Nonfiction is the new black
In the early morning of April 15, 1912, the ocean liner Titanic sank on her maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg. The ship carried just over 2,200 people. More than 1,500 perished.
The main reason for the high death toll was that the ship had only 20 lifeboats. As they pulled away from the sinking ship, many were only half-full or even less. Even if all had been filled to capacity, only half the people would have been saved.
Why didn’t Titanic carry enough lifeboats for everyone on board?
There were several reasons.
Titanic’s original design called for 64 lifeboats. That number was later cut in half, then nearly halved again. The ship’s owners felt that too many lifeboats would clutter the deck and obscure the First Class passengers’ views.
The ship sailed under safety regulations that originated nearly 20 years earlier, when the largest passenger ships weighed 10,000 tons. Titanic was more than four times that amount. Yet officials maintained that ships had become much safer. Revising the regulations was therefore unnecessary. Under those regulations, Titanic actually had four more lifeboats than she was obligated to carry. Nearly every other vessel of that era was similarly deficient in the quantity of lifeboats.
The prevailing thinking at that time was that the ship itself would serve as a gigantic lifeboat. Nearly everyone believed that even a heavily damaged vessel would remain afloat for many hours before sinking. That would allow plenty of time for the lifeboats to go back and forth several times, ferrying passengers to nearby ships. This assumption was not unreasonable. When the smaller liner Republic was involved in a collision in 1909, she remained afloat for more than 24 hours. All 742 passengers and crew were ferried to safety.
The flaw with this assumption was that Titanic sank far more rapidly than anyone anticipated. The first rescue ship arrived more than two hours after Titanic had gone down.
In 2012 an explosive document emerged. It consisted of safety inspector Maurice Clarke’s handwritten notes, urging the addition of 10 more lifeboats five hours before the ship sailed. The ship’s owners wanted to leave on time. Clarke was threatened with being fired unless he kept his mouth shut. If the owners had followed his advice, almost 700 more people might have survived.
The disaster prompted a massive overhaul of regulations. All ships were required to carry enough lifeboats for everyone.
Frederick Douglass was a slave, but from an early age, he was determined to become a free man. He escaped to the North when he was about 20. A few years later, he discovered that he was an outstanding public speaker. For the rest of his life, Frederick would courageously speak out about the issues that affected his fellow blacks. Sometimes his actions placed him in great danger. During his lifetime no other African American did as much for blacks as Frederick Douglass. Even today his memory continues to inspire many people to work for civil rights and racial justice. For more information on Jim Whiting's book, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Titanic - Not Enough Lifeboats." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 31 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Have you ever been asked to revise something that you wrote, but had trouble doing it? Maybe you didn’t know where to start? Maybe you thought you might actually make it worse than before? Maybe you thought it would be too hard?
Believe me, I get it. When I sit down to revise, I am often filled with fears about doing it. Over the years, though, I’ve come up with three simple steps that help take the fear out of revision. Let’s see how to use them when revising the most important chunk of writing—the paragraph.
When I revise a paragraph, my first step is to ask myself is “What’s this paragraph about?” Usually, I’ve already written a sentence that tells me. It’s called a thesis sentence. A thesis sentence can be something kind of loose such as “Skateboards rock,” or it can be specific such as “Yesterday, I had my best skateboard ride ever.” The point is that this sentence tells me what the rest of my paragraph needs to be about. When revising, I find it helpful to underline my thesis sentence.
Step Two is to make sure that my paragraph makes sense. Here, I check that every sentence helps prove or explain why my thesis sentence is true. I also make sure that none of my sentences are confusing. If they are, I revise them so they are easier to understand. I especially look for sentences that don’t really say anything, such as “Skateboards are, like, the best.” I’d either delete this sentence, or improve it to something like, “Skateboards provide great exercise.”
After my paragraph makes sense, I move on to Step Three: making my paragraph more fun. I replace boring verbs with more exciting ones. Instead of saying “My skateboard was fast,” I might write, “My skateboard hurtled down the ramp.” I put in better descriptions. I also might crack a joke, or throw in a simile such as “My skateboard carried me like a four-wheeled chariot”—or a metaphor, “My board launched me into the stratosphere.”
When tackling revision, I recommend having someone else read your writing aloud. That helps you spot problems. Even so, I don’t always nail a revision the first—or even the tenth—time. I revised this nonfiction minute more than a dozen times! The important thing is to not let your fears overwhelm you. Remember that revision is simply the process of you saying what you want to say.
What happens when a bestselling nonfiction children's book author pairs up with a nationally known writing teacher to discuss revision strategies? Magic.
Sneed B. Collard III and Vicki Spandel blow the roof off everything you thought you knew about teaching nonfiction writing and the purposes for revision. Dozens of strategy lessons pulled from Sneed's professional writing experience followed by Vicki's classroom-savvy tips and exercises give you the nuts and bolts of teaching revision to make nonfiction writing more meaningful, useful, and enjoyable for the reader.
Using a "big-to-small" process of revision, from Big Picture ideas down to individual words, Sneed and Vicki demystify revision and help students become clear, persuasive, compelling-even entertaining-writers. "With your encouragement and guidance," they write, "students will discover the joy of turning their first rough ideas into something readers cannot put down."
MLA 8 Citation
Collard, Sneed B., III. "Taking the Fear Out of Revision." Nonfiction Minute,
iNK Think Tank, 30 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Every year, many thousands of visitors to Washington DC make their way to the crossing of 8th and F Streets, to an enormous building with many columns. Once it was the US Patent Office Building. Now it’s the Smithsonian American Art Museum. And there, up on the third floor, those visitors might well admire a BIG statue of Egypt’s Cleopatra VII, at the moment when she was dying in the summer of 30 B.C. She was carved in Italy, out of snow-white marble.
When people first saw it in Philadelphia, in 1876, at America’s big 100th birthday party, they were so surprised to discover that the sculptor was a woman! Still more unusual, she was an African American. Her name was Mary Edmonia Lewis.
Her ancestors came from Africa, Haiti, and the Native American Ojibwa (or Chippewa) tribe. She grew up in western New York. With money her big brother made mining for gold out west, talented Edmonia went to Ohio’s Oberlin College, but not for long. Two white girls there lied, saying she tried to poison them, then a bunch of people beat her up. So her brother helped her settle in Boston, where she learned to sculpt. By age 20, Ms. Lewis had her own sculpture studio. She was so successful that she was able to leave racist, Civil War-torn America in 1865, to sculpt and study in Rome. When she heard the glorious news that the war was over and America’s slaves were emancipated, she celebrated by sculpting an African American man and woman, unchained.
In the years after she created her dying Cleopatra, both the artist and her masterpiece were lost to history. But now we know that Ms. Lewis ended her days in England, in 1907. Her Cleopatra wound up in Washington DC.
But there’s a little more to tell.
About the time Ms. Lewis left for Italy, President Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Ball was held, March 6, 1865, at the old Patent Office Building when it was new. Little did he know that, in about five weeks, he’d be mortally wounded over at Ford’s Theatre. Or that the building where he and his wife were dancing would be a treasure house of art, including a dying queen sculpted by a great African American artist.
The multi-talented hands of Cheryl Harness create another winning combination of history, biography, and illustration in George Washington Carver and Science & Invention in America, the inspiring story of a man who rose from slavery to worldwide fame as America’s plant doctor. Cheryl Harness’ lively narrative follows Carver as he pioneers hundreds of new uses for plants and revolutionizes American agriculture. Her vivid illustrations are an invitation to step back in time and become an active participant in this compelling story.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Edmonia's Statues." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 29 May
Kerrie Logan Hollihan
Teaching the Power of Wonder
Often we think of Memorial Day as a day for parades, picnics, and opening swimming pools, but it’s a lot more than a day for celebrating summer’s beginning. In fact, Memorial Day got its start way back during the Civil War, when women from both North and South decorated soldier graves with flowers. This practice spread across the country, and in 1873 New York State was the first to established Memorial Day as a state holiday.
In 1887, the US government made May 30 a Memorial Day holiday for government workers, and most Northern states followed suit. But in the South, this tradition became known as Confederate Memorial Day, which is still celebrated in some of the states that formed the Confederacy during the Civil War. In 1971, Congress declared the fourth Monday in May as Memorial Day, a national holiday.
Well into the 1900s, many called this day “Decoration Day,” and families visited cemeteries to tidy up family graves and plant them with flowers. When American soldiers died during World War I, the celebration evolved from remembering Civil War soldiers to memorialize all our soldiers who fought or died in war. Wherever we are on Memorial Day, we Americans are asked to observe a moment of silence at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, because it is the time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday
Across the country this Memorial Day, tiny flags will mark soldier graves, and solemn ceremonies will mark their sacrifice. The US President or Vice President will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. Often “Taps” ring out from bugles in memory of the dead.
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
My grandfather, a World War I bugler, played taps for years at a national cemetery in Illinois with Civil War graves of Northern and Confederate soldiers. Grandpa bugled the “echo” from afar as taps was played to close every Memorial Day ceremony.
Grandpa is buried in this cemetery now, and someone else plays taps on Memorial Day. I live far away, but every year I celebrate this day by remembering him. Are there people you think about on Memorial Day?
Kerrie Hollihan's Theodore Roosevelt for Kids brings to life this fascinating man, an American giant whose flaws were there for all the world to see. Twenty-one hands-on activities offer a useful glimpse at Roosevelt’s work and times. Readers will create a Native American toy, explore the effects of erosion, go on a modern big game hunt with a camera, and make felted teddy bears. The text includes a time line, online resources, and reading list for further study. And through it all, readers will appreciate how one man lived a “Bully!” life and made the word his very own.
MLA 8 Citation
Hollihan, Kerrie Logan. "Memorial Day." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 25
May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/Memorial-Day.