of the reasons I love picture books, is because there is such a fantastic range
– from funny to heartfelt to educational and everything in between, there
really is something to suit every kind of writer. This Picture Book Den post is
going to focus on an exciting subgenre of picture books that feels particularly
popular at the moment, with just as much variety – narrative non-fiction
picture books. (Plus, there's an exciting cover reveal at the end!)


is a Narrative Non-fiction picture book?

like any strictly fictional text, a narrative non-fiction picture book is a story
first and foremost. There might be facts before the story (front matter), facts
at the end of the story (back matter), facts throughout… but the
primary focus is on engaging characters and a satisfying plot.

is different from illustrated non-fiction in a picture book format, where text
might be arranged by headings, subheading or chapters and can be read out of order.

are some of my current favourite examples of narrative non-fiction texts. As
you can see, there’s a massive range in style, presentation and topic:

Spacesuit (Alison Donald, Ariel Landy)

The Spacesuit is a narrative non-fiction picture book inspired by the
seamstresses who made the spacesuit for US astronauts in the Apollo
missions headed for the moon, based on the life of Ellie Foraker. It includes
timelines, fact boxes and facts intertwined in the narrative. Alison is also the
author of A Super Sticky Mistake – the story of how Harry Coover invented super glue –
another great narrative non-fiction picture book (illustrated by Rhea Zhai).

Amara and the Bats (Emma Reynolds)

In this narrative non-fiction text, environmental activism gets a
nocturnal twist! Amara and the Bats is Emma Reynold’s debut picture book as an
author-illustrator. It’s the story of
a little girl who loves bats and
is sad when she moves to a new town and finds that bats no longer live there
due to loss of habitat. She is inspired by real life youth climate activists to
take action and rallies her friends to save the bats! There are bat facts weaved in throughout the story, and lots of fantastic practical steps to take action and
help bats in the back, too.


All Saw A Cat (Brendan Wenzel)

They All Saw a Cat explores what a cat might look like from the
perspectives of various animals' points of view. It’s simple in delivery
but powerful in concept. I’ve never seen anything like it! There is no front
matter or back matter, but the illustrated way the animals perceive the cat is
true to life and really makes you think.

The Amazing Scientist Series (Julia Finley Mosca, D. Reiley, Brendan Wenzel) I’m crossing my fingers that this series of books keeps expanding. The texts explore some of the world’s most amazing female scientists. In addition to the facts there’s a complete biography, colourful timeline and a personal note from the featured artist. These ones are in rhyme, too.

Poo! Is That You? / Wee? It Wasn’t Me! (Clare Helen
Welsh, Nicola O’Byrne)

Here are two of my most recent narrative non-fiction texts. Lenny the Lemur is on
holiday, first in the Amazon and next in Alaska, when he comes across an unfortunate
problem that needs solving. He learns lots of interesting animal facts as he does. The
third in this mini-series is slime-based and will be publishing in 2022.

did Narrative Non-fiction come from?

The recent rise in narrative non-fiction appears to have come from the US,
where invention stories and biography picture books for 3-7yr olds are booming, but blending
fact and fiction together in picture book format is not new.

James’ books were a firm favourite in my classroom when I taught as an early
years teacher, especially Sally and the Limpet. It’s the story of a
little girl who gets a limpet stuck to her finger, and has a gentle message of
caring for sea creatures intertwined into a funny and fantastical tale.  Dear Greenpeace, also by Simon James, sees
the main character (and reader) learn about humpback whales all through letter
format. Again, there’s a lovely mix of fact and humour.

pretty certain narrative non-fiction wasn’t a ‘thing’ when these books
were made, but the advantage of adding subtle educational layers to picture
books has always been clear. It’s a real selling point for gatekeepers when a
text has the potential to impact on young readers long after the last
page has turned and when it can be used a springboard for future learning.


for writing Narrative Non-fiction:

Research – Once you have identified your narrative non-fiction
concept and suitable ‘way in’, next must come more detailed research. Whilst narrative
non-fiction is a story first and foremost, the facts still need to be accurate.
Use reliable, first-hand sources where possible, and try to back up each fact with
at least three pieces of credible research. It might be possible to link with
museums, organisations or contact family members.


of Facts
–Decide whether your facts are going
to be presented as fact boxes throughout, as front matter, back matter, an
author’s note, whether they will be interwoven into the narrative or a mixture
of these.

my funny Lenny stories, Poo! Is that you? and Wee? It Wasn’t Me!
the facts are incorporated into the character’s dialogue and reinforced with
fun facts at the end.


my lyrical non-fiction with Nosy Crow, the facts are interwoven into the
narrator voice and consolidated with facts in the back matter. It publishes 
next month and is illustrated by none other than the winner of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2019, Jenny Lovlie. The story follows a young Arctic tern as she embarks on her annual migration to the Southern hemisphere in search of an endless summer. Children can learn about lots of other animals that also leave their homes for an warmer one. You can take a look inside here: Take a look inside Time to Move South for the Winter - Nosy Crow

my re-imagining of Cinderella, inspired by the life and work of Lotte Reinger,
the factual content is presented in an author note at the end of the book. (Cover reveal at the end of this post!)

The Spacesuit by Alison Donald and Ariel Landy, the facts are intertwined with
the plot but also presented as fact boxes throughout.

Narrative non-fiction picture texts to look out for:

are some really exciting narrative non-fiction books on the horizon, some due
for publication soon. Here’s a look at a couple!

Bunny is a Yoga Bunny
is a funny,
reassuring picture book story about yoga, mindfulness and finding calm, from
debut author Emily Ann Davison and award-winning illustrator Deborah Allwright.
Yo-Yo is a fidgety, bouncy, can’t-sit-still-EVER type of bunny. Even Grandpa’s
yoga class won’t stop her wiggling and giggling! But when Yo-Yo finds herself
lost in the deep, dark, shadowy forest, maybe Grandpa’s yoga will help her find
the way home . . . With simple yoga step-by-step instruction in the narrative
and some poses at the end to practise, children can stretch, breathe and feel
calm with Yo-Yo.


And I hope it's ok to announce my real-life inspired story publishing this
November with Andersen Press. Described as
Cinderella meets paper-cutting, with a strong
feminist twist,’  
the story is based on the life and work of German film
director Lotte Reiniger.

‘Lotte doesn’t believe in happy endings. She lives
with her horrible, bossy sisters and her only friends are the exquisite cut-out
paper puppets she makes by the light of the moon. But when an invitation to the
Palace Spring Ball arrives on their doorstep, Lotte sees her chance to change
her life for ever...

This is a Cinderella re-imagining with a difference where forceful
individuality and talent create happy endings not fairy tale magic.
the story is fictional, it was inspired by a real life individual and features
an author note at the end. Laura Barrett, whose style is also inspired by Reiniger, is the very wonderful illustrator who has
done the most fantastic job bringing the text to life - the artwork is so detailed and there are some wonderful
surprises inside. Finally, here is her fantastic cover! 

Publishing 4th November 2021 - You can read and see more of Laura's beautiful artwork here Laura Barrett Illustration

you didn’t love narrative non-fiction picture books before, I hope you do now! Just like in fiction, there’s a huge range; poetic,
scientific, silly, serious – something for everyone!
Narrative non-fiction texts can cover subjects such as
biographies, inventions, events in history, animal adaptations, scientific
phenomenon… anything you feel passionate about and that you think would
entertain a child. Nothing is off limits if you can find the right age-appropriate angle.



BIO: Clare is a children's writer from Devon. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts - sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical. Her first book was published in 2015, and she currently has books in development with Little Tiger Press, Quarto, Andersen, Nosy Crow and MacMillan. Her next narrative non-fiction picture book, 'Time to Move South For Winter,' comes out in just a few weeks and has been illustrated by Jenny Lovlie. She also has her first book with Andersen, Scissorella, publishing in November, which is another life-inspired tale. It has been beautifully illustrated by Laura Barrett. You can find out more about Clare at her website or on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh.

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