One Writer’s Journey

September 13, 2017

In-search-of-ideas: Mining Everyday Mysteries at the Library of Congress

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:18 am
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I get a wide variety of updates sent to my in-box and that variety includes the Library of Congress.  Not too long ago, I saw that the library had a series called “Everyday Mysteries.”

Take minute to check this out.  Although it is described as “Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress,” there is a bit of history as well.  Not that it is divided into science and history.  Instead it is divided, more or less, by discipline.

Agriculture includes:

Biology includes:

The list goes on and on and includes Botany, Chemistry, Geography, Home Economics, Physics and more.  Follow the links, read the material and you could be set for ideas for well over a year.

Working my way back from the “Everyday Mysteries,” I quickly found Science Reference Services.  The home page of this division included a link to the new reference guide, “ENTOMOPHAGY: Human Consumption of Insects for Food.”  As with other LOC reference guides, this one includes an overview as well as lists of general resources and specialty resources on the topic.  Not interested in Entomophagy?  You can find a complete list of the guides here.

I also found a link to the science division blog, Inside Adams.  How is it that I’ve been reading the general blog for years as well as the Folklife blog but knew nothing about the science blog?  Sometimes I embarrass myself.

Any time you are in need of a science based idea to spur your writing forward, take some time to explore the Library of Congress.  In addition to digitizing historic materials, they are also constantly adding new offerings to help students, teachers, and writers find interesting material.

For more on the Library of Congress, check out this post on their teacher’s guides and other materials organized and made easily available for teachers.



November 11, 2015

Writing Science

Free stock photo of flight, sky, earth, space

Writing science for children isn’t rocket science unless, of course, it is.

Recently I spotted a contest sponsored by Alan Alda in which he challenges scientists to explain sound to 11 year-olds.  Admittedly, I was a little steamed that the contest wasn’t open to writers but whatever. I’m not really worried about scientists writing me out of a job.

I don’t remember where I saw this quote but the jest of it was this — if you can’t explain something to a 6 year-old than you don’t really understand it.  I discovered the truth of this statement as I roughed out Women in Science.  Biology and genetics?  Easy peasy.  Chemistry?  Got it.  Robotics?  That was a little tougher but the mechanics and movement gave me a starting place.  Physics?  I thought that was tough until I had to do the chapter on higher math.

Once I understood things, I could explain them to my readers.  But I had to really understand it and I had to have enough knowledge to adopt a vocabulary that my reader could understand.

If you’re trying to write science for a young reader, but it isn’t coming together do some more reading.  Expand your own understanding of the topic.  Only when you really grasp virology, genetic engineering or string theory will you be able to explain it to a young reader.

It is often a good idea to find an expert to review your piece.  I did this when I wrote a geology article.  My research was largely from scientific journals and I wanted to make certain that I hadn’t wharped some concept in trying to make it more accessible.  He tweaked a few minor things but for the most part I had it right which I suspected was the case.  How did I know?  Because it had all come together and I really and truly got it.



October 23, 2013

How to Write Nonfiction: Kid Friendly Doesn’t Mean Dumbed Down

NonfictionThe very best nonfiction for children does two things:

1.  It presents the topic in a kid friendly manner.  

Some books do this in terms of measurements, presenting abstracts in terms more easily understood.  In How Big Were Dinosaurs?, author/illustrator Lita Judge does this by relating the size of various dinosaurs in terms that mean something to her readers.  There is no discussion of feet or meters or or MPH or tons except in how they relate to school buses, first graders and chickens.  For dinosaurs that are simply too large to relate to a kid-friendly measurement, Judge measures a piece of the dinosaur such as a claw or a tooth.

Other books do this by discussing abstract or ominous topics (such as the web of life) in very concrete, nonthreatening ways.  Rotten Pumpkin tells about decomposers not in the abstract but by showing them reducing a jack-o-lantern.  Author David M. Schwartz makes the various fungus as familiar as possible by relating more common tasks that each performs such as making bread rise or fighting infection.  These things are real and understandable and nothing to draw away from in disgust.

But that isn’t all that good nonfiction does because you do all of this in an overly simply way.

2.  The best nonfiction gives the reader enough meat to show that you respect them and their ability to grasp the topic.  Judge does this in terms of the animals that she discusses.  Some of them are fairly familiar such as the velociraptor, the stegosaurus, and the ankylosaurus.  Others, much less common, include the therizinosaurus, the tsintausaurus, and the struthiomimus.  Yet she give the young reader all of these names and leaves it up to the hapless adult, reading out loud, to successfully sound them out.

Rotten Pumpkins deals with the Latin names for various fungus.  It also discusses how a colony of slime mold can link together to form a net, one single creature with movement and a need to find food.  The book also delivers on a topic a lot of adults will shrink away from as nasty or disgusting, trusting that young readers are wise enough to get why this is awesome and amazing and wonderful.

If you can make the information accessible while also trusting the reader to get it in its full scientific glory, maybe science writing is the children’s nonfiction for you.


is week I read two nonfiction picture books that were a perfect balance of making the topic kid friendly but also presenting information that respected the reader.

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