As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Author: Tracy Nelson Maurer, illustrations by Tim Zeltner
Publication Info.: Henry Holt, 2017
Ages/Grades: ages 4 to 8
Category: biography, STEM, STEAM, history, third-person POV, narrative
Back in John Deere’s day, long before tractors and other newfangled contraptions, Americans dug the land with the same kind of plow that farmers had used as long as anyone could remember.”
Overview (from the publisher): “Back in the 1830s, who was a young blacksmith from Vermont, about to make his mark on American history? John Deere, that’s who!
Who moved to Illinois, where farmers were struggling to plow through the thick, rich soil they called gumbo? Who tinkered and tweaked and tested until he invented a steel plow that sliced into the prairie easy as you please?
Long before the first tractor, who changed farming forever? John Deere, that’s who!”
What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:
You know what stands out about this book? Diction, that’s what! Tracy Nelson Maurer sprinkles her story with a few select words, giving us the flavor of the period and hinting at the country setting. Phrases like “newfangled contraptions,” “buckets of praise,” and “tuckered out.” Words like ” ‘course” instead of “of course.” Used too frequently, this type of language could be distracting, but Maurer uses these colloquialisms sparingly. Such fun!
When it comes to research, I’m always curious how authors deal with unsubstantiated facts or sources that conflict with each other. It happens more than you might think. In JOHN DEERE, Maurer had to make some guesses about whether John knew about plows made of steel instead of heavy iron. She lets the reader know right in the text instead of saving it for backmatter: “It’s a fair guess that John already knew of other plow designs…” Seamless!
Finally, I love Maurer’s ending where she tells us why we should care about John Deere. He didn’t invent a tractor. Just a plow. But that plow allowed farmers to work faster than ever, turning the prairie into America’s breadbasket. And that’s why we should care about John Deere. Do you?
Additional resources for authors and educators:
- Tracy Maurer has a wonderful list of activities on her website, including coloring pages, a teachers’ guide, and other links.