By Nancy Churnin
Find your passion. And let one thing lead to another.
I write books about people I fall in love with -- someone I want kids to know about. Sometimes that passion leads me to unlikely places.
I don’t remember who I went the library to research when my mind drifted to Charles Dickens. Now, I had no intention of writing a book about Charles Dickens – there are already excellent picture books about him, including Deborah Hopkinson’s 2012 A Boy Called Dickens.
But then I stumbled on this: a Jewish woman, Eliza Davis, had written to him, reproaching him for creating Fagin in Oliver Twist, telling him this ugly character was hurtful and unfair to the Jewish community. I read that her letters changed his heart toward Jewish people. And I felt time stop.
Growing up as a Jewish girl, it hurt me to read the character of Fagin. Now, as a Jewish woman, it was empowering to learn that a Jewish woman spoke up and changed his heart. Talk about validating the power of words. It felt like the universe telling me to use my words to change the world for good, too.
The research wasn’t easy. I had to track down the correspondence. My librarian at the Plano Public Library discovered there were few copies, but one was in Denton, Texas, of all places – less than an hour drive away, at the University of North Texas. I contacted the university’s librarian and was put in touch with the professor who had donated it. I became friends with Professor Don Vann and his wife, the lovely and now, sadly, late Dolores Vann. The Vanns helped me with my research and put me in touch with two other Dickens scholars, Professor Murray Baumgarten and Professor David Paroissien.
I let one thing lead to another. I followed my passion. And I revised innumerable times. Because it took years to find a home for this unusual story.
But it was worth it. Because on Oct. 1, Dear Mr. Dickens, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe, published by Albert Whitman, comes into the world. And when I hold this book in my hands and share it with kids, you’ll see the look of love in my eyes.
By Stephanie Bearce
Nonfiction writers LOVE teachers!
We share the same passion for learning, the same curiosity about the world, and have the same desire to connect with children.
We also want to connect with each other!
As nonfiction writers it is important for us to know what's going on in the clasroom. How can we help teachers teach and children learn? What stories do teachers and students want to read? Building partnerships with teachers is an important part of being a nonfiction writer.
Speaking at teacher conferences is a wonderful way for writers to connect with educators. As the the world opens up from the pandemic, in-person conferences are returning and so are the speaking opportunities. Teacher organizations like the National Science Teaching Association, National Council for the Social Studies, National Council of Teachers of English, and the American Library Association have annual calls for speaking proposals. If you've written a nonfiction book propsal - then you can write a successful speaking proposal! Speaking at national conferences helps you gain new audiences for your books and expand your platform, but if going to a national conference is not in your budget, consider writing proposals to speak at regional conferences.
Most conferences open their submission window immediately after the current conference ends. Go to the website of the conference you are interested in and note the conference dates. Then keep a close eye out for their instructions and forms.
It does take effort, but presenting at education conferences is one of the best ways to connect with educators and share your passion for learning.
Here are some conferences that might intereste Nonfiction Authors:
National council Teachers of Mathematics
Council for Exceptional Children Conference
NCSS Annual Conference
International Conference on Visual and Performing Arts Education
International Conference on Multiculturalism and Bilingual Education
International Conference on Mathematics Education and Technology
By Stephanie Bearce
Writing is all about finding and falling in love with a story. Sometimes it is a forgotten story like Peggy Thomas' book Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car, or Linda Skeers' Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, The First Palentologist. Other times it is a story that the world has never heard and needs to know like Nancy Churnin's Manjhi Moves a Mountain, or Pat Miller's The Hole Story of the Doughnut.
These books are great examples of authors discovering true facts and truning them into narrative stories that both inform and enlighten the reader.
So - you may be wondering where the heck is MY great story? Where do I find that undiscovered hero or that hidden bit of history?
This is your lucky day!
I've been digging around and I've got a treasure trove of sites for you to visit and explore. Hopefully you will find a story that sparks your curiosity and gives you the AHA! moment you need to start your next project.
Famous Scientists - A comprehensive list of astronomers, biologists, mathematicians, and geologists from ancient times to the present.
Accidental Science - Sometimes accidents in the lab lead to great discoveries.
Unsolved Mysteries - Reader's Digest provides an interesting list of strange but true events.
Weird History Facts - This list is a great starting point for story ideas. You must supply the research.
Famous Female Scientists - list of 91 famous women scientists
Forgotten History - 10 history stories not taught in school
Historic Women - Legends of America you may not know
Women who changed history - 17 female heroes
African American Inventors - From Lewis Lattimer to Dr. Patricia Bath
Inspiring Asian Americans - 130 Asian Americans and their stories
Famous Hispanic and Latino Americans - A comprehensive List
By Wendy Hinote Lanier
As part of an ongoing conversation about types of nonfiction based on the work of Melissa Stewart (we’ve already addressed three), today’s post is about a fourth type: traditional nonfiction.
Traditional nonfiction is a personal favorite. Partly because I read a lot of it growing up, and partly because I’ve written a lot of it as an adult. However, the stuff I grew up reading is very different from what is considered traditional nonfiction today.
Today’s traditional nonfiction is generally an overview of a particular topic—an “all about XYZ” sort of thing. It’s written in an expository style using clear, straightforward language, and the books in this category are frequently part of a series. The pages are filled with colorful illustrations and/or photographs, cool graphics and charts, interesting sidebars, explanatory captions, and sometimes even QR codes or web links for additional information or activities. This is NOT your grandpa’s nonfiction.
As with active nonfiction, traditional nonfiction isn’t considered sexy and doesn’t often win the big awards. What is does is sell. Big. Kids who are curious about a particular topic eat it up. The straightforward format satisfies their need to know and provides just the right amount of entertainment to go along with it.
Some Ninja favs in this category include:
The Truth About series by Maxwell Eaton III is both funny and informational. The author’s almost graphic novel art style and humorous text covers just about everything a kid might want to know about animals like dolphins, crocodiles, hawks, bears, butterflies, elephants, and his most recent release—parrots.
Capstone’s Fast Facts About Bugs and Spiders is a series of eight books, five of which are written by fellow Ninja Lisa Amstutz. Simple text, close-up photos, and fun activities make these overviews of various bugs and spiders a great introduction for a budding entomologist.
The What to Expect When You’re Expecting series by Bridget Heos is another great example of a traditional nonfiction. This entertaining format is used in at least three books that explore insects, marsupials, and reptiles. Heos is also the author of the Just Like Us series that includes six titles exploring the topics of fish, plants, crocodiles, birds, cats, and ants
The Read All About series by Jaclyn Jaycox is from Capstone and includes four titles. Stunning photographs and fact laden text introduce young readers to the world of dogs, cats, oceans, or rocks and gems.
By Peggy Thomas
Last week, I broke my ankle. Since then, I’ve had trouble focusing on my work. So, I’ve gone back to basics, rereading some of my favorite books about writing and the creative process.
My artist / illustrator brother, Paul Facklam, and I can talk for hours about why we do what we do, and love sharing titles and stories that remind us we are not the only ones who have writer’s block, or career doubts or fear of failure.
One of my favorite books is a slim paperback titled Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I’ll flip to any section, read a bit, and feel better instantly.
I also love Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. The author of Eat, Pray, Love, is not embarrassed in the least to share inner fears, and thoughts about creativity and where it comes from.
If you want a quick boost, listen or read Neil Gaiman’s commencement address to graduates of the University of the Arts. Make Good Art. It’s also a book. He also wrote Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World.
There are also some great podcasts out there. Longform. talks to nonfiction writers like Gay Talese and Susan Orleans about how they write, and Working It Out features comedians. I love listening to artists who work in other fields because you realize that the creative process is the same no matter what the vehicle is. Comedian, Mike Birbiglia, started Working It Out because he missed getting together with other comedians during the pandemic. As the title claims they each bring an idea or a joke they are developing and work it out. Guess who one of his critique partners is? Ira Glass from radio's This American Life ! OMG!!!
I also regularly go back to Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and all the many editions of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well.
What books inspire you or rekindle your creative process? Share in the comments below.
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.