SUMMIT, NJ - Who knew that sapphires contain atoms of aluminum, oxygen, iron and titanium?  Or that there are pockets of air trapped between a swan’s feathers to help keep it afloat?  Or that certain flies land on ants’ heads to lay their eggs?  

Author Melissa Stewart has written about all of these fascinating tidbits and more in more than 186 books she has had published.  Stewart gave an invigorating presentation on the non-fiction writing process at the 2013 American Association of School Librarians (AASL) National Convention, wowing an audience that included the five Summit elementary school librarians.  

The group, led by Lincoln-Hubbard Elementary’s librarian, Carole Stubeck, was so impressed, they joined to author an Summit Educational Foundation (SEF) grant request for the entire district, that brought Stewart to Summit for a week-long visit last November.

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Stewart, a prolific writer of predominantly nature-related books, visited all five elementary schools to discuss the non-fiction writing process with students in grades 3 through 5.  As anyone who has read one of her books can attest, there is a lot more that goes into the writing of an interesting, user-friendly non-fiction work than research and mere regurgitation of facts.

Franklin librarian Loreli Stochaj said, “Melissa Stewart infused her presentations with strategies she uses for writing her non-fiction books. Interspersed with references to her books which the students read in the library leading up to her visit, she described how each book is unique and how she must figure out a way to make the unfamiliar familiar, while also intriguing the reader.”  

As an example, when Stewart met with the Franklin Third grade classes, she used her book No Monkeys, No Chocolate to show how a writer can use a creative story to relay hard facts.  With the Franklin Fourth and Fifth grade classes, she focused on how a writer can choose amongst various methods when writing non-fiction, like the narrative form versus the traditional form.

Barbara Slezak, Fifth Grade Lincoln-Hubbard teacher, thought Stewart’s visit was particularly helpful for her students.  “Non-fiction is a key component of the Common Core Curriculum Standards for Fifth Grade.  The students are expected to be able to read, comprehend, and draw information from paired non-fiction passages, as well as write informational and persuasive essays on non-fiction topics.  Having the opportunity to hear the process a nonfiction writer uses to produce such accurate and entertaining books makes the whole non-fiction unit come alive for the students.”

Lincoln-Hubbard Fifth Grader Bryn Little concurred, saying, “It was fun hearing about how she gets her inspiration to write about science from nature and the world around her.”  Maybe Stewart’s visit will inspire a future Summit author who will be able to make the unfamiliar familiar and help explain quantum physics to the masses! 

To find out more about SEF, visit sefnj.org.