Rebecca G. Aguilar | Writer

SCBWI

Notes | Mentor Texts for Writing Nonfiction

Posted by Rebecca G. Aguilar, M.Ed. on October 23, 2014

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia
By Candace Fleming
ISBN-13: 978-0375867828
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books
Publication date: 7/8/2014
Pages: 304

Valuable advice from the recent Nonfiction for New Folks (NF 4 NF) in Fredericksburg came with a call from conference organizer Pat Miller for writers to “read, read, read!” A session led by Miller provided the impetus for using mentor texts as a roadmap for learning more about writing nonfiction for younger readers, middle grade and YA.

Mentor texts are models of good writing educators encourage elementary and middle school students read to learn theme, main ideas, voice, word choice, punctuation and parts of speech.

A librarian and author of the upcoming The Hole Story of the Doughnut from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Miller displayed dozens of boxes of nonfiction books on biography, history and science on tables for conference attendees to read. Among them were excellent finds like Redwoods by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook Press, 2009), A Zombie’s Guide to the Human Body: Tasty Tidbits from Head to Toe by Paul Beck (Scholastic, 2010) and The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014).

“Find books that resonate with what you are trying to do,” said Miller, who suggested writers use the books at the conference to learn how authors document their sources, utilize text features or make facts salient for readers.

During the session, Miller cited The Family Romanov, the highly-acclaimed book about the fall of Imperial Russia and the fate of Nicolas II and his family. Several books by the award-winning author Candace Fleming could serve as mentor texts in nonfiction for younger readers, middle grade and YA. The Family Romanov is particularly good reading for writers of biography or history in a narrative style.

The book features compelling photographs and dialogue with meticulous source notes as well as maps of the Russian Empire and the tsar and tsarina’s family tree.

In the author notes, Fleming writes of her initial interest in the Romanov family and the unanswered questions that drove speculation about their fates.

How did this happen? How did this rich, splendidly privileged, and, yes, beautiful family related by blood or marriage to almost every royal house in Europe end up in that Siberian cellar?”

The back matter stands as a good model for a well-researched book. Fleming read diaries, letters and other primary documents thought to have been destroyed and began emerging after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. One of the most chilling historical accounts Fleming researched was that of Yakov Yurovsky, the mastermind behind the family’s execution.

Fleming read extensively on the Russian Empire and the Romanov dynasty as well as books about Lenin and the Bolshevik revolution. In the book’s acknowledgments, she credits Dr. Mark D. Steinberg, professor of Russian studies at the University at Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, for his expertise. Steinberg answered questions in depth, referred Fleming to additional historical documents and ultimately vetted the manuscript for the book.

The result of Fleming’s research is 18 chapters of riveting storytelling held together by three strands: the narrative of the Romanov family, the arc of the revolution and personal stories (highlighted in inter-chapters titled “Beyond the Palace Gates”) about the everyday struggles of the Russian people.

Candace Fleming is the acclaimed author of more than twenty books for children, including the award-winning biography, The Lincolns.

Schwartz and Wade Books, established in 2005, is an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.

Category: Mentor Texts

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