On my “final” draft of Bones in the White House: Thomas Jefferson’s Mammoth, I drew a line of little mastodons trooping across the bottom of the manuscript pages. Each animal bore a date that matched a sidebar fact or referenced the main text. I thought this was a clever way to remind readers of the march of time. … more
Researching in nonfiction isn’t much different. You run into many dead ends. But the key may be in knowing when to find a different route and when to change up your purpose. Is the story important and viable? Then I believe there are ways to work around those dead ends and get the car moving again.
In my three decades as a professional author, I’ve written about many intriguing, accomplished people: the Wyeth family of artists, painter Georgia O’Keeffe, abolitionist Lucretia Mott, author Peter Mark Roget, poets William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore, self-taught artist Horace Pippin, inventor Louis Braille, and most recently Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson. In every case, I’ve focused my research on the words and the work of the subject themselves and have created what I hope are poetic and accessible books about these important men and women for young readers.… more
From an ELA point of view, “research” is something you do to gather information for a report or project. But if you’re a scientist, research has a whole different meaning. It’s a way of developing a new understanding of the world and how it works.
Every once in a while, my husband and I have a conversation about why two seemingly different pursuits have the same name.… more
Back when my kids were little, I started work on a nonfiction SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) series called the “Best Behavior” series. More than a decade later, these board books and paperbacks are still going strong, I’m happy to say. Titles in the series include Teeth Are Not for Biting, Voices Are Not for Yelling, and Worries Are Not Forever.… more
You would think that being friends with Tanya Lee Stone would mean I wrote lots of nonfiction. But the truth is, until I decided to try and write a biography of Rube Goldberg, I stayed far away from this genre. As a reader, I loved it. As a friend, I learned so much reading Tanya’s work — not just about the facts — but about the foundations of storytelling.… more
In some ways, it’s too bad that the curriculum in most schools calls for writing personal narratives at the beginning of the school year because I think students could learn a lot by crafting a personal narrative about the process of researching, writing, and revising an informational writing assignment.
What do I mean by that? Well, lately, I’ve been thinking about my nonfiction book-making process as a living story.… more
Many people think writing nonfiction is just stringing together a bunch of random facts. Nothing could be further from the truth. While writing nonfiction, I use every single fiction technique a novelist uses.
I feel strongly that I need to write my text in a way that will lead my readers to invest emotionally with my nonfiction text.… more
Nonfiction and fiction are like peanut butter and chocolate. Each excellent on its own, but when combined…so sublime.
INVITE A DISCUSSION
My nonfiction account Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune (2016, grade 6 and up) describes the dramatic rise and fall of a 12th-century samurai. One of the joys of researching the life of this Japanese hero was learning about the underlying political, social and economic currents that resulted in the 700-year-long rule of the samurai.… more
Personal preferences and experiences guide our life choices. They impact what we wear, eat, do, even the people we spend time with. It should come as no surprise, then, that personal preferences also affect what we read— maybe even whether we read.
Studies show that young readers who feel a personal connection to what they are reading demonstrate better comprehension and derive greater enjoyment from their reading.… more
I’m fussy when it comes to choosing where to sit. The comfy chair or the well-worn red sofa? Lights on high or nicely dimmed? Soft throw blanket? Sometimes even in a restaurant, I ask to sit at a different table than the one the host chooses because it doesn’t feel right. My husband rolls his eyes.… more
Not long ago, I saw this list of recommended components for a booktalk:
And boy, did it frost my britches.
Why? Because the person who wrote it assumed the booktalker was recommending a fiction title. What about nonfiction? It’s important to booktalk these titles too because many kids prefer nonfiction.… more
Where do successful nonfiction writers get their ideas? So many places! The topics a nonfiction writer can write about are limitless. Sure, some ideas have been written about before, but nonfiction writers take that as a challenge. They ask what unusual angle they might take or if there is a different (or better) format in which to deliver the information.… more
Yes. Yes I do.
Sure, I know there’s a whole school of thought that says “sharing a message” in a children’s book is something to avoid. That children will learn more, feel more, by reading books—stories—that evoke an emotional response and increase empathy through strong characterization and vivid language. Yes. Yes that’s true. But.…… more
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