As for me, here’s the “Boston Massacre,” March 5, 1770, in The Revolutionary John Adams: “Noisy men and boys were throwing snowballs and oyster shells at a British sentry …The scene exploded with more soldiers, an alarm bell, and a mob of men running from the town and the docks, shouting “Kill ’em! Knock ’em down!” Shots rang out in the frosty air and five Americans fell…” For me, a sense of what the moment was like is what I want and what young readers need in historical nonfiction. Story, snappy description, humanity, and immediacy: these are the sugar that help the medicine, i.e. the need-to-know facts, go down, With these things, You Are There.
What makes for extraordinary nonfiction is often the same as what makes for extraordinary fiction, and this sense of humanity and immediacy–the You Are There effect–is definitely a key ingredient. If the reader doesn’t FEEL what it was like to be there in the moment, they probably won’t really care about or remember the facts or the story, no matter how interesting they might be. I’m adding it to my revision checklist–thanks, Cheryl!
Another recent post that stuck with me is this one by Deborah Heiligman, again over at I.N.K. Deborah shares the story–both useful and touching–behind her first book, FROM CATERPILLAR TO BUTTERFLY. She also gives some good practical advice about how to increase sales by finding ways to tie your book into the curriculum.
I tell children in school visits that whenever they read a book they should know that the author was thinking of them when she wrote the book. I would like to tell teachers the same thing: we think of you, too.
What I really loved about this post, though, was that you can tell how passionate she is about writing nonfiction for kids. Not coincidentally, I’m sure, Deborah is a 2009 National Book Award Finalist with CHARLES AND EMMA: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith.Congratulations, Deborah!