One Writer’s Journey

November 20, 2014

Picture Book biographies: Who to write about and Who Not

age appropriate picture book biographyWhen I saw the cover of Patricia Hruby Powell’s Josephine, I did a double take.  A picture book on Josephine Baker?  Are you serious?  Apparently you can judge a book by it’s cover and I am seriously guilty.  After all, I haven’t read the book yet although I have requested it from my library.

And I should really know better.  After all, I’ve read Gary Golio’s Jimi:  Sounds like a Rainbow.  Yes, a picture book about Jimi Hendrix.  And, although Hendrix had a serious drug problem and died of an overdose, it is an amazing book.

The beauty of the picture book format is that you have 36 pages to tell your story.  Slant it right and you can avoid the bits that aren’t age appropriate without being accused of censoring your topic.   Golio did it by focusing on Hendrix’s childhood drawings and how they fueled his music later in his life.  The author’s note tells how Hendrix died and discusses substance abuse and addiction. As a result, the book it totally honest and totally age appropriate.

Since I haven’t yet read Josephine, I don’t know how Howell pulls it off.  I do know that the story is told in verse and that the rhythms and energy echo Baker’s life.

Who else may or may not make a good candidate for a biography for the very young.  Charles Lindbergh, humble and hard working early in life, would be excellent.  Charles Lindbergh, father of a kidnapped and murdered boy?  His later political statements?  Nope.  I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot picture book pole.  But I could easily see writing about what in his youth inspired his flight.

Pick several historic figures who led “colorful” lives and play with how many ways you could present them to a picture book audience.




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