Saturday, February 26, 2022

Gamification: A Cool Way to do Nonfiction Picture Books

By Roxie Munro
         

For my work about architecture or places, nature and science, art, and other nonfiction or informational content, I find using "gamification" as a writing/illustration technique challenging, and fun. It can impart a lot of information for children in an accessible, creative and lively way. 

Because I am an artist - a "visual thinker" - as well as a writer, I often create my books first in images (a storyboard, a dummy, rough sketches), and then write the text to coordinate with the art, not visa-versa (which most editors prefer!). Thinking visually is a form of cognition. My books are dependent upon strong visual ideas. The art dictates the format, sequence, and even the content.

I wrap the content around a device - a conceit or a construct. Studies show that engaging in games helps children learn, concentrate, set goals, problem-solve, work together and collaborate, persevere, and celebrate achieving goals. Many games also help with decision-making and critical thinking skills. They make kids think ahead and plan steps in advance, sometimes teaching alternative ways to solve problems. Working with mazes has been shown to improve children's handwriting. Game ideas are particularly suited to reluctant readers, boys, and special needs children.

People don’t always think of print books as being interactive, or using games, but they are and they do. To engage children and keep them interested, and to impart information in a compelling way, I create books with mazes, guessing games, inside-outside concepts, search-n-find, lift-the-flaps, ABCs and numbers, puzzles, size/scale relationships, hidden objects, and more.

My books often follow a similar structure. I start with front matter (an introduction giving an overview - maybe some history and context, how the book was researched, what's to come). Sometimes there are "instructions" to help navigate the game-like format, and maybe quirky factoid-like questions (answers in front or back matter). Then the main content - the body of the book - usually two-page illustrated spreads with expository text. Often there's a big illustrated finale, and then the important back matter, which usually consists of the following: "the answers" to the maze, seek-n-find, counting or alphabet game, often with smaller B&W versions of the spreads; maybe a schematic illustration showing, say, the featured animals in scale relative to each other and/or their environment; sometimes extra content (facts not mentioned in the body text) like each animal's species/scientific name and/or pronunciation, size or habitat, breeding habits; an "essay" (lately discussing global climate change, species preservation, or a call-to-action); a map if appropriate; glossary (usually the word is highlighted first in the main body text); a bibliography; and an index.    

Some of my early books used an inside-outside device to show places and cities (New York City, Washington DC, Paris, London, Texas, and American libraries). Others, for example the lift-the-flap paper-engineered books, like Go! Go! Go! (about transportation), Circus, Rodeo, and Doors (you learn about what’s in a doctor’s office, horse barn, a train, mechanic’s garage, space station, etc), are a little quirky and are occasionally even considered “novelty” books. They don’t fall neatly into the nonfiction category, though they are about "real" life. There are guessing games incorporated into the flaps, which hide items, show action or motion, and how things work.


EcoMazes: 12 Earth Adventures uses mazes to explore and understand ecosystems, and a finding/counting game to learn about which animals live in the habitat. In Hatch! an egg or a clutch of eggs is shown. Children try to guess what kind of bird it is from hints (“The bird that lays these eggs is found on every continent except Antarctica.” “…fastest running two-legged animal on Earth. But it can’t fly.”). In Busy Builders children see a bug up close, and then turn the page to check out the unusual structure it makes, and why. In Slithery Snakes, they figure out what kind of snake it is from the close-up scaly skin patterns shown, along with tantalizing facts about the critter.

Several of my nonfiction concept books teach the alphabet, vocabulary, and counting. In Mazeways: A to Z, the alphabet letter forms a maze … A is for Airport, H for Highway, L for Library, R for Ranch, and so on – children are playing, but also learning about places and how they function. Ranch and Desert Days, Desert Nights combine a search-n-find game with information. In Market Maze children explore where food comes from and how it arrives at their town greenmarkets (also involves a counting and finding game). Masterpiece Mix explains art genres, ending with a large finale where you find 37 classic paintings in a modern scene context. The back matter, as with other books, has a B&W schematic with the "answers" and more information on each artist.

                                                                                                                                                                        

            


Lately I've shifted back to nature. Recent books use size as a device: Rodent Rascals: From Tiny to Tremendous - 21 Clever Creatures at their Actual Size; Dive In: Swim with Sea Creatures at Their Actual Size (you take a journey; each spread leads into the next at the top, bottom, or sides); and Anteaters, Bats & Boas: The Amazon Rainforest from the Forest Floor to the Treetops (a walk with actual size creatures, again, each page leads into the next). The last two books have a giant 4-panel foldout to show size.


Give it a Try

You should explore different methods of casting your nonfiction content. Think outside of the box - play around with formats and ideas. Can you impart your content in a fresh, new, or different way? Give it a try - have some fun. Use your unique skills and point-of-view. A reviewer once grumpily wrote that "Munro's books are hard to categorize." A compliment. It's good to be original. The best nonfiction books are content filtered through an individual human consciousness.



About the Author:

Roxie Munro has written and illustrated more than 45 award-winning nonfiction and concept books, earning numerous starred reviews, the NY Times Ten Best Illustrated Award, NCSS-CBC and NSTA-CBS Outstanding Trade Book honors, the Bank        Street Cook Prize Silver Medal for STEM, numerous Notables and Best Book of the Year lists. She's also created a dozen interactive book apps and 14 New Yorker magazine covers. See: http://www.roxiemunro.com/








36 comments:

  1. My son is going LOVE all your books! I just put a bunch of them on hold at our library! I am definitely going to try some of these fun techniques with a new NF idea I have. Thanks :)

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    1. Great, Brenna - thanks! Don't want to be sexist, but boys do in particular like learning via games (though I'm a girl, and I love mazes, seek-n-find, lift-the-flaps.... ;-))

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  2. Thanks for this master class on thinking outside the box! I love the reviewer's comment that your books are hard to categorize. Hooray for originality! Now I have to find your New Yorker covers too!

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  3. Thanks, Melissa....my website has the covers. Yep, it's always a learning curve to see what reviewers say. You never know what angle they'll take... ;-))

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  4. Thank you, Roxie, for the many creative formats and ideas for writing nonfiction.

    Suzy Leopold

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    1. Thank YOU, Suzy, for your kind comment! Have fun exploring these formats.

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  5. I think I've got the Eco-maze book laying around somewhere... I am a big fan of using games to learn (and teach) - because: kinaesthetic & visual learners. And the "actual size" books are fun! Thanks for the lesson on thinking outside the book.

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    1. Yay! Thanks... Yes to "thinking outside the book," Sue!

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  6. This is a new perspective for me. Thank you.

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    1. Excellent - then I've done my job. I bet you can come up with a format, Sue....

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  7. Roxie, thank you so much! I wish I could draw, but my lack of artistic talent won't stop me from thinking outside the box about how to present my WIP. You are so right about games and interactivity being the best way to present information. Your books about nature and its needs now are just what we need to kindle flames in future planet earthlings.

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    1. But, Melissa, you can do a Q&A format without being an artist. Writers probably have even better skills that way...

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  8. Never really thought about inserting games into a children's book. Great idea.

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    1. Yes! Not that hard... Q&A may be a good start.

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  9. Thank you, Roxie, for this deep dive into formats and ideas to keep children's interest in strong content.

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  10. Thanks, Charlotte. It took me years to understand that that was a way to distribute content to young children (though it came naturally to me). But think about it, which it seems like you do... makes sense, right?

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  11. Terrific book trailer for your Amazon Rainforest PB! And EcoMazes: 12 Earth Adventures looks like a great mentor text. I'm revising a life cycle PB about an endangered creature. I will work on making it more interactive.

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    1. Excellent, Manju. Have fun! And thanks for your kind comments on the trailer - I made it myself. A learning curve for sure, but fun.

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  12. Roxie, your books are BRILLIANT! Not only is your artwork wonderful but the concepts are clever and fun for kids (and adults). Thank for this inside look at how you do it! You've inspired me to give it a try.

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  13. Thanks, Teresa. Very kind! Have fun and be bold - you have nothing to lose and maybe a lot to gain. Great good luck!

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  14. I wasn't sure this post would help me with my current project, but it does have me thinking for sure! Thank you.

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    1. Thanks, Kerry - maybe some day it will come in handy? Good luck with your project! :-))

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  15. Your books look amazing! Excited to read them. Thank you for sharing your expertise and ideas with us!

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  16. Thanks so much, Denise. Hope it will be helpful at some point in your creative life.

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  17. I am so impressed with your books. That you for the video link to your newest one! It'll be interesting to try (as an author only) to try some of these ideas. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks! Many of the ideas can be useful to a writer too!

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  18. Love your detailed art. I'm amazed at your vast collection of books and the variety of games within them. You're so creative. You've given me new ideas to ponder. Thanks for that.

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    1. Hi Linda...Great! hope you have some creative fun...

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  19. What a fun way to draw the kids into a subject! Thanks for sharing.

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  20. Love this post. Thank you Roxie for describing how you approach structure and some of the fun devices that can be used to make books engaging.

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    1. Great, Lauri - see what you can do with them...

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  21. Fascinating! Thank you for encouraging us to think outside the box Roxie!

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  22. This is so timely for a revision I'm in the middle of, converting to a gaming vibe. Taking the hard to categorize review as a compliment, made me smile.

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    1. Ha! Yes, hope it is helpful or encouraging,to you.

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  23. Very interesting, thank you. I look forward to exploring your books!

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    1. Thanks, Jessica! The books are great fun to create.

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