Author Melissa Stewart on Expository Nonfiction- PLUS a GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my blog, Blissfully Bookish! I’m super excited because I got to interview one of my main nonfiction mentors who’s not only talented, but also very generous with her knowledge. Please welcome nonfiction pioneer, Melissa Stewart! I have the pleasure to introduce you all to her latest picture book, Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-floor Ecosystem, published by Random House Studio and illustrated by Rob Dunlavey. Check out the jaw-dropping cover!

BUT first- YAY! Melissa is generously giving away a FREE copy of her book. To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends March 24, 2023, US only.

Please describe the journey to publication for Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-floor Ecosystem.

The story behind this book traces back to 2019. While writing Ick! Delightfully, Disgusting Animals Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses, I stumbled upon an article about zombie worms, aka bone-eating snot flower worms.

Of course, I included them in that book. First of all, what a fabulous name! But also—believe it or not—dozens of teeny tiny male zombie worms live inside each female. Wow!

Each section in Ick! was limited to about 400 words. But there was SO much more to say about these curious critters. I tacked the article to my Idea Board as a reminder that I hoped to learn more about them.

Sometimes notes and articles stay on my Idea Board for a long time, collecting dust. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, all my school visits were canceled and I had plenty of time for research.

As I began reading more about zombie worms and their environment, my mind was blown. I was completely captivated by the incredible collection of critters that live in, on, and around a whale fall. I knew I had to write a book about them.

The premise of this book is fascinating; that even though it may be the end of a whale’s life, it heralds a new beginning for many other sea creatures. What made you think of this concept?

Hmm, that’s an interesting question because I never considered any other approach. I guess the circle of life must be deeply embedded in my view of the world. Who we are as people—our experiences, our beliefs, our passions and vulnerabilities—fuel our writing, sometimes without us even realizing it. That personal connection is what makes the books we write uniquely our own.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

Here’s the book’s opening:

“When a whale dies,
       its massive body
       silently sinks

through the inky darkness,
      finally coming to rest
      on the soft, silty seafloor.

For the whale, it’s the end of a 70-year-long life.

But for a little-known community of deep-sea denizens, it’s a new beginning. The whale fall is a bountiful gift that can sustain life for another 50 years.”

Then the book goes on to describe the astonishing ocean-floor ecosystem with a whole host of creatures that are found nowhere else on Earth. Here’s one of my favorite spreads:

Some people believe that children prefer fiction over nonfiction, but that isn’t always true. Can you share what researchers have proven about children’s genre reading preferences?

To start off, it’s important to acknowledge that some children (and adults) really do prefer fiction. But most people (children and adults) enjoy both genres, and many prefer nonfiction. There is a robust body of research showing that many kids love reading to learn and find nonfiction fascinating, but unfortunately, many adults aren’t aware of that research. They mistakenly assume kids would rather read made-up stories.

As a result, nonfiction accounts for two-thirds of adult book sales, but only one-quarter of children’s book sales. Elementary classroom libraries contain four times more fiction than nonfiction. School libraries are typically divided into three major sections—two are fiction, and only one is nonfiction. Educators favor fiction without even realizing it. So do parents, grandparents, and other caregivers.

The good news is that the NCTE (National Council for Teachers of English) is now trying to address the implicit bias against children’s nonfiction. On January 19, they released a Nonfiction Position Statement, calling for educators to add more nonfiction to their classroom libraries and use more nonfiction in instruction. As a science writer, I’m excited that the NSTA (National Science Teaching Association) endorsed it the very next day.

Please share your favorite books from 2022 that have inspired you.

Oh, that’s an easy question. I published a list of my 15-favorite STEM books on my blog in December. These are books I hope educators will come back to again and again.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other nonfiction writers about how to craft their hooks?

Be patient.

Once in a while, I get super lucky, and a book idea comes to me with the hook, text structure, and voice built right in. But more often, it takes time. Sometimes a very, very, very long time. And that’s just the way it is.

As nonfiction writers, we have to wait until our brains work out how the various craft elements will work together to create a book that’s interesting and unique. You do a very good job of explaining this in a blog post for Storystorm back in January. I highly recommend it.

And a bonus question just for kicks! What’s your favorite animal you’ve ever written about, so far?

I’m going to go with the okapi, which is one of the animals included in Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs. They’re so fascinating that I wanted to write more about them, and I now have a book focusing on them in the works. Stay tuned for more info coming soon.


Melissa Stewart has written more than 200 science-themed nonfiction books for children, including the Sibert Medal Honoree Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. She co-wrote 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books, edited the anthology Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-winning Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing, and maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Nonfiction. Melissa’s highly-regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction reading and writing resources. 


Twitter: @mstewartscience
Instagram: @melissastewartscience


26 thoughts on “Author Melissa Stewart on Expository Nonfiction- PLUS a GIVEAWAY!

    Destiny Lawyer said:
    March 23, 2023 at 5:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing this and all the great book recommendations!


    Vanessa said:
    March 23, 2023 at 10:29 am

    Great topic and well researched! Keep up the good work!


    Hannah Roy LaGrone said:
    March 22, 2023 at 9:52 pm

    I’m hearing a song…it’s the ciiiiiiircle of liiiiiife… 🙂 Hooray for getting more NF into more kids’ hands!


    March 21, 2023 at 8:18 am

    Finding the right structure is key and it can be frustrating when it eludes you. But I love that Melissa reminds us that it can take a while for some stories to get it right. Not all stories find their structure right away. And the cover for WhaleFall is gorgeous!


    calliebdean said:
    March 20, 2023 at 11:39 am

    I’m excited about this book! Thanks, Melissa, for always being willing to share your process with us!


    swwriter1 said:
    March 17, 2023 at 11:52 pm

    I think this topic will fascinate many young readers, and me, too!


    Jennifer Merrifield said:
    March 16, 2023 at 10:37 pm

    I can already think of so many of my students that will love reading this book. What a cool topic to write about. I look forward to adding this book to my classroom library.


    Buffy Silverman said:
    March 16, 2023 at 9:16 pm

    I love how researching one book gave birth to an idea for another…yay for research. Thanks for a great interview.


    Susan Johnston Taylor said:
    March 16, 2023 at 7:49 pm

    I love Melissa’s books so I’m excited to read more about her process!


    Katy Duffield said:
    March 16, 2023 at 5:46 pm

    The whole idea behind this book just fascinates me. I can’t wait to read it!


    Jilanne Hoffmann said:
    March 16, 2023 at 12:52 pm

    There’s much we don’t know about the deep ocean (right, Lydia?), but we’re learning more. I LOVE this book, and it’s already on my desk, so you don’t need to enter me in the giveaway. Congrats to Melissa and Rob for making such a beautiful, fascinating book!


    Wendy Greenley said:
    March 16, 2023 at 11:14 am

    Every ending is another beginning and vice versa. Nature is more weird and wonderful than we could imagine and I’m excited to read Melissa’s newest!


    seschipper said:
    March 15, 2023 at 8:29 pm

    The opening of this NF book is outstanding! I am looking forward to reading this book! Thanks, Lydia for sharing this gem! 🙂


    kurtzmom548513 said:
    March 15, 2023 at 5:36 pm

    Nonfiction books are so much more fun now than they were when I was a child and Melissa Stewart is an excellent author of this type of book. I am anxious to see her newest endeavor. It looks fabulous!


    Carolyn Bennett Fraiser said:
    March 15, 2023 at 3:41 pm

    Looks like a BEAUTIFUL book! Can’t wait to read it and learn more about whales.


    Kim A Larson said:
    March 15, 2023 at 1:45 pm

    I love your books, Melissa! You changed my perspective on nonfiction PBs! Congrats on your many accomplishments.


    Kara S. said:
    March 15, 2023 at 1:35 pm

    Great interview! And congratulations – this book looks so fascinating! Can’t wait to read it!


    Jessica Milo said:
    March 15, 2023 at 1:25 pm

    I can’t wait to read WHALE FALL! What a gorgeous cover and such an interesting concept on the circle of life!


    Yehudit Sarah said:
    March 15, 2023 at 1:11 pm

    I loved reading your books to my students and I’m excited to hear about this new one. Can’t wait to read it.


    Katie Reinert said:
    March 15, 2023 at 12:28 pm

    This looks like a great science book and what a beautiful cover! Looking forward to reading it!


    Janet Lawler said:
    March 15, 2023 at 12:24 pm

    Great interview! Best of luck, Melissa, with another beautiful, informative, and entertaining NF book.


    Kourtney LaFavre said:
    March 15, 2023 at 12:20 pm

    Wowza, that opening is beautiful!


    rosecappelli said:
    March 15, 2023 at 12:03 pm

    Congratulations, Melissa! I can’t wait to read this one!


    I’ve been waiting for this one! The cover art is stunning – but the story opens up so much discussion possibility to share with kids about life cycles, the health of oceans, and the role we play. Thank you for writing it, Melissa, And thank you for sharing this, Lydia.


    elyset20 said:
    March 15, 2023 at 11:51 am

    I think kids will love this book. It is about the cycle of life and how interdependent we all are
    Can’t wait to read it!


    Stephanie Owen said:
    March 15, 2023 at 11:50 am

    What fun and fascinating facts about ocean life! I can’t wait to read more.


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