By Lola Schaefer
Writing nonfiction is demanding work. It requires dedication to ACCURACY, as well as blending in the literary components that make it entertaining to read. I’m not talking about a reference book or a manual. I’m describing the work that goes behind a literary nonfiction picture book, or middle grade nonfiction book, for children. The facts must be true. In our world where new scientific information is discovered every day, an author cannot use the internet or published books as his/her only resources. Authors of nonfiction consult experts in their fields. Even then, quite often those experts disagree and that creates a new challenge – finding consensus.
The next consideration when writing nonfiction is to find a unique slant on the topic. No publisher wants to buy another straight-forward account on the life cycle of a butterfly. But . . . write that from a whole new point-of-view, or with a different purpose, and suddenly there might be a market. Writing nonfiction for children takes observation. What interests kids? What is attractive about history? What do they want to know about the natural world?
And like any other form of writing, an author needs to know what is already out there and what has been popular. There is no substitute for sitting in a library or bookstore and studying 20 of the newest nonfiction books for kids. “Newest” is the key word. All authors will want to know what formats are popular now. They’ll want to look at length and presentation styles. They will want to compare backmatter from book to book.
As I said, it’s demanding work, but well worth it!
Lola M. Schaefer has published more than 260 picture books including Lifetime (Chronicle Books, 2013), Just One Bite (Chronicle Books,2010) which was a 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, listed on the New York Times Children’s Books 2010: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, and received the Maryland Blue Crab Young Reader Award 2011 for Beginning Nonfiction, and the series of six I Can Read books about Mittens the kitten for HarperCollins. Many of Lola’s titles are now available in Russian, Swedish, French, Korean, Japanese, and Spanish. She enjoys visiting schools as an author in residence, as well as a writing consultant to teachers. She will be presenting at the FWA Mid-Winter Conference West and Reading Festival in January.