Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Behind the Books: Nonfiction Voice, Part 3

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been blogging about my most recent insights into the role of voice in nonfiction writing. Today I’m going to list some common characteristics I’ve noticed in books with strong, distinctive voices.
 
Books with a lively voice often include:
  • Second-person point of view
  • Figurative language, including alliteration/assonance, similes and metaphors, onomatopoeia
  • Sensory details
  • Strong, surprising verbs
  • Irresistible facts
Books with a lyrical voice often include:
  • Third-person point of view
  • Figurative language, including alliteration/assonance, opposition, similes and metaphors
  • Repetition
  • Internal rhyme with soft sounds
  • Strong, surprising verbs

Monday, January 26, 2015

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS doesn't include a K-2 standard related to how plants change as they grow, but this topic is often included in early elementary curricula.

If you'd like to teach this concept, try these book pairs:

For more suggestions and a fall lesson, check out Perfect Pairs:


Friday, January 23, 2015

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Behind the Books: Nonfiction Voice, Part 2

As I’ve been reading widely and thinking about nonfiction voice, I’ve discovered a category of book that surprised me. I’m calling it “neutral voice.”

In these books, usually created by an author-illustrator, the text is straightforward with little or no identifiable voice. Why? Because the art and design take center stage. They are so dynamic, so innovative that they do all the heavy lifting while the text fades into the background, playing a supporting role.

Books with a Neutral Voice

Coral Reef by Jason Chin

Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins

Frogs by Nic Bishop

Move by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

My First Day by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Neo Leo by Gene Barretta

Now & Ben by Gene Barretta

Redwoods by Jason Chin

Timeless Thomas by Gene Baretta

Friday, January 16, 2015

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Behind the Books: Nonfiction Voice, Part 1

Since October, I’ve been thinking about ways to classify nonfiction. I’ve looked at nonfiction text types and styles—two new tools in my writer’s tool box. I’ve also taken a fresh look at structure. This week I’m going to describe some of my new thoughts about voice.

In the past, nonfiction books for kids were straightforward, stodgy, and voiceless. In fact, if I had submitted a manuscript with a strong voice to an editor ten or fifteen years ago, it would have been rejected. But today, voice is an important component of engaging nonfiction titles.

Some books feature a strong lively, playful, humorous style, while others have soft, sweet lyrical voice. But these descriptions represent two extremes in a broad spectrum of voices. I created the visual below to help me think about this continuum.
Nonfiction authors choose a voice based on their topic and the approach they want to take to that topic. For example, if you are writing about a picture book biography about a person with a sassy personality, you should use a playful voice. What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley is a good example. On the other hand, when writing Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai, Claire A. Nivola used a lyrical, descriptive storyteller voice because it reflects the personality and accomplishments of her subject.

A lively, conversational voice is often a good choice for long-form expository books, while a more wondrous, lyrical voice is more appropriate for a nature-themed picture book. Let your topic and your purpose for writing guide you to the best possible voice choice.

Books with a Lively Voice
Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart

Army Ant Parade by April Pulley Sayre

A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine
Bugged: How Insects Changed the World by Sarah Albee

Deadliest Animals by Melissa Stewart

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

See How They Run by Susan E. Goodman

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos

Thank You, Sarah by Laurie Halse Anderson


Books with a Lyrical Voice
Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Beneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart

Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston Hutts

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson

Lightship by Brian Floca

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre

Monday, January 12, 2015

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS 2-LS4-1. Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.

Try these book pairs:




































For more suggestions and full lessons, check out Perfect Pairs:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Behind the Books: Thinking About Nonfiction Structure, Part 2

Before the holiday break, I began to discuss some of the challenges of trying to categorize nonfiction children’s books using the six structures espoused by CCSS—description, sequence/order, compare & contrast, question & answer, cause & effect, and problem & solution. I focused on the sequence structure, which is richly represented in children’s literature. 

This week I’m going to look at the other five categories and provide examples.

Let’s start with description. Many expository books have a description structure. According to my way of thinking, this is where most “traditional” expository nonfiction falls. But these books don’t feel old-fashioned because they feature engaging text, often with a strong voice, as well as dynamic art and design.

 
Description Books
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins

Creep and Flutter by Jim Arnosky

Dolphins! by Melissa Stewart

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston Hutts

Frogs by Nic Bishop

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown

Lightship by Brian Floca

There are two main kinds of compare & contrast books being published for children today. Publishers use the term “list book” to describe picture books in which the main idea is presented on the first spread and then each subsequent spread offers an example. As kids work their way through the book, they are comparing the various examples.

Other compare & contrast titles have what I call “dueling spreads.” The right-hand and left-hand pages offer ideas that are different but related in some key way. Readers are expected to compare the information.

 
Compare & Contrast Books

List books
Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge
Deadliest Animals by Melissa Stewart

Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Move by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

My First Day by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Just One Bite by Lola Schaefer

 
Dueling spreads
Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart

Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy

Neo Leo by Gene Barretta

Those Rebels, Tom & John by Barbara Kerley

I can see why it would be worthwhile for students to practice writing texts that exemplify cause and effect, but examples are few and far between in children’s literature. My six A Place for . . . books fall into this category because as I was writing them, I heard teachers discussing how hard it was to teach this skill and I crafted my structure with them in mind. I can only think of one other book that clearly fits into this category. Can you think of others?

Cause & Effect Books
Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman

A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart

As a reaction to Common Core, Sterling is now publishing a large series called Good Question! Each book has a clear and intentional Q & A structure. There are also a handful of books in which the questions and answers are seamlessly integrated into the text and authentically enhance the presentation.

Question & Answer Books
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine

Hatch! by Roxie Munro

Hello Bumblebee Bat by Darrin Lunde

How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Creature Features by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
 
I don’t think there’s any reason at all to discuss the problem & solution structure using nonfiction books. First of all, they are rare. But more importantly, every fiction book ever written has this structure, so why not use them as mentor texts?

So here’s a bigger question. Are there any nonfiction books for children that don’t fit into any of these six categories? I can’t think of any. Can you?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS 2-LS4-1. Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.

Try these book pairs:

For more suggestions and full lessons, check out Perfect Pairs: