Friday, December 20, 2019

Meet NF Fest blogger Kelly Milner Halls!

Kelly Milner Halls was a crazy curious kid asking hundreds of questions about anything she found interesting. Now she’s a prolific children’s book author who travels all over the world talking to kids about the weird stuff she writes and the subjects she finds interesting. We’re happy that this NF Fest author will be sharing her ideas on When the Line Between Truth and Fiction Blurs.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Meet NF Fest blogger Susannah Buhrman-Deever!

When growing up, Susannah Buhrman-Deever dreamed of being a lighthouse keeper, a teacher, a writer and a biologist.  Years later, she has done most of those things (still working on lighthouse keeper). She earned her PhD in animal behavior, taught biology, and now writes books for young and curious readers, including Predator and Prey, A Conversation in Verse. Susannah lives near Rochester, NY with her husband and sons.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Meet Author Meeg Pincus!

Meeg Pincus, author of Meip and the Most Famous Diary will join the NF Fest to discuss how to research like a reporter and get the details to write a world changing book. Her book about the woman who saved Anne Frank’s diary received starred reviews in both Kirkus and School Library Journal. Meeg will share tips and techniques on finding the hidden gens of stories and bringing them to light.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Meet NF Fest Blogger Lisa Kahn Schnell!

Lisa Kahn Schnell is an artist and the author of the award-winning book High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs. She has worked in all sorts of interesting places including Denali National Park, Ghana, a Costa Rican cloud forest and a prison in Missouri. When she's not writing, Lisa enjoys dancing, making bread, and spending time outdoors. We look forward to her post on layered text during NF Fest! To learn more, visit http://www.lisakschnell.com/

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Beautiful Shades of Brown by Nancy Churnin

My mission is to to shine a light on people who inspire me, people who will inspire kids to go out and make a positive difference in the world. It struck me how few books I’ve seen about women who are painters. I was looking at paintings and I saw one of the singer Marian Anderson that blew me away. I couldn’t stop thinking about it! I saw that it was painted by Laura Wheeler Waring and it was part of the National Portrait Gallery collection in Washington D.C. I had to find out everything I could about Laura Wheeler Waring. She had never had a picture book written about her and I couldn’t rest until I wrote it. I have created a project, called Paint Your World, to go along with the book, that asks kids to share their artwork of people in their families and communities on a dedicated Paint Your World page on my website nancychurnin.com.


Friday, December 6, 2019

Should You Write What You Know? by Lisa Amstutz


Many writing teachers say you should “write what you know.” This is good advice – you should utilize your unique background, experiences, and knowledge. It’s easiest to write what you know, and your expertise can be a strong selling point for your book.

But what if you’ve always wanted to learn about sheep herding or jellyfish or how to play the kazoo? Does the fact that you’re not already an expert mean you can’t write about them? Not at all! Writing can be a great way to explore topics you want to study. It just takes some extra time and effort.

Imagine that you’ve agreed to write a how-to book on knitting despite never having picked up a pair of needles. You could read books or watch YouTube to learn the basics. But unless you spend hours practicing, you won’t be able to write authoritatively about it—and trust me, your readers will notice!

As nonfiction writers, we have a responsibility to our audience to be accurate. It’s important to do our homework, and especially so when we’re writing outside our zone of expertise. This means not just finding facts and stringing them together, but also framing them in a larger context of understanding. Which facts are important, and why? And how do they relate to each other? For a picture book, this might not be too daunting. But for a longer book, it can mean months or even years of immersion and study.

It’s the same with science, history, art, or any other nonfiction topic. I’m an ecologist by training, so I’ve written lots of books on life science topics. But I’ve also written on Ancient Egypt, the Titanic, the laws of physics, and even bicycle safety. It took months and a maxed-out library card to get enough of a handle on some of these topics to write about them effectively.

It also required outside help. In each of these cases, an expert reviewed the manuscript before it went to press. When I wrote Amazing Amphibians, my background knowledge helped immensely. But I’m not a herpetologist. So I contacted one and asked him to review the manuscript. He caught a few errors, suggested some additions, and clarified some points, ultimately making the book stronger. Don’t skip this step—it’ll help you sleep better at night.

So, should you write what you know, or what you don’t know? I say either—or both. Share your unique knowledge with the world—or go down that bunny trail. Just be sure to do your homework first!


Amazing Amphibians explores the major amphibian groups—frogs, salamanders, and caecilians—including their anatomy, behavior, and conservation needs. The book will be published in January 2020, and is available wherever books are sold. For more on Lisa’s books as well as her critique and mentorship services, see www.LisaAmstutz.com.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

How I Hooked a Big One by Peggy Thomas

There I was sitting by myself at a book signing table trying look engaging as people passed by without a glance, when a woman stepped up and introduced herself. “You should write about Henry Ford,” she said.

The look on my face must have appeared as perplexed as I felt, because she explained. “He did lots of stuff with farming, too.”
           
This bit of news about Ford and farming was not as random as it sounds. My last two books had been about the agricultural interests of two presidents. Still, I couldn’t see myself writing about a millionaire car manufacturer. Then the woman said, “He even grew a car.”

Sometimes I have to fish around for a while to find my next project. But this woman had conveniently dangled a fat, juicy, still-wriggling idea in front of me, and I was hooked. What do you mean, he grew a car? How do you grow a car? How come I’ve never heard of this? We chatted a while longer, I signed a book for her, and made sure I got her name. Then I grabbed my phone and googled it.

She was right! There was a photo of Henry Ford standing next to a portly sedan. The caption read, “Built with soybean plastic panels.” The more I dug, the more fascinated I became. “Every Ford contains a bushel of beans,” a car advertisement announced. I found the recipe for Henry’s favorite soybean crackers, and the printed menu from a banquet where every course featured soybeans. Henry even wore a soybean fiber suit!

THANK YOU, AMELIA!!

It is rare that a book idea comes personally delivered, and so I will be forever grateful to Amelia Miller from Michigan for providing the spark that led to Full of Beans, How Henry Ford Grew a Car.  

Hey, Amelia. Got anymore bright ideas?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Keep Your Ears On and Your Mind Alert for Great Book Ideas by Susie Kralovansky

As a librarian, my favorite way to teach research was to cover the material and follow up with a game or activity to reinforce learning. The day I was teaching the kids how to use a Thesaurus, we used a Ven Diagram to cover the similarities and differences between a thesaurus and a dictionary. Next, we changed a boring letter into something amazing with the new words we were learning. Finally, I handed each child a thesaurus to play That’s My Word (I call out a word. They look it up and call out a better word.) They said, “We do what?” Throughout the day, I got the same reaction: interesting lesson, fun activity, and then totally confused. That’s when I began searching for a book to help explain how to use a thesaurus. When I didn’t find one, the lightbulb went off – I’ll write it myself!” What Do You Do with a Thesaurus, was based on my students and their questions. I shared my construction paper version of What Do You Do with a Thesaurus with my students, and something clicked. Now they knew exactly what to do! When teachers began asking to borrow my manuscript, I knew it could succeed as a published book.



Something similar happened with This or That? Whale or Fish? The idea and the first page came from a second-grader who needed help finding the fish books. She said, “I’m doing my report on whales!” I turned and said, “Is a whale a fish?” She gave me a look that said, ‘You are crazy!’ and said, “Yes, Mrs. K! Whales live in the ocean like fish. They swim like fish. They look like fish.” And I said, “But, a whale is not a fish.” That night I knew I had a great idea for a series and began Whales or Fish? using our words for the opening.

Even though I no longer teach, I still notice the things that make me say, Why? Who? How did that happen? Like the day I was bitten by a fire ant, and I wondered why their sting was so fiery. And that led to my upcoming book, How Fire Ants Got Their Fire.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Women Who Dared by Linda Skeers

I love discovering interesting tidbits in history -- especially when they involve lesser-known women who have done extraordinary things! When I was researching WOMEN WHO DARED, I chose women who inspired me, andgave me goosebumps! I wanted to sit down next to each one of them and just listen to  their stories for hours -- and then give them a high-five and a fist bump. I mean, Annie Edson Taylor went over Niagara Falls in a barrel on her 63rd birthday -- how cool is that?

How I Hooked a Big One by Peggy Thomas


There I was sitting by myself at a book signing table trying look engaging as people passed by without a glance, when a woman stepped up and introduced herself. “You should write about Henry Ford,” she said.

The look on my face must have appeared as perplexed as I felt, because she explained. “He did lots of stuff with farming, too.”
           
This bit of news about Ford and farming was not as random as it sounds. My last two books had been about the agricultural interests of two presidents. Still, I couldn’t see myself writing about a millionaire car manufacturer. Then the woman said, “He even grew a car.”

Sometimes I have to fish around for a while to find my next project. But this woman had conveniently dangled a fat, juicy, still-wriggling idea in front of me, and I was hooked. What do you mean, he grew a car? How do you grow a car? How come I’ve never heard of this? We chatted a while longer, I signed a book for her, and made sure I got her name. Then I grabbed my phone and googled it.

She was right! There was a photo of Henry Ford standing next to a portly sedan. The caption read, “Built with soybean plastic panels.” The more I dug, the more fascinated I became. “Every Ford contains a bushel of beans,” a car advertisement announced. I found the recipe for Henry’s favorite soybean crackers, and the printed menu from a banquet where every course featured soybeans. Henry even wore a soybean fiber suit!
THANK YOU, AMELIA!!

It is rare that a book idea comes personally delivered, and so I will be forever grateful to Amelia Miller from Michigan for providing the spark that led to Full of Beans, How Henry Ford Grew a Car.  

Hey, Amelia. Got anymore bright ideas?


Monday, December 2, 2019

Welcome to NF Fest blogger Don Tate!

We’re fortunate to have Don Tate, the author and/or illustrator of more than fifty award-winning and critically acclaimed books for youth. You probably knew that Don was the author/illustrator of Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge, 2017). But, did you know that Don is a gym-rat and competed (in better fit days – his words, not mine) in bodybuilding competitions? Join us in February when this NF Fest author will be sharing the Challenges in Writing Globetrotters.

How Much Truth is Too Much?

The truth is messy, and that's a fact!
I love writing nonfiction, but sometimes the truth hurts. There are often very sad endings to famous people's lives. They don't always get the happily-ever-after storybook ending. Or that brilliant genius may have been involved in some activities that children aren't ready to process. As an author I have to make decisions about how much truth my audience is able to handle and at the same time be honest about my subject.

When writing Insane Inventors I wanted to let children know that scientists often take great risks in their research and creative process, and because of this people believed they were crazy. Alfred Nobel blew up his laboratory trying to invent dynamite. Lawrence Patrick was a human crash test dummy and broke nearly every bone in his body. And then there was Nikola Teslsa - brilliant and in love with pigeons. How much truth should I include?

I firmly believe that authors have an obligation to tell the truth about a subject, but I also believe that we can leave some facts for readers to investigate when they are older and better able to process information. Authors need to sift through the facts. Which ones are necessary to explain the story? Did children need to know that Nikola Tesla claimed to love a pigeon as he would a woman? I didn't believe that was necessary in a middle grade book. But I did tell them that he spent his final years living with pigeons. When they are older they can investigate further and draw their own conclusions. They will still be able to look back at my writing and know that I told them the truth.

It's a fine line. We need to be honest with readers and not cover up the more difficult parts of history, but we also need to be sensitive to the developmental age of our audience.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Researching Selectively by Pat Miller


The Hole Story of the Doughnut (illustrated by Vincent Kirsch) began when I heard a Boston Harbor tour guide say, “Somewhere around here they buried the guy who invented the doughnut.” We know who that is? I wondered. I jotted the fact in the writing notebook I carry in my purse.

Months later, I found the inventor’s name and began my research in the genealogy section of my county library. My first search pulled up a census record from 1910, showing that Gregory Hanson was an inmate,Oh no! I thought. I hope he’s not a murderer.

Reading the heading of the page showed Captain Hanson was an inmate in the Snug Harbor Sailors Home. In those days, anyone cared for in a public institution was an inmate, whether orphan, criminal, chronically ill, or, in this case, a retired seaman living in a group home.

This was my first nonfiction book. I would not advise researching like I did—writing down all kinds of information because I didn’t know what would be needed for the book. I had no focus other than learning as much as I could. After I’d gathered more than 200 pages of notes, documents, pictures, and more, I reluctantly turned from the thrill of the hunt to the drill of the page.

I wrote several versions of the book. The first was from the point of view of a child who was interviewing Captain Hanson at the Home for a school project. The final version tells the Captain’s story in a narrative fashion, but also mentions the legends that sprang up about the doughnut invention.

It pained me—even grieved me—to leave out so many human interest stories I’d discovered about this bold sea captain with a tragic personal life. It was like I had started with a remarkable VW sized piece of wood in order to carve a toothpick.

Now when I research, I begin with questions I want to answer, beginning with “Why should we care?” As the dig progresses, I try to focus on what it is I want children to take away from the story. That helps me to choose the facts I save. Asking myself, Does this contribute to my takeaway? Does this make us care? saves time and work. It’s like handpicking beach shells by color rather than using a backhoe.

Captain Hanson’s story is a rousing one of the sea, with the doughnut invention being an impulsive solution to a problem—a mere footnote to his life. I was captivated by his exploits as a Maine schooner captain who earned a medal from the Queen of Spain for bravery and sailed around the Horn to supply the gold rush of California. But for kids, its more about the doughnut. In a picture book, you have to make hard choices as you use your limited cache of words.

Captain Hanson Gregory’s courage and perseverance are inspiring, but it is his breakfast solution that gives him his place in history. Hopefully, The Hole Story of the Doughnut will make doughnut lovers aware of its remarkable inventor.