Monthly Meeting: September 2023 – Writing Memoirs for Children’s Literature

Created September 26, 2023 by Laurent Sewell

Texas: Austin

Author Christina Soontornvat led a lively discussion about memoir writing for our September meeting at Spicewood Springs Library.

Among other titles, Christina Soontornvat is author of picture books TO CHANGE A PLANET (Scholastic, Inc. 2022) and THE RAMBLE SHAMLE CHILDREN (Penguin Young Readers Group, 2021), as well as the chapter book series DIARY OF AN ICE PRINCESS (Scholastic, Inc. 2019). Among many other awards, Christina is a three-time Newbery award-winner for middle grade books ALL THIRTEEN (Candlewick Press, 2020), A WISH IN THE DARK (Candlewick Press, 2021), and THE LAST MAPMAKER (Candlewick Press, 2022). In addition to being an author, Christina is an engineer and STEM educator. She is represented by Jodi Reamer of Writers House and Mary Pender at United Talent Agency.

Christina introduced the topic of writing memoirs for kids by recalling her childhood growing up “behind the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant in a small Texas town.” To demonstrate memoir writing concepts, Christina discussed her fictional graphic novel THE TRYOUT (Scholastic, 2022), which is based on a true story from her own middle grade experiences. 


Memoir Writing Considerations:

—What is the best way to deliver your story? (Consider: format, voice, tone, audience)

—Your character (aka: YOU!) needs to have goals that drive the story forward. (In what ways did you affect the fate of your story?)

—Your story needs a structure to create the arc of a natural journey, even though real life is not as simple. (For example, a three-act structure)

—What was the moment of change, or the catalyst in your story?

—Your story needs a satisfying/hopeful ending—no matter how heavy the story, you being here to write it is hopeful.

—How much about actual events do you really remember, and how much will you change from reality? Edit and curate for story quality, flow, and clarity. (Examples: combining two characters into one; editing out too many characters for simplicity, altering the timeline)

—Read mentor books.

—You can always decide to write your true story as fiction based on actual events.

Memoir Writing Challenges:

—The writing process may be painful. (For example, reliving certain experiences)

—Writing may be therapeutic, but should not be your therapy.

—You can only tell your own story, not anyone else’s. 

—For privacy, remember to change the names of most characters (except for yours) and ask permission if you do not; you may opt to change your own name in the story, as well.

—The feelings of others involved may be affected, so be prepared for how telling your story may impact them.

Reasons to Write a Memoir

—As a family heirloom

—To share your true story