Monday, April 1, 2019

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Jennifer Ward

Today we continue the Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep series with an essay by author Jennifer Ward. Thank you, Jen.

“Write what you know.” It’s a phrase often shared to encourage students with their writing process. I am a firm believer in “write what you know,” having been a teacher and someone who now writes full-time for a living.

As writers, we pull from the innate “what we know” to form thoughts and place them on paper. This applies to any genre of writing, be it poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. This innate knowledge forms individually from a lifetime filled with curiosity, wonder, and personal experiences. It seems I have always been curious about animals, specifically birds, so it’s no wonder they often surface in my writing.

Me, with my best friend
One of my earliest books involved trying to better understand bird feathers. I sorted and classified feathers that our pet parakeets, Linus and Benji, had shed, carefully organizing them and gluing them to stapled pages of construction paper.

I also learned early on that it’s not easy to make a bird’s nest. My first attempt took place when I was a child, perhaps age five. I was determined to build one and spent hours gathering cut, dried grass from the mowed lawn in our suburban neighborhood. I wet it in water runoff trickling down our street and formed nest after nest by squishing the grass together in small, circular shapes.

I discovered that water is indeed cohesive, but once my nests dried, they fell apart and the grass blew away. Birds clearly had the upper hand (or beak, so to speak) when it came to engineering nests.

I suppose I’ve always had that “Huh!” thought regarding birds and nest building, because I simply could not let the premise go away. As an adult, when a hummingbird built her tiny cup nest outside my kitchen window, I watched her for weeks as the nest formed, bit by tiny bit. I knew then that I had to dig deeper into avian architecture, and the idea for Mama Built a Little Nest was born.

As a child, I was told that if I sprinkled salt on a bird’s tail, I could catch it and it wouldn’t fly away. I was enchanted by the idea of a wee, wild bird, content to be my friend, perched complacently on my finger, both of us glad of each other’s company.

So at the age six, I crouched quietly for hours at the base of tree, salt shaker in hand, hoping a bird would hop by on the ground. And several did, but I was never stealthy enough with the salt shaker to prove the salt-to-tail theory true.

But those memories likely planted the seed for my upcoming book, How to Find a Bird, which explains that we need not always look up to spot birds. They can also be found down low.

And my life-long fascination with birds is clearly the inspiration behind my recently published book, I Love Birds! 52 Ways to Wonder, Wander and Explore Birds with Kids. To this day, I spend hours with birds in the wild—observing them, wondering about them, getting inspired by them.

All writers, including nonfiction writers, create work that’s deep rooted in the personal experiences and memories that shape who and what we are. Those experiences form beliefs and fuel passions. They invite us to question and wonder, and they ignite our creativity.

I hope the books I write for children stimulate readers to dig deeper themselves and explore the many layers of nature and science, so that they, too, may think, “Huh!”

Jennifer Ward is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for children, most influenced by science and nature, including Mama Dug a Little Den, illustrated by Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane Books, 2018), Feathers and Hair, What Animals Wear, illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong (Beach Lane Books, 2017) and, “What Will Grow?”, illustrated by Susie Ghahremani (Bloomsbury Books for Children, 2017), which received three, starred reviews. She is easily distracted by everything outside her windows.


  1. Jennifer, I am tickled to see that pic of you as a kiddo with your horse! Looking forward to I LOVE BIRDS! Think i'll buy it for my granddaughter's b-day to get her exploring!

  2. I have read Mama built a little nest and loved it. I am also a bird lover and I can’t wait to read your new books. I’m also writing a book about birds. I loved hearing your story today. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I love your books, and all of your bird photos, Jennifer! I hope we have the chance to meet in person some day soon! Congrats!!!

  4. Such an excellent interview. Jen Ward truly does write what she knows and cares about--Birds!

    Sue Leopold

  5. So much love for birds! Can't wait to share this with my Kindergarten ornithologists!