Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Back Matter: A Chance to Be More Than a Story, Guest Post by Beth Anderson

Today we have a guest post by author Beth Anderson, who recently had a new picture book biography released, CLOAKED IN COURAGE: UNCOVERING DEBORAH SAMPSON, PATRIOT SOLDIER, illustrated by Anne Lambelet, published by Calkins Creek. I, (Tina Cho), love learning more about the writing craft from Beth. Today she teaches us about back matter. 

For readers, back matter can be scary. Dense paragraphs covering page after page. UGH. Even an author, NF fan, and former educator like me has to admit to sometimes closing the book rather than committing to all that “grown up” text at the end of a gorgeous picture book experience. I know it’s where the author shares lots of great stuff that didn’t fit in the story….but, there’s always the potential of a gigantic info dump. Too much deters. What’s important? What will enhance the story you’ve told? What might answer questions arising from the text? What will invite more thought and exploration?

Creating Back Matter for CLOAKED IN COURAGE

As I wrote CLOAKED IN COURAGE: UNCOVERING DEBORAH SAMPSON, PATRIOT SOLDIER, so much of what I was doing was trying to sort out facts from fiction. Her story had been corrupted early on by one man’s desire to make her into his version of a heroine. And much of that misinformation was carried forward in other sources. One source, Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier by Alfred Young, focused on that process of finding the truth, and his historical detective skills were as fascinating as Sampson’s story. So, when it came to back matter, I knew I wanted to share some of that process and my learning with students and educators—some tips along with a few challenges of being a history detective. That choice has resulted in positive comments from reviewers and readers. And I hope it becomes a teaching tool in the classroom.

“The Challenge of Being a History Detective”

It all begins with the Google search, right? In researching colonial times, it helps to know that there was no standard spelling. (See AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET for that story for kids. 😊 ) Sampson’s name was originally spelled SAMSON. Other names in the story also had multiple spellings. So with that understanding, your access and search widens.

 Then I shared some examples of primary sources. They’re “golden” but can’t be blindly trusted as 100% truth. Critical thinking is essential. I offered some thoughts on the value of secondary sources and went into setting. In the classroom, setting is defined as “time and place,” but I wanted students to think about all that involves for a book like CLOAKED IN COURAGE. I provided specifics such as Continental Army life, using disguises, traditions, and media influence. Also, the importance of trying to understand the meaning of what we learn within the context of the times, not today’s world.

Finally, I provided transparency with some notes about the details in the story that are in question, and that there is so much we can never know. Reading about how the public reacted to her, we know that Deborah Sampson tested the tolerance of her time. She broke barriers, and those courageous actions had a lasting impact. While the book was in the publication process, Congress passed a bill providing protections for female soldiers and veterans—The Deborah Sampson Act. We added that to the back matter because including connections to today helps bring relevance and meaning to stories from the past.

 And there’s more! The back matter in CLOAKED IN COURAGE contains an Author’s Note, which allows kids to see the writer’s personal connection to the story. The Bibliography might be a bit more interesting considering the history detective information. I’m a big fan of quotes and love to include one from or about the main character to give a stronger sense of the person. In this book, I shared a quote about Deborah Sampson from her pension approval signed by John Hancock, someone kids encounter in the basic history of the time. And of course, Acknowledgments—Thank You’s are important in any endeavor, and readers see that it is indeed a collaborative effort.

A Bit on the Benefits of Back Matter

·       For young readers and listeners: extends interest in a book over time, sparks curiosity, enriches story.

·       For teachers: becomes a teaching tool, supports curriculum, adds a higher reading level and different types of text, can support English Language Learners and struggling readers with graphic elements.

·       For publishers: increases range and potential for marketability, can catch reviewers’ eyes.

·       For authors: adds value to your submission, shares more of the story, can be the starting point for a school presentation.

Making Back Matter Inviting

To invite young readers in think about: “density” of text; short sections; graphics, images, and engaging visuals; interactive pieces such as Q&A or search & find.

To support educators consider: What might connect to curriculum or support classroom skills? Further resources are handy. Author’s (and illustrator’s) Notes contribute to understanding objectives like “author’s purpose” and “author’s point of view.” A variety of information formats can expand literacy skills.

 Transparency: Truth matters. Share inconsistencies in research and fictional elements to encourage critical thinking.


More Ideas for Back Matter

Afterword, Words to Know/Glossary, Timeline, Diagrams, Activities, Call to action, Letters, Crafts, Recipes, Experiments, Fun Facts, and Photographs of people, places, processes, realia, etc.  Please feel free to share more ideas in the comments!

 Thank you so much, Beth! And here's my little review of Cloaked in Courage.

Another fantastic picture book biography from Beth Anderson, illustrated by Anne Lambelet, about Deborah Sampson, secret patriot soldier, who used her rebel spirit to push boundaries for women. Never giving up, she accomplished all that she set out to do and more. Beautiful illustrations accompany this riveting text. Impressive back matter explains the usage of primary and secondary sources and how Anderson composed a story using little and conflicting information about her. 

Beth Anderson, a former educator, has always marveled at the power of books. Driven by curiosity and a love for words, she writes untold tales, hoping to inspire kids to laugh, ponder, and question. She’s the award-winning author of CLOAKED IN COURAGE, FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE, REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT, TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE, “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT!, and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET. Beth has more historical picture books on the way.  
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