Do You Have What It Takes to Write Children’s Nonfiction?

Sunday, January 06, 2013
I was well on my way to a master’s degree in history when I realized what I really wanted to be when I grew up.  I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to write for kids.

I remember calling my mom with the news but I don’t remember exactly what I said.  Why?  Because her reaction is etched in my memory.  “It’s about time you figured it out.”

How had she known I would make an excellent writer?  Here are a few of the earliest clues.

I love to read and do research.  I am a voracious reader.  Last year I read 184 books.  I write for children so there are a number of picture books, beginning readers and others shorter works on that list but the reality is that I read a lot and I always have.  I actually used to read during spelling tests in grade school.  This love of reading folded over into a love of research.  Any assignment was a chance to go to the library and retrieve an armload of books.

I collect the stories of other people.  My mother always knew that she could find me with my father and grandfathers and uncles.  Sitting among them, I listened to someone tell about a mine cave in, blowing the windows out of the garage or rescuing a stranded hiker.  This desire to collect stories came into play when I studied anthropology and history in college, interviewing a Kiowa pastor and immigrants who came to St. Louis during World War II.

I am interested in a wide variety of things.  History.  Knitting.  Archaeology.  Animals.  Art.  Caves.   Beading.  These topics and more litter my bookshelves.  Unlike academia, writing children’s nonfiction allows me to explore a wide variety of topics and satisfy my many curiosities.

What about you?  Do you love to ferret out a variety of facts on a topic?  Searching for just one more interesting bit of information?  The more types of information the better.  Your sources can range from print materials such as diaries and journal articles to interviews and photographs.

Maybe you’re the kind of person who gets bored easily and you like to work on a variety of different topics ranging from early elementary pieces on animals for Highlights to hiking and camping topics for middle school Boy Scouts (Boy’s Life).

If so, you may have what it takes to help young readers explore this world and beyond through nonfiction of all kinds.


In addition to writing her own nonfiction, SueBE is teaching the upcoming WOW! course Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.


Anonymous said...

I love writing non-fiction for the same reasons. I enjoy seeking out the unique stories of people and preserving bits of life that might otherwise get lost. Nice to feel that common ground with someone.

Margo Dill said...

When I first started writing, I only wanted to write fiction and books for kids. HA! How naive. Now I write all sorts of stuff, and I think my fiction is actually better because of it. And my children's magazine publications have been mostly nonfiction! :) I hope a lot of people take advantage of your new class, Sue, and all your knowledge you have to offer! They will be so happy they did. :)

Anonymous said...

Isn't it nice not to be the only one?

I love the way my nonfiction works into my fiction and vice versa. It is an amazing thing to watch happen.


Angela Mackintosh said...

184 books? You rock! I don't even want to tell you my number.

That is so cool about your mom. What a smart lady, and smart for letting you discover it on your own.

I don't write for children (yet!), but one of my reasons for writing is the same as yours--variety and curiosity. :)

LuAnn Schindler said...

Does reading the same book over and over to the grandkids count toward the reading total? :) In that case, I read thousands. HA!

My mom has a picture book she's trying to publish, and while I haven't written for children, maybe I should think about it. Been in the classroom for 25 years and have a lot of ideas to share.

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