Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ramblings on a Skype Author Visit

The other day I had my first Skype session with college students.  Of course there were technical glitches - I couldn't hear them - but after a few minutes, switching laptops and tossing the dogs upstairs, I finally connected with some of our future science teachers in Wyoming.  What could I possibly tell them? What did I think they should know about nonfiction books?

I discussed how most nonfiction books (at least mine) are written to satisfy the author.  We're curious people, constantly asking why, where, what, how, and getting excited by a topic until we have to say, "Hey look what I learned."  I mentioned that good nonfiction isn't a regurgitation of general facts, but a thoughtful presentation of stories woven together to create a full picture of an event or a life or a concept. I can’t remember who said it at the NSTA conference last year, but someone said it beautifully when asked what the difference was between text books and nonfiction – the answer came down to two things – the passion of the author, and that text books leave you with no questions, while nonfiction leaves you wanting to know more.  I didn't say it beautifully, but you get the gist -- Good nonfiction inspires, excites, it leaves room for the reader to imagine, question, explore.

I also babbled on about the Common Core and how NF writers are excited to have this opportunity open up in the curriculum.  Writers and librarians have known forever how to use our books in the classroom, but the sad reality is that it is easier and sometimes mandated to use text books.  And what's ironic about that, is that most text book companies these days purchase the rights to reprint sections of writer's award-winning NF books and magazine articles, so kids are reading quality writing, but the they are hand-fed the questions and the answers so there is no room for imagination and exploration.

I think I mentioned that teachers and writers should work together more because we do what teachers and students are asked to do everyday. We look for information, evaluate it, put it in some kind of context, then use that information, expand on it, combine it in a new, clear, thoughtful way. We can show kids how this process works – that it can be fun – and some weird people like me love doing it --  and that one style does not fit all as might be mentioned in some text books – there are many ways to do research, many ways to write, and many ways to share that writing. 

After rambling for a bit the students asked questions.  Where do you get your ideas?  How long does it take to make a book?  I sighed and realized that what I do for a living is just as mysterious to others as knowing how to fix a car is to me.  No matter who your audience is, start at the beginning.  


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