How a Makerspace Project Inspired a Book by Melissa Stewart
Back in 2018, I had a dream, and while attending a makerspace workshop led by educators Dana Kramroff and Rabecca Hester at the Keystone State Literacy Association conference in Pennsylvania, I decided to create a 3-D representation of it.
What exactly was my dream? I wanted to help educators understand a critical part of the nonfiction writing process that often goes unseen and unappreciated. I believed that if teachers became aware of what they’re leaving out of their instruction, students could produce more engaging nonfiction writing and avoid the temptation to plagiarize.
You see, writing finely-crafted nonfiction isn’t just a matter of doing some research and cobbling together a bunch of facts. There’s much more to it than that.
To craft high-quality prose, I have to dig deep. I have to get in touch with my passions and my vulnerabilities and use them to fuel my work. Each book I write has a piece of me at its heart, and that personal connection is what drives me to keep working, despite the inevitable obstacles and setbacks.
It turns out I’m not alone in my thinking. As I shared my ideas—and my dream for K-12 writing instruction–with other authors, they smiled and nodded. They agreed that the topics we choose, the approaches we take, and the concepts and themes we explore are closely linked to who we are as people—our personalities, our beliefs, and our experiences in the world. In fact, putting the information we collect through our own personal filters and making our own meaning is the secret to creating engaging nonfiction.
And so during the 2018-2019 school year, dozens of nonfiction authors wrote posts on my blog discussing this important topic from their point of view. Not only did each writer have something uniquely fascinating to say, many reported learning a valuable lesson about themselves and their creative process while writing their essay.
After I’d published about a dozen of these blog posts, educators began suggesting that I compile them all in one place, so that they’d be easier to access and explore as a group. I liked this idea, but finding a publisher was a daunting challenge. With each rejection, I looked to my little purple “digging deeper” sculpture for inspiration and fortitude. Then I sent out my proposal again.
Eventually, persistence paid off. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) agreed to publish the anthology. And now Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing is entering the world. We are delighted that 100 percent of the proceeds will be divided among NCTE, We Need Divers Books, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
In the end, the underlying message of Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep is simple but powerful: To create nonfiction that delights as well as informs, professional writers as well as student writers need to have skin in the game. The goal of this anthology is to share personal stories as well as tips, tools, and activities that can help writers at all levels feel personally invested in their writing.
Melissa Stewart has written more than 180 science books for children, including the ALA Notable Feathers: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen; the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; and Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. She also co-wrote the upcoming title 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books. Melissa maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Science and serves on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators board of advisors. Her highly-regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.