7:30 BELLS: Guest Post by Author Jim Whiting

I'm so pleased to share this guest post by Jim Whiting, prolific author of many non-fiction books for kids.

Like most authors, I read voraciously as a kid. Perhaps unlike many if not most of my colleagues, my reading often leaned heavily toward nonfiction. By the time I was 10, for example, I had devoured a multi-volume history of WWII in the Pacific.

I was so absorbed in the account of the Battle of Okinawa one evening that birds singing startled me. “Why are they singing in the middle of the night?” I wondered. It was dawn. I read the entire night without taking a single break!

While I read my share of fiction today, my love affair with nonfiction continues unabated.

About 15 years ago I turned this love of nonfiction into a career. I’ve taken on topics with which I was already quite familiar. Others have broken totally new personal ground.

I especially like the latter. That’s because the thing that more than anything else rings my chimes about writing nonfiction is the constant learning it entails.

Perhaps the best example is a hip-hop book I wrote several years ago. It was about No Limit Records, founded by Percy Miller, aka Master P. I don’t like hip-hop and never listen to it by choice. So I needed something to grab my interest and provide a way into the material.

As a longtime sports junkie, I found that opening with the knowledge that Master P had been an outstanding basketball player. At the peak of No Limit’s popularity he nearly made the roster of the Toronto Raptors of the NBA.

Snoop Dogg cut several albums for No Limit. Prior to writing the book, I thought Snoop was a wretched thug as a result of reading newspaper headlines and little else. My research revealed that he played high school football. He felt the sport had played a crucial role in his development. So he founded a football program for kids 8–14 with hundreds of participants and underwrote all the costs. He encouraged fathers to become involved with their sons’ teams. I now had a totally unexpected admiration and respect for Snoop Dogg.

The cherry on top of the Snoop Sundae came when I discovered that every year he flies a team of all-stars from his league to the Super Bowl host city. For many if not most of those kids it’s their first time on an airplane. On the day before the big game his team plays the host-city all-stars.

It’s called the Snooper Bowl.

Kids enjoy hearing this story when I tell it during author visits. It also provides a useful teaching moment. I tell them that research can provide an entirely new perspective on something they previously thought to be “true.”

On many occasions, my research turns up a nugget of knowledge that compels me to want to find out more about it. I happily follow internet links to delve more deeply into this new topic. Sometimes I can incorporate my findings into the manuscript I’m working on, sometimes not. But it’s never time wasted, because it adds to my store of knowledge.

I love sharing this knowledge. Like other people who write nonfiction, I consider myself as much of a storyteller as my fiction counterparts, penning lively narratives to pique interest and make my readers want to find out more. The only difference is that my tales are true.

Since Charles Schulz, Bainbridge Island-based Jim Whiting has written more than 180 nonfiction titles for young readers. His ambition is to write a stack of books taller than he is, with the current level at about his collarbone. With nearly 50 more titles in various stages of production, he anticipates reaching his goal by 2017. It’s one of the few times he’s glad that he’s short.

He’s also the leading contributor to the Nonfiction Minute, a free daily fascinating aspect of the world around us that finds its way into thousands of classrooms throughout the country.

He’s also edited more than 400 titles, the majority of them nonfiction. Several of his clients have gone on to garner a variety of honors.

7:30 BELLS  Posts run every Tuesday.
7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month.