Great ideas for a picture book story need to be backed up by research. Even if it’s informational fiction, the information included needs to be accurate.
For my book, A Little Bit of Dinosaur, co-authored with my sister Elleen Hutcheson, we started by looking at where dinosaur fossils have been found in the United States. You can see if there were any dinosaurs in your area of the world by looking at this interactive map: https://paleobiodb.org/navigator/
We found that in the United States, dinosaur fossils are often found in the Rocky Mountains, including Colorado.
Next, we needed a river for this story to work. We looked at the areas where dinosaur fossils were found, looking for a long river that went through several states.
The Arkansas River has its headwaters in Colorado, then travels across Colorado, Kansas, through Oklahoma, to Arkansas, before emptying into the Mississippi River. This meant the two areas overlapped: the Arkansas River watershed and the area where dinosaur fossils had been found. It meant our story had plausibility. Did an exposed dinosaur bone shed calcium that found its way into the Arkansas River? We don’t know. But it’s possible that it could have happened.
For informational fiction, the plausibility or possibility meant we could tell the story.
After the story was written, though, the illustrator still had to do research. When he illustrated the Arkansas River on the map, it had to be accurate. When the cow’s milk was made into cheese, he investigated the stages of making cheese. The illustrator’s style includes humor such as a faucet in the cow’s stomach to release milk. But underlying the humor are facts.
The story has 387 words. Each word was chosen for accuracy combined with an artistic ear for the music of the story. It has a 620 Lexile (3rd-4th grade reading level) and again each word was chosen thinking about the needs of the 3rd grade reader.
We hope the story reads smoothly and the reader is entertained (Shh!—while being educated). The research and carefully wording should be invisible, leaving a fun story for kids!
Thank you for joining us today, Darcy. In December, I reviewed Darcy’s book A.I.: How Patterns Helped Artificial Intelligence Defeat World Champion Lee Sedol. If you put her name into “Search this Blog” over on the right, you can find lots of other books by Darcy. You can visit Darcy’s website here.