More thoughts on the speculative nonfiction debate

Roger Sut­ton put up this post on the Read Roger blog for con­tin­u­ing the dis­cus­sion about Marc Aron­son’s “New Knowl­edge” arti­cle in the Horn Book, in which Marc argues that non­fic­tion authors should be allowed to spec­u­late, draw con­clu­sions, and reveal their points of view in their books.
While I found Marc’s ter­mi­nol­o­gy of “new” ver­sus “old” non­fic­tion to be pejo­ra­tive, I do agree with his basic the­sis that spec­u­la­tion in non­fic­tion can be valu­able when done well (which he elab­o­rates on here and here and here and here–all worth read­ing!). The “done well” part is the key, I think, and involves both lay­ing out the foun­da­tions for your con­clu­sions as well as explic­it­ly point­ing out to the read­er what is accept­ed to be fact and what is spec­u­la­tion (by any­one, author includ­ed). Many of today’s non­fic­tion authors for kids, includ­ing both Marc and Jim Mur­phy, are already doing that, and I believe it’s a good thing.
But one anony­mous com­menter to Rogers’s post dis­trusts this approach:

“The new NF seems to be all about embrac­ing the slant and delib­er­ate­ly writ­ing non-fic­tion from a spe­cif­ic view­point. Whether I agree with the author or not, I think it’s per­ilous­ly close to pro­pa­gan­da and I don’t like it.”

Okay, I can under­stand the fears behind a view­point like that, but ew, boy, does it make my skin crawl! Why? Because shar­ing an opin­ion based on one’s own broad and deep research, and then open­ly stat­ing that it is your opin­ion, is NOTHING like pro­pa­gan­da! Pro­pa­gan­da would be mak­ing a slant by manip­u­lat­ing the research or by not admit­ting where the facts stopped and con­jec­ture began. A good non­fic­tion author would NEVER con­sid­er doing either one. And any work that tried to would be quick­ly called out and criticized.
In our polar­ized, con­flict­ed soci­ety we need more oppor­tu­ni­ties to share well-rea­soned opin­ions with each oth­er, not less. This kind of debate based on the inter­pre­ta­tion of known facts is how we move soci­ety for­ward. Equat­ing opin­ions backed up by ratio­nal argu­ments with pro­pa­gan­da gives us per­mis­sion to ignore them, per­mis­sion to stay stuck in our old ways, per­mis­sion to hate. I may dis­agree with you, but I’d love to know how you came to your opin­ion so I can under­stand it bet­ter, so we can at least have a con­ver­sa­tion about it. And if you ask me to explain mine, to back it up, to jus­ti­fy it, I just might dis­cov­er that it real­ly doesn’t hold water and I have to read­just my thinking.
Marc responds to the pro­pa­gan­da com­ment him­self here. In his post, he says:

“Pro­pa­gan­da is writ­ing in which the goal of influ­enc­ing the read­er is para­mount — you select what you say and how you say it to manip­u­late, entrance, alarm, con­vince the audi­ence. It is a form of adver­tis­ing. Any book I write, edit, or praise lives and dies by the rule of “fal­si­fi­ca­tion.” That is, no mat­ter what posi­tion I begin with, or what pas­sion I expe­ri­ence in writ­ing, or what goal I have in telling the sto­ry, my first oblig­a­tion is to evi­dence. If I find evi­dence that con­tra­dicts the sto­ry I had planned to tell or the mes­sage I intend­ed to get across, or my moti­va­tion in writ­ing, I must still share it. So long as an author does his or her best to abide by that stan­dard, that book fits my stan­dards for NF.” 

Yes, I total­ly agree! He goes on to say:

“I say that writ­ers can, if they choose, show their hands, reveal the dog they have in this fight, show their own per­son­al pas­sion to inves­ti­gate and tell one his­tor­i­cal sto­ry. That tells the read­er why he or she might care — it is why the author cared.”

I love that—as a read­er, as a par­ent, and as an author! Then, how­ev­er, he adds this in a com­ment to his own post:

“I think that con­cern exists more broad­ly in kids books where NF is in this strange place where it is crit­i­cized for being dull, yet many want it to be neu­tral and “objec­tive.” In oth­er words we are both urged to take the dis­tant voice of the text­book and crit­i­cized for doing so.”

Um, I was with you all the way, Marc, right up until you equat­ed neu­tral and objec­tive with dull and dis­tant. I don’t believe they are, or ever will be, mutu­al­ly exclu­sive. Good writ­ing is good writ­ing, whether it is spec­u­la­tive or not. 🙂

Nonfiction Monday book review: Spiky, Slimy, Smooth

I must admit, when my own daugh­ter entered kinder­garten and start­ed the unit on tex­ture, I was sur­prised. Yes, tex­tures are all around us, but what’s to study? These kids are already experts. After all, they’ve been feel­ing tex­tures since before they were born (often with their mouths)!
I soon real­ized that’s exact­ly the point, though. They are all around us, but do we have the words to describe them? Have we real­ly ever thought about how things feel, or why? This isn’t impor­tant only for its sci­en­tif­ic impli­ca­tions, it’s also crit­i­cal for good writ­ing! I enjoyed see­ing my chil­dren go through this top­ic and gain a new appre­ci­a­tion for the things around them. And I espe­cial­ly loved try­ing to help them come up with exact­ly the right words to describe a com­mon, or not so com­mon, texture.

In SPIKY, SLIMY, SMOOTH (Lerner/April 1, 2011/32 pages/ages 4–8), Jane Brock­et com­bines beau­ti­ful, bold pho­tos of every­day objects with deli­cious­ly descrip­tive language.
While the read­ing lev­el seems a bit too advanced for most kids who will like­ly be study­ing tex­tures as part of their sci­ence cur­ricu­lum, it will make a great read-aloud for their teach­ers look­ing for an engag­ing way to present the top­ic. Brock­et’s text includes many inter­ac­tive ele­ments, and her kid-friend­ly pho­tos will have young learn­ers wig­gling their toes, delv­ing into their mem­o­ry banks, and stretch­ing their imag­i­na­tions to expe­ri­ence the tex­tures themselves.
Hap­py Non­fic­tion Mon­day! You can see the rest of the roundup over at Ras­co from RIF here.

New year, new commitments

I’m usu­al­ly pret­ty big on reflect­ing on the past year, re-eval­u­at­ing, and set­ting goals (not so much res­o­lu­tions) around the start of each new year. Start­ing into this year, though, I just didn’t real­ly have any. Am I just hap­py where I’m at—coasting along with mag­a­zine arti­cles but no books con­tract­ed yet? Cer­tain­ly not! But every­thing I came up with—everything I know I need to do—sounded too big and too scary for me to actu­al­ly com­mit. Me, a com­mit­ment-phobe? Not gen­er­al­ly, no. I was con­fused and dis­heart­ened by my appar­ent total lack of resolve. And, I was begin­ning to lament that Jan­u­ary was half over and I STILL hadn’t come with any rea­son­able goals that I felt I could stick to.
Enter serendipity.


First, I stum­bled upon a rel­a­tive­ly new blog writ­ten by a new mem­ber of the NFforKids Yahoo group, Car­ole Bruce Col­lett. One of her posts men­tioned that she’s doing the Word­Press  Post A Week 2011. Intrigued, I checked it out. Wow, they not only ask me to com­mit to post once each week in 2011, they also send reminders, prompts, and inspi­ra­tion! Okay, maybe I can do that. I mean, I will do that! So, watch for at least a post each week. I won’t promise they’ll all be good, though!


Then, I saw a post about the sec­ond annu­al Pic­ture Book Marathon on SCBWI West­ern Washington’s Chi­nook Update blog. Par­tic­i­pants com­mit to write 26 pic­ture books dur­ing the month of Feb­ru­ary (leav­ing just two well-deserved rest days). One of the things I was try­ing to com­mit to was writ­ing every day, writ­ing more new work, writ­ing just for fun. But all of those things were too big. One month, 26 pic­ture books? Mea­sur­able. Doable. 26 days. And they offer “train­ing” emails! (Are you sens­ing I need a lit­tle hand-hold­ing?) I got in just before the first train­ing email, and I am psy­ched! But I won’t promise ANY of these will be good!

I love the writ­ers’ com­mu­ni­ty that is grow­ing out there in cyber­space. I love the sup­port and encour­age­ment I get from “the tribe,” even those I’ve nev­er met, and may nev­er meet, in per­son. ‘Tis a fab­u­lous thing we do, and ‘tis done by fab­u­lous peo­ple. Thanks for reading!

Writing to Change the World

Recent­ly, Vic­ki Cobb post­ed on the I.N.K. (Inter­est­ing Non­fic­tion for Kids) blog about writ­ing to change the world. I’ve been pon­der­ing this post for days. On one hand I think all authors, espe­cial­ly those of us who right non­fic­tion for kids, are try­ing to change the world to some degree (maybe more than Vic­ki alludes, even). Yet that seems like such a lofty, overblown, and, dare I say pre­ten­tious?, goal–one that many of us would hes­i­tate to say out loud (thank you, Vic­ki!). After all, as begin­ning writ­ers we are told over and over again, “Don’t teach!” Of course, non­fic­tion by its very nature must teach. So I’ve strug­gled with bal­anc­ing my desire to teach, inspire, empow­er and yes, influ­ence young read­ers with the need to remain impar­tial and sim­ply tell the sto­ry. Not enough emo­tion and the writ­ing is dry and bor­ing. Too much pas­sion and it comes off as overzeal­ous and preachy. Strik­ing a healthy bal­ance is where the work, and the mag­ic, lies.
Today I attend­ed a writ­ing inten­sive offered by Car­men T. Bernier-Grand. One of the exer­cis­es she had us do was sim­ply to make a list of the rea­sons we we write. Here is what I wrote:
Why do I write? I write:

  • to empow­er children
  • to give kids a voice, espe­cial­ly those who haven’t yet felt heard
  • to teach
  • to help kids dis­cov­er their authen­tic selves
  • to help them hon­or and respect those authen­tic selves
  • to share what is impor­tant to me with future generations
  • to make the world a bet­ter place going forward

In short, I do write to change the world, one read­er at the time. I guess I’ll just try to keep it a secret from the kids.

    Interview with Michael Bourret, agent

    Michael Bour­ret is an agent with Dys­tel and Goderich, and recent­ly opened their brand-new West Coast office. I’ve heard Michael speak at a few of the nation­al SCBWI con­fer­ences, and it’s always a plea­sure. Don’t miss him at the SCBWI West­ern Wash­ing­ton con­fer­ence this weekend!

    L: Wel­come, Michael! Thanks so much for tak­ing the time to answer some ques­tions for me! Your var­i­ous bios and mar­ket list­ings say you accept all kinds of non­fic­tion, and I know you rep­re­sent adult non­fic­tion, but I don’t see any non­fic­tion for kids among your titles. Why is that? Please give us some insight on the juve­nile non­fic­tion mar­ket from an agent’s perspective.
    M: Thanks for hav­ing me, Lau­rie! And I’m excit­ed that you’re ask­ing about juve­nile non­fic­tion, and I’ll be real­ly hon­est: I don’t know much about it. It isn’t a cat­e­go­ry that I’ve pur­sued, aside from the amaz­ing pic­ture books of Anne Rockwell’s. I think that juve­nile non­fic­tion has most­ly been left to the aca­d­e­m­ic pub­lish­ers, in part because it isn’t as glam­orous as nov­els. But that may well be chang­ing, as is the very def­i­n­i­tion of cat­e­go­ry. I’m see­ing a lot more inno­va­tion and a new approach, includ­ing more mem­oir and oth­er nar­ra­tive nonfiction.
    L: Sev­er­al children’s non­fic­tion titles received quite a lot of atten­tion this year, espe­cial­ly Phillip Hoose’s CLAUDETTE COLVIN and Deb­o­rah Heiligman’s CHARLES AND EMMA. Do you think this will have any effect on the market?
    M: Any com­mer­cial suc­cess will have an effect on the mar­ket, and the crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial response to both of these books cer­tain­ly got my atten­tion. I’m not sure we’ll see a flood of non­fic­tion, but I do think we’ll see some smart books com­ing from major pub­lish­ers bet­ter known for their fiction.
    L: You don’t rep­re­sent pic­ture books, either—is that a per­son­al pref­er­ence, a mat­ter of indus­try knowl­edge and exper­tise, or a pure­ly finan­cial deci­sion  (or one of the oth­er rea­sons fel­low agent Michael Stearns blogged about here)?
    M: I do rep­re­sent some pic­ture books, actu­al­ly, but it’s not an area in which I’m look­ing to grown. The mar­ket is dif­fi­cult, espe­cial­ly for writ­ers, and since they’re the ones I rep­re­sent, it just doesn’t make sense for me to con­tin­ue look­ing for new clients.
    L: Is there any­thing you wish would show up your query pile that just hasn’t been there (be care­ful what you wish for!)?
    M: As I said in anoth­er inter­view recent­ly, with how many queries I get, it’s hard to say that there’s any­thing I haven’t seen! I’d rather not see books that chase trends, but that said, I love to see how peo­ple can approach well-worn ideas in a new way. I recent­ly signed up a nov­el based on a Poe sto­ry that I’m very excit­ed about, and I’d love to see more dark, psy­cho­log­i­cal thrillers. Some­thing that makes my skin crawl would be great!
    L: Tell us about your agent­ing style: Are you very edi­to­r­i­al? Phone or email? Hands-on through­out the whole process or mitts off until the final product?
    M: All agents have to be edi­to­r­i­al, but I’m not some­one who’s going to line edit a man­u­script. It’s just not where my skills lie. I do love to devel­op ideas with authors—helping them to turn a vague notion into some­thing that sup­ports a book-length nar­ra­tive. I’m more of a phone than email per­son, but I spend much more time on email! I wish peo­ple uti­lized the phone more; a con­ver­sa­tion has a cer­tain give-and-take that can help get to the point more quick­ly. I’m pret­ty hands on, and as I say to new clients, I like to know every­thing. That way I can antic­i­pate and pre­empt issues they may not even see arising.
    L: What aspects do you like most about being an agent? Least? Pet peeves (please don’t say blog inter­views, please don’t say blog interviews…)?
    M: I like that every day is dif­fer­ent. I like pitch­ing to edi­tors, I like dis­cussing ideas with clients, I love find­ing new voic­es. I love build­ing rela­tion­ships and match­ing authors and edi­tors. I like dis­cussing big-pic­ture ideas with my col­leagues, both in-house at DGLM and with the pub­lish­ing world at large on Twit­ter and through our blog. It’s hard to say that I don’t like a part of my job, but I don’t like how long things take. I’m real­ly impa­tient. I don’t have any major pub­lish­ing pet peeves, but I do wish we could all be more kind and respect­ful. It’s a chal­leng­ing busi­ness, and emo­tions run high, but we need to remem­ber that we’re all in it together.
    L: Besides the man­u­script itself, what oth­er fac­tors do you con­sid­er when decid­ing whether or not to offer rep­re­sen­ta­tion (plat­form, online pres­ence, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, spe­cial­iza­tion, rec­om­men­da­tions, affil­i­a­tions, etc.)?
    M: The man­u­script is what mat­ters. If that doesn’t knock my socks off, noth­ing else mat­ters. In a query, how­ev­er, men­tion­ing a large plat­form, and award win, or even mem­ber­ship in rep­utable orga­ni­za­tions like SCBWI will make me pay more atten­tion. But then it comes back to the man­u­script again. It’s got to be great.
    L: Besides care­ful­ly read­ing mar­ket guides, surf­ing the web and send­ing tar­get­ed queries, what can we authors do to ensure a good fit, both when sub­mit­ting and when con­sid­er­ing an offer of representation?
    M: If you’re doing your home­work and research in advance, the only oth­er thing you need to do is inter­view the agent. It’s impor­tant for both writer and agent to chat and make sure that they get along and can have a con­ver­sa­tion. If you’re afraid of your agent, the rela­tion­ship isn’t going to work. If you don’t feel like your agent is enthu­si­as­tic about your sub­mis­sion, the rela­tion­ship won’t work. I tell peo­ple all the time that they should wait for a good match and not just take the first offer. It’s hard to do, I know, but I think the advice is sound.
    L: I think authors put so much time and effort into find­ing an agent, that then inter­view­ing an inter­est­ed agent feels a bit intim­i­dat­ing. What kinds of ques­tions do you think authors should ask to deter­mine if an agent will be a good match?
    M: Authors should ask agents about the edi­to­r­i­al vision for the book, how they work day-to-day and how the sub­mis­sion will work, how often they can expect to be in touch, and then they should dis­cuss the future—what do both the author and agent see for the author’s career down the line? It’s impor­tant that you’re on the same page as your agent about these things.
    L: Do you have any upcom­ing client titles you’d like to high­light for us?

    The past cou­ple of months have seen the excit­ing releas­es of Eleventh Grade Burns by Heather Brew­er and Gone by Lisa McMann, the release of which got both series onto the New York Times list. The com­ing months will see the release of Restor­ing Har­mo­ny by Joëlle Antho­ny and Shoot­ing Kab­ul by N.H. Sen­zai, two debuts that I’m real­ly proud of. In addi­tion, the fan­tas­tic Suzanne Selfors’s fifth book Smells Like Dog is also out short­ly, along with Dale Basye’s third book in the twist­ed “Heck” series, Blimpo. And that’s just through May!

    L: Is there any­thing else you wished that I had asked, but didn’t? Feel free to write your own ques­tion here. =)
    M: This has been a ter­rif­ic and thor­ough inter­view. I’ve got noth­ing to add, but thanks so much for think­ing of me!
    L: Thank YOU, Michael! I real­ly appre­ci­ate the time and thought you put into this, and we’re look­ing for­ward to hear­ing more at the con­fer­ence this weekend. 

    Interview with Deborah Hopkinson

    I became a fan of Deb­o­rah Hop­kin­son in 2007, when I start­ed Anas­ta­sia Suen’s Easy Read­ers and Chap­ter Books course. For the first assign­ment, we had to read five chap­ter books then choose one to ana­lyze. I chose PIONEER SUMMER because it was my favorite. Years lat­er, when I became co-region­al advi­sor for SCBWI West­ern Wash­ing­ton, I knew I had to bring Deb­o­rah up to talk to us. I’m thrilled that she’ll be com­ing to our con­fer­ence this April, and that I’ll final­ly get to meet her in per­son! I’m going to try not to go all fan-girl on her, but you nev­er know. 
    I thought I’d take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask her a few ques­tions that have been on my mind and share them with you, so we can all get to know her a lit­tle better…

    L: From oth­er sources I found online, it sounds like you start­ed writ­ing for chil­dren when your own chil­dren were young, just like I did. Is that right? Did you always know you want­ed to be a writer? Tell us how you got started.
    D: I want­ed to be a writer from the time I was in the fourth grade, but it wasn’t until my daugh­ter, Rebekah, was born that I real­ized I want­ed to write for chil­dren.  As a young moth­er with a full time job, pic­ture books seemed short enough to be doable with my busy sched­ule. It took me about two years to sell my first mag­a­zine sto­ry, and anoth­er cou­ple of years to sell my first pic­ture book.

    L: When­ev­er I’m not writ­ing, I feel like I should be, but when­ev­er I am writ­ing, I feel­ing like I’m tak­ing valu­able time away from oth­er things. What tricks have you learned for find­ing a bal­ance between your own cre­ative pur­suits and the demands of keep­ing up with the indus­try, work­ing full time, tak­ing care of your home and fam­i­ly, etc.? 
    D: Well, I don’t lis­ten to or wor­ry about peo­ple who have firm guide­lines about how one must write every day.  But I once read a great arti­cle where the author rec­om­mend­ed two kinds of writ­ing goals: out­put and process.  I use a com­bi­na­tion of those strate­gies to bal­ance my life.  Out­put goals might be expressed as: “I am going to sub­mit a man­u­script this month.”  And then you do what­ev­er it takes to meet that dead­line.  Process goals are: “I am going to write for three hours every week­end.”  It also just works to put your ener­gies in the direc­tion you want to go as much as you can.

    L: Many of your books are his­tor­i­cal and obvi­ous­ly heav­i­ly researched, yet they end up in the fic­tion sec­tion. How and when do you decide when to go straight non­fic­tion ver­sus when to fictionalize? 
    D: Whether a book is his­tor­i­cal fic­tion or non­fic­tion often is deter­mined by how the sto­ry is pro­gress­ing, I think.  Many times the demands of a dra­mat­ic arc make it a bit dif­fi­cult to tell a com­pelling sto­ry for young read­ers in a non­fic­tion format. 

    L: What do you think about the cur­rent state of the pic­ture book indus­try?
    D: Well, I am not sure I know enough to be an expert on that!  I feel for­tu­nate to still be able to occa­sion­al­ly sell pic­ture books.  I also try to have some cur­ricu­lum tie-in so that my books are appro­pri­ate to schools and libraries. 

    L: I noticed the warm ded­i­ca­tion in STAGECOACH SAL to your amaz­ing super­a­gent, Steven Malk at Writ­ers House (who was at our con­fer­ence last year—thanks, Steven!). Tell us how you snagged him, and if you can, give us a peek inside your author-agent relationship!
    D: I called Steven up some years ago at the rec­om­men­da­tion of a fel­low writer, and feel very for­tu­nate to be able to work with him.  Steven is won­der­ful.  I have had many doors opened thanks to his hard work, and I also make an effort to work hard on my own to under­stand what my edi­tors need and want. 

    L: My hus­band once asked me what I would con­sid­er suc­cess in this indus­try. I told him I will know I’ve made it when I receive one let­ter from one child say­ing that some­thing I wrote made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in his or her life. (Of course, I’d love truck­loads of let­ters like that, but if I can get at least one, I’ll die hap­py.) You’ve got a long and var­ied book list, with an impres­sive list of awards to go with it. So, how do you define suc­cess? Do you feel like you’ve achieved your dream? If not, what’s left on your to-do list?
    D: Well, I try to be very grate­ful for the luck and suc­cess that I have had.  Right now I am vice pres­i­dent for Advance­ment at the Pacif­ic North­west Col­lege of Art.  I have sev­en peo­ple report­ing to me, and it is cer­tain­ly one of those “big jobs.”  I do feel for­tu­nate to have had, in a way, two careers.  How­ev­er, that doesn’t mean I still don’t dream of becom­ing a full time writer!  But with a kid in col­lege and one in grad­u­ate school, that may not ever happen. 

    L: What tips would you like to share with aspir­ing children’s book writ­ers, espe­cial­ly those of us writ­ing non­fic­tion or fic­tion based on facts for grades preK‑5?
    D: Well, I think it is very impor­tant to under­stand as much as pos­si­ble about how pub­lish­ing works as ear­ly in one’s career as pos­si­ble. Also it helps to under­stand the cru­cial role of teach­ers and librar­i­ans in children’s lit­er­a­ture.  And I would give writ­ers the same advice I give stu­dents dur­ing author vis­its: Read!

    L: What’s com­ing up next for you?

    My newest book is The Hum­ble­bee Hunter, illus­trat­ed by Jen Corace. It’s based on the fam­i­ly life of Charles Dar­win and his chil­dren at Down House. It was recent­ly reviewed in the New York Times, which was excit­ing.  My oth­er forth­com­ing books include Annie and Helen, to be illus­trat­ed by Raul Colon, and A Boy Called Dick­ens, illus­trat­ed by John Hen­drix, who also did the art­work for Abe Lin­coln Cross­es a Creek.

    L: Those sound won­der­ful! I can’t wait to see them. Thanks so much for chat­ting with me, Deb­o­rah. See you in April!

    Congratulations Cybils 2009 winners!

    A few spe­cial shout-outs for a few spe­cial Cybils 2009 winners:

    Non-Fic­tion For Young Adults
    The Frog Scientist
    by Pamela S. Turn­er; illus­trat­ed by Andy Comins
    Houghton Mif­flin Harcourt
    Nom­i­nat­ed by: Lau­rie Thomp­son (YAY, that’s me!)
    Again, what a field. Each of the books in this cat­e­go­ry blew me away. It’s thrilling to see these excit­ing top­ics being cov­ered in depth in such inter­est­ing for­mats for upper mid­dle grade and young adult read­ers. I was shop­ping a teen non­fic­tion book awhile back, and an agent told me, “Nobody buys teen non­fic­tion.” Look at this list (and any oth­er awards list this year!), and it’s obvi­ous that is so not true. I think each of these books will leave an impor­tant and last­ing impres­sion on their read­ers, but spe­cial con­grat­u­la­tions to Pamela!

    Pic­ture Book (Non-Fic­tion)
    The Day-Glo Brothers
    by Chris Bar­ton; illus­trat­ed by Tony Persiani
    Nom­i­nat­ed by: Cyn­thia Leitich Smith
    As soon as I heard Chris was work­ing on this, I fig­ured it would be a slam dunk. What a great top­ic idea! Chris and Tony REALLY pulled it off, though. Chris’ insane research adds so much depth (remind­ing me to always do my home­work, because you nev­er know what you’ll find), and what kid (or adult) could resist Tony’s Day-Glo car­toon-style illus­tra­tions? (Not me!)

    Fan­ta­sy & Sci­ence Fic­tion (Mid­dle-Grade)
    Dream­dark: Silksinger (Faeries of Dreamdark)
    by Lai­ni Taylor
    Put­nam Juvenile
    Nom­i­nat­ed by: Melis­sa
    Wow, this was a tough cat­e­go­ry for me–so many great final­ists! I know (and love) Joni, Lai­ni, and Grace, so I was cheer­ing for all three (if that’s pos­si­ble). I bet it was even hard­er for the judges, though, don’t you think? It’s got to be a win for all just to be going up against the likes of Neil Gaiman, I guess. But, huge con­grat­u­la­tions are due to the dear, sweet, ridicu­lous­ly tal­ent­ed, and super hard­work­ing Lai­ni Tay­lor. Both Dream­dark books are true masterpieces.

    Pic­ture Book (Fic­tion)
    All the World by Liz Gar­ton Scan­lon; illus­trat­ed by Mar­la Frazee
    Beach Lane Books
    Nom­i­nat­ed by: Cyn­thia Leitich Smith
    I LOVE this book, and I can’t decide which I love more, the words or the illus­tra­tions. This is a per­fect exam­ple of a pic­ture book, stand­ing equal­ly on both legs. It’s a beau­ti­ful mes­sage for today and always–sure to become a classic.

    Mid­dle Grade Fiction
    by Lau­rie Halse Anderson
    Simon & Schuster
    Nom­i­nat­ed by: melis­sa
    This is his­tor­i­cal fic­tion at its best, and a book that need­ed to be writ­ten. The only thing miss­ing is book two. I can’t wait! Exel­lent choice, judges!

    Easy Read­er
    Watch Me Throw the Ball! (An Ele­phant and Pig­gie Book)
    by Mo Willems
    Nom­i­nat­ed by: Melis­sa
    You just got­ta love Ele­phant and Pig­gie. ‘Nuf said. Although I think THERE’S A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD will always be my favorite.

    Nonfiction Monday: Emotion and Passion in Writing Nonfiction for Kids (#nfforkids)

    I loved this recent post by Cheryl Har­ness over at I.N.K. (Inter­est­ing Non­fic­tion for Kids). My favorite part comes right at the end:

    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!
    Ink1-copyAnoth­er 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!

    Nonfiction Monday: Recent Links Roundup #nfmon #nfforkids

    Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

    nonfiction.mondayWhat a great idea! A group of tal­ent­ed authors who write fan­tas­tic non­fic­tion for kids have just launched a new project: INK Think Tank. “Each author has con­nect­ed his or her books to nation­al cur­ricu­lum stan­dards through a data­base that is acces­si­ble to every­one.” This is great for the authors involved, great for edu­ca­tors, and great for non­fic­tion for kids over­all. Way to go, I.N.K.ers!
    I would love to know what book Andrew Karre was work­ing on here for Lern­er! Any­one got time to try to reverse engi­neer his clues?
    I’ve been work­ing on fic­tion late­ly, and I’ve guess I’ve fall­en behind on the non­fic­tion mar­ket. I’ve been watch­ing the Cybils nom­i­na­tions roll in, and WOW! For both the pic­ture-book and mid­dle-grade/y­oung adult non­fic­tion cat­e­gories, the books look amaz­ing! I’ve got some seri­ous (fun!) read­ing to do. Con­grats to all of the nominees!
    Anas­ta­sia must’ve writ­ten this one just for me… I love books, I love the mag­ic of a child learn­ing to read, and I love cats! I’ve read all but one of her 5 Great Books About Cats.