Have you ever wanted to tell your life's story? It's not as easy as you think. Here are some tips that can make it easier.
First, realize that you can't tell your whole story. Not only will you bore your readers, you'll probably give up before you write a quarter of it. Instead, choose a theme—something that's been important to you and that interests you about your life. Here are a few examples:
* The story of you and your favorite hobby.
* Your experiences with your favorite—or least favorite—pet.
* Fun times you've had with your dad, mom, or best friend.
* The three scariest things you ever did.
* Your best/worst school year.
In my memoir, Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts—Journeys of a Biologist's Son, I decided to focus mostly on my relationship and adventures with my dad. Narrowing down my story not only led to a better story, it made the writing process much less overwhelming. This kind of "slice" of a life is called a memoir. In contrast, when someone tries to tell their complete story, it's called an autobiography. Usually, the only people who write autobiographies have invented electricity or landed on the moon—or they are running for president!
A second tip for telling your story is to pick out certain characters and let the reader get to know them. When writing my memoir, I could have said a little bit about a lot of different people in my life. Instead, I chose just a few and tried to tell more about them. This lets readers get to know the people in your story—and care about your story more.
One last tip is to leave out the boring stuff. When you start writing, it's tempting to include every detail. Instead, start your story where it really gets interesting. For instance, don't begin with, "On my first day of school, I walked to class." Instead, you might start with, "When I looked in the cage, I realized that our twelve-foot long boa constrictor had escaped!" Just because it's your story doesn't mean it shouldn't have a good plot and plenty of action. Focus on topics you'd like to read about—even if you didn't know you!
After reading these tips, you might be asking yourself, "Can I write more than one memoir?" The answer: absolutely! So dig in, have fun, and tell your story. You, your friends, and family will be glad you did.
To help your story be more interesting, focus on one thing. For my memoir, I focused on my relationship and adventures with my dad. Here, he is graduating with his doctorate degree from U.C. Santa Barbara
Both my dad and I loved reptiles, so I told a lot of stories about them in my memoir.
During the long summers with my dad, I often hung out at his laboratory. One summer I helped him build this giant plankton net that he used to sample animals in the Gulf of Mexico.
My dog, Puppy, helped get me through the difficulty of my parents’ divorce, so Puppy became a primary character in my book. Man, I wish I still had that shirt!
Sneed B. Collard III is the author of more than eighty award-winning books, many focusing on science and the natural world. His entertaining memoir Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts--Journeys of a Biologist’s Son recounts his challenges and adventures growing up as the son of divorced biologist parents, and the experiences that would one day lay the foundation for his writing career. He is a dynamic speaker and offers school and conference programs that combine science, nature, and literacy. To learn more about him and his talks, visit his website, www.sneedbcollardiii.com.
by Andrea Warren-Giving Voice to Children in History
St. Paul's Cathedral during the blitz of World War II.
When I interview people in my work as a writer, I soak up the stories they share about their lives. This is what brings history alive. I’ve always wished for a way to interview historic buildings, because they could tell stories from such a different perspective, having seen it all and heard it all. My dream interview would be St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, a place rich with history—and therefore, with stories.
I have learned that those with the most to say can be wary of interviewers. Sometimes employing a little charm can help them warm up. So I would begin by complimenting St. Paul’s on how wonderful it looks for a building that opened in 1708. I would reference its great architect, Christopher Wren, who was also an astronomer and mathematician, as is evidenced in many of its design elements. I’d mention its magnificent dome and its massive booming bells that can be heard for miles.
“You’re the prize jewel in a city rich in architectural beauty,” I’d say. “No wonder so many notables have been baptized, married, and had their funerals here.”
Flattered but still reserved, St. Paul’s might ask me what I like best about it. “I have two favorites,” I would reply earnestly, mentioning first the Crypt, where many of England’s war heroes are buried, along with famous painters and poets. (Writers and composers are at nearby Westminster Abbey). Other notables, like Florence Nightingale and Lawrence of Arabia, are here, too. It’s altogether quite a congenial place.
Starting to thaw a bit, St. Paul’s might wonder aloud about my second favorite, and I would single out the American Memorial Chapel, located behind the High Altar and dedicated to the memory of the 28,000 Americans who died defending England in World War II.
“And speaking of that war,” I would tell St. Paul’s, “I am awed by Londoners’ resolve that you, their national treasure, would not be destroyed during the Blitz when so much of the city burned. Volunteer firefighters, both men and women, were stationed at all times on your roof. When bombs exploded, starting fires, they were right there to put them out, a number of them sacrificing their lives.”
St. Paul’s would nod, remembering.
“The British love you very much,” I would say.
St. Paul’s would pause, clear its throat, and then reply, “Let me tell you some of my stories.”
© Andrea Warren, 2014
MLA 8 Citation
Warren, Andrea. "How to Interview a Historic Building." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 13 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/category/warren-andrea.
by David M. Schwartz
the amazing, engaging, math exponent
A light year is not a year that has gone on a diet. It is not a year that’s been trimmed to 300 days. It’s not a year spent under high-wattage lamps. A light year isn’t any kind of year.
A light year is a distance. It is a vast distance; the distance light travels in a year. To appreciate a light year, you have to understand how fast light travels.
The speed of light is truly mind-boggling: 186,000 miles per . . . second. That’s “per second,” not “per hour.” In one tick-tock second, light travels a distance of 186,000 miles. If it could go in circles, it could travel around the earth more than seven times in just one second! But light travels in straight lines, not in circles. Imagine something traveling that fast in a straight line—not for a second, not for a minute, not for an hour, not for a day, but for an entire year. The distance it goes in that year is called a light year.
A light year is a convenient unit of measure when distances are enormous. You could talk about the same distances in miles. It's about 5,878,499,810,000 (5 trillion, 878 billion, 499 million, 810 thousand ) of them. But these measurements are so large that they are unwieldy. It's much easier to just name that enormous distance with two simple words: a "light year."
The star closest to our solar system is Proxima Centauri. Some of the light that leaves Proxima Centauri goes to Earth, cruising along at 186,000 miles per second. At that speed, light takes about 4.2 years to get to Earth from Proxima Centauri So how far away is Proxima Centauri? It is 4.2 light years away.
To give you an idea of how far that is, imagine going to Proxima Centauri in a spaceship traveling at the speed of the space shuttle — about ten miles per second. (That’s much faster than airplanes can fly.) You would get there in about 70,000 years.
Our Sun is much closer than Proxima Centauri. It is 93 million miles away. There is another way to refer to the distance from the earth to the Sun. Light leaving the Sun takes about eight minutes to get to Earth, so we say the Sun is eight “light minutes” away. If you traveled at the speed of light, you could get there in eight minutes. Have a nice trip!
© David M. Schwartz, 2014
David Schwartz has been fascinated by big numbers and big distances ever since he was a little boy riding his bicycle, wondering “How long would it take for me to ride to Proxima Centauri, 4.2 light years away?” He wrote about light years in his math alphabet book G Is for Googol.
David is a member of iNK’s Authors on Call. He can visit in your classroom via interactive video conferencing. Learn more here.
MLA 8 Citation
Schwartz, David M. "What Is a Light Year?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 14 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/what-is-a-light-year.
Giving Voice to Children in History
If you yearn and burn to be a writer, how can you make that a reality? From the time I was a teenager, I wanted writing to be my life’s work. But even though I loved to write, how to become a writer stumped me. I thought education must be the answer and had master’s degrees in both English and journalism before I realized that the only one who could harness and develop my inner writer—my writing soul—was me. Like most writers before me, I had to mostly teach myself what I needed to know. I have since published hundreds of articles and a dozen books.
While writing a book about Charles Dickens, I was surprised to learn that even he—one of the greatest writers of all—also had to teach himself. Because of family circumstances, he had only two years of formal schooling, so he learned the fine points of grammar and style on his own. Beginning at age fifteen, he worked upward through a series of jobs until, based solely on his writing ability, he became a newspaper reporter. In his spare time he wrote stories, articles, sketches, essays, editorials, theatre reviews, and plays. Gradually he began getting published in a monthly magazine. It didn’t pay him, but he was honing his craft, finding and training his voice as a writer. Then a publisher who liked his magazine stories gave him the opportunity to write his first novel—and the rest is history.
My advice to you is Dickens’ advice to you: don’t wait for someone to give you permission to be a writer or to teach you how. Give yourself permission. Teach yourself. Just write. Do it every day. Write about what you see, what you feel, what you dream. Make up stories. Observe people closely: what they wear, how they speak, what they do, how they feel and why. Learn how to write articles and essays. Study your favorite authors and pattern your work after theirs. Don’t worry that you are mimicking them, for you will find your own style. Trust me on this. Draw from the wisdom and skill of writers who have gone before you, because everything you need to know, you can learn from them. When you’re ready, publication will follow.
Read, read, read. Write, write, write.
If you want to become a writer, start now.
Be a writer.
Charles Dickens at age 37
(c) Andrea Warren 2014
Andrea Warren often teaches writing classes, and she often talks about Charles Dickens and how writing ultimately comes down to teaching yourself. Warren talks more about the writing process on her website, And to learn more about Charles Dickens and his quest to become a writer, check out her book, "Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London."
Andrea Warren is also a member of Authors on Call. Bring her into your classroom via interactive video conferencing. Here’s where you can learn more about her and her programs.
MLA 8 Citation
Warren, Andrea. "How Do You Become a Writer? Ask Charles Dickens." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 21 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/how-do-you-become-a-writer-ask-charles-dickens.
So do I stick my head into that glass-enclosed rectangular box? Will it fry my brain? Or will the damage show up in 20 years? Will my head come out looking like those primitive shrunken heads that repelled and fascinated me as a child?
I’ve volunteered to have my head 3-D printed, and am checking out the equipment at the State University of New York. As it turns out—great relief—I don’t have to stick my head into the box after all; that’s where the “printing” occurs, not the scanning.
The professor tells me to just sit upright and stay super still on a chair for a little over a minute, while his assistant uses a hand-held scanner—making several passes of the sides and top of my head and neck from about 30 inches away.
In a couple minutes, the glass box starts to make noise and comes alive. The “printing” begins. For the color of my little sculpted head, I’m given a choice of red or white. Red seems a bit creepy, so I go for white. The plastic substance is long and cord-like, about 1/8 inch in diameter, and wrapped around a big spool at the back of the printer. One thin white layer after the other is laid down. It builds up, and slowly a tiny replica of my head begins to take shape. Half an hour, and it’s done.
Sure enough, this looks like a miniature Roxie, about 2 inches high, with a flat back where it lay down on the printer, although the machine appeared to have quit just before it reached the tip of my nose, which is kind of cut off.
So what can be done with this new kind of printing? Well, it is already being used in dentistry for making crowns. Jewelry can be created from metals, even gold. You can actually make plastic guns using this method. Unfortunately (or should I say fortunately), they don’t work very well—the plastic gets distorted rapidly from the heat and action of shooting a bullet.
But maybe the most fun is making food. Nursing homes in Germany are taking pureed food and making it into appetizing shapes. NASA is researching making 3-D pizza in space. Instead of white plastic maybe I should have asked for chocolate—and turned myself into a delicious dessert.
Roxie and her mini-me.
(c) Roxie Munro 2014
Using works from the National Gallery of Art by Vincent Van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper, and others, Roxie Munro has created an innovative introduction to art. As an artist contemplates her next painting, she introduces genres and subjects, showcasing reproductions of great works. The sweeping painting she creates cleverly incorporates all 37 pieces she has considered.
Children can have fun finding the masterpieces in her painting and learn more about the artists in the notes in the back matter.
Read a review here.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "Getting Your Head 3-D Printed." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 20 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/getting-your-head-3-d-printed.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council