Tuesday, July 23, 2013


There's never been a more exciting time to be writing nonfiction books for children. That's because nonfiction books need to be just as good at grabbing kid's and making them want to keep turning the pages as fiction. I always add that I want my nonfiction books to be ones kids want to read more than once just the way they would a favorite fiction book.  That's why I like to make my nonfiction books discovery experiences on more than one level: the fact-based story is key (and I usually make it have the appeal of an adventure); next there are the photos and captions that can be explored separately as well as within the story. And I pack some more opportunities to explore and discover in the Back Matter.

There are three main types of nonfiction books for children. I'll share some of my books as examples of each of these so you can dig into them at your leisure and get a better feel for each type.

Survey Books--These provide an overview of a topic. 

Bats: Biggest! Littlest! (Boyds Mills Press, 2013) introduces children to different kinds of bats using the hook that being big or little or having big or little parts is an adaptation for survival.

Growing Up Wild: Bears (Atheneum, 2000) introduces children to different kinds of bears while also sharing the general life cycle of bears.

Tough, Toothy Baby Sharks (Walker, 2007) provides children with a look at different kinds of sharks focusing on juveniles and how they have special adaptations for survival.

Concept Books--These share an animal's life cycle or a special concept. 

How Many Baby Pandas (Walker, 2011) shares the Giant Panda's life cycle and presents the concept of why this animal is endangered. It also introduces efforts to protect and expand the population of Giant Pandas.

Animals Marco Polo Saw (Chronicle, 2009) introduces children to this historic explorer's life and achievements. It takes the special approach of sharing how the explorer was helped along the by different animals and how he discovered never-before-seen species.

Specialized Nonfiction Books--These dig deep into scientists at work and key science advancements, research, and issues needing further research.

The Great Monkey Rescue (Millbrook/Lerner, 2015) shares the work of teams of scientists and volunteers around the world working to save golden lion tamarins. And they do it in a very creative way

This book is for young children and it's 32 pages long.

Once you decide what kind of nonfiction book you'll write, you need to know what to include.  For young children (ages 4-8 years), you should plan on your book being 32 or 40 pages long.  For older elementary-aged children (ages 8-12 or 14 years), plan on your book being 48 or 64 pages long.

These first graders are showing their enthusiasm for my book What If You Had Animal Teeth?

Your book will include the main story or information. Start with an introduction that grabs attention. Have the story or information unfold page-by-page or in short chapter. Then wrap up with a conclusion that summarizes the key points and leave the reader feeling satisfied.

You may also want to include these features:

  • Glossary--New vocabulary words introduced in the text.
  • More Information Section--Books and websites children can use to learn more about your topic.
  • Author's Note--What inspired you to write this book or some personal connection you have to the story.
  • Index--This is usually only in longer books for older students to help them quickly locate information.

This is a two-page spread from How Many Baby Pandas?

Before you start writing, think about the layout of your book.  After I research my book, I always think about how the book will look. By that I mean how each spread--the lefthand and righthand page--will look together. And I consider what children will see and discover by reading that spread. That helps the book flow well and give the book a feeling of completeness. That's really something a nonfiction book shares with a fiction one. The child reading it wants to settle into the book (the introduction) and feel at home in the world it shares. Then the reader wants an adventure or to discover something. Finally, the reader wants to feel there's an ending. The big difference between fiction and nonfiction is that many times readers are challenged to use what they read. They might help save an animal, improve the world, or realize they've discovered the career they want for their lives.

I love to get fan photos! She loves Butterfly Tree (Peachtree Publishers, 2011)

So just like a fiction book, today's nonfiction books for children can inspire and change lives. You could do that!!

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