Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Turning Structure on Its Head!

When I begin writing a new book, I usually start off using a traditional structure. I might organize the information in chronological order or fall back on my journalism background—lede, nut graph, example with quotation, example with quotation, big picture, summary ending. But somewhere in the back on my mind, I’m thinking, thinking, thinking.

I’m plotting, scheming, wondering—how can I make the ordinary into something extraordinary? How can I surprise and delight my readers? How can I give them something special that will make the content more appealing and more memorable.

That’s the question. That’s the challenge. That’s the puzzle to solve, and I love solving puzzles.

I’m not the only author asking these questions. With the Internet now being the place kids go for straightforward information, all nonfiction authors are looking for fresh, innovative ways to convey important true ideas. Here are some great techniques some authors (and illustrators) have used recently:

Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman is a circular story. It begins with a frog jumping off a fern and ends with a frog (presumably the same little critter) jumping onto a fern. In between, we are treated to a chain reaction of events that involves many different creatures living in the bog.

My own books A Place for Butterflies and A Place for Birds feature layered text. What is layered text? Multiple levels of text, usually distinguished visually by size and font, on each double-page spread.

In my books, the larger, simpler text that runs across the tops of the pages provides general information and can stand on its own. The repetitive endings add lyricism and help reinforce the idea that we can work together to save our world’s wild life and wild places. The smaller text presented in sidebars provides additional details to round out the presentation. By reading an entire spread, students gain a clear understanding of the effect their actions can have on the natural world.

Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy uses photos and text to interweave two storylines. One features a group of children playing hide-and-seek, and the other gives us a close-up look at a mosquito’s life cycle and behavior.

Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed . . . and Revealed by David Schwartz, Yael Schy, and Dwight Kuhn is a feast for the eyes and ears. Playful poems offer clues about barely-visible animals doing their best to conceal themselves. Kids love searching for the mystery creatures. Some they’ll spot, and some they might now. But no worries, all they have to do is lift a gate-fold to view the same photo with the background obscured so that the animal is easy to see.

How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
This book is all about animal adaptation, but the content is presented as a fun, innovative Q & A format. Some spreads ask a thought provoking question, such as “How many ways can you snare a fish?” The following spread provides brief, clear descriptions of how a variety of animals accomplish the task. Jenkins and Page did a remarkable job of selecting animals with unique adaptations and organizing them into categories to create the book’s game-like feel.

Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh
This book perfectly integrates text, photos, and design to create a stunningly beautiful book that is rich in information. Dozens of books have been written about the moon, but this one is special because it looks at the hundreds of people behind the scenes. The author did extensive research to gather their stories and did and excellent job bringing the uncelebrated heroes to life.

It’s a great time for nonfiction! We can be more wild and creative than ever before. We can push the limits of textual and visual presentation is so many new ways. Now it’s time to get to work.

1 comment:

Dorothy Patent said...

Nice collection of capsule reviews, Melissa. It's so true that we need to find fresh and interesting ways to present information, ways that kids can enjoy at the same time they are learning the essential facts. And if we can do it in the framework of a good story, so much the better!