Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 30, 2009

An Afternoon Talking about Nonfiction

If you know jbknowles at all, you can imagine how many times Jo thanked me for offering to show up at her writing for children class while she stayed home with tea and too many tissues. I assured her it would be fun, and of course it was. What a wonderful group of people, who missed Jo, and praised her, but were ready to hear about ways to experiment with nonfiction. They had so many good questions that I never got to my notes, but I think we covered enough. Ronnie asked if nonfiction writing had a voice in the same way that fiction does. “Let’s look,” I said, glad I’d hauled in a small suitcase full of books. They each chose a picture book biography and read the first few sentences. Ann began with Barbara Cooney’s Eleanor: “From the beginning the baby was a disappointment to her mother. She was born red and wrinkled, an ugly little thing. And she was not a boy.”

They all nodded: yes, this was not the kind of writing you’d find in a newspaper or textbook.

I urged them to check out INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids
And I would have loved to do a whole class just on poetry that draws from history, my current obsession, but mostly just pointed to another pile, and left them with a quote from Marilyn Nelson, author of Carver and other great collections: “What I do most and best is track, like a good hound, with my nose to the ground, gathering information and impressions, and piecing together a story shaped like a poem, and with a poem’s ambition.” (interview in September’s Writer’s Chronicle)

Yesterday was social, eating and writing with friends before class, then getting an always-coveted phone call from my daughter, and hearing about Halloween adventures already begun. Tomorrow I’m reading not-too-spooky stories at the library. Today it’s gray again, the dogs are sleepy, and I’m hunkering in to creep toward the end of my long-long-revision. I’m always happy for quiet company, so whether you’re sick or well, I hope you can join me. And don’t mind if I break for a bit of knitting.



  1. Well, I can’t help it. THANK YOU again. 🙂
    I’m hoping to get some writing in today, so I’ll join you from a distance, so as not to cough on you.

  2. Jo, hope you both are feeling better. In time for trick or treat? xo

  3. What an angel you are for filling in for Jo yesterday. Sounds like a lovely class. Love that you brought your special suitcase of books :).

  4. Teaching in a nutshell: read this! And this! And this!
    And you feel it’s working if they’re making happy gurgles at the words and pictures, and writing down titles.
    It was a win-win day, I think, except for the sadness of Jo feeling lousy.

  5. I love that you traveled with a suitcaseful of books! I read (on Sarah Lewis Holmes’ blog) that Houdini did the same thing. 🙂
    Oh, and also? I’m slogging with you on those revisions. I have a suitcaseful of chapters left to go, but let’s just focus on the pages we’re working on, shall we?

  6. What not-too-spooky stories are you picking? 🙂

  7. At least my suitcase has little wheels; it’s an easier on the back take on being the bag lady. But, hey, Houdini!
    Good for you for focusing on the sentences right in front of you. The rest can be useful for resting our elbows. Hope you have an inspired weekend!

  8. I’ve got Denise Fleming’s Pumpkin Eye which is bold and orange,Nancy Shaw/Margo Apple’s cute Sheep Trick or Treat (spiders offer a dried up fly as treats the sheep pass by) Ghost-Eye Tree, an old favorite here, dark but all re the suspense, Scary, Scary Halloween, Bunting/Jan Brett, and if the kids seem like they can handle it, Did you Say Ghosts? which has great repetition, by Rich Michelson, but the Leonard Baskin drawings are kind of creepy. Really, I’ll have to see the age range. And I have just a few regular fall poems if appropriate. And stickers.

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