by Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books
Last summer as we were making the final tweaks to our Spring 2021 picture books before they went off to the printer, I was struck by the fascinating range of back matter found in these six books. But what exactly is back matter and why does it, well, matter?
In the broadest sense, the back matter comes after the rest of a book’s text and elaborates upon or gives additional detail about a key part of the main text. In a picture book, the back matter often delves into ideas that are too complex to fully address in the main text. You might find a timeline, an author’s note, an illustrator’s note, photographs, a glossary, suggested further reading, or all kinds of other components.
So which elements are right for a given book? Well, it depends on the book. The back matter is not the place for an author to include everything they couldn’t fit in the main text, and I do not believe that the best back matter is necessarily the longest back matter. Instead, the right elements are those that enhance the reading experience and add to our understanding of whatever it is the book is about.
And with that, I’d like to highlight some of the elements found in the back matter of our Spring 2021 picture books.
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustratrated by Floyd Cooper
An author’s note or illustrator’s note can be a great place to include a creator’s personal connection to a book’s subject matter. These connections are one of the most memorable elements in the back matter for Unspeakable, which also includes further information about Tulsa’s history, the massacre itself, other so-called race riots, present-day efforts to locate graves of the victims, and both historical and current photos.
Editor’s Note: The Educator’s Guide for Unspeakable includes ways to incorporate these notes into lesson plans for that book!
by Katey Howes, illustrated by Jess Engle
What’s back matter doing in a fictional, rhyming picture book?! I’ve noticed over the past few years that the right back matter can enhance fictional picture books just as it enhances nonfiction. The main character in Rissy No Kissies is a young lovebird who does not like to be kissed and has to find a way to communicate this to family and friends. The back matter includes a page for kids and a page for adults, both of which touch on boundaries, body autonomy, and consent.
by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Natasha Donovan
This picture book biography has multifaceted back matter, including a detailed timeline, photos of Mary Golda Ross, an author’s note, and a selected bibliography. It also includes Cherokee translations of four values that guided Ross’s life and are an integral part of the text. What’s more, audio recordings of these values are available on Traci Sorell’s website.
by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Sija Hong
The universe is vast. But how can a book convey this vastness to kids? The back matter in Beyond includes a list of places featured in the main text (the Oort cloud, Proxima b, the Orion Nebula, and more) and how long a letter sent from Earth and traveling at the speed of light would take to arrive. (It’s a whopping 1,300 years to the Orion Nebula!) In addition, the book includes an author’s note and illustrator’s note; suggestions for related books, websites, and videos; and a substantial bibliography.
by Scott Riley, illustrated by Ngyuen Quang and Kim Lien
This nonfiction picture book tells the story of Prasit Hemmin who, along with a group of boys on the island of Koh Panyee, built a floating soccer field in 1986. Along with an author’s note and several photos of the island, Prasit himself contributed a brief note sharing his perspective. Plus, there’s a list of Thai soccer terms with pronunciations, suggested further reading, and a bibliography.
by Roberta Gibson, illustrated by Anne Lambelet
This book features an awesome, full-spread diagram of a larger-than-life fly with further information about all the various body parts mentioned in the text. (Do YOU know how spiracles work?) It also includes a glossary and a suggested activity in which kids can build their own insect using common craft supplies.
And there you have it! I hope that much like a reader might feel smarter and better informed after finishing the back matter in a picture book, you now feel smarter and better informed about back matter after reading this blog post.
And if you’ve come across picture books you think have particularly fabulous back matter, please mention them in the comments!