By Cindy Neuschwander
October 9, 2004
This was a morning workshop arranged by the Northern California chapter of SCBWI. Cindy is the author of several creative non-fiction picture books focused on Geometry and Math, including the Sir Cumference series and Amanda Bean's Amazing Dream .
Creative non-fiction is a genre that connects facts to fiction to make a story.
On creating good picture books:
She suggests applying the Ferrari philosophy (yes, the auto maker) to picture books:
- Maniacal attention to detail
- Emphasis on continuous improvement in every aspect of the business
She suggests reading the manuscript aloud into a tape recorder as one way of figuring out where to revise. The book should take less than 12 minutes to read, cover to cover.
Gender balance when you write, and include multiple races and ethnicities.
A surprise ending is great, because all readers are predicting what will happen next when they read.
Favorite non-fiction books for inspiration:
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Alphabet book)
And mid-grade non-fiction based novels:
The Process of Creating a Non-Fiction Book:
- Start with a non-fiction idea and weave a story around it.
- Take one small bite of non-fiction matter. Your book is not the definitive word on it; itÕs just an introduction.
To create a good manuscript:
- Know your audience Š from observing kids or remembering your inner child.
- Create memorable characters by knowing all the details about them, even if you donÕt use them. Create a life profile: parents, real name/nick name, what they like. Children need to relate to them. Characters, setting and problem should be obvious by page 2.
- Know your facts. Longer childrenÕs non-fiction is a great source of research and ideas for picture books. Look up state standards and try to link prior knowledge with new knowledge for a grade level Š this is a good teaching tool. Facts should be clues in book that all tie together at the end. (Kids love gross, funny and weird facts and the universal item of clothing, underwear!)
- Your narrative must be good. Creative non-fiction is story based and must have a great beginning, story-arc and ending.
During the workshop, we did a fun exercise. Each of us selected a piece of paper on which Cindy had typed the opening line of one of her favorite books. (She had brought these books and spread them out on a table for us to look at later.) We then tried to guess which book it belonged to, and discussed why it was a great hook into the story.
And finally, teachers and students are the primary consumers of creative non-fiction. These books have a long shelf life unlike the typical picture book. Encourage sales and use in the classroom by attending educational conferences and enlisting the support of teachers.
Thanks for visiting! ~Lara