Category Archives: Nonfiction

Interview with Award-winning Author Sarah Albee and a Giveaway!

Please welcome award-winning author Sarah Albee!

Sarah Albsarah-albee1ee is the author of more than 100 children’s books. She has had three of her books appear on the New York Times children’s bestseller list.  She currently has an upper-middle-grade, nonfiction book published in May, 2010 about the history of toilets and sanitation entitled POOP HAPPENED! A History of the World from the Bottom Up, and a follow-up title under contract due out in 2013 about how insects have affected human history. She blogs daily on a variety of science and social history topics geared toward middle-grade readers (sarahalbeebooks.com/blog). She spent nine years as an editor at Children’s Television Workshop, working primarily for Sesame Street and attending both the Bologna and Frankfurt Book Fairs.

 

Here’s her new release!

Why’d They Wear That?  from National Geographic Kids (Feb 2015)
Move over Project Runway. Get ready to chuckle your way through centuries of fashion dos and don’ts! In this humorous and approachable narrative, kids will learn about outrageous, politically-perilous, funky, disgusting, regrettable, and life-threatening creations people have worn throughout the course of human history, all the way up to the present day. From spats and togas to hoop skirts and hair shirts, why people wore what they did is an illuminating way to look at the social, economic, political, and moral climates throughout history.

Fanatastic reviews for her new book:

“Now see, the reason I like National Geographic Kids is that they’re reliable.  Take Why’d They Wear That?, for example.  You know what you’re getting here, even if you don’t know the details.  Mind you, the details are where all the good stuff is.” - School Library Journal

“Full of period images that show off every bustle, frill, and rivet, this wide-ranging guide to clothing throughout time will fascinate history and fashion buffs alike.”Publisher’s Weekly 

 

Thanks for joining us Sarah! Here are some questions we have for you: 

You write both fiction and nonfiction- Do you like one genre better?

I love that I get to do both. And I do think writing for different genres is a great opportunity. My fiction editors appreciate that I like to do research. And my nonfiction editors appreciate that I know how to tell a story. At present, though, my passion is nonfiction.

  What was it like working at Sesame Street?

It was a fantastic place to work. I landed a job there soon after I graduated from college. I loved the humor, the music, the travel, the creativity—and just being surrounded by so many talented people. It was a dream job.

                       

Your nonfiction books are so much fun! How did you get interested in writing nonfiction?

Thanks for that! I’ve always been interested in nonfiction. As a kid, I read the World Book Encyclopedia for fun. It’s only been in the last 6-7 years, though, that I’ve been able to devote larger chunks of time to researching and writing longer, middle-grade books. For years, when my kids were young, I wrote a lot of work-for-hire and younger fiction and nonfiction. It was fun, and rewarding, and I learned how to meet tight deadlines and never get writer’s block. But now that my kids are older and don’t need me around as much, I feel like I’m in a new phase and I’m loving the flexibility to choose a topic I’m passionate about and plunge into it.

 Three of your nonfiction books, including your newest, take a specific topic from the beginning of civilization to the present time. Why so broad a category?


I often ask myself that very question—why do I keep writing the same book over and over–the history of the whole world from ancient times to the present? But what I love to do is to trace one theme chronologically through human history, ideally a theme that kids will find interesting. First sanitation (okay, poop), then insects, and now, with my new book, crazy fashions. Chronology is really important to me. Some might call a broad sweep through history superficial, but often kids don’t get enough context when they study historical units in school. They might study ancient Egypt, or the American Revolution, but they may not have a good sense where and when these events fall on the historical continuum. And the beauty of tracing a theme through history is that I am not limited to one time or place—I can take a snapshot of the world from multiple places and perspectives, as long as I can relate them all to my theme. For instance, in Why’d They Wear That? in the chapter on the seventeenth century, I was able to include the Pilgrims in America, Oliver Cromwell in England, Louis XIV in France, sedan chairs, tanning leather, and the weird trend of wearing face patches—because I could tie everything together with fashion.

 How much time does it take you to research one of these books? Where do you start?

                                                

I spend about a year doing research—but it’s not all I’m doing, of course. I usually have various book projects in different phases at the same time. For instance, I just finished two new book proposals, and am working on a first draft for my 2017 book, but am beginning research on a new idea. And my new book, Why’d They Wear That? (National Geographic), launched on February 10th so I’ve been super busy with publicity for that.

For research, I have the greatest library nearby—my husband is a high school teacher, and we live close to his school. His school’s library has fantastic subscriptions to various academic search engines, and the librarians are awesome and helpful. I make frequent trips to DC to research at the Library of Congress and the National Archives, and then, depending on my topic, to more specialized academic libraries. I also interview experts, in person if possible, but also via Skype.

  Do you travel to places to research your books or do it from your house?

A little of both. Every place I go—whether it’s a school visit in another state, a family vacation, or a museum trip—I see as a research opportunity. And whenever I can, I visit a place I want to write about, to get a feel for the sights, sounds, and smells. I’ve been to the Paris sewers, and Lyon, France where they still make silk, and a cotton mill museum in Lowell, Massachusetts so I could hear for myself how deafening the sound of the looms are. And last fall, I visited the poison plants garden at Cornell University to research a future book project.

 Can you tell us three fun and unexpected facts you discovered when researching your latest book?

Early versions of men’s athletic trunks—the kinds acrobats and boxers wore in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century—were the same in front and back, which must have resulted in a terrible wedgie.

Shoes, even for the wealthy, who could afford custom-made shoes, did not come in right and left until the latter part of the nineteenth century.

old-shoes

As late as the nineteenth and even early twentieth century, most young boys in Europe and America from well-to-do families wore petticoats up until the age of six or seven, when they’d be “breeched,” and dressed in pants. Once you start looking for them in portrait paintings, you start to see boys in dresses everywhere.

Okay, one more: 4. In seventeenth century Venice, most men, women, and children wore masks for a huge part of the year, and not just during Carnival season. It made it hard to tell the identity, or social class—or even the gender, sometimes—of most people, and allowed them to participate in some serious debauchery incognito. It was quite a bizarre phenomenon.

 What tips can you give people if they want to write nonfiction? 

Find a topic you feel passionate about, and don’t worry about whether it will “sell.” It’s a really exciting time for nonfiction right now—there’s so much great nonfiction being published, and writers can really develop their own voice and style, more than ever before.

Thanks for joining us Sarah!!

Giveaway!

Sarah has generously donated an autographed copy of her new book,

Why’d They Wear That?  

To win this prize, tell us the craziest outfit you ever wore below.  

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Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 20 nonfiction books for kids.  Like any good scientist and author, Jennifer is rarely without a notebook and she writes down her observations throughout the day. It is a practice she encourages many young readers and writers. You can visit Jennifer at  www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com,  her special place to explore the world.

Interview with Brianna DuMont, Author of Famous Phonies

We’re pleased to welcome debut author Brianna DuMont to the Mixed-Up Files today. She’s the author of a new middle grade nonfiction book, Famous Phonies — Legends, Fakes, and Frauds Who Changed History.

Q: Welcome, Brianna, and congrats on your debut book. Can you tell us what it’s about?

A: Thank you! It’s been a life-changing journey to learn the ups and downs of publishing professionally. As for Famous Phonies, if I had to distill it down, I would say that the book is about teaching kids how fun and strange history can be. While I love to learn about things like kings and queens and important wars, history is so much more than that. I wanted to write a series that showed kids the quirky underbelly of history. Famous Phonies, the first book in the series, details the “lives” of twelve people who changed history despite the fact that they never existed. Some literally never existed, like Homer. Some were legends whose myth had come to overshadow and obscure the truth of the real person, like Confucius. And some were hoaxes and fakes that tricked people for hundreds of years. I didn’t want it to be a dry textbook either. I wanted the voice to match the material, so I worked hard to make the stories funny. Being able to poke fun at famous people was just a bonus.

Q: How did you come up with this idea? untitled (2)

A: I studied Art History and Classical Archaeology in college and got my second degree in Classics. Ancient history has always been my favorite thing to study. While translating Homer’s Iliad one day for fun (yes, I consider that fun!), I started thinking how it’s too bad most people learn that Homer is a real guy in a bed sheet who sat down and penned two of the greatest stories in Western literature — the Odyssey and the Iliad. He’s not. The idea snowballed from there. Immediately, I came up with three or four other people who never existed. Eventually through more research, I realized there were many people we learn about in history who never existed or were totally different from what we were taught.

Q: Tell us about your research process. How did you find out these behind-the-scenes details about famous historical figures?

A: Luckily, I live right next to Loyola University in Chicago. I pop over there a few days a week to snoop around their stacks and pretend I’m still a student. They have a great collection of scholarly books and articles. And, when picking out a movie, I typically gravitate toward documentaries, so I find a lot of interesting tidbits and trivia that way as well, which I can follow up with more research. It’s mostly a lot of tracking down and cross-referencing. I’d say I spend ninety percent of my time researching and only ten percent writing.

Q: Can you share with us one of the interesting tidbits from the book?

A: One of my favorite characters is Prester John, the imaginary king who inspired Europe to launch crusades and explorations in order to track him down. More than likely, he was one of history’s biggest hoaxes. A bishop made him up in the 12th century, but for hundreds of years, kings and popes were obsessed with finding him because they believed he was rich beyond their wildest dreams, held the secret to immortal life, and would help them reclaim the Holy Land. Also, interestingly, Pythagoras had nothing to do with math.

Q: What are you working on next? Is this book going to be part of a series? 7772WebReady

A: I’m under contract for one more book in this series with potentially two more after that. The second book is Fugitives Who Changed History. The manuscript is due in February, with a planned release of January 2016. In addition, I’m always working on side projects — novels, fantasy, historical fiction, maybe a little sci-fi.

Q: What is your writing routine?

A: I’m big on routines and schedules. Every Sunday night I write down a list of what I want to accomplish for the week. Then every morning, I work on nonfiction, take a coffee break, and leave the afternoon for novels if I feel I’ve gotten enough done on my history books. I take frequent dance and jump-around-like-crazy breaks. My cats love and hate that I’m home all day. They have no opportunity to jump on the counters and sniff for crumbs. Some days I spend the whole morning at Loyola researching then come home in the afternoon to write about what I discovered. I love what I do, so I don’t mind working all day.

Q: You’re a big history buff, obviously! Were you always interested in history, even as a kid?

A: Yes. In fourth grade, my parents moved us to Germany for six months. There, we got to travel to many of Europe’s castles, museums, and historical sites. I think that really ignited my love of history and travel. Getting to see where Marie Antoinette was beheaded is pretty life-changing for a nine year old. I could imagine in exquisite detail what she would have felt like walking to her doom (or so I thought at the time).

Q: Growing up, you were the oldest of three. You credit being the oldest with helping you become a creative person. Tell us about that.

A: When it was rainy or when none of the neighbor kids could play, it was up to me, the big sister, to come up with something to do. I invented many games in our basement to occupy the younger two, which usually involved Indiana Jones adventures, playing pioneers on the frontier, or spinning a globe to choose a new country to pretend to visit. I’d make us look up the country in my Dad’s encyclopedias and give reports. Also, I was the biggest, for a while. (Now I’m the shortest.) And I was naturally bossy, so my rules were golden. I wanted to be the one to make up the games, and I hated to sit still or be ladylike.

Q: What do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

A: I love to read nonfiction! Of course, I always love learning new stuff about the world, people, and history, but I also enjoy a good, old fantasy. My favorite authors are J.K. Rowling, Katherine Kurtz, and Rick Riordan. indexBut my childhood hero will always be Laura Ingalls Wilder — Little House in the Big Woods was the first book I ever read alone.

Q: Fill in the blanks: I’m really awesome at___. I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t___. If I had the chance, I’d like to___.

A: I’m really awesome at cooking obscure, snooty French food. Chicken liver mousse, anyone? I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t tie my shoelaces with the one loop method. I’m a bunny ear believer! If I had the chance, I’d like to travel back in time and see what happened to the Lost Colony: Roanoke.

Thanks, Brianna, for visiting! Teachers and librarians can download a guide to Famous Phonies on Brianna’s website at briannadumont.com. It’s Common Core aligned, and free.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of two middle grade novels, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, and Calli Be Gold, both from Wendy Lamb Books. Visit her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.

 

 

Bad News and the MG reader

One of the things I love most about writing for MG readers is their fascination with the wide world around them. UnknownI want that wide world to be a kind and welcoming place, but this last stretch of three months has been awash in very difficult news from the wider world. Much as I’d like to shield young readers from the harsh realities of the events in Ferguson, MO, the activities of violent insurgents in the Middle East, natural disasters–a volcano in Japan, a blizzard in Nepal, it’s too late for that. MG readers also read or see or hear about the news all around them. This news has an impact on how they view the world.

So how to address disasters in the news with young readers who are not so young, and here I’m thinking kids under the age of 8 or so, that they can skip the it and learn later when they are better equipped to understand. 9-14 year olds are old enough to have a discussion about the news. 513lCzmWx3L._AA160_

I’ve found over the years that books are a great way to offer context on horrific events. Two mainstays of my household have been The Encyclopedic Atlas of the World and Children Just Like Me. They offer some context about where world events are happening and a few bite sized morsels about  what life is like there under not-tragic circumstances. I think it’s important for kids to see a country and culture not in crisis to counter the images they see in the news. A few minutes with Aseye, the Ghanian girl featured in Children Just Like Me, gives a useful counterpoint to frightening images from the region. Africa is more than Ebola.

51Slf5+HDOL._AA160_ 61W7Zg3ReIL._AA160_Sometimes a more general book about an issue in the news also helps a child put concerns in context. Understanding something about how disease transmission occurs is a good jumping off place for understanding any epidemic. Bill Nye the Science Guy and The Magic School Bus series both have titles about germs and how they interact with the human body. These are on the young side for MG readers but sometimes it’s not so bad to go back to non-fiction picture books as a starting point for conversation.

Once a child has a grasp of some of the basics about epidemics and how they function, and an understanding of their own risk and the wider risk to the world, it’s great to have a more in depth conversation about how people act during an epidemic and the larger issues of discriminations that occur because of them.

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Christopher Paul Curtis’s newest book, The Madman of Piney Woods includes the epidemic of Typhus that the grandmother endures on her immigration from Ireland to Canada. It has some some parallels to what is occurring now with our talk about who should travel to and from West Africa. It would be a great jumping off place for an in depth conversation.

And lastly I’d love to highlight some of the best biographies of people who have dedicated their lives to the eradication of disease. And here’s where I’d love to have some reader input. Have you got a favorite biography of Louis Pasture, Jonas Salk, or Marie Curie? What other heroes of micro-biology would you like young readers to know about? Please mention them in the comments and I’ll add the covers to this post in the next few days.