Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by April Pulley Sayre

Today we continue the Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep series with a magical essay by author April Pulley Sayre. Thank you, April.

My goal in life is to share wonder.

My daily life is steeped in mud and toads and wildflowers and adventures in rain forests. So I guess when you ask about how writing and illustrating nonfiction is personal, I think: How could writing and illustrating nonfiction not be personal?

Nonfiction authors are telling you about their love of the real world. They are exploring the home we live in, the sunsets that make our hearts swell, the plants that supply our food, the government and history that can cradle or crush our children’s future and dreams. Nonfiction celebrates the life that supports us, from smiles to cells.

Of course, a story, a narrative, can spark connection. But so can a photo, a fact, a thought, an idea. These non-narrative forms can inspire curiosity and help us understand where we are on the map of the world.

Connection is the basis of wonder. It is not just a childhood thing. It is what keeps us going even in hard times in life. Even grownups crave that puddle-jumping joy, that stop-and-stare curiosity, that spellbound sense that we are part of a larger picture.

Perhaps it appears that my 2019 books are about flowers, lizards, and questions. But here I’ll let slip the secret keywordstheir hidden book vibes.

Bloom Boom = Exuberance. Kick-starting joy.

Like a Lizard = Goofy imitation. Surprise. Delight.

Did You Burp? How to Ask Questions (Or Not) = Uh Oh Mistakes. Trial and error. Empowerment. Inquiry.

Yes, what makes nonfiction live and breathe is voice and emotion. Bloom Boom is a long lasting bouquet of flowers. Perhaps someone will give it for Valentine’s Day or some other holiday. It is a happy book, a simple read aloud celebrating the colorful unfolding of mass blooms in the wild and in gardens. It has unseen roots, as flowers do.

There are places I danced with author friends among roads surrounded by bluebells. There are pathways that I yearly climb with love for the returning trillium bloom.

Yet the book also has images taken on road trips when my family was propelling itself through grueling grief, and photos I took while struggling to strengthen after a surgery. There are photos that make me long for my mom and grandma, who loved and showed me the flowers of the world. 
Yes, there is emotion flowing through the craft of nonfiction. Just see me try to read Thank You, Earth without getting teary and you’ll know that for sure.

For the reader, though, I want these books to fly without me hovering over them and dictating what they should think or feel. I always wonder about the songwriter problem. You know: when you love a song, and it means something to you on a deep level. But then you hear the songwriter talk about it, and it means something different to them, and it kind of messes up what that song has become in your life and heart.

My editor, art director, and I pour ourselves into crafting a book that can sing on its own, without us. We want the reader to have an experience. That means taking some of the ego out of the book and allowing the words to suggest, not preach or over explain. Nonetheless, intuitive readers will find—in the word choice, the rhythm, the way the words flow—exactly how I feel.

When I submitted Raindrops Roll, I felt like my soul was trying to push itself out of my chest. At that time, this kind of book was new for me—and sort of nuts and experimental. I had just spent a summer dripping wet, photographing obsessively, and letting this whole foolish idea unfold. The book was joy—my wonder world, as a child, and today.

I was scared that my editor would not love it, that she would not see that this was the world to me. Thankfully, she did.

I hope my books will send readers back to the real world with refreshed eyes. That is the power of nonfiction.

Simply share wonder. That is what I hope to do.

April Pulley Sayre is a photo-illustrator and award-winning author of more than 65 books, including Warbler Wave, Best in Snow, The Slowest Book Ever, and Thank You, Earth. Her read aloud picture books are known for their lyricism and scientific precision. Raindrops Roll was an ALA Notable and a NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor Book. Eat Like a Bear and Rah, Rah, Radishes are among her other ALA Notables.


  1. I love Bloom Boom! as well as many of the older books. I look forward to reading April's other 2019 books.

  2. April this is such a beautiful post, as deep as your dive into the natural world. Ty for this.

  3. Looking forward to reading your new books!

  4. I love all your books April and I was so glad to read your story here.