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!

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Write Every Day?

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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.

2014: A Big Year

Yes, this is a recap post. 🙂 2014 has been such a huge year for me, personally, academically, and in the world of literature. Instead of summarizing my summary, I’ll get right to it.


Winter

January Wedding

In January, I became Mrs. Vander Ark and moved all the way up to Southwest Michigan, during one of the snowiest winters they’d had in years! Our wedding was largely DIY, and it was a huge relief to be done planning for it.

Shortly after we moved into our cozy basement apartment, I received my first online publication (independent from my undergraduate school’s journal) from TWJMagazine.

In February I started working at the Bridgman Public Library, where I do children’s programming and order picture books through middle grade books – which increased the number of books I read quite a lot!

Notable Reads

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
  • Fortunately, the Milk – Neil Gaiman
  • Bats at the Library – Brian Lies

Spring

Left Bed

My MFA in creative writing at Spalding University began at the end of May, and the week I spend surrounded by other writers in Louisville, KY, was probably the most inspiring time of my life. It came just after the official closure of my undergraduate degree when we walked with our classmates in the early May graduation ceremony at University of the Cumberlands.

After Memorial Day, I also began writing for the Infusco Coffee Roasters blog… and spending a lot of time in the shop!

Caleb and I also tried our hand at raised-bed gardening for the first time and were far more successful than we anticipated.

Notable Reads

  • Wonder – R. J. Palacio
  • The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap – Wendy Welch
  • Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers – Frank Walker

Summer

Brick House

We bought a house! And proceeded to spend an entire month renovating. We refinished the floors, painted ceilings, walls, and cabinets, and moved in to our first house.

My CNF story “There Are No Buffalo Here” appeared in print via Garbanzo Literary Journal this summer. I couldn’t have picked a better place for it!

Notable Reads

  • Norman, Speak! – Caroline Adderson
  • Young House Love – the Petersiks
  • This Moose Belongs to Me – Oliver Jeffers

Fall

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As if we hadn’t been blessed enough by the rest of the year, September brought us our beloved beagle/foxhound puppy, Juliet. She is smart, loving, playful, and generally pleasant, and we love her to pieces.

We hosted our first Halloween Party and Thanksgiving dinner in our new home, and settled in for the rest of the holiday season.

I switched my concentration at Spalding from CNF to writing for children and young adults, and so far I’m loving it!

Notable Reads

  • Landline – Rainbow Rowell
  • Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  • We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

If you’re interested, you can see everything that I read in 2014 (200+ books) through this link. If you’d rather just know which books I had a lot to say about, check here, here, here, or here.

Here’s to a great 2015! Anyone want to share your resolutions? Mine are to start running again, have a more successful garden, and read more than I did this year. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo: The Way Out

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You will notice that the banner on this post is not a winner banner.

On November 30th, I can tell you that I have no clue if I’ll be able to make up the (way too many) words I would need to reach the 50,000 word goal by midnight tonight. But I do know that the story I’ve developed this month, my first attempt at middle grade fiction, is a great story, and I can’t wait to continue working on it and revising it in the months to come.

Part of the reason I’ve fallen behind is because… Christmas is coming! That kind of excitement makes it hard to contain enough to focus so intently on a story. It’s time for cookies and carols and indoor trees. and being excited about that is enough to take away any discouragement at not reaching 50,000 words.

If you’re like me, and Christmas shopping has fallen by the wayside as your novel has taken priority, have no fear! Next week I’ll be posting a gift buying guide for your favorite readers of all ages – or your favorite people you’d like to convert to reading. Stay tuned!

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.

 

NaNoWriMo: A Room of My Own

My whole life I’ve imagined what it would be like to have an entire room in a house that was dedicated to books, both their creation and consumption. In honor of NaNo, here’s what that looks like!

When we bought our three-bedroom cape cod in August, I knew exactly which room I wanted for this purpose. It’s on the main floor, not too far from the kitchen (caffeine access), gets great light in the morning, has a tiny closet for crafting and art supplies, and has a perfect view of our back yard. We painted the room a lovely, inspirational shade of green, put up some pretty curtains, and filled that sucker with books. Every writer is familiar with Virginia Woolf’s recommendation that each writer needs a “room of her own” to think, read, and write in. This is my room, and I love it to bits.

My desk

My desk and the matching chair were a craigslist find, and the items on this wall were gifts. The desk provides the perfect amount of space to work in, and it has a wonderful view.

View

When I write at this desk, I am surrounded by the whisperings of the hundreds of books that have influenced me with their pages. There are two more bookcases in other parts of the house, but this is the bulk. On the leftmost bookcase I have antique books, filled journals, writing reference, and to-read. Next is nonfiction with blank notebooks and school binders at the bottom. On the other side, young adult books get a shelf, with filled sketchbooks, art journals, and photo albums at the bottom, and lastly is the fiction shelf with magazines and oversize books at the bottom. This room is such a happy place for me!

LibraryDo you have a room of your own? I highly recommend it. 🙂

 

NaNoWriMo: Why “serious” writers should promote rather than dismiss

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Many of you will shake your heads upon reading this. Or perhaps even roll your eyes. Maybe blow a raspberry, send a prayer heavenward.

I’m going to say it anyway.

NaNoWriMo season has arrived.

This year, more than usual, I’ve seen a number of posts by those lofty, unattainable beings who claim to be, above all else, serious writers. They scoff at the mention of month-long noveling, turn up their noses at the thought of it. Discourage whoever they can from participating. Wait patiently for that far off day (December 1st) when Twitter, tumbler, and the internet at large will return to it’s regularly scheduled programming.

And I am here to set the record straight, at the risk of sounding like a broken one.

Serious writer or first time participant, you absolutely should try National Novel Writing Month.

Let me tell you why.

NaNoWriMo is fun. It’s a month-long (distressingly, horrendously, terrifyingly hard) party, where we spend time with people who are working toward the same goal that we are. Whatever our methods, our means, our motivation, or our end result, we’ve all attempted (and hopefully achieved) the same result: a 50,000 word piece of crappy first draft fiction. Maybe that’s all you do. Then the next time you’re buying coffee at your favorite place or books at your favorite shop (please buy books from shops) or groceries at the supermarket, you can say, truthfully, without guilt, remorse, or modesty, “Yeah, I wrote a book once.” But maybe you go on and spend a long, long time doing the hard, hard work of revision that gets you, eventually, to final draft fiction. And maybe somebody somewhere likes that final draft, a lot, and your name gets to be on the cover of a book. And you become an author.

There are plenty of wildly successful, quality authors out there who cannot be described as serious. Just check out a few of their YouTube channels. Being a not-so-serious writer can be key to getting in touch with your audience, making friends, and (someday) selling books. Any aspiring writer who finds that one of their favorite authors thinks they should (attempt, try, stumble through the process of) write a novel will be inspired and pleased and instantly find a little more space to add to the box in their heart that belongs to that writer. An author who discourages (snubs, belittles, snickers at) this endeavor, however, might actually loose some of their holy-authorness in the eyes of readers.

Besides, any writer, serious or not, who says they aren’t pleased to tell people in coffee shops that they’re a writer and yes, they’ve written novels is lying.

A Note About Quality: Or, Mediation

To the Naysayers: anyone who has read Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants cannot truthfully declare that NaNoWriMo is a worthless, awful feat. Don’t allow you negativity to discourage the next book that good from being written.

To the Wrimos: Water For Elephants was not the book that it is on December 1st. As described above, there was a long, long time and a lot of hard, hard work between then and publication. Don’t send you 2014 NaNovel out to agents or publishers until after January 1st, 2016 (no, I don’t mean 2015). And only then if you’ve given it everything you possibly have to give. And don’t self-publish it just because you can.

To the One Who is Just Considering: Try it. You’ll like it.

Okay, I rest my case. Here’s to NaNoWriMo 2014, my fifth (hopefully) completed NaNovel, and more crazy than any other time of year. Futher up and further in!