Monday, April 7, 2014

Deadliest Animals: Building a Book, Part 1

In The Art of Information Writing, the lesson on beginnings comes in the middle of the book. Colleen Cruz and Lucy Calkins suggest that writers not worry about their beginning at the start of the writing process. They recommend that writers just dive in to whichever TOC section they feel most confident or excited about.

That process probably does work well for some writers, but not for me. I have to start with the opening line and move forward methodically section by section. No matter how long a book is, I always begin with the first line each day. I re-read everything I’ve already written before picking up where I left off the previous day.
That doesn’t mean the first beginning I write is the final beginning. Sometimes it changes a lot. But I need a foundation before I can build the rest of my book.
Most of the time, the beginning of a book establishes its overall structure. For example, the idea that my readers will be surprised about which animals are most deadly is the core of my structure. The cover and the first spread present the attributes of lions that make them skillful hunters. This is what the reader expects. But by the second spread, I’m challenging the reader’s expectations. This piques his/her curiosity.
Then I offer three surprising examples, which sends readers the message that this book is more than they bargained for. By now, kids are hooked.
So then I backtrack a bit, satisfying kids that some of the ideas they brought to the book were correct. Then I move on, sharing example after example, with each one more fascinating and surprising than the last.
The book works because I keep my promise to my readers. Each section presents deadly animals that surprise and delight. All the while, readers are wondering, “What’s the most deadly critter of all?” And when they read the end of the book, the answer doesn’t disappoint.


  1. You have just provided teachers and librarians with a good book talk and lesson. Lots of anticipation can really drive a reader. I look forward to reading Deadliest Animals and will guess hippos might be included. My guess for deadliest is humans. We are so destructive to animal life.

  2. Thanks, Julee. You're right about the hippos. But humans aren't the deadliest. I guarantee you'll be surprised.