How Colby Sharp, nErDcamp, and the Nerdy Book Club Inspired a Book by Melissa Stewart

Back in 2012, I was feeling frustrated. The manuscripts I was writing received good feedback from my critique group, but editors just weren’t interested.

In an effort to better understand the wide world of nonfiction children’s books and determine what kinds of manuscripts publishers would be most likely to acquire, I began thinking about ways to classify books. I published a few early attempts on my blog, but I knew they needed work.

In 2013, I learned that a group of highly-respected educators who called themselves the Uncommon Corps had developed a nonfiction taxonomy. I was fascinated by their ideas. Although the group’s classification system never caught on, I began an ongoing dialogue with several members. Marc Aronson, Sue Bartle, Mary Ann Cappiello, and Myra Zarnowski have all influenced the way I think about nonfiction.

Over the next four years, I continued to refine my thinking, and by December 2017, my system seemed truly useful. When I posted it on my blog, the response was tremendous.

Teachers, librarians, children’s book authors, and editors all loved the idea of classifying nonfiction into five categories—traditional nonfiction, browseable nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, expository literature, and active nonfiction. People praised the clarity the classification system brought to the range of children’s nonfiction available today. To date, that post has received more than 500,000 hits.

In February 2018, Colby Sharp invited me to discuss the system as part of his “One Question with” vlog series. As we were corresponding, he casually suggested, “You should really write a book about this.” At the time, the idea seemed too big to even consider. But it was a seed that sprouted and grew in my mind over time.

That summer, I attended nErDcamp in Parma, Michigan, and gave a presentation about the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction. Afterward, Stenhouse editor Terry Thompson, who had been in the audience, came forward and invited me to write a book about the classification system for educators. After 6 months of mulling the idea over, I was ready to say, “Yes!”

But later that day, I panicked. I didn’t think there was enough content for a whole book. How could I possible write it?

Luckily, my travel mates—Lesley Burnap, Erika Victor, Melissa Guerette, Sarah Albee, and Josh Funk—had faith in me. They suggested some ideas for expanding the book, including adding a range of small group, full class, and whole school activities.

I also decided I’d need a writing partner who had teaching experience as well as a love of nonfiction for kids. Marlene Correia, Assistant Professor of Literacy Education at Bridgewater State University, was the perfect choice.

Melissa Stewart has written more than 180 science books for children. She co-wrote 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books and edited the anthology Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-winning Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing. Melissa maintains the award-winning blog Info-licious Inspiration and is available for school visits and professional development workshops.

I’m happy to announce that our book 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books is entering the world today. And it probably never would have happened without Colby Sharp, nErDcamp, and all my Nerdy Book Club pals. Thanks so much for your support, Friends!

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