Friday, April 28, 2017

My Favorite Book of 2017

I don’t usually start thinking about the Sibert Smackdown this early in the year, but the moment I finished reading Grand Canyon by Jason Chin, I knew it would be on my list. I’m pretty confident that by the end of January, the cover of Grand Canyon will be jam packed with shiny stickers.

I almost never review individual books on this blog, but today I’m making an exception. It’s that good.

It’s no simple feat to create a comprehensive overview of the geology, paleontology, and ecology of our nation’s greatest natural landmark, but the book’s magnificent design allows young readers to easily integrate the various threads.

What I love most of all about Grand Canyon is that it has something for everyone. Young analytical thinkers will love exploring the treasure trove of information in the text, detailed diagrams, and backmatter. The sequence text structure and human hikers will appeal to narrative lovers. And everyone will be captivated by the stunning illustrations (including a gorgeous double-gatefold image of the canyon), the clever use of die cuts, and the parade of critters bordering double-page spreads that focus on ecosystems.

If you haven’t already purchased this book, I’m urging you to order it right now. It’s that good.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

It's School Visit Season

Each year I spend most of April and May traveling to schools to talk about they joys and challenges of nonfiction writing. I love speaking with students because they are both enthusiastic and honest.

Their feedback helps me understand what I'm doing right and what I could do better in future books. Most of all, they remind me how much kids love nonfiction.

Here are some of the highlights so far.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS PE 5-PS3-1. Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.

Try these book pairs:
For more suggestions and full lessons, check out Perfect Pairs:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

NESCBWI Handout: Got Motivation?

You’ve probably heard that the secret to completing a manuscript is as easy as BIC—Butt in Chair. But with such busy lives, it can be hard to find the time and, more importantly, the motivation to stick to the writing goals we set for ourselves. How can we make writing a top priority day after day, week after week, month after month—until our manuscript is finally done?
Here are some tips and tools to stay motivated as you pursue a writing life.

Don’t think about achieving success or being successful. Don’t compare yourself to others who you think are more successful. That kind of thinking is toxic. No one ever thinks they are successful.
It’s better to focus on motivation. Because:

1. We can control it.

2. It helps us remember that we’re on a journey.

3. It lets us know when something is wrong.

Know the Why: If you aren’t clear on why you’re doing something, it’s easy to give up. Take the time to figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing and how it benefits you, your family, and your community.

Motivation has three main components:

1. Focusing on your BIG dream.

2. Setting goals.

3. Staying positive.

Here's each step in greater detail:

1. What is your BIG dream is? Write it down. Create a vision of what you want your life to be. A vision board can help. Lots of people swear by them. 

I use an idea board instead of a vision board. It works better for me. It’s a place to store and keep track of ideas for future books and marketing plans. Looking at what’s up there helps me set priorities quickly.
Want to know more about my idea board? Watch this video of my nieces giving a tour of my office.

Be sure to rehearse your BIG dream. Daydream as you drift off to sleep, while in the shower, while walking the dog, etc.

2. Set 4-5 goals per year. They should be specific, achievable, and measurable. Write them down in the following format: By ____ (date), I will ______.

If you only have one or two goals, it may help to break them into smaller steps.

If you have so many goals that you feel paralyzed, you have created a to-do list, not goals. Think bigger picture and try again.

If addressing writer’s block is one of your goals, try switching to a different writing project when you feel stuck. Getting stuck is a natural part of the process, but you can stay productive if you devote your time and energy to a different project.

If you’re wondering how to prioritize your goals, listen to your heart. Which goal are you most passionate about?

I post my goals in the upper right-hand corner of my idea board and look at them every day. You can see my goals in the photo above. I usually write them on the back of a receipt. No reason to waste paper.

Think of your goals as an action plan.

Once you have a plan, stay the course. Every time someone asks you to do something or you have an opportunity, ask yourself: Does this serve one of my goals? Does this serve my BIG dream?
Find a friend to help you stay accountable. A buddy can:

—Help you set deadlines

—Act as a sounding board

—Highlight your blind spots

—Be a cheerleader

—Celebrate successes (big and small)

3. To stay positive:

—Surround yourself with upbeat, constructive people.
—Focus on what you can control.
—Commit to improving your mindset.
Go forth and contribute. You can make it happen.

NESCBWI Handout: What the Heck is an Informational Book?

The line between fiction and nonfiction is blurrier than ever before. With terms like "informational book," "creative nonfiction," and "informational fiction," how are writers supposed to know what works and what doesn't when presenting true or mostly true information to children? This practical presentation explains the terminology and discusses how children's book creators are playing with format, point of view, voice, structure, and other elements to present information in exciting new ways.

These posts explain the origin and meaning of the terms we use to describe and discuss nonfiction books as well as books that contain a blend of fiction and nonfiction:


For even more background information about informational text/books, creative nonfiction, and informational fiction, check out these excellent resources:

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Treat for Vacation Week

Here's the book trailer for my new book, Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. The official publication date is June 13, but it's available for pre-order now. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Nonfiction Joy: Passion and Process

Thanks to rock star educator JoEllen McCarthy (@JoEllenMcCarthy), I had an opportunity to chat about nonfiction writing with uber-talented authors Sarah Albee and Loree Griffin Burns last Saturday as part of the Educator Collaborative's Spring Gathering (#TheEdCollabGathering).

If you didn't get a chance to catch our program live, I have great news. It was archived here, so you can watch it at your convenience. We discuss choosing a topic, research, experiential learning, text structure, the revision process, pairing fiction and nonfiction, voice in nonfiction writing, nonfiction genres, crafting language, and why find joy in our work every day. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Behind the Books: A Place for Bats in the Classroom

I’m so excited that a new, updated edition of A Place for Bats became available on April 1. As with the original version, there are all kinds of ways you can use it in the classroom.

For starters, there’s a Teacher’s Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core standards as well as additional activities.

You can also share one or two spreads of A Place for Bats to support NGSS PE K-ESS3-3 for K students or read the whole book as part of a lesson that addresses NGSS PE 5-ESS3-1 for grade 5 students.

This book is also great for Reading Buddies programs. For more information, read this article and look at the materials on my Reading Buddies pinterest board.

A Place for Bats is chockfull of text features. These resources can help you use the book to create lessons that focus on nonfiction text features.

The main text of A Place for Bats has both a cause & effect text structure and a problem-solution text structure, while many of the sidebars compare past human activities that hurt bats to current more bat-friendly activities. That makes it a great mentor text for students learning about nonfiction text structures. These resources can help you use the book to build lessons that look at nonfiction text structures.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS PE 5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.

Try this book pair:
For more suggestions and full lessons, check out Perfect Pairs:

Friday, April 7, 2017

In the Classroom: Voice in Expository Literature

I've discussed voice in finely-crafted nonfiction mentor texts many times before on this blog. But today I'm suggesting an activity to give your students experience experimenting with voice in their own nonfiction writing.
To get started, find an interesting or surprising photograph of an insect and project it on your classroom interactive whiteboard. Here are a few possibilities from my personal photo archives. Feel free to use them:

Invite your student to do the following:

  1. Write one sentence about the insect.
  2. Re-write the sentence as a boring teacher would say it.
  3. Re-write it as a cartoon character would say it.
  4. Re-write it with alliteration (repetition of first consonant) or assonance (repetition of vowel sounds).
  5. Re-write it as a bus driver would say it.
  6. Re-write it as poetry.
  7. Re-write it with onomatopoeia (a sound effect).
  8. Choose your favorite sentence and revise it.
Encourage student volunteers to share their writing. Then repeat the activity with a different photograph.
CCSS.ELA—Literacy.CCRA.R.4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Helping Students Overcome Their Biggest Nonfiction Writing Challenges

Today SarahAlbee and I are leading a 90-minute session at the Massachusetts Reading Association conference. We will begin by asking the classroom teachers, librarians, reading specialists, and literacy coaches in the audience to share the most common nonfiction writing challenges their students face, and then we will suggest solutions. We will also invite audience members to share their own creative ideas with one another.

Based on our experience offering a similar session at nErDcamp Long Island last fall, the links below address some of the topics we expect to discuss:

Why Kids Copy their Research Sources, and How to Break the Habit

Adding Voice to Nonfiction Writing

Why Middle School Students Think Research Is Boring

Convincing Students to Revise

Teaching Nonfiction Text Structure

Organizing Information When Writing Nonfiction

When Students Have Trouble Choosing a Topic

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Behind the Books: A Place for Bats

This is the fourth book I’ve revised and updated in the A Place for series. The original edition of A Place for Bats was published in 2012, and it’s hard to believe how much has changed for these furry fliers since then.
As I plunged into the research last winter, I realized that both the text and the artwork would need significant changes.

One bat had a brand new name—the tricolored bat. Two of the bats had overcome the challenges discussed in the first edition, but were now facing new dangers. The new edition also includes the latest information about what causes white nose syndrome and describes the benefits of installing bat escape ramps in livestock watering troughs.

In the end, much of the book’s text was rewritten and illustrator Higgins Bond painted three new illustrations.

With so much work to do, we all worried that the book wouldn’t make it to the printer in time for Spring 2017 publication. But thanks to a whole lot of hard work, late hours, and teamwork, we did make our deadline, which means the new edition of A Place for Bats went on sale on April 1. Hooray!

How can you use this book in the classroom? Find out next week.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS PE 4-ESS3-1. Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment.

Try these book pairs:

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