Monday, September 30, 2019

Writing Expository Nonfiction that Sings, Part 4

For the last few Mondays, I’ve been posting  about the importance of understanding the key elements of finely-crafted expository nonfiction and helping students identify those features as they read and include them as they write.

First, I discussed how starting with a question can help writers come up with a focused topic, which allows for more engaging and creative writing. Then I focused on why writing tends to be stronger when we make a personal connection to the topic we choose and the approach we take. You can scroll down to read those posts.

Today, I’m going to talk about the importance of an irresistible hook. Simply put, if there’s no hook, there’s no book.

Let’s start by looking at three book covers:
Each of these books has a strong hook—a unique, engaging way of looking at a concept—that’s obvious even in their titles. Before opening the books, kids get curious and start asking questions. Those questions propel them through the book until, ultimately, their curiosity is satisfied.

Shana Frazin (@sfrazintcrwp), a staff developer at Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, liked the way the cover and beginning of No Monkeys, No Chocolate hooked readers so much, that she created this wonderful anchor chart.

It highlights the book’s use of direct address, a question, and words and pictures that focus the reader’s thinking. And of course, the ellipse at the end of the text invites kids to turn the page and keep on reading.

Similarly, the title of An Egg Is Quiet provokes curiosity, and as readers explore all the different ways the author, Dianna Hutts Aston, personifies an egg’s characteristics, they gain a new appreciation for something that might otherwise seem so common and familiar.

The first thing a child (or an adult) does upon reading the title of Never Smile at a Monkey is ask, “Why Not?” Then they open the book to find out.

According to author Steve Jenkins, “Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember was inspired by that phrase popping into my head when I read that macaques sometimes react violently to a human smile (a display of teeth). From the beginning, I knew that I’d base the book on a series of similar admonitions (never clutch a cane toad, never cuddle a cub, never touch a tang).”

The concept for No Monkeys, No Chocolate suddenly popped into my mind, too, but only after I’d been working on the manuscript for years. And that’s one of the struggles of writing expository nonfiction—coming up with just the right way to frame the information can take time.

Writers need to thoroughly digest their research and make their own meaning. It’s so, so important for professional writers as well as student writers to be patient during this process because an irresistible hook depends on writers finding their own unique and intriguing lens for viewing the information.


  1. Thank you for this post. I'm still struggling to find the right hook for my chestnut story, and I've been working on this story for 6 years.

    1. I've had a lot of success reading over all my notes and thinking about it just before I go to bed and then waking up with the answer in the morning. I guess my brain works on it while I'm sleeping. You could give it a try.