Saturday, July 11, 2009

And a Child Shall Lead Them

Yes, yes, I know I didn't post last week, and this will be it ere I head off to DC with hope in my heart and a lump in my throat, but there are just so many hours in the day, so here is my "off the cuff" offering---which happens to contain more than a smidgen of sense (imagine that!)

Children's Books. Yep. That's it. When I start any research project, the first thing I look for is a book written for children centered on the era or subject matter. Why? These books are full of general information that often provides stepping stones to the more nitty-gritty stuff that makes our work shine. AND they often contain snippets that our adult minds might overlook.

One of my favorites is a pop-up book, Castles---Medieval Days and Knights by Kyle Olmon. Love it. Three dimensional overview. (The little pull-out tabs that make the blacksmith work and the spinning wheel go are fun too!) I love the pop-up of the banquet hall (shown above---poorly, I admit. I'm a writer, not a photographer) with the knight kneeling to be dubbed because, when writing a scene within such a hall, I can set it up so everyone stays seated where they belong. (There was a protocol to such things!)

DK books ( has an Eyewitness series with available workbooks. Some come with DVDs of Clip Art or posters and other visual aids. The books are informative and well-written and hold a surprising wealth of information

I won't bore you with the extent of my "Children's Book Library" but will encourage you to build one of your own. These books don't go into the extensive detail of more intensive research, but they're priceless for general information and direction. I have one that is specifically geared to a child's life in a medieval village that has proven it's worth time and time again as I write beyond the castle walls.
So set your inner child free and go play in the kids section of your favorite bookstore, whether virtual or physical. It's a treasure trove waiting to be found.


Regencyresearcher said...

I have always tried to find children's books on subjects new to me when I first start researching them. Don't know if there are any pop up books suitable for the Regency period, but will have to look.
I have often thought that making a basic scene and moving paper dolls around in it would help me get the movements of people right. Never taken the time to do it. Also thought about one of those 3 D house design programs for computers to better fix the layout in my mind. Trouble is , I fear I would play with those more than write.

Pat McDermott said...

Great advice, Gwynlyn. Children's books work wonders when you need quick science explanations that are understandable yet interesting. I have several Eyewitness books on my shelf,Pirates,Shipwrecks, and Submarines for my present WIP, and Volcanoes, Deserts, even Weather for prior works. I'd be lost without them!

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

Thank you, ladies. It's so good to know others have found this valuable resource. Some of the things within those books are surprising and priceless. (I'm so impressed by some of them, I've even stopped fibbing about who they're for when someone in the store strikes up a conversation! LOL)

Jeanmarie Hamilton said...

I have always loved the art in some children's books. And I get a kick out of pop up books and cards. :-)

I have used several paperdoll books put out by Betty J. Mills, curator of costumes and textiles at the Museum of Texas Tech University, whenever I need to check the clothing for my historical western romance characters. She also included a time line of history in the old west, and a little story about her characters, such as Amanda, in "Amanda's New Life." Naturally I've never cut out the paperdolls or costumes. ;-)
I found these books in a toy store in the historical paperdolls' rack.

Barbara Monajem said...

I often go for children's books, too, when doing initial research -- and not just non-fiction. Often, a children's historical novel will introduce me to and interest me in a historical period just as much as an adult one does. (Rosemary Sutcliff is one of my faves.)

I have a lovely book all about the building of a cathedral... It looks like a kids' book, but the detail is amazing.

Barbara Monajem said...

Oh, and I also bought a wonderful kids' book once where the little heroine learned manuscript illumination from her father. It was fascinating to learn how paints were made in medieval times.

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful advice! I love the DK books and when I was researching medieval China, I found that childrens books had little details about daily life like what clothes they wore or what they ate. Plus the DK books are wonderful for pictures.

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

I don't know why I thought I might be passing on information you folks missed. Silly of me.

Those sound like so much fun. I don't write western, but who knows what tomorrow will bring? AND I'm wondering if they have something similar in my era. Thanks for the heads up!

Those books sound fabulous. Can you share the titles and authors? Again, not my current wip, but learning about mixing the paints and stuff has my synapses buzzing.

I do love the illustrations, too. The imagination is limited to the writer's descriptive power, but a picture. Well, you know what they say.

Thank you all for your comments and suggestions.

Barbara Monajem said...

I don't have the book about medieval illumination anymore, but I'm pretty sure it's Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson. The other is Cathedral: The Story of its Construction by David Macaulay.

Hope to run into you at RWA National -- and best of luck in the Golden Heart!

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

Thanks, Barb. I'll be paying Alibris another visit, I think.

Thanks for your good wished. I'm not hard to spot. Red shoes and "God's thumbpring" (what my Grandmother dubbed my birthmark. My dh calls it my mouse. I like Gram's idea better.) high on my right cheekbone.

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

I can't type to save myself--so I'm busily making my comment #s higher! LOL

Make that God's ThumbprinT. Makes me special (instead of a freak. Kids can be so cruel.)


I do have a childrens book of presidents, so I'll know what years they served. I have one on pirates and The Golden Book of America for general history, but admitedly, I don't write much in the way of historicals.

Caroline said...

Hi there Pat~~sorry I'm late but I've been out most the day picking up last minute things for DC! Can't wait to see you again!!

I LOVE this idea. I've not thought of this before. I'll bet there are a lot for westerns.

Your pop-up castle is darling. I wonder if I can find a pop-up, er, what would it be for westerns, um, I know -- a saloon!! Cool!


Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...


They work for much more than historicals. Working on a RS? There are kid's books on doctors, hospitals, police stations, firehouses, etc. Just about anyplace you want to be, including children's walking tours of Europe.

You'd be surprised how much cool stuff out there is written for children, making it easier to find that bit of general knowledge you've sought.

Caroline, Bet you had fun. I have to admit, I'm getting nervous. No prob in 2007 because I never thought I could even FINAL when I sent it in that time, but this time? Ah, well. I'm getting too old for all this angst.

I'm excited about meeting up with everyone. I anticipate lots of hugging and squealing!!!


Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

PS I could use a little "Photo taking 101!"" It is such a cute book, and the picture (not surprisingly) doesn't do it justice.

I'll bet you could find a pop-up for an old ghost town or mining town. Kids love those things. Okay, me, too, but then some remnant of the child must remain within every writer. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. LOL

Anonymous said...

Just wodnerful, as always, love! Thanks for posting, and am so glad 'himself's' back is better. Mine is, too. Took two eyars, but the light in my tunnel turned out to be sunshine!