A Closer Look at Nonfiction Fest with Author Susan Holt Kralovansky

By Gayleen Rabakukk

Reading the “Best of 2019” lists, I was once again struck by the number of nonfiction titles.  From picture book biographies to science and nature explorations, nonfiction covers every topic imaginable. So when I heard about the upcoming Nonfiction Fest (NF Fest), I wanted to share it with Cynsations readers while there’s still time to register for the free event.

NF Fest is the creation of seven authors, the Nonfiction Chicks,  Lisa Amstutz, Pat Miller, Stephanie Bearce, Nancy Churnin, Susan Holt Kralovansky, Linda Skeers, and Peggy Thomas.

A few of the NF Chicks posted insights ahead of NF Fest registration.

Calkins Creek

How I Hooked a Big One by Peggy Thomas, peek: “Sometimes I have to fish around for a while to find my next project. But this woman had conveniently dangled a fat, juicy, still-wriggling idea in front of me, and I was hooked.”


Keep Your Ears On and Your Mind Alert for Great Book Ideas by Susan Holt Kralovansky, peek: “That’s when I began searching for a book to help explain how to use a thesaurus. When I didn’t find one, the lightbulb went off – I’ll write it myself! …I still notice the things that make me say, Why? Who? How did that happen? Like the day I was bitten by a fire ant, and I wondered why their sting was so fiery. And that led to my upcoming book, How Fire Ants Got Their Fire (Pelican, 2020).

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Researching Selectively by Pat Miller, peek: “Now when I research, I begin with questions I want to answer, beginning with “Why should we care?” As the dig progresses, I try to focus on what it is I want children to take away from the story. That helps me to choose the facts I save.”

Chicago Review Press

Should You Write What You Know? by Lisa Amstutz, peek: “As nonfiction writers, we have a responsibility to our audience to be accurate. It’s important to do our homework, and especially so when we’re writing outside our zone of expertise. This means not just finding facts and stringing them together, but also framing them in a larger context of understanding.”

Prufrock Press

How Much Truth is Too Much? by Stephanie Bearce. Peek: “I firmly believe that authors have an obligation to tell the truth about a subject, but I also believe that we can leave some facts for readers to investigate when they are older and better able to process information.”

Intrigued by these introductions, I followed their advice and found a resource to get more of my questions answered, namely Austin author and NF Chick Susan Holt Kralovansky.

What is NF Fest?

Picture book writers have the StoryStorm online challenge. Poetry writers have NaNoPoWriMo, and novelists have NaNoWriMo. But until now, there was no monthly online challenge for nonfiction writers. The seven Nonfiction Chicks have remedied that oversight.

Starting in February 2020, there will be NF Fest, an online challenge for nonfiction writers for kids. Our goal is to inspire, educate, and support fellow nonfiction writers.

Gayleen and Susie at the Texas Library Association conference.

How do people participate?

Visit our website and join our Facebook group: NFFest, both of which are full of helpful writing information. Sign up for the challenge runs through Jan. 31, and NF Fest begins Feb. 1.

Each day, a stellar NF author will post information on another facet of the craft. It will be like a free course in nonfiction writing—with brief activities that will increase your tools and abilities. And prizes!

Contributing authors include: former Cynsations reporter Traci Sorell, Karen Blumenthal/Candace Fleming, Beth Anderson, Carla McClafferty, Melissa Stewart, Heidi Stemple, Barb Kramer, Sophia GholzDonna Janell Bowman, Mary Kay Carson, Cynthia Levinson, Jen Bryant, Jill Esbaum, Don Tate, Meeg Pincus, Lisa Schnell, Susannah Buhrman-Deever, Vivian Kirkfield, Kelly Milner Halls, Bethany Hegedus, Alice Duncan, Rob Sanders, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Christy Mihaly and Steve Swinburne.

Along with editor Nancy Tuminelly (Mighty Media Press), marketing director Kerry McManus (Boyds Mills & Kane) and literary agent Stacey Graham (Red Sofa Literary).


Wait, did you say prizes?

There will be lots of prizes–everything from autographed books to professional critiques.

Are there common misconceptions about nonfiction that you’d like to clear up?

Two common misconceptions about writing nonfiction are that “research is boring” or “writing NF is easy because the story already happened.” Our experts will debunk both of those notions during NF Fest.

What advice do you have for those thinking about tackling nonfiction for the first time?

Whether you’re tackling nonfiction for the first time, or you’re a seasoned nonfiction writer, NF Fest will have something for everyone. The Facebook group and our website will be a continual source of support and information for nonfiction writers.

Cynsational Notes

Susan Kralovansky started writing for the children’s magazine market and published stories and poems in places such as Cat Fancy, Our Magic Window, The Mailbox, and Humpty Dumpty. Her first book, There Was a Tall Texan Who Swallowed a Flea, was released in 2013 from Pelican Publishing along with her first nonfiction series, Library Resources, with Abdo Publishing.

Susan has written twelve nonfiction books and illustrated her third picture book, The Book That Jake Borrowed (Pelican, 2018). A former librarian, Susan has led writing workshops and served as the Austin SCBWI Picture Book Mentor.

Gayleen Rabakukk holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and is a former Writing Barn Fellow. She’s worked with Cynthia Leitich Smith as a Cynsations intern since 2016 and also serves as assistant regional advisor for Austin SCBWI. Gayleen is represented by Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary Agency.