Why We Read and Write Nonfiction, a guest post by Kathie MacIsaac and Rebecca E. F. Barone
Rebecca: Hi, Kathie! It’s so great to be talking with you about our shared love of nonfiction!
Your first book comes out next week (congratulations!!) Especially with your background working in a library, what drew you to nonfiction over fiction? You read so much and so widely, I’d love to know what made you want to write nonfiction?
Kathie: I’ve always loved learning, and I had a hard time deciding on a career in university because I enjoyed so many of my courses. I eventually realized that I didn’t have to go to school to learn, and I became a voracious reader of adult nonfiction. When I thought about writing, though, I always felt drawn to telling true stories to kids in ways that would interest them. I wanted to take fascinating facts and details about people and turn them into bite-size pieces for young readers. Although I love reading middle-grade fiction, writing nonfiction is what calls me.
I love your writing style and how thoroughly you research a topic to write about it. How do you determine when you have sufficient information to start writing and when to call a book complete?
Rebecca: Is a book ever complete?! A project certainly has deadlines, but I’m the type of author who would just keep tweaking, and tweaking, and tweaking! But, you’re right, at some point, a project has to be called “done,” or else it will never get to the reader. I’m incredibly grateful to critique partners for helping me here. Their thoughts, especially when different CPs make the same comment, show me where the weak areas are in a project and when it’s time to let go.
With research, I often get to a point where I’m reading or hearing the same information repeated; that’s a good sign that it’s time to get drafting! It also helps with narrative nonfiction to remind myself that I’m looking to tell a story. With a topic like cryptography, which is central to Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis’ Secret Code, it’s sometimes hard to remember that I’m not trying to write a thesis on the subject. Focusing on people, places, emotions, plot – all of that helps constrain and focus my research.
Your point about loving to read fiction but feeling called to write nonfiction hit home for me (though I have to add that I do love reading nonfiction as well!). I think there are many avid readers out there who perhaps don’t read nonfiction but would enjoy it if they tried it. As a children’s librarian, what are some ways you’ve tried to highlight nonfiction at your library or help kids and teens pick up more nonfiction for fun?
Kathie: I incorporate nonfiction into my preschool storytimes so kids see at a young age that learning interesting facts is fun. I always have a display of new nonfiction books and a themed display in that section. I do my best to purchase all requests from patrons and respond to what they’re checking out (this summer, I bought a large number of Who Would Win? and National Geographic readers because they were flying on the shelves!) I encourage parents to let kids read what interests them, regardless of the reading level, as we often forget kids don’t need to read every word or sidebar to get enjoyment from a book.
There is a misconception that kids prefer books of stories over facts, but research shows that many young readers love to read nonfiction. Can you share a few recent titles you’ve read that you think have high appeal to young readers?
Rebecca: There are so many great nonfiction books out right now! I gravitate toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) titles, and I’d love to recommend two different but equally engaging books: Save the People: Halting Human Extinction by Stacy McAnulty and The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner by Marissa Moss.
I loved that Save the People brought events from incredibly long ago (450 million years ago!) and made them feel relevant to today’s readers while also helping to frame threats we’re facing now into actionable solutions. As to The Woman Who Split the Atom, before reading Moss’s book, I hadn’t heard of Lise Meitner – and I’m so glad that’s changed! Moss tells Meitner’s incredible story with words and drawings, keeping the reader engaged on several fronts.
I’m always excited to hear your book recommendations, so I’ll ask you the same question, Kathie! What nonfiction books for young readers would you recommend?
Kathie: I enjoyed two middle-grade nonfiction books told as novels in verse: Pauli Murray: The Life of a Pioneering Feminist and Civil Rights Activist by Terry Catasús Jennings and Rosita Stevens-Holsey and Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis by Susan Hood and Greg Dawson. I also recently finished Packing for Mars for Kids by Mary Roach, which was hilarious and very informative.
Before we wrap things up, can you share more about your book coming out this fall (which I LOVED)
Rebecca: Thanks, Kathie! Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis’ Secret Code is the story of breaking the Enigma code in World War II. As Hitler marched his army across Europe and his wolfpacks terrorized the Atlantic, a team of spies, codebreakers, geniuses, and sailors fought to unlock the secrets hidden behind one of the most complex ciphers of the war. I’m so excited for readers to enjoy this incredibly true story of danger and deception next Tuesday!
…speaking of next week, BOTH our books launch on the 25th! Your book is such an inspiring take on the question of “what do you want to do when you grow up?” I loved the diversity of careers you and Colleen Nelson profiled. Would you share what the book is about and a favorite profile or two?
Kathie: I love that we share a release date; I’ll send you a piece of virtual cake! We wrote the book If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It: How 25 Inspiring Individuals Found Their Dream Jobs. We interviewed people from a wide range of careers, from human rights lawyer and veterinarian to stuntperson and NHL scout, and shared how they turned their passion into a job they love. Kids will learn what skills they need to do that job, some spin-off or related jobs, pro-tips, and meet some young people working toward a similar dream. I loved learning about so many interesting jobs, but I’ve always been fascinated by smokejumpers (individuals trained to jump out of an airplane into remote areas to fight wildland fires) and thoroughly enjoyed speaking to Martha Schoppe and hearing about her journey to become one of a handful of women in this profession.
Rebecca: That is incredible, and readers are going to be fascinated hearing about these jobs!
Kathie, it was so great chatting about writing and reading nonfiction with you! And, thanks to Amanda and SLJ for hosting us at Teen Librarian Toolbox. We’d love to keep the conversation going with readers (and librarians!). You can find both Kathie (@KathieMacIsaac) and me (@rebeccaefbarone) on Twitter.
Meet the authors
Kathie MacIsaac is an award-winning literacy advocate passionate about books for middle-grade readers. She is a co-author of the blog Bit About Books and a co-founder of the website MG Book Village, which facilitates connections between members of the middle-grade community. Kathie manages the children’s department of the Headingley Municipal Library near Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she lives with her husband and daughter. If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It: How 25 inspiring individuals found their dream jobs is her first book. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @kathiemacisaac.
Pajama Press Instagram: @pajamapressbooks
Pajama Press Twitter: @PajamaPress1
Kathie Instagram: @kathiemacisaac
Kathie Twitter: @kathiemacisaac
Rebecca E.F. Barone is an author and engineer. Her technical projects have included injury analysis for the National Football League and developing crash test dummies for the auto industry. She is passionate about serving and mentoring underrepresented populations in STEM. Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica, her debut middle grade nonfiction book, received four starred reviews. Rebecca’s second book, Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis’ Secret Code, will be published on Oct. 25, 2022. She loves talking with readers at school visits (arranged at www.rebeccaefbarone.com) and through Twitter (@rebeccaefbarone).
Rebecca Twitter: @rebeccaefbarone
Rebecca Instagram: @rebecca.ef.barone
Cover illustrator: Shane Rebenschied
Cover design: Sarah Kaufman
About If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It: How 25 inspiring individuals found their dream jobs by Colleen Nelson, Kathie MacIsaac
There is no single path to the job of your dreams.
What does it take to become a stuntperson? How does a mathematician spend her days? When does a barber become the center of a community? In this refreshing take on a careers book, meet twenty-five individuals of different backgrounds, genders, and abilities who have found their careers through a wide range of experience, education, intention, and inspiration. From Joshua Jones, who built a business where he could thrive as a Deaf interior designer, to Teresa Tam, whose hunger for knowledge led her to the position of Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, each of these dreamers found ways to dig deep into their passion, to gain experience and knowledge, and to turn that into a job.
In If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It, Colleen Nelson, middle-school teacher and award-winning author of The Harvey Stories and The Undercover Book List, teams up with children’s librarian and literacy advocate Kathie MacIsaac to show young readers that there are many paths to a dream job. Education may come from university, college, trade school, apprenticeship, specialized training, or simply asking questions and getting involved. Your career may be something you’re already dreaming about or something you’ve never even heard of. No matter what, success means feeling happy with the work you do.If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It includes full-color photographs and illustrations, informative sidebars, tips for trying out a field of interest, a glossary, an index, and an interactive quiz. Spotlight features on children and youth who are already gaining experience for their own dream jobs round out this inspirational resource.
Publisher: Pajama Press Inc.
Publication date: 10/25/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
About Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis’ Secret Code
by Rebecca E. F. Barone
Unbreakable is the edge-of-your seat true story of the codebreakers, spies, and navy men who cracked the Nazis’ infamous Enigma encryption machine and turned the tide of World War II—perfect for fans of The Imitation Game.
“A thrilling adventure of intrigue and daring worthy of the best James Bond stories.” —James Ponti, New York Times best-selling author of City Spies
As the Germans waged a brutal war across Europe, details of every Nazi plan, every attack, every troop movement were sent over radio. But to the Allied troops listening in—and they were always listening—the crucial messages sounded like gibberish. The communications were encoded with a powerful cipher, making all information utterly inaccessible . . . unless you could unlock the key to the secret code behind the German’s powerful Enigma machine.
Complete with more than sixty historical photos, Unbreakable tells the true story of one of the most dangerous war-time codebreaking efforts ever. While Hitler marched his troops across newly conquered lands and deadly “wolfpacks” of German U-Boats prowled the open seas, a team of codebreakers, spies, and navy men raced against the clock to uncover the secrets that hid German messages in plain sight. Victory—or defeat—in World War II would hinge on their desperate attempts to crack the code.
Unbreakable is a groundbreaking work of narrative nonfiction from Rebecca E. F. Barone, the author of Race to the Bottom of the Earth (recipient of four starred reviews)—perfect for fans of Bomb, The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, and The Nazi Hunters.
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 10/25/2022
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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