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3 tips for writing narrative non-fiction books for kids

3 tips for writing narrative non-fiction
Posted on September 28, 2023

Narrative non-fiction for young readers is having a moment in the spotlight, combining facts, illustrations and storytelling in an irresistible short-form package.

But, as anyone who’s ever tried writing narrative non-fiction will tell you, getting the balance right between the information and the story is not always easy.

Bronwyn Saunders writing narrative non fictionWith her debut picture book Diprotodon: A Megafauna Journey out now, Bronwyn Saunders has popped in to share her experience with distilling a dinosaur-sized pile of research into a compelling story. The picture book is illustrated by Andrew Plant and published by CSIRO Publishing.

A children’s author and passionate citizen scientist who delights in sharing facts about Australia’s natural history with readers, Bronwyn has three top tips to help you if you’re thinking of following in her footsteps.

 

Bronwyn Saunders’ three tips for writing narrative non-fiction for kids

Diprotodon: a megafauna journey by Bronwyn SaundersNarrative non-fiction is weaving a story around factual information for the purpose of being informative and entertaining. The choice of producing non-fiction is a promise to the reader that the facts you are sharing are correct.

Writing non-fiction is addictive because the truth can be more outrageous and unbelievable than fiction. Diprotodon: A Megafauna Journey is a great example of outrageous facts.

Who knew Australia was once home to a marsupial that weighed up to 2,700 kilograms?

This is one of the facts about diprotodon that is thoroughly ridiculous and endearing at the same time.

I love astounding children with these unique facts, and there’s no doubt the facts compel you to share widely – but crafting a story with those facts is more than just stating (or listing) what you know.

 

Non-fiction ideas can creep up on you

My non-fiction topic found me whilst I was on holiday in Naracoorte, sparked by a statue, several facts from the tour guide and a tall tale.

The tall tale was exposed quickly, but by then I didn’t care that diprotodon wasn’t carnivorous, as the animal had already made a home in my heart.

I read everything I could find, which wasn’t much.

Then I dug a little deeper, reading scientific articles and research. Due to my research, I can verify that Latin is not such a dead language. The more I learnt, the more I had to know. I can proudly say I have read the majority of material ever written about diprotodon.

 

Managing your research

You don’t need archival qualifications to research a non-fiction topic but you do need an information management system.

No, you don’t need to buy it from Amazon or download an app onto your phone. It can be simple as recording and cataloguing source information, in a document, in a table or on a piece of paper.

Keeping the reference material in a single place is key. Collating all the references so they are retrievable when required is the aim. The style of reference that you use to keep the reference is not important, but consistency will help.

Remember, you are not composing a paper for university and do not need to use citations but your references do need to be accurate.

Correct referencing allows the writer to locate a source to double-check the source, interpretation or intended purpose with ease.

Correct referencing also makes it easier for the editor to review the evidence that is being relied upon so they can reassure the publisher of the accuracy of the text.

 

What details do you need?

The details depend on the type of source.

This could mean:

•a web address;

•author, title and page reference;

•or author, article title, journal name, volume and year of publication.

Try to capture every necessary detail that will enable you to easily find the source again, for example chapter names, article numbers, edition, volume and year of publication.

When I find a great source,I have been known to photocopy the page with all origin details, just to be certain, as well as allow verification that the source is what I want to rely on. It then goes into a hard copy folder between its own dividers, which are titled with how I intend to refer to it.

When I compile notes from the source, I use the basic reference data at the start of the notes and add it to the folder after the source material.

Diprotodon: A Megafauna Journey found a publisher five years after writing it. Experiencing the publishing process has helped me appreciate the need to give myself better clues of where within articles that I sourced information.

Your editor will appreciate your accuracy, too.

 

But what about the story?

Narrative non-fiction is not just listing facts. The facts must be used to tell a interesting story based on factual information.

The author has to take the black and white and fill the page with seamless colour.

Depending on the timeframe and the topic, knowing about the weather, the natural environment, buildings, technology, vocabulary, relevant culture and fashions are vital to capture the spirit of the story. In an historical movie or TV show there’s nothing worse than seeing an out-of-
place timepiece on the wrist of the lead actor, or for a car enthusiast seeing a classic car that was produced after the year when the production was set – and it’s the same for books.

For my story, it was important to listen to my palaeontologist advisor when he questioned my earlier use of insects to show Diprotodon toward
food. ‘Why would such a large animal pay any attention to what an insect is doing?’, he asked.

I had to be flexible with my manuscript and review what animal was available to use to guide Diprotodon to safety, which meant a return to research and drafting for the credibility of the story.

 

My top three tips for writing narrative non-fiction for children

1. Love your topic, you are going to immerse yourself in it.

2. Be methodical with your research, you may have to refer to it after many years have passed
or provide it to another person.

3. The facts need to be woven into a compelling story, the facts themselves are insufficient.

You can find out more about Bronwyn Saunders here, and watch the video below to find out more about Diprotodon: A Megafauna Journey – or visit CSIRO Publishing here to purchase.

 


Diprotodon Trailer from CSIRO Publishing on Vimeo.


A. L. Tait The First Summer of Callie McGeeAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of middle-grade series, The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher, and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. My latest novel THE FIRST SUMMER OF CALLIE McGEE is out now. You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

If you’re looking for book recommendations for young readers, join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community, and tune in to the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast!

1 Comment

  1. Henry

    One key tip for writing narrative non-fiction books for kids is to make the learning experience enjoyable and relatable. While imparting factual information, weave it into a captivating story or real-life narrative that engages young readers. Use relatable characters or scenarios that children can connect with, fostering their curiosity and making the learning process fun and memorable.

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