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.
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.
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.
The Running Encyclopedia
Billy Mills was just a face in the crowd of nearly 30 runners at the 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. His best time was nearly a minute slower than the race favorites.
Part-Lakota Sioux Indian, Mills was a scrawny kid, who had grown up in poverty and racial bias. Whites regarded him as an Indian. Indians sneered that he was part-white and therefore not one of them.
His father had encouraged the boy to envision a better life: “You have to look deeper, way below the anger, the hurt, the hate, the jealousy, the self-pity, way down deeper where the dreams lie, son. Find your dream.”
Mills began finding his dream when he discovered his talent for running. He earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas. Then he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team.
Still, no one expected anything of him. He asked for shoes from the company that outfitted American runners. Sorry, he was told. We only give shoes to potential medalists. You don’t qualify.
Mills kept a diary. Six weeks before the 10,000 meter race, he wrote “I’m in great shape….I’m ready for a 28:25 [twenty-eight minutes, twenty-five seconds].” He had never run that fast. Nor had any American. Nor anyone in any previous Olympics.
The gun sounded. As each of the 25 laps rolled by, more and more runners fell off the pace. At the start of the final lap, Mills was one of three runners still in contention. As they rounded the first turn, Australian Ron Clarke shoved Mills out into the third lane. Mohamed Gammoudi of Tunisia took advantage of the opening and pushed his way between the other two, knocking Mills off balance for a moment. As the runners headed down the final straight, television cameras showed a tight battle between Gammoudi and Clarke. Mills was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly the television announcer screamed “Look at Mills! Look at Mills!” Mills bounded back into the picture, passing Clarke and then Gammoudi almost as if they were standing still. He maintained his pace to the finish line, five yards ahead of Gammoudi and ten in front of Clarke. His time of 28 minutes, 24.4 seconds was virtually identical to what he had visualized. He remains the only American to win the 10,000 meters at the Olympics.
Mills crossing the finish line in the 1964 Olympics.
Watch Mills run the final lap
Jim Whiting is a walking encyclopedia. He has written more than 180 (count 'em!) books on many subjects. You can learn more about him here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "No Shoes for You." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 21 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/no-shoes-for-you.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature's Animal Ambassador
How often do you check your cell phone or email each day? Use Twitter or Facebook? Can you stand not to “stay in touch” for even one day? We’re used to being able to hear from people anywhere in the world at any time, with just a few taps on a keyboard or telephone pad.
Through most of human history people could only communicate when they were within shouting distance. When alphabets came along, our ancestors could create messages on stone or wood and later on parchment (made from animal skin), or paper, made from wood pulp. Then, of course, the message had to get from one person to another by way of a messenger. When public mail came along, it made that process much easier and more reliable.
That’s where things stood for a long time. Imagine being a soldier in 1804 joining explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their epic trek across the west to the Pacific Coast. This was territory almost totally unknown at the time to European Americans.
You’ve left behind your family and all your friends. Now you have no way of finding out what happened to those dear to you. Did your father or mother die? Did a sister get married? How many babies were born? Your loved ones get to be a bit luckier, since in the spring of 1805, the keel boat that carried the expedition to Indian villages for the winter is sent back down the Missouri River with a small crew, and you get a chance to write notes to your loved ones, reassuring them that you are okay.
A lot can happen during a 2½ year span like the one endured by members of the expedition! Finally, in September of 1806, you and your colleagues return to the St. Louis area and find out that most people assumed you were all dead. Now you must figure out as quickly as possible how to reconnect with family and friends. It won’t be easy, since they don’t know you are alive, and you don’t know where they are after so long. How can you even locate everyone you care about?
Think about it: If you didn’t have email or a phone of any kind, whose messages would you miss the most? And who would you most wish you could tell about these events in your life?
Dorothy has written about how the horse changed the lives of the Plains Indians and everything that followed.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom,a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "Keeping in Touch." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 4 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/keeping-in-touch.
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Remind me later