Nonfiction Picture Books: Writing, Research and Formatting Woes

Where in the Wild: Ear-tickling Poems by David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy, Eye-tricking Photos by Dwight Kuhn
This book conceals the sidebar text under page-sized flaps that also conceal the solution to each “hidden animal” picture puzzle.

Lately I’ve been working on a new nonfiction picture book.  As anyone who has ever tried to write a nonfiction picture book knows, the amount of work can seem overwhelming. There’s the writing but before that there’s the research.

My book is on prayer and it didn’t take long before my market research revealed that there is absolutely nothing on the market like what I have envisioned.  And that’s part of the problem.  I know a lot about prayer, I’m currently teaching a class on prayer, so I roughed out the manuscript without doing any research.  My first readers responded well to the topic and had plenty of useful suggestions.

But when I sat down work on the next draft, I was stumped.  This is a dual text picture book — there is a brief main text for younger children and a much more elaborate text that will appear in sidebars on each spread.  How do you format something like that?  Needless to say, I let this ridiculous question bring progress to a halt.  I want the reader (editor or critique buddy) to be able to tell which portions are the main text but I don’t want to put all the sidebars at the end of the manuscript.

Fortunately, I recognized this for the stall tactic that it was and got busy writing.  My goal is one spread/day and so far I’ve completed 5 or 6 spreads.

How did I solve my formatting dilemma?  The the time being (and this is solution #2 so it may be very temporary), the main text is in normal type and the sidebars are italicized.

For more on writing nonfiction picture books and why you might want to write a book with dual texts, see my post yesterday at the Muffin.