Perfect Picture Book Friday: A GOOD TRADE

Normally, I review nonfiction picture books, and I have a fantastic one on order. I hope I’ll have it in time for next week. In the meantime, the brightly colored cover of this  historical fiction caught my eye at the library.

TITLE: A Good Trade

AUTHOR: Alma Fullteron


PUBLICATION INFO: Pajama Press, March 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-0986949593

SOURCE:  library


GENRE: historical fiction


“In a small Ugandan garden, a single poppy blooms white in a sea of green.”

This quiet story follows a Ugandan boy as he pumps a day’s supply of water at the village well. Although the day starts ordinarily enough, this day is special. The aid workers’ truck has come with a gift.

THEMES/TOPICS: culture, gratitude, geographic

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Patkau’s bright illustrations originally caught my eye. I grabbed this lyrical book to teach my children about a corner of the world they have no other way to experience. Fullerton shows life in this war-torn part of the world in an age-appropriate way.


  • I think the best activity would be to grab a nonfiction book about the country to learn more. There were plenty on my library’s shelves. You could also go online to learn more at sites like TIME for Kids, which depicts a day in the life of another Ugandan child, Racheal.
  • Using Kato’s day and Racheal’s day, map your day. Draw a picture or write what you do in the morning, afternoon and evening. How is your day the same as Racheal’s and Kato’s? How is your day different?
  • Play a Ugandan children’s game. Send A Cow has a list …. here.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.


Writing Nonfiction with Scrivener

I recently bought Literature and Latte’s Scrivener software, a tool specially designed for writers. Scrivener is a complex program, and I can’t go into all the intricacies in one post. Let’s just say I bought the “For Dummies” book to help me with it. However, I wanted to highlight a couple of key features that I think make nonfiction writing easier.

Breaking articles into chunks. First, I normally sell an article as a proposal with a lead paragraph and an outline. When I receive the assignment, I also get a target word count. Scrivener allows me to break my articles up into chunks driven by my outline. I can set target word counts for each section. I may work on the various chunks individually before switching to the “Scrivening” mode. The Scrivening mode allows me to see all the pieces and how they fit together. Once I have most of the article put together, I use this mode to work on transitions from one paragraph to the next.

Footnoting. I rarely am required to turn in a footnoted article. Normally a list of sources is sufficient for fact checking. However, I want to know where I found each and every piece of information. That way, if an editor has a question, I can immediately point back to my sources. Scrivener allows me to easily footnote as I write, but, when it comes time to share my draft, I can strip out the footnotes. The editor doesn’t see them, but they are still there for me any time I need them.

Snapshots. In Scrivener, I can take a snapshot of each major draft or revision within the file. This means I don’t have to have 10 or more different documents floating around labeled “Rev 1”, “Rev 2” and so on, as I do when I write in MS Word. In Scrivener, I can compare versions or roll back to a previous version if necessary.

The software runs on Mac as well as Windows. I bought it for $35 with a coupon, which was quite a steal. Has anyone else had success with this program?

Perfect Picture Book Friday: FROM SEED TO PLANT

Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays are back. I missed the boat last week, but I wrote my post early this week so I wouldn’t forget.

TITLE: From Seed to Plant


PUBLICATION INFO: Holiday House, 1991

ISBN: 978-0823410255

SOURCE:  library

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 5 and up

GENRE: nonfiction


“Most plants make seeds. A seed contains the beginning of a new plant.”

Gibbons moves through a plant’s life cycle, showing children how seeds are formed through pollination, how they are dispersed, and how they grow into new plants.

THEMES/TOPICS: nonfiction, educational, nature, science

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Cooper was working on a plant life cycle project for school this week, and we checked this book out from the library. Gail Gibbons is a nonfiction favorite in our house. She uses beautiful drawings and simple writing to explain science concepts in a way young children can understand.


  • The book has a “Seed to Plant” activity in the back using bean seeds. It’s a different take on the classic bean sprout in a baggie activity used in many preschool classrooms.
  • We’ve also done seed collections before to spark discussion about the different types of seeds and how they are scattered. You’ll find that activity…here.
  • Finally, for older students, you can try the plant life cycle project that Cooper’s class did. Students had to collect five different types of seeds and draw or collect pictures that showed the seedling, mature plant, flower and fruit. They had to label each stage, and I had Cooper draw arrows so he could see that the whole cycle is a circle. I’ll blog about our project next week.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Kids’ Magazines – Tools of the Trade

Pile of Books

Once I’ve settled on a topic for a nonfiction piece, it’s time to learn as much about the subject as I can. I once heard nonfiction author Melissa Stewart say that she reads around a topic until she feels like she’s reading the same thing over and over again. Only then does she begin to write. I take a similar approach.

I start with online databases at my local public library. If you’ve never used those online databases, you might be surprised what you find. Gales’ General One File is one of my favorites, along with ProQuest. These give you access to all kinds of searchable journal, newspaper and magazine articles. Sometimes I use JSTOR for scholarly articles. The site now allows you to add three free articles to your bookshelf at a time. Normally you have to pay a hefty fee for each article.

I use Evernote’s Web clipper to keep a copy of every article, photo or other resource I find online. Each piece I write has its own notebook, where I store all the articles, Web sites, audio files, photos, and other resources I need. The notebooks and articles are stored both “in the cloud” and are synced to Evernote on my computer.

I still use the free version of Evernote, but if I ever exceeded the allowable storage, I would gladly pay for the premium service. It beats trying to save everything as a PDF on my hard drive. Plus Evernote is completely searchable, either by tags or within each note, which makes finding information a snap.

Along with Evernote, I rely on EasyBib to handle my bibliographies. EasyBib is free if you cite in MLA 6 or 7. If you cite in APA or another format, there is a fee. EasyBib can convert your bibliography from one format to another. And, you can have it search for journal titles  and automatically cite them. Or you can paste in a Web site, and it will attempt to do the citation for you. I normally have to edit these, but it’s nice to have some of the information auto-filled. Here, again, the benefit is that my bibliography is “in the cloud.” You can also upload a copy of your final manuscript if you want everything stored in one place.

Do you have any tips for nonfiction research?

Kids’ Magazines – Writing to Theme

Globe Detail

I’m a big fan of theme-based children’s magazines like ASK, BOYS’ QUEST, DIG, and APPLESEEDS. These publications devote an entire magazine to one subject, like sushi, Germany, wheels, or Mars.

As a reader, I find it fascinating to learn about so many facets of one subject. As a writer, I appreciate the challenge of coming up with a interesting theme-based article.

I like to focus my work on theme-based magazines for a couple of reasons. First, I think most writers want to write what they want to write. They don’t want to be constrained by a theme. I would guess — and this is totally a guess — there is generally less competition when it comes to getting stories into theme-based publications.

Second, if a theme-based magazine rejects an article, it’s easier to pitch the same article to a general interest magazine like SPIDER or HIGHLIGHTS. I find it harder to do the opposite. For example, if you write an article about women sportscasters in the NFL, and a general interest magazine rejects it, it may be harder to shoehorn it into a theme at another publication.

Finding story ideas for theme-based issues can be tough. I would encourage you to go back to your expertise, which we discussed in the first part of this series. Think about how your areas of expertise might relate to the theme. If you volunteer at an animal rescue and the theme is wheels, how might pets use wheels? Oh, right, you’ve seen stories about disabled dogs in special wheelchairs. There’s a story that might captivate kids and be relevant to the theme. If you’ve lived in Germany where speed rules the Autobahn, how might you parlay that into a wheels story?

I can wholeheartedly recommend BOYS’ QUEST and its sister publications FUN FOR KIDZ and HOPSCOTCH as great markets for new writers. You write the entire article, allowing you to build your file of writing samples, and you write to theme.

What kind of experience have you had with theme-based publications?

Kids’ Magazines: Tip 2 – Write the Whole Thing

Manual Typewriter Keys

This is the second in my series about breaking into magazines with children’s nonfiction. Last time, I discussed picking a subject in which you are an “expert” to boost your chances of getting published. Today, I want to encourage you to choose a magazine that asks you to write and submit the whole article.

This may sound silly. Of course you have to write the whole article! But some magazines require only query. A query is  typically a sample first paragraph, a brief outline, and a bibliography. Most magazines require new writers to send a resumé and writing samples as well.  If the editor likes the query and has confidence in the writer, the editor will assign the article.

Queries are great. They take less time up front. If the editor doesn’t go for your idea, you haven’t wasted hours agonizing over each and every word. But here’s the challenge: where are you going to get those writing samples to attach to your query?

You may be tempted to send a picture book manuscript or a chapter from your latest middle grade. I’ve done that. But the voice and approach might not be appropriate for the magazine.

Sure, you could write up a mock magazine article to send as part of a query. But if you’re going to do that, you might as well send the piece to a magazine and get your first acceptance.

So pick a magazine that asks you to write the whole article. Once you’ve had that first acceptance, you can add that magazine article to your stack of writing samples you submit as part of a query. And now you’ll have confidence in the strength of your writing samples. An editor loved them enough to publish them!

In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the advantages of themed publications, and why I think they might be easier to break into.