Why I Love Nonfiction Picture Books

I love to read nonfiction picture books and the reason may surprise you.

As a kid, I was as interested in history as I was in learning to bake the perfect muffin in home economics class. Not! In the eons before home computers, internet, and narrative nonfiction, history meant dry, boring text books, and pop quizzes. Eewww! If I needed to find out what year Teddy Roosevelt was born (most likely because of a required book report,) I required a card catalog and glossary to find it. It was all just facts. Blah, blah, blah.

Not so today. Kids and adults can digest a smorgasborg of information about almost any subject through the internet. But we have narrative nonfiction authors to thank for turning all the facts into story form. I’ve read my share of lengthy scholarly tomes but, frankly, there’s not always time to invest in them and even the greatest historical works can lull me to sleep.

I dedicated most of 2010 to studying nonfiction picture books because that’s the genre I’m currently writing. (Check out my summer 2010 blog posts for a peek.) I was studying structure, voice, theme, story arcs, etc. Picture book biographies are short, tightly focused, and aimed at introducing the essence of a subject. It takes an enormous amount of research and time to craft a compelling picture book. Bravo to the authors who have succeeded!

As a reader, I love nonfiction picture books because they make me feel smarter without a huge investment of time. They are the perfect bite-sized taste of a subject. And, when social conversations spur historical reference, I’ve got ready-made material to contribute:  Did you know George Washington had no teeth? Did you ever hear of the horse, Goliath, credited with stopping the 1904 Baltimore fire? Did you know there was a slave who mailed himself to Philadelphia to be free? Have you ever heard of the ballet of elephants? Did you ever hear the bet behind Dr. Seus’ Cat in the Hat story?  Did you ever hear of the French Fartiste? Do you know how the potato chip was invented? Did you ever hear about Teddy Roosevelt ditching his secret servicemen to camp in Yosemite?

Did you ever hear… No? Well, let me tell you a story.