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: Rebecca E. Hirsch
Publication Info.: Millbrook Press, 2019
Ages/Grades: ages 9 to 14
Category: second-person POV, survey book, description structure, expository, sidebars, STEM, nature, scene building
“In 1581 an explorer warned of an island in the South Pacific, known only as the Island of Death. On this island grew the Death Flower.”
Overview (from the author’s website): “In the wild, it’s eat or be eaten. Each living thing is on a mission to survive another day—including plants. And the measures they take can be downright deadly. Get a close-up look at meat-eating plants that trap unsuspecting mammals, African trees that enlist armies of biting ants as bodyguards, and an Australian shrub with prickly, poison-filled leaves that have landed unsuspecting humans in the hospital. But don’t get too close or . . . OUCH!”
What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:
As soon as I brought this book into the house, my 12-year-old asked if it featured a pitcher plant (it does) and promptly took it out of my hands. It was weeks before I could get it back. Normally we think of picture books as a category for the youngest readers, but this book is a perfect example of how picture books can be “everybody books.”
First, is the subject matter. Hirsch knows how to hook older readers. Vampire vines? Tree-shrew toilets (pitcher plant). What kid wouldn’t be entranced?
Once the reader’s interest is piqued, Hirsch uses top-notch scene building to keep the reader turning the pages. Each chapter starts with a scene packed with sensory details, transporting the reader to far-off locations with its minute-by-minute action. Her writing allows you to “see” a mini-movie in your head. Hirsch also periodically uses second-person narration (“you”) to further connect with the reader.
Finally, Hirsch seamlessly weaves experts and their research into each chapter. I felt like each chapter was a mini “Scientist in the Field” book, giving readers a glimpse into the scientific method and the real work of both lab and field research.
Additional resources for authors and educators:
- The books’ backmatter provides links to several videos of these plants in action. Here’s a favorite from The Atlantic.
- The North Carolina Arboretum Society created has a fun-filled (and standards-aligned) educator guide for its Wicked Plants exhibit. A discussion of defenses begins on page 41.
- For younger readers, Danielle’s Place has some really fun venus flytrap crafts and activities.