I like to think I’m a walking advertisement for the value of a liberal arts education. I constantly learn new stuff about the world, and relish the opportunity to pass along this passion to students by showing them that good nonfiction is as compelling as fiction. And my broad publishing background qualifies me to speak intelligently about virtually any form of writing.
What educators say about my visits . . .
From the moment nonfiction writer, Jim Whiting, stood in front of my 5th grade students, he completely captivated them! It was a rich, varied presentation that had them sitting on the edge of their seats the entire period. He relayed his story of how he became a writer, reading excerpts from his books, showing visuals, and telling the stories behind writing them, all with a keen sense of humor. He also showed them how to improve their writing from ordinary to interesting.
The students who earned “Lunch with the Author” with Mr. Whiting were delighted with his encouraging comments on their written stories they had submitted earlier to him.
In short, Mr. Whiting’s visit was a highlight of my students’ 5th grade year and a day I’m sure they will never forget. I am making plans to have him return next year.
– Sherry Edwards, North Hill Elementary
A charming and inspirational teller of true tales, Mr. Jim Whiting kept our students captivated with facts old and new. Editing and researching have been elevated to an art form for our students as a result of Mr. Whiting’s shared insights, and the Common Core expectation of 50% or more nonfiction reading is not a problem. Mr. Whiting’s books are never left long on the library shelves.
– Martha Miller, Beaver Valley Elementary School
We really enjoyed having Jim Whiting visit Haines. Living in a small town in Alaska and being so far from everything, it is a rare treat for the children here to meet a real, live children’s author. They were so interested to hear how he has written and published so many books! The second graders were especially fascinated with the Scary and True series, and the middle schoolers enjoyed hearing about Edgar Allan Poe. Jim spoke to so many different classes and groups while he was here, from 8-year-olds to teenagers to adults at the library at the evening program, and he kept his presentation fresh and alive for each new group. I know because I attended every talk over the two days he was here, and it was fun and interesting for me each time to hear him share. He takes facts and makes them into true stories kids and adults enjoy reading, and he has a great story-telling style. I recommend Jim Whiting as a great author to have for your next author visit!
– Holly Davis, children’s librarian, Haines, Alaska
Jim Whiting did a great job talking about how he gets his ideas to write, what he does to make an assigned topic interesting, and the importance of rewriting. The 40-minute assemblies zoomed by. I had many requests and holds for his books, which the students wanted to check out at once. The hook had caught them. What a delight! I highly recommend Jim Whiting for your next author.
– Rebecca Pierce, Manchester Elementary School librarian/media specialist
The students in our middle school enjoyed having Jim Whiting as a visiting author. He met with students in a variety of settings including a one-on-one video interview by the VTV class which was later shown to the entire student body, a large discussion group (across grade levels) targeting aspiring writers who were interested in asking questions about the writing process, and an in-class working session with students involved in the editing of their own writing. Jim is knowledgeable, interesting, and adept at addressing middle school students.
– Susan Shira, middle school reading specialist
The range and depth of my experience and publishing credits allow me to provide you with an unmatched amount of PowerPoint presentations. I genuinely enjoy creating them and my enthusiasm is contagious.
Here are some sample topics. All include lots of illustrated examples. Typically I combine several during my sessions.
I welcome student participation, and there are always ample opportunities for questions and comments. By prior arrangement, I can also craft exciting presentations custom-tailored to your curriculum.
Jim took chances and overcame significant obstacles to become a successful young people’s author. He is almost certainly the only non-dancer to be singled out for praise in a newspaper review of a performance by a major ballet company (Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker). His dramatic ability is on full display in this engaging presentation, which is ideal for large groups of students and conveys life lessons in an easy-to-follow, thoroughly non-didactic manner. It is especially effective at the beginning of the school day, showing Jim as a person and helping to establish his bona fides as an author.
I belong to Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (iNK), a national group of award-winning nonfiction authors. We produce the Nonfiction Minute (www.nonfictionminute.com), an illustrated free daily mini-essay on fascinating true topics. The 350-400 word length makes these NFMs ideal for teaching effective beginnings and clearly stated topic sentences, development of the main idea, and arriving at an effective conclusion. I am by far the leading contributor. My topics include why Titanic didn’t carry enough lifeboats, the sexism Sally Ride experienced as the first US female astronaut, and the origins of leap year, Cinco de Mayo, and National Waffle Day.
Many students fret about writing because they’re afraid that their first drafts aren’t perfect. They don’t have to be. Even experienced authors never get it right the first time. Jim discusses the importance of getting words on paper as quickly as possible, then revising…and revising…and revising. Presentation includes sample edited pages of Jim’s own work.
One of the most common mantras in writing is “show, don’t tell.” Jim explains what this means, and how students can improve their writing by creating mental images that help readers visualize what is going on.
Many students regard nonfiction as the literary equivalent of castor oil, something that’s “good for them” but not particularly appealing, something they have to read (for reports etc.). I relish telling stories (with accompanying illustrations) that demonstrate how fun and fascinating nonfiction can be with a little imagination and a lot of research. These stories include
- “Leeches and Maggots and the Medal of Honor, oh My!” The link between a Korean War hero and the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates.
- “Franz Liszt: The First Rock Star.” Long before Beatlemania, there was Lisztomania, as Lizst inspired the same type of adulation as the Beatles.
- “The Enduring Mystery Surrounding the Father of the Mystery Story.” The life of Edgar Allan Poe and one of his most famous stories.
- “The Big Brass Button That Saved Handel’s Messiah.” The famous composer nearly died in a duel when he was a teenager.
Focuses on the importance of using precise verbs. For example, rather than the generic “walk,” create a more exact image with saunter, stroll, strut, sashay, stomp, stride, and so forth.
Get students in the spirit of the season during the week (or two) leading up to Halloween. Jim begins with the fascinating history of the haunted holiday. Then he presents several spooky stories (for younger students) and the works and life of horrormeister Edgar Allan Poe (for older ones). Per prior request, he'll even appear in costume!
Grab immediate interest with strong first paragraphs. Includes discussion of The Worst Opening Sentence I’ve Ever Read.
How editing transforms dull, lifeless prose into exciting, engrossing accounts.
Lively look at commas, colons, clauses, common nouns and other compositional critters and how writers rope ’em in.
How an author uses actual experiences to create fiction, non-fiction, even poetry.
English is a shameless borrower from other languages. A look at the geographical origins of several common words and tips on painlessly increasing vocabulary by learning a few roots.
A lively exercise in which students write rhyming couplets, quatrains or even longer forms after a brief introduction and numerous samples. As a published light versifier, Jim is a master of rhythm and rhyme and works closely with students to make them aware of these vital components of successful poetry.
Jim provides students with a few words chosen at random, and they create a story that incorporates those words. Similar in concept to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the objective here is to get words on paper as quickly as possible and have fun in the process.
Strategies that young authors can employ right now, for immediate improvement and for long-term goals.
Many students stumble when it comes time to write the final paragraph of their reports. This presentation offers a number of proven techniques to write satisfying conclusions.
How a big brass button kept George Frideric Handel from being killed in a duel as an 18-year-old.
More than a century before Beatlemania, Lisztomania swept across Europe. How Franz Liszt became the world’s first musical superstar, and the unlikely link between Ringo Starr and these twin manias.
The Pearl Harbor attack was one of the defining moments of the 20th century. While many people think of it as a catastrophe, it was both a strategic (by ending the strong isolationist sentiment in the U.S.) and tactical (by concentrating on obsolete battleships rather than the oil supplies and shore facilities) error by the Japanese. It also resulted in Hitler’s declaration of war against the U.S. and thereby sealed his fate as well. With only a handful of survivors still alive, this 75th anniversary is especially poignant and serves as a valuable reminder to youngsters of a time when the nation was truly united.
The connection between a Korean War POW and Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, spans nearly two and a half millennia. Hippocrates was the first person to provide a rational underpinning for medicine, and many of his “prescriptions” are virtually identical to your own doctor’s. A high grossometer rating.
Every notable mystery author pays homage to the founder of the form, Edgar Allan Poe. Presentation begins with the first-ever mystery story, continues with Poe’s largely unhappy life, and concludes with three whodunits regarding Poe that may never be solved.
The Queen Mary was the epitome of luxury during the 1930s. But the ship has a dark side. More than 100 people died aboard the Queen Mary, and their ghosts may still haunt it. Includes the author's personal experience staying aboard the vessel, now a floating hotel in Long Beach, California. "I heard voices . . ."
Writing a book about No Limit Records, one of the biggest hip-hop/rap labels in the late 1990s, was a stretch. I knew nothing about that type of music. I also believed the artists were a bunch of thugs. Based solely on skimming newspaper headlines, I thought none was more thuggish than Snoop Dogg. But as I researched him, I discovered how he passionately wanted to give back to the community. I came to admire him. A textbook example of how actual learning can destroy superficial impressions.
Ideal for Black History Month. Based on Jim's three books, the presentation examines the very different lives and contributions of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Booker T. Washington. All three had white fathers and black mothers. Includes the Tuskegee Airmen, who trained at Washington's Tuskegee Institute.
In 1995, the USPS issued a 20-stamp Civil War set, with the usual heavy hitters such as Lincoln, Lee, and Grant. And Stand Watie. Virtually unknown today, Watie was a Cherokee who survived an assassination attempt by his own people to become a Confederate brigadier general. Further confounding the historical stereotype, he was a slaveowner. And Watie was the final Southern holdout, finally surrendering more than two months after Appomattox. Includes the “Trail of Tears,” an especially egregious example of official US treatment of native peoples. Can be linked to Harold Keith’s Rifles for Watie, one of the most enduring Newbery Medal winners.
Jim welcomes the opportunity to break bread with up to 20 selected students. If they provide copies of a favorite story (2 TYPED pages max) at least a week before his visit, Jim will say something positive about each one. Kids love being praised in front of their peers!
A favorite among all grade levels, this presentation makes an ideal brief finale by showing how a book or magazine gets printed. Youngsters are fascinated by the way in which color images are produced and how a seemingly chaotic jumble of pages emerges in perfect order.
5th Grade Social Studies Learning Standards
I have an ever-increasing number of presentations to complement your in-class work on the American Revolution. They are based on my own books, numerous titles I’ve edited, and my considerable reading and research in this fascinating era. I’m happy to work up others by request.
"Jim's presentations on Revolutionary War 'grunts' and Paul Revere took our previous learning of the era to uncharted waters. Our knowledge of the time period was given a gritty personal example to make meaning from, and even challenged our ideas about what role Paul Revere truly played," said a teacher.
In 1754, then just 22, Washington almost certainly ignited the French and Indian War/Seven Years War when his Indian ally murdered a French officer they had just taken. Washington was fortunate to escape execution as a war criminal when he was captured soon afterward. He was named commander-in-chief of the Continental Army despite a limited battlefield record. His selection owed as much to his commanding physical presence and the lack of other obvious choices. It also reflected the continual balancing act between the interests of northern and southern colonies. His battlefield record as C-in-C was a mixed bag. He had to fight off at least one serious attempt to replace him. And it is the height of irony that his ultimate success at Yorktown was due in large part to the French—who had nearly killed him 27 years earlier.
Until his betrayal, few men were more devoted to the patriot cause than Benedict Arnold. In fact, one book about him is Benedict Arnold's Navy: The Ragtag Fleet That Lost the Battle of Lake Champlain but Won the American Revolution. Many contemporaries regarded him as a better battlefield commander than Washington. A classic case study of how lack of respect can have dire consequences.
Kids have certainly heard of him but probably know little else besides his midnight ride. The presentation includes his bio and actions during the war itself (which could charitably be described as minimal). Ironically no one would have heard of him today (apart from a few people in New England) were it not for Longfellow’s poem (which knowingly contained numerous historical inaccuracies).
Given all the layers of adulation that have accrued around George Washington, it’s startling to learn he a series of bad decisions on his part were a key element in a series of defeats that nearly ended the revolution within a few months after the Declaration of Independence. His desperate gamble at Trenton (and soon afterward at Princeton) provided his troops with a much-needed morale boost and ensured the revolution would continue.
The Battle of Monmouth Courthouse in June, 1778 ended significant fighting north of Virginia. By the start of 1780, the continental cause was in trouble, especially after the fall of Charleston. The battle marked the start of British efforts to sever the southern colonies from the others. It came close to success. It’s fascinating to think what might have happened if it had. Less than 30 years later, the Slave Trade Act abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. What would have happened to the southern plantation system?
If we think of continental soldiers, we may think of men motivated by patriotism. Certainly there is some truth to that thought. But one of Washington’s ongoing issues was retaining men when their enlistments expired. Another was feeding and clothing them. A third was the difference between his troops and local militia units. The latter usually had little value in pitched battles with British troops. Jacob Plumb Martin enlisted in 1776 when he was 15 and remained with the Continental Army for the next seven years. He wrote a vivid memoir. It is likely the only such document, and provides an intimate view of a common soldier’s experiences.
French assistance in the American Revolution is well-known. Not so much the alliance with Spain. And no Spaniard played a larger role than Bernardo de Gálvez. Based in New Orleans, he used the Mississippi River to provide colonial forces with vital supplies to counteract the British blockade of Atlantic seaports. He defeated British troops in several key battles. Gálvez helped draft the Treaty of Paris that ended the war. George Washington acknowledged his contributions by giving him the place of honor during the 4th of July parade in 1783. Galveston, Texas is named after him.
6th Grade Social Studies Learning Standards
I have written or edited dozens of books about ancient civilizations—Rome, Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, Persia, China—and especially Greece, which I’ve visited on numerous occasions. It's likely that these presentations will encourage students to learn more about the people and events I describe, and prompt numerous reports.
Here are a few samples. As a research junkie, I'm happy to work up any others you might wish.
It’s a rare student who isn’t familiar with the marathon run. Many, however, have no idea that not only is Marathon an actual place but also the scene of one of the most pivotal battles of world history. A large Persian army invaded in 490 BCE, just a few years after a rudimentary form of democracy began in Athens. The Athenians had to confront a force several times their size. They went all-in on a desperate strategy that resulted in an overwhelming victory. The Persians returned 10 years later with a much larger army. They brushed aside the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae and burned Athens. The normally squabbling Greeks put aside their differences long enough for another gamble in the narrow waters off the island of Salamis. Coupled with a land victory the following year, the Persian threat was eliminated to set the stage for the all-too-brief Golden Age of Greece. May include facsimile Greek armor.
Hardly anything says “ancient Egypt” more powerfully than mummies. The Egyptians made millions—not just for humans but also animals such as cats. Mummification was one of Egypt’s leading industries, perhaps second only to farming. This presentation covers all the steps in detail, with enough material to satisfy even the most demanding grossologists.
Starting with Thespis, the first actor, we’ll follow the development of Greek theater. Includes capsules of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, as well as the origins of many theatre-related words. Youngsters are likely to be surprised to find that these ancient works match today’s movies for gore and raunchiness as well as shedding profound light on the human condition.
The Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks (both Spartans and Athenians) and Romans fielded fearsome military forces. We’ll look at their formation, training, tactics, and living conditions for the troops.
Founded in 776 BCE as a religious festival with a single sports event, the Olympics were held every four years for more than a millennium. They were revived in 1896 and have become the world’s premier sporting event. Focus is primarily on their origin and development, with a nod toward modern developments. Includes fascinating anecdotes such as the dead guy who won an Olympic championship.
The Seven Wonders were “must-see” destinations for ancient travelers, and provide testimony of human genius. The accompanying Seven Blunders provide testimony of human fallibility and capacity for self-destructive actions. Concludes with a quick survey among students of what might constitute a modern-day Seven Wonders.
What students say
Thank you for coming. It was great! I liked it when you were talking about how to be a writer. You were a great storyteller. I hope you come again. – Dakota
You are one of the coolest people I ever met. I hope you write lots of interesting books in the future. You should come to this school yearly. – Thomas
I thought you did a great job when you were reading your books. I love your scary books. I have read all of them. – Katavia
I hope you can come again. You are the best! – Connor
I enjoyed your writing techniques. I learned many things while you were here, like how to write a biography. – Jordan
I really think your writing is awesome. I think you are the best writer in the world. I have read a lot of books and so far I think you should get an award. I think you should come near year. – Katie
I really liked your books. I would of bought 1,000,000 books if I could. You are the nicest author I ever met. Everybody liked you and I really hope you can come again. You have a big heart. – Rachel
I loved to hear you talk about the things you do. It made me want to be a writer! – Hanna
Thanks for coming to our class and telling us about writing. I hope you come back. – Jesse
You are the best speaker I have ever seen. There wasn’t one time where I ever got bored. – Kyle
I loved how you made a boring story into an exciting one and draw the reader in! – Savannah
You rock!! – Kaylee