Friday, April 29, 2011

PINK~ Poetry Interesting Nonfiction for Kids

What better way to end National Poetry Month with some more PINK ~ Poetry Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. (Sorry, doesn't exactly work, but looks good.)

Last month on INK, Kelly Fineman introduced National Poetry Month with a fabulous poetry-related post comprised of poetry books to complement a classroom’s curriculum. As National Poetry Month ends, I’d like to add to Kelly’s list with my arty, creativity-focused spin on poetry books for kids.

This month, while perusing nonfiction books on inventing, I found and fell in love with a new book. My find is a collection about inventions told through poems - and the poems were selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins - and the illustrations are by my new favorite illustrator, Julia Sarcone-Roach.

Incredible Inventions
By Lee Bennett Hopkins (Selected Poems)
Julia Sarcone-Roach (Illustrator)
Greenwillow 2009

Can be paired with:
Eureka! Poems about Inventors
By Joyce Sidman
21st Centrury 2002

Incorporating poetry into art appreciation classes is one way to reach out to the right-brain and complement the lesson.

In one class, while children were drawing cats during part of a lesson about the wonderful Franz Marc, I read to the class a book on cats in art and poetry.

Curious Cats: In Art and Poetry
By TK (author)
Atheneum 1999
Book paired with a lesson on Jacob Lawrence:
Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art
By Belinda Rochelle
Amistad 2000

Actually have two copies of this book in my personal collection:
Heart to Heart New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art
By Jan Greenherg (Editor) also INK contributor
Harry N. Abrams 2001

Paint Me a Poem: Poems Inspired by Masterpieces of Art
By Justine Rowden (author)
Boyds Mills Press 2005

Finally, I have to mention a new 2011 Golden Kite award-winner for Picture Book Illustration:
A Pocket Full of Posies
by Salley Mavor
Houghton Mifflin 2010
The illustrations are wildly creative and amazing. Please check this book out!

Poetry, art and creativity just seem to go hand in hand.

I know I missed some of our INK readers' personal favorites. Please feel free to add suggestions to the comments.

And remember, THINK PINK!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tasting Nonfiction Words

April is poetry month so it seems like a good time to celebrate jumping, thumping, nonfiction words. (Is any word not "nonfiction"?)

Below I've assembled sound samples to help in teaching language joy via my chant books. These books are a celebration of words, rhythm, rhyme, and biodiversity. (The newest celebrates veggies, farmer's markets, and farmers, too.)

After a quick reading of my upcoming (Beach Lane Books/S&S/June 14, 2011) book, Rah, Rah, Radishes: a Vegetable Chant, a 6-year old spontaneously practices, is able to chant a section, and has made up some dance moves to go with it. RahRahRadishesOutLoud

Here I teach the new chant to a large group, line-by-line. Rah Rah Radish youngauthorsconf

I teach word-by-word and challenge a group: Teaching Insect Chant

An older student rhythmically reads Bird, Bird, Bird_ A Chirping Chant

Here I perform a high speed version of the Fish Chant End

Another activity is to divide up into teams and have each act out a stanza of the chant. I wish I had video of what creative teachers did performing Ant, Ant, Ant: An Insect Chant during a recent inservice.

Last week I hefted durian fruit in the back of Saigon Market for a page reshoot for Go, Go, Grapes! A Fruit Chant, which will be out in 2012. I wish you INK readers could join me to eat the papayas, mangoes, grapes, and other fruit goodies I purchased from local grocers that were so helpful.

Please support your small, local grocers. They make life livable, cool cuisine possible, and keep areas of cities from becoming “food deserts.” Go traveling by checking out ethnic specialty groceries. There you’ll find recipes, strange fruits and vegetables, and wonderful new friends! My guess is that nonfiction authors and enthusiasts will find many great book ideas, stories, and geographic worlds by turning off the main streets and getting lost in neighborhoods of their own towns.

Um, no, I left the durian at the store. If you don’t know why, just consider that in some parts of Asia, durians are banned from crowded trains. I may try it out this summer when the weather is warmer and we can open the windows. Or you can invite me over if you’re going to prepare one!

I hope to see some of you at ALA. I'll be with nine other nonfiction authors sharing new nonfiction books, book talks, shelf talkers, and activities at the Sunday morning Nonfiction Book Blast session at ALA.

Note: Unlike my previous chant books, which had nonfiction text and hilarious partly-fictional illustrations, the two new books are 100% nonfiction, illustrated with photographs.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Out and About

This past month I left my office to attend various events covering genres and technology and media I don’t know much about.


First was the Jewish Literature for Children Western Regional Conference, a one-day event in LA, on Not Your Parents’ Comics: Graphic Literature for Today’s Readers. Among the speakers was Sid Jacobson, who has spent more than half a century writing and producing comic books for the Pentagon (soldiers’ manuals,) comics geeks, and now is writing award-winning graphic biographies for children, on subjects ranging from Anne Frank to Che Guevara to Vlad the Impaler.

Graphic books are not just created by author-illustrators. Jacobson writes and Ernie Colón draws the pictures. Something for us writers-only to consider. The conference also featured education specialist Anastasia Betts who gave a great talk about how teachers are using graphic literature to advance visual and verbal literacy and supplement the curriculum. (See her website for all this and more.)


Then, a couple of weeks later I went to the newly expanded Flintridge Bookstore in La Cañada (near LA) to see a demonstration of the ESPRESSO BOOK MACHINE! ( There aren’t many of these around, and most are owned by university presses. This Rube Goldberg-type machine is a wondrous

sight. You put your files into a computer at one end, press a button, and watch through the glass panels as wheels turn, flaps open and close, a glue pot dribbles – and a bound book comes out the other end! Amazing.

Right now, the machine can do text and black and white illustrations, but stay tuned. Before long it will handle color and large format and anything else you want. Want to resuscitate your out-of-print darlings? To publish your niche-market blockbuster? You can do it in a couple of hours! You don’t need to live near LA either. Grant Paules, espresso book genius, can work with you at any distance.


Lastly, this month saw the premiere of my first-ever book trailer. Full disclosure: it’s for a middle-grade novel, All the World’s A Stage: A Novel in Five Acts, but I plan to exploit this medium for my future nonfiction books as well. Researching the whole thing was soooo much fun! I watched dozens of book trailers and decided that less is decidedly more.

Next, I wrote a script that is just over one minute. Working with my illustrious friend, Christopher (Kit) Gray, documentary video editor, ( we found the perfect copyright-free Elizabethan music. ( Then I asked another friend, David Burston, an English actor, to narrate the script. Finally, Kit put it all together, using Thomas Cox’s cover and interior artwork. It was ever so much fun sitting at the editing deck watching Kit tweak the sound and images to create a gem that I’ve not yet tired of watching. School Library Journal even featured it as its Book Trailer of the Week.

I’m finally entering the 21st century (just climbed onto facebook,) and it’s an exciting place for authors as well as readers.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Temple to the Glory of Knowledge and the Written Word

Two weeks ago, I spoke for three days at elementary schools in Fairfax County, Virginia, and for the next five days I played unabashed tourist in Washington, DC. It was Spring Break for many school districts and, as far as I could tell, 25% of the nation’s school children were spending the week in the nation’s capital. Museums, monuments and other federal buildings were bursting at the pilasters. In some cases, queues for limited admission tickets began at 6:30 am. As a result I didn’t even cross the porticos of many of the sights on my list. Just the same, my visit had a clear highlight and I cannot imagine any other attraction having surpassed it.

I refer to our nation’s temple of learning, dedicated to the glorification of knowledge and exaltation of the printed word. I refer to the Library of Congress.

The LOC’s main building, now called the Jefferson Building, is an Italian Renaissance masterpiece, a celebration of learning, nationalism and the spirit of
confidence and optimism that defined the United States at the turn of the 20th Century. To quote from a page on art and architecture in the LOC’s extensive website, “Few structures represent human aspiration in such dramatic fashion.” Compare the following anecdote with the political and financial climate of today: in 1886, architects presented Congress with two sets of plans for a library building -- an adequate one with a projected cost of $4 million and an elaborate one with a price tag of $6 million. Congress opted to spend $6 million. And this: the construction engineers managed to build it for less than the allocated sum, leaving substantial funds for “artistic enhancement.” The result is a highly decorated cultural monument featuring sculpture, mural painting and architecture unsurpassed in any public building in America. And all of it devoted to the glory of…books. (OK, not just books but other cataloged items that include recordings, photos and maps.)

When I decided to write my post on this remarkable instit
ution, the world's largest library, I first thought I would delve into the numbers, my usual stock in trade: the 32 million books, which are but a fraction of the 142 million cataloged items … the 22,000 items received daily, of which 10,000 are added to the collection (what kind of recycling bin receives the other 12,000?) … the 650 miles of shelving … the staff of 3,600 … the 1.7 million visitors per year (few of whom exercise their right to access the collection, available to anyone 15 years or age or older). Instead I have decided to share some of the quotations inscribed in stone in the four corridors on the second floor of the Great Hall. Blown away by the overall effect of the building and entranced by the plethora of details, I found myself returning time and again to those quotations. Their sources are not given, lending an air of secular “gospel.”

What follows are my favorites, without punctuation edits (though I am tempted) and with brief commentaries to which I invite you to add your own by commenting on this post.


Does this bring “creation science” to mind? Global warming denialism? Astrology and other pseudosciences?



Note that it says “the soul,” not merely “the record.” The difference is profound and, I imagine, the word choice was not accidental.




So it’s not just the stuffing in of facts, but the understanding that counts! Do you see any parallel to the dichotomy between the reading of textbooks (chockablock with disembodied facts) vs. quality non-fiction literature (facts in the service of understanding)?


The ultimate goal, again, is not merely a gluttony of facts, but what happens when they are processed into wisdom. A comforting thought.




Even in this secular temple we find theological themes like this, but notice how the author identifies the flight path to Heaven.



Another aphorism with theological undertones but secular overtones.



A high-fallutin’ paen to books. And as a tribute to those who write them, we have…



How can I but adore this one? Finally...


I can add nothing to that. I just hope that some members of the august body for whose education this institution was principally intended (and whose name it bears) will wander over here to take note. . . and instead of political lip-service to education, they will literally put their money where their mouth is in a fashion as generous as that of their 19th Century forbears who chose the high road in funding this truly magnificent building.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The King’s Speech—How Close to the Truth is It?

I have been writing a lot these days about the truth in nonfiction books. One of my older posts (INK, August 2008) was about the power of movies based on true stories. The power to appeal is unquestionable, but the issue of how “true” a “true” movie is becomes a bit more complicated, as the medium obviously lends itself to dramatization. Feature films are not documentaries, but perhaps the difference between them should not be as vast as that between fiction and non-fiction.

My most recent conundrum was with the movie The King’s Speech. First, I loved this movie (as did the kids—10 and 14—I took to see it; pretty high praise). It swept me right up. I was engrossed, taken by the characters, rooting for the King, admiring of the Queen, amused by and enamored of the speech therapist. But there were liberties taken, as has been noted. An article from the New Republic called it “a royal mess,” the UK’s The Guardian said it took “pointless liberties,” and the title of Slate’s article sums it up: “Churchill Didn’t Say That.” Yet even in the face of criticism, there has been praise for how the writers handled much of the history, as in a piece in the Telegraph.

I love the details with which the Guardian takes issue, as they are exactly the kind of questions I ask myself when I come across articles or books that contain “facts” that strike me as slightly off. I begin to wonder what research process was behind the end product of whatever I am reading. How deep did the researchers dig? Did they change things to suit their needs?

Michael White writes, “The absence of deference [in The King’s Speech], stifling and awful though it must have been, is inherently wrong. So I would need evidence that therapist and patient were on "Lionel" and "Bertie" terms. And royal dukes, monarchs and their spouses/squeezes did not wander around London in taxis unsupervised or use creaky Harley St lifts alone – any more than they do now except (so it is said) when Di gave her minders a slip. But that's a quibble…”

And it IS a quibble, but, as they say, the devil is in the details. Small liberties perhaps lead to larger liberties, as was the case with the movie’s portrayal of Edward VIII and Winston Churchill.

It’s an interesting problem that is posed when making a movie versus a documentary, but there are choices to be made, as in any creative endeavor. Some choices sit better with my nonfiction sensibilities than others. For example, there is much more to the story of Edward VIII than his just being somewhat of a self-centered romantic who put his love interest above the throne. He was a supporter of fascism and sympathetic to Hitler. However, it does not much bother me that the filmmakers mainly left that out (there is brief reference to it, but if you blink it is over, and if you don’t know what you’re looking at it may not even register). It’s the same when researching a book. You can’t put Everything in. You have to make choices governed by the overarching question: What is the story I am telling here? To bring that whole story line of Edward’s into the script would have taken it too far off the point of the movie—the relationship between the King and Mr. Logue.

But the choices in portraying Churchill fall into a different category, in my opinion. Here, the creators are not choosing to leave something out, they are choosing to manipulate the truth to make it fit their story. When that happens, I wonder why. How would the script have played out differently if they had either gone with the truth—that Churchill was fine with David’s (King Edward) relationship with Wallis Simpson—or not chosen to have the opposite opinion come out of Churchill’s mouth? What is gained from doing this? Perhaps the truth was just too difficult to manage in the scope of the story—the heroic Churchill had his own dark moments in real life. But this is NOT an option in nonfiction books. We must show our daring historic figures with their flaws in tact.

So where is the line when it comes to the movies? All in all, I thought the writers did a splendid job depicting so many things well and accurately that it made me wonder even more about the choices they made when there were factual discrepancies. Was there a way to handle some of the history better? Or does this issue simply not bother people when it is in the form of a feature film due to those two little words--"based on"? Please weigh in—I would love to hear your opinions.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Festivals!

I haven’t appeared at very many book festivals, but attended two in the last couple of weeks. The first one came about because of a Facebook connection, associate professor Ernie Bond, who sent me an invite to the Children’s Literature Festival at Salisbury University, which is held every spring. By coincidence, I was going to be in town visiting relatives at the exact time, so sent him a message that I would drop by. One of the main reasons was that two I.N.K. bloggers would be there, Melissa Stewart and Sneed Collard lll. Then Ernie replied that he would have some of my books ordered for me to sign(!)
Well sure, I’m always happy to sign books and was impressed that some were available with only a couple of weeks notice, plus people brought books in from their library or personal collections. And though Sneed hadn’t arrived yet I was fortunate to be able to chat with Melissa who gave me some great tips about her Skype school visits, something I’d like to try now that my iPad 2 has arrived. Her Readers’ Theater scripts and other activities on her web site have also been inspiring.

Speaking of my iPad, I’ve had it a little over a week and used it to film, edit, and upload the video below, taken at the UCF Book Festival last Saturday:

It’s another amazing coincidence that I write and illustrate books, and my brother Robert sells them... pretty cool! His store, Leedy’s Books, is in Orlando, so this festival is a great way for people to find out about his bookstore (he carries primarily used books). The University of Central Florida started their book festival last year and did a great job organizing it, but this year was even better. My only complaint is that it can be very tough for mere authors and books to compete against blue-eyed miniature horses in costume!!!

Not one, not two, but THREE adorable tiny horses (two with blue eyes) were in the booth next to me when I was signing. Needless to say, most of the books were signed at other times throughout the day in Robert’s booth. There were plenty of other fun distractions like a zillion characters in Star Wars costumes, which all added to the fun. Everything is done by volunteers which is probably the rule at book festivals, so hat’s off to the organizers at both events!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Book By Any Cover?

Happy Passover! And almost Happy Easter!

I am taking this day to talk about something related to my post last month: art. This month it's about covers, and specifically the covers of two of my books--Celebrate Passover and Celebrate Easter. First of all let me just say this is not some sneaky way of getting you to buy my books. Since Passover has already begun and Easter is just days away, it's too late for this year. If I were a truly savvy marketer I would have written this post a month ago. But I'm not that savvy. Not even slightly. This came about because I took out the books to bring them to the family seder (o.k., just one of the books, guess which one?) and remembered that they changed the covers before they put them in paperback. Can you guess why?

Above is the cover of the hardcover edition of my Passover book.

Below is the cover of the paperback edition, out about a year later:

Why the change?

Here's a hint, by way of my book about Easter. Hardcover:

And the paperback:

First of all, although National Geographic was amazingly great to work with on these books, and I had a lot of input on the photographs inside (Lori Epstein, the photo editor, is a genius, so she didn't need much of my input at all!), they changed the covers without telling me.

That's fine, really it is, because they know what they're doing.

The hardcovers were mainly marketed to grown-ups--teachers, librarians, parents. And the softcovers to kids. So the covers reflect that marketing. This just brings home once again that the job of writers and publishers of children's books is different from the job of those who make books for grown-ups. We are aiming at more than one audience at a time. In this case the wizards at National Geographic decided to kind of split the market with the different editions.

Which makes me wonder, what's next? How will the new technology affect the way publishers design the different editions of our books? Will e-books look different graphically than paper books? What about books for Ipads and Iphones vs books for Kindles and Shmindles? I think this is an especially interesting question for nonfiction books and especially for us--the writers, publishers and gatekeepers of nonfiction for children.

I think this is one of those cases when technology will change the way books are written. We've known for a while that once electronic books are the norm we will no longer need picture books with a certain number of pages. But what about the look of these books, from the covers on in? What do you think?

By the way, I am part of a panel at ALA this summer called the Nonfiction Book Blast. Other I.N.K.ers are on it, too. I wrote a post yesterday for that panel's blog that might interest you. You can go here to see it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Peanuts Are Coming! The Peanuts Are Coming!

"Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive..."

So wrote the poet, 151 years ago. Somewhere off in the Blue Beyond is the soul who once animated the renowned silversmith of Boston. Here's hoping that he knows that his exploits and those of his generation are remembered. It seems to me that I wrote (in my book Remember the Ladies), about another rider, another spring night, that of the 26th of April, 1777. Sybil Ludington and her horse accomplished forty miles that night, about twice the ground covered by her more famous contemporary and she was less than half his age.
As for me, over this past weekend, I rode ever so much farther (357 miles), ever so much faster, with a great deal more comfort (in Grace, my little red car: "Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far..."), and all the while listening to one of the clever and beautifully researched Mary Russell books, written by the great Laurie R. King. Some things about this 21st century I positively adore. Why was I out and about? Because I was asked to speak, draw, sign books, & otherwise be part of the entertainment on Saturday, at the George Washington Carver National Monument, down in Missouri's southwest corner.
If you're reading this, it's likely that you already know plenty about Dr. Carver, as he was called, out of respect and due to the honorary doctoral degree awarded to him by a college he'd attended in Iowa. GWC was also known as "The Sage of Tuskegee," or "The Peanut Wizard," or "The Black Leonardo." I thought I had a pretty good idea of him, too, until I was set the task of writing and illustrating a book about him a few years ago. Slave-born around 1865, in Missouri – check. Black History Month icon – check. Heavily involved (at the Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington), in peanuts + related inventions – check.
Did I know that he took off on his own when he was only 13 on a quest for an education? That he was a Kansas homesteader? Lugged blocks of sod to build his own little h. on the p.? That his paintings were exhibited at the Chicago Exposition of 1893? That he was an expert needleworker? A temperamental artist (redundant, I know), possessed of a sweet singing voice & handy with an accordian? A gifted teacher. An early advocate of contour plowing and other means of soil conservation, including the planting of peanuts and other legumes that would infuse fields, famished from one cotton crop after another, with life-giving nitrogen. Much admired by FDR for his alleviating the suffering of polio patients? An expert testifier before Congress on the MANY uses of the peanut, many of which he dreamed up himself as a self-professed "kitchen chemist?" Nope, on all counts.
But he was.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Connecting with Nature

As a child, I spent as much time out-of-doors as possible. I was lucky--in my time, children were sent outdoors on sunny days to play in the neighborhood and were only expected to show up at home for meals. Until I was nine, I lived on the edge of town in Rochester, MN, with my backyard blending into the beckoning woods beyond. When we moved to California, our home was one of the first in a newly developing area, where I could explore the woods, grasslands, and beach to my heart's content, my cocker spaniel at my side.

Today, when I visit my grandsons, we pile everyone in the car and go to the park. There, the adults sit on benches or stand around and watch the children at play. If a child wanders too far, way across the block of manicured grass on one side of the park, the caretaker gets concerned and may yell or gesture to get the child closer. There's no woods, no freedom from the eyes of adults. We've become a society beset by fear of what might happen to our children if they aren't in sight of a grownup at all times. How sad.

I don't think the world beyond our doorsteps is more dangerous today; I think this fear comes largely from the fact that if one child is abducted in far away Maine, or distant Oregon, every parent in America hears about it. At the same time, our children have become enchanted with what technology has to offer. Richard Louv, at the beginning of his seminal book, "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," quotes a San Diego fourth-grader who said, "I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are."

In his book, Louv documents the changes in American society that have led to our disassociation with nature and explains why these trends are damaging to young people. Hi links this absence of nature in children's lives with the rise in obesity, attention disorders and depression, and discusses ways to reverse the trend and to help kids engage with the natural world.

One important resource he doesn't cite is nonfiction trade books like those written by Ink Think Tank members. My favorite gift as a child was a factual book about nature--butterflies, snakes, great outdoor adventurers--I gobbled them up like candy. I wouldn't read fiction unless the main character was a dog or a horse. I know there are still children out there like me, and even if they don't live where they can spend lots of time out-of-doors, they can learn about wild places and wild things by reading such books. Then, when they do get outside, they can relate what they experience to what they've read., or they can come home or go to the library and read about the plants and animals they've seen during their outdoor adventures.

Nature inspires wonder. The sight of a fox on the meadow across the street from my house became a highlight of their visit to my granddaughters, and my grandsons still talk about the cinnamon bear that crossed our path in a nearby wildlife refuge. Once their curiosity is aroused, kids want to know more, and they want to learn, and they will read.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reading (Again)

I got the nicest email the other day from a group of kids in Illinois who’d been reading my books in school. They sent questions. (And pictures! That was a treat for me to see all those smiling faces!) These kids are serious about wanting to write; they’re analyzing books they like and writing authors for advice.

One of the questions they asked was what writing exercises I’d recommend for young writers like them, and what kind of exercises I enjoyed doing.

I wrote back:

“I think one of the best things you can do as a writer is to REread other people’s books. When you read a book you like, read it again and look at how the author accomplished whatever it is s/he did so well. Satisfying ending? Well, how did s/he set that up? Exciting story? Well, what details or plot twists did s/he include? Characters you really care about? Well, how did s/he do that, specifically?”

I learned this tip years ago when I heard the wonderful author Nancy Farmer speak at a conference. She said when she was teaching herself how to write, she would read the same book three times. The first time she read it, she was so caught up in the story that she really couldn’t see how the author made it work so well. But by the third reading, she was able to step back, analyze what was going on, and learn from it.

I’ve been thinking about this advice every time I sink into the book I’m currently reading (or perhaps I should say, REreading). It’s a nonfiction book for adults called Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.

The book is a fascinating look at the 2008 presidential race, and there is a lot a writer of narrative nonfiction can learn by rereading passages. (Be forewarned, however, if this kind of thing bothers you, or if you recommend books to teens: in spite of the measured, polite, authoritative stance the candidates strive to maintain during public events, in private, key players from both parties swear enough to make a sailor blush.)

Narrative nonfiction is all about telling a story, developing characters, and, for longer works especially, creating scenes, much as a novelist might—with the added caveat that everything laid down on the page must be true.

All narrative nonfiction books are a balancing act: you have to work in enough exposition for the story to make sense, but you have to keep the story moving forward. Game Change is a great big sweeping tale with enough characters to populate a 19th century Russian novel. So one of the challenges Heilemann and Halperin face is how to quickly introduce (yet another) character in a way that is engaging and memorable, so that they can get back to telling the story.

Here, for example, is our introduction to Republican candidate Mitt Romney:

“Romney was the guy on whom much of the smart Beltway money had been betting from the start. His résumé was impressive: former CEO of Bain and Company and founder of Bain Capital; savior of the blighted 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics; one-term governor of Massachusetts. His pedigree was glittering: his father, George, had been a governor of Michigan and a presidential candidate, too. His personal life was impeccable: he had married his high school sweetheart, Ann, with whom he had had five strapping sons. He was well spoken and terrific looking, with blindingly white choppers, a chiseled jaw, and a helmet of glassy dark hair.”

There is much to admire in this paragraph. Note the tremendous amount of information we learn about Romney in just a few short sentences: his viability in comparison to the other candidates; his relevant work experience, background, and personal life; and, as is all too important in an election, his physical presence.

And yet, in spite of the sheer weight of all that information, we are engaged and entertained. First there is the terrific rhythm that structures the paragraph, pulling us through what is in reality just a long list of facts:

“His résumé was impressive…. His pedigree was glittering…. His personal life was impeccable….”

And Heilemann and Halperin don’t just shove these facts down our throats; they make the facts tasty. One of the main themes of the book is how important a candidate’s image is during an election, and this description of Romney is pitch-perfect for capturing the sense of a candidate whose image is of an all-American hero who can do it all. Just look at all the smart vocabulary choices being made:

Romney, the “savior” of the Olympics, with his “glittering” pedigree. His sons are not just ate-their-vegetables healthy, they are Paul Bunyan “strapping” (and, by extension, so is their dad). Romney is not just good-looking, he is movie star handsome, with his perfect “choppers” and “chiseled” jaw. And that “helmet” of hair? It could crown the head of a star quarterback.

In one skillful paragraph, they have captured the sense of one of the characters in their story—and now, they can get back to telling it.

The story itself is largely told in scenes.

In his book Scene & Structure, Jack M. Bickham defines a scene as “a segment of story action, written moment-by-moment, without summary, presented onstage in the story ‘now.’”

A vivid scene pulls the reader into a story—we feel as though we are right there, in that spot and at that moment, standing in the character’s shoes. (And, as you’ll see in a moment, they are very nice shoes, indeed.)

Take, for example, the opening of a frantic scene to get Sarah Palin—John McCain’s last-minute pick for a running mate—ready for the national stage:

“Cloistered in a suite on the twenty-third floor of the Hilton, Sarah Palin barely noticed the storm raging outside. Not that the atmosphere of anarchy didn’t penetrate her quarters. Quite the contrary. The place was a freaking madhouse, a Grand Central rush hour of aides, kids, and minions….

“Boxes of Manolo Blahniks were piled up four feet high and stretching twenty feet along one wall of the living room. Neiman Marcus bags were everywhere, along with several rolling garment racks loaded with suits and dresses—maybe sixty outfits, beautiful threads…. A fleet of Hollywoodish stylists in tight black jeans and high heels were hovering and strutting.”

Heilemann and Halperin set up a scene of chaos far worse than the storm “raging outside.” Inside is “anarchy,” a “freaking madhouse” with a crush of people swarming like harried commuters at rush hour.

Having set the scene, the authors use specific details to bring it to life: the wall of shoe boxes, the piles of shopping bags, the racks of expensive clothes, the “fleet” of stylists milling around. In the midst of this chaos, Sarah Palin prepares for her convention speech, and we are right there with her.

Skillfully developed characters? Check. Well-crafted scenes? Check? A book worth REreading? Indeed.