Save Bookstores Day haul post: fun nonfiction for kids

We had an all too rare sun­ny sum­mer day yes­ter­day, so the fam­i­ly and I walked to the library (most­ly to drop off oodles of books), and then we went shop­ping at our local inde­pen­dend book­store in hon­or of Save Book­stores Day. My daugh­ter was con­sumed by a book we had just bought at the Friends of the Library used book­store (hope­ful­ly that counts–save libraries, too!). My hus­band was con­sumed by after­noon nap and sun­shine. So, the two of them sat out­side togeth­er in the sun doing their things while the boy and I went into Uni­ver­si­ty Book Store. I love hang­ing out in there. They have a great chil­dren’s department!

After much delib­er­a­tion (the boy is deci­sion-impaired), we set­tled first on:

Physics: Why Mat­ter Mat­ters by Dan Green and Simon Bash­er.

This non­fic­tion series pub­lished by King­fish­er (called the Bash­er series, after the com­mon illus­tra­tor and cre­ator) includes top­ics in sci­ence, math, the arts, and lan­guage arts, and each one we add to our col­lec­tion holds both kids enthralled. Each one is a paper “Face­book” of what’s what in the giv­en sub­ject, treat­ing each top­ic as a char­ac­ter and list­ing its behav­ior and vital sta­tis­tics. They’re per­fect for boys, because they feel like those game cards (Poke­man, Bak­a­gan, Yu-Gi-Oh, and what­ev­er else) with the stats, short descrip­tions, and fun art. They’re per­fect for girls because they make abstract con­cepts char­ac­ters, and sud­den­ly we care about them (stereo­typ­i­cal, I know, but it sure works for my daugh­ter and me). High­ly rec­om­mend­ed! I know our fam­i­ly will be buy­ing many more.

Then, he picked out:

Myth­i­cal Crea­tures by James Harpur and Stu­art Mar­tin.

This one is sim­i­lar in feel to the ‑olo­gy books from Can­dlewick, which he loves. A hit, and no night­mares. Yay!

Can I just pause to say how proud I am of my non­fic­tion-lov­ing boy? *smile*

Final­ly, I bought myself this nifty shirt:

I think it’ll be per­fect to where to KidL­it­Con in Sep­tem­ber, which I’m already signed up for. Are you?
The kids were too busy read­ing to walk back home again with­out face-plant­i­ng some­where along the way, so we all hopped on the bus back home.
Did you make it out for Save Book­stores Day? What did you buy?

Author Interview with George Sullivan

You may remem­ber back in Feb­ru­ary when I reviewed TOM THUMB: THE REMARKABLE TRUE STORY OF A MAN IN MINIATURE by George Sullivan.
Sul­li­van has writ­ten more than 100 non­fic­tion books for chil­dren and young adults, and he was kind enough to email me direct­ly after the review! Isn’t that sweet? I was so tick­led, I decid­ed to take advan­tage of the sit­u­a­tion to ask him a few ques­tions and get to know him a lit­tle bet­ter. And he agreed to let me share his answers with you, so you can get to know him bet­ter, too!
LT: At this point in your career, what does a typ­i­cal work­day look like ? 
GS: I’ve always done my writ­ing ear­ly in the morn­ing, begin­ning at least by 5:30 am, and con­tin­u­ing until my wife and I have break­fast around 8:30 or so. After break­fast, I put what I’ve writ­ten on my com­put­er. The next morn­ing, I begin by care­ful­ly edit­ing the pre­vi­ous day’s work.
LT: What kinds of things do you like to do when you’re not writing?
GS: I like to play ten­nis in New York’s Cen­tral Park and to ride my bicy­cle into the dif­fer­ent city neighborhoods—Soho, Tribeca, Noli­ta, etc. I like to shop for food in local mar­kets. I like to cook. I also like to dine at nice restau­rants. I like to vis­it the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um and art gal­leries that fea­ture pho­tographs. There’s always some­thing to do.
LT: How did you first become inter­est­ed in writ­ing about Tom Thumb?
GS: I’ve been very much inter­est­ed in 19th cen­tu­ry pho­tographs for many years, the work of Math­ew Brady, the pre­em­i­nent Civ­il War pho­tog­ra­ph­er in par­tic­u­lar. (My book, MATHEW BRADY, HIS LIFE AND PHOTOGRAPHS, was pub­lished by Dutton/Cobblehill in 1994.) I col­lect these pho­tographs; I buy and sell them. Sev­er­al years ago, I began to notice that small Brady card pho­tographs tak­en in con­nec­tion with the wed­ding of Tom Thumb and Lavinia War­ren were always avail­able for pur­chase on eBay, and for mod­est amounts of mon­ey. After doing some research, I learned that Tom’s wed­ding, which took place in New York City in Octo­ber 1863, was an absolute­ly spec­tac­u­lar event, and vied with the Civ­il War for atten­tion in news­pa­pers of the day. The lit­tle card pho­tographs of Tom, Lavinia, and oth­er mem­bers of the wed­ding par­ty were sold by the tens of thou­sands. No won­der they’re still easy to obtain. I began to think that Tom, as America’s first celebri­ty, would make a good sub­ject for a biography—and he was.
LT: Did you do all the pho­to research for the book too? Can you tell us about that process?
GS: I did do the pho­to research for the book. I was aid­ed enor­mous­ly by the pho­to­graph cura­tors at the Bridge­port Pub­lic Library and the Bar­num Muse­um, also in Bridge­port (where Tom was born and brought up). Besides pho­tographs, these insti­tu­tions had large col­lec­tions of illustrations–engravings from Harper’s Week­ly and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions of the time—that I was able to draw upon.
LT: Thank you so much, George. It was won­der­ful to hear some of the sto­ry behind this great book and “meet” the author!
If you haven’t checked out George’s TOM THUMB book yet, do! You can read more about it here.

Review: Start It Up teen nonfiction

START IT UP by Ken­rya Rankin is a must-have resource for teen (and even mid­dle-grade) read­ers who wish to start any kind of busi­ness, whether it be for prof­it, non­prof­it, or mixed.
The book is clear­ly writ­ten and easy to under­stand, yet includes a wealth of infor­ma­tion for young entre­pre­neurs. The design is clean and func­tion­al, with pull­outs for quick tips, anec­dotes, quotes, and rec­om­mend­ed resources. There are also fun quizzes and help­ful work­sheets. All of this com­bines to turn what could be a dull, dry top­ic into a fun, encour­ag­ing yet real­is­tic resource.
I’d bet there’s enough sub­stance there’s enough sub­stance in this lit­tle gem that even the most sea­soned entre­pre­neurs (adults includ­ed!) will find some­thing of use here. And it’s pre­sent­ed in such a way that even the least busi­ness-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als (again, adults includ­ed!) will be inspired and able to get start­ed in no time.
For chang­ing a life, or chang­ing the world, this book is a win­ner! For more great non­fic­tion books, check out the rest of the cat­a­log at Zest Books–Teen Reads With a Twist. (And no, I haven’t been com­pen­sat­ed in any way for this post. I received a free gal­ley from Net­Gal­ley for review pur­pos­es only.)
This post is part of the Facts First! Non­fic­tion Mon­day roundup. Non­fic­tion Mon­day takes place every Mon­day at var­i­ous blogs through­out the kidl­i­tos­phere, who write about non­fic­tion books for kids and col­lect all the reviews in one place. This week, the Non­fic­tion Mon­day roundup is being host­ed by Jean Lit­tle Library. To see the entire sched­ule, please vis­it the Non­fic­tion Mon­day blog.

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!

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!

No, no, no #NaNoWriMo for me!

The big top­ic in the writ­ing world this time of year is NaNoW­riMo, Nation­al Nov­el Writ­ing Month, in which aspir­ing writ­ers are encour­aged to churn out 50,000 words of rough draft in 30 days. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype, but after weeks of con­sid­er­a­tion and days of ago­niz­ing, I’ve final­ly decid­ed NOT to do it this year. I’m extreme­ly tempt­ed to push myself to attempt some­thing I’ve nev­er done before (fin­ish a novel)—I am very com­pet­i­tive and I do love a good chal­lenge, after all. Plus, I know I’d learn a lot about myself and my writ­ing in the process, which would be both excit­ing and use­ful. And, you nev­er know, at the end of it all I just might have some­thing worth pur­su­ing further.
So, what’s hold­ing me back? Well, besides a nice help­ing of typ­i­cal writer­ly fears (which is just anoth­er rea­son TO do it, of course), there’s a nag­ging lit­tle bit of actu­al self-knowl­edge that can’t be ignored. It feels so inap­pro­pri­ate that I’m embar­rassed to admit it, espe­cial­ly here, in such a pub­lic forum. But, I sup­pose it’s time to come clean and be hon­est with you all: I’ve nev­er had a burn­ing desire to write a pure­ly fic­tion­al novel.
the magic of first booksI am most drawn to two par­tic­u­lar kinds of lit­er­ary mag­ic. One is help­ing a child learn to read by pro­vid­ing some­thing inter­est­ing enough for them to work through at a lev­el that is acces­si­ble yet just chal­leng­ing enough to increase their skill (begin­ning read­ers: fic­tion and non­fic­tion). The oth­er is help­ing a child under­stand the world around them through books that are meant to be shared with a par­ent or teacher, books that will open up a dia­log between young chil­dren whose val­ues aren’t yet defined and the adults help­ing to shape those val­ues (board and pic­ture books: fic­tion and nonfiction).
I love read­ing all kinds of fic­tion, and I am keen­ly aware that a well-writ­ten nov­el can expand a reader’s world­view in ways that short­er works often can­not. Good fic­tion can illu­mi­nate truth with a spot­light effect that can be dif­fi­cult to achieve in non­fic­tion. I admire nov­el writ­ers immense­ly and feel blessed to call many of them friends. Per­haps some­day I’ll even decide to try to join their ranks. For now, though, the audi­ences I most wish to con­nect with just aren’t ready for nov­els. I’ll have to fol­low my own kind of magic.

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.