Backing the matter
Now that we’re all back at work (though, naturally, there are a LOT of librarians out there who had to work the day before and after Thanksgiving, and so a hat tip to them) we have time to ruminate on matters that are aided and abetted by ample time. Finding myself awash in 2014 materials but determined to finish reading as many 2013 books as I can, I still can’t help but notice certain interesting trends in the coming year. Trends that actually make me happy, that is. We’ll have plenty of time to think about problematic trends later on down the road.
Today we’re talking about backmatter.
WAIT . . . WAIT A MINUTE . . . DO NOT DARE CLICK AWAY.
Okay. So admittedly the term “backmatter” isn’t exactly a sexy term. Not like “infographic” or “Pinterest board” or what have you. But in this age of Common Core State Standards, it’s becoming vastly more important. Obviously in nonfiction, yes, but in fiction as well. I’m sure many of you have noticed the copious factual notes that are now gracing our works of fiction. Everything from science experiment ideas to historical points of interest.
Actually, when it comes to something like a work of historical fiction, backmatter can be critical to a book’s success in the education and library market. A kid could probably care less if their novel was stuffed full of factual importance in the last pages but for an educator working on a unit or a librarian who wants some reassurance that an author did their homework, this sort of thing becomes invaluable.
What I don’t think a lot of us consider is the role of the editor in all this. An author might have great grand dreams of stunning, magnificent backmatter, only to be told that there simply isn’t enough space. This all came to mind recently when I was reading Rosanne Parry’s Written in Stone. Aside from being just a great book about a 1920s reservation on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, it may honestly have more backmatter than any other work of middle grade fiction I’ve ever encountered. 19 pages worth, if we’re going to be precise, and it’s all amazing and reassuring. Yet if editor Jim Thomas had put his foot down and reeled in this amount of work, the end result wouldn’t have the same power.
Or look at the endpapers of Deborah Heiligman’s The Boy Who Loved Math. On the outset it’s a relatively simple picture book biography of a mathematician and his life made magnificently child-friendly. But look at that gorgeous backmatter. We’re not just talking additional points about the man’s life but drawn theorems and explanations about what LeUyen Pham’s art is doing. It’s jaw-dropping, and in an entirely good way.
Now in 2014 we’re going to see even more books putting, in some cases, as much effort into what comes after as what came before. I can’t help but think of this as a good thing. The only question becomes whether or not the mindset of editors will change and if some of this will become more obligatory than voluntary. Could it also be misused in certain cases?
Food for thought.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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