Friday, August 20, 2010

One Writer's Tips for Interesting Nonfiction

Writing for kids is not for the faint-hearted. After all, kids have absolutely no qualms telling you when they find your work "boring" or "stupid."


Yet that's also what makes it so much fun. We have to push beyond the obvious or ordinary to grab young readers--which is even more imperative for non-fiction writing because some kids have been "schooled" into thinking nonfiction = boring.  

Author Nancy Allen, who has written more than a dozen nonfiction and historical fiction books for children, shares some of her tips for avoiding the "boring" pitfall:
  • Always be on the lookout for something interesting. "I seldom look for a topic when I’m writing a nonfiction book; the topics find me. One day I was reading an article in a magazine about two women from Louisville, Kentucky, who wrote the song, “Happy Birthday.” My interest was peaked."
  •  If it fascinates you, it's likely to fascinate your reader.  "I dig deep into the research...[to] find bits and pieces of information that interest and surprise. I narrow the topic by asking, What would interest a child about this person? I dig, dig, dig to find the answer. My chapter book biography, Ring the Silver Bell, is the story of Alice Slone, who built one of the last settlement schools in Kentucky.  In the picture book, Happy Birthday, the Story of the World’s Most Popular Song, I focused on the period of time in which the two sisters wrote the song.
  • Look for the quirky and interesting. "I like adding juicy details and events of daily life to excite the imaginations of the readers, to make them want to read more, to capture the essence of the person, and offer a reason to know more about the person."
Nancy was once a school librarian, so she knows first hand how hard it can be to hold children's attentions.  Check out Nancy's website at and her Writing Workshop blog at


Unknown said...

These are great tips for all writers, writing on any topic and in any format(including online!)

I definitely would also add - make it interesting to look at! On the topic of Art and Archaeology specifically, there are so many wonderful visuals we can draw on to enhance our work and illustrate our points.

Our connection with History is partly (or sometime wholly) based on these visual markers, not just a slab of plain text on it!

Looking forward to presenting our Q&A soon Vicky!!


Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Excellent point, Hasan! A good reminder from our resident art history expert! Thanks for commenting.

Gail said...

Very helpful, Vicky!!! I'm in the process of working on a NF picture book right now.

Hope you've had a chance to pick up your award over at my blog! said...

Love these tips. The quirkier and the more interesting we find things, they will too!

Evelyn said...

Very valid observations. And Nancy knows what she's talking about. I've seen lots of her books--she's an excellent writer.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Gail, tell me more! That's very cool that you're writing NF.

Gwen, thanks for commenting. I agree, I always go for the "funny" as well as the quirky. I figure if it tickles my funny bone, it will tickle theirs.

Evelyn, welcome to my blog. You're right, Nancy is terrific!