Behind the Scenes: “Kid Friendly Facts” by Chana Stiefel

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!

And thanks for offering a GIVEAWAY! For a chance to win a signed copy of LET LIBERTY RISE, leave a comment below.

The winner of Julie Rowan-Zoch’s I’M A HARE, SO THERE! is….. CJ Penko! Congratulations!

Kid Friendly Facts  By Chana Stiefel Stiefel-Chana Head shot_lowres

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.

let liberty rise cover-page-001 (1) (1)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:

Screen Shot 2021-02-14 at 3.15.44 PM

#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:

Screen Shot 2021-02-14 at 5.19.46 PM

#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!)

Screen Shot 2021-02-14 at 5.28.06 PM-1

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)

BIO

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/.


27 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: “Kid Friendly Facts” by Chana Stiefel

  1. I love the way you wove the facts into the text, Chana! They are fascinating and fun and make it possible for children to understand the enormous sizes. It sounds fun for adults , too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The story of the Statue of Liberty has always fascinated me. I love how your explanations of facts are so kid-friendly! The curriculum guide is a definite plus! Thanks for sharing, Chana!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love how the facts are accessible for children. I have a student who’s writing assignment of “where he wants to go someday” was about the Statue of Liberty. He’s a first generation American and I can’t wait to share this book with him.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I always take note when an author describes a number for children (and adults) to understand. I think it makes the story more accessible, engaging, and comprehensible. Can’t wait to read!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your book is engaging for kids and the adults who read to them! I appreciate learning about how you decided which facts to include. Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing how you wove facts into your text. I look forward to reading the entire book. ( The Statue of Liberty has a special place in my heart. As I child, I saw Lady Liberty each weekend when we visited my extended family in Brooklyn.)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yikes. Re-entering. Left out a crucial word! Those facts you interwove are NOT only kid friendly. I thought they were fascinating! Great job making these various huge amounts of different things so relateable.

    Like

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