5 Tips for Writing Fact-Based Picture Book Fiction
by Pamela Love
What do I mean by fact-based fiction? While obviously it’s not a “Once upon a time” fairy tale, I’m referring to something more specific. Unlike non-fiction, fact-based fiction uses story as the basis for relating information. It opens a window onto a different time or place. It allows a child to see an animal or person living his or her life. While staying true to the facts, it may include some invented incidents or characters. More than non-fiction, the emphasis is on showing, not telling.
Here are five tips for writing this type of picture book:
- Find a topic. Search the non-fiction shelves, adult and children’s, at the local library. Fascinating information about the past and nature is available. While reading a book about lighthouses, I learned that on one barren, weather-beaten rock off the coast of Maine, lighthouse keepers’ families planted a garden. This led to my picture book, Lighthouse Seeds. (Which was published by Down East Books, along with all of my other picture books listed below.)
- Limit your topic. It might be a day in the life, as in my book A Cub Explores, about a black bear cub. Or, it might be about one child participating in a specific activity, as in Lighthouse Seeds.
- Remember, it’s a picture book. Try to find a story with multiple good illustration possibilities. In my book A Moose’s Morning, moose are shown pushing down a tree, splashing in puddles, being startled by a grouse, and fleeing coyotes.
- Stick to the facts as far as possible. In this type of picture book, animals do not talk. In Lighthouse Seeds, I did invent a character who figured out how to grow flowers in a seemingly impossible location, but I used the method the keepers’ families, including children, did in real life. For any invented details or characters, see tip #5.
- Send additional material to the publisher. For animal stories, provide a list of “fun facts”. For example, in A Loon Alone, I noted that loons can fly and swim, but can’t walk. You may wish to suggest recent age-appropriate non-fiction books about your topic for interested children. Publishers often want to provide this type of information as end material. Furthermore, be sure to include your bibliography, along with a cover letter explaining where non-fiction leaves off and any invented details come in.
Additional examples of this type of book:
Little Burro, by Jim Arnofsky
That Book Woman, by Heather Henson
Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys, by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard
New Shoes, by Susan Meyer
Naming Liberty, by Jane Yolen
Pamela Love worked as a teacher and in marketing before becoming an author. You can see her Amazon page with her picture books and other writings by using this link: