KidLit Nonfiction Beyond Picture Book Biographies

Earlier this month, I hosted an SCBWI Rockford Network guest speaker who really resonated with me. Michael Leali, the Children’s Department Manager for Anderson’s Bookshop in La Grange, presented Beginning at the End: Informing Today’s Writing By Considering the Future Bookstore Shelf. Michael gave us a behind the scenes look at what’s flying off the bookstore shelves, what customers want but can’t find, and how that information can help writers craft first lines and first pages that hook a reader.

The item that most surprised me: nonfiction picture book biographies are still hot, hot, hot in bookstores. Last October at my Highlights retreat, I learned they’re equally hot with nonfiction writers. To the agents and editors I’ve spoken with recently – they’re not.

An interesting dynamic occurs within the publishing industry. Agents and editors acquire picture book manuscripts two years ahead of the bookstore release. If picture book biographies are flying off the shelves now, there are likely another two years worth of books in production. The acquisitions market can already be saturated while the trend is still hot at the bookstore.

I’ve heard hints that the next big thing in KidLit nonfiction is non-biography STEM Narrative Nonfiction. I struggled to picture what that engineering picture book might look like.

What came to mind first: Fiction engineering picture books.Rosie Revere, EngineerMade by MaxinePop's BridgeBuilders and Breakers

Look at That Building!: A First Book of Structures (Exploring Our Community)







Looking through my collection of engineering nonfiction picture books, it quickly became apparent I’m biased toward structural engineering and bridges. I found . . .

Informational Texts (which are nonfiction books without a narrative story):Superstats: Mega StructuresBridges: Amazing Structures to Design, Build & Test (Kaleidoscope Kids)Simple Machines (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)Fantastic Feats and FailuresThe World's Most Amazing Bridges (Landmark Top Tens)

Nonfiction Biographies:

Gustave Eiffel's Spectacular Idea: The Eiffel Tower (The Story Behind the Name)Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

Nonfiction Biographies of a Structure Instead of a Person:The Brooklyn Bridge: The story of the world's most famous bridge and the remarkable family that built it. (Wonders of the World Book) Brooklyn BridgeYou Wouldn't Want to Work on the Brooklyn Bridge!: An Enormous Project That Seemed ImpossibleTwenty-One Elephants and Still StandingSky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building

And now for the hot new acquisitions trend:

Non-Biography STEM Narrative Nonfiction!


Baby Loves Structural Engineering! (Baby Loves Science) A Book of Bridges: Here To There and Me To You

That’s it. I only own two non-biography narrative nonfiction books about engineering, and one is a board book for very young readers.

The Highlights vow I previously blogged was refined: I must write a non-biography STEM narrative nonfiction picture book.

After my Highlights workshop, I also took a six-week online class through The Writing Barn. Beyond Biographies: Creative Nonfiction & Informational Fiction Picture Books by Miranda Paul.

If you ever have a chance to attend one of Miranda’s classes – take it! She really helped me understand what a non-biography narrative nonfiction picture book is and gave me the tools to start writing one. I recommend reading lots of these picture books to get a feel for the wide range of formats and tones that can be used. None of the class example books were about structural engineering, which gives me an exciting market gap to play in. There were many great STEM examples using other areas of science and math:

Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks PlanetWater Is Water: A Book About the Water CycleA Hundred Billion Trillion StarsSeven and a Half of Tons of SteelTiny Creatures: The World of Microbes (Read and Wonder (Paperback))


I already have two non-biography STEM narrative nonfiction story ideas coming to life. Of course they are both about structural engineering.

How about you?



About Jennifer Kay

Jennifer Kay is a KidLit author and Structural Engineer. She has a VCFA MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, is an SCBWI Rockford Network Rep, edits the SCBWI IL Prairie Wind, and belongs to Mystery Writers of America. Jennifer works as a writer, freelance editor, literary agency reader, and creative writing teacher.
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