Doing some casual research on copyright before signing a book contract recently, I found out something really cool, which may be useful to authors who have had a book in print for a while.

In 2003 the US Copyright Office made a change in the 1978 copyright law. Authors can get their copyright back from their publishers (a one-time chance) after 35 years. You need to set the wheels in motion from ten to two years earlier (at 25 to 33 years after you signed the contract). The contract must have been signed after 1978. There is only a five-year window at 35 to 40 years of publication, and, again, only one shot at doing it.

But for some longtime authors who may have signed away rights when they were starting out, or were desperate to publish, it is great – you can get your copyright back, or renegotiate your contract for better terms.

Below are helpful links. I am not a lawyer, so for more information please read the articles, or ask your lawyer, agent, or even your publisher.

At any rate, this is good news for published authors, artists, musicians, and other creative folks who may regret doing a bad deal early on. Rather charmingly, the Supreme Court noted that “authors are congenitally irresponsible, [and] that frequently they are so sorely pressed for funds that they are willing to sell their work for a mere pittance.”

Excellent piece:

US Copyright Office:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries article:

NY Times article (if I read the other three links correctly, the NY Times writer is wrong when he says it was in the 1978 law; it was added in 2003):

So, kind of like when a person finally gets a diagnosis – a name – for an illness, this is a great relief.

Sometimes I have had moments of doubt when trying to categorize my own books. Usually I call them nonfiction – they’re about real things. My nature/science (birds, bugs, snakes, and dinosaurs) and biography books fit snugly into the basic nonfiction category. But some others, for example the lift-the-flap paper-engineered books, like Go! Go! Go! (about transportation), Circus, Rodeo, and Doors (you learn about what’s in a doctor’s office, horse barn, boat, train, mechanic’s garage, space station, etc), are a little quirky and are occasionally even considered “novelty” books. They don’t fall neatly into the nonfiction category. And books like Market Maze and Ecomazes: 12 Earth Adventures use “gamification” and educational devices not typical of nonfiction books. Some are concept books (for instance, Mazeways: A to Z – an alphabet book that shows real-life things and their environs, like an airport, boatyard, highways, etc). Then there are nonfiction ideas that are wrapped around a finding/counting/naming format, like Desert Days, Desert Nights and Ranch.

Turns out there’s a name for these works… Informational books!

You could call informational books a subset of nonfiction. Nonfiction includes any content or text that is factual. However, not all nonfiction is considered informational. The main purpose of informational texts is to inform or instruct the reader in some way.

Informational text often teaches about the social and natural world (and frequently, in my case, the man-made world). A biography is a classic form of nonfiction; it teaches us about an individual’s life, and certain points in history, but it is not considered “informational.” A procedural or how-to text tells one how to do something; it doesn’t convey information about a particular topic. Other forms of nonfiction may be narrative (like a memoir). Informational text differs from other types of nonfiction in purpose, features, and, often, format.

There are many benefits, besides learning facts, to children when they are exposed to informational books. Understanding new words is one. From So Much More Than the ABCs: The Early Phases of Reading and Writing by Judith A. Schickedanz and Molly F. Collins:  “Because informational books contain many sophisticated technical words and explain them explicitly, reading this kind of book helps children learn higher-level vocabulary.” The illustrations, and sometimes charts and other imagery in informational picture books, enhance learning, thinking, and contribute to increased comprehension… they can be a form of visual cognition for some children.

Informational books often address children’s specific interests and questions about the world. Librarians tell me that these are the books most often asked for; their young patrons want to learn about and understand how things work, are built, what they look like, where they come from. The various ways in which writers and illustrators create these informational works make for some engaging books which enlighten and inform children, often in lively, accessible, and fun formats.

Here’s some more info:

People don’t always think of print books as being interactive, or using games, but they are and they do. I write mainly nonfiction and concept books, as well as interactive apps.  To engage children and keep them interested, and to impart information in a fun way, much of my work uses a form of “gamification”: lift-the-flap, mazes, guessing games, inside-outside concepts, search-n-find, ABCs and numbers, puzzles, matching games, hidden objects, word/noun object recognition, and so forth.

EcoMazes: 12 Earth Adventures uses mazes to explore and understand ecosystems, to see the vegetation and geology, and a finding/counting game to learn about which animals live in the habitat. In Hatch! an egg or a clutch of eggs is shown. Children try to guess what kind of bird it is from hints (“The bird that lays these eggs is found on every continent except Antarctica.” “This one never drinks water” “…fastest running two-legged animal on Earth. But it can’t fly.”). In Busy Builders children see the giant bug, and then turn the page to check out the unusual kinds of structures certain bugs make, and why. In Slithery Snakes they are encouraged to try to figure out what kind of snake it is from the close-up scaly skin patterns shown, along with tantalizing facts about the critter: “Its common name comes from its skin pattern (like a precious stone) and its unique tail (which sounds like a child’s toy).” Turn the page and the answer appears, visually, with its name, and more fun facts – you see the snake in its home, with other creatures that live in the same habitat. In Mazeways: A to Z, the letter of the alphabet forms a maze … A is for Airport (ever been to Heathrow or JFK? They really ARE a maze!), H is for Highway, L is for Library, R is for Ranch, and so on –  you are playing, but also learning more about the places and how they work. In Market Maze (Holiday House, Spring 2015) children explore where food comes from and how it arrives at their town greenmarkets. All of these are nonfiction subjects, with a structure that encourages play, learning, and engagement.

Many subjects lend themselves to these sorts of game-like interactive formats. Authors and illustrators of children’s nonfiction materials should consider these devices. For learning about a person, an animal, a historical period, science, a place, or even a fictional character, you can start with a question, and note fun facts that may allow the child to guess who or what you are interested in, before they get to the satisfying answer. Or in a more interactive way, they can lift flaps, play matching games, find and count things, solve a maze…

Engaging in games helps children with concentration, setting goals, problem-solving, working together and collaboration (many allow multiple players), perseverance, and celebrate achieving goals. Many games, and mazes in particular, also help children learn decision-making and critical thinking skills. They make them think ahead and plan steps in advance. Mazes teach alternative ways to solve problems and judge spatial relationships. For younger children, they help develop fine motor skills; for older children, maneuvering through mazes helps improve handwriting. Game formats are particularly suited to reluctant readers, boys, and special needs children. And they’re fun!

(FYI, in June, I’ll be doing a workshop at the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference on “gamification” [primarily for interactive apps] with Kellian Adams Pletcher, founder and senior producer at Green Door Labs.)

In the educational community, and among parents, learning via games has gained credibility, respect, and lots of interest in the last couple of years.

If you want to learn more about the “gamification” of children’s materials, here are some great links:

Three Keys to Gamification for Education

The Gamification of Education

Four Benefits of Gamifying Education in Your Classroom

Vegetables or Candy? Digital Book World looks at the Gamification of Children’s Books

Games Based Learning Analysis and Planning Tool

Gamification and Education: The Core Principle

Game-based Learning: Analyzing a Rising Sector

Using Gaming Principles to Engage Students

The importance of Play in raising inner-directed (“intrinsic”) children (rather than “extrinsic” more materialistic kids)