Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Behind the Books: Nonfiction Authors Inside Their Stories

It’s no secret that writing nonfiction books requires a heaping dose of research. Tracking down letters and journals, interviewing people, observing animals in their natural setting, experiencing events firsthand—these are the kinds of research that has always been routine for nonfiction writers.

But what’s new is that some of them are starting to bring their research process and stories into the books themselves. They are showing that they are part of the story, and they are making readers aware of their role in the adventure.

Here are three great examples of this new kind of nonfiction for children.

Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone
Tanya Stone spent at least a decade working on this book, and during that time, she got to know some of the “Mercury 13 Women” quite well. She did a fair amount of in-person interviewing, and in a few key spots she uses italic text and writes in the first person, including herself in the story. She does this because her presence affects the way the women interact, so it would be misleading to leave herself out. After all, we nonfiction writers can’t just be flies on the wall. We are flesh and blood . . . just like our readers.

If Stones Could Speak by Marc Aronson
To write this fascinating book about Stonehenge, the author made several trips to England, and through his nonfiction narrative, he takes us along with him. We learn as he learns. He also frequently addresses the reader in a way that has a great affect. His presence, rather than seeming distracting, helps to give the prose and immediacy that makes it especially engaging.

Quest for Tree Kangaroo by Sy Montgomery (photos by Nic Bishop)
Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop have worked together on many books in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Scientists in the Field series. To create these amazing titles, they have traveled all over the planet. But their journey in search of tree kangaroos was especially harrowing. I love how the author introduces us to the whole research team and writes as though she is taking us right along wither on this amazing journey of discovery. Like If Stones Could Speak, the resulting book is incredibly engaging for young readers.

No comments:

Post a Comment