Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mountains of Research

Participating in the Mini Non-Fiction WOW this weekend forced me to face some questions I'd been avoiding. The most important question being, "Where do I start my research?"

Sarah Gives Thanks,
written by Mike Allegra
and Illustrated by David Gardner
Here are three good places to start researching your next non-fiction picture book.

1. From Mike Allegra, author of Sarah Gives Thanks, via Susanna Leonard Hill, Find a source for unique information, like diaries and letters.

I did do a lot of research on Sarah. The first thing I did was buy books about her, including an excellent (out of print) book from the 1930s titled The Lady of Godey’s by Ruth Finely. The bulk of my research, however, was done at The Library Company, an archive in Philadelphia that had an incredible collection of Sarah’s writings. I found tons of information there that ended up in my story – information that no other author had used before.

2. From Nancy I. Sanders, who is currently posting a guide to writing NF, Buy lots of books.

Personally, I love to read children’s books on my topic because of a number of fantastic reasons:
1) These books are written in the language kids need to read . . .
2) These books often include highlights of my topic . . .
3) These books help me quickly get a good feel for my topic . . .
4) These books help round out my research . . .
5) These books make great resources to list at the back of MY picture book . . .

So go ahead and look for a whole bunch of children’s books on your topic.

[Then] gather MORE research books for your nonfiction picture book that you’re writing . . . This time, look for current nonfiction reliable books for adults on your topic. 

3. From Kristen McGill Fulton's article for The Children's Book Academy, Google it. Search news archives, historical societies, and ancestral records.

here is how to begin your research process.

1. Get an account with easybib.com, it's free.
2. Google everything about the subject and print off each document.
3. Visit www.uspto.gov and search for basic marks about my subject.
4.  membership with http://newspaperarchive.com.
5. Buy every book that you can get your hands on about the subject.
6. Call local historical societies in the town/state/country where the event happened, person lived or person is buried. 
7. Get a membership with ancestry.com.
8. begin reading.
9. Go back to the internet and search what life, weather and other historical events were happening during this time.
10. Visit the site. 


     In other words, there is no secret formula, no place to start but at the top of the pile. Dig in, and don't come up for air until you find the nuggets you can build your story around. Then dive in again, this time with more purpose. Non-fiction research is not for the faint of heart.

'Scuse me, I've got some more reading to do.

Have you been working on a non-fiction writing project? Have an organized system for documentation? A web-site you swear by? A how-to book you can't live without? Please share it with us as we persevere toward our NF goals.


  1. Good post! Many readers only think of research related to 'adult' books, but the best children's books began with an author's intense study of his or her subject.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I should also have mentioned how helpful the Wow Non-fiction group has been. The FB group and webinars are another great place to learn about researching your books.


Thank-you for taking time to share your thoughts!