Good Childrens’ Nonfiction?

Another round up of mini-reviews, but this time focusing solely on nonfiction for kids! Nonfiction usually isn’t followed by a “!”. It’s usually thought of as dull, dry writing full of boring facts – and a lot of the time that’s what it is. But it doesn’t have to be! Good nonfiction can be just as engaging for any age as good fiction, with the added bonus that when you finish reading, you might just go out into the world and change it for the better.

This blog has been neglected recently as I’m in the throes of work on my critical thesis for my MFA from Spalding University. I’ve been looking at environmentalism in both fiction and nonfiction books for children of all ages, and the sad truth is that there just isn’t much out there that is informative, engaging, and entertaining for kids. I think there are probably a lot of parents and teachers out there who have realized this, too, so I thought I would share a quick list of the books I’ve found that DO seem to do a great job of communicating facts to the age group they are marketed for.

The Eye of the WhaleThe Eye of the Whale: A Rescue Story by Jennifer O’Connell is a great, really short picture book telling the story of a whale that was caught in some fishing line/crab netting. Divers cut the whale loose, and it appeared to thank each of them for their help. Great for really young kids because it is narrative nonfiction – true story.

A Place for Turtles by Melissa Stewart would be great for lower grade kids. Each page talks about a different type of turtle in the US and how humans have damaged their habitat – but also how humans can help the turtles survive. This one is mostly facts, but they are told with simple language and great illustrations (which show diversity in humans, too!), so I think it would engage young children. It could also be a good way to teach children that turtles are not pets and they shouldn’t bring them home. (This book is just one in Stewart’s A Place For… series – check them out!)

a chicken followed me homeA Chicken Followed Me Home!: Questions and Answers About a Familiar Foul by Robin Page is just a great book! It’s a picture book with a question about chickens on each page, and the answers are clear and conversational. The pictures are lovely and the book would be great to teach kids of any age about backyard chickens.

case-of-the-vanishing-honeybeesThe Case of the Vanishing Honey Bees by Sanda Markle is a toss up for me on this list. It’s in picture book format and full of great, macro photographs of honey bees, but it is heavy on text and long on new vocabulary words. However, the information is very clear in explaining the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder, some of the probably causes for it, and best of all why honey bees are so important and we need them so much. Suggested for older elementary and middle grades. (This is one in a series of Scientific Mysteries.)

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman is a great resource for teens (and adults too!) that digs deeper into the environmental topics of the day to show how the problem started and what is keeping it from getting fixed in a way that incorporates politics, psychology, and history. Recommended for anyone.



As another part of my research for this paper, I’m conducting an anonymous survey of kids ages 4-18. If you fall into that age group or you know or have kids who do, please take quick minute to fill out this very brief questionnaire. It would really help me out!

For more books that deal with environmental topics in both fiction and nonfiction, I suggest looking at the list of Green Earth Book Award winners chosen each year by the Nature Generation. What is your favorite book about the environment? Tell me in the comments!


Write Every Day?


Write. Write more. Write even more. Write even more than that. Write when you don’t want to. Write when you do. Write when you have something to say. Write when you don’t. Write every day. Keep writing. ― Brian Clark

You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world. ― Ray Bradbury

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at 9 am every morning. – Peter DeVries

These quotes, and more like them, can be found all over the internet, in writing craft books, and in those images with words on them that get put up in classrooms everywhere. They are repeated because they are quotes from writers who are published, renowned, and – perhaps most importantly – successful. Somehow, I think we writers believe that if we can just follow the advise of those who have gone before, who have “made it,” we’ll be able to make it, too.

The concept of writing every day, sticking your but in your chair and typing away until you have something, is common in quotes like these. That’s why they make me nervous. There was a time in my life when I did, in fact, write every single day. No matter what. Sometimes it was a paper for school, sometimes a blog post, sometimes a newspaper article, sometimes just a few pages in a journal. After a few weeks of doing this, I did find that when I decided my writing for a given day would be directed toward an essay or a story that my fingers moved a little faster and the words flowed more readily than before. It was great place to be, having a semi-regular schedule that offered the opportunity of following all of the advice of the writing gods and writing every day.

But those times never last for ever. Since I’ve been working through my MFA, I find that the few short weeks where the workload is lighter during semester transitions are cherished times – times where I do home renovation, catch up on housework, do a ton of yard work, go to parties, watch TV in the evening, catch up with friends, and generally do not write. At all.

During the heavier parts of the semesters, I find myself thinking of these in-between-weeks wistfully. But during the in-between-weeks, I find myself afraid, because I absolutely do not write every day. I find myself wondering, is this what my life will be like when I’m done with my program? Will I make myself so busy with home and friends that my writing desk is just sitting there to hold up the wall? Will writing simply be there, in the back of my mind, as something I will do when I have time?

All of which makes me wonder – is writing every day really necessary? Are quotes like “Don’t be a writer, be writing” both inspirational and unnecessarily harsh? If I only write a few times a week, or even once a week, does that mean I am not a writer?

I don’t think so. But while I am enjoying this time of home improvement, relaxation, and “spare time,” I am looking forward to beginning the next term, where I will once again be writing every day.

NaNoWriMo: The Power of Titles

Participant-2014-Web-Banner (1)As I’ve been away at residency in Louisville it’s become glaringly obvious to me that my NaNoWriMo project is stuck. When I arrived, I had 24,000 words (no, I haven’t added to that in a week) and no idea where my story was going, what it was about, or what I needed to write next.

This is not to imply that I’ve been uninspired. While here, I’ve drafted two picture books and a flash creative essay. Thanks to workshop, I’ve been more than successful in figuring out what last year’s project needs in it’s next revision, but I’ve made little progress as far as my current project is concerned.

Which leads me to a conversation about titles. Great titles are amazing. They’re like a muse that is always there to remind you what your story is about, and never fail to lead you back to the heart of the book when you’re floundering. Without a title for this project, I feel like I’m wandering around in the wilderness with no idea where I’m trying to go. So my new goal is: come up with a title. Even a placeholder, a throwaway, a horrible title that would never market.

Naming the thing makes me more powerful than the thing itself.

So that’s what I’ll try to do. Then I’ll try to write 25k+ in the next ten days. That can be done right?

Shh. I don’t want to know your answer.


Beginning the End

It feels a little surreal to be back to writing and routine after the craziness of the past month. As I begin working on my fifth and final packet for this semester – and final packet in CNF for a while – it’s fun to look back at the work I’ve done since May. More than a dozen new essays in various stages of revision are now living happily in Google Drive folders on my laptop. I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo – which allowed me to use my school writing as my camp project – for the first time and met my self-appointed goal. I’ve “survived” my second Michigan summer, which involved spending a good deal of time on the beach, collecting glass and fossils and sand under my toenails. I’ve learned a lot about Michigan ecology – both land and lake – and reflected this in my writing. I’ve learned a LOT about home improvement – and not just by reading about it! And, bonus: I’ve learned a lot about coffee and the importance of the gathering place that a locally owned coffee shop like Infusco can provide.

It’s been a good semester. Here’s to finishing strong… assuming I can find more words to write!

Up next on the reading list:

A 1,000-Mile Walk on the Beach – Loreen Niewenhuis

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

You Have Given Me a Country – Neela Vaswani

Fernwood Gardens

To Try… Or


All of the sudden, when you’re not looking, life decides to bombard you with everything your back was turned on.

Last I checked, July was just beginning. It was summer(ish) here in Michigan, and I had just finished my first packet for my MFA.

Now, August is upon us. (You may think not, but it has turned up on the date stamp we put on books checked out at the library, so you’re wrong.) My second packet is due, and a million things need to happen before the next one gets turned in. My family is coming to visit from Maryland, we’ll be closing on our house – which involves painting, tearing out carpet, and moving – and I’ve got to read and evaluate submissions for the Louisville Review. I also recently remembered that the deadline for that evaluation is also the deadline for my writing sample if I want to explore another area of writing next semester.

I considered blowing this off and just continuing in the study of creative nonfiction. I really love this genre, and I’m learning so much about it. But this is my opportunity to get some feedback on an area of writing that I have never had a professional opinion on, and that is a chance I don’t want to pass up.

So here’s to the next few weeks. Let them be crazy.


Procrastination Problems


College taught me, as it teaches every student, to be a skilled procrastinator. Test? Read over your notes and quizzes during the empty class period before. Project? Late night Wal-Mart run and acrylic paint brushes in the RA office during the preceding shift. Eight page paper? Start at 11 PM and write til dawn. Sleep for a few hours, roll up and head to class to turn it in.

As I began working on projects that I come up with and enforce myself for my master’s, I somehow tricked myself into thinking that those days were behind me. Frenzy? Overrated! Panic? Left behind! Everything looked up from the beginning, when I started my first packet before even getting home from residency and worked on my writing predictably enough throughout the weeks. I had both books read (required reading, but I picked them out!) and my packet finished nearly a week before my deadline. All that was left were a few short, critical essays. We call these SCEs in the Spalding world, and they are tiny foes, only 2-4 pages each, on the subject of your choosing, based out of the books that you chose to read.

Yet here I am, days later, and still no SCEs on my hard drive. Did I deceive myself by believing they would be easy? Do I really have to go back to the days yore and stay up writing them the day before I must put them in the mail to my mentor?

No. I will write them today!

But first I’ll procrastinate by writing this blog.

P.S. – Has anyone tried out Camp NaNoWriMo? You can set your own word count goal, and you can write whatever you want, including nonfiction. The next session starts July 1st… anyone want to share a cabin with me? There are 50% off coupons for Scrivener waiting on the other side!


Reading List

Getting back into the swing of things after any kind of trip or absence is always hard. Getting back into the balancing act of life, while adding another brick – writing 35-50 pages every 3.5 weeks – is especially difficult. When the trip you’ve returned from was entirely focused on writing, inspiration, and empowerment, it is super depressing to realize that the farther you get into your five-hour drive home, the more things you wanted to bring back with you are left behind. And when you go at once into a gathering of people with nothing in common to where you just were… you get the picture. By the time Wednesday rolls around, empowerment has said goodbye, inspiration is riding into the sunset, and the writing muse has her arms crossed and a frown on her face, like, “Well? Weren’t you supposed to be progressing by leaps and bounds? Shouldn’t you have twenty good pages written by now instead of just the seven crappy ones you wrote before you even got home?”

Yes, Muse. You’re right. But are you surprised?

In the meantime, even just this little bit of writing about writing is enough to get some juices flowing. The bigger problem is that as soon as they begin to rush it’s time to put the pen/laptop/phone down and go to work. Luckily, I work in a library… so researching these 35-50 pages of nonfiction is pretty easy.

If you’re reading this and you’re a writer, what’s the easy part for you? What’s the hard part and how do you handle it?