Primary Sources for Your Nonfiction Picture Book

sandmanBy Sandman, the writing buddy of Nancy I. Sanders


Everyone wants primary sources in their nonfiction. Primary sources are especially important if you’re researching a historical or biographical picture book.

What’s a cat gonna’ do?

I tried hiding in a bag and never dealing with it, but then I got too hungry for tuna fish tacos so I had to come out.

So I decided to try a new tactic. I’d hunt those primary sources down and pounce on ’em!

First plan of attack was to sneak around the house, hide behind the couch, and jump out at any unsuspecting spider crawling by.

But that didn’t get me very many primary sources.

What are primary sources anyhow?

I looked up the definition of primary sources in my cat-dictionary and discovered they are:

Autobiographies: Whenever a cool cat writes a book or article about her own life, it counts as a primary source.

Diaries: My cat friend, Pitterpat, keeps a diary and in it she chronicles every detail about Devin and Derby, the two Rat terriers who live next door. Pitterpat knows those little yappers are up to evil designs and she’s determined to prove it! Diaries are a primary source.

More primary sources include

* letters people actually wrote

* artifacts, buildings and landmarks that were actually there during the era

* e-mails, interviews, photographs, official documents

* and speeches people actually spoke

But how do you FIND primary sources? I’ve tried digging in the dirt in every single potted plant in our house, pulling out all the tissues and reaching in the bottom of a tissue box, and shredding every paper that comes out of the printer, but that only got me in trouble!

So then I tried a new tactic. I already had a pile of picture books and books for kittens on my topic. This time, however, I went to my library and borrowed every book on my topic written for mature cats. These books have FOOTNOTES. (I think they should call them pawprints.) And these books list many many primary sources in the back where they cite those pawprints…I mean footnotes.

Plus these books have PHOTOGRAPHS and PAINTINGS from the actual era of my topic. I looked in the back for the places who own those primary sources and made a note to contact them and find out what kind of permissions they give to cats who want to use them in their nonfiction picture books. (Like me.)

Then I went online and googled my topic. I didn’t look at Wikipedia like I normally do. (Okay, okay, I know that’s a no-no for research but it’s handy!) Instead, I read articles that looked official on my topic that were posted by museums and universities and national archives. I looked at THEIR footnotes to see where they got their primary sources.

So there you have it! Are you writing a historical or biographical picture book? Check into primary sources.

They’re the cat’s meow!

sanders-nancy-i-author-photoOh, and if you want to see the newest nonfiction picture book by my writing buddy, Nancy I. Sanders, it’s just hitting the bookshelves this month! The Bible Explorer’s Guide: 1000 Amazing Facts and Photos is available at your local bookstore or online here.

If you want solid instruction and step-by-step guidance on writing nonfiction books for kids, check out Nancy’s audio workshop, How to Write a Children’s Nonfiction Book in a Month. It’s available at

Nancy I. Sanders is the bestselling and award-winning children’s author of more than 100 books. Visit her website at







11 Comments on “Primary Sources for Your Nonfiction Picture Book

  1. Nancy, this is such a cute and informative post! I’ve learned a great deal from your website in the past. You’re a talented writer and kindred spirit.

  2. Sandman, pawsum post with so many great kitty trails to find those resources! You and Mom are the best 🙂 Happy kitty trails to the both of you!

  3. Pingback: My Cat Is an Alien | Blogzone

  4. Thanks, Jean, for the opportunity to be part of your blog today! My writing buddy, Sandman, woke up long enough to tell me he’s pretty sure that now he’s a famous star after appearing here on your blog. Best wishes on your writing journey. May God bless you!

%d bloggers like this: