Sue Heavenrich with Melissa Stewart
When I look at contemporary children’s nonfiction, I am drawn to the enticing covers and interior artwork and photos. I love the way writers use sidebars and textboxes to highlight fun facts. And I’m a huge fan of back matter and the use of end pages to extend exploration. But if you take a closer look at children’s nonfiction, you might notice something important. Something exciting.
There are different kinds of nonfiction.
Five kinds, says Melissa Stewart, whose new book (co-authored with Marlene Correia) takes readers on a deep dive into what modern children’s nonfiction is. Melissa has been thinking about different kinds of nonfiction for a while. So I was thrilled when she agreed to hang out (virtually) here at the GROG and talk about her book and nonfiction with me.
Sue: The primary audience for 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing with Children’s Books is educators, but I think there’s a lot here for children’s book writers too. Did you have writers in mind as you were creating the book?
It wasn’t until later that I realized it’s value for teachers and students. When I posted an article describing the system on my blog in 2017, the response was incredible. To date, that original blog post has received more than 500,000 hits.
Because the origin of the system is author-centric, everything that’s come out of it is relevant to us. I’m excited that 5 Kinds of Nonfiction shares more than 150 mentor texts and discusses everything from the history of nonfiction to the differences between expository and narrative nonfiction to nonfiction craft. There are more than 20 activities and most of them are just as relevant to children’s book writers as they are to teachers working with K-8 students.
Sue: I know. I’ve actually been doing some of those activities. So I remember back in 2013 you were trying to develop a nonfiction “family tree.” Over the years, your thinking about this family tree evolved. So can you tell us a little bit about the way you currently classify nonfiction?
Melissa: Sure. We’re used to subdividing fiction into categories like mystery, science fiction, realistic fiction, and historical fiction, but in the past, we’ve just lumped all nonfiction together. The 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system brings clarity to the wide world of nonfiction by breaking it down into groups with specific traits.
Before I developed this system, writing every manuscript was like shooting in the dark. I was just stumbling along, reinventing the wheel every time. But now that I understand the patterns of different kinds of books, I can go about my work more intentionally. This has made me a faster, more efficient writer. Now I have general guidelines to get me started, but I also know when and how to break the “rules” so that each book is uniquely creative.
Sue: Which sections in your book are relevant for writers creating nonfiction books for children?
Melissa: That’s a great question. Chapter 1 includes the origins and history of nonfiction, which I think is helpful because it explains some of the things about nonfiction that don’t seem to make sense, such as why folktales and drama are shelved in the nonfiction section of the library and why it’s so hard to pin down a definition for the term “informational book.”
Chapter 2 introduced the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system and provides lots of sample texts. Chapters 3 and 4 are worth a quick scan, but Chapters 5-7 should be incredibly helpful to writers. They look closely at the craft of nonfiction writing. There are interviews with highly-regarded authors, and we’ve analyzed excerpts from a wide range of children’s books. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might recognize some of the material, but here it’s expanded and updated, and, of course, it’s all together in one place.
Sue: Those are the three chapters I have been spending the most time with, for sure. I especially like the way you show how text structures are used in different books, and the insight you provide into voice, language and point of view.
Sue: I love that book. Not only does it contain essays from amazing writers, but it also includes a treasure trove of ideas for things to do in the classroom – or homeschool – to help young writers develop their own “secret sauce” for writing nonfiction.
Melissa: Another great book is Finding the Heart of Nonfiction by Georgia Heard. Like my books, it’s written for students, so it’s particularly relevant to us.
If you are especially interested in narrative nonfiction, there are three books you may want to take a look at Draft No. 4 by John McPhee; Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call; and Story Craft by Jack Hart.
By Leslie Colin Tribble
Happy Haiku for You
Sometimes in summer, we need to lighten or change our routines. I needed to lighten my mood early this summer after receiving a professional critique that made me feel like I was couldn't write my way out of a paper bag. I actually stopped writing, but haiku came to my rescue!
I sat on the back deck pouting with my journal, observing nature - clematis, sunflowers, and kids frolicking with their dad. I doodled with words. The simple, 3 line, 5-7-5 haiku format seemed safe. I couldn't mess that up, right? RIGHT.
My journaling flowed, haiku made me happy. BAM! I was writing. I even used haiku to attack a shelved story, now ready to submit. Switching gears and formats made the difference!
Join Me in Some Haiku
I'm sharing my haiku and some photos as possible prompts. Join in the fun and share your haiku in the comments. Traditional haiku is more contemplative but some of mine are active. (and may fudge a syllable or 2.) Just play and do it your way.
By Suzy Leopold
Summertime is for reading, writing, exploring, and discovering. It includes a somewhat slower pace with outings, travels, and vacations.
Many educators and students are returning to school this month. Others will hear the school bell ring in September. Soon students will read and write; learn and grow.
Let’s create a poetree—a cinquain about a tree.
|Welcome to the Illinois Prairie|
Sharing my example:
Growing, Cascading, Swaying
Many birds like to nest
|A Robin’s Nest in a Willow Tree|
Happy reading and writing.
|Golf ball statue in West Des Moines, Iowa|
Summer is about over for me, as I head back into my classroom. Every day I have an agenda to make the most out of my summer. But sometimes, taking time to do the unexpected can be a much needed creative outlet for the brain.
One late afternoon I went with my husband to the driving range. Before we had kids, I used to go quite often with him. But last month, I putted on the little practice greens and enjoyed doing something different.
Doing the unexpected awakens adrenaline, makes your brain active, leads to new opportunities and passions, can humble you, and improve relationships.
Doing something unexpected and new can also lead to writing opportunities and new ideas. What's something new you've done this summer? Leave a comment!
I've struggled with creativity during the pandemic, and I know I'm not alone. Many friends have admitted the same.
One author that I turn to when I'm stuck is Austin Kleon.
All of his books focus on creativity. STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST is about getting started. SHOW YOUR WORK is about sharing and being discovered. And now his latest book, KEEP GOING, provides strategies to stay creative in good times and bad.
His writing is interspersed with lists, illustrations, and quotes. This quote from Anne Lamott speaks to me:
"Almost everything will
work again if you unplug
it for a few minutes --
Unplugging by spending time in nature is always good for my creativity. Won't you join me? Step outside and perhaps you'll shake some writing loose!
|July in Northern Michigan|
Photo by author Alice McGinty
Dead end. Really?
No—because the open mind I work hard to keep said, "Who says I need a photo?" After a brief wish that I could draw, I said, "But I can cut paper." So while I'm not posting the poem with it, this little paper cut gave my journey from dead-end a fun and surprising turn.
That's why I don't really believe in writer's block. I believe in turning toward a new direction, even for a moment. It will lead someplace possibly quite interesting and fun—and often to a new idea altogether!
as a bud
from a distance
close up with a magnifying lens
seeing the whole
looking at the center
at the edges - smooth and serrated leaves and petals
by the company they keep: bees, butterflies, hummingbirds
where they grow – in the cracks of a bridge or along the sides of the road
in the morning when they first wake up
I write about nature and the environment. You can find more nature breaks over at my blog, Archimedes Notebook where I post hands-on STEAM explorations every Wednesday.
- Paulo Coelho, Brazilian novelist
The GROG Blog is taking a short summer break. Enjoy photographs, nature posts, and poetry. Our full-length articles will be back soon!
- Eileen Meyer
By Suzy Leopold
Today’s craft topic is all about sidebars and back matter.
Let’s begin with two statements. Are these sentences true or false?
1. _____ Back matter and sidebars are for nonfiction books only.
2. _____ Back matter must be one page only.
What are sidebars?
What is back matter?
One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey Written and Illustrated by Henry Cole 2020
This fiction picture book is unique in many ways.
The story is told in pictures only—a wordless picture book.
It is a 48 page picture book.
The story begins on the end pages.
An author’s note is included as back matter.
Rare and Blue: Finding Nature’s Treasures Written by Constance Van Hoven Illustrated by Alan Marks 2020
This beautifully illustrated expository nonfiction story applies both picture book elements. The sidebars expand on the story line with facts and information. The four page back matter is extensive and begins with the five categories of species—rare, naturally rare, threatened, threatened, and endangered extinct. The author included words to know, more rare and blue facts, a selected bibliography, tips for viewing wildlife responsibly, and a quote by astronaut, Karen Nyberg.