I am just back from children’s book paradise, or in this case the Tucson Festival of Books. This is the fourth largest book festival in the United States and it is only in the 6th year. It is held on The University of Arizona campus. Not only are there a wide assortment of book events, but also a vast array of excellent hands-on science activities at Science City right in the same area. The weather was glorious and the event was exciting, fun and enlightening. What more could you ask for?
Let’s get right to the highlights. I got to meet nonfiction children’s book authors Sandra Markle, Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer in person!
Sandra Markle is the award-winning author of over 200 nonfiction children’s books. She has traveled the world and shared her lively adventures with children. She is also extremely gracious about hyperventilating fans accosting her.
Sandra gave some excellent advice for writers, including the suggestion to use only first hand sources. She indicated she considers that everything in print to be already out of date (and may be inaccurate to start with). She gave an astonishing example how she checked with a researcher about a photograph she had seen of a bat swimming. The researcher, who had been at the event, said the photographer had thrown the bat into the water to get the shot and that those bats don’t actually swim.
I was amused to learn that Sandra is not inordinately fond of spiders after all. She said her 12 book series on arachnids (Arachnid World) “just happened” and she found that 12 might have been “too many.” As burned out on spiders as she became, she still managed to come up with the somewhat silly “Twelve Arachnids of Christmas” at her blog.
Selected books by Sandra Markle:
What If You Had Animal Hair? by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Howard McWilliam is an engaging follow-up to What If You Had Animal Teeth? It compares real photographs of animals with unusual hair to imaginary illustrations of children with similar hair qualities. As Markle reveals, she slipped in some “stealth learning” as well, by including information about personal hygiene into the back matter.
Sandra revealed the idea for What If You Had Animal Teeth? came when her when her granddaughter fell down and knocked out her two front teeth, an experience I think many of us can relate to.
The Long, Long Journey: The Godwit’s Amazing Migration by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Mia Posada describes the incredible nonstop journey of over 7,000 miles made by a godwit from the place where she hatches in Alaska all the way to the beaches of New Zealand (my previous review).
The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle is about the mystery of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in honey bees (my previous review).
Scorpions: Armored Stingers by Sandra Markle gives an overview of scorpion biology as well as compares scorpions to other arachnids. It was nominated for a Cybils award (my previous review).
Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer are a couple who share laughs and a passion for children’s nonfiction. They talked about the research process they use for their books, with many anecdotes.
Kathleen Krull specializes in biographies. Her advice to writers was to chose subjects who are deceased if possible, first to avoid lawsuits, but also to make sure they aren’t involved in something unsavory that is revealed after your book comes out. Good advice!
Paul Brewer is an illustrator/author who specializes in humor. Paul also does much of the research for the their books.
Selected books by Kathleen Krull and/or Paul Brewer:
The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny) by Kathleen Krull, Paul Brewer, and illustrated by Stacy Innerst recounts the witty remarks by the members of the Beatles rock band to questions by members of the press. For example:
Q: How do you find all this business of having screaming girls following you all over the place?
George: Well, we feel flattered . . .
John: . . . and flattened.
Paul definitely is a big Beatles fan, and his passion shows.
I had seen many positive reviews of the above book, but the next one came as a surprise.
Have you heard of Fartiste
by Kathleen Krull, Paul Brewer, and illustrated by Boris Kulikov?
Krull and Brewer uncovered this highly-unusual artist who performed astonishing acts of flatulence and who was wildly popular in France in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They rightly recognized that young people of a certain age (and dare I say gender?) might be incredibly intrigued by this kind of performer. Alas, the older people who buy books for said young people are not as intrigued. As someone in the audience pointed out, Walter the Farting Dog is acceptable, but somehow an actual farting person is not.
I was also interested to learn that the publisher tacked on the subtitle ” a mostly-true story,” although the authors say that it is actually completely nonfiction.
Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought) (illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt) is a prime example of the type of witty biography Kathleen Krull writes. Instead of focusing solely on their accomplishments, Krull reveals the personalities of the scientists through tidbits of their lives that make the subjects seem more human and accessible.
All and all the trip was a terrific experience. The only thing I wish had been different was that these absolutely wonderful nonfiction children’s book authors had gotten the attention they deserved. Tucked away in a small room on the third floor of the education building, the only people who got to see them were dedicated teachers, librarians and aspiring writers who made a real effort to find them. Although it possibly would have been more stressful for the authors, it would have been great if they were down in the Science City area interacting with the starry-eyed youngsters exploring hands-on science and gotten the audience and attention they deserved!
Let me know if you decide to go to the Tucson Festival of Books next year (2015). I am making plans already!
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Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. Join us at the new Nonfiction Monday blog.