I have a confession to make: I have a thing for back matter. As evidence, I present the following photograph:
This appeared in a brochure from The Loft Literary Center, which happens to be a fabulous local resource for readers and writers. What am I holding? The gorgeous picture book Water Can Be . . . by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija. But am I showing off any of the wonderful art? No! I'm delightedly sharing the book's back matter.
Why the love for back matter? As a nonfiction editor, I'm pretty sure it comes with the territory. But more than that, I love what it can add to a book. Is every child going to read a book's back matter? No, probably not. And that's okay. It's there for readers if they want it. I like to see back matter that includes a variety of elements that help to extend the appeal and the usefulness of the book to a wide range of ages. The back matter shouldn't include anything that all readers absolutely must know--anything in that category needs to be in the main text. Instead, it should contain additional information that is somehow relevant, whether it's a map, a timeline, an author's note or illustrator's note, a glossary, further reading, or something else. In the case of Water Can Be . . ., the page I'm showing has additional explanations of the rhyming couplets that make up the majority of the book's main text. When working on a book's back matter, I'm always asking myself, "what else would be helpful for a reader to know?"
Another confession: the back matter in every book I work on is different. This may be because my authors and I are ridiculously inconsistent. Or, as I prefer to believe, it's because each book requires different back matter. Out of curiosity, I decided to do a little analysis of Millbrook's fall 2016 picture books. (Because anyone who likes back matter surely also enjoys data analysis, right?!)
Et . . . voilà!
The book with the lowest word count for the main text is Plants Can't Sit Still, at 255 words.
The longest main text is Mind-Boggling Numbers, at 2,707 words.
The shortest back matter is in The Alligator's Smile, with 587 words.
The longest is pretty much a tie between Like a Bird and Mind-Boggling Numbers, which are both just under 2,300 words.
While these four books make for a small sample size, you can see that there's quite a range in terms of word counts. And that's perfectly fine with me!
If any of our blog readers have opinions on back matter, I'd love to hear them! It's a topic I expect I'll be thinking about and talking about for many years to come.