Friday, July 15, 2011

ALA Nonfiction Book Blast

I've been reading at a snail's pace lately, so to liven up the blog until I have more books to comment on, here are my thoughts on the excellent Nonfiction Book Blast held at ALA Annual in New Orleans. Ten authors of nonfiction books for young people shared their inspiration, writing and research process, and programming ideas to accompany their books. Visit for the full color handout that accompanied this program.

Anastasia Suen moderated the panel. She mentioned her blog, a weekly round-up of nonfiction for young readers. She also writes Booklist Quick Tips, a monthly e-newsletter for youth librarians and teachers. Her readers' theater program on sports can be found on page 36 of the handout.

April Pulley Sayre encourages use of her books for read-alouds, describing them as poetic narrative nonfiction. She's inspired by nature (vultures, sea turtles) and gardening. Her new book Rah Rah Radishes was inspired by a depressing interview between Jamie Oliver and kids who didn't know any vegetable names. She also shared interesting facts about bumblebees: unlike honeybees, bumblebees are native to North America. They pollinate plants that honeybees can't by shaking and creating static shock.

Carla McClafferty's latest book is The Many Faces of George Washington. She describes it as “CSI meets the Biography Channel.” She talked about how the image of Washington used on the $1 dollar bill is based on an unfinished portrait by Gilbert Stuart. New statues that depict Washington at various stages of his life were created using life masks and state of the art computer imaging. She traveled to Mount Vernon to learn more about, and connect with, the book's subject. Watch the book trailer:

Shirley Duke has a biology degree, has taught science, writes a science blog, and has also written fiction. Her book You Can't Wear These Genes is about genetics. She has also written about infections, infestations, and diseases. She has 3 books coming out in the fall: Enterprise Stem, Forces & Motions at Work Here, and Environmental Disasters.

Loree Griffin Burns doesn't shy away from tackling troubling stories. Her 2007 book Tracking Trash tells the dark and troubling story of a gigantic garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. She says that the key to telling troubling stories is to provide something for kids to do about it. She had the “citizen science” concept in mind when writing last year's Hive Detectives, about the mysterious deaths of honeybees. She also shared information about the Great Sunflower Project – You can participate by planting lemon queen sunflower seeds, caring for the plants until the flowers bloom, and then staring at them for 15 minutes each week to count the bees that visit them. Submit data through the website. Her upcoming book is Citizen Scientists.

Darcy Pattison's new book, Prairie Storms, comes out in August. The narrative combines information about weather, habitat and animals. Her next book, Desert Baths, is coming next year. Her publisher, Sylvan Dell, has provided downloadable lesson plans at Her book trailer incorporates the animal sounds.

Deborah Heiligman, who has written more than 20 books, joked about changing her name to Charles & Emma because that's the one that everyone remembers. She used only primary sources in writing Charles & Emma, finding scanned images of family letters and journals online. The paperback edition comes out in the fall, and the readers theater she wrote for it should be included in back. She asks that you email her if you use it in a program. She wants readers to get immersed in books and not think about her as the author. For the “Holidays Around the World” series she uses the pronoun “we.” Each of the books in that series includes a recipe that she's made herself (usually desserts) that can also be made by her readers.

Christine Taylor-Butler has a website: She's an MIT engineer and lives in Kansas City, where the average ACT score is 14. She has several science books coming out this year & next year. She presented several cool science experiments that can be replicated for under $5 including "Is there metal in your money?" in which she used a rare earth magnet to push and pull a $1 dollar bill. This magnetic push and pull is the same force used to power maglev trains. Another one measured the iron content in Total cereal. The cereal is crushed and mixed with hot water in a plastic bag, then rubbed with a magnet to draw the iron out. She likes to call them “magic tricks” to hook kids, then explains the science as she conducts them. Check out for more information and links to videos and PDFs.

Carla Mooney is the author of Explorers of the New World: Discover the Golden Age of Exploration from Nomad Press, published this month. 22 projects are included in the book. She's written many series nonfiction books for ReferencePoint Press, including entries in the "Compact Research" series and Dragons for the "Monsters and Mythical Creatures" series.

Kelly Milner Halls is the author of many books including Saving the Baghdad Zoo. Only 40 animals were found alive (mostly large carnivores) after the U.S. invaded. All the others had been eaten. She likes to get readers asking questions like, “What would you do in this situation?” Her latest book is In Search of Sasquatch, coming out in October. She encouraged everyone to watch the Patterson-Gimlin footage of “Patty” on youtube, here’s just one version: She brought in plaster casts of bigfoot tracks, and showed how people can make their own. Her previous book Tale of the Cryptids got her fascinated with Bigfoot. She began researching Sasquatch convinced that it would turn out to be fake, but after interviewing several scientists she found herself open to the possibility of its existence.

Tune in next week for my thoughts on It Gets Better, edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller.

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