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Writing a picture book biography

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Hello BlueBoarders, :)

I have started writing a pb biography and I would welcome some advice. This is a new book type for me. I have written some non fiction before. But a biography is new. Any suggestions on creating a pb bio? Or great pb bios to look at? There are a few I've added to my TBR list, but I would welcome any others you think I should look at.

I think my biggest question is about researching the biography. How can you research a topic where there are not very many resources for it? I have just started researching, will keep digging and perhaps others will appear.

Thank you for your time and your thoughts!

:) Abby
#1 - April 20, 2013, 11:41 AM
Top Dog Series - Rosen Publishing, 12 x 12 in 2012, fiction & stories published Stories for Children, Under the Juniper Tree and Kids 'Magination

Abby,
I can't answer your questions about how to go about writing a pb biography, but you might want to take a look at
Monet Paints a Day by Julie Dannenberg.  There's one or two other outstanding new ones I've read but I can't come up
with the titles or authors right now.  I'll give it some more thought . . . oh, and don't forget to ask your local librarian for help with research.  A good librarian will dig and dig and come up with stuff nobody else can find.  Meanwhile good luck and enjoy your new project!
Jessica
#2 - April 20, 2013, 01:25 PM

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Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin is one of the best.

My understanding is that editors are looking for biographies that highlight one aspect of the featured person's life--in other words, don't just give the facts from chilhood to old age. Your bio should have a theme.
#3 - April 20, 2013, 01:47 PM
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I am writing a biography right now and bought a tonne of bios recommended by others. My favourites, which are just brilliant, are:

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda.
Me... Jane. This one actually gives me goosebumps when I read it.
The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau.

Also, one which I can't remember the title of... about Mark Twain but written from his daughter's point of view.
And one which I haven't read but that looks great is: Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story Of Annette Kellerman

These bios all have themes, as Betsy said.
#4 - April 20, 2013, 03:03 PM

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This may be what you mean by "theme," but I've noticed that today's PB bios typically take a very, very small slice of a person's life and explore it fully, rather than telling the person's life from birth-death.

For instance, there's an Amelia Earhart bio that depicts ONLY her transatlantic night flight. Interestingly, although we hear that a PB needs to have 14 distinct illustration possibilities, this book has variations of one cockpit with a dark night sky illo. It's a great book.

In terms of research, I find my local library invaluable...not just the books, but the online research databases they subscribe to. Yours may subscribe to them, too.

Good luck!
#5 - April 20, 2013, 03:51 PM
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I LOVE PB Biographies, have just finished one which I hope to be submitting soon and starting on another one. I've got a collection of ones I love:

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass
Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris
Me Jane by Patrick McDonnel (I'm totally with Franzilla on this one. It's so simple, but not! It's just beautiful.)
You Can't Do That, Amelia by Kimberly Wagner Klier
Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

I think the one Franzilla is talking about regarding Mark Twain is "The Extraordinary Mark Twain (according to Susy)" by Barbara Kerley. She has FANTASTIC biographies. I think my favorite is that one or "What To Do About Alice".

As far as research, I recommend starting out with Wikipedia to see what resources they site and see if you can get hold of any of those sources. (This is in addition to the library and all of it's databases as everyone else mentioned.) If the person you are writing about has any museum that is about them or some of their work that made them famous visit the museum if possible, or if you can't, see what you can get online from a website or call them and see if they have any sources they'd copy and mail to you for a fee. That's my next step for the one I'm working on - I'm having trouble finding more info on the aspect of his life I'm trying to focus on. The Library of Congress website might be helpful too. . . .I know someone else who had a lot of success with that.

Oh, if there are adult books written about the person, read them and also check their bibliography. It's a lot of work, but a lot of fun in my opinion - I love finding things I'm certain most kids aren't aware of!

Good luck!!!!!
#6 - April 20, 2013, 06:20 PM

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"Minty" and "Satchmo's Blues" by Alan Schroeder are great examples of pb bios. Each looks at an event in the child's life that moved them toward (or was the turning point for) the thing they became famous for as an adult. Kids love seeing that a famous person was once a child, with problems, hopes or secret dreams--just like them.
#7 - April 20, 2013, 09:53 PM
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I am working on one, too

Here are some other greats:


Electric Ben
Handel: Who Knew What He Liked
Strange Mr. Satie
Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudi
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave

#8 - April 21, 2013, 04:51 AM
What's for pudding, Mimmy?

Illustration website:

http://www.puddintanesbrain.com

www.puddersputter.blogspot.com

Blueboarder Ann Malaspina has two excellent award-winning PB bios out now. The illustrations are stunning in both, too.

HEART ON FIRE (Susan B. Anthony)

TOUCH THE SKY (Alice Coachman)
#9 - April 21, 2013, 04:59 AM
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Hey EspressoChick! Assuming you're not an illustrator, my advice is to keep a close eye on which books are written by author/illustrators and which by a separate author and illustrator. Not that you can't learn anything from author/illustrator books, but it does make a big difference (in all picture books, of course, not just biographies).

I'd also suggest reading author's notes carefully to see how fictionalized each book is. In "nonfiction" picture books there's a very wide range. All kinds of things may be made up or altered--dialogue, characters, incidents. That'll give you a sense of what you're comfortable with. Some good examples:

Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Mu?oz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 1999)

Bessie Smith and the Night Riders by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by John Holyfield (Putnam, 2006)

Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (HarperCollins, 2008)

The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein (Dial, 2012)

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D. B. Johnson (Houghton Mifflin, 2000)

Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride by Marjorie Priceman (Atheneum, 2005)

I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2005)

John, Paul, George & Ben by Lane Smith (Hyperion, 2006)

Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Scholastic, 2012)

Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Sarah McMenemy (Knopf, 2011)

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic, 2008)

When Esther Morris Headed West: Women, Wyoming, and the Right to Vote by Connie Nordheim Wooldridge, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers (Holiday House, 2001)


(The two books about Esther Morris are a great way to compare approaches--one is much more fictionalized than the other.)

As far as where to find your sources, it's hard to answer without knowing anything about the person you're researching, but I've combed endnotes in adult biographies, used "search inside" on Amazon and Google Books to find books that mention my subject, gone to the public library or college library for newspaper archive databases, emailed experts in the field, interviewed the person directly...

Hope this helps. I'm going to be doing a breakout session on this topic ("Writing the Historical Picture Book") at the SCBWI summer conference in L.A. in August, so thanks for making me start thinking!
#10 - April 21, 2013, 07:14 AM
« Last Edit: February 27, 2014, 02:57 PM by Mara »
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I adore PB biographies, as do my kids, and we have quite a collection of them at home.

Lots of great books mentioned already. I'll add Verla Kay's ROUGH TOUGH CHARLEY and Molly Blaisdell's REMBRANDT AND THE BOY WHO DREW DOGS to the mix for two completely different styles of writing a PB bio.

Vijaya

#11 - April 21, 2013, 07:28 AM
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Y'all have got such a great bibliography of pb biographies going here that I've just added a bunch of titles to my to-read list, even though I'm not planning to write a pb biography . . . any time soon.  The Jacques Cousteau was the one I was wracking my brain to recall, so thanks, Franzilla!  There's a wealth of inspiration here.
#12 - April 21, 2013, 07:53 AM

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Michelle Markle's BRAVE GIRL is phenomenal too.
MINETTE's FEAST (though technically historical fiction because the tale is told by Julia Child's cat) would be another one to look at.

I agree that current PB biography focuses on one element, angle or slice of a person's life versus trying to tell a cradle to grave story. It also seems like a unique hook is necessary, like Ferris's of definitions throughout the Noah Webster book or the cat narrator in the Julia Child pb bio.

Good luck!

Kirsten
#13 - April 21, 2013, 08:03 AM
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Hi BlueBoarder friends,

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of your advice and suggestions! And all of these wonderful pb bio recommendations!

I look forward to reading these pb bios, this is a great list with lots of different notable subjects. I appreciate your suggestions about the how to in creating a pb bio, this type of pb format is quite new to me, I was inspired by a particular subject that I think would make a fun bio for kids. But I realize there is a lot about this format of writing I don't know and need to learn.

I'm very grateful for your thoughts and suggestions. Thank you very much!

:) Abby  aka EspressoChick
#14 - April 21, 2013, 12:33 PM
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I'm starting to research a PB biography and found this awesome thread from last spring. I have a specific question to a point that Mara raised in her reply about getting permissions before going too far.
 
Any advice on the best way to go about this? There's a woman that manages the estate of the specific person I'd like to write about...she's also a writer and the literary estate belongs to her grandfather. Do I contact her directly? Do I have a proposal developed when/if I do? This seems like a make or brake point in the process and I wouldn't want to flub it up. (I might also start a separate thread on this particular research question).
 
Thanks for any insights anyone can share on proper NF PB family permission protocol.
 
-Kellie
#15 - February 27, 2014, 01:25 PM
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Hey Kellie, just to clarify my understanding: You can write about him without anyone's permission, but if he was a writer and you want to quote his work, you'll probably need to talk to the estate. I'm no expert on this, but I think they'll want to see the specific passages (possibly in the context of your book) before they grant permission.
#16 - February 27, 2014, 02:41 PM
AROUND AMERICA TO WIN THE VOTE
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Perfect!  Thanks, Mara! 
#17 - February 27, 2014, 02:52 PM
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Kellie,


You don't technically need permission, but cooperation is always helpful. Often there are materials -- scrapbooks, artifacts, recollections -- that may only be available to you if you work cooperatively with the estate or family members.


I would do a little research first before you move down that path, just so you can show your depth of knowledge when you do contact the estate. Obviously the more legitimate, serious, and well-versed you seem, the more likely you are to get cooperation.


Good luck!


Kirsten
#18 - February 27, 2014, 04:44 PM
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Kristen Fulton has a great pb nonfiction class that I just finished, and Nancy I. Sanders is showing on her blog how to write a pb biography as well.
#19 - February 28, 2014, 06:34 AM
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Tina... the Nancy I. Sanders blog is extremely helpful!  Wow.  Thanks! Reading her suggestions and examples really helped me fire off some preliminary ideas. Thank you for sharing that!
#20 - February 28, 2014, 09:36 AM
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Glad Nancy's blog helped you, KDuBay! And here's the url for Kristen Fulton's class http://www.kristenfulton.org/nonfiction-class.html.
I just finished the month-long class; it was excellent and a great price. Has a Facebook group so you can discuss things about your story + webinars with Kristen.
#21 - February 28, 2014, 04:04 PM
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EspressoChick,


I too am researching a person who is little known. One source normally leads to another. The Library of Congress has a great archive of historical newspapers, and it's searchable by full text. Don't forget to search on alternate spellings. I found early on that my subject's name was misspelled in almost everything. So, for example, don't just research Johnathan Smith, but J. Smith; Jonathan Smith, etc. Those old newspapers weren't much for accuracy with names sometimes.


Also, I've found that if I have the title of an article, I can often pull it up in GoogleBooks. I've often done this after hours sifting through databases of old periodicals. And the Google search took 5 seconds.


Hope that helps!


Kirsten
#22 - March 05, 2014, 04:32 PM
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