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1. Writing Nonfiction Using Fiction Techniques

People understand that it takes creativity to write fiction.  But many don’t understand that it also takes creativity to write nonfiction.   As a nonfiction author I write true stories-but they are still stories.  When teaching students or teachers how to write nonfiction, I explain it like this: 

I don’t create the facts,
I use the facts creatively. 

Nonfiction is based on facts found in primary source documents.  How an author uses those facts is what makes the difference between text that reads like a novel or a textbook.  The creative part of writing nonfiction is finding a way to keep the reader turning pages to see what happens next-and at the same time telling the story accurately.  To accomplish this goal, I use fiction techniques such as dialogue, sensory details, foreshadowing, pacing and all the rest. 

Let’s look at just one fiction technique I use in nonfiction books:  dialogue.  In my books, the dialogue comes from direct quotes from documented primary sources.  Teachers, students and readers can go to source notes in the back matter to see exactly where the quote was found. 

I’m often asked, how do I know
when to use a direct quote,
and when not to? 
 
I use a direct quote to accomplish one of three things:

1. To show characterization
2. To increase tension
3. To have greater impact


Below are a few examples from my books that demonstration how I used quotes as dialogue.  

 


To show characterization:


In one chapter of Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment (Carolrhoda) I’m making the point about how football has become part of the American culture.  In this example, I quote Kevin Turner because it shows characterization of a passionate football player.   

“Kevin Turner, a former NFL player, still remembers the excitement of his high school football days. He recalls, “When I woke up on game day. I couldn’t wait until it was time for the kickoff. Wearing my jersey to school on game day was a big part of the experience. At game time, when I ran out on the field and heard the announcer call my name in the starting lineup, it was a rush, like nothing else. It was like having Christmas sixteen times a year. My parents were proud of me. Nearly everyone in our small town was cheering in the stands and spontaneously reacting to what happened on the fields. It was magical.”




To increase tension:


In this scene from Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium (FSG), I am showing this famous scientist at a difficult moment in her life.  At the same time Curie was planning to build the Radium Institute, the shed where she and her late husband, Pierre, discovered radium was going to be torn down.   I quoted Marie Curie’s own words about how she felt about visiting the shed for the last time.   

“I made my last pilgrimage there, alas, alone.  On the blackboard there was still the writing of him who had been the soul of the place; the humble refuge for his research was all impregnated with his memory.  The cruel reality seemed some bad dream; I almost expected to see the tall figure appear, and to hear the sound of the familiar voice.”


 


To have greater impact:

Varian Fry, an American journalist, volunteered to go to Marseilles, France, in 1940 to rescue refugees from the Nazis.  This scene from In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry (FSG), is about the moment he arrives in the city.  Fry wrote about this moment, so I chose to quote the entire segment exactly as he wrote it because his own words had greater impact than if I had paraphrased what happened.   

“’Aha, an American,’ he said in a gravel-rough voice.
“Yes,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm.
“Marseilles is like your New York City at rush hour, eh?”  he said, smiling. 
I smiled back.  “Quite a mob,” I said. 
“Refugees.  Pouring down from the north,” he said.  “We would like to pour them back.  But the Boches [Germans] have occupied Paris.  So the refugees all run to Marseille to hide, or maybe sneak across the border.  But they won’t escape.  Sooner of later we arrest all the illegal ones.”  He smiled again. 
“Too bad for them,” I said.
“Too bad for them; too bad for us!”  He gave me my passport.  Enjoy your stay in our country,” he said.  “But why you visit us at this unsettled time, I don’t know.”
His eyes narrowed, and I thought he looked at me suspiciously.  But as I went out through the gate, I decided it was my imagination.  He knew nothing of the lists in my pockets, nor did he know I had come to smuggle out of France the people whose names were on those lists.”





All three at once:

Many times, one quote like the example below accomplishes all three goals of characterization, tension and greater impact at the same time.  The following section from The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon (Carolrhoda) shows Washington in the days leading up to the historic crossing of the Delaware.  
  
“The Continental Army was in real trouble. At the beginning of the war, most soldiers had enlisted for short periods of time. Now that things were going badly, they left as soon as their enlistment commitment expired. At the beginning of December 1776, about half of Washington’s men went home.  He knew that the enlistment for many more would expire at the end of the month. General Washington had to do something fast to raise the moral of his men, or he would soon have no army to lead. David Ackerson, one of his commanders, recalled seeing General Washington at this time saying, “he was standing near a small camp-fire, evidently lost in thought and making no effort to keep warm . . . His mouth was his strong feature, the lips being always tightly compressed. That day they were compressed so tightly as to be painful to look at.”


 
When writing nonfiction, when you use quotes and how you use them makes all the difference. 

Carla Killough McClafferty

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2. The Last Jews in Berlin

The Last Jews in Berlin. Leonard Gross. 1982/2015. Open Road Media. 343 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The Last Jews in Berlin was a good read. It was oh-so-close to being a great read every now and then. What I loved about this one were the personal stories. These stories were the heart of the book. Readers get to meet dozens of people and follow their stories. As you can imagine, these stories can be intense.

Instead of telling each person's story one at a time, one after the other, the book takes a more chronological approach. The book is told in alternating viewpoints. Is this for the best? On the one hand, I can see why this approach makes it more difficult for readers to follow individuals, to keep track of each person's story. Just when you get good and attached to a certain person's narrative, it changes. It takes a page or two perhaps before you reconnect with the next narrator and get invested in that unfolding story. On the other hand, telling the story like this sets a certain tone, increases tension and suspense, and avoids repetition. So I can see why it makes sense. The method of storytelling didn't bother me.

Probably the one thing I learned from reading this is that there were Jews working with the Nazis and turning other Jews in. That there were Jews betraying one another trying to survive. One simply didn't know who to trust.

At the same time, the book shares stories of people who were trustworthy, people who were willing to risk their own lives to help Jews. Life was hard for everyone: but some were willing to share their food and open up their homes at great risk. The book did show that not every person supported the Nazis and their philosophy. There were people who disagreed and were willing to do the right thing.

It's an emotional book, very intense in places.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. New Nonfiction Books Perfect for 3rd Grade

I've had to really add lots of easier nonfiction to my 3rd grade classroom library.  I realized so much of what I have requires lots of experience with nonfiction text.  But I am thrilled to find lots of great nonfiction and my 3rd graders are reading more nonfiction than ever.  It is tricky to find nonfiction perfect for 3rd grade--it has to be interesting enough for 8 year olds but it needs to be accessible. I have seen nonfiction really turn some of my kids into readers this year because I've been so intentional about the nonfiction section of our classroom library.

Scholastic Discover More series is one that I have come to LOVE LOVE LOVE this year.  There are three different "levels" to this series but the difference isn't so obvious to kids. The easier books in this series are 32 pages long and they are great for primary readers.  The topics are interesting and I have several kids who have read all 8 books in this part of the series. Definitely one of my favorite nonfiction series as it is packed but the text level is doable for kids who have trouble finding engaging nonfiction.

I've mentioned before how much I love Brad Meltzer's picture book I am Rosa Parks this week--not sure how I missed it when it was released. My kids love this series and this one is as good as the others. I love the way that Rosa tells her own story and how much readers can learn about the civil rights movement from this book. This series continues to impress me--just wish they were coming out faster!

The last nonfiction book I picked up recently was Kali's Story by Jennifer Keats Curtis. It is a simple story with very accessible text. I am glad to add as many shorter, easier texts as I can because I believe volume matters and kids are more willing to read a book that seems doable for them, when nonfiction is new.  Kali's Story is the story of a baby polar bear who was rescued after his mother died. It is a story my kids will love and one that might lead them to other books with similar rescue stories.  The photos are adorable and they will draw kids in immediately.

So glad I committed to reading more nonfiction in 2015.  I am already a bit behind but just knowing I set a goal has me reading more than I would have otherwise.  You can head over to Kidlit Frenzy for the Nonfiction Wednesday round up!






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4. Farewell to the East End

Farewell to the East End. (Call of the Midwife #3) Jennifer Worth. 2009/2013. HarperCollins. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

I still haven't read the first book in the Call The Midwife series by Jennifer Worth, but, I have watched and enjoyed the first two series of the show, an adaptation of the books. I loved the second book, Shadows of the Workhouse. I'm not sure I "loved" the third book, Farewell to the East End. I suppose you could say I found it equally fascinating and disturbing. The stories are definitely darker and heavier--dismal and bleak. Mixed in with stories are a handful of research chapters about various topics.

Highlights (not highlights because of 'hope') include several chapters focused on twins Megan and Mave, several chapters focusing on the Masterson family, several chapters focusing on the Harding family, and several chapters focusing on Chummy.

One of the most haunting stories, in my opinion, is "The Captain's Daughter." Chummy is called aboard a merchant ship to tend a woman with stomach cramps. The woman believes she's just had too many apples. But it soon becomes apparent to Chummy that all is not right. The woman is in fact pregnant and in labor, and, the father could be any of the crew including her own father, the Captain. Chummy learns that she's been on board and servicing the men--keeping them all happy--since the age of fourteen, soon after her mother's death. Chummy is a bit shocked--who wouldn't be--but very practical and down to earth. The birth is challenging and quite memorable.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. March is NATIONAL READING AWARENESS MONTH

As we wait for the snow to melt

and SPRING to arrive, it's a great time to enjoy READING!

I usually highlight story books, but today I'd like to celebrate
some fun research sites.

DK Publishing has a free online encyclopedia: FIND OUT
The site is for simple searches on a variety of science-related
topics. Results provide a colorful illustrated page with brief
explanations and related topics. Of course, if one of the topics interests you, check at your local library for a corresponding DK book on the subject.

Another free online site, available through public and school libraries, is EBSCO Kids Search. This is a more in-depth database of magazines, encyclopedias, dictionaries, web articles, biographies, books, newspapers, and photos. A handy tool to have at your fingertips.

Kids Info Bits from Gale/Cengage Learning is search resource available through some libraries as well. It's a more simplified database of sources, including magazines, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and maps. It includes advanced search capabilities and is geared toward elementary school students.

So during this month focused on READ ALOUD time, choose a topic of interest (I know my grandson would pick Monster Trucks); use one of these kid-friendly sites or a book and read together for 15 minutes.

Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter--every season is just right for READING!

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6. Cybils Finalist Review: THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS by Max Brooks and Caanan White

Summary: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II are, by now, well-known to American and African American history. But the regiment known as the Harlem Hellfighters--the Army's 369th infantry unit--were the first American unit to reach the Rhine in the... Read the rest of this post

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7. S is for Story, True or Not

I join my fellow bloggers in welcoming award-winning nonfiction writer Carla Killough McClafferty to TeachingAuthors.com.

I write this post enormously grateful for how smart each fellow blogger has made me these past two weeks thanks to her posts that addressed the telling of our stories, whether true or not.

As I read Mary Ann’s, April’s, Bobbi’s and JoAnn’s posts, all I could think about was the tiny blue Post-It Note I’d affixed long ago to my first desk-top computer: “It’s the STORY, stupid!”

We are, as Kendall Haven wrote, story animals; we are, as Lisa Cron tells us, wired for story.

This truth both grabbed and guided me while writing – forgive the coincidence – S IS FOR STORY: A WRITER’S ALPHABET (Sleeping Bear Press).
I’d originally titled this abecedarian book W IS FOR WRITING.  Brainstorming with my CPS Alcott School fifth graders helped me choose writing-associated words to represent the letters A through Z.  But even once I fine-tuned those choices to ensure they totally embraced the writing information I needed and wanted to share, I knew those twenty-six words in no way told a story.

And they needed to, if I was to pull in readers and keep them turning the pages.

My fifth-grader Alberto said it best.  “You should change the title,” he boldly advised me.  “W IS FOR WRITING sounds like a textbook.  I’d never want to buy it.  But if you call it “W IS FOR WRITER,” he added, “I’ll think you wrote a book about me.”

Alberto wanted hard facts, inspiration and encouragement.  But most of all, he wanted – and expected – a story about writers with which he could connect.

So here’s what I did to tell that story:

(1)   First I thought about my take-away, what I wanted my reader thinking when he closed the book – i.e. writers are readers!  

(2)   Next I thought about what I wanted my reader thinking while he was reading my descriptive and explanatory poems and sidebars – i.e. young writers and award-winning authors share the very same writing process!

(3)  I then made sure the true facts I chose to include - about children’s books, about children’s book authors, about the writing process– served as concrete details that supported my story's take-away’s.

(4)  Finally, I did my best to create a narrative arc, addressing the reader while moving him from the all-encompassing people, they and their in the beginning alphabet pages….


to the inclusive we,us and our in the middle pages


 to the focused you and your in the final pages.
  

Thanks to Alberto, my twenty-six letters told a story - of a writer's life and process, A through Z.

Happy STORY-telling!

Esther Hershenhorn

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8. Tricky Vic - a review

Pizzoli, Greg. 2015. Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower. New York: Viking.

In 1890, the man who would one day be known by forty-five different aliases was born to the Miller family, in what is now the Czech Republic.  His parents named him Robert.


Working both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Robert Miller was a con man of legendary proportions, becoming most famous for his "sales" of Paris' iconic Eiffel Tower. In addition to selling the Eiffel Tower (numerous times), Miller was a counterfeiter and a card sharp.

Yes, Robert Miller was a criminal of the worst order, but it will be hard for readers to remain unimpressed by the sheer chutzpah of the man.  It's a book that readers won't put down until they learn the fate of the legendary man who came to be known as Tricky Vic!

Not content with merely an intriguing story, Greg Pizzoli has enveloped Tricky Vic in outstanding artwork. The back matter includes an explanatory note about the unique combination of methods (including halftone photographs, silkscreen and Zipatone) used to achieve the book's dated, contextual feel.  Appropriately, the face of the elusive Tricky Vic is represented by a fingerprint stamp.

Back matter includes a Glossary, Selected Sources, Author's Note, Acknowledgments, and the aforementioned "Note about the Art in this Book."

Advance Reader Copy provided by the publisher. Coming to a shelf near you on March 10, 2015.



Two reminders for this first Monday in March:

March is Women's History Month! Please visit KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month!  We've got a great month planned.  Today features author and librarian, Penny Peck.



Today is Nonfiction Monday.  Check out all of today's posts at the Nonfiction Monday Blog.


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9. Facts + Poetry = Creative Nonfiction

In this series of Teaching Author posts, we’re discussing the areas of overlap between fiction and nonfiction. Today, I’m thinking about creative nonfiction.

What is Creative Nonfiction? According to Lee Gutkind (known as the “Father of Creative Nonfiction”), “The words ‘creative’ and ‘nonfiction’ describe the form. The word ‘creative’ refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques fiction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.”

One critical point about writing creative nonfiction is that creativity does not apply to the facts. Authors cannot invent dialog, combine characters, fiddle with time lines, or in any other way divert from the truth and still call it nonfiction. The creative part applies only to the way factual information is presented.

One way to present nonfiction in a compelling, vivid manner is to take advantage of the techniques of poetry. When I wrote the nonfiction picture book Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move (gorgeously illustrated by Pam Paparone), I made a conscious effort to use imagery, alliteration, repetition, and onomatopoeia while explaining how seeds get around. When she called with the good news, the editor called it a perfect blend of nonfiction and poetry. Yippee, right?

Fiona Bayrock’s “Eleven Tips for Writing Successful Nonfiction for Kids” lists more helpful and age-appropriate methods for grabbing kids’ attention, starting with “Tap into your Ew!, Phew!, and Cool!”

Marcie Flinchum Atkins has compiled a helpful list of ten Nonfiction Poetic Picture Books. She points out that these excellent books (including some by Teaching Authors friends April Pulley Sayre, Laura Purdie Salas, and Lola Schaefer) can be used in classrooms to teach good writing skills. We can all learn from such wonderful examples!

Heidi Mordhorst has this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at My Juicy Little Universe. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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10. The A-Ha Moment! Wednesday Writing Workout with Monica Kulling


In my previous post I offered that isn't it a wonder that using fictional techniques to relay the telling of facts and biography seems a natural fit?
 
 Monica Kulling is the master of biography.
 Monica’s poetic narrative – a hallmark of all her books – breathes life to her characters as she explores the thematic values of determination and persistence. Her Great Idea Series, published by Tundra Books, is one of my favorite nonfiction series for young readers.

 
Monica excels at taking a moment in history, oftentimes a forgotten moment, and fashioning a story that is both compelling and informative. The books showcase inventors, some more known than others, and how they were inspired to create their inventions that, in many ways, changed the course of history. Monica’s fascination with the late 19th and early 20th centuries confined her research to that particular period. When choosing who to write about, says Monica, “I need enough material to make an interesting narrative.” Monica researches extensively, using online and in print sources.


Inventors are clever, says Monica, and they are ingenious in finding ways to realize their dreams. She focuses on that ‘a-ha’ moment, when a great idea clicks in your brain and has you racing off in pursuit.

The picture book format allows Monica to bring depth and breadth to each inventor’s story.


Her book, It’s a Snap: George Eastman’s First Photograph (2009), illustrated by Bill Slavin, tells the story how Eastman invented the photograph, and thus ushered in the new age of documenting history as well as the advent of ‘selfies. 

Another book in the series, Going Up: Elisha Otis’s Trip to the Top (2012), illustrated by David Parkins, depicts the founding of the elevator, allowing skyscrapers to literally touch the sky. And one of my favorites, the award-winning In the Bag: Margaret Knight Wraps It Up (2011), also illustrated by David Parkins, tells the story about the young inventor of the folded paper bag who eventually owned over twenty patents.


Says Monica, “I’ve always been more interested in the struggle than in the achievement. It’s the nail-biting will-they or won’t they, can-they or can’t-they, that engages a young reader most.”


Tundra Books chooses wonderful illustrators. Each of the four illustrators who have worked on the series has been able to depict the time period in all its glorious detail. 
Illustration by Richard Rudnicki. Used with permission.
 
  One of my favorites, Richard Rudnicki’s illustrations for Making Contact: Marconi Goes Wireless (2013) are full of the same energy as Monica’s characters. His sweeping landscapes, done in acrylics on watercolor paper, are particularly striking, depicting the Newfoundland coastline, with its cold grey colors, whirling storm clouds, and the bright dot of a kite flying in the wind make me shiver with awe.


Monica’s newest edition to the series is Spic-And-Span: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen (2014).
This book follows the amazing story of Lillian Gilbreth, the inspiration for the matriarch in the movie and book, Cheaper By The Dozen. Her life is so much more amazing than a movie or a book, however. When her husband dies unexpectedly, Lillian forges ahead to raise her children alone. An efficiency expert, industrial engineer and psychologist, Lillian’s designs and inventions are still considered fundamental to contemporary kitchens eighty years later.

Thank you, Monica, for this neat activity from the Learning Activities for Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen:



Talking about Clockwork:
“The kitchen is the heart of the home. It should run like clockwork.” What does it mean to say that the kitchen should “run like clockwork”? Why was Lillian’s kitchen not running like clockwork? What was her solution?


Can you think about anything in your classroom or your home that needs to “run like clockwork”? What steps must be taken in order for this to happen?


As a class, walk around the classroom and make a list of any “inefficiencies.” Is there anything about the classroom’s design that could be improved on in order to save time and space?

Bobbi Miller

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11. Shadow of the Workhouse

Shadows of the Workhouse (Call the Midwife #2) Jennifer Worth. 2005/2008/2013. HarperCollins. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I still haven't read the first book in the Call the Midwife series, but, I have seen most of series 1 and 2. I love, love, love the show. And I've seen the episodes adapting all these stories found within Shadows of the Workhouse. Do I recommend reading the books? Yes!!!

Shadows of the Workhouse is the second book in Jennifer Worth's memoir trilogy. The first part focuses on Workhouse Children. In this section, two big stories are related. First, readers meet Jane. Her story has a happy ending, but, it's an emotional struggle making the happy ending all that more triumphant. Second, readers meet Peggy and Frank. Again, these two grew up in the Workhouse. Their story is emotional and complex and not nearly as happy. The second part focuses on The Trial of Sister Monica Joan. (She's accused of theft and put on trial.) The third part of the book focuses on 'The Old Soldier.' Readers meet an old man, a lonely man, Joe Collett, whom Jenny treats daily/weekly. The book focuses on telling his story. Again, there is plenty of heartbreak.

I loved Jane's story. I did. I loved, loved, LOVED it. I thought the whole book was wonderful and thoughtful. Would definitely recommend.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. The Greatest of Illusions


Morguefile.com
We are story animals, suggests Kendall Haven (Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story, 2007). We have told our stories for over 100,000 years. Not every culture has developed codified laws or written language, but every culture in the history of the world has created myths, legends, fables, and folk tales.


Stories are so old, so intimately connected with language, some researchers suggest that language was created to express stories. In fact, evolutionary biologists now believe we are hardwired to think in story forms. Cognitive scientists know that stories help us understand and remember information for longer periods. Researchers have found that telling stories at an early age helps develop math abilities and language literacy. And teachers know that understanding the story process helps young readers understand the organization of language.


Isn’t it a wonder that using fictional techniques to relay the telling of facts and biography seems a natural fit? After all, life is messy and fragmented. But stories provide a form for that experience. Stories shape random events into a coherent sequence. Stories help readers focus on the essentials, sifting through the distractions. As writer May Sarton once said,  “Art is order, but it is made out of the chaos of life.”

One criticism of narrative nonfiction is the use of psychological action and dialogue. Stories freely engage in psychological action to help readers empathize with the protagonist. But, in narrative nonfiction, how would the author know just how George Washington – or any historical character – really feels and thinks about an event?


Easy. Writers report on their protagonist’s thoughts and feelings by using inferences, in which a character’s state of mind is revealed by reportable observations. As Jon Franklin, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, stated, “People don’t think in words. They think in the experience of the moment.”

 One of my favorite authors, and one of my favorite books, that achieve this psychological action so magnificently is Russell Freedman’s Washington at Valley Forge (Holiday House, 2008). With his first sentence, Freedman establishes the desperate conditions faced by Washington and his men: “Private Joseph Plumb Martin leaned into the icy wind, pushed one sore and aching foot ahead of the other, and kept on marching.”


  Washington’s troops were beaten down and bedraggled. Martin was not only hungry; he was “perishing with thirst.” Freedman weaves primary sources into the narrative to demonstrate the psychological action.


Another favorite is Phillip Hoose, in his wondrous epic tale of The Race to Save the Lord God Bird (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004). The book begins with Alexander Wilson and his quest for the ivory-billed woodpecker: “Alexander Wilson clucked his horse slowly along the margin of a swamp in North Carolina. Bending forward in the saddle…Wilson’s heart must have been racing as he dismounted and crept toward the bird…”

Likewise, readers hold their breath as the scene unfolds. The story sweeps across two centuries, never loosing hold of the reader’s attention as it explores the tragedy of extinction, and the triumph of the human spirit.  



As the great Virginia Hamilton once offered, every fiction has its own basic reality…


“…through which the life of the characters and their illusions are revealed, and from which past meaning often creeps into the setting. The task for any writer is to discover the ‘reality tone’ of each work – the basis of truth upon which all variations on the whole language system is set. For reality may be the greatest of all illusions.” (Virginia Hamilton, Illusions and Reality, 1980).

Bobbi Miller

 

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13. The Harlem Hellfighters: Review Haiku

A story of wartime
bravery, tainted by
shameful racism.

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks. Broadway Books, 2014, 272 pages.

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14. "Just the Facts, M'am"--fiction vs non-fiction on Poetry Friday

.
Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (the link to this week's PF host is below.)

First: welcome, welcome to our newest TeachingAuthor, Carla!  I am in awe of your writer's journey, Carla, because when I learned that we would be discussing non-fiction, my legs trembled and my palms grew cold and damp.  Unlike you and Mary Ann, in her wonderful first salvo on this topic, I am not, by nature, a researcher.  I am NOT a "Just the facts, M'am."

Jack Webb as Joe Friday in Dragnet, from Wikipedia

But... is this really true?

Well...I DO tell my students that real details bring fiction to life, and have them listen to the following short audioclip from StoryCorps.  Talk about bringing a subject to life! The details Laura Greenberg shares with her daughter are priceless--not to mention hilarious.

Still, I struggled to write poems for The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (Pomelo Books).  By "struggled" I mean I read science articles and wrote tons of stinky poems about rocks, astronauts, materials science, the expiration dates on seed packages,electricity, science experiments...and on and on and on.

But...I dread gettting facts wrong--my worst nightmare. (Confession: writing these blog posts scares the bejeebers out of me.)

In fiction, I can fly my fairy-self to Planet Bodiddley and make up all the materials science by myself.  But if I have to convey facts?  And then somehow bake them into a tasty poetry pie?  I get tied up in knots.  My writing becomes stiff as a board.  I'm afraid of...

But finally I stumbled on this fascinating fact, in a review of The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman:"The water coming out of your kitchen tap is four billion years old and might well have been sipped by a Tyrannosaurus rex."

Wow. Think of the water you drink.  Think of the water you take a BATH in!!!! Ten versions of "Space Bathtub" later (with considerable coaching from the ever-patient anthologists, Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell) this fact became a poem for kindergartners:

OLD WATER
by April Halprin Wayland

I am having a soak in the tub.
Mom is giving my neck a strong scrub.

Water sloshes against the sides.
H2O's seeping into my eyes.

The wet stuff running down my face?
She says it came from outer space!

The water washing between my toes
was born a billion years ago.

from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science
(c) 2014 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

If you're a K-5th grade teacher, this book is so immediately useful, you'll cry with relief when you open it. Trust me. For details, and to watch under-two minute videos of poets (Bobbi Katz, Kristy Dempsey, Mary Lee Hahn, Susan Blackaby, Buffy Silverman, Linda Sue Park and me) reciting our science poems from this anthology, go to Renee LaTulippe's No Water River.  Again, trust me. (A little foreshadowing: Pomelo Books' newest anthology, Celebrations! comes just in time for Poetry Month this year--stay tuned!)

Here's a terrific vimeo of "Old Water" produced by Christopher Alello:


And thank you, Linda Baie, fabulous friend of TeachingAuthors, for hosting Poetry Friday today!

posted safely and scientifically by April Halprin Wayland wearing safety goggles

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15. On Immunity

Between the measles outbreak that began at Disneyland a few weeks ago and it recently being entered into my medical records that I am moderately allergic to the tetanus vaccine (fever, body aches, fatigue and injection site pain far above and beyond a mere sore arm), I was primed to On Immunity by Eula Biss. I fully believe in the importance of vaccinations and have a hard time understanding the whole anti-vaccination movement. I mean, small pox no longer exists because of vaccination and polio is nonexistent in the United States and very close to being wiped out in the rest of the world. Yes, there is always a small risk — allergy, severe illness, death — but the risk is so small in comparison to the benefit that it seems more than worth it. Yet, so many are eager to believe that the measles vaccine causes autism (it doesn’t), or that the government and/or pharmaceutical companies are purposely poisoning children (they aren’t), or any other number of strange reasons having to do with government control, conspiracies, science experiments and invasion of privacy.

Biss is pro-vaccination. She is well-educated and her father is a doctor. Yet, when she became a mother even she had qualms about vaccinating her son. It is through this lens that she examines the fears and beliefs of those who refuse to have their children vaccinated. Along the way we get a cultural and scientific history of vaccination.

We fear a good many things these days and if you have children, the fear is intensified because it is your job to keep them safe. What do you do when you hear about all the chemicals in food and BPA in plastics? Or toxins in the air and water? It is hard to enough to protect a child from the threats you can see, how can you keep them safe from the ones you can’t see, and worse, don’t even know about? We hear that a particular vaccine might have mercury in it used as a preservative. We know mercury is poisonous, therefore the vaccine is poisonous too. We blow the tiny risk factors far out of proportion because here is something we can do to protect our children.

The thing is, the human body is already “contaminated.” We are porous creatures and our defenses from outside organisms were breached long ago. We have pieces of virus DNA in our genes. And here is a fascinating bit of information:

The cells that form the outer layer of the placenta for a human fetus bind to each other using a gene that originated, long ago, from a virus. Though many viruses could not reproduce without us, we ourselves could not reproduce without what we have taken from them.

Some might wonder then what the big deal about not vaccinating is if viruses are so important to our very being. Besides being useful in some circumstances, viruses also kill and disable and it is those viruses we vaccinate against.

Those who do not vaccinate rely on the protection of all the people who do. You can only have children who are not vaccinated against measles never get the disease because the child is surrounded by people who have been vaccinated. Biss points out over and over that we think vaccination is an individual choice that has no effects on anyone else, but we are wrong. Because in order for vaccinations to be most effective, most people in the population need to be vaccinated. Immunity to disease is a communal undertaking.

Here I have to admit that in spite of believing whole-heartedly in vaccines, I have never gotten a flu vaccination. My reasoning has always been that I don’t get the flu. And truly, it has been so long since I have had the flu I can’t remember when it was — fifteen years at least. But Bookman dutifully gets a flu shot every year. He has to because he has multiple sclerosis and therefore his immune system is compromised. Now after reading Biss’s argument about vaccination being a communal thing I realize that perhaps one reason I have not gotten the flu is because nearly everyone I know gets a flu shot. In addition, it is possible for me to get the flu and then give it to someone who, for whatever reason, could not be vaccinated and then they could get really sick or possibly die. Because people do die from the flu. Did I ever get a big dose of guilt realizing that. So now next year when the email goes out at the University where I work that free flu shots are being given, I will go an roll up my sleeve.

It was easy to get me to change my mind about flu vaccination, but what about all those people who refuse more important vaccinations for their children? Studies show that forcing science down the throats of anti-vaxxers does no good whatsoever. Biss is unable to offer any suggestions other than insisting on the communal nature of vaccination. It worked for me but it won’t work for all those parents who still believe vaccines cause autism or that the HPV vaccine will make girls more likely to have sex. Clearly for those parents there are many factors that need to be addressed. It is a complex issue and sadly, government is not very good at solving those sorts of things.

On Immunity is a well-written, non-judgmental look at the issues in the vaccination debates. It could not have been more timely if it tried. If you’d like a little insight into the anti-vaccination movement, then I highly recommend this book.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews, Science

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16. Cybils Finalist Review: STRANGE FRUIT, VOLUME I by Joel Christian Gill

Summary: In a recent NPR interview, Joel Christian Gill said, "These stories are quintessentially American stories. I can't say that enough. It's not that I dislike Black History Month. I just don't think Black History Month is enough." I agree... Read the rest of this post

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17. What’s Inside? (my fridge)

whatsinside_cover300pxWhat’s Inside? by Isabel Minhós Martins and Madalena Matoso, translated by Isabel Alves and Bergen Peck is a simple and yet clever, funny and honest look at the very stuff of life; the clutter, the detritus we accumulate in our pockets, stuff into in the back of drawers, let lurk around in the bottom of our bags.

Part spotting-game, part memory-exerciser, What’s Inside is a slice of family life which allows readers and listeners to play detective. First, a double page spread questions what we might find in a given location (including ‘Granny’s beach bag”, your coat pocket and bedroom wall), before we turn the page to find recognisable treasure; old bus tickets, pieces of lego, bits of plastic toy, string, the odd coin, a dirty tissue or two. The prediction game alone is great fun, but Martins has made it even more enjoyable by sneaking in some unexpected items, by posing extra questions which get you to go back and look again at what you’ve found, by making connections which link the different handfuls of bits and pieces pulled up and out into the daylight from where they’ve been gathering those little bits of crud which get stuck under your fingernails.

Replete with opportunities for discussion, laughter and moments of satisfaction (not only from recognition but also as a result of successful discoveries and problem solving), this is a delightful book, with bold and stylish illustrations, which will appeal across a wide age range, and especially to any children who love to collect and hoard, to classify and arrange their special things.

bookhandbag

bookhandbag2

I don’t have a handbag as such, but I never leave the house without my rucksack…

bag

kitchencounter

kitchencounter2

Here’s my kitchen counter; can you spot the samovar, bag of pistachios, and kitchen waste waiting to go to the allotment compost bin?

worksurface

fridgebook

fridgebook2

fridgedoor

Somehow showing what is inside my fridge seems like baring my soul!

Can you spot what really shouldn't be in the fridge??

Can you spot what really shouldn’t be in the fridge??

Music which could go well with What’s Inside? includes:

  • Living Inside of a Jar by Jim Gill. I had never come across “bottle plucking” before but now I have a very strong urge to try and set up a glass orchestra like Gill’s….
  • Livin’ In The Fridge by “Weird Al” Yankovic (a parody of “Livin’ On The Edge” by Aerosmith)
  • The Handbag Song by This is Jinsy. Totally Surreal.

  • Other activities which you could enjoy alongside reading What’s Inside? include:

  • Checking out what’s inside and down the back of your sofa, inspired by Tim Hopgood’s Big Blue Sofa (see our post here)
  • Playing the tray memory game.
  • Creating a museum of clutter (and thereby getting the kids to tidy up bits and pieces stuffed in various nooks and crannies): Get the kids to empty out some of those spaces where things invariably get stuffed (like behind the bed) and lay it out like a museum, labelling the treasure that has been found.
  • What’s inside your fridge? Go on! Share a picture on Twitter or via the Playing by the book Facebook page :-)

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of What’s Inside from its UK publisher.

    4 Comments on What’s Inside? (my fridge), last added: 2/19/2015
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    18. The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, by Selina Alko & Sean Qualls (ages 4-9)

    There are so many different ways into sharing The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. The story centers around Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple who challenged Virginia's laws forbidding interracial marriages and took their case all the way to the Supreme Court.

    You might approach it as a story of two people who stand up and fight for what they think is right--a book about courage, civil rights and fighting for change. Or you might see it as a way to start talking about race with young children, and the struggles one family went through not so long ago. Whichever you choose, this picture book makes a wonderful jumping off point for talking with kids about things that really matter.
    The Case for Loving:
    The Fight for Interracial Marriage
    by Selina Alko
    illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
    Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic, 2015
    Your local library
    Amazon
    ages 4-9
    *best new book*
    Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter fell in love in 1958, but it was against the law for them to get married in the state of Virginia--simply because they were different races. Although they were married legally in Washington, D.C., the local police arrested and jailed them when they returned to Virginia, charged with "unlawful cohabitation". In order to live together legally and safely, they had to leave their families and move to Washington, D.C.

    By 1966, the Lovings decided that "the times were a-changing" and they wanted to return home to Virginia. They hired lawyers to fight for them, taking their case all of the way to the Supreme Court.
    The lawyers read a message from Richard: "Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia,"
    The Supreme Court unanimously agreed that it was unconstitutional to make marriage a crime because of race, and the Lovings moved back to Virginia to live "happily (and legally!) ever after."

    Selina Alko tells this story in a calm, straightforward way, helping children understand how different and difficult things were for interracial couples just 60 years ago. The illustrations show Richard and Mildred's love and strength, but the gentle tones and collaged hearts keep the spirit warm and positive. Alko and Qualls explain the special importance of this story: their journey as an interracial couple echoes the Lovings'. Their endnote adds weight and perspective.

    I especially appreciate how this picture book lends a way into opening up an important topic with young children. It helps talk about something that has now changed--but we still wrestle and notice so  many of these issues around us. Here's an excerpt about the importance of opening up dialog about race with children aged 5-8 from The Leadership Council, a civil and human rights coalition:
    Five-to eight-year-olds begin to place value judgements on similarities and differences. They often rank the things in their world from "best" to "worst." They like to win and hate to lose. They choose best friends. They get left out of games and clubs, and they exclude others-sometimes because of race, ethnicity, and religion.

    When children begin school, their horizons expand and their understanding of the world deepens. We can no longer shelter them quite as effectively. Even for graduates of preschool or day care, attending elementary school means more independence in a less controlled environment. Children are exposed to a wider range of people and ideas. They also experience more bigotry!

    Between five and eight, children are old enough to begin to think about social issues and young enough to remain flexible in their beliefs. By the fourth grade, children's racial attitudes start to grow more rigid. Our guidance is especially crucial during this impressionable, turbulent time.
    Interesting food for thought, hmmm? To me, this underscores the importance of entering into these discussions with kids, asking what they notice, what they think -- prompting them to think about why and how they can keep their minds open.

    For more excellent nonfiction picture books, check out the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge over at Kid Lit Frenzy. Today, Aly has a great selection of mini-reviews and links to other terrific blogs.

    Illustrations from THE CASE FOR LOVING Written by Selina Alko. Illustrations © 2015 by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Used with permission from Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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    19. Charts and mini charts to anchor writing moves

    Last Tuesday, Clare wrote a wonderful slice of life post about what everyday learning in a classroom really looks like and feels like, aptly entitled: Learning is Managed Chaos. These lines resonated with… Continue reading

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    20. The stunning cover of ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America

    Sometimes my dog will be sitting in my lap, being hugged and petted on, and he will begin to whine and whimper as if there’s still not enough affection getting expressed, as if it’s impossible that there could ever be any demonstration that would measure up to the love he feels.

    It has long seemed absurd to me, but I think I finally get it. I do.

    Because, y’all, I just can’t love this enough:

    Nutcracker_frontcover

    This is what the front of my upcoming book with Millbrook Press, ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition, will look like. It’s illustrator Cathy Gendron‘s first picture book, and I think she’s done just an astounding job.

    I love how Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen pop right off the page even amid the terrific onstage action. I love the shade of blue that the scene is bathed in. I love the swords. I love everything about this cover.

    The book will be out this coming fall, and I hope to be able to share with you some of the interior illustrations soon. (If you’re at the Texas Library Association conference in April, maybe you can even see an advance copy in person.)

    But in the meantime, here’s what the entire jacket — front, back, and flaps — looks like:

    Nutcracker_jacket

    Whine. Whimper.

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    21. Cybils 2014 Review: EL DEAFO by Cece Bell

    Summary: Before writing up this post, I honestly didn't realize that El Deafo by Cece Bell had won the 2015 Newbery Award. Well, now it's also won a Cybils Award for 2014, in the Elementary and Middle Grade Graphic Novels category! And I'm thrilled... Read the rest of this post

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    22. Jane Austen Cover to Cover

    Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Book Covers. Margaret C. Sullivan. Quirk Publishing. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

    Love Jane Austen? You should read Jane Austen Cover to Cover. The book is about Jane Austen, her books, her book covers--a history of their many publications over the past two hundred years. For the most part, the book follows a certain chronology providing readers with context. (For example, covers with teens or tweens in mind differ from covers with adult collectors in mind differ from covers with scholars in mind.) Each edition has a spread. And it's just a joy to see all the covers. There are great covers. There are horrible covers. I liked it best when Sullivan talked about the horrible covers!!! I laughed out loud so many times reading this book!!! [See also: "5 Ridiculous Jane Austen Book Covers, Explained in Hilarious "Deleted Scenes."

    I definitely recommend this one. I read it all in one sitting. It was just so satisfying--a real delight. If you want a preview of sorts, read this Guardian piece. And for more book cover fun--specifically P&P--this NY Times slide show is fun too.

    You should read Jane Austen Cover to Cover
    • If you are a fan of Jane Austen
    • If you have an interest or fascination with book covers
    • If you have an interest in publishing, book design, illustration, or book collecting
    • If you like to laugh
    © 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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    23. Getting It Right

        First off, a big Teaching Authors welcome to our latest TA, Carla McClafferty. Not only did Carla and I meet and bond some fifteen years ago at an SCBWI retreat in Arkansas, we once shared an editor. Greetings, old friend, and welcome aboard. For the next couple of posts we are going to be talking about your genre, non-fiction, and what it shares with fiction.

        I have always wanted to be a Carla-sort of writer, a non-fiction writer. "Write what you love" is one of those things writing teachers (like me) tell their students. I love non-fiction. My "adult" reading consists almost entirely of biographies and history. If I read two adult novels a year, that's a big deal for me.

       So why don't I write non-fiction for children?  The reasons are endless, so I'll boil it down to one.  I just can't stick to the facts.

        Both of my novels, Yankee Girl and Jimmy's Stars began life as memoirs. YG was about my life, JS about my mother's family. Because they both took place in other times and places...Mississippi 1964 and Pittsburgh 1943...I did a boatload of research to make sure I had the details right. For the World War II world of Jimmy's Stars, I made a timeline of what battles occurred where and when between September 1943 and September 1944, and when news of those battles reached the States.  I compiled a radio schedule for the Pittsburgh stations. I studied streetcar routes. I poured over the various rationing schedules for gasoline, food, clothing.

        You would think that Yankee Girl would not require quite so much research, since after all, this was based on my own elementary school years.  I even had my 5th and 6th grade diaries. Still....do you remember what week the Beatles' "I Feel Fine" reached number one on the charts?  Neither did I.  Since the main character is a huge Beatles fan, there is at least one reference to a Beatles' song in every chapter. In addition, this the height of the Civil Rights Movement (the Selma March to Montgomery occurs about three quarters of the way through YG). I had to know exactly what date  this protest or that bombing occurred.  I remembered that these things had happened but that wasn't enough. I had to know exactly when. I spent a dismal five months in the microfilm room of the Jackson Mississippi library, going through a year's worth of newspapers, reliving a sad and scary time.

        By now you are thinking, "Well, with all this research, why didn't she just go ahead an write those memoirs?"  Good question. All I can say is that my mind refuses to march in a straight line . Yes the facts are there, because they are part of the story.  But once I start writing, my "real" character refuses to stick to their own "real" story.  I start thinking "but wouldn't it be more interesting if this happened instead?  Or if her best friend was this kind of person?"  Before I know it, I am off on a completely different story than I had first intended. The only thing that remains the same is the structure of historical fact and detail that makes the story "real" for me (and hopefully for the reader as well.)

        I am just beginning to write contemporary fiction for young people and guess what?  There is no less research involved.  Next month I will have a story in a YA anthology called Things I'll Never Say. 
    I live in Georgia.  My main characters live in Georgia.  I have lived here for fourteen years.  Yet, for a 3,000 word story here are just a few story points I needed to find out to make the story real:  price of admission to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, driving times between different towns, the academic school year of Emory University, the most popular spring break towns with Georgia teens...well, you get the point.

        My point?  Getting the details right is one of the ingredients for making a story real.  Editors care about details. I spent weeks nattering back and forth with my Yankee Girl editor over the dates of those Beatles songs.  Readers care.  I had an adult write me that if the mother in Yankee Girl used a steam iron, then she didn't also need to sprinkle her clothes before ironing. I was a little miffed that someone could read a 225 page book and this is what she chose to write me. It never occurred to me look up that sprinkling/steam iron detail.  That's the way my mom always ironed. (I still probably need to look that up.)

        I once read a Big Time Award Winning Book that took place in a state where I had lived and knew very well.  This author had placed four major cities within an hours drive of each other. In reality, they were in different corners of the state and hours away from each other.  Whatever affection I had for the book died right then. Good grief, anybody could look at an atlas (this was pre-Internet) and see where those cities were.  I later read an interview by the author and discovered that she had never visited that state (or apparently done any research) but she "knew" somebody who "used" to live there. That was one of those moments when you want to scream and throw the book across the room.

       That was the moment when I decided that for me, getting the details "right." Facts are front and center of a non-fiction, but they are no less important in fiction.

         Now about that steam iron....

      Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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    24. Feathers: Not Just for Flying

    As I've mentioned before, I had the great honor and opportunity to serve again as a second round judge on the Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction book award panel for the Cybils Awards.  If you're not familiar with the Cybils awards, they are the Children and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards.

    Our judging panel chose the following as the 2014 Cybils Award winner for best Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction book:

    Congratulations to Melissa Stewart,  Sarah S. Brannen, and Charlesbridge



    The judging panel's description:
    Using child-friendly similes, Feathers shows that there is both beauty and purpose in nature and that, although we do not fly, we have many things in common with birds, such as the need to be safe, attractive, industrious, communicative, and well-fed. The simple, large text is suitable for reading to very young children, while the inset boxes contain more details for school-aged kids. The scrapbook-style watercolor illustrations show each feather at life size, and provide a nice jumping-off point for individual projects. Science, art, and prose work together to make this the perfect book to share with budding young artists, painters, naturalists, and scientists, and it will be appreciated by parents, teachers, and kids.


    Melissa Stewart's website offers teaching resources and activities to go along with Feathers.

    Be sure to check out all of the Cybils award winning books (and apps!) at [http://www.cybils.com/2015/02/the-2014-cybils-awards.html ]

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    25. Black History Month & Beyond – My #NF10for10 + 10 Book Giveaways

    Today is the annual Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10, hosted by Cathy Mere from Reflect and Refine, Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning, and Julie Balen of Write at the Edge.… Continue reading

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