What better way to celebrate today’s 134th Birthday of the Statute of
Liberty than to learn first-hand from Claudia Friddell her proven recipe
for crafting kid-friendly true stories, especially since she authored the
recently published SAVING LADY LIBERTY (Calkins Creek, March,
Gorgeously-illustrated by Stacy Innerst in watercolor and acrylic paint
and ink drawings, the picture book shares how the immigrant Joseph
Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World who rose from rags to riches,
used his newspaper in the first crowd-sourcing effort ever, to raise the
monies to build the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands.
Story celebrating and honoring the debut of her first children’s book –
Bear Press). She’s been using her many talents ever since, crafting and
publishing a bounty of children’s narrative nonfiction.
“A soaring account!” Booklist boasted in a starred review of
SAVING LADY LIBERTY.
Both School Library Journal and the Bulletin for the Center of
Children’s Books lauded the biography’s backmatter –“fun facts
about the Statue of Liberty and Pulitzer, a bibliography, an afterword,
a time line, and photos of the statue during its construction and
Kirkus wrote that “Pulitzer's permanent legacy now beams a
beckoning welcome to all American newcomers—a timely
SAVING LADY LIBERTY offers delicious primary material, too:
quotes, excerpts from editorials, replicas of but a few of the hundreds of
handwritten letters children sent along with their donated pennies.
How generous of Claudia to share her Writing Recipe in today’s
Wednesday Writing Workout.
It’s a most proven recipe, by the way.
Calkins Creek publishes Claudia’s GRACE BANKER AND THE
in February of 2021, ROAD TRIP! (Camping with the Four Vagabonds:
Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs)
in September the same year and THE FRONT (Clara Barton and the
Battle of Antietam) in Spring of 2022.
Thank you, Claudia, for sharing your recipe with our TeachingAuthors
readers, and for feeding all of us with your one-of-a-kind stories about
one-of-a-kind inspiring, real and true people.
Happy Story Crafting! Happy Pizza-making!
And Happy Birthday, Lady Liberty!
. . . . .
How to Craft True Stories Into Kid-Friendly Books:
Eat the Crust First!
It’s a mouthful to share that I’m a narrative nonfiction children’s author when asked what I do, but it’s a title I share with pride. After twenty inspiring years of teaching elementary students, I now spend my days pursuing my lifelong passion—finding, writing, and sharing true stories from long ago. During this new reality of living in partial isolation, I have indulged another passion—pizza making. Inspired by treasured memories of cooking with my father in our quest to create the perfect sauce and crust, I now take writing breaks to continue that pizza perfecting quest with my brother. Separated by half a country and an epidemic, our cooking adventures are virtual, but they never feel remote.
It may be a cheesy stretch, but during one of our pizza zooms, it occurred to me that crafting a truly delicious homemade pizza has similarities with crafting true stories into kid-friendly books.
Making the Dough
As I wrestle with making a dough that is airy but not too light—chewy, but not too dense—I’m reminded of my challenges as a researcher. Without thorough and precise research, there is no foundation for a nonfiction book, just as dough that doesn’t rise or isn’t kneaded correctly can end up in the trash. This first step in both ventures can be the most tedious and frustrating, but it can also be the most rewarding. This is where you find the foundation for your story and all its treasures.
In my most recent book with Calkins Creek, Saving Lady Liberty, (an early quarantine release, March 2020), my research of Joseph Pulitzer’s innovative idea of the world’s first crowdfunding campaign to fund the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal was the foundation, the crust, for just the type of book I like to write—a little known, kid-friendly story within an historically important event.
Cooking Up the Sauce
Once the foundation of research is set, it’s time to combine the ingredients that give a narrative nonfiction story its flavor—the sauce. True stories about people and events don’t always translate into a good book, just as a pot full of tomatoes and herbs don’t necessarily make a great pizza sauce. Crafting the right combination and balance of the ingredients—the plot, characters, setting, conflict, and resolution—is the challenge and the joy of turning interesting facts, people, and events into kid friendly and curriculum enhancing books. As a narrative nonfiction writer, I can never stray too far from the main ingredients. I can’t make up my own details, and I can’t create my own events. But I can add flavor and spice.
In Saving Lady Liberty, I loved blending together the precarious journey of Lady Liberty, our personified beloved national monument to freedom, with the story of an iconic rags-to-riches Jewish immigrant whose big idea rallied thousands of Americans to feel their patriotism and raise the funds to build the foundation on which Lady Liberty stands.
Which takes me back to the pizza. What about all those fabulous toppings—the ones that help make your pizza interesting and unique? For me, this is the best part, and I’m not just referring to the sausage, mushrooms, and black olives. In Saving Lady Liberty, I loved sprinkling bits of kid-friendly historical details throughout the book. Did you know that Lady Liberty first stood in Paris, where she was built, before she lifted her torch in America? Did you know that after Lady Liberty crossed the Atlantic like millions of other immigrants, her disassembled parts sat in crates for nearly a year, waiting for a place to stand? Did you know that young children contributed their own pennies to join immigrants, Civil War veterans, and everyday Americans to raise over $100,000 to fund Lady Liberty’s pedestal? What a special treat to find and share some of the children’s donation letters hidden in century old newspapers.
And Finally, the Crust!
And now we get to the end—or is it the bottom? I’m referring to the crust, the baked dough that was once raw research. The crust of the book is the fully baked back matter. This is where the reader finds the research nuggets, the relatable back stories, the resources. True confession—while I do think a great crust is crucial for a great pizza, I’m not here to seriously advocate for eating the pizza crust first. I am, however, here to strongly urge teachers and parents to read the back matter of a narrative nonfiction picture book first before reading the story with young readers. Here’s why… Well-developed back matter offers information that enriches and expands the reader’s knowledge of the book’s main ingredients that can be used for pre-reading activities and guided reading instruction.
Young children often need historical points of reference before reading a story to give them firm footing in understanding the time and place in which these real people lived. This allows young readers to better connect and relate to historical events and people who, without context, may seem unrelatable. A well kneaded back matter offers finger-tip treasures for all.
Here are a few of my favorite back matter tidbits that were too small to make it into Saving Lady Liberty’s main story, but too good to leave out—over a million people who walked through New York City’s streets to celebrate Lady Liberty’s unveiling on October 28, 1886, were showered by the very first ticker tape parade; and, baseball’s World Series is named for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, THE WORLD—the original sponsor of the baseball tournament. There’s more trivia treats where these came from—just check out the back matter!
So, here’s to following your own passions and creating your own recipes. I hope you enjoy a new slice of life every time you read a narrative nonfiction book, with or without the pizza. And don’t forget to eat the crust first!