For Writers

Surging into Nonfiction!

The last few months have been a whirlwind of events for me. I’ve attended three different conferences, where I either presented or attended workshops — all about nonfiction. Why? Nonfiction is HOT right now.  That’s great for those of us who read it and even better for those of us who write it.

Why is nonfiction such a hot topic? That’s easy.  Between the state standards, the Common Core, and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS),  publishers are looking to add lots of nonfiction to their lists.  They are searching for everything from picture book to YA, in the categories of history, biography, science, technology, nature, and much, much more.

Looking to find some great nonfiction books? Check out these awards:

NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children


The book that won this year’s award was:
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade)
Here is the tumultuous, heartrending, true story of the Romanovs at once an intimate portrait of Russia’s last royal family and a gripping account of its undoing. Using captivating photos and compelling first person accounts, award-winning author Candace Fleming (“Amelia Lost”;” The Lincolns”) deftly maneuvers between the imperial family’s extravagant lives and the plight of Russia’s poor masses, making this an utterly mesmerizing read as well as a perfect resource for meeting Common Core standards.


The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal winner for 2015 was:
The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryant (Eerdmans BFYR)

2015 Caldecott Honor Book2015 Sibert Medal Winner2015 Orbis Pictus Honor BookFor shy young Peter Mark Roget, books were the best companions — and it wasn’t long before Peter began writing his own book. But he didn’t write stories; he wrote lists. Peter took his love for words and turned it to organizing ideas and finding exactly the right word to express just what he thought. His lists grew and grew, eventually turning into one of the most important reference books of all time. Readers of all ages will marvel at Roget’s life, depicted through lyrical text and brilliantly detailed illustrations. This elegant book celebrates the joy of learning and the power of words.

NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for 2015. This is a pretty comprehensive list of some awesome science books! I will include just a few below, but for all, check out the website here:
Batman Science: The Real-World Science Behind Batman’s Gear (DC Super Heroes) by Tammy Enz

When it comes to fighting crime, technology is Batmans greatest weapon. From his gadget-packed Utility Belt to his high-tech Batmobile, the Dark Knight tackles Gothams criminal underworld. But does any of his gear have a basis in reality? Or is it merely the stuff of fiction? Batman Science uncovers the real-world connections to Batmans techand much of it will surprise you!


Bone Collection: Skulls by Camilla de la Bédoyère (Scholastic)

BONE COLLECTION: SKULLS is follow-up to the beautiful book BONE COLLECTION: ANIMALS. This spectacular collection of awesome skulls will take a closer look inside some of the world’s most fascinating creatures. Learn what an animal’s skull can tell us about how each creature lives. Discover the narwhal, the unicorn of the sea. Marvel at how a hippo’s eyeballs nearly pop out of its head. Take a look at the rhinoceros’ enormous beak. Featuring the skulls of pythons, piranhas, rams, bears and more, readers will be amazed by the wide variety of skulls in the animal kingdom.

Where does one go to find out more about  the type of nonfiction books coming out or how to learn how to write fabulous nonfiction?

Check out some conferences!  Many regional and even the national SCBWI conferences are including nonfiction workshops these days.  To find one look here:


The Highlights Foundation offers conferences about nonfiction. In fact, I just conducted one at the beginning of the month.


And finally, one of the best conferences (in my opinion) to attend to learn about nonfiction — if you are a teacher, librarian, or aspiring writer, is

the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference.

I went this past June and it was FANTASTIC!  With industry professionals from over 28 organizations including publishers, librarians, the NSTA, Bank Street College, and many more, there is something for everyone.

The conference was a great way to connect with editors, educational professionals, and other authors. Workshops on craft and writing were timely, interesting and fun.  They even had intensives for more in-depth learning and also open table discussions to promote exchange of information between authors and editors.


++++ Talk about perfect timing, Publisher’s Weekly just discussed the Surge in Nonfiction in one of their articles yesterday. It is titled “Is Children’s Nonfiction Having its Moment?”  The answer is YES!!

You can read the article here:

It is easy to find ways to “Surge into Nonfiction” all you have to do is to look!

Feel free to share below any other great nonfiction books or nonfiction events in your area. Let’s keep this nonfiction vibe going!!



Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 25 books for children. A self-professed science geek, when not writing, she can be found trolling through the internet searching for cool science discoveries and experiments.  Learn more about Jennifer at her website:



Houses and Stories

I love houses.

Old and new. Big and small. Cozy and sprawling. Mansions, cottages, castles, ranches, igloos. Tudor, Cape Cod, Colonial, French Provincial. No matter the size or style, houses simply fascinate me.

One of my all-time favorite books for young readers is The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton, published in 1942 and winner of the Caldecott Medal. I remember being completely taken by this book as a child — the story of a little house that was happy living in the country, swallowed up by progress, then moved and happy again. I delighted in sharing this book with my three children.

153540What struck me as a kid, and still strikes me now, is the house’s expression and how it changes from a smile to sadness and despair, back to a smile again. How interesting it was that a house could have a face!

But the truth is, I think houses have stories too, shaped by the people who live in them and the neighborhoods they are a part of, and perhaps that’s why I love them so much.

I’ve never been a runner or very good at going to the health club, but I do take a long walk almost every day. Sometimes when I’m out walking and get a glimpse inside someone’s house, I immediately start imagining the story of the people who live there. (It’s a little creepy, yes, but admit it — you’ve done it too.)

My mini-obsession with houses prompted me to set my middle grade novel, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, in a cul-de-sac of eight houses. Here’s a drawing from the first page of the book. Each house in the neighborhood has a story and a personality. Mr. D, a reclusive neighbor who never comes outside, has a neat house with the shades revised cul de sac finaldrawn tightly. One house is for sale and it’s unloved and empty, with overgrown grass and broken shutters. Mrs. Chung’s house has Christmas lights strung around her trees year-round and marigolds in front.

All of these details come into play in the story, as the main character sets out to do 65 good things for her family and neighbors the summer after eighth grade, except things don’t go exactly as she envisions.

For me, character’s houses (or apartments or huts or igloos) go so much beyond just the setting. They’re almost characters in themselves, with quirks and emotions and unique attributes. And the details that are found in houses can become important parts of the plot, such as a lost toy or Grandma’s antique table or a rusty, squeaky swing set.

I particularly loved Kristen Kittscher’s The Wig in the Window for just that reason. Seventh-graders and best friends Sophie Young and Grace Yang, who 12848132make a game out of spying on their neighbors, stumble on an adventure and mystery that unfolds from something they see in a house.

To me, home is not just where the heart is, but where the heart of the story is.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books 2014) and Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011). Both books are on 2015-2016 state reading lists. Michele can be found at

Love for the Kidlit Community

Writing can be a lonely sort of business. It’s just you, a computer (or pen and paper, ink and quill, hammer and rock… ), and the vast array of imaginary people who have taken up residence in your head. No co-workers to meet around the water cooler to discuss last night’s episode of The Bachlorette. No one in the next cubicle to commiserate with over coffee. It’s just…

You. And the story you’re trying to tell.

Which is why I’m so grateful for the kidlit community. It can be easy to forget sometimes (when you’re struggling through revision #1,567,321… or another rejection… or a tough critique) that you are not alone. I really loved this recent Facebook post that perfectly illustrates this point by Newbery Award-winning author Kate DiCamillo:

I usually rewrite a book a total of eight or nine times. Sometimes more. When I’m done, I take all of those drafts…

Posted by The Official Kate DiCamillo Page on Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Kate’s post was also a reminder of the other thing I love about the kidlit community–the incredible camaraderie and generosity found here. A simple Google search turns up countless sites where authors/agents/editors gladly share their expertise and advice. (I shudder to think how many rookie errors I would have made back in my querying days–besides requerying Mr. Awesome Agent with Awesome Book #2 immediately after he politely declined Awesome Book #1, oops… and sorry!–had it not been for the Blue Boards, SCBWI, Absolute Write, etc.) Not to mention, I’ve made some really amazing friends both on and offline, via this blog, on Twitter and through my agency. Incredible people who inspire and motivate me every day–even if we’re not working cubicle-to-cubicle. Even if we rarely see each other face to face.

Of course, there’s still nothing quite like meeting up with your peeps in real life–like a bunch of us did the other night outside DC (thanks to Mixed-Up Filer Amie Borst for organizing!). Much laughter was had, some delicious Italian food was consumed, stories were swapped… and I was reminded yet again: writing may be a solitary occupation, but none of us are really in it alone.

Author Headshot, from L to R: Wendy Shang, Natalie Dias Lorenzi, yours truly, Rose Cooper, Leah Henderson, Sue Douglass Fliess and Amie Borst.

Author Headshot, from L to R: Wendy Shang, Natalie Dias Lorenzi, yours truly, Rose Cooper, Leah Henderson, Sue Douglass Fliess and Amie Borst.

Jan Gangsei is the author of several Middle Grade series for Working Partners Ltd., publishing in the US, UK and Germany. Her YA debut, ZERO DAY, publishes with Disney-Hyperion on January 12, 2016.