Thursday, May 29, 2014

Our new iNK endeavor

As most visitors to this blog know, we are "closing shop" at the end of this school year.  I've enjoyed being part of this wonderful endeavor, sharing my thoughts and ideas and reading those of my colleagues over the years.  And I'm very glad that while this is the end of the iNK blog, we will continue to share our passion for nonfiction with others through our new blog, the Nonfiction Minute (  Here we will share interesting tidbits of knowledge that are no longer than 400 words, a perfect length to generate interest in a subject readers may not have known about before.  We've also set up a Facebook page ( so people can share their comments and ideas about the blog posts.  For now, we have a few samples posted on the blog, but when school starts up again in the fall, we plan to post a new "Minute" every school day.  We hope you will check out our samples and join us in the fall.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Vernal Interlude Eastward

I wouldn’t trade Los Angeles winters for those on the east coast, but spring is another matter.  In May, when most of the trees in Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park shimmer in palest green and the rest of them bloom white, pink, and magenta, there’s not a nicer place to be. And so I was. 

Lunch in Manhattan with fellow INK bloggers Sue Macy, Susan Kuklin, and Deb Heiligman brought forth nonstop chatter about the sublime, ridiculous, frustrating nature of our profession….Two author talks to the classrooms of my great-niece and nephew at Luria Academy in Brooklyn. (I forgot to take my camera.)

Barely a hint of green on the trees in the Berkshires where Alix Delinois, illustrator of Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence,  joined me at Ashley House in Sheffield, Massachusetts. As Alix and I talked about our book in the kitchen where the enslaved Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman tended the fire and cooked the meals, a brisk wind blew through the room.  Mumbet herself coming to call?

[Note to authors: when presenting and selling books to adults, try announcing "If you don't have school-age children or grandchildren, consider buying a book to donate to a local school or library."]

Then to Boston (and rainstorms) for the fifth annual conference of the Biographers International Organization (BIO.)  I first learned of this group several years ago when Marfé Delano Ferguson blogged about it here

What a treat! On Friday we had to choose only two of eight guided tours of the area’s many libraries and archives. I chose the Schlesinger Library at Harvard.  Several years ago they sent reels of microfilm across the country to me, relating to Jeannette Rankin, and finally I got to see a smidgeon of their vast repository of American women’s history, and hear about new technology that makes research easier.

In the afternoon I traveled across the river to the Atheneum in Boston, a venerable private library filled with donated antique furniture, rugs, portraits and, of course, books.

A full day of panels on Saturday covered all aspects of the biographical craft from research to publishing to marketing. Again the biggest problem was choosing among so many delectable delights. Talks on writing a group biography; finding the balance of a subject’s life, context, and work; and writing about place gave me some new ideas, and validated what I’m already doing.

Networking proved to be the surprise of the weekend. Few children’s authors attended. Nearly all were academics or independent scholars, but all were as friendly as children’s authors. I made some good connections for my current research and contacts for possible author visits. It’s so easy to break the ice with a biographer.  All you need ask is “Who are you working on?” and you’re launched into an animated conversation with a new friend. In fact, it's often hard to get a word in to brag about your "baby."

I recommend the annual BIO Conference to any and all biographers. History writers and writers of historical fiction will also find it useful. And lots of fun. I'll be going back to another conference…..

…..and to New York in the spring.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Arts in the Schools and INK (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids)

While writing today’s piece, I anxiously checked news feeds regarding the fire at the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building. By the end of the day, the fire service reported they were able to save 90% of the building and about 70% of it’s contents. Just thinking about the possible loss turned my stomach. Started in 1897, the Mackintosh Building was designed by Scotland's most influential architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Opened in 1909, the art nouveau building signaled the birth of a new style in 20th Century European architecture. A 2009 poll by the Royal Institute of British Architects voted it the best British building of the last 175 years. Imagine what we could have lost today.

About six and a half years ago, Linda Salzman contacted me. She asked if I’d be interested in writing for a kids’ nonfiction blog she was creating. Evidentially, someone noticed all the blogging I’d been writing promoting of art books for kids.  Today, in preparing to write this second-to-last post, I reread all my pieces and perused the books I’ve promoted. I was curious if there has been any change in the educational world in regard to the arts. Here's just a few items that I found. There are many more. I wonder where we will stand in another six years. 

In the last six years, we’ve become accustomed to the terms Common Core, and STEM and STEAM.
  • Common Core State Standards now aim towards a 50% nonfiction and 50% fiction classroom reading text; previously the classroom reading text was around 80% fiction.
  • In 2009, President Obama started White House Science Fairs as part of his Educate to Innovate campaign to inspire more girls and boys to excel in STEM subjects. Next week, on May 27, the 2014 White House Science Fair begins. This year’s fair will include a specific focus on girls and women who are excelling in STEM. The Administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition grants states competitive preference if they demonstrated efforts to close the STEM gap for girls and other groups that are underrepresented.
  • In February 2013, the bipartisan Congressional STEAM Caucus was created, co-chaired by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL). “We frequently discuss the importance of STEM education, but we can’t ignore the importance of engaging and educating both halves of the brain,” Bonamici maintains. “Creative, critical thinking leads to innovation. The integration of the arts into STEM curriculum will excite creativity in the minds of our future leaders.”
  • Stanford University began requiring all undergraduates to take two units of "Creative Expression" classes, including design, dance, music, fine arts, drama or creative writing.
  • Sesame Street officially expanded its STEM-themed programming to include arts.
  • Last week, Actress Kerry Washington wrote an impassioned plea for arts in the schools in a Huffington Post blog column titled How to Save Our Schools: The Arts and Music are No Fairytale.

Art-themed nonfiction books introduce young people to the passion and inspiration of artists and creators. Years ago, reading Frida by Jonah Winter to an elementary class was an eye opener for me. The text and illustrations presented the art of Frida Kahlo flawlessly, complimenting my presentation. And, the book even caught everyone's attention in a room full of kindergarteners and a class of fifth graders – no small feat.

As the support for arts in the schools continues to grow, I’ll continue to spread the word about nonfiction art books, including STEM/STEAM, activity and creativity books. Tragically, we could physically lose our treasures, but the passion and creative inspiration is what stays in our hearts. That is what art books set out to accomplish.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stretching, Soaring and Singing, by Marfé Ferguson Delano

 In this, my last blog for I.N.K., I'm happy to announce a first, a couple of firsts, actually. They're my first picture books for the 3- to 6-year-old set, Butterflies and Frogs. Never before have I written for such a young audience. It was so much more satisfying than I expected it to be! It was also much, much harder than I thought it would be. But hard in a good way, in a stretch-your-wings way, in a let-your-heart soar way, in a let-your-words sing way. All while sticking to the facts.

 Of course, writing these books wasn't all stretching and soaring and singing. There was a lot of sighing and groaning and wheel-spinning, a lot of self-doubt and frustration. There were lots of half starts and restarts and false starts. There was a lot of popcorn and chocolate. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

 But back to the soaring and singing. I got back to nature and paid attention to it. I visited butterfly gardens and spent hours in my own back yard, watching swallowtails and monarchs and fritillaries flutter and feed on Joe Pye weed, which is rightly called a butterfly magnet. I listened to spring peepers chirp peep-peep-peep and bullfrogs bellow jug-o-rum. I kept my eyes peeled for frogs snuggling into squishy, squelchy mud by streams or ponds. I looked and I listened. And I marveled.

Linda Salzman, thank you for creating this marvelous I.N.K. blog and for inviting me to be a part of it. I have learned so much from this experience and all the I.N.K. contributors. It's been great. Bye, y'all.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bumbling On to the End of Another Fair Day in May

So, kindly allow me to point out that it was on this day in 1536 that 35-year-old Anne Boleyn, met her end. Her daughter Elizabeth was not quite three years old when Henry's 2nd wife exited the world's stage through the door marked May 19. Of course, several notable spring babies entered by way of the same passage. Nellie Melba, in 1861, of the battleship-bosom and silvery soprano pipes. Ho Chi Minh (1890), Vietnamese nationalist,  just 29 when he showed up in a rented suit at the post-WWI Peace Conference at Versailles, to plead for his countrymen's fair treatment by their French overlords. [Good luck on that.] Witty Nancy Astor (1879), that American-born Parliamentarian, who famously declared to Winston Churchill, her political adversary, that if he were her husband, she'd poison his coffee. "Madam," he replied, "if I were your husband, I'd drink it." Isn't history adorable? That is, when it doesn't make you sick and want to fill your pockets with rocks and head for the nearest river? 

If you're reading this, you may well be thinking that when I sat down here at the keyboard, I hadn't actually settled upon a topic and of course you would be correct. Certainly all manner of memories and topics are fluttering about in my belfry. Driving about Hannibal, MO a few days ago, climbing the 274 steps up to the "Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse.
 It stands atop Cardiff Hill, where red-headed Sammy Clemens used to play with his buddies. Finding my way through the raucous traffic in St. Louis on Saturday, to get to the fancy meeting of the MO Humanities Council. Manuscripts I've been trying to conjure into existence - these are what most occupy my mind these days, but what good do these batty notions do you, Dear Reader, in their half-baked condition? What would you like and/or need to know that I could tell you, that you don't know already?  That, story-wise, history is full of buried treasures, remarkable people, rollicking, ill-conceived, harrowing, bloody adventures, and one damned thing after another? That when it comes to historical knowledge and awareness – without which we humans are a bunch of heedless, uninformed dopes, careening for the brink – story is the sugar that helps the medicine go down? That when it comes to historical awareness, most people in this here vale of tears are too witless to know its worth. Shoot, if you're reading this, you know that.  So I'll close as ol' Winston Churchill did more than once: "We bumble onward."

Friday, May 16, 2014

Research Journeys--Hard Work, Yes, But Don't Forget the Luck!

Stubby's story appeals to all ages, from young...

One of the best parts about researching a book is that I don’t know what I’m going to find. Each project is like a mystery, and I have the fun of solving it. Researching my new twin titles about a World War I service dog named Stubby proved especially challenging because so much of his historical trail had gone cold. 

This stray dog turned soldier had gone from being one of the most celebrated participants in World War I to being forgotten by almost everyone. A few loyal fans have kept his story alive on the Internet--alive and evolving, I should add, which created one more layer of mystery--but most people who happen across Stubby's remains, which are mounted and on display at the Smithsonian, have no idea of his exploits. It became my job to sort fact from legend as I worked to revive the war hero's story. young at heart (above, adult title).
My favorite surprise by far during my journey as history sleuth was the discovery that Stubby's best human friend, a fellow soldier named J. Robert Conroy, had descendants. When I began my research, I asked Smithsonian curators what they could tell me about Conroy. The answer, basically, was nothing. The museum had lost track of him after he’d donated Stubby and his belongings to the museum in 1956, and they’d barely learned anything about him even then. Other people had tried to trace him, I was told, but with no luck.

Research is not a particularly linear process. True, I may read a reference book from front to back, but the research threads I pick up in one source tend to fan out like rays to countless others. By the time I’m done, I haven’t so much connected the dots; I’ve more nearly created a web of facts. The stronger that web—the more connections and overlap that I uncover—the better I understand the history.

Those web-like rays inevitably lead me to unexpected places. One day a package of clippings arrived in my mailbox, as promised, from a librarian in New Britain, Connecticut. I’d tracked down the librarian by contacting the New Britain Public Library, and I’d contacted the library because New Britain was the city where J. Robert Conroy had grown up. I wasn’t the first person to inquire at the library about Stubby, and Patricia Watson kindly sent me her usual packet of clippings. One of those articles had been published in the 1990s and featured a quote from a man named Curtis Deane, who was cited as being the grandson of J. Robert Conroy.
Stubby on parade, 1921. LC-DIG-hec-31070

This was news. Up until that time, I’d found no references whatsoever to Conroy having any descendants. Now I’d found one, or at least found out about one. Fortunately, Curtis Deane hadn’t moved since he’d been quoted in that story almost two decades ago (a minor miracle, really, given how mobile people are these days). Before too long, I had been able to track him down by phone. “Can I call you back?” he asked, after confirming that, yes, he really was the grandson of J. Robert Conroy. He was digging out from three feet of snow, he explained, and he had been without power until that hour. “Sure,” I said, having learned that patience is an important part of the research and writing process.

True to his word, Curt Deane called me back the next day. We talked for 45 minutes and agreed to speak again soon. A number of conversations followed, and before long we’d made plans to meet in person. Other meetings followed as one thing led to another. The threads for that web stretched farther and grew thicker. Eventually Curt Deane introduced me to other family members, and I met more descendants of the soldier whose history I had set out to find. As we became better acquainted and I heard stories about the man these people had known as Grandfather Bob, Stubby’s best friend became as real to me as the dog that he had helped make famous. Their story became richer, and so did my ability to share it with readers. Best of all, I had made new friends—one more surprise, one more bonus, during the adventure of researching my books.

Posted by Ann Bausum during the release week for Stubby's new books. Follow his return to the limelight on my Facebook page.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

More Wonderful Books on Dance

Here are two additional books, two great favorites of mine, that somehow feel off my post.

Beautiful Ballerina

By Marilyn Nelson and photographed by our own Susan Kuklin


A talented team of children's book creators craft a beautiful, stirring tribute to the grace and power of prima ballerinas everywhere.
Every little girl has the dream to become a prima ballerina! On today's ever-changing cultural stage, ballerinas come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities. To celebrate the beauty of black ballerinas, here is a lush photographic picture book with a brilliant poetic narrative, brought to young readers by two amazing talents. The minimal text balances the harmony of the photos and demonstrates the joy of movement.

The photographs in this award-winning book took my breath away. I hear a wonderful presentation Susan did at an award panel several years ago.



Reaching for Dreams: A Ballet from First Rehearsal to Opening Night with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater


Go backstage with dancers from the world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as they learn and perform a new ballet. Drawing on hours of conversation and observation, Susan Kuklin gives a private look at the dancers goals, disappointments, and triumphs; the endless hard work; and the tension and magic of opening night.

I have a special feeling for this book as my grandson Benjamin Avram at age ten  went to the Alvin Ailey School to do African Dancing and ended up taking dance classes in ballet, tap and modern through his senior year in highschool.


A Celebration of the Arts

As I look back over the last five years of posts by I.N.K. bloggers, I’ve discovered what I suspected all along, which is that this group has covered in our books for young readers an astonishing variety of non-fiction subjects, ranging from biographies of the famous to the obscure to great and small moments in history, from science and math, to inventions, food, and the environment to the wild and wacky. The list is endless. Along with these books we’ve shared our back stories, challenges, classroom activities, some pet peeves and we’ve recommended lists of excellent non-fiction books by other authors. Today, in celebration of us, since the work I do concentrates on the arts, I’d like to offer an I.N.K. blogger feast of books that do the same in dance, music, and visual arts. Since I haven’t read all of them, I’ve  researched reviews and descriptions on and will include some excerpts here.

The Young Musician’s Survival Guide: Tips from Teens and Pros

by Amy Nathan

Learning to play an instrument can be fun and, at times, frustrating. This lively, accessible book helps young people cope with the difficulties involved in learning a new instrument and remaining dedicated to playing and practicing. In this revised and expanded edition, Amy Nathan has updated the book to address today's more technologically-minded young musician. Expanded sections cover the various ways students can use technology to assist in mastering an instrument and in making practice time more productive, from using the Internet to download pieces to be learned and playing along with downloaded tunes to practicing with computer-based practice programs, CDs, and videos/DVDs of musical performances. The book's updated Resource Guide suggests where to get additional help, both online and off.

Meet the Dancers: From Ballet, Broadway and Beyond

By Amy Nathan

Lots of kids enjoy dancing, but what motivates them to push past the sore muscles, early-morning technique classes, and crazy schedule required to become a professional dancer? In this book, dancers from many backgrounds talk about their different paths to success in ballet, modern, jazz, Broadway, and hiphop.
They also share advice and helpful tips, such as:  
 practice interpreting the music and the mood of a movement, even when you’re doing a standard warm-up exercise
• try to be in the front row at auditions so you can see what’s going on and so the judges know you’re eager to be seen

Clara Schumann Piano Virtuoso

By Susanna Reich

A piano prodigy, Clara Schumann made her professional debut at the age of nine and had embarked on her first European concert tour by the time she was twelve. Clara charmed audiences with her soulful playing throughout her life. Music was a constant source of inspiration and support for this strong and resilient woman. After the death of her husband, Robert Schumann, Clara continued her brilliant career and supported their eight children. Clara Schumann's extraordinary story is supplemented with her letters and diary entries, some of which have never before been published in English. Gorgeous portraits and photographs show the members of Clara's famous musical community and Clara herself from age eight to seventy-six. Index, chronology.

Painting the Wild Frontier: The Art and Adventures of George Catlin

By Susanna Reich

George Catlin is one of America’s best-known painters, famous for his iconic portraits of Native Americans. He spent much of his life in the wilderness, sketching and painting as he traveled. A solo trek across 500 miles of uncharted prairie, an expedition to the Andes, harrowing encounters with grizzly bears and panthers, and tours of the royal palaces of Europe were among his many adventures. In an era when territorial expansion resulted in the near annihilation of many indigenous cultures, George Catlin dedicated himself to meeting and writing about the native peoples of the western hemisphere. With his “Indian Gallery” of paintings and artifacts, he toured the United States and Europe, stirring up controversy and creating a sensation.
Award-winning author Susanna Reich combines excerpts from Catlin’s letters and notes with vivid depictions of his far-flung travels. Generously illustrated with archival prints and photos and Catlin’s own magnificent paintings, here is a rollicking, accessible biography that weaves meticulously researched history into a fascinating frontier and jungle adventure story.

Jose! Born to Dance: The Story of Jose Limon

By Susanna Reich

José was a boy with a song in his heart and a dance in his step. Born in Mexico in 1908, he came into the world kicking like a steer, and grew up to love to draw, play the piano, and dream. José's dreaming took him to faraway places. He dreamed of bullfighters and the sounds of the cancan dancers that he saw with his father. Dance lit a fire in José's soul.
With his heart to guide him, José left his family and went to New York to dance. He learned to flow and float and fly through space with steps like a Mexican breeze. When José danced, his spirit soared. From New York to lands afar, José Limón became known as the man who gave the world his own kind of dance.
Susanna Reich's lyrical text and Raúl Colón's shimmering artwork tell the story of a boy who was determined to make a difference in the world, and did. José! Born to Dance will inspire picture book readers to follow their hearts and live their dreams.

Sandy’s Circus: A Story about Alexander Calder

By Tanya Lee Stone and Boris Kulikov

As a boy, Alexander (Sandy) Calder was always fiddling with odds and ends, making objects for friends. When he got older and became an artist, his fiddling led him to create wire sculptures. One day, Sandy made a lion. Next came a lion cage. Before he knew it, he had an entire circus and was traveling between Paris and New York performing a brand-new kind of art for amazed audiences. This is the story of Sandy’s Circus, as told by Tanya Lee Stone with Boris Kulikov’s spectacular and innovative illustrations. Calder’s original circus is on permanent display at the Whitney Museum in New York City.

A Look at Cubism

By Sneed Collard

Cubism was one of the most influential visual art styles of the early twentieth century. The Cubist painters rejected the inherited concept that art should copy nature, or that they should adopt the traditional techniques of perspective. Picasso and Braque, the pioneers of Cubist painting are highlighted in this title, as well as the evolution of the Cubist art form. This title will allow students to distinguish their own point of view from that of the author of a text.

A Listen to Patriotic Music

By Sneed Collard

Patriotic music helps us feel pride for our country. The songs bring a unity and sense of togetherness to the people who live there. Written for many different reasons, and sung everywhere from baseball games to presidential elections, this title lists examples of some of our country's most cherished patriotic songs and information on the people and events that inspired them. This title will allow students to explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.

Books by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr Eccentric Genius

Age Level: 7 - 11 | Grade Level: 2 - 6

When George Ohr's trove of pottery was discovered in 1967, years after his death, his true genius was discovered with it. The world could finally see how unique this artist really was! Born in 1856 in Biloxi, Mississippi, George grew up to the sounds of the civil war and political unrest. When he was 22, his boyhood friend introduced him to the pottery wheel. The lost young man suddenly found his calling.
"When I found the potter's wheel I felt it all over like a duck in water." 
He started creating strangely crafted pots and vases, expressing his creativity and personality through the ceramic sculptures. Eventually he had thousands at his fingertips. He took them to fairs and art shows, but nobody was buying these odd figures from this bizarre man. Eventually he retired, but not without hiding hundreds of his ceramics. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, authors of the award winning Ballet for Martha,  approach this colorful biography with a gentle and curious hand.

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring (Illustrated by Brian Floca)

Martha Graham : trailblazing choreographer, Aaron Copland : distinguished American composer, and Isamu Noguchi : artist, sculptor, craftsman  Award-winning authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan tell the story behind the scenes of the collaboration that created APPALACHIAN SPRING, from its inception through the score’s composition to Martha’s intense rehearsal process. The authors’ collaborator is two-time Sibert Honor winner Brian Floca, whose vivid watercolors bring both the process and the performance to life.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through The Gates and Beyond

In 1981 two artists -- Christo and Jeanne-Claude -- proposed an installation in New York’s Central Park that would span twenty-three miles. They received a 185-page response from the Parks Department that could have been summed up in one single word: “no.” But they persisted. This biography of contemporary artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude is a story of the power of collaboration, and vision, and of the creation of the spectacular Gates and other renowned artworks.Christo and Jeanne-Claude is a 2003 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Action Jackson (Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker)

One late spring morning the American artist Jackson Pollock began work on the canvas that would ultimately come to be known as Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist).
Award-winning authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan use this moment as the departure point for a unique picture book about a great painter and the way in which he worked. Their lyrical text, drawn from Pollock's own comments and those made by members of his immediate circle, is perfectly complemented by vibrant watercolors by Robert Andrew Parker that honor his spirit of the artist without imitating his paintings.

Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist

 Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist was named a Robert F. Sibert Honor book by the ALA. This is the enthralling biography of the nineteenth-century Dutch painter known for pioneering new techniques and styles in masterpieces such as Starry Night and Vase with Sunflowers. The book cites detailed primary sources and includes a glossary of artists and terms, a biographical time line, notes, a bibliography, and locations of museums that display Van Gogh’s work. It also features a sixteen-page insert with family photographs and full-color reproductions of many of Van Gogh’s paintings. Vincent Van Gogh was named an ALA Notable Book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and has been selected as a Common Core State Standards Text Exemplar (Grades 6–8, Historical/Social Studies) in Appendix B.

Andy Warhol: Prince of POP

The Campbell’s Soup Cans. The Marilyns. The Electric Chairs. The Flowers. The work created by Andy Warhol elevated everyday images to art, ensuring Warhol a fame that has far outlasted the 15 minutes he predicted for everyone else. His very name is synonymous with the 1960s American art movement known as Pop.
But Warhol’s oeuvre was the sum of many parts. He not only produced iconic art that blended high and popular culture; he also made controversial films, starring his entourage of the beautiful and outrageous; he launched Interview, a slick magazine that continues to sell today; and he reveled in leading the vanguard of New York’s hipster lifestyle. The Factory, Warhol’s studio and den of social happenings, was the place to be.
Who would have predicted that this eccentric boy, the Pittsburgh-bred son of Eastern European immigrants, would catapult himself into media superstardom? Warhol’s rise, from poverty to wealth, from obscurity to status as a Pop icon, is an absorbing tale—one in which the American dream of fame and fortune is played out in all of its success and its excess. No artist of the late 20th century took the pulse of his time—and ours—better than Andy Warhol.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Nonfiction then and now and...?

I started writing for I.N.K. in March 2008.  With nostalgia and curiosity, I went back to look at some of my initial posts.  I kept on reading and realized that I was also looking at a history of what has happened in the field of kids’ nonfiction from then to now.  At least, some of its zeitgeist, its ups and downs. 

By 2008 we nonfiction writers had had time to road-test our liberation from straitjacket association with encyclopedic information.  We had seen or written books such as Dance, Actual Size, and Action Jackson, celebrating the changes that came with cheaper color printing and more experimental styles and formats.  It was no wonder my second post for I.N.K., A Rose by any Other Name? bridled against the confines of the word used to describe our field.  I wrote: 

As we all know, words matter. So what about the one that describes our genre of writing: nonfiction. I used to feel just fine about it, but now I have a slight twinge. After all, it does have a negative point of reference. The “I’m not fiction” instead of the “I am something” kind of writing…

If you link to the post you can see a discussion of the issue and the difficulty I and other  commenters had trying to find a good solution.

Artistically booming , we were about to take a fall. In June 2008, however, most of us didn’t know that. I’m a glass-half-full-AND-half-empty type, perhaps I had a premonition.  In The Lucky Thing about Friday the 13th(prompted by my assigned post date) I amused myself with cheerful grumbling about the luck factor (or lack thereof) in writing nonfiction for kids.  Here is part of it:

The lucky thing is that schools and libraries can always use a well-written book to update their collection on a particular subject.
The unlucky thing is that they can’t afford to buy them.
The lucky thing is that you can create books on subjects kids will love.
The unlucky thing is that many publishers can’t imagine marketing nonfiction to the trade market, so the kids don’t find them.

If you click on rest of the post, please note I do end with the lucky side; I love what I do and have, luckily, managed to make a living at it.  

Nevertheless a few months later, the fan was hit plunging us into the biggest fiscal crisis since the Great Depression.  It hit the book industry the same way it affected the nation at large.  I know many people whose completed, even paid-for manuscripts were dropped by publishers looking at a shriveling market with no immediate change in sight.  One of my own was pushed to a pub date over a year in the future so it could be “supported more successfully.”

Happily unagented for most of my career, I began to think about the comfort of having an ally.  I started a search for an agent and was shocked by what I found on their web sites.  Another post, Agents-Agents of Change was born. 

A personal nadir perhaps, but hope springs and swings eternal along with changing fortunes for people and professions.  In other words, if you stick around long enough, the pendulum swings.  On a personal level, I had three books come out in 2012.  More globally, picture books, declared a dying form, managed a “rebirth.” YA nonfiction is growing. Nonfiction books are more frequent winners and honor winners of the Newbery, Printz and Caldecott. 

I’m not exactly sure when the phrase Common Core first appeared in I.N.K. posts, but it increased exponentially in 2012.  My book Skyscraper was included in Math Reads, Marilyn Burn’s series using actual books to teach math; and I posted about future models of using our books in the classroom. When Penguin combined The Truth About Poop and Gee Whiz in a new edition, I wrote about what was lost and gained by very intelligently reissuing these books in black-and-white digest form for the burgeoning middle grade market. 
I wasn’t the only one commenting on the Brave New World of nonfiction’s role in education.  I.N.K. devoted the whole month of October 2013 to Common Core and nonfiction in the classroom with a spirited discussion about the author’s role in the process.

Is Common Core going to change the role and status of nonfiction in our culture?  Who knows.  I know more imprints are opening their lists to it.  And I wish we’d have more time and posts to report on what happens as a result.  But it’s been great to have an opportunity to think and write about all things nonfiction until now.  Thank you, I.N.K.

This post, in fact, my tenure at I.N.K. is dedicated to Linda Salzman, without whom…