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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Two heads are better than one: Duplicate Biographies for Kids in 2012

When asked to cite the most popular up-and-coming trend in books for children and teens my answer for 2012 is always the same: Keep an eye on the twins and clones.  Walk into any children’s room this year, throw a dart, and you’ll hit about twenty new books for kids that feature boy/girl twins, girl/girl twins, boy/boy twins, you name it.  Walk into any teen room and it’s all about the cloning.  Clearly kids today are being shown that two is always way more fun than one.  Such an attitude also applies quite well to the picture book biographies I’ve seen this year.  The duplication between disparate publishers happens from time to time, but 2012 has turned out to be a particularly clone heavy year.  Observe the following:

Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman Olympic High-Jump Champion by Heather Lang, ill. Floyd Cooper

Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman Olympic High Jumper by Ann Malaspina, ill. Eric Velasquez

An interesting choice all around.  There’s no doubt in my mind that the simultaneous release of these two bios caught Boyds Mills Press and Albert Whitman completely by surprise.  They’re both smaller independent publishers.  Considering that 2012 was the year of the Olympics, it makes sense that these two authors would have looked about for a too little lauded admirable figure from the past.  It’s just their own bad luck (or good, considering how you market them) that they hit on the same idea.

Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jesse Hartland

Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich, ill. Amy Bates

With 2012 being Julia Child’s 100th birthday, it’s more surprising that we ONLY see two biographies of her this year rather than it is only seeing just one.  Two bios that are significantly different, I might add.  While Harland takes an innovative stand, portraying the sheer detritus of the great woman’s life, Reich chose to follow in the footsteps of bios like Bambino and Mr. Twain by P.I. Maltbie and Daniel Miyares and concentrate on the woman via her feline.  Approaching great figures through their pets isn’t unheard of, but it can pose problems unless there’s a story.  Fortunately, Reich figured it out.

Baby Flo by Alan Schroeder, ill. Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson, ill. by Christian Robinson

Alice Coachman came out because of the Olympics and Julia Child because of her birthday.  That I understand.  What I can’t quite figure is why there were two Florence Mills books this year.  Whence the impetus?  While Schroeder concentrates squarely on Mills as a kid, Watson takes a more encompassing (and less cheery but more realistic) view in her title.  These two bios look as different as different can be too.

Annie and Helen by Deborah Hopkinson, ill. Raul Colon

Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport

Of course there’s never any reason to wonder why two bios of Helen Keller are out in a given year.  Talk about a popular subject!  Helen, I dare say, was (aside from Anne Frank) the number one request I would get from kids when it came to biographies.  They just could NOT get enough of Helen.  Kids would read bios about her for pleasure.  These two are also particularly strong, differing in terms of how much of her life they show.

That’s it for the duplicate bios I’ve seen (though you are free to tell me what I missed, if you like).  There are dupes in the picture book and fiction world as well, but I’ll just leave you with the strangest of all of them.  Here are two books so similar that you know their dual appearance could only be chalked up to bad luck.  Bad, really really odd, luck.

Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, ill. Paul O. Zelinsky

A Is for Musk Ox by Erin Cabatingan and Matthew Myers

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Wow! That last set is AMAZING! If I had to choose between the two, I definitely like the looks of that musk ox…well, that scowling zebra is pretty great…no, definitely musk ox.

    On a related note, I once wrote a picture book manuscript called “Hibernation Station” about a train filled with adorable sleeping animals. By chance I looked online to see what books there were on hibernation, and boom, right there, a picture book called “Hibernation Station” about a train filled with adorable sleeping animals. What are the odds.

    Anyway, Team Musk Ox, right here.

  2. Betsy–

    It was, indeed, a surprise! We learned about it, as I recall, through Google Alerts. A few days later Kerry McManus at Boyds Mill gave me a call. It was still pre-pub, and we agreed that the marketplace could handle two bios on such an amazing woman. We were even across the aisle frome each other at TLA and had a good time with it. No joint marketing, but we did keep each other alerted to Ms. Cocachman’s PR appearances when we heard about them. Thanks for mentioning both books!

    Albert Whitman & Company

  3. Lorelei and Isaiah's Mommy says:

    I miss your old goodreads links. That is all.

  4. Karma!

  5. Art reflects the society we live in during the times we live in it. What I see as a trend are symbiotic relationships and co-dependency. Independence is not promoted enough and DIY looked down on. There are authors promoting other authors rather than themselves, tons of husband and wife teams, and group blogs. I have no idea who is who anymore and what they are trying to promote with all the convolution. If I’m in the business and feel confused, you know the public has no clue. I wonder how this reflects in sales.

  6. Linda Urban says:

    I believe there are two picture book bios of Marcel Marceau this year as well. I’m partial to Leda Schubert’s MONSIEUR MARCEAU: ACTOR WITHOUT WORDS particularly for what she does with verb tense. (Yeah, call me a writer geek but there is something wonderful about all the “on stage” stuff being in present tense, even as his history is told in past tense.) Have you seen this one yet, Betsy?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Oh yes! The second Marcel Marceau was actually published at the tail end of last year but the principal still applies. And yes, I’m very partial to the Leda Schubert book as well.

  7. A crazy coincidence and in my opinion, it means readers have two terrific new ABC books to read! I also strongly suspect Moose and Ox would be friends if they were to meet. Thank you for mentioning both books!

  8. “What I can’t quite figure is why there were two Florence Mills books this year. Whence the impetus? ”

    Perhaps the answer lies in the publication of my book:
    “Florence Mills:Harlem Jazz Queen” in 2004. Both authors acknowledge my assistance, as well as the book and web site 🙂
    Bill Egan