By Linda Skeers
Tackling a picture book biography can be daunting! You’ve done your research, read books
and articles, taken notes and have stacks of facts. Sometimes too many facts. Way too many! How can you sum up a person’s life for a child? One way is to narrow your focus on just one aspect of their life – their childhood. Children love to know what people were like when they were their age. It makes an instant connection between your subject and your reader.
As you research, look for anecdotes, stories and incidents from your subject’s childhood.
Keep these questions in mind --What inspired their future endeavors? Was their skill, talent or aptitude apparent in their early years? Did they have a defining moment that led them down a particular path? Was their future success or achievement hinted at years before they discovered their life’s purpose?
Here are a few outstanding mentor texts that focus on a person’s childhood:
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim
An inspirational story highlighting Civil Rights leader John Lewis’s desire to encourage people to think, feel and act. But who can he practice his empowering speeches on when he’s just a young farm boy?
The flock of chickens he’s tending!
Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglas by Lesa Cline-Ransom
As a child, Frederick Douglas dreamed of a future where everyone was treated equal. He knew he had to do one important thing before that could happen – learn to read. No matter how difficult or how many obstacles he faced, he knew he MUST succeed.
Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Almost all children have a favorite stuffed animal. So did Jane Goodall. She adored her stuffed chimpanzee which led her to a life devoted to studying, living among and helping animals.
Before He Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane by Carole Boston Weatherford
John Coltrane LOVED all the sounds of his childhood. And what he heard as a young boy helped shape his amazing musical career.
Dig deep and search for those special childhood moments in a person’s life that have shaped their future. Having a child read about someone’s younger days and CONNECT to them is an amazing accomplishment. Imagine them closing a biography and thinking, “Hey, they are just like me!” or “I’ve done that, too” or “I know how that feels.”
Not only will your reader gain a deeper understanding into someone else’s life, they will believe that they too, can do amazing things in their life.
Because after all, we all started out as kids.