Hi! I’m excited to be joining the merry band of picture book writers and illustrators on Picture Book Builders. Writing nonfiction is my thing, so I’ll be chatting about inspiring nonfiction picture books in my posts. And here we go!
Last week I was excited to find the new picture book, Feathers, Not Just for Flying at my local library. I’d been wanting to read this book for two reasons. First, it’s written by Melissa Stewart. I’ve admired her nonfiction books for many years, and she’s a science nerd—like me. Second, it’s published by Charlesbridge, one of my favorite publishing houses. The cover of this book is gorgeous. (Aren’t the feathers adorable?) And I love the scrapbook-type layout and soft colored backgrounds on the pages inside.
But it was the lovely, short text about the different things feathers do that really caught my attention. I often struggle with including too many details in my picture books, and I find myself constantly battling to keep my word count under 1000, so Melissa’s sparse text was refreshing. The seemingly simple text accomplishes so much! In under two hundred words, the book explains the many jobs feathers do, such as help birds float, sink, glide, walk, fly, and more, while comparing each type of feather to a familiar object. Genius! Each spread also contains a sidebar (or two) with more details about each type of feather or featured bird. More genius.
The main text of this book inspired me to consider ways I could create shorter, less-complex nonfiction stories. Although some topics require a longer word count for various reasons, I decided to see if I could take one of my works-in-progress and trim it to one sentence or less per spread, as Melissa had done in Feathers. I knew this would be difficult for “wordy” me, but I found some encouragement in the Author’s Note where Melissa explained she’d spent three years tinkering on her text. Three years on two hundred words! Her timetable made me feel better about the long years I’d spent editing my stories. So I set out to re-envision (not sure that’s a real word) one of my manuscripts as a shorter piece, and after several days, was pleased with the results. It isn’t ready to send to an editor, but this exercise forced me to think about the basics of my story and to mercilessly cut nonessential elements. More importantly, it got my brain thinking about my topic in a whole new way.
Nonfiction lovers’ side note—Melissa also created a wonderful Teacher’s Guide to accompany Feathers. Her guide includes student activities that address curriculum standards (Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards.) The genius continues!
I’ve noticed teachers and librarians really appreciate books which have activities that align with curriculum standards, particularly for titles with holiday tie-ins. After President’s Day last February I received enthusiastic emails from teachers about CCSS activities for my picture book, The House That George Built that one clever librarian posted on an IRA blog post and WebQuest. (The publisher also has a Teacher’s Guide.)
So now I’m wondering, have you found any unique, nonfiction picture books lately that have inspired you to re-envision your work-in-progress? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for stopping by!