Saturday, February 20, 2021

Back Matter Matters--How to Use It to Enrich Your Story and Expand the Usefulness of Your Book

 By Silvia López

As the name implies, back matter is material placed at the end of a book’s main text. Sometimes it’s only an Author’s Note explaining how the author’s interest in the topic led to writing the book. But back matter can be much more.

In picture book narrative nonfiction, the information in the back enriches the story, expands its usefulness, and increases its value. Back matter can include clear, simple explanations of difficult concepts touched upon in the main story, a glossary, a timeline, recipes, photos, a list of related books and other print materials, as well as links to websites and videos. Good, solid back matter demonstrates the author’s research and knowledge about the subject of the story. 

Narrative nonfiction picture books, especially biographies or those that deal with an aspect of history or science, are often a child’s introduction to a person or event. Though not all readers are created equal, most children might not be interested in too many dates, intricate ideas such as the causes of conflicts, or complicated scientific procedures. Too many details placed within the text can bog down the story and make young readers lose interest. They want a good story. And the text of picture book narrative nonfiction should be just that: a good story based on truth and presented in terms that the reader can, on some level, relate to and is able to understand. If the story piques the reader’s curiosity, then back matter becomes the jumping-off point to find out more.

Children’s authors are constrained by the vocabulary level and background knowledge of their audience, with picture book authors having the limitation of word count. Back matter serves to explain technical or historical information that may not be within the reader’s frame of reference. This expands the usefulness and target audience of the book.

Sometimes back matter is geared to the child, but it can also be written on a little higher level to be used by an adult sharing the book with the child. Either way, it works best when it’s clear, accessible, and interesting. Not everyone, not even adults, can be expected to know as much about a topic as an author who has spent months researching material for his or her book.  

Good back matter can turn a story into a teaching tool. The way we write a story is different from the way we write its back matter. Author Laurie Wallmark states that teachers can use that difference to teach narrative vs. reporting writing styles. Teachers can also use picture book narrative nonfiction as a way to introduce older readers to a topic before moving on to more complex books. A simple story accompanied by well-researched, unbiased information can promote thoughtful discussion and encourage further reading.

Beyond nonfiction, good back matter can work for other genres such as historical fiction, realistic fiction — even folktales! The back matter in a book featuring a fictional character living through an historical event can give information about that time. The same goes for realistic fiction where characters have circumstances such as adoption, foster care, an illness, the environment, etc. And folktales often have fascinating origins. Back matter can point out a tale’s evolution through time, or the beliefs of a particular culture or country.

ACTIVITY

I believe imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I also believe in learning from the best. For that reason, this activity asks you to analyze one (or more) narrative nonfiction picture book. Hopefully, you will be able to get the books at your public library. Classification of picture book narrative nonfiction varies, so ask the librarian. You can also browse at your local bookstore for some of the newer titles.

First, read the story. Did it capture your attention? Did it leave you wanting to know more? Afterwards, look closely at the back matter in the book. Did the explanation expand the facts in the story? Was it clearly written? Did the author’s enthusiasm for his or her topic show through? Try the links. Are they still working? Were they helpful? How about the bibliography? Were there comparable books?   

In looking at various books, did you find the back matter in some more helpful than in others? Was the back matter written in a way a young reader might understand, or would it require a little help from an adult? What would you have done differently?

You can look for “picture book narrative nonfiction” in a search engine. Below are some sites to get you started on some titles:

We Are Teachers.com: https://www.weareteachers.com/nonfiction-picture-books/

20TruePbs: https://www.20truepbs.com/

Solutionary Stories: https://www.solutionarystories.com/

Epic: https://www.getepic.com/collection/142524/narrative-nonfiction

We Have Kids.com: https://wehavekids.com/education/Best-Narrative-Nonfiction-Books-for-Kids

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Silvia López was born in Cuba and moved to Miami as a child. Her lifelong love of books turned into a career as children's librarian and later author. López is an eclectic writer whose work, in both English and Spanish, reflects her interest in animals, history, folk tales, and people who have overcome obstacles to achieve great things. Books include Handimals: Animals in Art and Nature;  Queen of Tejano Music: Selena; Pacho Nacho; My Little Golden Book about Frida Kahlo; and Just Right Family: An Adoption Story. My Little Golden Book about Sonia Sotomayor is scheduled for release in 2022.

 

 

ABOUT THE PRIZE

Silvia López will be awarding a signed copy of Queen of Tejano Music: Selena.

78 comments:

  1. I love back matter! Thanks for the tips, activity and sites. Look forward to exploring.

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  2. I am working on my first nonfiction manuscript. This information was helpful to me in writing the back matter.

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  3. Thanks Silvia!! I have a nonfiction poetry collection. With some of the poems I did not think back matter was necessary, but others did require it--and so I included it. I also have a fictional piece based on fact where I just added a bibliography. I have seen "limited" bibliographies and I suspect that is listing those sources from which you have taken the majority of your information?

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    1. Hi Colleen, sorry this reply is so late. I'm not sure if what they may mean by limited bibliographies is that the book, being for children, will cite fewer sources, but you can certainly send the editor a list of all the sources you consulted along with your manuscript.

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  4. I agree with you, Siliva, that back matter offers so much. I love it. Thank you for noting all we can do with it.

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  5. Silvia, Your article took me on a tour of all your links some which I had never seen before. Back Matter is something of a struggle for me in the NF Biography I'm writing. Thanks for the focus and direction.

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  6. I love back matter, and it will be good to study other books and learn from them.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. It's a bit freeing to know that back matter can be written in many ways, including at a higher level than the text.

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  8. Silvia - always such a good suggestion to examine how back matter works in other books. Great suggestion!

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  9. What perfect timing on this activity! I had placed a few books on hold 3 weeks ago, then 2 weeks ago and then earlier this week and finally picked them up yesterday. So many of them are NF PBs recommended on NFF. I devoured most of them yesterday and can now go back and look over the back matter at my leisure.

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  10. Thank you!! Your post has inspired me to view my picture book as not just the story and illustrations but also the back matter! Look forward to reviewing titles, as you recommend, to figure out the most engaging way to do this!

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  11. Thank you for this. I am working on back matter for one of my non-fiction manuscripts; your highlighting of how it can be used is perfect. So helpful!

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  12. This is really helpful information, Sylvia. I like reading back matter as well to see if any questions I had along the way were answered and to pick up some more nuggets about the subject. Thanks for this!

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  13. I love back matter. As a teacher (and then homeschooler) I always wanted to know "more about" whatever... and having that at the back, along with suggested reading and other resources is so valuable.

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  14. Silvia, thank you for providing the back matter on back matter! I appreciate the reminder that, "Too many details placed within the text can bog down the story and make young readers lose interest." I always have a hard time taking important dates out of the text. I've been using timelines in the back matter to make up for that. Your post is most helpful in figuring out what to keep in the text and what to bring into the back matter.

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  15. Thank you for your information on back matter. I’m still working on learning about that and using in my fiction picture books as well. And thank you for all the sources to research books in her back matter.

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  16. I love that there's a place for information that won't be included in the main text but is still very important.

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  17. Silvia, Thanks for this post and all your amazing links. I love NF and sometimes the Back Matter is the best part.

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  18. Backmatter is always my favorite part. My problem is adding too much! Thanks for the tips which will help me narrow down to the most useful and interesting for my readers. Thanks!

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  19. Both of my completed books require some back story. This is a great article!

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  20. Back story is so key but it can't be boring. Can't wait to see your book about Selena! Thank you for this post.

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  21. I enjoy back matter too. I think timelines are wonderful. I also like back matter that has websites or books where the adult or reader can find more information. Thank you!

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  22. The more I dive into nonfiction writing, the more I love back matter. Thanks for this helpful, practical post!

    I'm curious about everyone else's experiences: do you, as the writer, typically decide how much/what type of back matter to include from the beginning, or does this typically get finalized during the editorial process?

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    1. Hi Callie, sorry for the late reply. I think you would decide on how much back matter to include, and then, just like you do with the text, you work with the editor to decide what stays and what goes.

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  23. I've wondered about adding back matter to fiction PBs. I haven't seen much of it, but it seems like that would be another great way to whet a child's appetite for more info. Thanks for sharing, Silvia!

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  24. thanks so much! Just what I needed to read about today!

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  25. I only just learned the term back matter... thank you for this, so invaluable!

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  26. I love back matter! Thanks for an interesting post and great questions to ask when examining back matter of mentor texts. Also, I had not seen your book "Just Right Family" before but now I'm excited to read it - I adopted my two kiddos from China and am always looking for more adoption-themed books told from the child's POV. :)

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  27. Great information. Thank you!

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  28. 'Teachers can also use picture book narrative nonfiction as a way to introduce older readers to a topic before moving on to more complex books.' I did this ALL THE TIME in my second grade classroom. Later, as an instructional coach, I pushed the idea on my middle school teachers.

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  29. Back matter has saved me many times in my picture books, enabling me to write a more lyrical story yet still provide important or even just cool information as well.

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  30. I'm a lover of back matter. Thanks for your post and for all the book resources. Gotta get reading!

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  31. Thanks for this post, Silvia. I LOVE back matter. I didn't know that WE ARE TEACHERS had a list of recommended NF titles. That's super helpful!

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  32. Thank you, Sylvia, for your insights into the significance of good back matter. Your links are a treasure!

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  33. I found that the 3 NF titles I analyzed, focusing on the back matter in each, all had one thing in common: the extended material allowed for a further peak into the lives of the authors, i.e., biographical details, the amount of people involved in the publishing of a book, and the depth of feelings the author shares in their Author's Note pages.

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  34. Back matter is where it's at! Thanks, Sylvia, for sharing your insights into this important part of the book.

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  35. Great post! The back matter should enhance the text, and the main text shouldn't get bogged down. They should be compliments to each other. Thanks for this info!

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  36. I have been studying the various uses of back matter and this is so helpful! Thank you.

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  37. As an elementary school librarian, I use picture book biographies all the time to introduce children to a person or event related to our topic. It is amazing how the books ignite the interests of many students and they ask for more information on the subject. Back matter is so interesting and I love when authors add a page at the end with more detail. By doing that, they avoid bogging down the main text, but give the reader the option to learn more. Thank you for this very interesting and helpful post.

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  38. Thanks for the tips on back matter including author notes. I appreciate the advice as I''m struggling with non-fiction narratives right now.

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  39. Great explanation of back matter Sylvia! I love back matter. Your article affirms (for me) the value of back matter and gives me encouragement to continue to include it in my books. Congratulations on your newest book all your success since we met at Highlights so many years ago!

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  40. Silvia, I am fascinated by the breadth of what back matter can be and what it adds to a book for readers and for educators. Ty for this great post.

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  41. Fantastic post, thank you. All of my pb manuscripts have back matter.

    I have to include it as I'm writing about a topic in children books that has never been published in America. There are a lot of years my picture books have to make up for.

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  42. This post does such a fabulous job of capturing all the many reasons why books should have backmatter — and the icing was how it can be used! I especially loved the idea of teacher using text versus backmatter as a difference between narrative and reporting writing styles. Thanks so much!

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  43. Back matter does matter. It supports a well-written nonfiction narrative like icing on a cake.

    Thank you Silvia, for an outstanding post with valuable resources.

    Suzy Leopold

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  44. I am so glad that so many people found the article useful. I hope the links will be helpful and that more NF writers will begin to see back matter as an important part of their manuscript. Children's books writers don't have the luxury of expounding on their text the way authors of adult books do, so back matter becomes even more important. Thank you all for your comments!

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  45. Great information, Silvia. I especially liked the idea of not cluttering up the text with too many facts.

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  46. Some of my book purchases were based on the book’s back matter. Thank you for this great post and for the links. I am new to NF writing and appreciate the referrals to specific websites to explore.

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  47. Thanks for sharing the different writing process for back matter vs. main text!

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  48. Seems so powerful to use back matter as another piece of text with students when reading nonfiction. Love that this provides students with firsthand experience with writing for different purposes, even within the same topic and within the same book.

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  49. Thank you so much for the focus on back matter. I write primarily biographies for MG readers. I love both creating and reading back matter. No surprise, as the back of the book is where I always begin reading a story! :)

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  50. Hooray for back matter! I just talked about that in a class at Highlights yesterday because it's possibly my favorite part of a book. :)

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  51. I love writing back matter because there is so much more we want our readers to learn "after the story."

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  52. Thank you, Silvia. Your information was timely and so helpful. I will keep those questions at the end of your article as a reminder to keep me on task to help my back matter shine. What a thoughtful exercise to help us understand what makes good back matter great!

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  53. Gracias, Silvia. Thinking about options for back matter for my WIP.

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  54. What would a book be classified as when it is based on a true story and features an actual person and place/event but has fictional elements such as talking squirrels and some artisitic license was used.

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  55. I love reading & writing back matter--total back matter geek here :)! Thanks, Silvia!

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  56. Thank you, Silvia. Your comments and insight really speak to the importance of back matter. I love integrating back matter with my story almost as much as I love creating my story!

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  57. Silvia,
    I like your quote: Good back matter can turn a story into a teaching tool. Important to remember this as I include information in the back matter. It's not only to showcase what I've learned but to teach others . i'll ask myself what might they want to know after reading my story?

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  58. Silvia, what a great post. I am really enjoying all the variety that exists within back matter these days. One of my favorites has to Jason Chin's GRAND CANYON - the various levels within the story (text and illustration) carry through to an amazingly constructed back matter. I am excited to do your activity on some newer books. Thank you!

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  59. Thanks for a great post! I love reading back matter to dive deeper into the subject!

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  60. Wonderful resources. Thank you so much!

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  61. I'm at the stage right now of slimming down a narrative NF PB, and deciding what needs to be relegated to back matter and what must be in the story. I've also asked my critique group/partners to tell me about questions that may have been raised by the manuscript that they'd like to see in the back matter, and conversely, what they found in the story that they thought would be best to send to the back matter. Quite helpful to get their perspectives when they're not as close to the MS as I am. Thanks for your insights and the resources you've included! I've read more narrative NF PBs than I can recall, add some to my mentor text files, and am always looking to find more.

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  62. I'm a fan of back-matter! I love the little nuggets you can learn from them... Thank you for the links!

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  63. Back matter for me is like unearthing a buried treasure chest...just open it up and uncover all sorts of fascinating facts!

    Great post!

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  64. Thank you for this-- I love both the post and the activity!

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  65. This was a very helpful post! I always read the back matter in books, but you helped clarify what should be included and what the real purpose is in doing so. Thanks so much!

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  66. Thank you for this helpful post on back matter, Silvia! I'm looking forward to reading your beautiful book.

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  67. Great Silvia! Back matter is very important! Thanks for sharing!

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  68. I loved this post, probably because I love back matter. Many nonfiction picture books have it but I also appreciate when a fiction book has related back matter.

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  69. Solid breakdown of what back matter is about and can and should be. I love the word solutionary.
    Great links to explore.

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  70. Wonderful post about back matter! So many great points. Thanks for sharing, Silvia!

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  71. Thank you for your great post Silvia López on backmatter. It is almost like the next level of the story! I always look forward to reading the bakc matter as an adult, and, looking at the rest of the story, and they why of the story! I am encouraged to create more enriching back matter!

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  72. Silvia, thank you for sharing your insight regarding back matter!

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  73. Silvia, I appreciated your insights that confirmed what I am already structuring in my narrative nf mss. I feel that back matter gives a book layers that can then be used in multiple ways-expanding the marketing.

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