Telling It True: The Art of Storytelling in Picture Book Biography and Narrative Nonfiction 2018

October 18 - 21, 2018

Engage children in the lives of others through captivating events and compelling narrative threads.

Unfamiliar names may not hook your readers, but a well-told true story can inspire, delight, teach, and enthrall. It’s an exciting time for nonfiction in the children’s book world. Teachers are craving more of it. Authors are experimenting with structure and story-telling technique. And kids are realizing that nonfiction can read with the same page-turning momentum as great fiction.

Join Leda Schubert and Tod Olson as they explore the art of writing nonfiction for children and teens in both long and short forms. The process, for both picture books and narrative nonfiction, starts with the idea and research—lots of it. From there, the art of storytelling takes over.

  • How do you take a mountain of research and carve a storyline through it that will be both fascinating and faithful to the sources?
  • How do you weave exposition seamlessly into narrative?
  • How do you use the tools of the fiction writer to build character, explore theme, and shape a gripping story?

Leda and Tod will explore all of these questions with the ultimate goal, as Steve Sheinkin likes to say, of getting kids’ nonfiction out of the health-food aisle.

The workshop includes lectures, hands-on writing exercises, critique workshops, time for revision, formal and informal discussions with Leda and Tod, and Skype sessions and in-person Q&As with special guests.

Attendees will submit a non-fiction picture book, the first chapter of a longer work of narrative nonfiction (2,000 words max), or a book proposal. (Note: Book proposals must include sample writing.)

Faculty blog posts:
True Storytelling: Tod Olson and Leda Schubert in Conversation

From Leda: questions to ask when planning to write a picture book biography:

  • What is it that’s calling to me?
  • What makes this particular life worth writing about?
  • Will it make a good story?
  • What can be accomplished within 1000 words (more or less) without distortion and with the necessary honesty?
  • What will create tension/keep the reader turning the page?
  • What can be left out?
  • Do I need to do more research?
  • How can the techniques of fiction enrich a picture book biography?
  • What will make a compelling story for child readers?

From Tod: I love the idea of taking a fiction writer’s approach to writing nonfiction. Here’s how a fiction writer’s tools can help:

  • Pacing: What do you leave out? Where do you end chapters? How do you work in secondary storylines?
  • Setting: How do you dig sensory details out of your sources to immerse readers in place and time?
  • Character: Do the main actors in your story develop over time? What scenes best reveal who they are?
  • Voice: Do you want the narrative voice to stand out or vanish into the narrative? How deeply inside your characters’ POV do you feel comfortable going, given your source material?


Tod Olson

Tod Olson is author of the narrative nonfiction series Lostand the historical fiction series How to Get Rich. He has…
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Leda Schubert

Leda Schubert is the author of ten picture books, both fiction and non-fiction. Titles include Listen: How Pete Seegar Got…
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Kandace Coston

Kandace Coston is the editorial assistant at Lee & Low Books, an independent children’s book publisher focusing on diversity. She…
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Steve Sheinkin

Please note: Steve will be visiting the workshop via Skype. Steve Sheinkin is the award-winning author of exciting books on…
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M.T. Anderson

Please note: M.T. Anderson will be visiting the workshop via SKYPE. Tobin (M.T.) Anderson (Boston, MA) is a nationally known…
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All-Inclusive Event Cost: $1,099.00

All-inclusive means we provide transportation to and from the airport, lodging and all meals.

workshop information

Begins at 3 p.m. on Thursday, October 18 with an optional tour of Highlights for Children and Boyds Mills Press; ends on Sunday, October 21, with lunch.