Reports about animals are boring, and they usually go like this: Honeybees are insects. Honeybees eat nectar. Honeybees live in a hive. See? BORING!
What if we do a little research, find the most interesting facts about honeybees and use them in a story about one honeybee? Here is something I learned while researching honeybees. They dance. Like really dance.
Okay now we have something to work with. Why do bees dance? Where do they dance? Which bees dance? We can answer all those questions in the story.
When I work with kids on writing their own narrative nonfiction stories about animals, I send them a list of questions to research and answer before I get to school. My favorite question on the list? What is the coolest most interesting fact you learned about your animal?
One boy learned that Daddy Longlegs are the most poisonous spiders on earth, but their mouths are too small to ever bite a human. Awesome! A story started forming in my mind as I learned that.
One girl learned that a whale can hold its breathe underwater for 30 minutes! 30 minutes — wow! I can’t wait to read the story about that whale at the bottom of the ocean, swooshing around in the darkness looking for food.
The most interesting fact about an animal is a great fulcrum for a story.
My book Bee Dance took nine years to write. I know that sounds crazy. And it is. But I just couldn’t get the story right. First I wrote the text in rhyme. It was fine, but some of my rhymes felt forced.
Then I tried to make the topic more visually interesting. The illustrations started out in black and white, then moved to color after the scout bee tasted the nectar of a flower. It made it seem like the bee was tripping on psychedelic drugs! AND it completely stepped on the cool fact of the bee dance itself. Feeling defeated, I put the book in a drawer.
After working on several other books, I pulled out my old Bee Dance script and realized that it needed to be a straightforward read about how the bee dance works. The fact that bees dance specific directions to a food source, so all the other bees know exactly where to find it, is such a cool fact on its own. It was enough to hold the whole story together.
So now, when writing stories with kids I tell them, focus on the coolest fact you learned. Let that guide your story.