Whether you’re writing about bears or Booker T. Washington, the first page of your nonfiction picture book plays an important role. Note that this is not the first page of your manuscript. This is the text that will become the first page of the published book.
The best way I know to learn how to write a winning first page is to study the first page of current nonfiction picture books. Listen to the voice and see how it establishes the pattern for the rest of the book. Evaluate how the art works together with the text to establish a sense of time and place.
Three Key Categories
I’ve noticed the first page of most nonfiction picture books can be divided up into three categories:
Category 1: The first page introduces the MC or topic.
Category 2: The first page introduces the MC’s or topic’s problem.
Category 3: The first page introduces something significant that helps set up the problem.
Have you ever stopped to notice how the cover of a picture book works closely with the first page? The cover of many nonfiction picture books can also be divided into the same three categories. Take for example, the following titles.
This nonfiction picture book falls into the first category and introduces the MC on the cover:
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill
This following nonfiction picture book falls into the second category where the MC’s problem is introduced on the cover:
Dirty Rats? by Darrin Lunde
The following falls into the third category where something significant that helps to set up the problem is introduced on the cover:
The Camping Trip That Changed America by Barb Rosenstock
One of our goals when we work on our own nonfiction picture book is to create a winning first page. And since a picture book’s cover works so closely with the first page, we also want to create a winning title. By studying the first page of current picture books and incorporating their winning strategies into our own, we’ll be well on our way to success.
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