By Henry Herz
Just like kids need a balanced diet in what they eat, young readers also benefit from consuming fiction and nonfiction. Even when I write fiction, I figure out a way to include some nonfiction elements, offering entry points into developmental conversations between child and parent or teacher. My fictional LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH has an author's note offering some interesting tidbits about cuttlefish and tiger sharks. My fictional GOOD EGG AND BAD APPLE is loaded with word play not critical to the story, but great for English language learning. My 2 PIRATES + 1 ROBOT includes a tiny flying robot who asks questions about what's happening in the story. The math and physics underlying the answers are laid out in an author's note for when the child is ready for them.
But what about when I'm writing nonfiction? It should come as no surprise that I sprinkle in fiction, like salt enhances food's flavor. Fictional elements can entertain young readers, increasing their interest in the underlying facts in a subtle, engaging way. Fiction can be the melted cheese we pour on top of the broccoli of nonfiction.
are some picture books with anthropomorphic characters, but I'd never seen
smoke treated as a character. And who better to explain the various ways in
which people have employed smoke over the ages and across the world than smoke
itself? With that approach in mind, I researched the chemistry of smoke. It
turns out that wood smoke is primarily carbon dioxide, ash, and water vapor.
One thing leads to another in planning a book. Water vapor got me thinking
about the water cycle—water evaporates from rivers, lakes, and oceans to form
clouds. Eventually, the water precipitates as rain or snow. Rinse and repeat.Then
I considered the carbon dioxide given off by wood smoke. Two oxygen atoms and
one carbon atom. Carbon... Inspiration struck like lightning splitting a tree.
Plants are the lungs of the Earth. They breathe in carbon dioxide through their
stomata. They drink up water through their roots. Sunlight provides energy to
split those molecules. The plant forms cellulose from carbon, oxygen, and
hydrogen, sequestering more and more carbon as they grow. Conversely, burning
tree branches releases the stored carbon. Eureka! Smoke has a “cycle” too.
Subverting expectations is a tried and true writing technique. When people think of smoke, they often think of fire. And both are dangerous. But what about the beneficial uses of smoke? More research followed. Be forewarned—research is a risky undertaking for the intellectually curious. For we can easily tumble down the rabbit hole of Google and forget why we're doing the research in the first place. But what fun things I discovered.
Smoke has been used to coax seeds to sprout, to drive out pests from homes, to send signals over long distances, to cover foul smells, to calm bees when harvesting honey, to flavor and preserve food, as part of religious ceremonies, and even to heal. I wreathed all these uses within the framework of the aforementioned smoke cycle.
“I am smoke. I twirl in dark dance from every campfire.”
Meet the Author:
Henry Hertz is the author of ten picture books including I AM SMOKE (Tilbury House). His children's short stories have been published in Highlights for Children, Ladybug Magazine, and in anthologies for Albert Whitman & Co. and Blackstone Publishing. Henry also writes adult science fiction and fantasy short stories. He holds a BS in Engineering from Cornell, an MS in Engineering from George Washington University, and an MA in Political Science from Georgetown.
Thanks for this post about subverting expectations to write better NF. I'm a fan of your books, Henry!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Robin!Delete
Wonderful post—and book.ReplyDelete
I love the way you sprinkle your fiction with non-fiction and vice versa. Thanks.ReplyDelete
So interesting! Thank you. Now I'm very motivated you read the book....as a reader AND a writer.ReplyDelete
"I am smoke..." Love this! So strong. I always have a "touch" of nf in my fiction stories but sprinkle sounds like more fun! Thank you.ReplyDelete
Love the food comparisons! In fact I'm adding them to my quote page in my writing planner. Thanks!ReplyDelete
Love this book! Thanks for sharing in this post, Henry!ReplyDelete
Thank you for sharing your F/NF approach to writing. I am looking forward to reading your books1ReplyDelete
I’m a total fan girl of I Am Smoke— just adore it. What a treat to hear a bit about the your process + great analogy of salt as worth sprinkling in NF and F.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Henry, for sharing tips for writing creative nonfiction.ReplyDelete
Henry, love your deep dive into your use of creative nonfiction to inspire young readers. Your post is like a mini-lesson! Thank you!ReplyDelete
Hi Henry! Thanks for sharing. In I AM SMOKE, Smoke's voice is wonderful for young and old readers.ReplyDelete
Fascinating! I'd never thought of some of the beneficial uses for smoke but this book sounds super creative and engaging. Well done, Henry!ReplyDelete
Nice post. Thank youReplyDelete
Excellent post! I love I AM SMOKE! Thank you for sharing your process.ReplyDelete
Thanks for a great post about your research and writing process, Henry. I love I AM SMOKE!ReplyDelete
I AM SMOKE is set to be a classic creative nonfiction mentor text.ReplyDelete
Requesting your books from the library right now, Henry! Excited to learn from you!ReplyDelete
Looking forward to reading SMOKE! Thank you.ReplyDelete
I loved your book SMOKE! It was very clever and surprisingly interesting. Thanks for your inspiring post.ReplyDelete
Henry, I'm so curious and look forward to reading your smoke book. So creative! Thank you for sharing your tips.ReplyDelete
Writing from the POV of smoke is brilliant. And it's got me thinking differently about one of my own project. Hooray! And thank you! I can't wait to get a copy of this book.ReplyDelete
What an amazing point of view! You've inspired me. Thanks!ReplyDelete
Your book sounds great! I'm looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the interesting post.ReplyDelete
HENRY: "Fiction can be the melted cheese we pour on top of the broccoli of nonfiction." BRILLIANT!!! THANK YOU for the INSPIRATION to pour some OOEY, GOOEY, MELTED cheese on top of our own stories in order to entice our readers. Also, I LOVE your idea of writing "I am Smoke" from the POV of Smoke itself. A TRULY creative and fun way to educate. THANK YOU!!!ReplyDelete
SO fascinating to learn the origin story of I AM SMOKE. Thanks for sharing, Henry!ReplyDelete
Love I AM SMOKE!ReplyDelete
Smoke! Ingenious! Thanks for reminding us newbies to hold the interest of our early readers. Facts can help us do this! I love the historical walk through smoke. Appreciate all you do!ReplyDelete
You know I love your book Henry. Thanjs for a great post and explaination about sprinkling fiction onto NF!ReplyDelete
I loved how you ended up personifying smoke and the google holes of research! So Cool! Carol BaldwinReplyDelete
I love this book, and have it in my permanent collection! There are kids who love straight nonfiction and then there are kids who need a little sprinkling of sugar to lure them into the NF fold. Love how this book does this. And I've used a similar technique in my own work. Thanks for sharing your insights!ReplyDelete