Monday, November 30, 2009

The Art of Nonfiction Writing

Recently I came across a funny and insightful article in the Globe and Mail, written by Canadian humourist, Will Ferguson. It was titled, "How's the book coming? Well, let me tell you..." and it described what it's like to be up against a deadline, and the many ways that authors procrastinate.

What I liked best about his piece was his comparison of writing fiction and nonfiction, and how they are different. For your reading pleasure, I quote him here:

"I've always said that fiction and travel writing are comparable to two types of sculpturing. Fiction is like working with clay; you build something up from a single character, an image, a scent. It's the art of addition. Nonfiction, and travel writing in particular, is like working in stone, cutting away everything that doesn't fit. You start big and pare down, reducing the mass of possibilities, trying to decide what matters, what doesn't."

Me again. When I talk about writing nonfiction for children, I like to say that the author's job is to know (or find out) as much about a subject as possible, then determine what the essence is, and decide what to leave out — in order to shape the information into a form that is meaningful for our youngest readers.

It's an art to be simple and concise, while retaining the essence of a topic, and yet convey enough information in a way that delights, delivers, matters, and holds a child's interest.

An American children's nonfiction author I admire, and who does this so well, is Gail Gibbons. (She even illustrates her own books. Wow! Multi-talented.)

I wish I could have explained the process as well as Will Ferguson did (smart man!) — but alas, I cannot. However, I may borrow his quote from time to time. If you'd like to read the entire text of his article, you can find it here.

On Wednesday night, I'll be speaking to library students in a UBC class (thank you for inviting me, Professor Judi Saltman!), and talking about these very matters. Wish me luck. :-)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Clay Man: The Golem of Prague

I recently had the pleasure of reading an inspired new book by my friend and fellow author, Irene Watts. Clay Man: The Golem of Prague tells the story of how, in 1595, a protector of the Jewish ghetto in Prague came into being. Clay Man, the protector, was molded from the clay of a riverbank by a rabbi and infused with life by the rabbi's words. Clay Man's job is to keep the people of Jewish town safe from fierce anti-Semitic attacks.

The story is a retelling of a famous Jewish folktale and is told through the eyes of young Jacob (the rabbi's son), who longs to explore the big city beyond the ghetto's gates, and secretly witnesses the formation of Clay Man late one night.

It is a beautifully written story that moves quickly and dramatically. The book is illustrated by another friend, Kathryn Shoemaker, and the combination of her evocative art with Irene's words is a winning one.

It opens with a poem:

I am of clay
Old as earth
I lie here
River washes over me
Water cools me, Sun warms me
I know light and dark
Light is bright and dark is black
I lie and wait

For a riveting read, full of Jewish history and lore, pick up this book. I highly recommend it!

Published by Tundra Books, for ages 8-12 years old and up.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

2009 Information Book Award

One Peace: True Stories of Young Activists is the winner of this year's Information Book Award, given by the Children's Literature Roundtables of Canada. Congratulations to Janet Wilson! She's the talented author and illustrator of this worthy book.

A few years ago, some of us heard Janet Wilson give a talk in Vancouver where she described how difficult it had been to find a publisher willing to take the book. Apparently, most of them found the topic too serious and difficult. But Janet persevered, believed in her book, got it published (by Orca Books) and here she is today — the big winner of a very prestigious award. I'm thrilled for her!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

2009 Hycroft Event

If you're in the Vancouver area, consider giving yourself a fall treat by attending the launch of dozens of books, written and illustrated by talented BC creators. The event will be held at Hycroft Manor, on November 10 at 6:30 pm.

Come out and see what an amazing array of books are being created in our corner of the world. Prepare to be impressed!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Autumn Poem

Every day as I stroll through my neighbourhood, I am taken by the beauty and colour of the autumn leaves, and I think about all the poets who have written poems to capture such a glorious fall scene.

For your reading pleasure, here is the first stanza of a poem titled Autumn, by John Clare, 1821.

The summer-flower has run to seed,
And yellow is the woodland bough;
And every leaf of bush and weed
Is tipt with autumn’s pencil now.