3 Things You Need in a Picture Book Biography

I’m one of those writers who is constanly jotting down story ideas.  That means if I see a story online about someone who interests, their name may become an entry in my notebook.  That doesn’t mean it is a detailed entry.  Many of them say something like “Bio Dilhan Eryurt: Turkish female astronomer” or “Bio Frances Perkins: 1st female cabinet secretary FDR.”

Because I have notes like this lurking in my journal, I take notice when I read a strong picture book biography such as The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner.  Briefly, Ken Nedimyer grew up during the push to get a man on the moon.  In spite of this, he wasn’t interested in space exploration.  He also grew up watching Jacques Cousteau specials on TV.  In Florida, he was able to visit the Keys regularly and learned to dive.  When the corals died because of warming, he and his daughter found a way to regrow them by “planting” new colonies.

If you are contemplating a picture book biography, check this book out.  You might even consider using it as a mentor text.  You’ll find three things you need to make certain your own topic has:

A Broad Enough Market

In my own experiences, biographies get rejected when the appeal isn’t broad enough.  After all, a publisher needs a reasonable number of sales so that the book pays for itself.  Who is going to buy this book?  People who love the Florida Keys and Boomers and Gen X who grew up watching Jacques Cousteau.  Seriously.  Say “Jacques Cousteau” around anyone my age and you get “all around me the sea is teaming with life.”  Ken Nedimyer may not be Cousteau but linking him to this undersea giant was a smart move.

Kid Appeal

Not only did Messner create a story that appeals to the adult book buyer, she also hooks young readers.  Ken doesn’t save the reef until he is an adult with an adult daughter, but young readers meet him when he is a boy dreaming about the sea.  They see his room crowded with aquariums.  Messner gives young animal lovers a protagonist with kid appeal.

A Story Arc

Rock solid picture book biographies have a story arc with rising tension.  Readers have to question whether or not the protagonist will succeed.  Then they need, if not success, strong hope.  Ken loves the reef.  No one knows what it means when sea urchins start to die.  Then coral dies.  But all is not lost because Ken finds some growing some place new and figures out how to “plant” it.

This book is definitely one you should study if you are considering a picture book biography.  It will show you how to create a story that pulls in adult buyers and young readers.



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