Thursday, July 22, 2010

Books for Young Readers Conference-Part II

I had a first impression of Elizabeth Partridge that she was serious, and a little bit of a free spirit. Well I was right. Her parents are photographers from Berkeley who moved often. There was the cutest picture of her as a child with a rope belt. She said it truly represented how she was raised.

Her blog is pretty interesting to read on her website. She describes her travels and thoughts. She's got some amazing photos of herself on there. I love the one of her as a child reading at the library.

Now, if you are like me, her name doesn't ring a bell, but you may have seen her latest book cover which is gaining a lot of accolades.

If you can name 10 nonfiction authors, then you are amazing. I think in general, people just don't remember nonfiction authors like they do fiction ones. Well, Elizabeth had a great presentation on nonfiction and how she researched her book. She taught me a lot.

I was unfamiliar with her background, so found it fascinating how influenced she was by her godmother, Dorothea Lange-the famous photographer who did many renowned photos including the most famous one from the great depression with the mother and her children. She compiled a history of her godmother as a tribute called Restless Spirit. The photos in it are amazing.

Her father was an apprentice for Ansel Adams until he got fired. Ansel had come home drunk one night and told him to take off his shoes and her father, who was known for his strong mind, tied them together instead. The next morning when Ansel rose and fell flat on his face, he fired her father.

Elizabeth is the first woman to graduate from Berkeley in women studies and seems involved in many organizations that focus on social injustices.

She began talking about how she writes narrative nonfiction and how if you are going to do that, then "make sure we're telling a story" which should include a plot, character development voice and theme. Elizabeth believes that "Humans are hard wired for stories."

She describes herself as a primary source junkie."

"When I get an idea, it's like the world stops for a minute and it's in perfect balance and it's in perfect balance and I know it's an idea for a book that I want to do."

When researching, she also wants to "sniff around secondary sources" which she calls "reading around" similar to sleeping around because she says " I will read anything!" This includes photo credits, footnotes and biographies. She often feels like the Cat in the Hat when he is balancing everything on his head, when she is researching because she has all the information jammed in her head and just waiting to be organized. Later in the Q and A, someone asked about her writing procedure and she shared that she is not confident in her organization and is known to spread out everywhere, use post it notes, color code things, cut things up and scotch tape them together to help with sequencing choices. "With nonfiction, we are choosing every word as carefully as a poet." She gets binders for every book to keep all her research and takes a lot of time to find out where her photos are credited and get permissions for them.

She says that fair use is misused and that it only covers "a little bit," so she encourages writers to paraphrase, use titles and hope the reader knows what you mean and just purchase permission to use others work. She is given a permissions budget for photo's. For Marching for Freedom she was allowed to spend 12-14 thousand for permissions of photos but also found many originals from the primary sources.

She did a nonfiction book on Lennon which is very interesting and was given 30,000 for permissions but went "way over budget...fairly substantially, which came out of my advance." This sort of information to me is soooo interesting. Not that I want to write nonfiction but it gives you a glimpse into the business side of childrens' literature. I can't get enough of it!

She continued that writing nonfiction has some challenges, but also some tricks you can use. "Urgency is a good tool to add" and "humor, though it's tricky if the content matter is to serious."

She has quite a personal history with photography and has some great stories about how she discovered original, unpublished photos for her books. She described how most kids don't even know how to look and really see a photo. She called it a "visual narrative." which needs 2 differences or a conflict to be good. She hopes that all people become "more visually literate" which reminded me of all the art classes I had growing up where we learned of artists and really how to analyze their works. I agreed that schools could be doing more in this area. Art Masterpiece only goes so far. Elizabeth is also very happy that nonfiction as a genre is being recognized more consistently these days but hopes that in the schools we improve our use of nonfiction, "Somewhere in there we somehow scare them off or turn them off."

She shared how she has heard of teachers using the google earth program to take "google lit trips" where you can map out places from literature on an actual satellite photograph. She also mentioned the "picturing america" website that has great art work integrated with geography. She loves "service learning" where kids get involved in their communities and even suggested to assign them to create a visual presentation of their service time to share with others later.

Her next book is Dogtag Summer about an adopted vietnamese child who finds the dogtag of her adopted father. Surprisingly, it's fiction. She does write for adults and children, both fiction and nonfiction. She shared that she likes to follow the advice of Bruce Coville,..."The way to begin writing is to barf on the page."

She used music, powerpoint, stories and tons of photography in her presentation. I felt like I wanted to become a little more visually literate myself. Would it kill me to go to a museum once in a while? I at least could check out some of her nonfiction books, rich with photo's, at the library and I plan to.

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