The final unit in the Lucy Calkins writing series is centered on creating personal memoirs. I have read other folks who think that this task is far too ambitious to ask of children---who haven't experienced enough life to reflect on and give over-arching shape to their "big time life stories". (A phrase coined by a student of mine when we dappled in this genre last spring). I agree with Lucy, though. I think it's not only doable, I think the process of creating memoirs can give students an ability to imagine and author their own lives in ways that are powerful and forever. That said, however, I think borrowing simple structures from published memoir-type books is an excellent way to slide into this type of writing. Here are two of my favorites.
Someday, by Eileen Spinelli, is a memoir type book told in poems, but it breaks away from traditional memoir a bit, by imagining forward, as well as remembering backward. The narrator imagines things she will do "someday", like dig dinosaur bones, paint landscapes on the beach, and sit for tea with the president, but then follows each future dream with a "Today" poem that connects---today I paint the house with my dad, dig for coins in the sofa cushions, and have lunch with my cousin. I don't think the "rules" of memoir writing would be too horribly violated by giving children the chance to write about their imaginings of the future, as well as their experiences of the present. In fact, I think having a record of how I imagined my future self, from my 12-year-old eyes, combined with how I saw my world around me at the time, would be a very valuable treasure today to read back through today. If only. If only.
Another book that frames memoirs in a very accessible way is When I Was Young in the Mountains, by Cynthia Rylant. The title of the book is a repeated refrain that introduces detailed snapshots of the author's childhood. A student of mine used "When I Was Young in Mexico" and the result, while somewhat undeveloped (my fault), was rich with potential.
I happened across Someday for the first time this week, and I want to remember these two books next spring, when we write memoirs. But we're planning on writing essay pieces in October and I don't have any good models for that unit yet. I am in desperate need of strong mentor essay texts. Suggestions, anyone? Opinion/Essay pieces that ten and eleven-year-old kids can both relate to and mimic?