Facts can be loads of fun. But often they’re dropped in as info dumps. And many times dates, places, sizes, costs and such don’t hold much meaning for kids. So what does an author do with all those fascinating facts? Chana Stiefel sorted through them and found a way to bring the ones vital to the story into a child’s world. Thanks for sharing your process, Chana!
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The winner of Julie Rowan-Zoch’s I’M A HARE, SO THERE! is….. CJ Penko! Congratulations!
Kid Friendly Facts By Chana Stiefel
While doing research for my new nonfiction picture book, Let Liberty Rise (illustrated by Chuck Groenink, Scholastic), I filled notebooks with facts about the Statue of Liberty. She’s one of America’s favorite icons who’s been around for more than 135 years, so you can imagine how much material I’ve accumulated.
My story focuses on a little-known bit of American history: how children eagerly contributed their pennies to build the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal in 1885. I love how this story shows that all contributions, “no matter how small the sum or how small the person,” can have a lasting impact. While sifting through piles of articles and books on the history of the statue, I wanted to convey the statue’s enormity, both physically and symbolically.
Some fun Statue of Liberty facts:
Index finger: 8 feet
Width of eye: 2 feet, 6 inches
Width of mouth: 3 feet
Length of nose: 4 feet, 6 inches
Heel to top of head: 111 feet, 1 inch
Weight: 450,000 pounds
Initial cost of the pedestal $100,000
I was faced with a few challenges: 1) How to communicate the relative size of the statue’s dimensions and cost to children when many of these numbers can seem abstract, and 2) How to weave these details into the text in a fun and meaningful way. I didn’t want to list fact after fact.
I knew that many of these facts could appear in the backmatter, but I decided to sprinkle them into the text whenever they served the story. Here are some examples:
#1: The Weight of the Statue and the Purpose of the Pedestal
Some young readers might not know what a pedestal is or what it’s for. I wanted to convey that the pedestal was more than a huge footstool. A tall, heavy structure needs a strong foundation, an anchor to weather the test of time. How could children get a sense of the enormity of the statue and its need for stability? I decided to compare the weight of the statue to something super heavy, like an elephant. How many elephants does the Statue of Liberty weigh? That’s something that kids can envision. Here’s how I wove this detail into the text:
#2: The cost of the pedestal
Funds for the pedestal had dried up. It would cost $100,000 to complete. How much is that worth today and how could kids understand that sum? A search on an inflation calculator online showed that $100,000 in 1885 would be worth about $2.6 million today. How could children envision the value of that much money and how could I tie it to the Statue of Liberty? I wondered: How many kids’ tickets to Liberty’s crown could you buy today with $2.6 million? Answer: At $13 per child’s ticket, you could buy about 200,000 tickets. That’s a lot! Here’s the text:
#3 Liberty’s size
I couldn’t use every measurement of Liberty’s enormous body in the text, but maybe I could weave in a fun detail. “Even though Lady Liberty had a mouth—an enormous mouth three feet wide—she needed a voice to get that pedestal built!” (Read the book to see where the voice comes from!)
The takeaway: When you’re working on a manuscript packed with facts, choose only the ones that advance the story. Selecting just the right details can enliven the text and make your subject more accessible to kids. The rest can move to backmatter.
In addition, I helped create a free Curriculum Guide where many more details can be found. In one math activity, you can measure yourself and calculate how many “yous” can fit into the Statue of Liberty’s various parts. You can download the guide here. https://chanastiefel.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Curriculum-guide-3.pdf
When you bring facts down to kid size, even big topics can become more fun and relatable!
Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of LET LIBERTY RISE! (US Addresses only, please)
Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 25 books for children, both fiction and nonfiction. She loves to write about things that are BIG—such as the Statue of Liberty (LET LIBERTY RISE! Scholastic, 3-2-21), unconditional love (DADDY DEPOT), and the power of our names (MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH!)—and things that are small, like tiny parasites in ANIMAL ZOMBIES…& OTHER MONSTERS IN NATURE and an overlooked and underappreciated avocado in BRAVO, AVOCADO (HarperCollins, 2023). Chana loves visiting schools and libraries and sharing her passion for reading and writing with children. She earned a Master’s degree in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting from New York University. Chana is represented by Miranda Paul at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Follow her @chanastiefel on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Visit Chana at https://chanastiefel.com/.