Biographies for kids are a really special sub genre of nonfiction that I adore. They give great opportunities for adventurous writers to explore history, geography, creativity, overcoming obstacles, class, race, gender, disability, invention, the resilience of the human spirit and so much more. No wonder I love them so much. These days biographies are more popular than ever because of these three things:
* STEAM education - an emphasis on teaching Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts (as a bit of an afterthought), and Math
* Common Core Standard’s push for expository/informational writing in education
* And because they're written very differently than the way they used to be, making them potentially immensely pleasurable to read.
These days biographies usually focus on a pivotal incident in an individual's life (that connects with the things that I described in the first paragraph) using plot-driven techniques leading up to the moment the protagonist, AKA the subject, of the biography achieves their goal/solves the problem/or ultimately overcomes whatever obstacles are holding them back personally, socially, politically, physically, or historically. Subjects are either famous or important people, or people who have been left out of the history books because of unconscious sexism, racism, ignorance, or a desire to neatly package individuals into groups such as the Impressionists, who tend to be lauded as the only artists of that time. It's really fascinating.
One of the best people writing biographies these days, is my friend and former student Nancy Churnin. Nancy clearly has a social justice orientation in her books that include people with disabilities, regular people who do extraordinary things, and people who have made a huge difference in the world like in her recent book: Martin & Anne, the Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank. Please watch the video below to see more about this extraordinary book.
I was thinking that Nancy had invented a new form with this compare, contrast, and commonalities format but interestingly enough another beautiful former student who also writes fantastic biographies, Vivian Kirkfield, has a book coming out soon called called Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, which uses a similar but different format focusing on the mostly unknown friendship of these two people. This happens sometimes and is what I refer to as the collective unconscious where ideas are floating around in the ether and connect roughly around the same time with different people. I find this fascinating as well although sometimes it can be frustrating if you think you're the only one with this particular idea. But the thing is no one can write like you do, and Vivian and Nancy's books are totally different and equally valuable, each with their own fantastic voice, personalities, and perspectives. Wow!!
I look forward to doing a review of Vivian's new book and singing about her beautiful spirit when it comes out in early 2020. Meanwhile I want to tell you why I love Nancy. I've known Nancy for years and actually worked on a manuscript with her when I was an agent. I still very much believe in that book but the world might not be quite ready for it yet, although parts of our culture are edging their way forward with progressive politics. The thing about Nancy (and also Vivian) is that Nancy says yes to life. She does the work, she does the research, she makes the changes, she puts her heart and soul and formidable brain into everything she does, and it shows. I've asked her a couple of times to show up for things at the Children's Book Academy and she always says things like, "I could never imagine saying no to you", which cracks me up, but also makes me very happy. In other words, Nancy passes her learning and experience on and shares her hard earned knowledge with others, which I love, and this generosity also shows up in her work. So Yes to showing up and writing brilliant biographies!!!
And now for our video about this extraordinary book that gives me chills, and makes me cry, but that still fills me with hope:
About: Dr. Mira Reisberg has helped MANY authors and illustrators get published wearing just about every hat in the industry including illustrator and author, literary agent, children’s literature professor, and currently editor and art director editor at Clearfork Publishing/Spork. Mira holds a PhD in Education and Cultural Studies with a focus on children's literature. She is also the founding Director of the Children’s Book Academy. Most of all, Mira loves nurturing her own and others creativity helping her students publish or contract over 360 books so far.