Monday, May 17, 2021

Resources for Educators: Nonfiction Writing Mini-lessons

More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  




On Mondays this year, I’m sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m going to focus on the Video Mini-lessons and Interactive Teaching Tools , which you can access by clicking on the Nonfiction Writing Resources icon. They delve into such nonfiction topics as text structures, text features, rich language, and voice. There's is also an interactive teaching tool consisting of google slides and audio files that describe key steps of the nonfiction writing process as well as an interactive timeline with videos that explain the nonfiction writing process AND downloadable manuscripts that show how the text changed over time. 

I hope you’ll take a look at these resources and incorporate them into your writing instruction.


Friday, May 14, 2021

One More Reason I Love My Job!

After a school visit, teachers sometimes ask students to create thank you notes for me, and they’re amazing. They give me a glimpse of what really resonates with my young audience. 

Sometimes these notes are charming and endearing, and sometimes they make me laugh out loud. Here are some of my favorite recent comments:

"Thank you for meeting us on Zoom. Your bookcase is so tall."

"Thank you for writing a book. I might read it."

"I am writing about zebras. Did you know you did too?"

"The way you do research is so much more fun than what we do."

"My brother has the same birthday as you."

"I love you so much. Have a great day."

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Resource for Educators: Revision Decisions


If you’d like your students to get a glimpse of a professional nonfiction author’s revision process in action, check out the Revision Decisions interactive teaching tool on my website. (Keep scrolling down until you spot the green box on the right.) It combines a google slide show with sound clips, so students can explore my creative process as a class or at their own pace.


Students can view various drafts of my book as it evolved and see comments from my editor to discover how we worked together to make the book the best it could possibly be. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Resources for Educators: Adding Photos to a Nonfiction Report

More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  


On Mondays this year, I’m sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m focusing on an interview with New York Times bestselling author Sarah Albee in which she discusses using photos in nonfiction writing. It’s available by clicking on the Nonfiction Writing Resources icon shown above.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Crafting We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell and Frané Lessac

I don't usually review books on this blog, but once in a while, I see a book that does something so clever and exciting that I just have to highlight it. We Are Still Here!, which entered the world on April 20, is one of those books. It deserves all the attention we can give it.

Author Traci Sorell’s expository prose is clear and accessible throughout. I love how she includes the lyrical refrain “We are still here!” at the end of each spread.

It takes a great idea of skill to pack so much complex information into a picture book-length book, but Sorell does a masterfully job. Because she takes so much care with her language and word choice, this is a book that teachers and students can come back to again and again. An attractive timeline at the back of the book helps to put the information into historical context.

I love how illustrator Frané Lessac’s colorful, kid-friendly art creates a familiar framework for the content by showing a classroom of students doing reports. The final spread brings everything together by showing the students with poster displays at a family presentation night to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day. This is a book you won’t want to miss.

According to Sorell, “we decided on framing it through student presentations at a Native school where students would actually learn this [information]. I'm grateful there are a growing network of them including http://www.nacainspiredschoolsnetwork.org/.”

I hope that one day soon, students will learn this information at every school. This book is one way to start moving in that direction.

Also be sure to check out this video presentation the author did with editor Karen Boss for NCTE.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Resource for Educators: Rockin’ Research


If you’d like your students to get a glimpse of a professional nonfiction author’s research process in action, check out the new Rockin’ Research video on my website. It breaks down the kinds of sources I used and describes how people I know and places I’ve gone inspired me along the way.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Resources for Educators: Radical Revision

More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  

On Mondays this year, I’m sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m going to focus on the Radical Revision activity idea, which you can access by clicking on the Nonfiction Writing Resources icon.

When I visit schools, I talk about the importance of taking a break after writing a first draft, so I can go back to it with fresh eyes and an open mind. That led teachers at Kennedy Elementary School in Billerica, MA to develop a revision activity that I love. Check it out!

Friday, April 30, 2021

10 Bedtime Books for Curious Kids

Kids love nonfiction! Studies show that 40 percent of elementary-aged children prefer fact-based books and another 30 percent enjoy fiction and nonfiction equally. So doesn’t it make sense to share these titles with young readers at home as well as at school? Here are ten science-themed nonfiction picture books that are perfect for exploring as a family before kids drift off to sleep.

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

Born in the Wild: Baby Animals and Their Parents by Lita Judge

Daylight Starlight Wildlife by Wendell Minor


An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Aston Hutts and Sylvia Long


Giant Squid by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohman


A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fischman and Isabel Greenberg


Odd Bods: Odd Bods: The World’s Unusual Animals by Julie Murphy


Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate by Melissa Stewart and Sarah Brannen

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman You're and Beth Krommes


You're Invited to a Moth Ball by Loree Griffin Burns and Ellen Harasimowicz

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

It’s a Book!

Hip, hip hooray! After 10 years and who-knows-how-many drafts, I’m so excited to announce that Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate entered the world yesterday.

A few weeks ago, I described the 10-year story behind the book on Shay Fan’s wonderful new blog First Draft to Final Book. Be sure to check it out.

What I didn’t fully explain in that post is WHY I kept working on the manuscript for so long? It’s because I was personally invested. There was a little piece of my heart at the core of this book, and it fueled my work despite the obstacles and setbacks.

One of the examples in the book is the leopard gecko. And for most of the time I was working on the manuscript, my nephew, Emile, had one of these little lizards as a beloved pet. Every time I talked to him, he asked me how the book was going. How could I possibly let him down?

Thanks to Emile, editor Julie Bliven, art directors Susan Sherman and Diane Early, and most especially illustrator and friend Sarah S. Brannen, kids can now learn about hibernation’s summertime counterpart.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Resources for Educators: Persuasive Writing Activity

More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  

On Mondays this year, I’m sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m going to focus on continue discussing the Writing Activities and Mentor Text sections, which you can access by clicking on the Nonfiction Writing Resources icon.

Under the Persuasive Writing link, you’ll find an activity that gives students practice writing persuasive text as well as summarizing and synthesizing the nonfiction (or fiction) books they read.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Nonfiction 101: Answers to Your Burning Questions Handout

On April 17, I’ll be offering this workshop, which is hosted by SCBWI’s Southern Breeze Region. Here are some resources related to the questions submitted by attendees when they registered.

Can you explain the different nonfiction markets?

5 Kinds of Nonfiction offers a more detailed discussion of the nonfiction categories as well as various aspects of nonfiction craft, including text structure, text scaffolding, voice, style, point of view, and rich language. Perfect for writing teachers and aspiring nonfiction writers.

 

What’s the different between narrative nonfiction and expository nonfiction?

 

What do you think about writing “outside your lane”?
Please listen to Linda Sue Park’s excellent SCBWI podcast about cultural misappropriation. She recommends:

1.    Choosing something from your own identity that hasn’t been explored

2.     Collaborating with someone from that background to share the recognition and
 profit

3.     Giving the story idea away

4.     Immersing yourself and living the experience which could take decades

 

How can you turn a topic that isn’t a biography into a narrative?
Biographies and books about events and processes work as narratives because they have a chronological sequence text structure. If your topic doesn’t have a built-in chronology, it won’t work as a narrative. See this blog post for more info.


What’s the different between narrative nonfiction and
creative nonfiction?

 

What’s is informational fiction?
Check this post as well as this one from my blog. Also take a look at this Nonfiction Ninjas blog post by Wendy Hinote Lanier and this excellent essay by Candace Fleming and the late Karen Blumenthal.

 

How can I recognize a good topic? How can I give a tried-and-true nonfiction topic a fresh perspective? What’s the best way to make nonfiction creative and exciting? How can I “rewrite” my research so I’m not paraphrasing someone else’s work?

Many people seem to think that writing nonfiction is simple and straightforward. Just do some research and then cobble together a bunch of facts. But nothing could be further from the truth. That’s why 50 of today’s leading nonfiction authors came together to create Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep.

The goal of this anthology is to share a critical part of their writing process that often goes unseen and unappreciated. To craft high-quality prose, nonfiction writers have to dig deep. We have to get in touch with our passions and our vulnerabilities and use them to fuel our work. Discover how we choose a topic, find a unique and fascinating focus, and explore concepts and themes through our own personal lens to craft nonfiction that sings.

 

What does an agent expect me to have ready at the querying stage?
For a picture book, you should write the complete manuscript. For long-form nonfiction, it may be possible to secure a contract with a proposal and three sample chapters.

 

Do you offer critiques or one-on-one coaching?
No, but I highly recommend Emma Dryden and Catherine Frank.




What if I have more questions?
Join NF Fest, a Facebook community created and moderated by author Pat Miller. NF Fest also hosts an amazing virtual learning event each February, coordinated by Pat Miller and the Nonfiction chicks.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Resources for Educators: The Interruption Construction in Nonfiction

More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  

On Mondays this year, I’m sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m going to continue discussing the Writing Activities and Mentor Text sections, which you can access by clicking on the Nonfiction Writing Resources icon.

Under the Interruption Construction link, you’ll find a description as well as examples of this text pattern combined with a treasure-hunt-style activity.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Nonfiction Writing Tips: The Value of Infographics

Teachers today have so much to accomplish, so much material to cover in just 180 days. Since every minute counts, it may seem like a waste of time to add another step to the student writing process. But it makes a difference.

As you’ll discover in Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep, when writers pause and ponder before they start writing, they’re able to take ownership of the material and formulate a plan. This kind of preparation builds enthusiasm, and in many cases, it makes drafting go more smoothly. It may also reduce the amount of time students spend revising.

 

To try this technique on your classroom, begin by asking students to read through their notes and circle facts and ideas that seem interesting and important. Then encourage them to use one of these thought prompts or simply have them make a list of the information they circled.

 

After sharing excerpts from several of the mentor essays included Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep, ask students to think about the information using their head (their brain) and in their heart (their feelings). Then invite them to spend a few minutes free writing and sketching. This gives young writers time and space to digest the information, view it through their own lens, and make their own meaning.

 

Finally, encourage students to create an infographic that includes what they really want other people to know about their topic and why that aspect of the topic is important to them. The infographic could also show the order in which they plan to present the information, but it doesn’t have to.

When students take the time to represent key parts of their research as infographics during the prewriting process, they'll find their own special way of conveying the information. Instead of being tempted to plagiarize, they'll create prose that's 100 percent their own.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

5 Tips for Starting a Nonfiction Book Club for Kids

Many schools and libraries host fiction-focused book clubs, but it’s important to keep young nonfiction lovers in mind too. After all, studies show that 40 percent of elementary-aged children prefer nonfiction and another 30 percent enjoy fiction and nonfiction equally.

While you can certainly run a student book club that features a healthy mix of fiction and nonfiction titles, some children may be particularly interested in a group that reads all nonfiction. And the benefits are undeniable.

Besides encouraging students to talk about reading, which enhances their comprehension, book clubs give children an opportunity to practice life skills like taking turns, expressing opinions, listening to others, and working collaboratively.

When students read and discuss nonfiction with their peers, they learn to recognize when they don’t understand the text and develop a range of strategies that can aid their comprehension, such as re-reading, asking questions, using a dictionary, and reading passages aloud.

If a nonfiction reading club seems like a good fit for the children you serve, why not give it a try. Here are some tips for getting started.

1.    When students sign up for the club, ask them to fill out a brief survey that will help you identify some of the topics that interest them most.

2.    At the first meeting, briefly book talk a range of titles about the topics they listed in their surveys. Be sure to include books that represent all 5 Kinds of Nonfiction. After the children have had some time to further explore the books on their own, ask them to select their first and second choices. Use that information to determine which books they will discuss during the next few meetings.

3.    Ask the children to decide how often the group should meet and how many pages they’ll read between each meeting.

4.    During the first few meetings, as the students get to know one another, it may be helpful for you facilitate their conversations, but trust that they’ll quickly take ownership of the club and learn to engage in meaningful conversations about the books.

5.    As the students become more confident readers and begin to develop their own opinions about nonfiction books, encourage them to select their own titles, just as adult book club members would. You can introduce them to popular book review sources and invite them to help you make decisions about which nonfiction titles you purchase.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Resources for Educators: Text Scaffolding in Nonfiction

More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  

On Mondays this year, I’m sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m going to continue discussing the Writing Activities and Mentor Text sections, which you can access by clicking on the Nonfiction Writing Resources icon.

Under the Text Scaffolding link, you’ll find a description of this text pattern combined with a treasure-hunt-style activity.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Nonfiction Writing Tips: Sources Students Can’t Copy

When it's time to write nonfiction, most students turn to books and the internet for information, but as you’ll discover in Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep, professional writers know that these sources are just the tip of the iceberg.

For us, gathering research is like a treasure hunt—a quest for tantalizing tidbits of knowledge. It’s an active, self-driven process that requires a whole lot of innovative thinking. We want our books to feature fascinating facts and intriguing ideas that no one else has ever written about. To find that information, we think creatively about sources. We ask ourselves:

Who can I ask?

Where can I go?

How can I search in a new or unexpected way?

Unfortunately, most students don’t bring this same creative spirit to their research, and that’s why they often find it boring.

Research should be as varied and wide ranging as possible, and it should include sources that can’t be copied, such as firsthand observations made in person or via webcams. Students can also watch documentary films, examine artifacts, and interview experts.

While the idea of asking students to conduct interviews might seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be if your school takes the time to develop a community of experts.

Everyone is an expert in something. By surveying parents at the beginning of the year, the school can build a database that includes what parents and staff members are passionate about and whether they’re willing to answer questions from a child doing a report. You can also identify community workers who are willing to assist students.

By interviewing the experts right in their own backyards, children will gain a stronger understanding of how professional writers go about their work. And because students develop their own questions and record the answers, the information they collect will be imaginative and original. When students do this kind of research, there’s no chance of plagiarism.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Re-Thinking the Transactional Theory of Reading

According to Louise Rosenblatt’s highly-regarded Transactional Theory of Reading, there are two different stances (or approaches) to reading—aesthetic and efferent. The difference between the two approaches lies in where the reader’s attention is while reading.

Rosenblatt's theory states that when readers adopt an aesthetic stance, they read for enjoyment and focus on how they’re experiencing the book. For example, are they connecting emotionally with the main character? How do they feel about the main character’s response to the situation? 


In the efferent stance, readers are focused on learning and retaining information. One example Rosenblatt often used was reading the label on a cleaning product after a child has accidentally swallowed some. At that moment, all the reader cares about is how to save the child. They want to digest the information on the label as quickly as possible, so they can take action. 

There’s no doubt that no matter how much a reader loves stories and storytelling, in an emergency situation, they’re going to adopt an efferent stance. Rosenblatt claimed that same the reader will switch to the aesthetic stance as soon as they’re handed a novel. This belief is based on the “common knowledge” that everyone loves stories.

For years, I’ve questioned this idea. Based on my own experience as a reader, conversations I’ve had with children and educators, and a growing body of research, it seems that some children are, indeed, naturally drawn to narratives. But others aren’t.

Instead, these children prefer expository nonfiction because they’re passionate about facts, figures, ideas, and information. Ron Jobe and Mary Dayton-Sakari call these young analytical thinkers “info-kids” because they read to learn.

Every day.

All the time.

In other words, they never adopt the aesthetic stance.

So rather than a transactional theory of reading in which readers easily switch back and forth between two stances, I envision a narrative-analytical thinking continuum.

According to this model, some readers do naturally have the flexibility Rosenblatt suggests. Because they’re at the center of the continuum, they enjoy narratives and expository text equally. But other readers have a noted preference for narratives. And still others have a strong and persistent preference for expository nonfiction.

Why does this distinction matter?

Because, as the table below shows, the reading preferences of many teachers and librarians are significantly different from those of the students they serve.

Writing Style Preferences*

 

Expository

Narrative

Both

Grade 1 Girls

38%

24%

38%

Grade 1 Boys

67%

14%

19%

Grade 4 Girls

19%

19%

62%

Grade 4 Boys

48%

19%

33%

Educators

8%

56%

36%

For info-kids to become strong, passionate readers, educators must work hard to build book collections that include a diverse array of expository nonfiction as well as a healthy mix of narrative nonfiction and fiction.

*This table combines data from Repaskey, L., Schumm, J. & Johnson, J. (2017) “First and Fourth Grade Boys’ and Girls’ Preferences for and Perceptions about Narrative and Expository Text.” Reading Psychology, 38: 808-847 and a survey of more than 1,000 classroom teachers, literacy educators, and school librarians I conducted in 2018.