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.
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.
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.
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
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.