Saturday, September 21, 2013

Using the Craft of Fiction to Tell Nonfiction Stories

This Saturday, September 28th, author Tanya Lee Stone is coming to Bear Pond Books' Children's Room at 11:00 am to talk about how she researches and writes nonfiction for young readers.

Tanya is an award winning, and prolific, author. As we posted earlier, on the 28th she'll discuss how she keeps the boundaries between fact and fiction when writing her books, which have covered historical figures ranging from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Abraham Lincoln to Barbie.

Even if fiction doesn't have a place in her nonfiction books, Tanya uses the same craft elements of a fiction writer to tell a story that draws her readers in, helping them understand and remember the events described in ways traditional textbooks may not.

One of Tanya's recent books, Courage Has No Color (2013, Grades 5 and up), offers a perfect opportunity to consider craft and structure as applied to both fiction and nonfiction. This book tells the true story of the Triple Nickles, America's first black paratroopers. A 2012 book, Shelley Pearsalls' Jump Into the Sky, uses historical fiction to tell the story of  the fictional grandson of a  Triple Nickle. The two books are a recommended pairing for a Common Core connection between fiction and nonfiction.

Tanya's teacher's guide to using Courage Has No Color in the classroom suggests things that the two books have in common beyond the starting inspiration. For example, the guide includes:

Craft and Structure
  • Find examples of ways the author uses words and phrases to set the tone of the times in regard to black soldiers and the discrimination they faced.
  • What is the relationship the first and last chapters and how they are written compared to the interior chapters? Explain how the chapters relate as a whole to the book.
  • From whose point of view is the story told and how did this shape the content and style of the book?
Vocabulary Acquisition and Use
  • Identify vocabulary specific to the paratrooper units. Explain how the context supports the meaning and then look up the words in a reference book. What strengths did you notice from using the supporting context to explain the meaning?
  • Locate specific instances in the book that use figurative language or a passage in which the words are connected to provide a clearer idea or thought on that topic. How do the author’s word choices add to the meaning of the paragraphs, page, or chapter?
These exercises also apply to analyzing a fictional text. And the comparison suggests more questions - like what research a fiction writer does before writing their story, how creative nonfiction compares to formal or technical nonfiction writing, how an author decides what technique to use, and how students can experiment with telling the same story in different ways. Bring your own questions to Bear Pond Books on September 28th at 11:00 am!

This event is free and open to the public and involves snacks.

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