How to Write a Nonfiction Picture Book: Step 6: Structure It

How to Write a Nonfiction Picture Book

Step 6_ Structure ItThis is one of my favorite parts of writing a nonfiction picture book: coming up with the structure. The structure is HOW you’re presenting your info in order to achieve the effect you want.

You have a lot of options! Here are just some of the structures you might choose from, along with an example or two of each one.

Chronological Narrative: If you’re writing a biography or a book about a historical event, chances are you’ll present the information in a linear narrative, relating the events in the order in which they happened. (That’s not guaranteed, though.)




How-To: If you’re teaching kids how to do something, this is the structure you want.

List/Survey: If you’re sharing broad, parallel info about a topic or many examples of one kind of thing, you might do it in a list structure.

Explanation/Exposition: This encompasses most picture books written in paragraphs that don’t fit any of the other specific categories.

Ficformation (sometimes called informational fiction): This is where you embed your information inside a fictional framework. Sometimes the Library of Congress calls these books fiction, other times it calls them literature (which is LOC-speak for nonfiction). My If You Were the Moon has a moon that talks, but it was classified as nonfiction, which was quite a surprise! I’m totally good with that, though, as its main purpose is to share info about the moon.

Reader Experience: In these books, you somehow make your reader experience whatever the topic is.



Within each basic structure, there are many variations you can explore. You might have elements of a problem/solution structure within your exposition. Or you might compare two elements or people in a compare-and-contrast exposition book. You might write a chronological biography that incorporates some how-to or list elements.

So, don’t feel constrained. Instead, just think about your topic, your angle, and the way you want to affect your reader. Which structure jumps out as a good fit for you? Try that first!

And know that you might come back to this step and try several more structures before you find the just-right one.

One other thing to think about as you consider structures is whether you will use layered text and/or backmatter. Layered text is when you have a main text and then a secondary text on the same spread. Backmatter is when you add extra information at the end of the book, so as not to interrupt the flow or language of your main text. Here are a few books that use layered text and/or backmatter.

Author Melissa Stewart has many awesome posts about different kinds of nonfiction books for kids, and it’s well worth your time to explore her site/blog. Start here at to read her posts that are tagged Nonfiction Text Structure. Have fun!



  1. Choose three structures that appeal to you.
  2. For each one, work through how you might present your information using that structure. What would work well? What challenges would that structure present?
  3. Choose the one that seems most promising.
  4. Find at least 5 other nonfiction picture books using the general structure you’ve chosen and read them.

Up Next: More Research


About Laura Purdie Salas

children's writer, poet, reader, visiting author, speaker/teacher, mentor, copyeditor, freelance writer
This entry was posted in Writing Advice and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to How to Write a Nonfiction Picture Book: Step 6: Structure It

  1. bevbaird says:

    Amazing series! Thanks so much for sharing your expertise.

  2. ldk says:

    Yes, I’m learning a lot from this series. I’m a little behind in reading them because I’ve been so busy writing! : ) I’ll definitely use these tips and apply them as I revise. Thank you so much for all the ways you help us. xo

  3. Roberta says:

    The structure is always the hardest part for me. This really helped clarify things. Really appreciate that you have taken the time to do this.

  4. calliebdean says:

    Can you think of any other examples of picture books structured as riddles?

    • Most aren’t called riddle collections, but check out my Riddle-ku and Lion of the Sky, Boo Haiku, any book like Whose Hat Is This (replace hat with other things like Shoes, Teeth, etc.), Whose Hands Are These, Spot the Plot…some of these aren’t nonfiction. But there are quite a few nf picture books where one page/spread gives info and a clue with illustrations, and the answer is revealed on the next page. If you ask a children’s librarian or an indie children’s bookseller, they can probably give you lots more examples.

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