5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep

A guest post by Melissa Stewart

Many teachers and students seem to think that writing nonfiction requires nothing more than doing some research and cobbling together a bunch of facts, but nothing could be further from the truth. To dispel this alarming myth, fifty of today’s most celebrated authors for children have come together to share a critical part of the nonfiction writing process that often goes unseen. The result is the illuminating anthology Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing

To craft high-quality prose, nonfiction writers have to dig deep. They have to get in touch with their passions and their vulnerabilities and use them to fuel their work. Each book has a piece of the author at its heart, and that personal connection is what drives writers to keep working, despite the inevitable obstacles and setbacks.

The topics nonfiction writers choose, the approaches they take, and the concepts and themes they explore are closely linked to who they are as people and what’s important to them. For these writers, putting the information they collect through their own personal filters and making their own meaning is the secret to crafting engaging nonfiction.

Six of the essays included in Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep feature books published or distributed by Lerner. Consider these brief excerpts:

“There’s a common, crushing misconception that fiction is creative writing drawn from the depths of a writer’s soul, while nonfiction is simply a recitation of facts that any basic robot could spit out. The reality is very different. My personality, my beliefs, and my experiences are deeply embedded in the books I write.” —Laurie Purdie Salas, author of A Leaf Can Be . . . (Millbrook Press, 2012)

“All of my books are very carefully researched, written, and revised. But they are also a little bit weird—like me. [W]eird is a wonder worthy of exploration. It is the thread of gold that has made my life and my career so joyful.” —Kelly Milner Halls, author of Death Eaters: Meet Nature’s Scavengers (Millbrook Press, 2018)

“I had to share my goosebump moment with young people. . . . I want to empower them to be their authentic selves.” —Lee Wind, author of No Way, They Were Gay? Discover Hidden Lives and Secret Loves (Zest Books, 2021)

“Just as fiction authors write about themes that resonate with them, so too do nonfiction authors. My themes first have to light my fire with a personal connection.” —Patricia Newman, author of Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem (Millbrook, 2017)

“For me, the juiciest details and most raw emotional connections come from mining my own experiences and listening to the people connected to the actual stories.” —Baptiste Paul, author of I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon (Millbrook Press, 2015)

“Writers are often told to write what they know. As far as I’m concerned, we should write what we’re passionate about. . . .  I write about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) [to] combine two of my passions—STEM and equal opportunity for all.” —Laurie Wallmark, author of Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015)

In the end, the underlying message of Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep is simple but powerful: To create nonfiction that delights as well as informs, professional writers as well as student writers need to have skin in the game. The goal of this anthology is to share personal stories as well as tips, tools, and activities that can help writers at all levels feel personally invested in their writing.

100 percent of the proceeds from Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep will be divided among the National Council of Teachers for English (NCTE), We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Melissa Stewart has written more than 180 science books for children, including the ALA Notable Feathers: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen; the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; and Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. She also co-wrote the upcoming titles 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books. Melissa maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Science and serves on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators board of advisors. Her highly regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.

Note from Lerner: This post kicks off 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.

Introducing: 5 Kinds of Nonfiction with Melissa Stewart!

A guest post by Melissa Stewart

Back in 2017, I proposed a five-category system for classifying children’s nonfiction on my blog, and the response was incredible. Teachers loved it. So did librarians and children’s book authors and editors. People praised the clarity it brought to the range of children’s nonfiction available today.

Read More

Six Books You Don’t Want to Miss

Here’s a roundup of some delightful titles that we don’t want you to miss!

Poo Bum

Interest Level: Preschool – Grade 1
Once there was a little rabbit who could only say one thing . . . In the morning his mother would say, “Time to get up, my little rabbit!” He’d reply: “Poo bum!” At lunchtime his father would say, “Eat your spinach, my little rabbit!” He’d reply: “Poo bum!” One day, he meets a hungry wolf. Will the little rabbit learn his lesson once and for all?

The Big Bang Book

Interest Level: Preschool – Grade 3
The Big Bang presents the mystery of how the universe began in a way we can all understand. Written by an astrophysicist, the pages describe what we know—and what we don’t—in a compelling, accessible way.
Moving out into the farthest reaches of space, then back home on Earth again, this is a picture book Carl Sagan would love, introducing the wonder of our pale blue dot to the youngest readers.

A Bear Named Bjorn: Six Bear Stories

Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3
Bjorn lives in a cave. The walls are soft, the ground is comfortable, and just in front there is new grass and a rough tree, perfect for back-scratching.
A Bear Named Bjorn takes us into the forest with Bjorn the bear and his friends. One day the animals have their eye exams and try on the humans’ lost glasses. Another, they just sit, watching the leaves and playing cards on a tree stump. And on party night the animals borrow clothes hanging on the camping ground line—and return everything carefully in the morning, only a little bit used.
Bjorn’s thoughtful bear logic and small eccentricities are the heart of these mischievous chapters that are by turns contemplative and comical, odes to both nature and “human” nature.

Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

Interest Level: Grade 1 – Grade 4
Growing up in the late 19th century, Laura Wheeler Waring didn’t see any artists who looked like her. She didn’t see any paintings of people who looked like her, either. As a young woman studying art in Paris, she found inspiration in the works of Matisse and Gaugin to paint the people she knew best. Back in Philadelphia, the Harmon Foundation commissioned her to paint portraits of accomplished African-Americans. Her portraits still hang in Washington DC’s National Portrait Gallery, where children of all races can admire the beautiful shades of brown she captured.

Hattie

Interest Level: Grade 2 – Grade 5
Hattie is a street-smart country girl in her first year of school. She lives just outside of nowhere, right next to no one at all. Luckily she’s starting school and that brings new adventures.
Hattie gets her first swimming badge, falls madly in love with a hermit crab, and meets a best friend. Sometimes things go wrong—like when the hairdresser cuts her hair into stumps just in time for school photos.
Hattie is funny, lively and sympathetic chapter book, perfect for reading aloud and for newly independent readers.

No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon’s Battle for Women’s Rights in Japan

Interest Level: Grade 3 – Grade 6
Discover the unlikely story of Beate Sirota Gordon, a young woman who grew up in Japan and returned as a translator working for the American military after WWII. Fluent in Japanese language and culture, she was assigned to work with the delegation writing the new post-war constitution. Thanks to her bravery in speaking up for the women of Japan, the new constitution ended up including equal rights for all women.

Looking for more books? Check out more lists!

3 New Series for Makers

by Ashley Kuehl, Editorial Director of Lerner Publications

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but makerspaces are kind of a big deal these days. Because we always like to supply our customers with what their young readers need and want, here’s a quick roundup of our new series for makers. Read More