This week on Homeschool Highschool Podcast: Non-fiction Writing for Homeschool High School, Interview with Janet and Geoff Benge. This post is running concurrently on the Ultimate Homeschool Podcast Network.
Non-fiction Writing for Homeschool High School, Interview with Janet and Geoff Benge
Let me tell you, Vicki was so excited for this week’s interview. When her oldest homeschoolers were still very young, she ran across a series of biographies (Christian Heroes, Then and Now) by Janet and Geoff Benge. The first biography she read to her kids (the story of Adoniram Judson) was so inspirational, that they made a practice of reading the books as often as they could afford to by another.
So, Vicki was thrilled when she got a chance to hear Janet Benge talk at the beloved 2:1 Conference (for homeschool bloggers). Vicki made a point of chatting with Janet afterwards and next thing you knew, Janet and Geoff made time for an interview on Homeschool Highschool Podcast.
Janet and Geoff love to inspire young writers for writing non-fiction. Teens can sometimes feel intimidated by writing, especially the non-fiction topics, so make sure you listen in on this week’s episode.
Janet and Geoff are from New Zealand. Janet was originally an elementary school teacher and Geoff a chef. They had no idea God had planned for them to write. When they joined Youth With a Mission with their young daughter. After a time on a mission ship, they were stationed in the Philippines. They found this service changed their lives forever (one way it changed was that they adopted a child there).
Janet and Geoff were deeply touched by the poverty and needs of the people in the community they were serving. She began a newsletter for their supporters back home to raise funds to help their community. The newsletter became so popular, they were asked to write the national newsletter for YWAM. They were soon asked by Ginny Rogers (the sister of the founder of YWAM) to come to Texas to attend a workshop on book-writing by John and Elizabeth Sherrill (authors of the Cross and Switchblade and other Christian classics of that generation).
God miraculously provided for them to attend when an old friend tithed the sale of their farm. They were able to attend the workshop. It was revolutionary to Janet and Geoff’s writing. They learned that:
- Books are crafted
- There are techniques for leading a reader along
- They could learn these techniques
Janet and Geoff next became ghost writers with their new skills (for about fifteen years). Geoff is a great partner, so their strengths and weaknesses compliment each other. Then they launched into their biography series for YWAM, at YWAM’s request because they had been to homeschool conventions where the few biographies they saw were boring and uninspiring. YWAM new that missionary stories are powerful and exciting. So Janet and Geoff started writing: Christian Heroes, Then and Now (now 35 books) and also Heroes of History (now 33 books).
Janet wants to encourage young writers that learning difficulties do not need to keep you from writing. She is ADHD and dyslexic.
Here are Janet and Geoff’s tips for non-fiction writing for homeschool high school!
When you choose a person to write about begin to read about them:
- Read books. Janet says ABEbooks.com is a good resource for used books
- If there is an organization aligned with the person, check their website. You can even contact them and see if there is someone you can interview about your person
- Get a since of the person
- Read about their time period and location for background information
- Interview the person, if alive, if possible (or a family member)
- Look for little bits of interesting information or stories
Begin to organize material by time period in their lives
- Make connections between events or ideas that can connect the time periods
- Fact check if there are areas where the information is fuzzy
- Remember to understand the person in context of their times and locations
How to decide what to include and what to drop in writing
- Remember you can only give a flavor of the person’s life and events
- Remember your audience, but you do not have to be a “Polyanna”
- Concentrate on events and ideas that shows the person’s character
The Benges love to inspire their readers. One of their biggest blessings is to hear from parents that one of their biographies was the first book their kid ever loved.
Vicki asked Janet and Geoff who were their favorite stories. Janet listed Adoniram Judson, because he kept serving and facing down obstacles despite struggles with mental health. Geoff mentioned David Bussau, who Geoff had the opportunity to interview personally and found that David understands poverty and able to come up with wise solutions. Geoff also was inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
If you have a homeschool high schooler who wants to write a book:
- Get started with essays, shorter narratives, a research paper about a person (Check out 7Sisters’ writing materials to get started and check out this HSHSP episode)
- Experiment with some journalism
- Get feedback on your writing
- Read, read, read
- See how other’s write
- When you find a book you love, read it several times, note how they start the book in the first chapter
- How did it start?
- How much information is presented?
- How many characters are introduced?
- How are they introduced?
- How is the time period introduced?
- How is the conflict introduced?
- How is the main story hinted at?
- Practice, practice, practice
- Take a class on writing (you can find them online). Janet and Geoff have taught writing in live settings and are working on an online version now.
Check out Janet and Geoff Benge’s Christian Heroes: Then and Now; and Heroes of History at YWAM.
Vicki asked Janet and Geoff if they had any advice for homeschool high schoolers. They said, “These are tumultuous times. Dig in. Find others who have lived through difficult times. Biographies can help inspire you through these times. Also, keep notes, you may be writing your own story in the future.”
Check our our Authoritative Guide on High School Writing Requirements and for a in-depth discussion on goals and grading writing assignments for homeschool high school, check out this post.
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