Todays featured author, Carmella Van Vleet is the author of both fiction and nonfiction for middle grade including co-authoring TO THE STARS! (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2016) with astronaut Kathy Sullivan. Her most recent release is called AVIATION: COOL WOMEN WHO FLY (Nomad Press, 2016). I asked Carmella about her success with writing nonfiction for middle grade readers.
Middle Grade Mafia: What inspired your latest release, Aviation: Cool Women Who Fly?
Carmella Van Vleet: I grew up loving science, and after co-authoring (along with astronaut Kathy Sullivan) the picture book, To The Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space, I discovered a passion to help girls see themselves as scientists. So when Nomad Press asked if I’d be interested in being a part of their new Girls In Science series, I jumped at the chance!
Fortunately Kathy (who’s a pilot herself) was able to introduce me to some great organizations for female aviators. I was also fortunate to have a personal connection to Taylor McConnell, one of the women I interviewed for the book. Their enthusiasm for the field was contagious.
MGM: You’ve written many non-fiction books, have you seen an increased demand for these over the years or has it stayed consistent?
Speaking from personal experience, there’s an increased demand for non-fiction books. Especially high-quality, high-interest books. We’re moving away from a “boring textbook” kind of approach toward vibrant, engaging books on all kinds of topics and that’s super exciting! Strong non-fiction books utilize great story telling to inspire readers. And the STEM/STEAM movement has really opened up opportunities for writers, too.
MGM: As a writer, how do you write non-fiction to make them compelling and compete with fiction?
First and foremost, I don’t take on any non-fiction project unless I have some kind of connection or passion for the topic. I know that if *I’m* excited then I can convey that to readers. Conversely if I’m bored, I figure readers will be as well.
In order to make my books compelling (hopefully!) I try to remember that I’m a story-teller at heart. I’m not necessarily teaching; it’s more like I’ve learned this really cool stuff and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. I try to include lots of fun, weird facts I find and try to relate the topic directly to kids’ lives.
MGM: My child’s elementary school is changing their media center to a “learning center” concept. During the change, they are adding computers BUT they are removing all non-fiction books and providing access to them on the computers. Have you heard of this trend?
I have not heard of this trend. As a fan of non-fiction (and an author of the genre), this makes me sad. There’s nothing quite like holding a book in your hands. It’s personal. And that connection helps readers – especially if they’re trying to learn about a topic. Computers are wonderful, but they’re not always very interactive. Kids whose senses are fully engaged (holding, a book, turning the pages etc) are likely to retain information better. At least that’s my opinion as a former elementary teacher.
MGM: What can we look forward to seeing next?
I’m working on polishing up another middle grade novel. (My first one, Eliza Bing Is (Not) A Big, Fat Quitter, came out in 2014.) I’m hoping to find another non-fiction project to take on as well.
For more about Carmella Van Vleet, visit her website: carmellavanvleet.com
To buy AVIATION: COOL WOMEN WHO FLY click here: Amazon
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