Sunday, June 16, 2013

21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference - Day 2

Vicki Cobb
Vicki Cobb, author of many books including the classic, Science Experiments You Can Eat, gave the keynote address, "Winning the Nonfiction War." It was an interesting journey through Vicki's life, and the story of her evolution from a girl without a voice to a woman with a cause: Bringing science into the world of children. She made it clear how this is different from bringing children into the world of science! Vicki's remarks on incorporating voice into science writing for children resonated with me. I clearly remember how I felt when my publications at various universities were edited to totally remove my voice. They became technical writing, as opposed to communication with my target audience.

Lou Waryncia
Lou Waryncia, of Cobblestone Publishing,  illuminated our group regarding "the vibrant, vast world  of publishing children's magazines." He opened a universe of opportunities for us, describing some of the many publications he oversees, as well as dozens by others companies. I was particularly pleased to see "Kiki" a magazine designed to empower, rather than to objectify young girls. Lou spoke of the importance of building a relationship with an editor, the components of a good non-fiction article, and the best strategies for engaging an editor when you send a proposal. For those of us with aspirations to write books, he pointed out that magazines are a great way to showcase our writing skills and style. He told us that images are always welcome, including charts and graphs, as well as photos or drawings.

Vicki Cobb used "Google Hangout"in her workshop to introduce us to her iNK Think Tank© program which brings authors into classrooms via distance technology. It was a delight to meet authors and teachers/librarians who have participated in the program. Dorothy Patent joined us from her summer home in Missoula, Montana to share her experiences incorporating writing and research in a classroom half way across the country. I loved how she described the kids waving to her on screen and greeting her with "Hi, Dorothy," as they entered their classroom.  Sarah Svarda, who was in Tennessee, described her cooperative program with an author. She called the interaction between the author and her students "...a true mentoring experience," and asserted that when students use authors to design and carry out a project of their own, it is much more powerful than a simple school visit. As a former 5th grade science teacher, I can clearly see how this mentoring project could be a formidable enrichment tool for any curriculum area (writing, history, science, and more). Thanks to all four of the participants who joined us long distance.
Alyssa Mito Pusey

Alyssa Pusey's presentation lived up to its title by providing us with a well-stocked toolbox for making a nonfiction trade book. Her pointers were clear and incredibly useful, from the point of view of a prepublished author and illustrator. Tools included: Point of View (your voice or the voice of your character), Research (the importance of thorough and accurate source excavation), Structure (how the book is laid out, reading level selected, back matter considered and whether or not it includes layered text), Clear writing (concrete, precise, well scaffolded), Visual aids (clear, accurate, engaging photos charts or drawings). Certainly any author who follows Alyssa's guidelines and uses the tools she provided us will have a product worthy of careful consideration by a publisher, so long as you have targeted your query or proposal effectively. 

Our second day also included a panel discussion on "The Future of Children's Nonfiction." Lionel and the panel assured us that paper and ink books will be around for some time to come, but they also enlightened us regarding several publishing houses ventures into digital publishing both for books and for enhancement to reading materials.

I had my first critique with author/illustrator Roxie Munro. More about that later, but I will say that it was delightful, informative and incredibly useful in helping me to rethink several aspects of my current project. I'm very glad I had done my homework, since a critique session requires both parties to be prepared. I strongly recommend that hopeful authors take advantage of such critiques at any of the numerous forums where they are available. It is SO worth the price!

                                                                   Thanks Roxie!!
Thoughtful Roxie Munro


  1. It was great to meet you, Nancy. Good luck on your book, and see you next year.
    Peggy Thomas

    1. I look forward to next year's meeting too. By then I expect to be published in the world of children's lit, even if it is a start in magazines. I learned at the conference that that is a good platform for honing nonfiction writing skills. It will also give me practice in submitting. Your workshop, with Mary Kay Carson, was extremely helpful in leading me through the process. Thanks so much for your guidance.

  2. So glad we connected, Nancy! Keep me posted on how you are progressing your book cool counting book. And I agree that it was a terrific conference...we all learned so much. Liked that issues for mid-career authors, as well as beginners, were dealt with.

    1. I have emailed you a couple of "hooks" and a revised text. I learned SO much. Hopefully, my viewpoint as an author/ illustrator just entering the children's market will be useful to others. I can see how my writing for adults has provided a sound scientific base, but I know there is much to learn about engaging young readers. Thanks for sharing on your blog.

  3. This is great! I hope that you are Continue the good work. 21st Century Children