Posted by: nancyisanders | January 18, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book: Welcome to My World

Just a little background on one of the reasons I decided to focus on writing an 800-word nonfiction picture book here on my blog. A main reason is that I’ve been working on some nonfiction and historical fiction picture books about American History. Why? Because these books are hot right now and it seems like there’s a little bit better of a chance for us as writers to break into the picture book market if we write a nonfiction or historical fiction picture book about American History rather than just write another fiction picture book manuscript.

So I have a certain method I’ve been using to do these, and I thought it would be fun to share the steps and strategies I take. Plus, many of you requested this topic as one we’d focus on right now here on my blog.

I originally wrote a picture book about John and Abigail Adams.

I followed the same basic steps I’m having you follow right now:

• First I found several picture books on American History I wanted to follow the format of.
o That’s why I had you read the 3 picture books The Camping Trip That Changed America, Those Rebels, John & Tom, So You Want to Be President. These are the books we want to follow the format of when we write our picture books right now.

• Next I brainstormed topics on American History that were big and well known and I came up with John and Abigail Adams. I figured they were a “top 100” topic every kid learns about.

The homework you did was based on the steps I took next:
• I ordered every book I could find from my library about John and Abigail Adams.
• I ordered in tons on John.
• I ordered in tons on Abigail
• I ordered in tons on both of them in the same book.
• I just googled them and searched through Amazon using the advanced search and then I ordered in as many as I could from my local library and then I started to read them.

• After the books started flooding in (I had to use Jeff’s card, too, because I went over my 30 book limit, and it was pretty easy to pick the best books I wanted to actually use as my reference books. There was a big difference between the quality of info among them.
• Plus I really got a general feel for the lives of my main characters.

The homework you did after that was based on the steps I took next:
I picked several adult books to use as my reference including one on John and one on Abigail, plus I picked some primary sources which were letters I found online that they wrote. Primary sources are always a huge plus, not necessary to read them all but to look up key words in an index and find places to support your facts.

Then I watched the HBO miniseries, John Adams, to get a more emotional sense and more sensory details of that era.

After I wrote the manuscript for that picture book, I started the entire process over again to write more nonfiction and historical fiction picture books. Right now I’m writing a nonfiction picture book about Abraham Lincoln as I follow along on these steps.

The reason I took such length to explain all this is because the things we’ll be discussing during this picture book journey are steps I actually take to write these nonfiction and historical fiction picture books on American History.

These steps aren’t just a bunch of exercises thrown together, this is what I actually do when I want to prepare a manuscript to submit to my agent.

And before we move on, if you don’t yet know exactly what a picture book is, look it up online or in my first 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. In this book I have an entire section on picture books. On pages 216-217 I give a brief breakdown of the various kinds of picture books.

In my next post we will start exploring how to structure your nonfiction picture book.


  1. This has been a really useful series, Nancy. I have a couple of people in mind to write about, but haven’t gotten very far in the research process. I am still gathering sources. I will be revisiting these posts as I continue on this process. Thanks.

  2. Nancy, I’ve been working on a NF PB since August. I feel like I could have saved a lot of time had you done this series earlier. I will definitely consult this series before I write my next one! Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  3. I love that you are doing this. I want to write non-fiction books for children covering African Americans who have contributed to our history that may not be so well known. Would this process work for this subject matter?

    • Oh yes, of course, Kristi! Your idea sounds wonderful!!!!!

      • Thanks. I plan to buy your book very soon. Probably this next week.

      • I hope you find it very, very helpful!!!!

      • I will post my reviews as well. ;o)

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