Last week Nancy Churnin gave you great tips on how to keep your picture book manuscript lean and focused. But there are times when you may want to go long.
I love writing for the mid-grade and young adult readers. There are many advantages, least of which is MORE WORDS.
A longer text allows you to take information that is relegated
to a picture book’s back matter and pull it into the main body of the story. You can dig deeper. Explore causality. Discuss consequences, connect the story directly to the reader, and show how it affects them. In my YA title Medicines from Nature I took readers on a journey from the Amazon to Oregon, from Ancient Egypt to the future, and ended with a discussion about biodiversity, conservation, and how they could help prevent the loss of medicinal knowledge.
Today’s older readers are tech-savvy, immersed in social media. They have buying power, and are aware of politics and climate change. In the middle of all this chaos they are also trying to figure out where they fit in the real world. Although they are reading within the curriculum, they want to know about current events too. Some good examples “ripped from the headlines” are Rising Water: The Story of the Thai Cave Rescue by Marc Aronson, and Cynthia and Sanford Levinson’s Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today (which I refer to frequently just to make sense of the nightly news).
Once a young reader is hooked on a topic -- civil rights for instance –they tend to dig deeper. They already know about MLK and Rosa Parks, but what about expanding that sphere of knowledge. Introduce other tragic incidences, or celebrate lesser-known heroic figures. Steve Sheinkin did this in The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights.
Some of the best mid-grade titles make readers question what they already know. For example, we all learned about Amelia Earhart but did you know she manipulated the press to make herself look better? Kids will when they read Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming. Similarly, Eric Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve paint a slightly different picture of our first president in Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington's Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away.
A longer text and higher reading level also allow you to play with format, or approach the subject from an unusual perspective. In Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth, James Cross Giblin tells the story of Lincoln’s assassination by comparing the two Booth brothers. Kelly Milner Hall has written about mythical beasts before, but in her new book, Cryptid Creatures she presents them in the style of a naturalist’s field guide; short snippets of description along with pertinent facts. The Two Truths and a Lie series by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson is another clever twist on nonfiction.
So, explore your options. Think big. There is a whole world out there, and middle grade and YA readers are clamoring for it.
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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.
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