Friday, November 16, 2012

Leda Schubert - Building Stories from Research

On November 3rd we were lucky to have Amy Cunningham, Grace Greene, Leda Schubert and David Martin all come to speak at Bear Pond Books as we kicked off National Picture Book Month. General materials from the day are here and a virtual display of recommended books is here (you can order online). These posts look more closely at what each speaker had to say, with a focus on the Common Core State Standards.

For Leda Schubert, the first step in writing good non-fiction picture books is to ". . . be curious about absolutely everything."

Curiosity pulls you into finding new stories and exploring the topic once you've found them. A lot of research goes into non-fiction picture books. Today, educators can get information on these books' topics beyond the primary text and pictures. That wasn't always the convention for picture books, but now you can look for:
  • End notes and bibliographies
  • Recommendations for further reading
  • Side bars that add details without interrupting the illustrations or story text 
  • Educator guides linked from publishers' and authors' websites 
For an example of an author site with all sorts of information on how the research was done check out Meghan McCarthy's site for The Incredible Life of Balto (here). There are video clips, photos, texts, animations, author discussion, even pictures showing how the cover of the book was carved. And no, we're not saying who Balto was because you really need to check out this site.

Like Grace Greene, Leda's talk tackled the challenge of supporting a love of learning. Doing research is clearly part of Common Core, but it's incomplete without engaging the students in that research and feeding their curiosity. Here are some ways of looking at research that can meet that challenge:
  • How do you decide what story to tell?
    Leda remembers a writers' group where one writer loved the idea of writing about Snowflake Bentley, but was told no one would be interested in this story. Another writer, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, stayed with her fascination and her book Snowflake Bentley, with illustrations from Mary Azarian, won the Caldecott Award and Lupine Award. Don't give up on what excites you! (Here's a similar story from a Picture Book Idea Month blog post by Kayla Skogh - click here)
  • Where is the detective work?
    Meghan McCarthy's site
    illustrates the detective work of how she figured out what color Balto's fur was, when all the pictures of him were in black and white.
  • How can you find a connection with the person being researched?
    The book Me. . . Jane builds a connection between young readers and Jane Goodall by starting with Jane's stuffed monkey toy. The toy connects Jane's grown up accomplishments to what fascinated her as a child.
  • What perspective tells the story best? How do you create this perspective?
    Leda's book Ballet of the Elephants could have focused on a character (and she tried that) but instead focuses on the event. In Leda's book Monsieur Marceau the pictures by Gerard Dubois convey Marceau's point of view through illustrating movement - something that a mime like Marceau would have observed and practiced constantly.  
Finally, when in doubt, read Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book. This book asks over a hundred leaders in a variety of fields the question "what children's book changed the way you see the world?" Leda promises you'll be inspired by their answers.

Check out Leda's website at: 

Postscript: Congratulations to Leda for having her book Monsieur Marceau selected as a 2013-2014 Red Clover Award Nominee! See all nominated books here

Leda Schubert, Nov. 3rd, 2012, Bear Pond Books

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