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.
Thanks for this important insight. I will keep it in mind as I begin research on my first NF PBReplyDelete
All the best on your first NF research. I think it's the best part!Delete
Thanks for the great advice to help us focus our research. I have seen those copious notes. Amazing stuff! Perhaps another slice of the good captain's life could form the basis for a magazine article for an older kid crowd?ReplyDelete
Very savvy, Carmela! Excellent idea. Good research is never wasted. I even used some of it to do a presentation to an adult genealogy group!Delete
Oh my gosh, what a perfect quote about deciding what you need when you've amassed pages and pages of research notes: VW sized piece of wood in order to carve a toothpick. Well done, Pat!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Susie. But it is SO hard to do! For awhile I would tell Captain anecdotes to anyone who asked how the writing was going. I could talk about him for hours!Delete
It's so hard to leave out juicy details! I love your advice to think about what kids will take away from the story.ReplyDelete
Isn't it? And my first time, I thought I figured out how to cram more in because my author note was 5 pages. Nope! My editor made me cut it to one. Sigh...Delete
Great post! It's so easy (and fun!) to go down a rabbit hole when researching a biography. Even though I gathered way more info than I could use, I feel that the research helped me get a better feeling for my subject.ReplyDelete
You make an excellent point, Elia. You don't want to skimp on research or your subject will be cardboard. You can't flesh out your subject and bring it to life without knowing more than you tell.Delete
I, too, am guilty of "over-researching" - or as I call it: falling into a black hole. Because - hey! that's cool! and I wonder.... So thanks, Pat, for the gentle reminder to stay focused.ReplyDelete
You and I probably need a 12-step program for our research addiction. :-)Delete
Great tips on researching with focus questions in mind rather than over researching. Thanks for sharing, Pat.ReplyDelete
You're right, Cathy--focus, focus, focus!Delete
Great advice! Thanks. And I also have a hard time leaving out details...ReplyDelete
It is so hard--especially when it is a charming, tragic, or heroic detail that isn't commonly known.Delete
Great post-thanks for the advice! Now I have to read this book, and I want to find out more about the inventor of the incredible doughnuts!ReplyDelete
I also included some of the legends about the doughnut. I was shocked by how much incorrect information is out there--some people's pants are on fire!Delete
I did exactly what you did for my first NF, wrote down absolutely everything and had to turn it into a "toothpick"!ReplyDelete
(And while spending my summers in Rockport, Maine, we eat a lot of doughnuts. Thank you Capt. Hanson!)
I found Captain Hanson's home address in an old directory and then used Google Earth to find the property. I now more about him than my extended family! You know what I mean.Delete
Amazing how a spark starts the search, eh? Love the story behind this story.ReplyDelete
Yes--gotta keep alert for those sparks!ReplyDelete
Great advice on how to keep the focus on the kids, not all the rabbit holes of research. My kids and I loved your book!ReplyDelete