Great picture book bios I’m reading for my Pete Seeger bio – what are your favorites?
One of the first things I do when I’m forming up a biography is to check out what other people have done. I’m looking for bios that make my socks roll up and down so I can figure out how they do it. Do they grab me emotionally? How do they weave in backstory effectively? How much text is too much and how much is just right?
Here’s a few that caught my eye:
Jan Greenberg/ Sandra Jordan, Robert Andrew Parker.
This bio of painter Jackson Pollack is one of the most awesome books about the process of creating art that I’ve ever read. How he waits. How he finally paints: “Paint, paint and more paint, dripping, pouring, flinging.” Great afterword – five pages. 32 pages.
Nikki Giovanni, Brian Collier.
I love the righteous anger in this book and the loaded adverbs. “As was the evil custom, she then got off the bus and went to the back door to enter the bus from the rear.” (If you’ve ever seen Nikki Giovanni speak you know she’s full of anger she’s honed to a laser sharpness for expressing her outrage at racism.) Giovanni gets in huge paragraphs of facts – only possible because she is such a great writer: “She sighed as she realized she was tired. Not tired from work but tired of people putting white people first. Tired of stepping off sidewalks to let white people pass, tired of eating at separate lunch counters and learning at separate schools.” Then a second paragraph of more. No afterword. 32 pages
Walt Whitman: Words for America
Barbara Kerley, Brian Selznick
Covers most of Whitman’s life. Informative, but the emotional connection doesn’t really hook in for me until he goes to find his brother and begins caring for the injured and ill during the Civil War. A whopping six page afterword. 40 pages
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers
Fantastic. Very short time span. I love the illustrations –Gerstein has one of the most creative ways of using the page I’ve ever seen. 40 pages
When Marian Sang
Pam Munoz Ryan, Brian Selznick
I adore this book. Manages to cover most of her life, and keep me emotionally hooked in the whole time. Ryan makes incredible use of the spirituals Marian Anderson sang as a way of expressing her feelings: “When she began her thought-provoking encore, ‘Oh, nobody knows the troubles I see, nobody knows my sorrow…’ silence settled on the multitudes.”
The most emotional books for me are primarily about one incident or time, with one big thing stopping the person – racism or physical impossibility. So how to cover a long span of Seeger’s life, which I’d like to do, and still have a satisfyingly emotional book? 3 pages of afterword, 40 pages.
I’d love to hear about any picture book bios that you love, or ones that work well in your class or library.