As a kid, I’m pretty sure I only read sidebars if they looked interesting. But there are a whole bunch of nonfiction picture books with excellent sidebars.
As a writer and a librarian I’ve been keenly interested in nonfiction books that have two levels of text—a main text and text that supports. The supporting or secondary level text often appears as a sidebar or text box.
I love that the same book can appeal to varying ages of readers or interest levels.
Here are some of my favorites that offer more than one level of text:
Written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
Illustrated by Mary Azarian
This book is a classic and one of the first books I remember reading to students that had two levels of text in a picture book. I still lean on this one every year.
Octopuses One to Ten
Written by Ellen Jackson
Illustrated by Robin Page
This is a counting book with numbers 1-10 and main text that relates the numbers to an octopus. But the book has a rich secondary text with octopus facts.
Mr. Ferris and His Wheel
Written by Katheryn Gibbs Davis
Illustrated by Gilbert Ford
Following the story of how the Ferris Wheel made it to the World’s Fair, the sidebar information gives extra details that expand upon the main text.
A Beetle is Shy
Written by Dianna Aston
Illustrated by Sylvia Long
I love all of the books in this series (A Nest is Noisy, A Butterfly is Patient, A Seed is Sleepy, A Rock is Lively, An Egg is Quiet). They each have a lovely lyrical poem, with a phrase or a line on each page. Then each page has generous subtext with lots more information about the topic.
From Here to There and Me to You: A Book of Bridges
Written by Cheryl Keely
Illustrated by Celia Krampien
The main text is very simple about specific bridges and the concept of bridges. The sidebars give extra information about some of specific bridges mentioned and about certain types of bridges. A nice blend of a concept of bridges and the facts about bridges.
Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree
Written by Kate Messner
Illustrated by Simona Mulazzani
This book lets the reader into the rainforest animals that depend on the Almendro Tree. There is a main text, numbers that double on every page, and more detailed information about the animal mentioned on the page.
Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist
Written by Barbara Herkert
Illustrated Vanessa Brantley-Newton
This picture book biography tells the story of Harriet Powers, a quilt artist. The sidebars give the reader context of the time period.
Feathers: Not Just for Flying
Written by Melissa Stewart
Illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
This books talks about all the different ways that birds use feathers. Each page has a small amount of main text and includes a text box with extra information about a specific bird that uses the feather in the way mentioned.
28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World
Written by Charles R. Smith, Jr.
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
This is a collection of poems about 28 important days in black history. Each day has longer text, mostly page-length poems. On each page, there is a little bit more information about a key person from that day. This could be used with upper elementary-high school.
Prairie Dog Song
Written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore
Collages by Susan L. Roth
This book’s main text is a rewritten folk song. Then at the bottom of each verse, there is another text that is written in prose with extended information about things that are mentioned in the verse and more.
What are some of your favorite nonfiction picture books with interesting sidebars?
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