Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 9, 2020

Learning About 21st Century Nonfiction by Mira Reisberg

Why nonfiction is hot!

Meet Our 21st Century Nonfiction Palooza Panelists 

by Dr. Mira Reisberg

Oh goodness, I love how former Children’s Book Academy students are publishing in just about every genre. Non-fiction is  one of these and it is hot and has been for several years because of common core educational standards that focus on informational text and because of the greater creativity and writing skills that are now brought to telling these stories. And while fiction remains popular, many kids prefer true stories–history, biography, memoir, science, and how-to manuals–over made-up ones. So even though we’re only 20 years into a new century, there are so many opportunities for young nonfiction readers who’d rather learn about how to cook, Barack Obama’s presidency, space exploration, the geographic wonders of our National Parks, or the achievements of Ruth Bader Ginsburg than pick up a fiction picture book or novel.

While earlier versions of biography, history, and STEM material geared towards children tended to be a dull and dreary recitation of facts and figures with birth to death biographies, contemporary children’s nonfiction is usually plot-driven, especially with biographies containing powerful narrative and emotional arcs following the hero/main character on their journey.  Biographies today connect children’s lives with history and contemporary events emphasizing dramatic journeys rather than dry data.

A previous century’s kid’s biography of Alexander Hamilton might involve an incredibly boring rendering of dates and accomplishments from birth to death. But we all know (thanks in part to Lin-Manuel Miranda) how much more exciting and unsavory the real Hamilton’s life was. There’s a lot more to him than the Battle of Yorktown, the Constitutional Convention, and a couple of duels. A young reader today could pick up a book like The Story of Alexander Hamilton: A Biography Book for New Readers by Christine Platt and find out all about it.

Another cool tendency of modern biography and history NF is the focus on relatively unknown ideas, events, and people–i.e., non-white, non-male, and non-binary. Maybe if a kid wanted to know how Hamilton’s wife could stomach the man–there’s

Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton by Margaret McNamara to help young readers puzzle it out.

There are also oodles of fertile material these days centered around STEAM–science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Some of this is geared to younger and younger readers. (Think about the wild success of Baby Einstein and all its offshoots.) Books with these topics nowadays eschew instruction manual style writing in favor of engaging, lively, poetic language or humor to teach complex subject matter.

To give you an idea of the possibilities, we’re highlighting a few of CBA’s former students who work in the realm of nonfiction with great personal and professional success…

Vivian Kirkfield sums herself up in a few mere words–a writer for children and a reader forever. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog.

Nancy Churnin is a native New Yorker, a graduate of Harvard University, with a master’s from Columbia University. She hangs out with her friends and fellow children’s book authors at, with the Nonfiction Chicks organizing the annual and as one of the Book Meshuggenahs, organizing an annual Chai-ku contest for kids. Nancy is also the PALS coordinator for the North Texas chapter of SCBWI. She loves to Skype and do in-person author visits.

Nancy’s incredible nonfiction books include The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game, the fascinating story of how William “Dummy” Hoy became one of the greatest and most beloved players of his time. After losing out on a spot on the local deaf team, William practiced even harder―eventually earning a position on a professional team. In addition to the prejudice Hoy faced because of his deafness, he could not hear the umpires’ calls. One day he asked the umpire to use hand signals: strike, ball, safe, and out–the same hand signals used in professional stadiums all over the world today. That day he not only got on base but also changed the way the game was played forever.

Nancy writes a lot about groundbreaking figures, and Charlie Takes His Shot: How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf is no exception. Charlie Sifford loved golf, but in the 1930s only white people were allowed to play in the Professional Golf Association. Sifford won plenty of black tournaments, but he was determined to break the color barrier in the PGA. In 1960 he did, only to face discrimination from hotels that wouldn’t rent him rooms and clubs that wouldn’t let him use the same locker rooms and practice facilities as the white players. But Sifford kept playing, becoming the first black golfer to win a PGA tournament and eventually ranking among the greats in golf.


Yet another awesome nonfiction author, Alice Faye Duncan writes books for young readers and adults and is the author of several books, including the classic NAACP Award–nominated board book, Honey Baby Sugar Child, and Just Like a Mama. Alice is a school librarian in Memphis, Tennessee, and conducts writing workshops for parents and educators. Her latest picture book, Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop, received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews.

Alice is drawn to African American figures and histories. In A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks, Alice tells the story of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 is a lyrical combination of poetry and prose that explores Dr. King’s final stand in the city of Memphis for racial and economic justice through the eyes of a young girl.

Another extraordinary speaker is Sue Heavenrich.  Sue is a curious naturalist and is particularly amazed by the diversity of insects that visit her garden. After years as a journalist she traded in her reporter’s notebooks and started writing for children. When not writing, Sue volunteers as a citizen scientist, counting bees and monitoring water quality in local streams.

Sue’s writing strengths derive from her curious and quirky love of nature, science and language as you can see from these books. For example, the whimsical 13 Ways to Eat a Fly exists in a world where science meets subtraction in this fresh and funny STEM picture book. A swarm of thirteen flies buzzes along, losing one member to each predator along the way. Whether the unfortunate insects are zapped or wrapped, liquefied or zombified, the science is real–and hilariously gross. The book includes a guide to eating bugs, complete with nutritional information for a single serving of flies.

Are Ants Like Plants? Sue asks in another of her wonderful books. Ants have legs and scurry about. Plants have roots and are stuck in one place. Ants breathe oxygen; plants breathe carbon dioxide. Ants and plants are different, but they have similar needs. Sue’s nonfiction books present standards-supporting concepts in relatable, often-humorous ways to engage and inform young readers.

In addition, the Palooza has some super smart moderators and hosts. Educational nonfiction and debut trade author, and nonfiction panel moderator, Carol Kim will be talking about researching and writing historical nonfiction, introducing everyone, and keeping panelists on time, while genius author and illustrator of over 40 nonfiction STEM books, Roxie Munro, will be hosting our nonfiction breakout party room, sharing about creating nonfiction series, and responding to Paloozan guests responses to our nonfiction picture book ideas worksheet (coming soon).


Carol Kim will be talking about historical non-fiction research, introducing you to her new book, Introducing the panelists & keeping everyone on track. Carol is a debut children’s book author, whose book is bound to win awards.

Roxie Munro will be hosting the Nonfiction breakout session, teaching you about writing nonfiction series, listening to your nonfiction story ideas, & helping you in any way that she can! Roxie as written and/or illustrated over 40 children’s books, won multiple awards is a CBA contributor and is lots of fun!

All these incredibly talented women will comprise our first panel at CBA’s 2020 Picture Book Palooza ! Join us in a marvelous not-to-be-missed event to learn tons more and help support our scholarship fund for only $20.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I am starting to explore nonfiction and this post is a helpful jumpstart brimming with useful ideas and resources! Thanks—


  2. Awesome news! Thanks for sharing with us. 🙂


  3. Thanks for sharing! Congrats to all these amazing writers!


  4. Great post, Kathy! Thank you so much for spreading the word about the nonfiction panel! I’m so excited to be sitting next to Nancy, Sue, Alice, and of course, Mira.


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