Don’t know what to do with all that amazing information you dug up in your research? You hate to waste all those fascinating tidbits….but word count worries creep in…what’s an author to do? Here’s Laurie Wallmark to the rescue!
Back Matter to the Rescue! by Laurie Wallmark
One of the challenges in writing a nonfiction picture book is that the word count is so limited. There’s so much more you’d like to include–whether it’s to further explain what’s in the text or to give additional information–but don’t have the room for. Luckily, back matter comes to the rescue!
The most common type of back matter is an author’s note. But what’s included in an author’s note? There are so many possibilities. Here are a few.
Often the author uses this note to explain what it was that drew her to write that particular book. Maybe it was based on a family story, a newspaper article, or a random comment someone made. Readers are fascinated by the backstory of a book.
Another type of author’s note explains the research process involved in writing the book. It might include who the author interviewed and what resources she used. It can also be used to explain if there’s a controversy about the truth of any of the facts. She can explain why she chose to include what she did.
Sometimes an author uses the note to include information that couldn’t fit within the main text, either because of space or because it didn’t fit within the storyline. In my book, Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics, I use the author’s note to talk about, among other things, Sophie’s writing, which includes publishing two novels.
For biographies, you almost always see a timeline of the person life. This timeline can be enhanced by including events happening in the world during the person’s lifetime. This helps ground the reader in the subject’s time and place.
Nonfiction books usually include a selected bibliography. This includes some of the books and online resources used during the research process. In addition you can include a bibliography of kids’ books on similar subjects to expand children’s interests.
Since I write about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), I often include back matter that lets me delve more deeply into those subjects. In Hedy Lamarr’s Secret Life, I have a two-page spread about the “Secrets of the Secret Communications System.” Although the basic technology is explained in the main text, some kids want to know more. Here’s my chance to provide it.
Back matter lets you explore all sorts of topics. In Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics, I have a page about how names are transliterated from the Cyrillic alphabet to the Roman one.
Back matter gave me an excuse to include some additional information that I found fascinating. With so many children coming from countries that don’t use our alphabet, this back matter provides a chance for educators to explain how people from these countries get their English names.
Other ideas for back matter? How about a recipe for food that someone in your book eats? Maybe you could describe, with diagrams and pictures, dance moves that are done by the subject of your book. If your book is historical or takes place in a foreign location, back matter can give your readers a better idea of that time or setting. Do you use foreign words or unfamiliar technical words in the text? Then a glossary is in order. If you’re writing about an actor, a listing of her films would be of interest. Including an activity related to your story is a fun addition to any book. The possibilities for back matter are endless.
Whatever types of back matter you choose to include, they always brings extra value to the readers of your book.
Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture book biographies of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in fields ranging from computer science to mathematics to astronomy. Her books have earned multiple starred trade reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, AAAS/Subaru Prize Longlist, and Parents’ Choice Gold Medal. Laurie has an MFA in Writing from VCFA. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor. You can find Laurie on the Web at www.lauriewallmark.com and @lauriewallmark.