Poetic non-fiction picture books such as the Natural Wonder series are part of the genre of Narrative Non-Fiction, a recent hybrid using a wide range of literary elements to build its story core.
This newer genre of literature takes the literary and illustrative techniques that are generally used by fiction-writers and picture-book creators and puts these devices to work within a factual framework. So first and foremost, the story is key. To tell any story well, we need to use the best techniques at hand – plot, character development, voice, tension, shape, theme… But remember, this is without making anything up; characters and events, settings… they’re all real, unimagined. It’s just that the approach itself is imaginative.
Like all artists in our society, narrative non-fiction writers and illustrators must begin with the idea. Not just any idea, no. The idea must have resonance, it must have an emotional pull, it must amaze us and lead us to want to know more. Within the real world there are a multitude of stories like this to draw upon, indeed we’re spoilt for choice: the human condition and the natural world never cease to surprise us. So that’s the start.
Then a structure must be found for the information to be presented. We can never show or describe everything there is to know about any particular topic, but by sharing information in interesting ways, we can build a larger, more intimate picture around any topic area, and engage our readers in appreciation, curiosity, an expanded view, shifting perspectives. Well-chosen details, sensitively presented, create empathy and the pull of information for the reader.
Ultimately the book must be clear and concise, and must do justice to the topic at hand. Both images and words must be chosen carefully as any poet or artist; and these must be strung together artfully to give resonance, and to convey meaning and emotion. This is the essential intent of these non-fiction picture books, as with any work of art – to connect. We want to know and connect with our world, we want it to matter; and most of all, we want to care.