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E verybody loves a good story—and we all know
that a well-told story has a beginning, a
middle, and an end. This is a book about how the
stories of sixteen famous authors began.
Some of them knew from very early on that they
were going to be writers. Edgar Allan Poe, the
legendary author of “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale
Heart,” used to recite poetry and dress up as a ghost to
frighten grown-ups at parties.


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And the poet Langston Hughes spent hours in his
local library, reading collections of mythology, verse,
and African American history.

Other kid authors had to overcome obstacles on the
road to success. Laura Ingalls Wilder, the writer of
Little House on the Prairie, grew up on the frontier,
where she faced harsh winters and attacks by locusts.


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And then there is J. K. Rowling. Long before she
wrote the best-selling Harry Potter novels, she was just
another kid in middle school trying to make decent
grades and fend off bullies. Believe it or not, she often
found herself getting into fights! She took comfort in
writing stories about feisty heroines who fought back
against evil villains.

And finally we have Jeff Kinney, whose most
formidable foes were his three siblings. Every morning,
Jeff and his siblings found themselves in a heated
competition to determine who would use the bathroom
first. Jeff took the “wimpy moments” of his childhood
and turned them into Diary of a Wimpy Kid, one of the
most successful children’s book series of all time.


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We all have a story to tell, and whether or not you
grow up to become a great writer, all those stories start
in the same place: childhood. Some kids are born story­
tellers, others learned to take their unique experiences
and turn them into tales that would entertain and
inspire. We know how their stories ended, but how
much do you really know about how their stories began?
We’re going back to the beginning to find out!


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Kid Authors
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J. R. R .
Meets a

J . R. R. Tolkien’s classic tales The Hobbit and
The Lord of the Rings take place in a magical,
make-believe realm called Middle-earth. But the
author found inspiration in one of the real-life
places where he grew up—the dusty plains of South
Africa—not to mention his unlucky encounter with
one of the world’s deadliest insects.

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It started with a monkey invasion, continued with
a baby kidnapping, and ended with a spider attack.
J. R. R. Tolkien’s time in South Africa was brief, but it
left him with vivid memories to last a lifetime.
If you’ve ever read The Lord of the Rings, you may
know about Shelob, the giant evil spider who guards the
entrance to Mordor. But did you know there was a real
spider in Tolkien’s life—and that it nearly put an end to
the great storyteller’s career before it even began?

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien—or Ronald, as he was
called—was born in Bloemfontein, the capital of the
South African province then known as the Orange Free
State. But Ronald always thought of himself as English.
His parents, Arthur and Mabel Tolkien, had moved to

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South Africa from England only the year before, after
Arthur got a job at a bank.
Ronald’s father was often away on business, leaving
his son in the care of his mother and servants. The first
summer Ronald spent in his new hometown was one of
the hottest that anyone could remember. As a baby,
Ronald had to wear frilly white dresses—called pin-
afores—to keep cool. In letters to relatives, his mother
boasted that he looked like an elf or a fairy.
Even worse than the heat were the bugs and beasts.
Flies buzzed about constantly, and locusts devoured
crops in the fields. A family of wild monkeys lived next
door. One day, a monkey vaulted the fence and ram-
paged through the Tolkiens’ garden, shredding three of
Ronald’s pinafores hanging on the clothesline.


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Then, to make matters even worse, baby Ronald got
Well, sort of. Some might say he was just
“borrowed” for a while. Apparently, a servant named
Isaak was so taken by the adorable Tolkien infant that
he took Ronald to show him to the people of his village.

After spending the night with Isaak and his family,
Ronald was back in his crib the next morning, un-
harmed. Although he always claimed he had no memory
of the incident, as an adult, J. R. R. Tolkien often wrote
about characters who get captured or kidnapped.
One childhood memory did stick with Ronald for-
ever. You could even say that it left quite an impression
on him . . . with its teeth.
One very hot summer day, as he was just learning to

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walk, Ronald was strolling through the garden when he
stumbled on a hairy, black, eight-legged creature the
size of a dinner plate. Ronald had no idea what it was,
but it looked mean. He would later learn that it was
called the Hercules Baboon Tarantula and it was one of
the largest, heaviest, and rarest spiders in the world.
Baboon tarantulas are usually not aggressive, but they
will defend themselves if they feel threatened—as Ronald
soon found out. In his haste to back away, he startled the
critter. It scuttled forward and bit him on the foot.

“Owwww!” Ronald cried, wincing in pain. It felt as if
his foot was on fire. Shrieking, he took off running into
the high grass. Lucky for him, his nurse was nearby.
When she realized what had happened, she scooped up
Ronald into her arms. “Tarantula!” she shouted, and

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then she took her first good look at the itchy red mark
the spider had left behind.
The nurse lay Ronald on the ground. To help him,
she lifted his leg and placed his swollen foot in her
mouth, sucking out the spider venom. When she had
drained the wound of the poison, she threw Ronald over
her shoulder and carried him, like a sack full of flour,
back home to his mother.

“Mrs. Tolkien! Mrs. Tolkien!” she called out as she
entered the house. “A tarantula bit your son!”
When Mabel Tolkien saw the welt on her son’s foot,
she took him from the nurse’s arms and asked Isaak to
fetch some bandages and lotion. After the wound was
dressed, Ronald began to tell her the full story of what

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had happened. “It was a spider as big as a dragon!” he
reported. And for the rest of his life, he would always be
terrified of spiders.
One day a few years later, after Ronald’s family had
moved back to England, he was sitting by himself
dreaming up characters for the first story he would ever
write. He immediately imagined the most fearsome
creature he could think of: a dragon. But in his mind, he
may have been picturing a different kind of creature
altogether—a critter like the one that had frightened
him out of his wits that summer afternoon in South
Africa. Ronald didn’t remember all the details of that
fateful day, but he never forgot what it felt like to run
scared through the high, dry grass.


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