September Class Registering Now — Writing Picture Book Biographies that Shine


I am smitten with picture book biographies. In fact, while pursuing an MFA in Writing (Children’s and YA focus) from Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), I even focused my critical thesis on creative approaches to picture book biographies and the often-fuzzy nonfiction line. Since then, I have been honored with awards for Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness (Lee and Low Books)Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words (Peachtree), and King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara (Peachtree). See the home page here about my newly-announced co-authored book, Wings of an Eagle: The Gold Medal Dreams of Billy Mills. Teaching writers is one of my great joys, and I have done so through the Highlights FoundationSCBWIThe Writing Barn, independent writing organizations, and my individual classes. You can read some student testimonials here. I hope you’ll join me this fall 2021.

A well-crafted and marketable picture book biography requires the research of a scholar and the style and sparkle of a storyteller. In this six-week masters-level class, we will dive deeply into the process of writing a stellar picture book biography, from idea to publication. This will not be your typical theory-driven class. We will mine stacks of mentor texts for concrete examples of craft elements in action so that you can better conceptualize or revise your own work-in-progress.

What you can expect to learn:

  • Defining nonfiction vs. fiction
  • How to analyze mentor texts
  • Finding your personal connection to your character
  • Marketable ideas
  • Choosing a tight angle/focus
  • Point of view and psychic distance
  • Theme (the heart of your story)
  • Character arc
  • Narrative arc
  • Voice
  • Structure
  • Beginnings & Endings
  • Research & organization
  • Backmatter
  • Revision & Submissions
  • Publishing process
  • Guest author Q&A (this is a bonus additional perspective)

What you can expect to receive from me:

  • Six info-packed two-hour classes via Zoom (You will learn more than you expect)
  • A mega-list of mentor texts
  • Handouts with helpful resources and idea generators
  • Writing exercises to help you build or evaluate your own picture book biography
  • An active private Facebook group for sharing resources, news, and encouragement
  • A one-on-one phone call with me to discuss your manuscript or your career goals (must be used within the six-week class session)
  • Limited-time recordings of each class

  • Bonus option for my students: One deeply discounted Developmental Critique letter from me (normally $225+). P.B. Bio. manuscript less than 1500 words. Must be used within six months of class.)

Why isn’t there an opportunity to workshop my manuscript during the six-week class?
Doing so would mean eliminating two class times of content so that up to 15 manuscripts can be live-workshopped within 4 hours by every student. That would be a whole lot of work for each of you. I polled former and potential students, and the majority preferred the current six-week instruction model. Here’s an example of feedback I received: “I can’t imagine you cutting any info from the class! … I did a XXXX Pb bio class after yours… and it was the 4 + 2 model. It was fine, but I preferred yours.”

Why don’t you offer a written critique of my manuscript as part of the class registration fee?
It’s a matter of time, really. I am immersive and thorough, and picture book biographies take longer than fiction picture books. Between multiple readings, outlining, and preparing notes, I easily spend 2-4 hours on each written Developmental Critique that I prepare. Multiplied by the number of student manuscripts (up to 15), it is impractical.

Bio: Donna Janell Bowman is the author of many books for young readers, including STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS, ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS, KING OF THE TIGHTROPE: WHEN THE GREAT BLONDIN RULED NIAGARA, and the forthcoming co-authored autobiographical picture book with Olympian Billy Mills, WINGS OF AN EAGLE: THE GOLD MEDAL DREAMS OF BILLY MILLS. In addition to earning starred reviews, Junior Library Guild Selection, and inclusion on Best-Books-of-the-Year lists, Donna’s books have earned awards and honors from the National Council for the Social Studies, National Council of Teachers of English, American Library Association/Association for Library Service to Children, and more. Armed with an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts (Children’s and YA focus), Donna enjoys inspiring writers of all ages as a speaker, writing teacher, and freelance editor.