A “Nonfiction Moment” and a 6th Grade Science Lesson

Dot Emer–Emer being the married name of Dot Chastney whose true stories about being a kid during World War II appear throughout my book Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on The Home Front In World War II (there are also photos from Dot’s life then), and who you’ll meet again in my forthcoming book Thanksgiving: The True Story–is a middle school librarian in Boca Raton, Florida. Dot just sent me the following email about the photographs of the Monarch butterflies on my blog: “Hi Penny, Just want you to know that your Monarch butterfly photos provided a nice science lesson on Wednesday. I went to the sixth grade science teacher and showed her your blog site with the photos. We threw the photos up on the SmartBoard so the whole class could see them and the teacher read your description. She also told the kids that when her boys were young they vacationed in Cape May and there were so many Monarchs on the move that they were landing on the kids.”

This is such a great example of a concept I love to introduce when I teach courses in nonfiction writing and nonfiction literature and that is–a “Nonfiction Moment” i.e. anything real that really happens during the course of a day–a conversation, an incident, an observation, a taste, a surprise, an unexpected encounter, something you overhear–that sticks with you. Something that you remember. It doesn’t have to be momentous. It can just be a snippet or a sliver of something. It doesn’t have to matter to anyone else, just to you is enough. All it has to be is something that really happened–nothing made up–that catches your attention and hangs around inside you.

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