Writer, copy editor, and educator who finds joy in reading, writing, and thinking along life’s trails

Book case and books

My Path to Book Publication

Writing learning moments in my life have been:

  • Growing up in a home where reading and writing were nurtured, books and magazines were plentiful, and local libraries were important.

  • Learning to value education, lifelong learning, the power of spoken and written words, thinking skills and problem solving, hard work, and fostering these in my students and my colleagues during my 38 years in education.

  • Receiving a signed copy of a book by a Texas hill country author and editor who wrote:

“To Martha, Your grandmother thought you might enjoy this little book. She also told me that you are an aspiring writer. Read the story on page 51 and get to work. December, 1983.”

  • Developing writing, editing, and publishing experience and skills from producing nonfiction pieces for educational publishers; conducting school district professional development; creating presentation materials; and having four education articles published in magazines.

  • Experiencing varied kinds of professional development during my career, especially 12 years as certified teacher trainer for a writing project which promoted writing as a process, how teachers could instill these skills in student writers, the value of reading with and reading aloud to students to discover reading/writing connections, and the benefits of using whole-class and small-group reading and writing learning.

  • Working as site director of a school district’s writing project and as co-director of a different state’s summer writing training for local teachers during which time I attended a National Conference of Teachers of English Convention and met many of my favorite children’s book authors.

  • Writing a history reading passage and science nonfiction reading study units for multi-level thematic teaching kits for an educational publisher; experience as an editorial assistant and a test item writer for assessment publishers.

  • Serving as a school district’s Elementary English Language Arts Instructional Coordinator working with teachers for quality reading and writing instruction in classrooms; presenting reading and writing sessions to educators at state and local conferences in multiple states.

  • Valuing my membership in the local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and benefiting from hearing other authors, reading resources about publishing and marketing books, networking with other published authors, connecting with a local publisher, and finally publishing my first book!

My study of how to write narrative nonfiction:

Narrative nonfiction (also called Creative Nonfiction or Literary Nonfiction) fascinated me in my quest to write a children’s book about turtles which would capture a publisher’s attention because it was a one-of-a-kind story…my unique story. My book is different from informational nonfiction which is a different genre, or form of writing with special traits, and is factual. However, narrative nonfiction is a story of facts told using elements of fiction, or made up, writing. These include specific details about setting, well developed characters, dialogue, and literary techniques such as similes, metaphors, and personification.

I read articles and books about narrative nonfiction by experts in this kind of writing for grownups: Lee Gutkind, Jack Hart, Mark Kramer, and Anne Hull. Their work appears in such publications as The Atlantic magazine; The Wall Street Journal; The New York Times; The Washington Post; Smithsonian Magazine; and in Telling True Stories: A nonfiction writers’ guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.

Then I researched narrative nonfiction children’s books to study story structure and how writers used the facts and literary devices in their writing. Titles include:

  • Hawk Mother: The Story of a Red-Tailed Hawk Who Hatched Chickens by Kara Hagedorn

  • Camp Panda: Helping Cubs Return to the Wild by Catherine Thimmesh

  • Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies

  • The Eye of the Whale: A Rescue Story by Jennifer O’Connell

  • They Came from the Bronx: How the Buffalo Were Saved from Extinction by Neil Waldman

  • Douwlina: A Rhino’s Story by Grace Borgeson

  • Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumbu

Next I studied how to use the narrative arc to show the sequential action of my story and the order of the specific scenes of plot. I brainstormed a list of details about each scene. Using this arc diagram, I wrote my first draft of my book. Then I revised each scene for setting, characterization, figurative language, vivid word choices, dialogue, and a final sentence which would make the reader want to read the next scene. When I completed my draft, I read it out loud to listen for ways to revise it and make the meaning clearer.

Manuscript in my hand, I met with the co-owner of a local publisher. She also had been my instructor in a community college indexing course I had taken a few years earlier. She read and accepted my manuscript, guided me through its publishing process, and printed my book.

I hope to market it well and then do school author visits and library presentations. Perhaps I will begin another narrative nonfiction children’s book soon!

Nelly: The Turtle That Went to School and Found a Home is an intriguing narrative nonfiction chapter book for fourth through sixth grade readers who can empathize with the teacher’s goal of caring for a rescue Red-eared Slider at her home and solving problems that arise.

In 2005, this book was an informational nonfiction about the author’s 30+ turtle collectibles, their stories, and science facts about each. She reshaped the book with the narrative arc and scenes. The book market welcomes middle grade narrative nonfiction books since facts are remembered better when part of a story.

The author is a retired teacher, author, and copy editor with MA in Supervision and Curriculum Development, BS in Elementary Education, and current Texas educator certifications. She served as certified teacher trainer for New Jersey Writing Project in Texas (12 years) and created reading and science products for educational publishers. She published four articles in education periodicals. However, Nelly: The Turtle That Went to School and Found a Home is her first published book.

Stoddard’s teaching experience with all subjects in grades prekindergarten–5 and 8, science presentations at teacher conferences, extensive research about turtles and tortoises from an earlier book manuscript which aligns with state science curriculum and Next Generation Science Standards, and education materials published make her well qualified as author of her first book for middle grade readers.

Turtle wall hanging Three turles Turtle note stand

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