Last Saturday, children’s writers from across the Front Range stepped into the Chautauqua Community House for a daylong workshop about writing nonfiction for kids. The event was sponsored by the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
Four panelists shared a great deal of information and advice.
Carolyn Yoder, the senior editor of Calkins Creek Books, gave two insightful presentations. Calkins Creek is the U.S. history imprint of children’s publisher, Boyds Mills Press. With her wonderful wit, Carolyn talked about her lifelong love of research and reading. One of her favorite books as a child was Elizabeth Blackwell: Girl Doctor, a 1961 nonfiction book about the first woman in the United States to receive her medical degree. Carolyn said the standards of research keep going up, and writers need to conduct impeccable research. She talked about the importance of well-written back matter, including solid bibliographies and source notes. Her afternoon presentation was an overview of a day in her life as an editor. She added that when a writer sends in a query, she likes to know why the writer is the best person to write the book, how the book is different from other publications, and why the writer is passionate about the subject. Her advice? Make books relevant for young readers today. Make emotional connections with readers. Be cognizant of what needs to stay in or go in a manuscript. Remember the importance of storytelling, and think about why the subject is important.
David Meissner is an award-winning author of numerous educational books for young readers. He is the recipient of the 2014 Golden Kite Award for his book, Call of the Klondike, the true story of two prospectors who search for gold in the Klondike region of the Yukon in 1897. David’s presentation titled, “Digging Deeper—How Authentic Research Leads to Authentic Writing,” included an overview of the firsthand research he conducted in the writing of this book. With a tent, backpack and five days of supplies, David hiked the Chilkoot Trail. This is the exact trail where thousands of men, women and children walked great distances in harsh weather in search of fortune during the Klondike Gold Rush. It was a fascinating presentation, especially when David talked about the possibility of encountering a Grizzly bear along the way.
Laura Perdew has published many books in the educational market with topics such as bullying, eating local foods, food advertising, animal rights, Internet addiction, the Green Movement, the history of art, and the history of the toilet. She also published a book titled, Kids on the Move! Colorado. Laura talked about how she cracked the educational market after being asked to take a writing test. She passed this test and went on to write book after book. Laura taught middle school language arts and social studies for years. Today, in addition to being an author, she is a writing consultant at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Terri Farley, the best-selling author of the Phantom Stallion series, turned her attention from fiction to nonfiction with her newest book, Wild at Heart: Mustangs and the Young People Fighting to Save Them. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, this award-winning book features many beautiful photos of wild mustangs photographed by Melissa Farlow. Terri, who taught language arts and journalism at the middle school and high school levels, talked about the journey of writing Wild at Heart and horse activism. She also gave very helpful writing advice.