Thursday, May 17, 2018

Picture Book Biographies

Do I have a sudden urge to read picture book biographies because good ones are finally available, or are there more available because the audience has a thirst for them? Either way, students who have to do book reports have a wider range of options than ever before.

I'm a big fan of Meghan McCarthy's picture book biographies; I always learn so much and her illustration style is fun and unique. McCarthy had the odds stacked against her with the subject of Charles Atlas. In the author's note, she admits that Atlas is a modern "Paul Bunyan"--all stories have been twisted and exaggerated. I wonder why she followed through with him as a subject, rather than choosing someone easier to research. The result is a book that is weaker in information, but still entertaining.

Fans of McCathy's work will breeze through this title and readers interested in health will enjoy reading about the founding father of the fitness industry. Still, if you only have room or money for one McCarthy title in your library, stick to Earmuffs for Everyone.

Author Jess Keating did something incredibly smart with Shark Lady: she wrote a picture book that could be accessed on many levels. The first is that of a simple picture book, telling the story of Eugenie Clark's lifelong passion for sharks. The youngest readers (or students listening to a read aloud) can enjoy and take information away from this book.

Keating then included two sections for the more advanced reader: two pages of interesting facts on sharks and a timeline of Clark's life. These pages add some meat to the bones for readers doing their first biography projects for school. Finally, Keating writes an author's note that whets the older reader's interest to learn more about Clark that couldn't fit in the book and includes the resources to find that information. That's where Shark Lady finds its middle grade sweet spot. When framed like this, it's a worthwhile purchase for any library.

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