Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Gift of True Stories

This holiday season give the gift of nonfiction.

Everyone loves a true story, especially a weird one that proves the adage truth is stranger than fiction. 

For the teacher, librarian, or young student in your life, wrap up a  Nonfiction Minute. A 400 word true story written by an award-winning author.  And like the fruit of the month club, this gift keeps on giving -- a new Minute is posted every school day throughout the year.

If you REALLY care, you can also bundle up the Nonfiction Minute Channel to go along with that big screen TV.  Listen to the author read the Minute and watch photos that illustrate the story.

Do you know any writers? This year you can give them an entire month of expert advice as well as pertinent activities that are guaranteed to improve their craft.  Sign them up for Nonfiction Fest coming in February.  Join us on Facebook . You are personally invited!
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The best part of is that these gifts are FREE!!! So splurge and get them all.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019


On this week's Nonfiction Ninja blog, Stephanie Bearce talks about HOW TO TAKE CRITICISM AND USE IT. One of the more important lessons a writer needs to learn. Steph specifically talks about getting a critique from an industry professional and how to use that information. 

I'd like to add to the convo by focusing on giving a critique. Another skill that every writer should learn. Here are just a few pointers you can start with.

1. Read the manuscript twice. I like to read through once as a reader would, just for fun, and get a first impression. And then read it again looking at key components like the lead - did it grab my attention. The flow of information - was it in a logical order? Did I get confused? Scenes - did they support the main idea? Were they vivid?

2. Start with a positive comment. It is just as important for a writer to know what they do well as what they need to work on. Explain, briefly, what you liked about the manuscript. Maybe you were impressed by the the way the writer used quotations, or wove in details to make a scene pop. It isn't helpful to just say, "This is amazing." 

3. Be specific. Point to places in the manuscript that you felt needed attention. Being vague never helped anyone. So, if you felt the ending didn't work for you - explain -- was it too abrupt? Did it go off topic? Did it lack closer? And why?

4. In an oral critique, mention 2 or 3 elements and then let another member of the group speak. In a written critique, you can elaborate. 

I'll add more to this list in the weeks to come. But basically, be nice, be helpful, and pay it forward. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

Cut & Paste

“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”   -- Truman Capote

Sometimes I miss my scissors. 

When I first started writing, part of my revision process involved cutting up parts of my manuscript. I'd lay the pieces out on the dining room table and rearrange them.  The scene where the guy is preparing two plants for breeding, for example, has to go after the explanation of why he's doing it, and a little history of plant breeding should go before that. Then I'd clip all the strips of paper together and go back to the keyboard. 

I know there is the cut and past function on the computer, but that isn't as satisfying as physically cutting the paper, seeing all the parts, not just half a page at a time.  And there's always that annoying glitch when the computer cuts more than you want, or pastes it in a weird place (maybe it's just my computer).

But I think Capote is referring to the idea of brevity and clarity -- using just the right word rather than a string of near misses. This is when you have to "kill your darlings," find your focus, and ask yourself, "What am I really trying to say?"  

It's only when you can answer that question that you can put your scissors away. 

Right now, on my current project, I'll keep the scissors handy. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Teachers - Inspire & WIN!

Ten years ago Vicki Cobb took a group blog INK (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids)  and turned it into an organization dedicated to providing quality nonfiction in the classroom - iNK Think Tank.  There are so many of us it is hard to keep count, but if it is nonfiction, it was likely written by an iNKEr.

My favorite aspect of iNK is the NONFICTION MINUTE, the daily posting of a short, fascinating true story that is sure to get students buzzing. You can learn about the Montgomery bus boycott, Morris code, how to make a 3-D image, or how to take an elephant's temperature. That last one, I wrote. Some of the best writing in children's lit can be found in 400 words or less for free.

To celebrate our tenth anniversary we are inviting you to INSPIRE US!.  Have your students brainstorm what they'd like to read about. Send us your top 3 ideas to:

If one of our award-winning writers chooses your idea, YOU WIN!!! a 20 minute virtual classroom visit with the author. (arrangements made between teacher and author). The luckiest classroom may win 3 author visits!  

Deadline for all submissions is FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2019.

Good luck!!

Monday, September 2, 2019

Happy Labor Day, Farmers!

This Labor Day look down at your plate and say thank you to the people who grew that corn, or raised that hamburger.  More than 1 million people work in farming, ranching or other agriculture-related fields in America. Without them we'd be eating weeds.

I'm going to celebrate with a few good books that are new for 2019:

Right This Very Minute by Lisl H. Detlefsen is the perfect reminder that right this very minute a farmer is working to put food on your plate.  It's the perfect read aloud book, too, with its repeated line.  Kids from 2-7 will learn about cranberry farming, dairy farming, ranching, and more. 

Popcorn Country, the story of America's Favorite Snack by Cris Peterson  is a photographic picture book that will have you melting butter before you even finish.  You'll learn the difference between field corn, sweet corn, dent corn, flint corn, Indian corn and popcorn. 

For older readers, check out my activity book George Washington Carver for Kids. I promise you'll discover something new about the guy everyone calls the peanut man.  This book is great for book reports that need a display, too.  There are plenty of options with 21 activities from setting up a welcoming committee in school to crafting a bowl from a dried gourd. 

Those are just 3 of the 2019 ag-related books that should be on a shelf near you. 

Happy Labor Day! YUM!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Drowning in Jane Austen - an Interview with author Nancy I. Sanders

I have the great pleasure of sharing an interview with my friend and fellow NF Ninja Nancy I. Sanders, the bestselling and award-winning children’s author of 100+ books, as well as two wonderful how-to writer's guides that share the inside scoop on how to create a successful writing career like hers: Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career  and Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Beginning Readers and Chapter Books. If you want more inspiration, check out her insightful blog posts at Blogzone.

Nancy's newest title is Jane Austen for Kids published by Chicago Review Press. It's an exciting introduction to one of the most influential and best-loved novelists in English literature. Often compared to William Shakespeare, Austen’s genius was her cast of characters—so timeless and real that readers know them in their own families and neighborhoods today. Her book’s universal themes—love and hate, hope and disappointment, pride and prejudice, sense and sensibility—still tug at heartstrings today in cultures spanning the globe.

Jane Austen lived through some of the most important events in history—the American Revolution, the French Revolution, British expansion in India, and the Napoleonic Wars. She wrote about daily life in England as she knew it, growing up a clergyman’s daughter among the upper class of landowners, providing readers with a window into the soul of a lively, imaginative, and industrious woman in an age when most women were simply obscure shadows among society.

This book is much more than just a biography. Like all books in the For Kids series it contains 21 activities that immerse kids and adults in the Regency period. You'll learn to dance the Boulanger, play Whist, host a tea party, perform a theatrical and so much more. This is a great resource for any reader looking for the woman behind the words.

Today, on the 202nd anniversary of Jane Austen's death, I wanted Nancy to tell us a little about how she came to write about Jane and about her writing journey.

P: Why did you decide to write about Jane Austen?

N: As a teenager, I fell in love with Jane Austen when I read Pride and Prejudice. About 2 years ago I watched her novel adapted to movie, Persuasion, starring Amanda Root. That movie instantly became one of my favorite movies of all time. That evening, I devoured Jane Austen’s novel and started obsessing about reading all six of them (some of them for the first time).

I actually felt guilty drowning myself in Austen’s novels instead of doing my household chores and other daily commitments when suddenly a light bulb went off in my head. I could let myself obsess about Jane Austen and write my own biography about her too! So I landed a contract to write this book and for the last 2 years while I wrote this biography, I lived, breathed, and ate everything Jane. It was one of the most wonderful life experiences I’ve ever enjoyed.

P: What was a highlight of your journey?

N: The most memorable event was taking a Jane Austen tour with JASNA, the Jane Austen Society of North America. I got to walk in Jane’s footsteps and attend a gala celebration in England in honor of the 200th anniversary of her death. Also, meeting all the wonderful Janeites on this tour as well as at their annual meeting really has given me such a richer life and appreciation of Jane.

 P: What do you hope to accomplish with your book?

N: Jane Austen was one of the greatest writers in English literature of all time. She was simply a genius. And she was a woman writing when women had few rights at all. I love introducing young people to such a fantastic writer as well as such an amazing woman. I hope they’ll find in her a great role model and also fall in love with her writing. In a world of cell phones and gaming and technology, I hope to inspire a new generation of young people to learn the joy of curling up in a comfy chair and losing yourself in a great book.

P: What word of advice do you have for other writers?

N: Sometimes we find ourselves obsessing about something. Instead of feeling guilty about it, turn it into a manuscript project. For example, are you bitten by a home-decorating bug? Write a book about it! Do you love the cooking shows? Write a biography about your favorite celebrity chef! Really dive into what you’re passionate about and turn it into a book project.

Thank you, Nancy! (and thank you, Jane)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Sniffing Out Sensory Details

Today, my blog is over at Nonfiction Ninjas

It's all about sniffing out sensory details that make narrative nonfiction so inviting.
Check it out.

But come back on Thursday to remember
Jane Austen with author Nancy I. Sanders

Monday, April 15, 2019

Nonfiction in Verse: An Interview with Susannah Buhrman-Deever

I'm celebrating Poetry Month with Susannah Buhrman-Deever and her debut book, Predator and Prey, A Conversation in Verse. Beautifully illustrated by Bert Kitchen, this nonfiction picture book captures the dangerous dance of survival, and the way animals communicate in that moment.

Recently, Susannah was gracious enough to answer my many questions. Here's what she had to say about her work and her process:

1. Were you always a poet? What kinds of things did you write as a child?

I don't know that I can call myself a poet, but I do enjoy writing it. I like fiddling around with words, so writing a poem is a very fun (though at times frustrating(!)) challenge. Poetry has always been one of my favorite things to read. Shel Silverstein was an early favorite, and The Ox-Cart Man, which will forever and always be my favorite book, is really a book-length poem. I did write some (terrible) poems growing up, but mostly, I read poems and soaked them in.

2. How did the idea of a “conversation in verse” come about?

The idea of exploring how predators and prey interact had been bubbling around in my head for a while. Specifically, I was thinking about how sometimes prey actually talk to their predators, even though at first glance that might seem to be a strange thing to do. The "conversation in verse" format came to me while on a walk in the woods. A beginning line for a poem in the voice of a chickadee popped in my head, and what a hawk would "say" in reply. I had recently read Paul Fleischman's Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, and the idea of a poetry conversation between two animals seemed like an interesting way to explore predator-prey dynamics.

3. As a trained biologist, how did it feel transforming scientific knowledge into a poetic form? And how important was it to include the prose sidebars?

One of the things I really wanted to be conscious of when writing the poems was to maintain accuracy, even when taking on the "voice" of different animals. It was important that any imagery I used was based in fact. Including both the poems and the prose sidebars was a way for me tell the same story in different ways, hopefully helping my readers better understand what was going on.

4. How did you choose the combatants? And what was it like trying to capture each animal’s “voice.”

Because of my background studying animal behavior, I already knew of a few cases where prey told predators the truth, or predators tricked their prey. Where I could, I wanted to find a examples of predators and prey using the same strategy (for example: a predator "listening in" on its prey to help it hunt, and a prey "listening in" on its predator to avoid being attacked). So I dug into the scientific literature to find more examples I could use.

Capturing each animal's "voice" was the fun part. I played around a lot with using different words and rhythms to get different effects for each "character." It took a lot of exploration and revision before I felt I got a good "voice" for each poem.

5. Did some poems take longer than others, and why?

I worked on the poems on and off for about two years. Some came quickly; others took much longer. Even though it's the shortest poem in the book, it took me over a year to get "PSST-HIDE!" into its final form. Previous versions were way too long, especially because the chickadee call the poem is describing is so short. Sometimes I have to let things sit for a while before the right idea strikes.

6. Which authors did you study while you were working on this project? And what did you learn?

Joyce Sidman's natural history poetry collections (such as Song of the Water Boatman and Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold) completely floored me when I first found them. I am in awe of her talent. Seeing her work opened up the possibility to me of using poetry and sidebars to explore nonfiction topics.

7. Is your next project also in verse? And can you tell us what it is?

My next project is a nonfiction picture book (If You Take Away the Otter, illustrated by Matthew Trueman) and is due out next year from Candlewick. That book actually started out as a poem, but eventually became prose. In the meantime, I'm working on researching and drafting some more nature based poetry ideas, because, well, it's something I love to do.

Happy Poetry Month!!

Friday, March 22, 2019

Rosenstock Hits a Homer with YOGI The Life, Loves, and Language of Baseball Legend Yogi Berra

I bet many folks are like me. I don’t follow baseball, but I’m a big fan of Yogi Berra. This hall-of-famer captured the heart of America with his ball playing and his banter. Now, there will be a new generation of Yogi fans thanks to Barb Rosenstock’s newest picture book biography Yogi: The Life, Loves, and Language of Baseball Legend Yogi Berra.

Who wouldn’t love the friendly Bassett-hound face on the cover charmingly illustrated by Terry Widener (who also illustrated The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero, Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, and Lou Gehrig, The Luckiest Man). Each page is a tribute to America’s favorite pastime, and Yogi, outlined in white like a halo, is the star.

Barb let’s Yogi speak for himself right from the beginning, and I know there will be thousands of kids across the country waiting for someone to ask them, “How do you like school?” just so they can answer, “Closed!” Readers’ brains will churn trying to figure out some of Yogi’s best lines.

Kids will also relate to a character that didn’t fit the mold. Yogi didn’t let other people’s opinions stop him from doing what he loved, and Barb uses this struggle expertly as the through-line to give the story momentum.

Like Yogi, this book is “simple, honest, funny and wise.” It has heart. A hit for baseball fans, those who just want to read a great story, and for writers interested in studying a well-crafted picture book biography.

Follow the rest of the Blog Tour --

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

You CAN Handle the Truth!


This week, my post - You CAN Handle The Truth - is at Nonfiction Ninjas.  At night I am a total couch potato, but by day I am one of 11 kick-ass Nonfiction Ninjas finding facts and writing true stories.

I am humbled and blessed to be part of this group.  Here they are...unmasked!

Check them out:

Michelle Medlock Adams
Lisa Amstutz
Stephanie Bearce
Nancy Churnin
Susan Kralovansky

 And while you are at it, sign up for ONE SWEET GIVEAWAY. Sign up on our blog, and get a chance to win ELEVEN!!!! children's books, one from each Ninja. And come back here next week for a new post.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Journey of "George Washington Carver For Kids"

 Available now
Many people don't realize how long it takes to birth a book. Gestation is longer than that of an elephant!

My newest book, George Washington Carver for Kids and all of its  30,000 or so words, 72 photographs, and 21 activities was one of the faster projects I have worked on.  It wasn't as fast as some work-for-hire projects that give you a few weeks to crank out a manuscript, but for me this was writing in the fast lane.

Here is the time line:

October 2016 - I first queried Chicago Review Press (CRP). Thanks to  amazing advice from Nancy I. Sanders, a veteran CRP author, I knew to offer a few topics. The editor responded quickly saying he'd be interested in George W. Carver.

It took me two weeks to crank out a chapter by chapter proposal which included a list of 21 activities, a sample chapter, and marketing connections.  Then I waited.

March 2017 - The editor responded asking for a revision to the sample chapter, which I quickly sent in.

April 2017 - I got an offer. While waiting for the contract to come, I made travel plans. I not only needed to see where Carver lived to inform my research, but I needed to start acquiring 72 photographs. The more I took, the fewer I would have to purchase. Hopefully, many would be free.

May 2017 - I had an Ag in the Classroom speaking engagement in Salina, Kansas, so I extended the trip to rent a car and drive to the George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, Missouri. The Park Ranger, Curtis Gregory, is a passionate Carver fan, and proudly showed us their collection of documents.  Fran and I wandered the property, visited  grave sites, and took photos of the creek he must have splashed in, the wild flowers he would have gathered, and more.  The next day we drove to Neosho where Carver went to school. I like to get a sense of the landscape that surrounded a person. Did he walk through woods or fields to get to school? How close was the nearest neighbor?  To get a sense of the town we visited the Historical Society and learned about that time period. Then I went home and wrote.

August 2017 Trip to Tuskegee, Al.  I had an appointment at the Tuskegee University Archives. Again, we found more people passionate about Carver. Dana Chandler, the Director of the Archives told us stories, gave us a tour, and fed us everyday. We spent hours reviewing period photos, and wandering around campus taking pictures.

October 2017 - I submitted the manuscript and all the photographs.

November 2017 - The marketing department sent me the lengthy author questionnaire to fill out.  Bookstores, media outlets, anyone who could help promote the book.

December 2017 - a sneak peek at the cover art. Do I like it? YES!!

March 2018 - Edits arrived. Since October I had been working on another project, which I had to toss aside to address comments from the editor. The manuscript didn't look too bad. Sometimes a manuscript comes back bloodied with the editor's red ink. You're sure the book won't survive.  Revisions continued off and on for a couple of months.

July 2018 -- Revisions in galleys. Now the story looks like a book. Each page has the art work in place, but still there are things that need to be addressed. Sometimes a line has to be taken out to make everything fit on the page, or I have to catch typos. Each time, I try to make sure dates and other content is still accurate.

January 8, 2019 -- Happy Book Birthday! George Washington Carver For Kids is officially available for purchase.

Two years, three months. I think I'll call my new wrinkles "stretch marks" from birthing a book.
Well worth it!!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Sneak a Peek: Full of Beans

Wonder what my Fall 2019 book - Full of Beans - is about?
The history of dried beans?
Find out today at iNK's Nonfiction Minute.

I am so proud to write for the Nonfiction Minute. It is an amazing resource for teachers and students to get a daily dose of fun, eye-opening, well-written true stories. And today kids can learn about ... Nope. I'll let you find out for yourself.