Show Me the Back Matter!

I have a confession to make: I have a thing for back matter. As evidence, I present the following photograph:



This appeared in a brochure from The Loft Literary Center, which happens to be a fabulous local resource for readers and writers. What am I holding? The gorgeous picture book Water Can Be . . . by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija. But am I showing off any of the wonderful art? No! I’m delightedly sharing the book’s back matter.

Why the love for back matter? As a nonfiction editor, I’m pretty sure it comes with the territory. But more than that, I love what it can add to a book. Is every child going to read a book’s back matter? No, probably not. And that’s okay. It’s there for readers if they want it. I like to see back matter that includes a variety of elements that help to extend the appeal and the usefulness of the book to a wide range of ages. The back matter shouldn’t include anything that all readers absolutely must know–anything in that category needs to be in the main text. Instead, it should contain additional information that is somehow relevant, whether it’s a map, a timeline, an author’s note or illustrator’s note, a glossary, further reading, or something else. In the case of Water Can Be . . ., the page I’m showing has additional explanations of the rhyming couplets that make up the majority of the book’s main text. When working on a book’s back matter, I’m always asking myself, “what else would be helpful for a reader to know?”

Another confession: the back matter in every book I work on is different. This may be because my authors and I are ridiculously inconsistent. Or, as I prefer to believe, it’s because each book requires different back matter. Out of curiosity, I decided to do a little analysis of Millbrook’s fall 2016 picture books. (Because anyone who likes back matter surely also enjoys data analysis, right?!)

Et . . . voilà!



The book with the lowest word count for the main text is Plants Can’t Sit Still, at 255 words. 



The longest main text is Mind-Boggling Numbers, at 2,707 words. 



The shortest back matter is in The Alligator’s Smile, with 587 words. 



The longest is pretty much a tie between Like a Bird and Mind-Boggling Numbers, which are both just under 2,300 words.

While these four books make for a small sample size, you can see that there’s quite a range in terms of word counts. And that’s perfectly fine with me!

If any of our blog readers have opinions on back matter, I’d love to hear them! It’s a topic I expect I’ll be thinking about and talking about for many years to come.

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