Friday, April 28, 2017

My Favorite Book of 2017

I don’t usually start thinking about the Sibert Smackdown this early in the year, but the moment I finished reading Grand Canyon by Jason Chin, I knew it would be on my list. I’m pretty confident that by the end of January, the cover of Grand Canyon will be jam packed with shiny stickers.

I almost never review individual books on this blog, but today I’m making an exception. It’s that good.

It’s no simple feat to create a comprehensive overview of the geology, paleontology, and ecology of our nation’s greatest natural landmark, but the book’s magnificent design allows young readers to easily integrate the various threads.

What I love most of all about Grand Canyon is that it has something for everyone. Young analytical thinkers will love exploring the treasure trove of information in the text, detailed diagrams, and backmatter. The sequence text structure and human hikers will appeal to narrative lovers. And everyone will be captivated by the stunning illustrations (including a gorgeous double-gatefold image of the canyon), the clever use of die cuts, and the parade of critters bordering double-page spreads that focus on ecosystems.

If you haven’t already purchased this book, I’m urging you to order it right now. It’s that good.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

It's School Visit Season

Each year I spend most of April and May traveling to schools to talk about they joys and challenges of nonfiction writing. I love speaking with students because they are both enthusiastic and honest.

Their feedback helps me understand what I'm doing right and what I could do better in future books. Most of all, they remind me how much kids love nonfiction.

Here are some of the highlights so far.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS PE 5-PS3-1. Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.

Try these book pairs:
For more suggestions and full lessons, check out Perfect Pairs:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

NESCBWI Handout: Got Motivation?

You’ve probably heard that the secret to completing a manuscript is as easy as BIC—Butt in Chair. But with such busy lives, it can be hard to find the time and, more importantly, the motivation to stick to the writing goals we set for ourselves. How can we make writing a top priority day after day, week after week, month after month—until our manuscript is finally done?
Here are some tips and tools to stay motivated as you pursue a writing life.

Don’t think about achieving success or being successful. Don’t compare yourself to others who you think are more successful. That kind of thinking is toxic. No one ever thinks they are successful.
It’s better to focus on motivation. Because:

1. We can control it.

2. It helps us remember that we’re on a journey.

3. It lets us know when something is wrong.

Know the Why: If you aren’t clear on why you’re doing something, it’s easy to give up. Take the time to figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing and how it benefits you, your family, and your community.

Motivation has three main components:

1. Focusing on your BIG dream.

2. Setting goals.

3. Staying positive.

Here's each step in greater detail:

1. What is your BIG dream is? Write it down. Create a vision of what you want your life to be. A vision board can help. Lots of people swear by them. 

I use an idea board instead of a vision board. It works better for me. It’s a place to store and keep track of ideas for future books and marketing plans. Looking at what’s up there helps me set priorities quickly.
Want to know more about my idea board? Watch this video of my nieces giving a tour of my office.

Be sure to rehearse your BIG dream. Daydream as you drift off to sleep, while in the shower, while walking the dog, etc.

2. Set 4-5 goals per year. They should be specific, achievable, and measurable. Write them down in the following format: By ____ (date), I will ______.

If you only have one or two goals, it may help to break them into smaller steps.

If you have so many goals that you feel paralyzed, you have created a to-do list, not goals. Think bigger picture and try again.

If addressing writer’s block is one of your goals, try switching to a different writing project when you feel stuck. Getting stuck is a natural part of the process, but you can stay productive if you devote your time and energy to a different project.

If you’re wondering how to prioritize your goals, listen to your heart. Which goal are you most passionate about?

I post my goals in the upper right-hand corner of my idea board and look at them every day. You can see my goals in the photo above. I usually write them on the back of a receipt. No reason to waste paper.

Think of your goals as an action plan.

Once you have a plan, stay the course. Every time someone asks you to do something or you have an opportunity, ask yourself: Does this serve one of my goals? Does this serve my BIG dream?
Find a friend to help you stay accountable. A buddy can:

—Help you set deadlines

—Act as a sounding board

—Highlight your blind spots

—Be a cheerleader

—Celebrate successes (big and small)

3. To stay positive:

—Surround yourself with upbeat, constructive people.
—Focus on what you can control.
—Commit to improving your mindset.
Go forth and contribute. You can make it happen.

NESCBWI Handout: What the Heck is an Informational Book?

The line between fiction and nonfiction is blurrier than ever before. With terms like "informational book," "creative nonfiction," and "informational fiction," how are writers supposed to know what works and what doesn't when presenting true or mostly true information to children? This practical presentation explains the terminology and discusses how children's book creators are playing with format, point of view, voice, structure, and other elements to present information in exciting new ways.

These posts explain the origin and meaning of the terms we use to describe and discuss nonfiction books as well as books that contain a blend of fiction and nonfiction:


For even more background information about informational text/books, creative nonfiction, and informational fiction, check out these excellent resources:

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Treat for Vacation Week

Here's the book trailer for my new book, Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. The official publication date is June 13, but it's available for pre-order now. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Nonfiction Joy: Passion and Process

Thanks to rock star educator JoEllen McCarthy (@JoEllenMcCarthy), I had an opportunity to chat about nonfiction writing with uber-talented authors Sarah Albee and Loree Griffin Burns last Saturday as part of the Educator Collaborative's Spring Gathering (#TheEdCollabGathering).

If you didn't get a chance to catch our program live, I have great news. It was archived here, so you can watch it at your convenience. We discuss choosing a topic, research, experiential learning, text structure, the revision process, pairing fiction and nonfiction, voice in nonfiction writing, nonfiction genres, crafting language, and why find joy in our work every day. Enjoy!