On Wednesdays this fall, I’m sharing the process of creating my recently-published book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animals Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses step-by-step. (To learn about the whole process in one sitting or to share an age-appropriate version with your students, check out this new resource on my website.)
I like to think of revision as sort of like remodeling a house. The rough draft is okay. It has doors and windows and a roof. It will keep you warm and safe and dry.
But the revision is more like someone’s dream house. After a lot of hard work, it’s the best it can possibly be. That’s what makes people excited to read it.
For me, revision happens in two stages—changes I make on my own before submitting the manuscript and changes I make based on my editor’s suggestion.
When I’m revising on my own, I think about things like text scaffolding, voice, and word choice. I’ll talk about the first of these elements—text scaffolding—today.
As you probably know, when a teacher utilizes instructional scaffolding, she gives students the support they need to gradually learn a new skill or concept. In the same way, a writer can provide support to help readers understand a complex idea.
Because children have limited prior knowledge and may have trouble thinking abstractly, nonfiction books often include clusters of sentences that slowly build an explanation. Writers start by meeting readers where they are. Then they craft a series of connected sentences that act like building blocks to guide student thinking as they gradually develop an understanding of the concept.
To create a successful scaffold, a writer has to understand the content inside and out and then carefully construct an explanation one sentence at a time. This process usually involves quite a bit of revising as the writer attempts to include all the important details in a clear and engaging way. Here’s an example from the spread about giant pandas.
Here’s the main text of my first draft with changes marked.
When I wrote this draft, the previous double-page spread was about baby elephants, which also eat their mom’s poop. Eventually, I decided to cut the elephant and talk about both kinds of poop eating here. This had two advantages.
—It gave me room for more disgusting animal behaviors.
—I could avoid referring to the previous spread. This was important because in browsable books, readers should be able to skip around if they want to.
Now I could start with the birth of the baby panda, so I moved part of paragraph 3 to paragraph 1. Check out the blue text. I added some info about drinking mother’s milk, and then used text scaffolding to explain why the baby eats dung in the new paragraph 2.
In the new third paragraph, I used more text scaffolding to explain why the mother panda also eats poop. If you look closely at the red and green text, you can see how I incorporated it into the revision.
Here’s the section after it was revised.