When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy's
Fight for an American Icon
by Natasha Wing; Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
HMH Books for Young Readers (March 7, 2017)
Audience: Ages 6 to 9
Nonfiction * Biography * Social Activist
Indiebound | WorldCat
Quick thoughts on the book: I learn so much from reading children's nonfiction and When Jackie Saved Grand Central introduced me to a side of Jacqueline Kennedy that I was unfamiliar with and also with a piece of history that I did not know about. Of course, reading it made me want to look up more information on both subjects of this book. Boiger's illustrations add an artistic element that drew me in and seemed to fit perfectly with the subject of the book. Look for a copy of the book at your local indie bookstore or community library.
I am excited to welcome Natasha Wing to the blog during Women's History Month as she shares about her newest book When Jackie Saved Grand Central. Natasha shares with readers her writing process and the decisions she had to make during that process.
Writing narrative nonfiction is a tricky dance between storytelling and facts. You don’t want too many facts to step on the toes of the story and trip it up or slow it down. But you do want the right facts to lift readers to a higher level of learning about your topic while engaging them in an emotional journey.
In short, you want your story to read like fiction while teaching something.
This was especially challenging when writing my latest book, When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon since it contained a sophisticated subject – historic preservation – coupled with court cases, not typical topics young kids read about. So I had to keep the storytelling engaging, and make sure it wasn’t a boring fact dump of definitions and legalese.
When talking about historic preservation I used more kid-friendly ideas such as “Americans cared about their history.” And, the city wanted to “save its architecture,” before mentioning the term historic preservation. And even though there were many court cases, I used them to build momentum without giving too many details of what was being fought over in each case. For instance I streamlined the appeal process down to: New York City won the appeal, as well as another that followed…..But the fight wasn’t over. (tension) The railroad owners took their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose ruling would be absolutely final.
Like any good fiction, narrative nonfiction uses these storytelling techniques: Set the tone, create voice, use poetic language and active verbs, find tension spots and aha moments, have your main character go on an emotional journey, make us care about the main character, include a kid-friendly theme, and resolve the story problem.
But what about facts? How do you decide what to keep in and what to cut out?
In doing my research I came across a number of buildings that Jackie had saved. At first I wanted to build the case that Jackie was passionate about old buildings by starting off the story showing all the buildings that she had saved. But too many examples would have bogged down the introduction to the one building that was central to the story, Grand Central. So I picked one – the White House – to use as my entry into Jackie’s theme of her love of buildings. (The other buildings ended up in the endnotes).
Then, in order to take the story from the past when she had restored the White House to the “present” I used a one-line transition: Fourteen years later, another famous landmark, this time in New York City, needed Jackie Kennedy’s help.
I also found a lot of newspaper articles about the lawsuits and the protests surrounding Grand Central’s potential demolishing. But there was one that motivated Jackie to join the city’s fight so I used it as a turning point in my story. Rather than including a block of text from the reporter’s article, I merely referred to it and only used one short quote. Here’s that section in the book: The New York Times ran a front-page story calling Grand Central “one of the most influential pieces of urban design of the twentieth century.” Jackie read this article and couldn’t believe what was happening.
Facts are wonderful in figuring out your story’s subject or character, but don’t become so enamored with them that you feel you must share everything you learned with your kid reader. This may sound odd when you’re writing nonfiction, but remember, too many facts can drag down the poetic flow of the text. Choose the facts that support your story and keep them kid-friendly.
About the author: Natasha Wing has been writing for 25 years and writes both fiction and narrative nonfiction. When Jackie Saved Grand Central published by HMH Books for Young Readers (March 7, 2017) has received starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. Find out more at www.natashawing.com
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