carmenoliver (carmenoliver) wrote,

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Endings and Beginnings in Nonfiction Picture Books

 I’ve talked about the importance of Picture Book First Pages and Beginnings before, but I thought it might be revealing to take a look at the endings of stories and see what we can gleam from them in how it informs our beginnings.

Let’s look at a couple of nonfiction picture books and see if the ending has any correlation to how the author starts the story. This is how Barbara Kerley ends What To Do About Alice? illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. The lines below are from the last page in the book not including the author’s note.

And Father?
Even after he left the presidency,
He remained one of the country’s most popular politicians, leading
Americans in times of hardship and prosperity.
But there was one problem that Theodore Roosevelt never quite solved…
What to do about Alice?
Here is the beginning of the book spread over 6 pages, two page turns:

Theodore Roosevelt had a small problem. (page 1-2)
It wasn’t’ herding thousands of cattle across the Dakota badlands. He’d done that.
It wasn’t leading the rough riders as they charged up Kettle Hill. He’d done that, too. (end of page 3-4)
He’d bagged a grizzly bear, captured outlaws, governed the state of New York, and served as vice president of the United States, and still he had a problem. Her name was Alice.
Alice Lee Roosevelt was hungry to go places, meet people, do things.
Father called it “Running Riot.”
Alice called it “eating up the world.” (end of page 5-6)
So what can we ascertain from the ending that informs our beginning? Well, for one, the book ends with Theodore and Alice. But the big thing that stands out to me is that it answers the question that is being asked at the beginning of the story. Readers discover that Theodore never does solve his problem. The book comes full circle. It starts with a question and ends with a question. So when we’re writing our nonfiction stories does it help to know your ending? Sure. Absolutely.

What is it that you want your reader to know or take away from your nonfiction book? What is the question you want answered in the telling of your tale? What do you want to leave readers with? The taste left in their mouth to savor? Satisfying and rewarding.

Let’s look at another example this time from The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton, illustrations by Tony Persiani.

Ending prior to Author’s Notes and questions.

When they were growing up, Bob and Joe Switzer wanted different things. Bob wanted to make his fortune by becoming a doctor, and Joe wanted to make his mark on the world through magic. At first it may seem that neither brother ended up where he wanted to be. But in that darkened basement, the Switzer brothers began to look at the world in a different light.

One brother wanted to save lives.
The other brother wanted to dazzle crowds.
With Day-Glo, they did both.
Beginning over 7 pages, two page turns:

Even if they’d wanted to, the ancient Egyptians couldn’t have painted their pyramids a green that glowed in the desert sun. Back in 2600 BCE, there was no such color.

A glowing orange Statue of Liberty might have made coming to America even more memorable. But when Lady Liberty was assembled in 1886, that color wasn’t an option.
(end of page 2-3)

And in 1920, if young Bob and Joe Switzer had thought their family’s Montana cottage would look better with a yellow glow, they would have been out of luck, too. But not for long. After all, it was the Switzer brothers themselves who would soon bring those eye-popping yellows, oranges, and green into the world. It would just take a few bright ideas.
(end of page 4-5)

The Switzer brothers’ illuminating tale begins with Bob, born in 1914. From early on, Bob loved to work. He earned money shoveling snow, picking beets, and using a souped-up Model T Ford to round up wild horses. Bob wasn’t just a worker; he was a planner, too. One summer he saved his money to pay for a ride in the open cockpit of a stunt plane at the fair in Billings.

Joe, younger by fifteen months, exerted himself a lot less than his older brother—practicing magic tricks was more his speed. With his knack for sleight of hand, he made metal rings and playing cards seem to disappear and reappear.
Joe also had a problem-solving streak. His dad had kidney trouble and a bad back, so Joe rigged a mirror allowing Mr. Switzer to lie down at the back of his drugstore and still watch for customers coming through the front door.
(end of page 6-7)
One thing that jumps out for me in both books is that the ending sums up the beginning. Author Chris Barton ends his book full circle summarizing the beginning and he answers a question. A question the author wants his readers to know by the end of the story. Did the Switzer boys accomplish what they set-out to do? And by the end of the story, we've also learned how the Switzer brothers brought Day-Glo colors to the world. Something Barton leads us to believe, we'll gain after reading the story. An implied promise to deliver the goods to the reader. (There's so much more to be uncovered through Barton and Persiani's collaboration. I'm just pointing out a couple of things I uncovered when I looked at the context of just the beginning and the ending.)

There is more set-up in the beginning of this book to introduce us to the Day-Glo colors (on pages 2-5) and then the introduction of the brothers. Brilliant. One leads us into the next. 

So what have we discovered about endings in these two examples?
  • Endings answer a question.
  • Endings deliver what they promise.
  • Endings summarize beginnings.
  • Endings tie-up loose ends.
I’m going to continue looking at beginnings and endings from nonfiction books. Or endings and beginnings. And I think you should, too. In this case, a lot can be gleamed from reading the ending first, before the beginning. Try it. What do you uncover?

Take-away: When you’re finished reading endings then beginnings, look at your work-in-progress. Does your ending leave your reader with the take-away that you wanted? If not, go re-write your ending. Does it change your beginning? Mine did.
Tags: barbara kerley, chris barton, edwin fotheringham, endings and beginnings, nonfiction picture books, tony persiani

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