The last 19 books I didn’t write

May 17th, 2009

stock-footage-colorful-books-stack-loop-colorful-books-piled-seamless-loop-with-copy-spaceAbout mid-way through this school year, my daughter started griping, I’m bored. I thought, whatever. She nagged me to volunteer in her class. I thought, no way.

When a four- or five-year-old uses the word, bored, it’s a safe bet they are playing with the word. But when they are eight or nine, it might be time to pay attention. When I did, it changed my life.

I like Georgia’s historic, charming, well-staffed, well-intentioned public school. She does too. This post is not about the shortcomings of her school. It is about the shortcomings of my attention.

My daughter and her classmates are being taught superlatively well how to write to rules and rubrics. But to write freely, for fun and without judgment? That’s a different story.

Stuck in my own nowhere of creative momentum, I plunged instead into a new adventure. I proposed to Georgia’s teacher that I lead a classroom project in something I’d never done, but that amounted to the only thing I could contribute. The magnificent teacher did her part: she said yes. Then, over a four-month period, she and I worked together with 19 third-graders to write their own creative nonfiction (and a bit of fiction) stories.

We tell our children stories. We read books aloud, and prod our kids to read for themselves. So they read about famous people, folk tales and legends, biographies, historical fiction and fantasies. But do they realize that their own lives are stories? That they have the experience and imagination to create and share stories that come entirely from themselves? Based on their own remarkable lives and the future they envision?

Well, of course, they can. Give them tools and attention and you will be amazed. I was amazed. I was encouraged. I was uplifted and transported. I was repaid a million times over, with the only payment that counts or lasts.

I want you to know that wherever your child goes to school, or doesn’t, whatever their age or grade level, they are brilliant. They are geniuses. They are authors. I am convinced already. I am their first fan.

I word-processed and printed out each three-chapter-long book on my computer. They drew illustrations and a cover design that we laminated. They wrote author bios and I snapped their photos and we put that together on the last page. We spiral bound everything together and then they went on book tour reading their stories aloud in classrooms of younger ages. We’re having a book festival next week where the kids will read their stories to their fellow authors and everyone gets a literary prize. An eraser. Oh how I prize my own, because the most important thing about writing is not that you finish. It’s that you start, and then start all over again.

What did they write? To keep it short, I assembled 19 lines from their work into this abridged life story. It gives you an idea of the treasure they handed to me.

My story is unlike any other.
I was born early because I wanted to go places.

My first smile wasn’t a real smile, it was my “about to cry” smile.

It was like being sad and happy at the same time.
When I was little I liked excitement. I put Cheetos in the microwave.

When people asked how many friends I had, I said, “It would take a long time to count them.”
It seems like I have friends all over the world.
Friends are magic, movies are magic and spelling is magic because people can read your writing.
Making people feel happy and safe is the most important thing there is.

Everywhere we went, we went fast.

I thought a lot about growing up, but my parents thought about when I was little.

That’s what parents do.

Sometimes you have to lose something to find something better.

What you love never really goes away.

I used to want to work in an ice cream store, but something tells me life will be more interesting than that.

The day you read this I may be 9 or 90.

Now my energy goes up in the daytime and down in the nighttime.
The funeral lasted three hours.

Somewhere I’ll be watching, and I’ll be happy if you are good citizens.

I could go on forever, but my heart is bursting, and I find I have some writing to do.


If you are a parent or teacher and you would like a copy of the lesson plan I created for this project, “My Life Story: A Creative Nonfiction Project for 3rd Graders,” just leave a comment with a way to contact you, or email me and I’ll gladly share.

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  1. This is FABULOUS!!! Thank you *so much* for sharing this wonderful story from your life experience.

    I needed this today!

    Here’s to hearts bursting open, full of such incredibly magical
    goodness 🙂

    Comment by Lisa — May 20, 2009 @ 12:44 am

  2. Oh, this is so wonderful! I’ve been thinking about starting a children’s writing workshop in my community, and this would be a wonderful help! I’m at Thank you!!

    Comment by Emme — May 20, 2009 @ 4:00 am

  3. that’s great! my juneau, AK 4th graders just wrote their own 10 page stories or comic strips (their choice). they love it and worked on it for weeks. on the last day we all sat around and read their stories and marveled over their creative illustrations. kids can be so creative…glad to hear that your little darling got a chance to do the same.

    Comment by Erin — May 20, 2009 @ 5:48 am

  4. What a lovely offer–I’d like a copy please.
    Thank you.

    send to:

    Comment by Anonymous — May 20, 2009 @ 6:36 am

  5. Hello Karen, please send me a copy too. I want to teach 11 and 12 year old kids about journalism and writing and your plan could surely help me. Thank you.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 20, 2009 @ 7:14 am

  6. Writing is such the thing of beauty I find… how did I miss this post – those words written – ah to be touched by the words of others… to be touched by others…

    My son writes now – 16 years old and he writes it all out just like me…

    Comment by Cat — May 20, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

  7. This is wonderful. Yes, I would love your lesson plan, thank you for the offer!

    Comment by laura — May 20, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

  8. Dear Karen,

    I would so love a copy of this lesson plan.

    I run a lot of courses in therapy and educational settings and am always looking for new ideas,

    Be well you creative being,


    Comment by Anonymous — May 20, 2009 @ 8:18 pm

  9. I would love to see the lesson plan. Thank you! -Abbie

    Comment by Anonymous — May 20, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

  10. The abridgment brought tears to my eyes. My daughter is only 6 months old but I would love to have the lesson plan for her to write her story later in life.

    Thanks and blessings to you,

    Comment by — May 22, 2009 @ 12:49 am

  11. That is sweet and grand. Please. I’d love a copy. What must I do?

    Comment by mapelba — May 22, 2009 @ 3:29 am

  12. could you please send me a copy though…love new ideas. thanks

    Comment by Erin — May 22, 2009 @ 4:28 am

  13. wow. thats all i have to say. wow.

    Comment by sandra — May 22, 2009 @ 5:02 am

  14. I would love to read a book containing all of their stories.

    Comment by Mary Ann — May 23, 2009 @ 4:04 pm

  15. Karen,

    This is so cool! It is true- kids are amazing, they are geniuses, they are endlessly creative and we adults have a lot of learn from them.
    I would love to see the lesson plan for the kids I work with.

    Comment by Mambinki — May 24, 2009 @ 9:51 pm

  16. Gayle Schrier Smith, MD
    1503 West Avenue
    Richmond, VA 23220

    bring on the lesson plan!

    Comment by MDMom24 — May 25, 2009 @ 2:28 am

  17. This is awesome. My son is just beginning to expand his writing skills and I’d love to see about ways to get him more excited about it (as he recently has about reading!). The timing is perfect, he is just finishing 2nd grade so I would love to see your lesson plan. Many thanks!
    -Carrie A fan in Seattle

    Comment by Coopie — May 26, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

  18. Hi Carrie,
    Just need your email address.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — May 26, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

  19. Sorry – email to send curriculum to is

    Many thanks again!

    Comment by Coopie — May 26, 2009 @ 11:37 pm

  20. Oh please, me too. Your lesson plan for me and for my grandchildren. Thank you!

    gpc490 [at] gmail [dot] com

    Comment by gpc — May 26, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

  21. Add me to your growing list!

    I think you are fabulous to share this treasure!

    I can’t wait to see what my kids come up with!


    Comment by Anonymous — May 27, 2009 @ 2:50 am

  22. Hi there!

    Oh my! I somehow came across your blog and am in love with your creativity! I am a Spanish teacher and would love to explore your lesson plan within my own classroom!

    Thanks for wetting my appetite with the 19 lines!!! It made me want to start the lesson right away!

    Would love to get a copy of the lesson plans! Thanks for sharing!


    Comment by ~susie — May 27, 2009 @ 4:02 am

  23. This looks just fabulous, I hope it's not too late to get a copy of the lesson plan. My daughter is not quite old enough, but I'm always looking for inspiring teaching lessons through life. thank you, Nina

    Comment by Nina — June 4, 2009 @ 5:00 am

  24. please, please, and thank you for sharing.

    mreid14 AT hotmail DOT com

    Comment by Anonymous — June 7, 2009 @ 1:46 am

  25. thank you for this… i would love a copy.

    Comment by tekeal — June 9, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

  26. Oh, I am so glad that I stumbled onto you!

    I would love to have a copy of the lesson plans. We homeschool and as much as my daughter loves to write, she tends to be very critical of herself. We're working on that.

    BTW, I just subscribed to your RSS feed.

    See ya around.

    Comment by Wendy — June 11, 2009 @ 10:44 pm

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