Booklist Webinars: Find Out About Writing As Well As Books

Have you attended a Booklist Webinar yet? Talk about a gold mine for writers!

For example, I watched Back to School With Common Core. At first it looked like it might be sales reps from various book companies hawking their wares for fall. But wait, it is representatives of publishing companies explaining their newest books in great detail:  how their series are put together, what they are currently publishing, and enough about common core so you can get ideas of what you should include in your next nonfiction manuscript.

Whether you are just starting out and need to learn the various publishers or if you are a pro looking for your next book idea, these webinars are a wonderful resource for writers.



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Writing for Children: Age Categories

How else are children’s books grouped? Children’s books are often categorized by the age levels of the children who read them.

From a writer’s perspective, age categories are often fairly well defined, but still can vary from publisher to publisher, so make sure you are on the same page. Typically, if your main character is a child, he or she should at the top of the age range for that category, because children are thought to prefer reading about main characters slightly older than themselves.

From a reader’s perspective, these categories are average ages. You will run across exceptions, such as children who are reading proficiently at three years old and others who are struggling to read at nine. Also, be sensitive to the fact that children’s tastes and reading levels can change quickly.

Categories, from youngest to oldest

Board Books, ages infants to 3

Sturdy books made entirely of paperboard and specially bound, these are made for children who are still investigating their world with all their senses. Children this age are particularly apt to put things in their mouths and board books can stand up to this treatment.

The content of board books may overlap with categories for older children, particularly concept books and picture books.




The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle







Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd





Little Blue Truck Board Book by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry





Concept Books, ages 3-6

Concept books tackle important educational concepts, typically alphabet/letters, colors, shapes, numbers, and comparisons.





Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault and illustrated by Lois Ehlert







Which Is Round? Which Is Bigger? by Mineko Mamada




Beginning Reader/Easy Reader, ages 5-9

Keeping the child who is just starting to read in mind, these books typically have short sentences, highly-controlled vocabulary and limited word counts (500-1500 words).


National Geographic Readers: Planets
by Elizabeth Carney






Picture books, ages  2-9

One of the broadest categories regarding age, the picture book category is more about format than content. Typically the illustrations help move the story forward as much as the text. Picture books are often meant to be read to the child, so might contain more complex vocabulary and sentences than a beginning reader.




Elisa Kleven‘s newest picture book, Glasswings:  A Butterfly’s Story (see also our nonfiction picture book category).





Short Chapter Books, ages 7-10

Short chapter books typically still have numerous illustrations, but the illustrations enhance the story rather than move it forward. As the name suggests, the books are organized into chapters.




Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Sal Murdocca

Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-4: Dinosaurs Before Dark, The Knight at Dawn, Mummies in the Morning, and Pirates Past Noon



Middle grade, ages 9-12 (grades 4-7) Note: middle grade is not = middle school

Middle grade novels are easy to spot because they are longer than short chapter books and have few, if any, illustrations. Middle grade nonfiction can be trickier to identify because it is likely to be illustrated extensively.





Wonder By R. J. Palacio









Wild Horse Scientists by Kay Frydenborg


and others in our middle grade nonfiction category




Young Adults- 13-18

Extremely popular right now, young adult books feature more complex plots and usually have protagonists who are teenagers. Some organizations start the category at 12 years old and some young adult titles have been showing up on middle grade reading lists, so the lines may blur somewhat.




The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Ellen Forney






New adult 17-21

Given the popularity of young adult fiction right now, some have even started adding another category for new adults.


What do you think?

(This took longer than expected, so we have slid into Wednesday this week. Hopefully, we’ll be back on schedule next week. )



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Creative Nonfiction: Using Techniques of Fiction or Incorporating Fiction?

Sara stopped by two weeks ago to comment on the post about nonfiction versus fiction, where she asked for further discussion of creative nonfiction in children’s books. I thought exploring an example might be a good way to start a dialogue.

Creative nonfiction is still a relatively new genre. The most common definition for the term is nonfiction that takes advantage of fictional storytelling techniques. Does that mean creative nonfiction incorporates fictional details, scenes, dialogue and characterization? Let’s take a look at one example where it seemed to me that creative nonfiction crossed the line into outright fiction. (I’m not picking on this particular example for any reason other than I knew enough about the subject to realize it was not fact.)girls-who-looked-under-rocks

A few years ago, I was excited to finally get my copy the book Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists by Jeannine Atkins and illustrated by Paula Conner (Dawn Publications 2000). I had been researching the life of Anna Botsford Comstock for a children’s biography and I had been told by an editor there was no market for it. Here in my hands was a book that offered a short biography of Anna – along with five other women naturalists- that was a NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2001.

Turning to page 16, I read:

“Leaves fluttered. Branches swayed. Balancing carefully, Anna Botsford looked down at her students. A tree was an unusual perch for a teacher, but after all, Anna was just fourteen when she was asked to fill in while the regular teacher took a few months off.”

Sounds lovely doesn’t it? There is even a two-page spread illustration showing a young girl sitting on a low tree branch, calmly reading to some younger children.


It is very nice, except the scene never happened that way. If you read Anna Botsford Comstock’s biography/autobiography The Comstocks of Cornell:  John Henry and Anna Botsford Comstock (Comstock Publishing Assoc. 1953), on page 67:

During recess I climbed a tree, one of my favorite diversions. I was coming down peacefully when the teacher exclaimed sharply:  “Anna, come out of that tree immediately. Recess is over.”

At this, I stayed my downward course and announced that I would recite my lessons from there, and I did. A few years later when I was a teacher at the same school and we were having school in the woods, one of the older girls said, “What would you do if one of us climbed a tree like you did when Susan Lee taught?” At this an older boy said, “We’d better not try it; Anna would climb right up after us.”

What do you think?

To me, the first version transforms a feisty girl who was willing to disobey her teacher into a demure nature lover, a very different character. Because of the change, I began to question the biographies of all the other women in the book. What is fact and what is made up to tell a nice story? To me, changing the facts lessened the value of the entire book without adding anything significant. After all, Anna’s own words seemed to be compelling enough to me. Or am I being too harsh? Is the scene close enough to what actually happened that it counts as factual?

Perhaps the changes to the scene was simply an error in writing down research notes. However, Glenn Hovemann, an editor at the publisher Dawn Publications, writes in his essay “The ‘Creative Non-Fiction’ Conundrum (and Opportunity)” that  books that use creative nonfiction fall between nonfiction and fiction and “encompass the best of both fiction and non-fiction worlds.” In his view, creative nonfiction is something between the two, and seems to imply that making things up is acceptable to tell a good story.

In contrast Lee Gutkind of Creative Nonfiction Magazine (for adults, not children) says creative nonfiction uses literary techniques, but does not involve making things up, exaggerating or otherwise lying. Then he says something that really resonates with me:  you can be honest, tell the facts, and still write in a highly creative way.

What do you think? Do you agree?


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Pop-Up Activities to Teach Genre

After discussing why writers need to understand genre two weeks ago, today we have a wonderful book for writers, teachers and children who want to understand and use children’s book genres:  Pop-Up Activities to Teach Genre: 18 Unique Pop-Up Projects With Templates, Story Starters, and Graphic Organizers That Motivate Kids to Write in Different Genres by Tamara B. Miller. Pop_Up_Activities_-_20pct

I need to reveal right away that writer/teacher Tamara Miller is a close friend. Although I may be biased, I think she is absolutely the most creative person I know when it comes to designing activities for children, which shows in her ideas for pop-up stories.

In the book Tammy briefly explains each of the genres:

  • Mystery
  • Humorous Fiction
  • Science Fiction
  • Tall Tales
  • Fairy Tales
  • Historical Fiction
  • Personal Narrative
  • Expository writing
  • Adventure

and gives examples of popular children’s books that fit each type. She then gives instructions for two very creative writing activities for each section with hand-on components that reinforce learning. To help students organize their thoughts and get ideas flowing, each activity comes with a prewriting page (wish they had these in real life).

For example, for personal narrative, each student writes about an important experience he or she has had. Then the students can make a pop-up and illustrate it, too. When the teacher reads the story, the class can guess the identity of the student.


After the class has guessed, they can lift the flap to see whose story it was.

Isn’t that a great idea for helping the students get to know each other at the beginning of the school year?



 Another fun project explores expository writing by having the students create their own pop-up newspaper.

The best part is, there’s something in these lessons for every type of learner. Visual learners will love the illustration component, audio learners will enjoy hearing the stories and kinesthetic learners will be kept active by making pop-ups. Of course, the lessons can support Common Core standards as well.

Are you looking for a way to brush up on genres and/or teach writing to children? Then this book is for you!

For more information and ideas on how you can use pop-up books to motivate your students in writing this year, go to Tamara Miller’s website at

Pop-Up Activities to Teach Genre: 18 Unique Pop-Up Projects With Templates, Story Starters, and Graphic Organizers That Motivate Kids to Write in Different Genres by Tamara B. Miller

Age Range: 8 – 10 years
Grade Level: 3 – 5
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Teaching Resources (September 1, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0439453356
ISBN-13: 978-0439453356


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