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
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
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