Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Behind the Books: Organization Includes More than You Think

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been discussing the role of structure and design in crafting nonfiction. This week my topic is organization.

Any good nonfiction title includes:
• An inviting introduction that engages the reader and gives clues about what’s to come.
• Thoughtful transitions that link key points and ideas.
• Sequencing that is logical, purposeful, and effective.
• A satisfying ending that wraps everything up, yet leaves the reader with something to wonder about.

Books that do an especially good job with these four criteria include Quest for the Tree Kangaroo by Sy Montgomery, If Stones Could Speak by Marc Aronson and Mike Parker Perason, and Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs by Kathleen Kudlinski.

Some books take organization a step further. For instance, some books arrange information in a way that creates a circle story. In other words, the ending brings readers back to the point where the book began. Examples include Redwoods by Jason Chin, Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre, The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe by Loree Griffin Burns, and my own book Under the Snow.

In Mosquito Bite, Alexandra Siy features dual storylines. One story line describes a child’s encounter with a mosquito while playing hide-and-seek at dusk. This story is illustrated with black and white photos. The second story line, illustrated with stunning, full-color micrographs tells the mosquito’s side of the story. In the end, readers probably still won’t like mosquitoes very much, but at least they’ll understand why the pesky insects bite us—they can’t lay their eggs without a dose of protein from mammalian blood.

Can you think of other trends in organization or related ideas I haven’t considered? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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