By Peggy Thomas
Look on agents’ and editors’ wish lists and you’ll notice that middle grade nonfiction is in demand. Maybe now is the time to rethink that bothersome picture book biography that refuses to cooperate.
Maybe there’s a reason. Perhaps the subject matter is too complex for a young reader, or too exciting to be crammed into a tight 32 pages. If you want to upgrade to middle grade, here is a tip for you: Write your back matter.
All the tidbits that are important enough to be placed in the back matter is now necessary for your narrative. The family members you excised from the subject’s life can now make an appearance. Background history, what was happening at the time your subject was alive, can be woven in.
You still need to maintain a tight focus, however. This isn’t a license to pile on trivia. Instead, think about layering pertinent information and building a knowledge base for your reader. Picture book writers are stone sculptors chipping away material to reveal their story. Middle grade writers work in clay, carefully adding layers of information to create an accurate portrayal.
For example, here is a rough outline of key points in my picture book bio, Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car.
Drawing on information from my back matter, I could add information about his family, historical background of the times and of Ford’s success, key people who helped in his research, things related to his research including activities, and the future of Ford and soybeans.
Of course, this info would be woven in where needed, but this slide gives you an idea of how to build on a subject and still maintain the focus, which in this case is Ford’s soybean research.
So, give it a try. I’ll be back with more tips for writing middle grade nonfiction. Long may it live!
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