One Writer’s Journey

September 30, 2014

Picture book biography

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:11 am

picture book biographyI’ve been reading, and in some cases reading, picture book biographies lately.  Here are a few things to consider before you try creating something in this genre.

  1. Birth to Death or Slice of Life.  If you are going to write a biography that is short enough to be a picture book, the first thing to decide is whether or not you are going to try to cover your subjects entire life or only a small part of it.  Fifty Cents and a Dream by Jabari Asim is a slice of life biography about Booker T. Washington and his quest for an educaiton.  Even if the biography you write is birth to death, it must be focused.  In Jane Yolen’s Lost Boy: The Story of the Man Who Created Peter Pan, the story starts with his birth but all facts about Barrie must feed into writing this play.  No extraneous details allowed.
  2. Age Appropriate.  In addition to narrowing the topic enough to fit the format, you must also narrow it to be age appropriate for the early elementary reader.  How do you do that with someone who lived life in the proverbial fast lane?  When Gary Giglio wrote about Jimi Hendrix, Giglio focused on the fact that, as a boy, Hendrix loved to draw.  When he later became a musician, he created pictures with sound.  Yes, the author’s note discusses addiction and how Hendrix died, but in a way that makes the entire book age appropriate.
  3. Dialogue Must Be Real.  Once you have established what story you are telling and defined its limits, the next most difficult task is finding dialogue.  To include dialogue in your story, you have to find it in source material.  If you put the text in quoation marks, you must have the sources to back it up.  No paraphraising allowed.

There’s no doubt about it, picture book biographers are tough to write.  But there are places to go to learn more about this form. My friend Darcy Pattison wrote this blog post about the picture book biography.   Paula Yoo is a biographer who writes picture books.  She was interviewed on Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog. You can also read Yoo’s own blog. There is also a group blog devoted to biography,

It isn’t an easy form to master but it is well worth your while if you have the passion.



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