Non-fiction picture books vary so much, instead of just giving you an exhaustive list of possibilities, I’m going to give you something much better: the tools for YOU to figure out what you need. (And I’ll share what I’ve learned along the way.)

With an awesome opening sentence, Marks not only introduces the inciting incident, but creates a storm of wondering questions for the reader,

I love exploring what it’s like to be twelve years old, an age where you’re not quite a kid or a teenager. It’s such a transitional time, and can be full of so much drama. (My middle school days certainly were!)

Today, let’s look at a middle grade novel–one very different in style and tone–to see how well framed questions can guide the reader through the first chapter.

One way to be sure your first chapter will have the effect you want is to focus on what questions will arise in the readers’ minds as they read, and then revise to control those questions to serve your purpose.

In her early chapter book series Layla and the Bots, Vicky Fang manages to incorporate STEM topics, design thinking, AND interesting characters, all in just over 1500 words each. Let’s take a look at techniques she uses to create interesting and memorable characters.

“As a product designer, I am used to solving creative problems. I think that’s partially why I’m drawn to different formats, because I get inspiration from the problem. My design experience also helps me take critique feedback well as I’m very used to harsh critiques and revising based on understanding the problems that a critique uncovers.”

Through a combination of humor, culture, warmth and language, Hernandez uses voice to make his characters unforgettable and his novel hard to put down.

Lots of classic books have two main characters–Frog and Toad, Max and Ruby, Elephant and Piggie. I bet you can name some other favorites too. These stories work well, especially in a series, because the differing personalities create built-in conflict. In order to figure out how to approach a story with two main characters, let’s look at Kristen Mai Giang’s Ginger and Chrysanthemum, illustrated by Shirley Chan, a contemporary story of two cousins who love each other but don’t always get along.

This particular inspiration was already the second or third version of this story, which I knew I wanted to be about girls and friendship. In previous versions, they weren’t cousins. And for each version, I did literally dozens of revisions.

For Ginger and Chrysanthemum, part of that was due to the submission process, during which agents and editors asked to see widely varying changes. The characters of these hot-and-cold cousins never changed once they were born, though, and it wasn’t until then that the story began to attract attention.