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.
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/