While studying picture book biographies, I've noticed that they fall into two categories: a story about the person's whole life from birth to death or one part of the person's life. I'll call these options the whole biography pie or a slice of biography pie.
As always, I like to look at great examples. What's better than a book that received two recent ALA awards for nonfiction? I purchased on Kindle A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Knopf 2013.
Opening line: On February 22, 1888, the town of West Chester, Pennsylvania, celebrated a holiday. That day, in that same town, Daniel and Christine Pippin celebrated the birth of their son, Horace. (This book uses the setting to begin.)
Description: Horace is a big boy who's a great helper, and he loves to draw. When he wins a drawing contest, he receives real paints and draws as much as he can. But times are tough and then there's a war. Horace is called away, and something happens that prevents him from doing what he loves best until...
- This is the whole biography pie. Hope you're hungry!
- The text uses simple vocabulary and short sentences. Young children will be able to understand this book.
- A refrain is used which unifies the different parts of his life.
- Quotes are sprinkled throughout in text and illustrations. Dialog is not made up.
- Horace's "quirk" is that he loves to draw and that he's big. There isn't anything negative about his personality. The book shows the struggle of trying to do what he loves best. The climax: when what he loves, he can't do and how he overcomes it. So I'm trying to apply this structure to my story as well. Someone loves to do something, but is prevented or told to stop, how can good still come out of the situation?
- The clue words "one day" signal that a turning point in the story is happening. Go ahead, check a book and see if that's true. The beginning matter is stated, and then the first change in the story happens along the lines of "one day." "One day Horace saw a funny face in a magazine."
- The story ends bringing the reader into the picture. "And if you stood outside his house, you might see him leaning toward his easel..." (don't want to spoil how he overcomes) So I'm going to try to include my reader as well.
- Includes a wonderful historical note of more detailed info on his life plus an author's note of how the author connected with Horace, illustrator's note, back matter including where each quotation in the book came from.
I really enjoyed this book and learned so much from it. I hope you get the chance to read it. And here's a FABULOUS interview of Jen and Melissa on the making of this book. So will you be baking a whole biography pie or just a slice?