NON-FICTION KNOWHOW Breaking up the page

In the last in this series of Non-fiction KnowHow, co-editor Claire Watts looks at the elements designed to break up a page of non-fiction.

In spite of the current upsurge in wordier narrative non-fiction, the majority of nonfiction books for children still feature shorter nuggets of text broken up by illustrations and other elements. Here are a few ideas to help break up your pages.

Illustrations etc

The balance of illustrations, photographs and other graphic elements is likely to be dictated by your publisher, but it’s a good idea to have plenty of varied suggestions up your sleeve. As well as photos and illustrations, you could suggest graphs, tables, maps or patterned page borders. If any image is vital to the text, say so. If you are only making suggestions, say this too. If you need an image that you can label with important information, make this clear so that the image created for the page shows everything you need it to. Give references where possible or links to useful sources of reference.

How to make a snow hole, from White-out: Blizzards by Claire Watts, published by Raintree (illustration credit unavailable)

Fact boxes

Boxes with additional facts extend the information in the main part of the text. These could be quirky extras or in-depth information which doesn’t fit with the flow of the main text. In a history book, you could include, for example, biographical details about people mentioned. In a science book, you might include further information about a scientist or a discovery.

Water cycle diagram from Heat Hazard: Droughts by Claire Watts, published by Raintree (illustration credit unavailable)


Drop quizzes in at the end of sections or have a large quiz at the end of the book. Children love to test themselves on their new-found knowledge and the quizzes are valuable for teachers and home-educators too.
From Polar Lands by Claire Watts, published by Two-Can Publishing

From The Covenanters by Claire Watts, published by National Museums of Scotland

Practical activities

Interactive elements such as crafts, experiments or research activities help a child reader to engage with the subject of the book. Keep activities short and simple and possible to achieve with readily available materials. Always try practical activities yourself to make sure they work.

From The Middle Ages by Peter Chrisp, illustrated by David Hitch, published by Two-Can/Franklin Watts

Extension activities

You could also include suggestions for children to continue to engage with the subject after they’ve finished reading the book. Museum visits, websites, clubs and societies are all possibilities, though you will need to check whether your publisher wants to include these. International publishers may be unwilling as different references would have to be created for foreign editions.

Claire Watts writes and edits non-fiction for children and is Co-editor of Words & Pictures. You can contact her on

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