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Don't Skip the Author's Note

Posted by admin on Jun 8, 2023 9:32:05 AM

Don’t Skip the Author’s Note FINAL

In Dawnavyn James’s kindergarten class, reading the author’s note at the back of a picture book became such a beloved ritual that her students would often ask, “Did the author leave us a note?” They believed the author had written these notes personally, just for them. And in many ways, they were right!

Authors’ notes serve a variety of purposes across fiction and nonfiction picture books. Often, according to literacy educator Franki Sibberson, these notes provide space for the author to share their own connection to the topic at hand. In some books, the author’s note expands on the book’s story, offering historical context. In others, authors may offer a window into their writing process or even share a story from their own lives. Authors’ notes may include photos, timelines, and even nods to additional resources.

Franki Sibberrson admits that she used to be the kind of reader that closed the book before reading the author’s note. “But one day I walked into Lynsey Burkins' third grade classroom and they were talking about an author's note and I was intrigued. I realized all that I had been missing and started paying attention to authors' notes.”

And while authors’ notes in picture books are written for children, they are helpful resources for teachers as well. Dawnavyn James, who frequently uses authors’ notes in her work as a Black history educator writes, “As an educator, I learn from authors’ notes too. I learn about the author and illustrator’s purposes for making the book as well as the often extensive research they did to write and illustrate it. I also find that the author’s note answers questions that come up for me as I read the main text."

What’s One of Your Favorite Authors’ Notes?

Love in the Library, written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and illustrated by Yas Imamura

Shared by Karen Biggs Tucker, fifth-grade teacher, education professor, and co-author of The Literacy Workshop

We read Love in the Library for the first time in late fall prior to the ALA Youth Media Awards. I knew that this book would become an award winner in several categories, and I wanted students to be familiar not only with this title, but with the author too. Because my students were not yet familiar with the work of Maggie Tokuda-Hall, and because I knew many of them would not be familiar with the book’s historical context, [Love in the Library is set in an incarceration camp in which the United States detained Japanese-Americans during World War II], we decided to read the book on one day and then spend time together with the author’s note on another.

As we read the author’s note, students were surprised to learn that Tama and George were not just characters in the book but were also Tokuda-Hall’s grandparents. Students began to understand that the library was not only a place that brought Tama and George together, but a space that gave them hope, even amidst their unjust and traumatic incarceration. Together we processed Tokuda-Hall’s words in her author’s note: “This is not to say that it was ‘worth it.’ Their improbable joy does not excuse virulent racism, nor does it minimize the pain, the trauma, and the deaths that resulted from it.”  

Our study of Love in the Library led my class to think about the stories that are told, not only in our own families, but also our communities and our histories. Who chooses to tell these stories and from what perspective do they choose to tell them? What about our own story? Then my students thought about choosing a person – in their family, in history, or even themselves-- and got ready to write! I knew that this conversation wasn’t over, and I also knew that this conversation about Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s author’s note wasn’t over yet either.

An American Story, written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Dare Coulter

Shared by Dawnavyn James, early childhood and Black history educator, author of Beyond February

One of my favorite author and illustrator’s notes at the moment comes from An American Story. In his author’s note, Kwame Alexander tells the reader why he wrote this book and the impact he hopes it will have on teachers. He writes, “It became apparent that so many schools don’t prepare their students to fully understand the truth about slavery. Because it’s scary. And hard. I believe An American Story can help give us a way to speak the truth to children, so we can all stop being afraid, so we can start moving closer to our better selves.” Alexander’s words reinforce my belief that picture books are powerful resources from which teachers can learn alongside their students.

In Coulter’s illustrator’s note, she takes the reader through her research and illustration processes. Coulter writes about how she “hunted for details,” while researching. This idea of Coulter as a researcher resonates with students who are also learning how to be thoughtful researchers themselves.

Sometimes I Kaploom, written by Rachel Vail and illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Shared by JoEllen McCarthy, literacy specialist and author of Layers of Learning

Sometimes authors’ notes invite readers into a conversation with the book’s creators. In Sometimes I Kaploom, author Rachel Vail asks readers to consider what it means to be brave and offers advice on how to recognize and cope with big feelings. She writes “I think you deserve the deluxe ticket to the entire grand buffet of human emotions. All you can feel.”

In her illustrator’s note, Hyewon Yum, provides a glimpse into the decisions behind her artwork and how her process was directly connected to her experience as a parent trying to visualize the “sparks of emotions” felt by her students when they started school and experienced separation anxiety.

My Brother is Away, written by Sara Greenwood and illustrated by Luisa Uribe

Shared by Franki Sibberson, literacy educator and co-author of Still Learning to Read

Authors’ notes often let me know if I can trust the author with the story I’ve just finished. This is especially important when the story is one that is outside of my own experiences. The author’s note in My Brother is Away by Sara Greenwood is short but powerful. It assures me that this author is someone to be trusted with this story.

As a reader, I also felt an important message from the details Sara Greenwood shared in her author’s note. The author's note helped me realize why this book stands out to me. Having a family member in prison is not about one day or one event, but years of impact on a family. This book does not try to tell the story of a single moment but instead captures the pain of having a loved one in prison over time and all that goes along with that feeling.

The author’s note includes a photo of the author at the age (first grade) when her brother was arrested. The author’s note connects the book’s story to a real child who lived apart from her brother for most of her childhood. My Brother is Away is a story that is told with love and the author’s note emphasizes not only that love but also the loneliness that comes with that and how she hopes this book will help other children not feel so alone in the experience.

Thank You, Omu!, by Oge Mora

Shared by JoEllen McCarthy literacy specialist and author of Layers of Learning

Sometimes author’s notes offer readers an additional piece of information about the author’s connection to the story. In Thank You, Omu!, Oge Mora’s story of giving and community, Mora shares that omu is the Igbo word for “queen,” and readers learn that it was a term of endearment for the author’s grandmother, the matriarch of the neighborhood. “Everyone in the community had a seat at my grandmother’s table,” writes Mora, in her note to readers.

Bring Authors’ Notes into the Classroom

So next time you’re planning a read aloud, check the back of the book to see if the author (or illustrator!) has left a note for you. As JoEllen McCarthy writes, “When sharing authors’ notes with students, we can talk about the ways the creators are letting us in on their secrets. We get insight about what sparked the idea for the story, learn about their intentions for writing, and are invited to think more deeply about and beyond the book.”

Further Resources

Our Own Author’s Note

A special thank you to the Stenhouse authors who contributed to this blog, Karen Biggs-Tucker, Lynsey Burkins, Dawnavyn James, JoEllen McCarthy, and Franki Sibberson. Thank you, also, to the author of Love in the Library, Maggie Tokuda-Hall, who generously allowed us to share her list of recommended texts to read alongside her book. And, of course, thank you to teachers everywhere who share important books with the children in their classrooms and never skip the author’s note.


Topics: Classroom practice, Literacy