Behind the Scenes: “BACK MATTER? How a Character-Driven Picture Book Became Informational Fiction,” by Julie Rowan-Zoch

It’s such a pleasure to share critique partner Julie Rowan-Zoch’s debut picture book as author/illustrator! What fun to see this story develop over time, and, as the die-hard nonfiction person in our local critique group, so cool to see the nonfiction element grow stronger and even inspire back matter! Thank you, Julie, for sharing how this came to be! 

Also…thanks to Julie for offering a GIVEAWAY! Just leave a comment below for a chance to win your very own copy of I’M A HARE, SO THERE!

Congratulations to Annie Lynn! You’ve won A PLAN FOR THE PEOPLE: NELSON MANDELA’S HOPE FOR HIS NATION by Lindsey McDivitt.

“BACK MATTER? How a Character-Driven Picture Book Became 
Informational Fiction,” by Julie Rowan-Zoch

Untitled-Artwork-1I had drawn a jackrabbit for Susanna Hill’s first (and I believe only) illustration contest via her blog a number of years ago. I continued to draw the character and it had caught my agent’s eye and she asked, “What’s his story?” I already had a strong feeling for his personality so I basically sent him on a walk in his natural environment, and not knowing enough, off I went to do some research. 

I knew Jack would not be happy about being mistaken for a rabbit despite the rabbit in his name. This held the window wide open for me to play with my favorite ingredient, humor. So there I was, trying hard to be funny and not noticing I was also sharing a lot of facts! And what would it matter, I was only writing character-driven fiction! I kept the characters moving, page after page, I had a hook, a bit of conflict, and a good old fashioned predator protagonist! The ending was good – and unexpected – but my agent suggested maybe I don’t need to have the main character meet his demise in a picture book! It was actually rather funny, but with my agent’s prodding, and the help of my critique partners, I think the new ending is much funnier! Aaaand I used another fact to literally pack a punch!IMG_1951-1

With everyone happy, the manuscript went out on sub to the editor who had already hired me to illustrate LOUIS, and she liked it but wanted to know if I would be willing to add back matter. BACK MATTER? For a fiction picture book? I said yes, but really had never thought I would be adding facts for fact’s sake! So I ignored that bit for a while, and started work on a more detailed dummy instead. It was my editor who made the suggestion to add a few more similar-but-not-the-same animals, or maybe even something in the same vein but more abstract, like dawn and dusk. Ah, brilliant! I do love the collaborative process!

But I still needed back matter. All I knew was that I wanted to keep it visual, because I just couldn’t see this story could be considered non-fiction. (Not that I don’t like non-fiction – it’s pretty much all the adult in me reads!) The team at HMH nudged me towards adding a few details about similar-but-not-the-same animals, just a sentence or two, and I suppose it was the permission to keep the text concise that drew me back in – must be an affinity for picture book writers in general! I added the search-and-find just to fill a second page with visuals, and  even tried to add a map – but the page got cramped. So hopefully taking it out has left room for readers to look for one! (Note to self: must write a story that has maps. Love maps!)


Overall my hope is that readers of the book feel as encouraged as I was in the earlier part of the process to go beyond the handful of facts presented and explore things they would like to know about the desert, the animals, or just animals that are often mistaken because of their similarities. So there!

IMG_2598-1Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of I’M A HARE, SO THERE! (US addresses only, please)

Julie Rowan-Zoch Author, illustrator, bookseller, and activist: Julie Rowan-Zoch grew up collecting freckles and chasing hermit crabs in NY, and spent years slicing rich breads in Germany before waking up to 300 days of blue Colorado skies. If she doesn’t answer the door, look in the garden! Julie is on Twitter @JulieRowanZoch, Instagram @jzroch and her Blog.
To order a signed copy from the bookstore where Julie works, just add the request in the comment section of the order:

36 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: “BACK MATTER? How a Character-Driven Picture Book Became Informational Fiction,” by Julie Rowan-Zoch

  1. Well, you “backed” into writing that story. I’m glad you kept Jack going. This book is a cute way for kiddos to learn that Jack rabbits and bunny rabbits are not the same. I can just see how a teacher would use this story. (Such as my daughter) Wonderful. Now, go draw us some maps. (Just don’t use them on the end pages… that’s space for the librarians!)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I can’t wait to read this one. I discovered writing informational fiction and is on my favorites to read and write. And bonus, if it’s humorous.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I must find a pic of my daughter wearing a Halloween costume I thought was ingenious “Compass Rose”, complete with rosy cheeks! I think that was the last costume she allowed that would have people asking, “What are you?”

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m so glad I found my way here. Back matter and/in fiction is something I have been grappling with lately, great to read how it worked out for you! Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m writing a fiction book and wondered if backmatter would be appropriate. Now I have my answer! Thank you for sharing your writing journey, Julie. Congratulations on your new book! I can’t wait to read it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Love a rabbit with attitude — kids will love the humor. Enjoyed hearing about the evolution of this book, including the backmatter. I really like how you approached it as it sounds like fun. Sometimes backmatter is really boring. One publisher, I won’t name, always included lengthy backmatter for parents, and now they mention that it is available on their website. The picture books look more like picture books now! Congratulations!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Really love the humor, illustrations, and character attitude. As a former rabbit owner, I’m always interested in stories about them! I would love to have a copy of your book!


  7. Honestly, I’m quite unfamiliar with backmatter but I absolutely love how yours came out! The illustrations really help to differentiate between the similar animals and the concise text is short and sweet. The interactions between the chipmunk and rabbit (oops I meant the squirrel and hare, hehe its so cute) are filled with humor as they and the readers learn to differentiate between the similar animals. Thanks for the fun read!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the title of your book, Julie. It’s catchy and shows attitude. Not only does the story have humor, it also is educational. What a great combination! Congratulations on your new book!

    Liked by 1 person

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