Kara L. Laughlin
My name is Kara Laughlin. I am the author of What is a Pandemic? and How Has COVID-19 Changed Our World?
I’m also the author of sixty other nonfiction books for kids, and you can see some of them on the wall behind me.
I thought today I would talk to you about what was unique about writing the COVID-19 books.
Usually when I’m writing a nonfiction book, what is true about my subject is pretty well establish. And if you look behind me, you can see the Four Square book. When I wrote that book, the rules for Four Square had been in existence for a very long time, and I just had to find the information that I needed.
With COVID-19, everything was different. Everything was new. Everything was changing all the time, and thee was so much—there is still so much—that we don’t know. So I really felt a responsibility to stay on top of the news and what was going on. Not just because I might miss new information, but because I didn’t want the information that I had to be out of date. So I was very careful not to write something down that might become not true in three months or six months or a year. So I found myself, because of that, using words like possibly and maybe and probably a lot, just because there’s still so much we don’t know about this virus for sure. So along with that, I wanted to be careful about my sources. We’re always careful with our sources, writing nonfiction. But in this case, I really wanted to be sure that I was using sources that had experts and scientists in their organizations and that had a long history of being responsible with information. So generally would go to the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health. Big organizations with a long history of being good about finding out information about diseases and also responsibly sharing that information. So I was very careful about those things.
The other thing that made these books unique was just how important they felt to me. How needed. Whenever I’m writing a book, I think about the kids who are going to read it. I try to make it interesting for them. I try to make it fun, if I can.
When I was writing these books, I thought about the kids I know who were confused and scared. And I thought about how, when I was a girl, l when I would feel afraid about something, one of the things that helped was getting more information about it. And having more knowledge could make me feel stronger and braver and a little more in control.
So when I was writing these books, I actually started to feel stronger and braver and a little more in control, as I found out what was true and what was just fears.
So, I’m really hoping that reading these books will give kids the knowledge they need to understand how and why our lives have changed. And also that they will get the courage they need to live in a world that’s fighting COVID-19. And then I’ll be courageous with you. We’ll all be courageous together.
And I’m hoping too that knowing more So in that way these books were very important to me. That made these books special.
Of course a lot of the things that I do when I’m writing a book are the same, no matter what the book is. I start with research, of course. And with the COVID-19 book, I had already been doing a lot of reading even before we talked about writing the books. Usually about half of the time I spend writing a book is spent on research. And I research either until I don’t have any time left and I have to start writing, or until I feel like I can explain the topic I’m writing about to anyone in my family, and answer any questions they ask me. If they stump me, I know I have to go back a learn some more. This worked better when my children we younger. Now they’re older, and they aren’t as interested in asking questions. But I imagine them being younger, and I imagine the kinds of questions a second-grader might ask me. When I feel pretty good about being able to answer them, I know it’s time to write.
So then I will write my first draft, and I will revise, probably, at least ten times. In the beginning, I want to include all the cool new things I learned. But that first draft is always too long. It’s also usually not clear enough, so I go through and I make it clearer and shorter, and clearer and shorter, until I feel like we have a good text.
And that’s usually the end of my job. I’ll send it in to the publisher, and the editor might ask for changes, and then I don’t see the book until librarians see the book. And it’s always a real thrill when the books come and I get to see what pictures they chose for my words.
So I hope you enjoyed hearing how these books came to be. I hope when you read them they give you tools that will help you as the world fights COVID-19.