Monday, March 26, 2018

Interview with Jean Reynolds and Book Giveaway for 30 People Who Changed the World

Today's post is an interview with editor, Jean Reynolds, and book giveaway for

30 People Who Changed the World:
Fascinating Bite-Sized Essays from Award-Winning Writers.  

Instructions on how to enter the giveaway 
for this book are at the end of this post.

It is my privilege to introduce you to our guest today.  Jean E. Reynolds co-founded The Millbrook Press in 1989, where she served as Executive VP and Publisher.  She developed Millbrook’s trade imprint, Roaring Brook Press, winner of two Caldecott awards.

Before founding Millbrook, she had been Editor-in-Chief of Young People’s Publications at Grolier and Editor in Chief of The Book of Knowledge and, prior to that, Senior Vice President / Editorial Director and a member of the Board of Franklin Watts, Inc.

Now retired, more or less, she edits a blog called The Nonfiction Minute consisting of daily postings of 400-word essays by 30 award-winning nonfiction writers for young readers.  She has edited two books based on this blog, 30 People Who Changed the World, and 30 Animals That Share Our World.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve come to know Jean as an editor recently because I’m part of the group of authors that make up iNK Think Tank, who produce The Nonfiction Minute.  Also, one of my essays appear in 30 People Who Changed the World. 

Congratulations on the book you edited, 30 People Who Changed the World, which was selected as a Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018 by the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee.  Can you tell us how this book came to be?

Vicki Cobb first started iNK Think Tank in 2009 when the Common Core Standards had just been implemented, requiring more reading of nonfiction. A number of her fellow nonfiction writers were pleased that the importance of their genre was being recognized by the education community.  But they also knew that most teachers had very little awareness of the trove of excellent nonfiction books related to their required curricula and that those books were actually sitting idly on their school library shelves. Vicki approached a number of her favorite award-wining nonfiction authors and convinced them to join with her in creating a database aligning their books to the new Standards.  They created a website, which launched under the domain name of (now  in October 2009. All 22 member-authors donated money to make it happen.
These authors used their combined strength to purchase electronic equipment and learn how to do two way virtual classroom visits.  But as they got to know each other, they all realized that they wanted to do something more to introduce fine nonfiction writing to the classroom.  Thus the idea of The Nonfiction Minute was born.  And this is the point where I was brought into the organization.  I was a newly-retired editor who had worked with many of the iNK Think Tank authors over the years.  I know it’s hard to believe that a group of authors voluntarily called in an editor, because as a group we do tend to create a lot of work for a good author – but that’s what they did!
The plan was for each member of the iNK group, which had grown to more than 30 at this point, to create multiple 400-word nonfiction essays with the intention of posting one each day for use in the classroom.  It was my job to organize the effort, sometimes suggest the topics, edit the articles, illustrate the articles with free materials, solicit and edit an mp3 of the author reading his/her essay, and prepare a description of the author’s latest book to be included at the end of the essay.  The first year, academic 2015-16, was a gargantuan effort for all of us in that we were all in unfamiliar territory.  I had to learn how to work not only as an editor but as a fact checker and copyeditor – the latter being the most difficult.  I had had a staff of copyeditors overseeing my work for decades, and it was very difficult to not only edit but copyedit the essays.  Fortunately I was working with authors who were the best of the best in the field, but I literally wore out my Chicago Manual of Style. 
I was worried that without the power of a major publishing house who was going to pay an author on the completion of the work, there were no carrots to keep the very busy volunteer authors on track.  But to my delight, I discovered that their carrot was not money at all, but rather their true belief in what we were giving to children.

How is this book different from other books on the market today? 

There may be other anthologies in the children’s book market – although the only ones that occur to me now are poetry collections in which different poets are paid by the piece to be included in a single volume.  But I don’t believe that anything else exists that is based on the premise of good nonfiction writing.  I think such a volume would be very difficult to put together because the selection would be so subjective.  Also, the expense of paying for 30 essays would be major.  Remember that all of our authors are doing this without payment, which makes this book possible.

One of the many unique things about 30 People is that each of the 30 biographical essays is done with a different style and different approach.   It was an interesting experience for me as an editor transformed into an author to work with our very excellent copyeditor at Seagrass.  Coping with the work of 30 different authors was a real challenge for a copyeditor whose job is to assure uniformity of style -- and it was kind of fun for me as the author-once-children’s-book-editor to have to argue on behalf on inconsistency!

30 People Who Changed the World is interesting especially since it is a compilation of articles by different authors.  Can you tell us how it works to edit this type of book? 

Josalyn Moran, the Seagrass publisher who discovered The Nonfiction Minute online chose the topic.  She felt that introductions to new subjects or new details about old subjects would be helpful to upper elementary and middle school students who were involved in the inevitable assignment “Write an x-hundred word biography of a person you admire.”  Our Nonfiction Minutes fill that bill beautifully.  So for me, who was familiar with all of the Minutes, it was a question of picking 30 out of the 60 or so biographical Minutes.  I wanted to use not only all different approaches by different authors, but also a wide variety of subjects balanced between the well-known and the virtually unknown.  I wanted people from different eras, which we definitely achieved by including Imhotep of 2600 BCE and present-day Malala Yousafzai!  Also we wanted a balance between male and female, and of course, racial diversity. By the time these factors were all considered, the choices were pretty obvious.

Because the Minutes had been published previously and were still available for free on line, I wanted to add some additional factors and the logical thing to do was to help kids who were interested in knowing more to get started on their research by adding a Find Out More section to each Minute.  So I went back to the authors (who had already done a great deal of in-depth research on their respective biographees) and asked them to give me the title of the best book on their subject, the URL of the best introductory website, and the link to an interesting U-tube, all of which were then included at the end of each Minute.

As the book came together, I was very happy that I had been such a strict taskmaster about the length of the minutes.  As you know, I was adamant about the 400 word limit, and that helped the design flow very smoothly because our wonderful designer Marc Cheshire could perform his magic on the total layout even before he had the final text, knowing in advance how much room to allow for each minute.  I’m afraid that many of my free illustrations which worked well on a computer screen were not high enough resolution to work in a book.  So we had a lot of scrambling to find additional art.  It was wonderful to have professional researchers at the publisher working on it rather than me.   Like my copyediting knowledge, my picture research is rusty. I’ve been working with and selecting pictures for years, but always with lots of help from professional researchers.  Also, the publisher gave us a generous budget for pictures, whereas my budget for the illustrations for the online Minutes was zero. 

One problem was that the author’s book promotion could not be placed at the end of each Minute as it was on line.  I felt that information about each author was a must.  I lobbied hard for eight full book pages for author bios, photos, and book mentions.  We even included the author’s home town and email addresses.  I had to keep making suggestions about what photos we could cut, or even text we could cut to keep that eight-page section in tact – but it remained.  I felt that the volunteer authors needed some sort of major recognition in the book, not only for providing the one or two Minutes contained in the book, but for the scores of other Minutes they have produced over the past few years.

So all in all, editing this book and working with a publisher as an author rather than being the publisher myself was a really interesting experience.  Because she knew my extensive background, I think the editor, Josalyn, probably included me in a lot more decisions that the average author might have been able to participate in.  We consulted on the title and subtitle and cover design and cover copy – actually publishing details that I knew a lot more about than being an author.  It was fun.

One final thought on the topic.

Reading this book from an editor’s standpoint, can you give our readers some advice on writing captivating nonfiction? 

 I think captivating is the operative word in that question.  I think in order to captivate your reader, your topic has to have captivated you.  In that case, you do the best you can to share your enthusiasm.

Many years ago, I read an article that really helped form my love for what is called narrative nonfiction.  (Narrative nonfiction means that the author is really telling an interesting story and not presenting a series of facts and figures about the subject.)  The article, which probably was in an educational magazine, quoted two articles on the VietNam war.  The first was from a well-known American history text book, and I remember it began: “Vietnam is a Southeast Asian country on the South China Sea.” In the course of about 300 words it described the location and climate of VietNam, the years the war lasted, a bit about why the US was a combatant country.  I think the article lost me on the opening sentence.

The second article was from Time Magazine and it began with two American soldiers lying under some jungle foliage with artillery fire from the North Vietnamese passing just over their heads.  They had me!
I went on to read the rest of the dramatic story of what brought these Americans to this point, and the subsequent story, I learned a lot about VietNam.

In a widespread educational test, the text book article was given to a large group of students and the Time article was given to a different group.  Both were tested on the information two weeks later.  The textbook group remembered very very little, while the Time group could repeat parts of the story and actually remembered facts about VietNam and the course of the war.

Our aim in the Minutes is to have our writers tell an interesting enough story that our readers may mention something about it later on the playground, or talk about it at home over dinner.

Of course there are many other things about writing good nonfiction, but none are more important than captivating your reader.

Do you have some suggestions about how teachers could use this book in the classroom? 

I am not a teacher.  That’s a very hard job, and I don’t think that I’d be very good at it.  But I do spend a lot of time talking with teachers about how they work with kids and books.  As I mentioned earlier, 30 People is a great resource if there are students having trouble finding a topic for a biographical essay.  Also, I understand that some teachers are using the individual Minutes for (shudder) test prep.

We have added a new Transfer to Teaching section for each minute published this season which has a custom page with creative ideas for using the Minute in the classroom.  Organized by subject area and focused on critical thinking and problem-solving skills, these ideas have been created and organized by certified school librarian Karen Sterling, an iNK Think Tank member.  Each Minute is also categorized according to the Library of Congress Subject Authority headings to increase access points for users. So my suggestion would be for a teacher interested in specific ideas for any of the minutes in the book, use the archives on the website to find any of the Minutes in the book and click on the T2T link.

Are there more books like this one in the future?  

Absolutely.  30 Animals Who Share Our World is being released by Seagrass on April 4, 2018.  This book has some fascinating science, as well as some delightful stories about animal behavior.  This one has a huge variety of minutes ranging from a poetry collection in praise of vultures to the commuting habits of a British cat.  You’ll learn a lot, but this one is really fun!

We’re talking about a future STEM-themed book, but it is not yet under contract.

Thank you, Jean Reynolds!
Carla Killough McClafferty

Readers, to enter our drawing for a chance to win an autographed copy of 
30 People Who Changed the World, 
written by iNK Think Tank and edited by Jean Reynolds, use the Rafflecopter widget below. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today! In your comment, tell us what you'd do with the book if you win our giveaway--keep it for yourself or give it to a young reader?

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET BELOW. The giveaway ends April 6, 2018 and is open to U.S. residents only.

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Wow! What a great summary of our origins, our mission, how to be an engaging author and the amazing work of a great editor. I have told this story many times and it is just fabulous that I had nothing to do with this one. Thank you so much for doing this Carla and Jean.

Andrea Warren said...

I'm an iNK author who writes nonfiction history for young readers, and I related strongly to Jean Reynolds' comment about the two pieces she read about Vietnam and why the narrative approach was so much more effective than the textbook approach. When I write nonfiction history, I write story. We all love story. We all want to know about the people involved in history and how events affected them. I'd like to believe that narrative nonfiction can become a growing part of teaching history. As Jean Reynolds said, students REMEMBERED what they'd read when the stories of actual people were included.

Andrea Warren

Danielle H. said...

I love to read nonfiction as well as write it, so this book is a must read for me to study as mentor text and to enjoy.

Marilyn Garcia said...

I never heard of Ink Think Tank - what a brilliant idea! The book sounds fascinating and I only wish I had a classroom full of kids to use it with. I will absolutely be looking for it.

Linda said...

This book sounds amazing. I also want to check out the Nonfiction Minute.

Garden Girl said...

Thank you for introducing me to 30 PEOPLE WHO CHANGED THE WORLD. I look forward to reading all about these outstanding individuals. I'm quite certain my students will appreciate the contributions each have made.

Thank you.
Sue Leopold

Carl Scott said...

This sounds like a wonderful introduction for young people to the lives of the great movers and shakers of history. My hat's off to everyone who made their contribution for free. Thanks to all for the chance to win a copy.

Kathy said...

I would love to win a copy of this book to put in our church library (I am the librarian). Plus I'd like to read it myself!

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

I'm so very glad to spread the word to those of you who were unfamiliar with The Nonfiction Minute, INK Think Tank, and 30 People Who Changed the World. I'm honored to be part of an amazing group of nonfiction authors who truly love to engage readers with true stories. Thanks for leaving these comments!

Suzie Olsen said...

This book sounds awesome! Will have to check it out from my library.

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Great, Suzie.