw? I couldn’t be the only one who’d want to know. So I began to ask.

Over the past two years, I’ve had the joy of talking to some of today’s most-beloved children’s authors and illustrators about their early artistic endeavors. This book contains just a small sample of that childhood creativity. Some now-famous authors didn’t write as kids. Some wrote or drew, but they didn’t save their work. Others saved but consider their work too personal to share. Some were too busy creating something new to dig out something old. And, unfortunately, I had the space to include only a fraction of today’s tremendous talent.

Even so, the collection you’re about to read contains a fascinating variety of work from a range of voices, styles, backgrounds, and experiences, arranged by the age at which the works were created, from seven up through sixteen. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor wrote mysteries on used stationery during

the Great Depression. Tom Angleberger planned for an epic novel about a place called Yodium. Rita Williams-Garcia kept a daily chronicle of her offbeat elementary school life. Thanhha Lai made up stories with her mother as a girl in Vietnam, while Yuyi Morales struggled to create a truly original painting as a young teen in Mexico. These are just a few of this book’s poems, comics, journal entries, stories, drawings, paintings, and speeches, from different genres, different places, and different decades.

More amazing than the differences, though, are the similarities. Every piece is bursting with imagination and personality. The writing is sweet and funny and peppered with errors. The art is bold and uninhibited, with visible eraser marks. The whole collection is honest and passionate and often over-the-top. It’s raw, in every sense of the word. It reflects the authors and artists these authors and artists admired, and, without a doubt, the authors and artists they’d someday become.

Everyone’s story begins somewhere. For these writers and illustrators, it began with a favorite book or the sound of a poem. With dreams about horses, or Broadway, or monsters, or adventure. With parents who read aloud, or spoke poetically, or praised their creativity. It began with teachers—they remember their names—who transcribed their ideas, or laughed at their jokes, or wrote You will make your living as a writer someday in the margin with red pen.

Someday, the people in this book would win Newberys and Caldecotts. They’d top bestseller lists and see their books made into feature films. They’d inspire millions of kids to read, write, draw, and dream. But long before that, they were kids themselves. Their stories were just beginning.

Your story is beginning too. Where will it go?