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1. Comics Take Center Stage For This Year’s Banned Books Week Celebration

banned-comicsThe American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression will celebrate Banned Books Week from September 21st to September 27th.

The organization plans to shine a spotlight on graphic novels and comics. Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee, had this statement in a press release: “This year we spotlight graphic novels because, despite their serious literary merit and popularity as a genre, they are often subject to censorship.”

The American Library Association recently revealed the top ten list of most frequently challenged books for this year. Jeff Smith’s comic series, Bone, occupies the #10 spot. Earlier this year, Smith designed the cover for Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s Banned Books Week Handbook. Follow this link to access a free digital copy. Check out the entire list after the jump.


New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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2. A Celebration of the Arts

As I look back over the last five years of posts by I.N.K. bloggers, I’ve discovered what I suspected all along, which is that this group has covered in our books for young readers an astonishing variety of non-fiction subjects, ranging from biographies of the famous to the obscure to great and small moments in history, from science and math, to inventions, food, and the environment to the wild and wacky. The list is endless. Along with these books we’ve shared our back stories, challenges, classroom activities, some pet peeves and we’ve recommended lists of excellent non-fiction books by other authors. Today, in celebration of us, since the work I do concentrates on the arts, I’d like to offer an I.N.K. blogger feast of books that do the same in dance, music, and visual arts. Since I haven’t read all of them, I’ve  researched reviews and descriptions on Amazon.com and will include some excerpts here.

The Young Musician’s Survival Guide: Tips from Teens and Pros

by Amy Nathan

Learning to play an instrument can be fun and, at times, frustrating. This lively, accessible book helps young people cope with the difficulties involved in learning a new instrument and remaining dedicated to playing and practicing. In this revised and expanded edition, Amy Nathan has updated the book to address today's more technologically-minded young musician. Expanded sections cover the various ways students can use technology to assist in mastering an instrument and in making practice time more productive, from using the Internet to download pieces to be learned and playing along with downloaded tunes to practicing with computer-based practice programs, CDs, and videos/DVDs of musical performances. The book's updated Resource Guide suggests where to get additional help, both online and off.

Meet the Dancers: From Ballet, Broadway and Beyond

By Amy Nathan

Lots of kids enjoy dancing, but what motivates them to push past the sore muscles, early-morning technique classes, and crazy schedule required to become a professional dancer? In this book, dancers from many backgrounds talk about their different paths to success in ballet, modern, jazz, Broadway, and hiphop.
They also share advice and helpful tips, such as:  
 practice interpreting the music and the mood of a movement, even when you’re doing a standard warm-up exercise
• try to be in the front row at auditions so you can see what’s going on and so the judges know you’re eager to be seen

Clara Schumann Piano Virtuoso

By Susanna Reich

A piano prodigy, Clara Schumann made her professional debut at the age of nine and had embarked on her first European concert tour by the time she was twelve. Clara charmed audiences with her soulful playing throughout her life. Music was a constant source of inspiration and support for this strong and resilient woman. After the death of her husband, Robert Schumann, Clara continued her brilliant career and supported their eight children. Clara Schumann's extraordinary story is supplemented with her letters and diary entries, some of which have never before been published in English. Gorgeous portraits and photographs show the members of Clara's famous musical community and Clara herself from age eight to seventy-six. Index, chronology.

Painting the Wild Frontier: The Art and Adventures of George Catlin

By Susanna Reich

George Catlin is one of America’s best-known painters, famous for his iconic portraits of Native Americans. He spent much of his life in the wilderness, sketching and painting as he traveled. A solo trek across 500 miles of uncharted prairie, an expedition to the Andes, harrowing encounters with grizzly bears and panthers, and tours of the royal palaces of Europe were among his many adventures. In an era when territorial expansion resulted in the near annihilation of many indigenous cultures, George Catlin dedicated himself to meeting and writing about the native peoples of the western hemisphere. With his “Indian Gallery” of paintings and artifacts, he toured the United States and Europe, stirring up controversy and creating a sensation.
Award-winning author Susanna Reich combines excerpts from Catlin’s letters and notes with vivid depictions of his far-flung travels. Generously illustrated with archival prints and photos and Catlin’s own magnificent paintings, here is a rollicking, accessible biography that weaves meticulously researched history into a fascinating frontier and jungle adventure story.

Jose! Born to Dance: The Story of Jose Limon

By Susanna Reich

José was a boy with a song in his heart and a dance in his step. Born in Mexico in 1908, he came into the world kicking like a steer, and grew up to love to draw, play the piano, and dream. José's dreaming took him to faraway places. He dreamed of bullfighters and the sounds of the cancan dancers that he saw with his father. Dance lit a fire in José's soul.
With his heart to guide him, José left his family and went to New York to dance. He learned to flow and float and fly through space with steps like a Mexican breeze. When José danced, his spirit soared. From New York to lands afar, José Limón became known as the man who gave the world his own kind of dance.
Susanna Reich's lyrical text and Raúl Colón's shimmering artwork tell the story of a boy who was determined to make a difference in the world, and did. José! Born to Dance will inspire picture book readers to follow their hearts and live their dreams.

Sandy’s Circus: A Story about Alexander Calder

By Tanya Lee Stone and Boris Kulikov

As a boy, Alexander (Sandy) Calder was always fiddling with odds and ends, making objects for friends. When he got older and became an artist, his fiddling led him to create wire sculptures. One day, Sandy made a lion. Next came a lion cage. Before he knew it, he had an entire circus and was traveling between Paris and New York performing a brand-new kind of art for amazed audiences. This is the story of Sandy’s Circus, as told by Tanya Lee Stone with Boris Kulikov’s spectacular and innovative illustrations. Calder’s original circus is on permanent display at the Whitney Museum in New York City.

A Look at Cubism

By Sneed Collard

Cubism was one of the most influential visual art styles of the early twentieth century. The Cubist painters rejected the inherited concept that art should copy nature, or that they should adopt the traditional techniques of perspective. Picasso and Braque, the pioneers of Cubist painting are highlighted in this title, as well as the evolution of the Cubist art form. This title will allow students to distinguish their own point of view from that of the author of a text.

A Listen to Patriotic Music

By Sneed Collard

Patriotic music helps us feel pride for our country. The songs bring a unity and sense of togetherness to the people who live there. Written for many different reasons, and sung everywhere from baseball games to presidential elections, this title lists examples of some of our country's most cherished patriotic songs and information on the people and events that inspired them. This title will allow students to explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.

Books by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr Eccentric Genius

Age Level: 7 - 11 | Grade Level: 2 - 6

When George Ohr's trove of pottery was discovered in 1967, years after his death, his true genius was discovered with it. The world could finally see how unique this artist really was! Born in 1856 in Biloxi, Mississippi, George grew up to the sounds of the civil war and political unrest. When he was 22, his boyhood friend introduced him to the pottery wheel. The lost young man suddenly found his calling.
"When I found the potter's wheel I felt it all over like a duck in water." 
He started creating strangely crafted pots and vases, expressing his creativity and personality through the ceramic sculptures. Eventually he had thousands at his fingertips. He took them to fairs and art shows, but nobody was buying these odd figures from this bizarre man. Eventually he retired, but not without hiding hundreds of his ceramics. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, authors of the award winning Ballet for Martha,  approach this colorful biography with a gentle and curious hand.

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring (Illustrated by Brian Floca)

Martha Graham : trailblazing choreographer, Aaron Copland : distinguished American composer, and Isamu Noguchi : artist, sculptor, craftsman  Award-winning authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan tell the story behind the scenes of the collaboration that created APPALACHIAN SPRING, from its inception through the score’s composition to Martha’s intense rehearsal process. The authors’ collaborator is two-time Sibert Honor winner Brian Floca, whose vivid watercolors bring both the process and the performance to life.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through The Gates and Beyond

In 1981 two artists -- Christo and Jeanne-Claude -- proposed an installation in New York’s Central Park that would span twenty-three miles. They received a 185-page response from the Parks Department that could have been summed up in one single word: “no.” But they persisted. This biography of contemporary artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude is a story of the power of collaboration, and vision, and of the creation of the spectacular Gates and other renowned artworks.Christo and Jeanne-Claude is a 2003 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Action Jackson (Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker)

One late spring morning the American artist Jackson Pollock began work on the canvas that would ultimately come to be known as Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist).
Award-winning authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan use this moment as the departure point for a unique picture book about a great painter and the way in which he worked. Their lyrical text, drawn from Pollock's own comments and those made by members of his immediate circle, is perfectly complemented by vibrant watercolors by Robert Andrew Parker that honor his spirit of the artist without imitating his paintings.

Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist

 Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist was named a Robert F. Sibert Honor book by the ALA. This is the enthralling biography of the nineteenth-century Dutch painter known for pioneering new techniques and styles in masterpieces such as Starry Night and Vase with Sunflowers. The book cites detailed primary sources and includes a glossary of artists and terms, a biographical time line, notes, a bibliography, and locations of museums that display Van Gogh’s work. It also features a sixteen-page insert with family photographs and full-color reproductions of many of Van Gogh’s paintings. Vincent Van Gogh was named an ALA Notable Book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and has been selected as a Common Core State Standards Text Exemplar (Grades 6–8, Historical/Social Studies) in Appendix B.

Andy Warhol: Prince of POP

The Campbell’s Soup Cans. The Marilyns. The Electric Chairs. The Flowers. The work created by Andy Warhol elevated everyday images to art, ensuring Warhol a fame that has far outlasted the 15 minutes he predicted for everyone else. His very name is synonymous with the 1960s American art movement known as Pop.
But Warhol’s oeuvre was the sum of many parts. He not only produced iconic art that blended high and popular culture; he also made controversial films, starring his entourage of the beautiful and outrageous; he launched Interview, a slick magazine that continues to sell today; and he reveled in leading the vanguard of New York’s hipster lifestyle. The Factory, Warhol’s studio and den of social happenings, was the place to be.
Who would have predicted that this eccentric boy, the Pittsburgh-bred son of Eastern European immigrants, would catapult himself into media superstardom? Warhol’s rise, from poverty to wealth, from obscurity to status as a Pop icon, is an absorbing tale—one in which the American dream of fame and fortune is played out in all of its success and its excess. No artist of the late 20th century took the pulse of his time—and ours—better than Andy Warhol.

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3. Q&A with the Author of “Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?” + a Giveaway

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell is an expertly crafted biography that can be used to teach students a variety of craft moves during a biography writing unit of study.

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4. The Next Big Thing: Nonfiction Edition

For my INK blog this month, I am doing something a tiny bit different, although all the content is still nonfiction, and it is in honor of my new picture book about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in America, which came out this Tuesday. But I digress. What is the Next Big Thing? It is an author blog tour. What’s a blog tour? A blog tour gives those on the tour a chance to meet different authors by way of their blogs. The Next Big Thing began in Australia. Each week a different author answers specific questions about his or her upcoming book. The answers are posted on author’s blogs. Then we get to tag another author. On and on it goes.

The tour came to me from Manhattan. I was tagged by my friend Elizabeth Winthrop. She was tagged by her friend Eric Kimmel. I’ll tell you whom I’m tagging at the end.

Now for the questions.

What is the title of your next book?
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? It is the story of Elizabeth Blackwell, who was the first woman doctor in America.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I have done, and do, a lot of research on women’s history—especially in America. Elizabeth Blackwell’s story was one I came upon again and again. It was also one of those stories I tried to sell more than once but met with some resistance because Blackwell’s name is not instantly recognizable. I felt that was exactly why there should be a book about her!

What genre does your book fall under?
Most definitely picture book.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Keira Knightley would make a fabulous Elizabeth Blackwell, who was also British—although she is too tall in real life. But Knightley captures the spark and fire of Elizabeth well. Blackwell was a petite blonde, studious and serious, but a real risk-taker.

Who is publishing your book?
Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Kids Books)

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I never know how to answer this question! With picture books, especially, I tend to write a draft and stick it in a drawer for quite a long time, then pull it back out and work on it again, and repeat. A few years inevitably pass in this way.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Elizabeth Blackwell inspired me to write this book! There are older books about her, but it was time to get younger kids excited and let them know who this trailblazer was.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
I love Blackwell’s fire. The details I discovered about her toughness as a kid were a delight to find and kids will, I think, really be able to relate to some of the things she did as a child. Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? hit bookshelves this past Tuesday, and I couldn't be happier.

For the next Next Big Thing, I am tagging the amazing and talented Deborah Heiligman. Her answers will be up soon.

5 Comments on The Next Big Thing: Nonfiction Edition, last added: 2/23/2013
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5. What is this thing we call Creative Nonfiction?

I teach, therefore, I question. Introduction to Writing Creative Nonfiction. Tuesdays and Fridays from 11:00-12:15. I teach, therefore, I question.

I question, and encourage my students to question—everything about the process of writing. Why we do it, how we do it, what it is we do when we do it.

We are making a list, as they learn, of what creative nonfiction actually means. It is simpler to make a list of what it is not.

It is creative writing in which nothing is made up.
It is creative writing in which NOTHING is made up.
It is creative writing in which NOTHING is MADE UP.

Can there be dialogue? Yes—but only if it is not made up.
Can there be metaphor? Simile? Yes, and yes.
Can we employ fiction techniques. Yes. Please.

Just don’t make stuff up. If there is something in quotation marks, know where it came from. Don’t put words in anyone’s mouth. If you did that to me, I would be ticked off. Wouldn’t you?

Do you disagree with any of this? PLEASE: discuss.

13 Comments on What is this thing we call Creative Nonfiction?, last added: 9/23/2012
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6. The Creative Core

 CandaceFleming, author of Amelia Lost, and many other great books calls it the “vital idea.”

I’ve heard other nonfiction writers use terms like inciting incident, emotional trigger, creative spark, moment of inception, central mantra. I like to call it the creative core.

What is it?

It’s the heart of a great nonfiction manuscript.

It’s what a specific author brings to a topic, to a manuscript that no one else can.

It’s why a topic chooses an author, not the other way around.

It’s the result of an aha moment, and the source of passionate writing.

It’s what connects a topic, any topic, to a universal theme that everyone can relate to.

And according to nonfiction author Heather Montgomery, it’s what makes the best nonfiction books timeless.

Sound like magic? Well, it kind of is.

A nonfiction book’s creative core originates deep inside its author. Maybe it traces back to a powerful childhood memory. It might be the result of a deep-seeded desire, hope, belief, or disappointment. Here are some examples.

 Tanya Lee Stone wrote Sandy’s Circusbecause, as a child, Alexander Calder, was the only artist she immediately understood in a way that her father and sister seemed to understand all artists. Calder was her link to a secret knowledge that made her feel more closely connected to her family.

 DeborahHeiligman’s “nonfiction novel” Charles & Emma is so compelling because everything about who she is as a person drove her to write a book “in service to the love story” between Darwin and his wife. It's a book that only she could write.

Next year, I have a book coming out that traces back to the walks my father, brother, and I took through the woods near our home when I was young. The knowledge my brother and I learned on those meandering journeys and the closeness it made us feel to my father had a strong impact on both our lives. In many ways, I’ve been writing No Monkeys, No Chocolate since I was 8 years old.

How can a writer go about identifying the creative core of a work in progress? He or she must think deeply and ask questions that may have difficult or uncomfortable answers:
--What really prompted the writer to choose his or her topic. Was there an event--an inciting incident?
--Is there a connection to the writer's own life that needs to be examined?
--Does the author need to acknowledge a disappointment or betrayal in order to move on?
--Was there an aha moment filled with joy that the author can't wait to share?

Journaling can be an invaluable tool during this process. Writing about the moment of inception can help writers stay connected to it and the emotions it triggers.

Whether fiction or nonfiction, the best writing comes from a place of vulnerability. We write because we have something we need to say.

6 Comments on The Creative Core, last added: 9/25/2012
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7. Learning Through Story

As teacher friends ask for suggestions to add to their reading lists, this seems like a good time to re-post this past favorite:

In a recent thought-provoking Washington Post article, journalist and author Joy Hakim wrote the following: “As they [education historians] document the tale, it was decades ago that we gave up teaching history as an idea-centered discipline played out by a succession of characters—heroes and villains—whose actions led to results that can be analyzed. That kind of story-based history is engaging. We replaced it with litanies of facts.”

She was talking about the state of textbooks, as well as the lack of integration of standard curriculum with the stories of science and social studies that, without, leave gaping holes in education. That’s where we nonfiction writers today come in.

As depressing and infuriating as much of Hakim’s article was to me, I also felt myself saying “but we do that—those stories are being written!” And so, with the intention of offering a tiny bit of assistance to all those who teach and/or otherwise influence the education of young minds, I decided to begin compiling a recommended reading list of stories for older readers—true stories; i.e., nonfiction (or veritas, truthiness or True Dat!)—that will surely supplement and complement and enhance the experience of anyone taking social studies and science classes using textbooks.

Please—I mean this—please, add to this beginning of a list. Let’s make it grow. I will incorporate your comments and update the list accordingly. Next time, I’ll make a picture book list!

History and Science Through Story:

Armstrong, Jennifer. The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History

Aronson, Marc and Budhos, Marina. Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science

Aronson, Marc. Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow

Burns, Loree Griffin. Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion

Cobb, Vicki. What's the Big Idea?: Amazing Science Questions for the Curious Kid.

Colman, Penny. Where the Action Was: Women War Correspondents in World War II

Deem, James. Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and Rediscovery of the Past

Delano, Marfe Ferguson. Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins from a Warming World

Freedman, Russell. Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas

Giblin, James Cross. The Many Rides of Paul Revere

Hakim, Joy. The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way

Harness, Cheryl. The Ground-Breaking, Chance-Taking Life of George Washington Carver and Science and Invention in America

Heiligman, Deborah. Charles & Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

Hoose, Phillip. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Jackson, Ellen and Bishop Nic. Mysterious Universe: Supernovae, Dark Energy and Black Holes

Jackson, Donna M. The Wildlife Detectives: How Forensic Scientists Fight Crimes Against Nature

Murphy, Jim. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

Nelson, Kadir. We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

Partridge, Elizabeth. Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary

Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain

Stone, Tanya Lee. Almost Astronauts: Thirteen Women Who Dared to Dream

Thimmesh, Catherine. Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 On the Moon

Walker, Sally. Written In Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland

Weatherford, Carole Boston. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her

2 Comments on Learning Through Story, last added: 7/19/2012
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8. Wrapping It Up

There is a time to begin finishing every book. Sometimes it feels as though that phase may never come. But it does. And there is work to be done. Careful, meticulous, try-not-to-miss-any-detail kind of work. That is what I am doing now for my forthcoming COURAGE HAS NO COLOR. The process for a nonfiction book includes a lot of details that may surprise some people. Here are some of the things I do as the author to tie up any loose ends as we head into this final phase:

Make sure I have ordered every photo at a high-enough resolution to reproduce well in the book (tricky with archival WWII photos, and I do this with the help of the brill designer on the book).

Write the photo credits, making sure to check them against the most final layouts so all page references are credit, and cross-reference them against my photo source charts that I create.

Tally up my photo costs and make sure I haven’t gone over budget. And if I have, come up with a solution as to how to deal with this issue.

Compile all the source notes for any quote in the book. (This is a biggie—I think the source notes in Courage are ten manuscript pages, single spaced!)

Make sure that the Bibliography I created while writing the book is complete and up-to-date (i.e. I haven’t forgotten to include any books or articles or documentaries I may have used in the last few months).

Check all the captions I have written against the information in the text to make sure I haven’t inadvertently contradicted myself with any facts; in other words, check and re-check my research. Do this process again, checking any official information I may or may not have received with each photo. Note: sometimes my research turns up errors in official information and I get to correct it--very satisfying!

Re-read the acknowledgments and make sure I haven’t left any out. These omissions generally fall into two categories—people who have contributed something in the last stretch of the process so it’s new information and people who deserve such a big thank-you I assumed they were already in there!

Go over the layout issues with my editor and designer for tweaking of things like half and full title page, dedication, headers or footers, and any back matter issues that arise.

And last but not least—read through the text again in hopes of catching a glaring typo that has been hiding in plain sight this whole time! (Note: I just found one of those, so this is a really important step.)

All of these things actually come before I will have a chance to carefully read the final layouts—these steps are to ensure that everything MAKES it into the final layouts! There is a certain satisfaction that comes from tying up all the loose ends and seeing a manuscript transform into a BOOK.

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9. The Internet--A Researcher's Friend

When I do school visits and talk about how I research and write my books, inevitably the conversation turns to Internet research. Kids want to know if I use the Internet. I usually turn the question around on them. How do you think I use the Internet? Google, they say. That’s a search engine, I tell them. In what way do you think I use the search engine? Through a series of questions that usually allow me to steer them away from Wikipedia and do a basic how-to-use-the-Internet safely and productively, we get there. My most recent school visit was right around the time I had been dazzled by solving a problem that would have been a monumental task pre-Internet.

I was going over final art for my forthcoming picture book about Elizabeth Blackwell and there was one detail in one of Marjorie Priceman’s pieces that I wanted to make sure we had gotten right. It was an illustration of her graduation and she was not wearing her bonnet. I needed to quickly double-check and make sure we hadn’t missed this detail and that her bare head was a-ok, so I went online and in TWO minutes I found a primary source document proving that she was not wearing her bonnet that day. All was well! That could have taken weeks pre-Internet.

The Internet has become an invaluable tool for the research process in my books in many ways. The ability to locate experts in various fields and share information is mind-boggling. I’ll never forget the first time I realized that this was not just a tool that could make certain things easier, it was a tool that could make certain things possible! At the time, I was charged with writing a wildlife series in which the film for the original books was published in China. Translation: the film we were working with consisted of complete photographic layouts of 32 page books, with Chinese text that we were going to ignore. Instead, my challenge was to properly identify the contents of the photographs, figure out the theme of each spread, and write new text to go with it. Given my wildlife and science education background, this was do-able. EXCEPT when I got to a book about alligators and crocodiles. These photos all looked alike to me. What to do? I got on the Internet and began to search for the world experts on alligators and crocs. And I found one. There was a scientist in Darwin, Australia who specialized in Crocodilians—otherwise known as alligators, crocodiles, and caimans. (Who knew?) He was happy to identify the photos for me. So I scanned all of the spreads and emailed them to him. One by one, he told me exactly what I was looking at and I was able to write the text. Pre-Internet—not really possible. How would I even begun to have found him??

In my forthcoming book, Courage Has No Color, the photo research was painstakingly slow. It is a story about WWII veterans and the images of them were few to begin with and fewer to survive the decades. I don’t know if I could have found most of what I did without the Internet. In some instances, it was tracking down small military archives; in others, it was a matter of being a detective and finding obscure phone numbers of distant relatives. Zabasearch came in handy!

The bulk of my research in general is done sans Internet with the usual suspects—library materials, documentaries, oral histories, interviews, etc.. But this ever-expanding body of material available by researching on line is staggering and has opened up new avenues of discovery. Thanks, Al Gore! ;-)

2 Comments on The Internet--A Researcher's Friend, last added: 4/19/2012
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10. Real Revision

Tanya Lee Stone. Susan Goodman. Jim Murphy. Kelly Fineman. You know these folks. They’re regular contributors to this blog.

They’re also four of the thirty or so authors featured in Real Revision by award-winning children’s book author Kate Messner. The book is such a gem that you’ll definitely want your very own copy.

Real Revision is published by Stenhouse Publisher, which caters to educators, so this book is written specifically for teachers. That makes it great for all you educators out there. But I know plenty of writers also read this blog. This book is a MUST READ for you, too.

Some chapters focus on fiction-specific revision strategies, but the lion share of the book is useful to nonfiction writers as well. Here are few of my favorite quotations from nonfiction writers.

Kelly Fineman on why she takes time away from a manuscript between writing the rough draft and delving into the revisions:

“It could be as little as half an hour or as long as a year, but I need to have established some sort of distance from it in order to read it at least somewhat objectively and not like a doting author.”

Loree Griffin Burns on the importance of reading widely and carefully considering the structure of nonfiction writing:

“I pay close attention to the structure of the books I am reading all the time, and I compare and contrast them to the structure I’m working with. This is always helpful to me because it gives me confidence . . .or in some cases, helps me see why my own structure is not working.”

Susan Goodman on striking the right balance between sharing information and engaging readers while writing Life on the Ice:

“. . . I was trying to fit in so many facts that I had lost sight of what my book was all about—the excitement on exploration . . . So I sat down at my computer with an imaginary nine-year-old kid beside me. And I simply told that kid an adventure story—one where scientists were the explorers.”

Jim Murphy on finding the proper voice and storytelling technique for his Newbery Honor book The Great Fire.

“I read newspapers and personal recollections of the Chicago fire until I had absorbed the pace and language of the era. . . . I didn’t try to duplicate voices from the past, but I knew I had a faint echo of them in my style.”


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11. An Invitation to Comment: Gathering Nonfiction E-Book Data/Opinions from YOU!

Saving OP books, giving new life to in-print but barely moving books, or adding a layered, multi-dimensional platform to a healthy title—these are just three of the common reasons publishers, editors, and authors are discussing the world of electronic books as it applies to nonfiction. Most of us have e-book clauses in our contracts, but as the e-world is rapidly changing, so our rights, which has authors and publishers clamoring to figure out the best ways to proceed.

At least for right now, there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer and it can be very book-specific when it comes to nonfiction. In contrast, I have plenty of fiction writer friends who are successfully getting their e-book rights back (generally from OP or almost-OP books) and publishing in this format on their own—for 100% of the profits, minus expenses. But when photo rights and book designs factor so heavily into the final product of a nonfiction book, things are much trickier. If the e-rights for photos have not already been secured for an older NF book, it is not necessarily feasible from a time or money standpoint to track them down again. I certainly make sure I have e-rights for photos now, but that wasn’t the case a few years back.

Read this recent INK post from Jim Murphy for his perspective on one aspect of this issue. And Marc Aronson has tackled this topic in his SLJ blog, Nonfiction Matters, here and here. I think it would be worthwhile as well as illuminating to have NF writers and publishers, as well as readers, teachers, and librarians share some of their thoughts and insights, to see what some of the varied experiences are. I am also quite interested in hearing from people about what they think the future will hold.

Please weigh in with your comments!

9 Comments on An Invitation to Comment: Gathering Nonfiction E-Book Data/Opinions from YOU!, last added: 11/20/2011
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12. Visual Storytelling

I am currently in the thick of telling a story visually. What do I mean by that? The text of Courage Has No Color is nearly done, and now it is time for me to choose the images that will add additional layers of meaning to that text. It is not at all as simple as choosing photographs to illustrate something I have said. That is what I used to think I was doing when gathering images and writing captions. But I have learned over the years that it is much, much more than that. It is an opportunity to tell MORE of the story. To elaborate, both with an image and with its caption, upon an aspect of the story that did not necessarily belong smack dab in the middle of the text. It can be distracting to the narrative to go off on an interesting-yet-not-crucial point. That is one of the many powerful uses of visual storytelling.

For example, if I wanted to show how television had a powerful impact on how we saw women in society in the 1950s, but didn’t want to veer off my beaten track with a lengthy description, I can (and did, in Almost Astronauts) show this quite effectively using images from Father Knows Best, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and I Love Lucy. Looking at photographs also stirs ideas in me about what the images do NOT show as well as what they do show. This classic photo may conjure heroic images of America’s fearless astronauts to most people, but what I saw in this photo when collecting images for Almost Astronauts was what was NOT represented. The road not taken. The opportunity missed. The women in my story whose tale needs to be told.

It is the same for my newest book (Courage Has No Color) about the Triple Nickles. I continue to see what is—and sometimes more tellingly what is not—in the hundreds of photos I am looking through. I don’t just look at them; I listen to them. They speak to me. What are the images saying? What pops out at me that needs attention; that needs a voice? What more of the story is lurking in these photos, waiting for me to tease out and add to the overall narrative in the form of images?

This is my job, and I love it so, so much. I believe it is this love that makes my hands stop on one photo rather than another and take a closer look. What will I find? I can’t wait to find out!

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13. Follow that Trail

My phone rang last month and a smokejumper was on the other end. “I’m jumping this week, lots of blazes, but I got your message and I’ll find a way into that safe for you even if we have to crack it open.”

I had been waiting for this call for weeks. It all started with a cold call to a guy named Steve who knew a lot about the history of smokejumping—including the period of time when the paratroopers I am writing about worked for the Forest Service as smokejumpers. This guy was an absolute wealth of information, and he ended up sending me interview transcripts and knowing just whom I should talk to.

One of the guys Steve sent me to was Wayne. Wayne was equally enthusiastic and genuinely excited to talk with me. With Wayne I hit the photographic jackpot—almost. He told me an incredible story that resulted in a big orange carrot dangling in front of my nose.

One day, as he was busy manning the jump station, a man came up to him, handed him a manila envelope, said there were priceless pictures inside the Forest Service should have, and walked away. When Wayne had a chance to look at them, he knew immediately what they were, and stashed them in the safe in his office for, you guessed it, safekeeping.

Time went by and Wayne retired. The photos, he realized when we were talking, must still be in that safe—which no one had opened for years. “Call Dan (his successor) and tell him Wayne said to find the combination to that old safe and get those photos for you.”

Okay—I had a location, information, and a plan. The first time I called Dan he was out on a jump. The second time, too. I left a message that must have sounded crazy, to the effect of ‘you don’t know me, but the guy who worked in your office before you left some photos in a safe and he wants you to get them for me.” I didn’t know if I would ever hear from him.

It took a while, what with Dan being kind of tied up smokejumping into blazing forest fires, but he did call me back. He also promised that he would find the combination of the safe in his office. A week later came the bad news that no one seemed to know where that combination was, and the safe was so old and tough it was looking like it would be a big job to break into it by force. Still, he told me not to worry. He’d get the job done. Firefighters are like that.

Not long after, Dan had more news for me. They still hadn’t located the combination, but he had discovered the photos had been digitally scanned at some point. A CD was on its way to me! Some time after that, a package arrived in the mail. On that CD were a few old images I had seen before, but instead of the old blurry, many-photocopied, hard-to-reproduce versions I kept finding, these were crisp and clear and bright. Better still, there were a few images I had never seen before. Jackpot!

These are the kinds of detective trails that need to be found and followed for just a handful of photographs that will end up in my forthcoming book, Courage Has No Color.

There are many more photo stories where that came from. Sometimes these chases turn out to be of the wild goose variety; sometimes they are sheer gold.

Thank you Steve, Wayne, and Dan!

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14. I.N.K. News for October

Follow the Money by Loreen Leedy is being used in Vermont's statewide
financial literacy program.

Artwork from several of Loreen Leedy's picture books will be included
in The Storymaker's Art, and exhibit of illustrations by eight artists
at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale.

Gretchen Woelfle will be on hand to sign books at Breakfast With the Authors, sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Education Office on October 9, in Santa Barbara, CA.

From Susan E. Goodman: My new Step into Reading book, Monster Trucks!, was just published September 28th by Random House. For my other writing news, check my blog post this month, on October 11th. Other news that doesn't really belong here...I'm going to Paris this month for two weeks!

Deborah Heiligman will be speaking at the Rutgers One on One Plus Conference, October 16. http://www.ruccl.org/One-on-One_Plus_Conference.html
and at the New York State English Teachers Conference October 21-22.

Vicki Cobb has been awarded a CILC Pinnacle Award Honorable Mention in recognition of outstanding videoconferencing programs. She was one of only three individuals (and the only author) who won either the Award or Honorable Mention. The overwhelming majority of recipients is museums, zoos and other educational institutions. The awards are based solely on a performance rating.The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (www.CILC.org), is the leading agency for providing videoconferencing services for education.

Vicki Cobb is now an official blogger for Education Update, a print and online FREE newspaper that reaches 100,000 educators. Check out the other bloggers. Her mission is to let the world know about us.

From Jan Greenberg: Thanks to Steve at WindingOak, my new website is launched. Please check it out. Jangreenbergsandrajordan.com October 1 and 3, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is performing Appalachian Spring with images from my new book Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. My co-author Sandra Jordan, the illustrator Brian Floca, and editor Neal Porter are coming in and we are doing a panel discussion for the St. Louis Public Library on Saturday, October 2. A narration of the book with images and music will be performed by the St. Louis Symphony on November 10 and 16 for the Young People's Concerts.

Now Available

Tanya Lee Stone's newest nonfiction book, The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie will launch soon and its first two reviews are both Stars! School Library Journal wrote, "The author maintains her signature research style and accessible informational voice." Kirkus: "Sibert Medalist Stone tantalizes." The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie is part biography--both of the doll and of her inventor, Ruth Handler--and part exploration of the cultural phenomenon that is Barbie.

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15. The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us by Tanya Lee Stone

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us by Tanya Lee Stone is now available. Love her or hate her, you can't deny the impact Barbie has had on the world. This book offers quotes and anecdotes from many people, myself included. (Thank you, Tanya!) Here's the official book flap summary:

Barbie just might be the most famous doll in the world. She's represented fifty different nationalities. She's stepped into the always-fashionable shoes of more than one hundred careers. She has been played with, studied, celebrated, and vilified for more than fifty years. And she has unquestionably influenced generations of girls - whether that influence has been positive or negative depends on who you ask.

When award-winning author Tanya Lee Stone started asking girls, boys, men, and women how they feel about Barbie, the first thing she discovered is how passionate people are about her. Here are a few things they said:

"Barbie is really only a reflection of the girl holding her. My generation of 'Barbie girls' is now entering the world and we seem to be doing just fine." -- Sara, age 17

"Barbie, I hate you!" -- Luci, age 15

"How Barbie looked was never the issue. Not to the girls who loved her. It was what she taught us that mattered. And what she taught us was that, like Barbie, we could be anything we wanted to be." -- Meg Cabot

"Barbie has been the #1 most destructive force on the self-image of women all over the globe!" -- Dr. Carole Lieberman

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie is part biography - both of the doll and of her inventor, Ruth Handler - and part exploration of the cultural phenomenon that is Barbie. Filled with personal anecdotes, memories, and opinions from people of all ages, and featuring original color and black and white photographs, this book is for anyone who understands that we're all living in a Barbie world.

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16. Come on Barbie, Let's Go Party!

My post this month is going to be a tad different than usual because I firmly believe that every milestone in this tough business of ours should be celebrated—and that’s exactly what I did last night. Celebrate.

You may think that nonfiction books and a rockin’ party don’t go together—but you would be wrong! Last night was the official launch party for my new book The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on our Culture. And let me tell you, people were In the House to celebrate nonfiction!

The place: Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont.
The time: 7:30 p.m. on a Wednesday evening.
The crowd: SRO!

Even after a long day of working, shuttling kids to play rehearsals and soccer games, nonfiction aficionados showed up to usher in this newest addition to the Dewey Decimal shelves. There were parents, teachers, librarians, and kids armed with questions (as well as a few Barbie dolls). Who says nonfiction is dead? Phooey!

On hand were Karen Pike--the photographer I hired for the bulk of the interior images--and Peter Harrigan--the theatre professor/Barbie collector who made the photos possible.

The questions from the audience were fabulous. We talked about writing process, how do you know when it’s time to stop your research, and the many, many cultural questions that come up when people start to talk about Barbie.

The question I addressed first seems to be the most frequent and obvious one surrounding the publication of this book. The question posed to me, in its many forms, always comes from this place: “YOU wrote a book about Barbie? Really? Barbie? You?”

Although I actually anticipated and dreaded this questions several months ago, now I really enjoy it. Why? Because the question is at the heart of why any nonfiction writer (any writer, really) chooses to write about a topic—and why they are the right person to tackle it. It opens up all kinds of avenues for thought and discussion.

Yes, I often write what might be called feminist books, or books that have at the heart of them a desire to empower girls. And yes, on the surface, the topic of Barbie seems at odds with that. But that’s what’s so fantastic about immersing yourself in a topic of nonfiction, looking at the back story, discovering the who, what, why, where, and when of a topic, looking at it from all sides and ultimately synthesizing an understanding of it.

I won’t give away what my conclusions are, lest I be accused of treading into Spoiler territory. But I will tell you that every time I answer the question of “Why, why, why, would YOU of all people choose to write about Barbie?” I am rewarded with the facial changes, head nodding, and verbal feedback that indicate I have made a connection with my audience. I have expressed myself. I have initiated a thought process out in the world that leads to discussion.

This is why I write nonfiction. And THAT is definitely something to celebrate.

So come on Barbie, let’s go party!

6 Comments on Come on Barbie, Let's Go Party!, last added: 10/22/2010
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17. Barbie - Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (of all ages)

This month, Tanya Lee Stone launches her new book, The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on our CultureIn this month's post, Come on Barbie, Let's Go Party, Tanya shared with I.N.K. the details of her launch party.

Involved with the toy industry for over 25 years, Barbie has been near and dear to my heart. At Mattel, I originally interviewed for the position of Barbie accessories designer. Finally landing in the Girls Dolls and Plush Department, my office was next to the Barbie designers, who became my good friends.
At first, I was worried that the book was going to be another Barbie bashing or, on the other side of the spectrum, full of Barbie fluff.
After reading The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie, I have to say "Bravo" to Tanya Lee Stone!  The message that stands out to me is that girls can do anything. And, I believe that exact phrase was a Mattel advertising tagline one year. Ruth Handler persevered in so many ways - by making things work when everyone said no, by crushing the stereotypical '50s housewife image, by recognizing the new TV advertising medium, etc.

March of last year, Barbie turned 50 and on my blog I wrote about my own personal love of Barbie. Regarding Barbie's negative stereotype:
Grandma cut off some of her own hair and glued it onto Barbie's private parts. Yup. This is how an adult saw Barbie - a grown-up mature woman. To me, Barbie was years of the best play imaginable. The creation of Barbie's life in my mind was priceless.

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie is a five-star interesting nonfiction read for girls of all ages. The flow of the book is seamless from the beginnings of Ruth Handler's imagination, through the process of Barbie's rising star.  This includes the impact of the revolution of plastic manufacturing, the embracing of diversity, Barbie as an art form, and, of course, the controversies - peppered with fabulous, thought-provoking quotes from Barbie fans and critics. 

As a child, my Barbie play was a treasure-trove of stories and adventures. Barbie's house and town was a mixture of the family couch and lots of blocks and boxes. Barbie's clothes fascinated me - I loved her bright, blue patent leather coat and neon go-go dress. And, as for my self image, my mom told me that I was prettier than all the girls on her soap operas.

Toy and doll history can be used in the classroom to support curriculum in Social Studies, and American and European History. Kids can relate to toys and dolls.  Last November in my Play and Creativity in the Classroom presentation at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair, I shared with teachers how to combine toys and play with social studies, science, and math curriculums. In my I.N.K. post last year, Interesting Nonfiction and Toys, I shared a variety of toy-related nonfiction books.

Last year when my ten-year-old son was having a difficult time picking an appropriate book for his class nonfiction unit, I handed him

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18. Cover Stories: The Good, the Bad and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone

barbie.jpgTanya Lee Stone's latest book, The Good, the Bad and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us, has earned three stars from the publishing world and raves like this one from Lauren Myracle: "Holy belly buttons! This is no mere Barbie book. This is a how-to manual about being a girl: a strong, sparky, awesome girl, with Barbie in hand *or* Barbie in the nearest Dumpster!"
Love that. Plus, it has a sly, iconic cover. I had to ask Tanya how it came about. Here she is:

"I didn't have a picture of the front cover in my head from the beginning, but once I started playing around with all of the dolls in Peter Harrigan's collection (which we used for the photo shoot), I started thinking about the BACK cover. I pictured a border of heads peering from the edge into the middle of the cover (kind of creepy). I fell in love with the Elphaba doll from Wicked, and thought the Twilight dolls were kind of cool (and again, kind of creepy). In the end, we used a great shot the photographer took of a bunch of the international dolls, in a pinwheel formation. I love it.1959 Barbie.jpg

"My publisher did ask for my input. We talked about what image should go on the cover. Should it be a universal favorite (there really isn't one) or not?"

Read the rest of Tanya's Cover Story at melissacwalker.com. And hear more about the book at I Heart Daily!

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19. Learning Through Story/The Washington Post

In a recent thought-provoking Washington Post article, journalist and author Joy Hakim wrote the following: “As they [education historians] document the tale, it was decades ago that we gave up teaching history as an idea-centered discipline played out by a succession of characters—heroes and villains—whose actions led to results that can be analyzed. That kind of story-based history is engaging. We replaced it with litanies of facts.”

She was talking about the state of textbooks, as well as the lack of integration of standard curriculum with the stories of science and social studies that, without, leave gaping holes in education. That’s where we nonfiction writers today come in.

As depressing and infuriating as much of Hakim’s article was to me, I also felt myself saying “but we do that—those stories are being written!” And so, with the intention of offering a tiny bit of assistance to all those who teach and/or otherwise influence the education of young minds, I decided to begin compiling a recommended reading list of stories for older readers—true stories; i.e., nonfiction (or veritas, truthiness or True Dat!)—that will surely supplement and complement and enhance the experience of anyone taking social studies and science classes using textbooks.

Please—I mean this—please, add to this beginning of a list. Let’s make it grow. I will incorporate your comments and update the list accordingly. Next time, I’ll make a picture book list!

History and Science Through Story:

Armstrong, Jennifer. The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History

Aronson, Marc and Budhos, Marina. Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science

Aronson, Marc. Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow

Burns, Loree Griffin. Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion

Colman, Penny. Where the Action Was: Women War Correspondents in World War II

Deem, James. Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and Rediscovery of the Past

Delano, Marfe Ferguson. Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins from a Warming World

Freedman, Russell. Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas

Giblin, James Cross. The Many Rides of Paul Revere

Hakim, Joy. The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way

Heiligman, Deborah. Charles & Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

Hoose, Phillip. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Jackson, Ellen and Bishop Nic. Mysterious Universe: Supernovae, Dark Energy and Black Holes

Jackson, Donna M. The Wildlife Detectives: How Forensic Scientists Fight Crimes Against Nature

Murphy, Jim. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

Nelson, Kadir. We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

Partridge, Elizabeth. Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary

Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain

Stone, Tanya Lee. Almost Astronauts: Thirteen Women Who Dared to Dream

Thimmesh, Catherine. Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 On the Moon

Walker, Sally. Written In Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland

Weatherford, Carole Boston. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

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20. Are We There Yet?

A neighbor asked me how far along I am on my latest book. It is an excellent question to ask, but a difficult one to answer. I used to think—long, long ago—that books were written in a linear fashion, especially books that would seemingly follow a chronology of events—a person’s life or an episode in history. I have learned that it is not the case.

It would be nice and neat, and cause me many fewer headaches if books could be written in a linear fashion, but it just isn’t possible. Why? There are many reasons. I think the biggest one, though, is that the more understanding I gain on a topic, the more complex I understand it to actually be. And those complexities generally reveal themselves as I am moving forward, which makes me realize I have to stop and go back to further clarify and revise; do more research and revise; read something else and revise. Translation: throughout the entire process of writing a book I continuously and simultaneously move forwards and backwards, which means I never really know how far along I am until I am done.

One might wonder if I could avoid this if I did enough homework before beginning to write. To me, this is one of the most interesting parts of being a writer, because the answer is no. The preparation doesn’t end when the writing begins.

There is a huge cognitive difference between understanding something enough to, say, carry on a conversation about it at a dinner party and making that understanding solidified and concrete enough to stand up to the page. Once your understanding begins to take the shape of an actual thesis in black and white you must analyze and evaluate your statements in a more objective way. Now that they are staring back at you—nay, challenging you—you must ask yourself—have I got it right? Have I captured the nuances of this issue and presented it with clarity? Have I been fair and accurate? Is it compelling?

So, dear neighbor, how far along am I on my next book? About 70%, give or take about 30%.

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21. The Nuances of Oral History

This post is by Tanya Lee Stone. She couldn't log in today so I'm posting it for her.

I recently had a long conversation with an old friend of mine from high school. A few things came up that I was surprised to hear. “I don’t remember it that way at all,” I said. She laughed. “Boy, for a writer, your memory is terrible,” she said.

The events we were talking about were things we lived through together, experienced deeply, and yet came away with different recollections. There were even details she recalled that I did not at all, and vice versa. As I am once again immersed in a project that relies heavily on oral histories, I began to look at my materials from a different angle. Many “what if” questions presented.

What if a subject is being interviewed too long after an event occurred? How does interviewing someone too soon impact the retelling? What about a subject’s mood on the day of an interview? Did they get enough sleep? Are they cranky? Is there more than one person involved? Do their stories mesh?

Of course, I have always factored these questions in when evaluating primary source materials, but somehow coming face to face with the flaws in my own memory has given me new insights into how I am feeling about the whole notion of history this morning.

I always tell kids that the best any writer can do is to be as responsible and accurate as humanly possible—but—and I stress this, human beings are imperfect. Therefore, all history is imperfect. Our job as nonfiction writers, reporters, journalists, is to do everything within our reach to get the best version of the truth straight that we can. Sometimes this means being perfectly up front with the reader. I did this in Almost Astronauts. There was a critical piece of information in that story, and the way the information came to me was just as important as the information itself. What to do? I incorporated the information about the source into the narrative and then I explained to the reader under exactly what circumstances I was given this information so that they could form their own opinions about it. Full disclosure. For me, that’s the way to go.

Stories will vary on any given memory of an experience when dealing with oral histories. This is natural. If you have seven different people involved with a historical event, you may be told seven slightly different versions of that event. Some details may not mesh. But common truths will emerge.

In the book I’m working on now, Courage Has No Color, there is one anecdote that has been told three times by the same subject. Even with one interviewee, some small details change from telling to telling. But what is most important to me is that the emotional truth of what happened to him stays the same. And that’s what I am always on the lookout for—the emotional truth of the story.

22. The Line of Difference

The Horn Book's current issue is focused on nonfiction and contains many interesting and thought-provoking articles, including a great one by I.N.K.'s very own Tanya Lee Stone. If you have a chance, you might want to visit the HB site (www.hbook.com/) and check out what is being discussed (and even if you don't have a subscription -- and I don't -- you can still access a number of the pieces).
An article that caught my attention was Marc Aronson's "New Knowledge." In it he draws a razor sharp line between the old nonfiction, where, according to Marc, writers simply take the work of the expert adult scholars and make it "engaging and accessible to young readers," while the new nonfiction is where writers "set out to discover new knowledge" and then bravely interpret and speculate about it "however parlous and fraught with possible error that may be." *
Now don't get me wrong; I find the kinds of books he describes as exciting as Marc does, and the authors he cites as fine practitioners (including Stone, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Phillip Hoose, Kadir Nelson, and himself) are all people and writers I applaud for their bravery and tenacity in hunting out the truth and their skill at presenting it to young readers. Still I bristled at some of Marc's reasoning and in particular over the way he so soundly deposited Russell Freedman in the old (and by implication inferior) nonfiction category. I would never presume to speak for Russell, but I will say that in my many chats with him over the years about research and, yes, how he interprets the gathered information, I think Marc's representation is both limited and unfair. Russell is a long-time friend and colleague, a writer and researcher I admire a great deal, so maybe I'm over-reacting a bit; and maybe it's that most of my own books would probably be classified as old nonfiction and pushed aside as well. So I thought I'd address a few of these issues here. [By the way, I would have responded directly on The Horn Book site, but didn't see a way to do this.]
Marc's article rambles a bit and some of it seems dropped in, possibly because it was an after-thought or a last minute editorial suggestion. Even so, I think I can summarize a few of the reasons why Marc feels the new nonfiction is completely different from the old and therefore unique: the new nonfiction 1, requires original research, often side-by-side with "pioneering experts," 2, this research often reveals information not available in adult books, and 3, these writers (he refers to them as "explorers") venture to interpret and speculate about the historical record. I realize there is more to Marc's definition of the new nonfiction, but I thought I'd start with these three for today.
My books always begin with a careful study of the scholarly thought on a topic, what Marc refers to as the "settled knowledge." I do this to establish a solid understanding of the subject, to see how opinions and conclusions have changed over the years, and to provide the route to further research, a path that has hundreds of branching leads to follow.
In fact, I have never done a book that did not entail significant detective work that required exploring beyond the edge of the known -- to root out primary sources, interview and question experts (established and pioneering) on their ongoing research and their conclusions, and sometimes to work alongside these experts. In short, doing whatever it takes to unearth a new detail or voice, all of which can lead to a slightly different interpretation of events from what has usually been accepted. Take what happened with The Boys' War.
Way back in the Dark Ages of 1985 I was reading a book about the Ci

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23. Battle Cry Freedom

Last month I chatted about Marc Aronson's "New Knowledge" article which appears in the latest issue of The Horn Book (http://www.hbook.com/magazine/current.asp). It wasn't that I disputed his definition of New Nonfiction -- that it involves original research and new discoveries and sometimes leads to speculation on the subject that goes beyond the established, accepted opinions. I simply wanted to point out that this wasn't particularly new, that some folk had been doing this for many years, and that what was being labeled as new was in fact the result of a gradual evolution.*


Marc responded in his School Library Journal blog, Nonfiction Matters (http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/nonfictionmatters/2011/03/page/2/), with a long and thoughtful explanation, then followed this with two additional posts that, among other things, further defined and defended New Knowledge. The posts are all worth reading and thinking about, as are the responses and Marc's replies to them. I understand, too, that Russell Freedman has more to add to the discussion that will appear in the next issue of Horn Book.*


Here's the weird thing. Every time I read Marc's posts, the title of James McPherson's twenty-three year old book Battle Cry of Freedom popped into my head. Marc's entries certainly were a battle cry for speculative nonfiction as a force to lead us into the future. But I kept sensing that more might be going on here, that the freedom part of my memory response was vital. Then it came to me. Now I may be reaching here, reading too much into the passion of Marc's writing, and I apologize in advance if that's the case. I just had a feeling that at heart this was a plea to be taken seriously by the world beyond children's books, that Marc wanted his books and those of other New Knowledge practicioners to be seen as equal to and as worthy of serious discussion and respect as any adult nonfiction book. That he wants to break the chains that enslave us as "children's book" writers.*


There is absolutely nothing wrong with this desire. We've all had those awkward and annoying moments when someone (well-meaning but clueless about how we actually put our books together) has asked when we'll write a real grown-up book; we've patiently tried to explain our research methods, the care that we take to develop themes, how we sweat bullets over the text -- but really we just want to scream. Or at least not have to always justify our craft.*


And let's face it, being a part of the New Knowledge (New Nonfiction, Passionate Nonfiction, Speculative Nonfiction, or as Tanya Lee Stones says, "whatever we finally end up calling it") movement has appeal. There is a certain exhilartion and positive energy charge in announcing a new finding or interpretation, to being unique or the first to have a major scoop. My problem is that in the enthusiasm of the moment, some painful and damaging mistakes can be made. Take the case of Archaeoraptor Lianoningensis. *


In October, 1999, National Geographic made a monumental announcement, followed by a prominent article in their magazine. They had the fossil remains of Archaeoraptor Lianoningensis, a chicken-sized dinosaur that presumably lived from 125 million to 140 million years ago that, National Geographic claimed, was the "missing link between terrestrial dinosaurs and birds." Only it wasn't. It was an artfully glued together assembly of random fossils made by a Chinese farmer. The fraud was quickly exposed (in fact, several individuals had actually expressed doubts about the fossil months before the announcement

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24. The Truthiness Tour—the Movies; Again

I don’t mean to beat this topic into the ground; really, I don’t. It’s just that I keep thinking about the difference between nonfiction books and movies “based on” nonfiction, and my perspective keep broadening. Part of that has to do with the fact that one of my friends is a very successful screenplay writer, and hearing his perspectives about movies “based on” the lives of real people has got me thinking in new directions.

For anyone who reads my blog entries, it won’t come as any surprise that I am usually treading the purist line of nonfiction. Don’t make anything up, ever. But this “based on” the lives of real people issue in the movies is complex. Some of it even has to do with rights. For example, I recently learned from my friend that there are varying degrees of situations in which a writer either needs to, or does not need to, secure a person’s life rights. If it’s a public figure, and it is long enough ago, it is considered public domain. But the length of time does not necessarily matter if it is a private figure (such as a specific hero or heroine in a story who is not well known). Interesting, right?

Now I find myself thinking about all kinds of distracting things while watching films such as The Aviator, The Conspirator, The King’s Speech, The Blind Side, and the list goes on. Wikipedia tags The Blind Side as “semi-biographical,” in fact. I didn’t even know that was a category! If all the facts about the family in The Blind Side were known, would the story have come across in the same way? Maybe, maybe not.

I wrote a lot about the Fine, Fine Line of truth in nonfiction books in my recent Horn Book article. But in the movies, that line seems not to be so fine at all…and people seem fine with it. I wonder why that is?

My filmmaker friend believes it may be because the truth isn’t dramatic enough for a blockbuster movie. I argue with him about this, of course, but his points have at least made me not be as stubbornly rooted (momentarily). For example, I said to him, why did The King’s Speech need to make Churchill appear against King Edward’s relationship with Wallis Simpson when in fact Churchill was fine with it? More dramatic, my friend said. Perhaps, I replied. But why not just leave that bit out and leave well enough alone, I pushed. He ventured a guess about people being hesitant to expose the flaws of giants such as Churchill, which might have been distracting to the main thrust of the film. Again, that may be. But why twist history?

I have some more thinking to do about this, it seems. My opinions hold fast when it comes to truth in nonfiction books, but perhaps this movie thing is too slippery for me. Or just slippery enough. I certainly enjoy watching these “based on” movies, but I can’t help feeling duped once I discover which facts have been altered to fit the script. Where do you stand?

6 Comments on The Truthiness Tour—the Movies; Again, last added: 6/23/2011
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25. Golden Kite Luncheon: Tanya Lee Stone, Nonficton Winner

Tonya Lee Stone won the Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction for ther book THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE. Tanya can't accept the award in person, but we get to see her speech on screen.

Barbie is why I'm "here" today, she said. She thanks her publisher Viking for being giddy about the topic of Barbie. Tonya seems rather giddy about her honor. (Congratulations, Tanya!)

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