Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Back Matter Dives Deep

 by Annette Whipple


What Is Back Matter?

You’ve likely heard it before: Back matter matters. And it does. It’s a new term to some of us, and I’m eager to explore it with you today.

Like sidebars, captions, and other nonfiction text features, back matter provides authors another way to share more information with readers. Back matter comes after the main text at the back of the book.

Back matter is important to the curious reader because it enhances, explains, or supplements the main text. Teachers and librarians love back matter. (Therefore, editors love back matter.) The main text is often nonfiction, but back matter is a fabulous and important addition to fiction books, too.

Though back matter dives deeper into a topic than the main text, it must remain relevant to your story and to the reader who wants to know more. Sometimes picture book back matter (or a portion of it) is addressed to teachers and parents, however it is most often written for the target audience. It can also explore technical terms even when the terms were not named in the main text.

Back Matter Ideas

Think basics: author’s note, bibliography, glossary, index, resources

Think connection: trivia about your book’s topic, why YOU wrote the story, how to support the book’s cause

Think information: clarify myths, how to interact with the topic to learn more, fun facts, acknowledgements

Think visual: diagrams, maps, timelines, photographs

Think interactive: crafts, activities, recipes, museums, QR codes


Examples of Back Matter

Now let’s look at some examples of back matter.

Water Is Water by Miranda Paul (illustrated by Jason Chin) and Freaky Funky Fish by Debra Kempf Shumaker (illustrated by Claire Powell) tell more about the books’ topics in the back matter. Each is unique and done well.

In The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story by Tina Cho (illustrated by Jess X Snow) shares more about real-life mermaids and the history of sea diving without equipment as well as quotes from the women she met during her research. Note: Sometimes back matter is highly visual. This book shines as an example of text-only back matter.

Spi-ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs by Leslie Bulion (illustrated by Robert Meganck) includes notes on poetic form, Spi-ku spider identification with scientific names, relative spider size, and more.

12 Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimner includes information titled “Beyond Birmingham” and details about the thirteen Freedom Riders and more.

The Truth About series began with Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls. I knew back matter would be important to include all some of those awesome details I couldn’t fit in the main text. So I included three full spreads of back matter. (Note: That’s a lot.)

But for my fourth book in the series, Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs actually devoted four full page spreads to the back matter. The cool thing is the books’ back matter continues to draw in the reader with bold images and the same style of fonts as in the main text. I think it works.

Take a look. 



The Truth About animal series will include five books by the end of this year. Each of the books includes an activity, glossary, and resources in the back matter. However, each book is unique, so most of the back matter is specific to the topic.



More About Back Matter

There’s so much more I could say about back matter in children’s nonfiction. And I did. I wrote another blog post at my own site answering writers’ top questions about back matter  and sharing more examples (from my own books) for writers. Scurry over there to learn answers to these questions:

·       Does back matter get included in word count?

·       How do you include back matter in a manuscript?

·       When do you submit back matter for a manuscript?

·       How do you make room for back matter?

But really, see for yourself how back matter enhances an informational book—or even a work of fiction. Explore back matter through mentor texts in the activity below.


Give It a Try

Grab a few nonfiction books that contain back matter. Read each and examine its back matter. Make a list of all the different kinds of back matter you find. Use sticky notes or a chart to comment on how each portion of back matter effectively supports the main text. Note any back matter that may not be as effective and why you didn’t think it worked.  

You might also compare back matter from two books on the same topic. I loved seeing Leslie Bulion’s Spi-ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs because it came out right before my own book Scurry! The Truth About Spiders. (My manuscript was already submitted to the publisher, so there was no concern about copying her ideas.) Some ideas overlap, but not all!

Which types of back matter will most benefit your reader? Add it directly to your picture book manuscript (or to your proposal’s outline for longer books).

Meet the Author

Annette Whipple celebrates curiosity and inspires a sense of wonder while exciting readers about science and history. This year, she’ll have twelve ten fact-filled children’s books including The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (Chicago Review Press), The Story of the Wright Brothers (Rockridge Press), and Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs (Reycraft Books) in The Truth About series. When Annette’s not reading or writing, you might find her baking for her family in Pennsylvania or teaching children and adults about history, science, or writing. Learn more at www.AnnetteWhipple.com and www.WilderCompanion.com



47 comments:

  1. I love reading back matter that extends the voice of the text.

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  2. Annette, I am wondering if one just adds back matter with a title that says "Back Matter" or if one says "Possible Back Matter" which indicates to agents and/or editors this can be amended as per your comment, there's only so much room for back matter. Thanks for this great info and congrats on your series.

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    1. OK, I see you do what I do, Annette, from your personal blog post that I just read. TY. :)

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    2. I love that you were already thinking of this. It's definitely an area we have to be flexible.

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  3. Thank you, Annette, for sharing how and why back matter supports both nonfiction and fiction books.

    Suzy Leopold

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    1. It really does! I wish more fiction writers would use it.

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  4. I believe the more information you can share anywhere in a children's book adds to its appeal and is really appreciated, especially by parents and educators!

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  5. I love back matter. Thank you for providing valuable insight about it, Annette!

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  6. Awesome examples Annette! Thank you ;)

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  7. Thank you, Annette, for your insights into the use of back matter. Those examples are gold and so are the links you provided!

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  8. Annette,
    Thank you for your helpful post! Back matter is a boon to students, parents and teachers. Thanks for showing us different ways to consider it for our projects.

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  9. Thanks, Annette! I love back matter because I know kids are curious and want to know more. I have several fiction manuscripts with back matter to guide kids, parents, or teachers. Your series is so well done and informative - just the thing for curious minds. Congratulations on your latest!

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    1. Thanks so much, Rose! Best wishes with your fiction. Readers will appreciate that back matter!

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  10. I am SUCH a fan of back matter. Like, if a nf book doesn't have it I go: huh? Great list of kinds of back matter. and thanks for linking to your previous post about the nuts and bolts.

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  11. I love learning about back matter and seeing what different authors do with it.

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  12. Thanks for sharing your insights on back matter and a list of some great examples!

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  13. Thanks for the great post. Back Matter always fascinates me because I want to know more and you have helped us with ideas to make our own back matter better for the curious reader.

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  14. ANNETTE: THANK YOU SO MUCH for this informative post! This is the help I've been looking for. I will MOST DEFINITELY be "SCURRYING" over to your site for even MORE INSPIRATION and to check out your books! THANK YOU!!!

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  15. Helpful list of back matter items and great examples. Thanks!

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  16. Thanks for this master class on back matter!

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  17. Thanks Annette! Your post as well as your website Q&A are very informative. I love reading and writing back matter.

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  18. This is a perfect addition to the great info you have on your website, Annette; thanks!

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  19. Thank you for this great information and links.

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  20. Perfect timing, Annette. I have just turned to organizing and revising my back matter. Thank you.

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  21. I love back matter! Annette, thank you for sharing ways to think about how to add information to a manuscript. Sometimes I purchase a book or sign out a book from the library based on back matter.

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  22. Annette, what great examples of fun and inventive back matter. And that's a great graphic of the backmatter in Ribbit! It's so fun to see how authors are stretching and playing with the offerings and bounds of back matter.

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  23. Annette, thanks so much this is wonderful.

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  24. This is so helpful--thank you! Back matter can be intimidating.

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  25. Annette-
    Thanks for sharing very helpful information. I am wondering when you write a nonfiction PB manuscript that has multiple layers. Do you describe the second and third layer as [sidebars] and write it in the back matter OR does it become part of your main story? Many Thanks! Marianne

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  26. thank you for the back matter primer!

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  27. The science of back matter...who knew??? We do now! Thank you.

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  28. I love back matter and authors note and all the ideas you've presented here. Never thought of "studying" back matter to see how it works in published books. Thank you.

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  29. Great reveal on all things back matter.

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  30. Annette, thanks for this post on back matter. I've written three fiction PBs that each have a different kind of back matter. Sometimes the story just isn't finished without it. I'll be looking for your books.

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  31. Thanks for the insights about back matter! Going to try reading it first.

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