Posted by: nancyisanders | December 17, 2013

Nonfiction Picture Book: Gather More Research

Okay…now it’s time to gather MORE research books for your nonfiction picture book that you’re writing. This time around we’ll be looking for scholarly tomes.

This time, look for current nonfiction reliable books for adults on your topic. One way to do this is to go to Go to search. Type in the name of your topic. Sort by publication date. Look at current titles that seem reliable and are getting good reviews.

Order in from the library 3-5 adult reference books on your topic.
Read at least one of these books this month, more if you want.

If you already have the books for adults that you need on your topic, or if you’re gathering new ones, just double check two things:

1) Check that you have at least one fairly current book with up-to-date research on your topic. This really adds reliability to your project.
2) Check that your books are not too controversial regarding the way they handle your topic or questionable about their research methods. One way to get a feel for this is read a few of the least favorable reviews of your books on Amazon. If a lot of people are offended by your book or blast it for poor research, I recommend looking for another book to use as your research.

Why? Because for one of the children’s books I wrote, I included a book in my list of research sources (the bibliography) that I knew was controversial, but I had read it to see what the “other” side of scholarly research was saying about my topic and therefore listed it in my research list. When my editor was looking for an endorsement for the book, one of our top choices refused to give my book an endorsement because I had included that book in my bibliography. Lesson learned.

Sure, if you’re writing a big scholarly research book, you might want to include controversial sources, but we’re not doing that here. We’re writing a picture book for kids. In the long run, it’s easier not to include controversial sources for your research (unless of course, you’re writing a controversial book for kids!).

So after you look for and find several adult books on your topic, go ahead and purchase 1-2 of these adult reference books to build your personal reference library. (Add these to your Christmas wish list, too!)

If you’re not sure which ones to purchase, wait until you actually start writing the picture book and see which of these books you find yourself gleaning from the most. Those will be the ones you want to keep.


  1. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks so much for doing this! If I can manage it, time wise, I’m going to try and follow along with you on this project.

    One question: I want to write a book about a person I heard about on a family trip to one of our national parks. This person hasn’t been written about at all for kids, as far as I can see, so the only sources I can find on him are his journal and several books, in which he is briefly mentioned, about the park itself. Do you think this is enough to base a PB on?

    Thanks again!


    • Hi Sara, glad you’re joining in on the fun! Your topic sounds exciting. Without the wide range of resources on your topic, the research might be a little more limited. Plus if his journal isn’t in the public domain, a question to ask is if you can get permission to use it in your manuscript. And also, it might be harder to experience breakthrough with a publisher who might want to publish a topic every kid learns about in school. HOWEVER!!!! If you’re excited about your topic and want kids to learn about it, go for it! I’ve written on a number of topics for kids that have only before been found in forgotten university libraries and it’s been a fantastic journey. Hope this helps!

      • Thanks for answering my question, Nancy. That helped a lot. It’s great that you’re sharing your knowledge in this way!

      • Hi again, Nancy–

        One more question about this. You said if his journal isn’t in the public domain, I must ask permission to use it in my manuscript. Perhaps this question shows my ignorance, but if the journal is posted in part online (on a national park site) and if it’s available for purchase through a national park bookstore, that would make it in the public domain, wouldn’t it? And then I would not need to ask permission?

        If so, would you only have to ask permission if the journal was part of a private collection, or something like that? I haven’t done much historical research, so this is a fuzzy area for me.

        Thanks again!

      • Hi Sara, Wow, these are good questions! And to be honest, I’m a little fuzzy on this stuff, too. I think it depends on how you use the journal in your book. You might want to contact the publisher who published it to make it available in the bookstore. I just know that in the past when I’ve wanted to quote journals or diaries or letters and have found them on certain websites such as the Boston Public Library or part of a university’s collection, I just try to err on the safe side. I like to actually contact someone in the rights and permissions department and have them let me know how to handle it. And then after they tell me, I try to get them to repeat it in an e-mail to me so I have written proof.

      • Good to know. I’m learning so much from this!

  2. I was wondering why we are purchasing the books for our permanent library. Should this only be if we are planning to write other books on the same topic. Otherwise, I would think that just borrowing the books would be okay…please clarify.

    • Hi Rona, this is an awesome question!!!! There are MANY benefits to purchasing your key research books on your topic. Here are the top 2:
      1) Since you’re writing a BOOK manuscript, the editorial process is lengthy. It may be a year or two in the future by the time an editor asks you to verify something. You’ll have your key research books on your shelf and can find it immediately. And then, after your book is published, it may be a year or two beyond that when a reader contacts your editor and claims to be an expert on your topic and claims that your book is wrong. Once again, you can quickly pull out your key research books and verify your facts. I’ve had both scenarios happen more than once. And after I pointed out my research sources, my editor got back in touch with the “expert” reader and the reader apologized and said my book was actually write, he was mistaken.

      2) Nonfiction takes so much research, always, always, always plan on re-using the research you’ve taken so much time to dig up. After you write your picture book manuscript, plan on writing a children’s magazine article on your same broad topic but a different angle. Then after that, plan on posting info on your blog about it and writing a beginning reader about it and a reader’s theater play about it to sell on The key is to always just write on a different angle about your broad topic.

      For more information about building up your own research library as a children’s writer, read Section 3.4 Your Personal Research Library in my how-to book for children’s writers, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career.

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