Reading Between the Facts
Don’t you just love it when a story comes to life? When you are reading something and you can smell the sooty aromas, hear the grinding gears of a new invention, taste the tang of tart pie? And when, long after you’ve put a book down, you find yourself wondering about the characters? But that’s fiction, right? A story that wraps you up and carries you away.
Wait, what about fact-filled books that transport you like that? When I looked at this month’s book list, packed with techy inventions and their nerdy inventors, a story that transported me was the last thing I expected. Physical science isn’t my thing, so I gritted my teeth anticipating some dull, dry reading.
Boy was I wrong. Flying Machines: How the Write Brothers Soared had me so hooked I convinced my aerospace engineer husband he had to read it (sidenote: he was impressed with the accuracy of the content). Eureka! Poems About Inventors drew me through periods of history I had never cared about. And then there’s Isaac The Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d which made me pondering how light works, I mean really think about the physics of it. A week later I found myself Googling “Newton’s Laws of Motion because I wanted to actually understand them – not just memorize them. How did this book do this to me?
I had to know.
So I did what every good writer does, I studied the words on the page. I looked at how Mary Losure cast stories, how she used sentences, how she arranged paragraphs, and how she constructed chapters that draw me in. And then I noticed something.
Writing Between the Facts
Mary Losure had written a lot between the facts. When you research a historical figure, you only have so much information. From the level of detail included (like the child’s drawings found in the house where Isaac grew up) it is obvious that this author dug and dug and dug until she found gold. But even a gold nugget won’t reflect light unless it is polished and placed in just the right position – in this case it shone a spotlight on Isaac’s childhood attributes. Losure had to bridge the gaps between the facts.
I’m not saying she falsified facts. No, through clearly-stated, careful conjecture, she brilliantly brought her readers into the world of inquiry.
“Far in the future, a child’s drawings would be found scratched in the farmhouse’s soft stone walls: a windmill, a church, a figure with a spurred boot. It was clear the child who drew them was bright and imaginative. The pictures had been hidden by layers of plaster for many years. The people who found them wondered if the drawings had been made by Isaac. It was easy to imagine him scratching away, unnoticed by anybody in the busy household.” Page 5, The Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d
Once I noticed that, I turned my mental search engine on, pulled out my wet-erase markers and transparency paper. I got to work. I wanted to ferret out all of the hard facts on a page, find the gaps between them, and see how Losure bridged them. Laying the transparency paper over a page allowed me to mark up the page without leaving a mark in the book.
I highlighted the obvious facts in green, qualifying words in red, and passages I wasn’t sure about in yellow.
Page 5, Isaac The Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d
Cool! Working my way through the book, I found lots of examples:
- She presented us with quotes from texts he read: “In his book The Mysteries of Nature and Art, there were instructions for making: A Water Clock …” page 31
- She admitted we don’t know but presented evidence: “No one today can know exactly how Isaac and his friends spent their time, but the list Isaac made …” page 55
- She referenced oral history: “To this day, people tell an old familiar story …” page 122
I learned lots of writing moves from Mary Losure that day. And as a bonus, the next time I read a fact-filled text, you can be sure my mind will read right between the facts – that’s an skill for every reader needs to hone.
By Heather L. Montgomery
Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are WILD about animals. She reads and writes while high in a tree, standing in a stream, or perched on a mountaintop boulder. www.HeatherLMontgomery.com
The O.O.L.F Files
For the Out of Left Field (O.O.L.F) post, let’s look at inventions gone wrong.
Some inventions are completely pointless, like shoe umbrellas and the car exhaust grill : http://www.complex.com/style/2013/05/25-inventions-that-are-completely-pointless/air-conditioned-shoes
Inventions aren’t always used the way they were intended. Read how a soybean fertilizer became Agent Orange and why the Wright brothers regretted creating airplanes:
Time shares 50 of the worst inventions, including pay toilets, DDT and hair in a can:
And then there are always human errors… To read true tales of technological disasters, check out Steven Casey’s Set Phasers on Stun.