Tag Archives: nonfiction

Recipe for a Successful Book Festival

ksfest1This past Saturday I participated in the first annual Kansas Children’s Literacy Festival, and it was such an amazing experience I thought I’d share my thoughts on why it worked so well. It was a new event in Wichita, Kansas, but the turnout was huge and scores of kids walked away with new books to explore, and a whole lot more!

kslitfest3Here’s what made the event so successful: COMMUNITY. Area schools, local book stores, and community organizations partnered together with city leadership and a radio station to encourage kids to read and write. I loved the scope of fun events offered to celebrate literacy. The event kicked off with a full-blown parade, including a float featuring a gigantic book! Then a celebrated local children’s choir gave their first concert of the year. An illustrator presented a riveting and humorous demonstration. A local kite and toy store helped kids make kites and we had a balloon launch to help “Reading Take Flight.” Wichita Griots African storytellers played drums and told enchanting stories. There were balloon creations, face painting, food trucks, and everything that makes a festival a festival!

ksfest4And of course there were books! SCBWI authors and illustrators from around the state talked with young readers in an author tent and read from their works in the storytime tent. There were so many smiles!

I think another big factor in the success of the event had to do with the level of PROMOTION it received beforehand. Local news stations and newspapers came out to cover the festival as well, interviewing families and participants to ensure the word is out for next year’s celebration.

ksfest5As you see, I roped my lovely daughter into helping me. She played the Tickle Me Pink Crayon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and had so much fun!

If you are an educator or librarian hoping to launch a book festival of any size or add some zest to an already existing one, may I suggest adding some activities that may not seem necessarily reading related to draw interest? I think that was the other factor that caused the Kansas Children’s Literacy Festival to be such a success: VARIETY.

What things have you seen work to draw kids to book fairs and festivals? We’d love to hear your ideas!

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and IN TODD WE TRUST (Penguin/Razorbill.)

Nonfiction Books with Diverse Characters–An Interview with Author Annette Bay Pimentel & Giveaway!

Children’s books with diverse characters are in high demand these days. They should be. Every child who reads likes to identify with the character in the book, which means that they need to represent every race, creed, color, and ethnic background. Authors are responding to this need by writing about some AMAZING people who have made great contributions to our world.



I’m happy to have one of those author with me here today. Annette Pimentel writes picture book- biographies for young middle grade readers. She loves to discover people in the corners of history and then find their stories. She writes nonfiction picture books in Moscow, Idaho.


Her book is Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans and Helped Cook up the National Park Service by Charlesbridge Publishing




The true story of a Chinese American mountain man who fed thirty people for ten days in the wilderness–and helped inspire the creation of the National Park Service.

When millionaire Stephen Mather began his quest to create a national park service in 1915, he invited a group of influential men—writers, tycoons, members of Congress, and even a movie star—to go camping in the Sierras. Tie Sing was hired to cook. Throughout the trip, Tie Sing fed not just the campers’ bodies, but also their minds, reminding them to remember and protect the mountains.


Overall, this pencil and watercolor illustrated and eloquently written account of a Chinese American will satisfy every taste. For any library wishing to enhance its diversity and inclusion collection.
– School Library Journal

A frontier adventure that spotlights one of the many significant roles ethnic Chinese played in American history.
Kirkus Reviews

Paragraphs of straightforward text are more advanced than typical picture books, but the soft, expressive watercolor illustrations, some of which are based on historical photos, are a pleasing accompaniment. Ideal for the classroom, particularly this year, when the NPS celebrates its centennial.
– Booklist



Annette, thanks for joining me today on the blog. I have a few questions for our readers about your writing process and books.


Why narrative nonfiction biographies?

Fictional novels describe how people could be. Nonfiction biographies describe how people really are. I love the shiver of excitement I feel when I read what remarkable real people really did.

How do you choose your subjects for your books?
When I discover something new and immediately want to tell someone about it, I know that I have a promising topic. I’m especially interested in stories that surprise me and suggest that the way I’ve been thinking about the world is askew.

What led you to Tie Sing’s story?
I stumbled on photos of the Mather Mountain Party of 1915 while I was researching something else. I was startled to see in the photos an Asian man posing next to famous government officials and tycoons. I had always assumed that national parks, like other American institutions, were created by powerful white men. The photos suggested I only knew part of the story.

You do not have a Chinese heritage, so how did you make sure to include Tie Sing’s true voice and experiences?
I wish Tie Sing had kept a diary, but he didn’t. To be sure the secondhand descriptions of him were in historical context, I researched race relations in 1915. I also relied on experts like the book’s artist, Rich Lo, who, like Tie Sing, grew up bilingual in Chinese and English. The book’s expert reviewer was Park Ranger Yenyen Chan, who brought to the project deep professional knowledge as well as broad personal knowledge of Chinese American culture.

Can you talk about how important it is to ensure that diverse characters are given a true representation?
It’s important that every character in a piece of nonfiction is represented truly! But it’s extra tricky to accurately represent characters, like Tie Sing, who didn’t leave much documentary trace and who come from a culture different from that of the people who wrote about them. Despite the difficulties—maybe because of the difficulties–those people deserve to have their stories told! Without their stories we are left with an inaccurate picture of our shared history.

You have another book in development which features a Puerto Rican character’s life. Why do you think diverse books like these are important?

Children are in many ways marginalized in our society. I think that every child feels, at times, like an outsider. Stories about unexpected people doing remarkable things reassure and encourage kids that their own lives matter. And, of course, books about women and ethnic and cultural minorities give all of us a more nuanced and true picture of our history.

Tell us a little about how you do your research. How much time do you spend? What type of sources do you look for?
I spend hours and weeks and months on research. I interview my subjects or people who knew them when I can, but usually I rely on archival research—letters, papers, photos, etc. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find an autobiography. I love the US Census for the quirky information it gives me about my subject. And of course I use academic articles to provide historical context and to answer specific questions that arise as I research.

Why is back matter useful for readers?
Back matter extends my conversation with the reader and allows my book to speak to multiple audiences. Some readers only want the story in the main text. That’s find. But others want more, and back matter provides it. Back matter feels to me like a cozy dialogue, where I as a writer, get to share the fascinating details that didn’t belong in the story.

Anything that you are working on that you would care to share? Other books that we can look for from you soon?
In 2018 Nancy Paulsen Books will publish Girl Running, the story of an amazing female marathoner and in 2019 they will publish Ann Brooks Goes West (with her piano) the story of a feisty pioneer. I also have another book in the works that I’m very excited about, but I have to wait to talk about it.

Can you think of a few other diverse nonfiction books that would be good for young middle grade readers?
I loved Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford for its lyrical language and its sensitive handling of the theme of slavery



Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood for its story of creativity beating back against poverty



and Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game by John Coy for the most inspiring basketball story I’d never heard.


For more great nonfiction picture books for young middle grade readers, including diverse titles, check out Annette’s blog at  annettebaypimentel.com

Annette has graciously offered a giveaway of her new book. To win a signed copy, please leave your name in the comments below.

******Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 25 nonfiction books for kids. Mostly about Science, Technology, and Engineering, because… well, STEM ROCKS!  www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com

Picture Books and the Middle-Grade Reader

Think of picture books and often we envision a toddler on a parent’s lap, listening and pointing. Or a pack of preschoolers sitting criss-cross applesauce on a colorful rug, heads tipped up to see the pictures while their teacher reads aloud. Or maybe a first grader, sitting alone with a book, intently studying the words in a picture book, their eyes darting from picture to text and back again, making connections and feeling their confidence swell.

Oh, there’s usually no debate surrounding the place of picture books in the lives of the youngest readers and prereaders. But something often happens around second grade, somewhere around the time chapter books are mastered, and the role of the picture book is diminished, if not eliminated.

By the time readers reach the middle grades, picture books are often nonexistent or scoffed at. “You’re too old for that book,” I heard a parent tell a fifth or sixth grader at a bookstore. “You can read harder books than that.”

And, yes, I’m sure that young reader was perfectly capable of tackling longer texts, but picture books have so much to offer readers of all ages. Let’s take a look at some new picture books that middle-grade readers could not only enjoy, but that could spark a deeper level of learning and understanding.

pb older reader

Picture Book Biographies Picture book biographies are everywhere and can serve as an excellent visual and literary introduction to someone middle-graders may never encounter anywhere else..

pb william hoy story

The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Jez Tuya, Albert Whitman, 2016.

pb to the stars

To the Stars!: The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Kathryn D. Sullivan, Illustrated by Nicole Wong, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books to Address Social Issues  Civil and human rights issues such as homelessness, poverty, equal opportunities, or segregation can be difficult for the middle-grader to grasp, and yet these problems exist in their communities, families, and in the ever-present media. Often a picture book can open the door to discuss more complex topics at an appropriate level.

pb separate never equal

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Abrams, 2014.

pb marvelous cornelius

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, Illustrated by John Parra, Chronicle, 2015.

Picture Book Origin Stories Older readers love to ask deep questions: Like where did doughnuts come from? and Who invented the super-soaker, and Why? Origin stories can inspire young inventors to dig deeper into science and become problem-solvers themselves.

pb Hole Story of Donut

The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller, Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

pb whoosh

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Don Tate, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books for Content Areas  Math class is probably the least likely place you’ll find middle-graders reading picture books, but there are some great reasons to put picture books into the hands of young mathematicians. And scientists. And paleontologists. And astrophysicists.

pb boy-who-loved-math

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham,  Roaring Brook, 2013.

pb blockhead

Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese, Illustrated by John O’Brien, Henry Holt, 2010.

Picture Books to Address Environmental Issues Upper elementary and middle schoolers hear phrases such as “global warming” and “our carbon footprint,” but explaining just exactly what these mean can be challenging. It’s likely they are already a part of a “reduce, reuse, and recycle” initiative, at school or at home. Picture books can help them understand how they might do more.

pb One_Plastic_Bag_Cover_Miranda_Paul1

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, Millbrook, 2015.

Picture Books as Art Study The youngest readers look at the pictures in a picture book. Older readers can study them. They can understand how illustration contributes to the story-telling, how a picture book is a visual experience as well as a literary one. Older students can discuss how the artist’s choice of style, media, and color palette create mood and pace. This can be done with every picture book, any picture, all picture books, fiction or non. But, I’ll leave you with one that makes me smile, and I think any middle-grader would smile after reading it, too.

pb maybe something beautiful

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, Illustrated by Rafael López, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. Her first picture book, When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike (Ohio University Press, September 2016) is the biography of Emma Gatewood, the first women to walk the Appalachian Trail alone in one continuous hike.