5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Candice Ransom

Candice Ransom writes series nonfiction for Lerner, including the Bumba Books Discover Your Senses series. These fall into the Traditional Nonfiction category in Melissa Stewart’s 5 Kinds of Nonfiction framework. Read on to learn about how Candice does her research and writing, and more about Traditional Nonfiction and the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction.

The best part in writing about a brand-new topic is the opportunity to learn!  When the editor at Lerner Publications asked me if I was interested in writing titles for a Bumba Books series called Discover Your Senses, I eagerly agreed to take on three:  the sense of smell, the sense of touch, and an overview book on all five senses.  

My first stop—as always with any nonfiction project—is the library.  Not the internet?  Nope.  My search begins under my own powered engine, with tangible books and periodicals from the public and local university libraries.  Rather than being led by algorithms or “top searches,” I wandered the anatomy stacks, pulling reference materials, checking to see if they were too easy or too technical.  I determined that sources aimed between the casual biology student and the fourth-year med student worked best for my purpose. 

My next step is to create a working bibliography.  Already?  Why not wait until the end of the project?  Strangely enough, I love creating bibliographies!  There’s something satisfying in citing each source, adding to the list as the work progresses.  Bibliographies keep me honest, but they also have a reassuring presence once I start compiling notes and later, turning those notes into a narrative.  Oh, yes, I’ll think—there’s that book by Diane Ackerman, the one that said our skin makes up 16% of our body weight, about 6 pounds, and stretches to 2 square yards.  That fact won’t likely go in my book on touch, but I love knowing it.

Am I ready for the internet now?  Not quite.  Because I’ve checked out library books, I can’t highlight them.  Instead, I type out paragraphs.  You read that right.  I type entire paragraphs, pages, even chapters.  Typing notes verbatim ensures accuracy.  More importantly, it slows me down and allows me to comprehend.  This is all new stuff.  I must figure out the particulars to write a narrative preK through first grade readers can understand.  I add the page number that I need to cite in footnotes for the fact checkeer.  All the information I need is right there.

Then I turn to the internet.  It’s time to chase down answers to specific questions and locate more recent sources.  I print select articles.  Typed notes and printed articles go in a big binder, along with the series guidelines.  Next, I highlight pertinent facts.  Now it’s time to write.  I’m keen to tell readers if they want the olfactory prowess of dogs, cats, and mice they should crawl on their hands and knees, but I don’t have the word count for such luxury tidbits.

My readers can’t yet handle blocks of text, only a few sentences at a time.  Bumba Books give an all-around view of the subject.  In Let’s Explore the Sense of Smell, for example, readers learn the basics: how odors travel, how nostrils work, how the brain figures out different scents.  Readers are encouraged to smell a variety of things like flowers and freshly baked cake!  These books seem challenging to write at first.  How to approach a complex topic in a simple manner?  I take my initial position of knowing little, dip into my research, then write the book I needed at that age.  If only Bumba Books had been around when I was young!

Traditional Nonfiction is a category of Melissa Stewart’s Five Kinds of Nonfiction. This post is part of a weekly series of guest articles by nonfiction authors about their craft, their process, and their amazing books. Stay tuned each week to learn more by visiting the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction page for poster and flyer downloads, curated booklists and more. You can also follow the Lerner Blog’s 5 Kinds of Nonfiction series, or the hashtag #5KNF on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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