by Melissa Stewart
National Council of Teachers of English, 2020
Back in 2017, award-winning author Melissa Stewart was a featured panelist at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. The panel was called “The Secret of Crafting Engaging Nonfiction” and Melissa shared the platform with Candace Fleming and Deborah Heiligman (also award-winning authors) and moderator Alyson Beecher. A couple questions were raised that session: what fuels their work, and why did they dedicate years of their lives to a single manuscript?
“As we compared our thoughts and experiences, we came to realize something critically important,” Melissa said on her website. “Each of our books has a piece of us at its heart.” It’s that personal connection that keeps nonfiction authors working on a story.
Other writers shared similar thoughts, and what began as a nebulous thought grew into a book filled with essays – and heart from 50 nonfiction writers. They write about choosing topics that fascinate them, about finding the focus for their books, about their personal connection to what they write.
“…there’s a common, crushing misconception that fiction is creative writing drawn from the depths of a writer’s soul, while nonfiction is simply a recitation of facts…” writes Laura Purdie Salas. If you’ve read any of her books you know that she’s a master of lovely, lyrical language that seduces you into wanting to know more about leaves, water, rocks.
Many teachers and students have the impression that writing nonfiction is all about pulling together research and then “cobbling together a bunch of facts.” But the truth is, Stewart continues“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 passions, our personalities, our beliefs, and our experiences in the world.” Put facts through those personal filters and you get the secret sauce for nonfiction books that engage readers and make them want to learn more.
The cool thing about this book: it contains a treasure trove of ideas for things to do in the classroom – or homeschool – to help young writers develop their own “secret sauce” for writing nonfiction. Things like idea boards and other cool things I’m going to try in my own writing.
For nonfiction writers, not only does this book share secrets of the soul, it’s a great resource if you’re looking for mentor texts. As for me, I’m keeping my copy of this book right here at my desk because I know I’ll be referring to it now and then. And also to remind me to share more from it over the course of this year.
Find out more about this book and the contributors here at Melissa’s website. Review copy provided by the publisher.