I'm jumping in here a day late. Sorry Mark!!
My first big writing "success" came when I was in 5th grade. We had just moved and when I started at a new school, I was jumped up to the 8th grade writing class for some reason. I truly didn't know why and no one explained it to me. (I was the third child, and I think that by that time my parents were tired of explaining things!) But in that class I wrote a poem about raccoons that won the admiration of the teacher, who made a big deal out of it to my parents. She even framed it for me. In our series of moves, the poem has been long lost, but maybe that's a good thing. I have a great memory of writing a good poem, and actually seeing it might make me think a little less of my accomplishment!! The painting that it was based on is long gone too, but I remember studying the scene of forest animals when it was hung in our family room.
I still love animals, and writing about them, and we even have some raccoons that live in the storm drain a few houses up from us.