Picture book biographies—My most-viewed posts

We’re working to re-establish the blog archives and categories that got tangled up in the recent website import. For now, if you’re looking for past posts about nonfiction picture books or picture book biography (or ies), simply type those terms into the blog search box. You can also find the most-viewed posts below.

*DISCLAIMER: These posts were written in 2010 and 2011, as I was teaching myself how to write picture book biographies by dissecting other books. Since then, picture book biographies have evolved and I have evolved as a writer. When my imaginary household staff, interns, and assistants catch up on the backlog of responsibilities, I hope to return to the topics with a more recent perspective. Til then, enjoy!

NEW! Listen to The Porchlight Podcast where author Cynthia Levinson and I discuss the challenges of writing nonfiction picture books.

Nonfiction Picture Books- the power of THEME

Nonfiction Picture Books – Defining Tight Focus

Nonfiction Picture Books – Language and Tone

Picture Book Biographies with First Person Point of View

Nonfiction Picture Books – The Power of Illustrations

Nonfiction vs. Creative Nonfiction vs. Historical Fiction

Truth Inspired – How Story Dictates Itself

Interview with Marc Tyler Nobleman – BOYS OF STEEL and the Nonfiction Picture Book Genre

Waiting for the “NOW”. When it’s time to start Writing

Stealing, Tweaking, Voice

Alternating POV and Alternating Tense in Nonfiction Picture Books

Dramatic Point of Vew in Historical Fiction Picture Books

To Nonfiction or Historical Fiction. That is the Question

Nonfiction Picture Books – Defining Tight Focus

Research- The Scavenger Hunt of Writers

Do nonfiction picture books always have a story arc?

Research Resources- Start Growing your Cyber Library

From Befuddled to Eureka- Clarifying my narrator’s lens-P.B. Biography

Revising like a Sculptor


SCBWI Grants, the Cost of Research, and My Most Used Research Sites

Interview with Marc Tyler Nobleman – BOYS OF STEEL and the Nonfiction Picture Book Genre

I’m Teaching a NF Picture Book Class! Join Me!

Children’s nonfiction is increasingly popular these days, especially in the picture book form. Yet, it’s difficult to find relevant instruction in writing books, workshops, or classes. With ever-changing styles and creative approaches, it is important to seek out up-to-date expertise on the subject.

I’m thrilled to be teaching a six-week class about nonfiction picture books and picture book biographies at The Writing Barn in Austin this summer. In addition to authoring the recently-released (and, thankfully, acclaimed) STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS (Lee and Low, 2016), and the forthcoming ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS (Peachtree, 2018), and KING OF THE TIGHTROPE (Peachtree, 2019), I completed my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I researched the heck out of picture book biographies for my in-depth, fifty-two-page critical thesis. See, I am smitten!  Oh, did I mention that I’ve also written books for the education market? Or that I have other p.b. bios. and nonfiction p.b.s in various stages of revision and submission?

Enough about me.

I am planning our class syllabus around a primary goal: to lead you to creative breakthroughs about your own current and future nonfiction projects. We will do this by analyzing published nonfiction picture books as mentor texts. During class times, we will explore decisions about:

Choosing a viable topic
Narrative vs. expository styles
Scope & Angle—finding the kid-friendly story
Intended audience (length and sentence complexity are a clue)
Word count and page length
Structure—linear and nonlinear options
Creative options in nonfiction and how they affect the nonfiction classification
Word choice / Tone
How to leave room for the illustrator
Research (where to start, when to stop, how to organize)
Back matter
I will share relevant process information about my own books, too.

Students will:

  • Revise current projects and begin new projects
  • Receive feedback me and fellow student
  • Join in collaborative discussions with classmates (in class and on a private Facebook page)
  • Read many nonfiction picture books—assigned and student choice–with an analytical eye
  • Maintain an informal bibliography with low-stress annotations.
  • Have fun, be inspired, and develop priceless friendships with fellow writers

Class begins June 11, 2017. Last class is July 30, 2017.
We skip June 18 (Father’s Day) and July 2 (for July 4th travelers).

Learn more about the class and how to register here.

Contact me with questions here

Happy Birthday to Birthdayographies! Interview with Anne Bustard

December 1- Happy Birthday to Birthdayographies!

Psst…please ignore the wacky formatting of this post. Try as I may, I can’t seem to fix it.)  Wow, how time flies! Today, December 1st, marks the anniversary, er,
birthday, of my blog, Birthdayographies. It’s been quite a year! In the past
twelve months, I have added almost two hundred birthdays with respective
picture book titles, bringing the posted or scheduled number to 540.
Whew! Search functionality continues to evolve and improve, and the site
is growing into a substantial tool for teachers, librarians, students,
and writers. Birthdayographies is a work-in-progress squeezed into small
patches of available time-pretty much like any writing project. I am
immensely proud of the growth and the response from followers. There
have been flubs and missteps, of course, and, very soon, the blog will
transfer to a new blog platform to accommodate the volume and growing
need for flexibility.Now, with a year under my belt, I can’t think of a better way to
celebrate this first milestone than by inviting Anne Bustard to the
Birthdayographies party. You may recall that Anne was the originator of
the biography/birthday blog idea. How
lucky for me that, in 2013, she offered me the treasures of her blog,
Anneographies. It was great for her, as her novel-writing blossomed. And
great for me because I already had a spiral jam-packed with a list of
p.b. biographies I read and studied. You can read my first Birthdayographies welcome post from December 1, 2013.

Anne Bustard is the author of the award-winning picture
book biography Buddy: The Story of Buddy
(Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster BFYR). Her debut middle
grade historical novel Anywhere But
(Egmont USA), set in 1960 Hawaii, will be released in 2015.
in Honolulu, Anne moved to Austin, Texas, to attend college, and stayed.
And, Anne happens to be one of the nicest people on the planet.
Donna:  Hiya, Anne! Welcome to the Birthdayographies party! Without you, there wouldn’t be a Birthdayographies.
Anne:   Happy First
Birthday, Birthdayographies! Thanks for inviting me to visit today! And thank
you, for championing this genre!
Donna:   Anne, in 2005, you launched your blog, Anneographies, featuring picture
book biographies by subject’s birthday. What inspired this very original
Anne:   The idea
for Anneographies sprang from my love of picture book biographies. I wanted to
find a way to celebrate and share them every day, or at least, as many days of
the year as possible.

As a
former children’s only bookseller and then educator of pre-service teachers, highlighting
new and backlist titles was important. But how? What format might resonate with
potential visitors and me?


Well, I’m
a calendar person. Word-a-day calendars, this-day-in-history calendars,
websites that offer this-day facts—I’m in! So, it won’t surprise you to know
that I keep a calendar dedicated to birthdays. Birthdays! That was it—the
common denominator. And so the blog was born.
Donna:   Anneographies featured approximately 350 picture book biographies. How
did you come up with so many titles to include? Who was your intended
Anne:   Over
the past fifteen-plus years, picture book biographies as well as collective
biographies have flourished. I did my best to include as many as I could. I delighted
in regular visits to libraries and bookstores. For me, it was a wonderful treasure
hunt—with finds at every turn.

As to
the audience, I imagined educators, librarians and parents using the blog as a

Donna:  Why
do you think picture book biographies are an important genre?
Anne:   Quite
simply, these thirty-two to forty-eight page wonders of text and illustrations
inspire and illuminate. Each one shines a spotlight on a life that has changed
the world—a life that required some combination of sacrifice, struggle,
determination, discouragement, hope, insight and achievement. Picture book biographies
show readers what’s possible—which is just about anything.



often, they honor a person from the past, and in doing so, enrich young readers
understanding of history. They invite readers to see the world from someone
else’s perspective. And as natural springboards for further inquiry, they can
lead readers to other books and resources.  Like
all good literature, picture book biographies touch readers’ hearts and minds.
Donna:  What do you find are the biggest challenges to writing picture book biographies?



Anne:  I’ve
only written one, so I’m certainly not an expert here. But I will say that
commitment is critical. I have researched other possible subjects, but
eventually I stopped. I wasn’t invested enough to see their stories through. I
wasn’t passionate enough. I wasn’t in love.



down primary resources and verifying facts to the nth degree is a formidable
challenge. On the other hand, uncovering a particularly elusive piece of
information or making a surprising discovery is incredibly sweet.



Did I
mention the writing? Drafting and revising umpteen times until each word sings
is daunting. But possible!
Donna:  When your own focus turned to fiction, you very kindly offered the
Anneographies content to your most picture-book-biography-obsessed writer
friend. Me! I am still very honored. It has now been twelve months since the
Anneographies content was transferred to Birthdayographies. The list of
featured titles has grown to 540, with no end in sight. As the grande dame of
the birthday/biography idea, how does it feel to watch your brainchild evolve on Birthdayographies?
Anne:   Wow!
540 titles! That’s fantastic! You’ve definitely taken the blog to another
level. Congratulations on your amazingly strong year. You deserve all the
birthday cake you can eat. I particularly love your inclusion of books from
educational publishers. They are a brilliant addition.
Donna:   Okay, time to fill us in on what you’ve been up to since the
Anneographies-Birthdayography switch on December 1, 2013. What have you been
working on? Is there any news you’d like to share? How can readers find you?
Anne:   A few days after the switch, I learned a book contract for
my debut middle grade historical novel was in the works! I was, and still am,
beyond thrilled! I’ve spent the last year double-triple checking historical
facts and revising. Anywhere But Paradise
will be published on April 14, 2015.



Readers can visit me anytime at www.annebustard.com.

Many thanks to Anne for joining us on Birthdayographies. Stay
tuned, dear readers, for more books, more birthdays, and more ways to
share the wonder of picture book biographies. As always, if you have
suggestions, I’d love to hear from you. And, if you find
Birthdayographies helpful, I hope you’ll share it with teachers,
students, librarians, and writer friends.

Thank you for your support!

Twenty Memorable Nonfiction Titles from 2012

2012 is coming to a close and, as I skim through the list of nonfiction and historical fiction picture books I’ve read and studied this year, a handful of new releases stand out as memorable, for various individual reasons.  Of course, there are oodles of outstanding middle grade nonfiction books out this year, too, but I’ve chosen to narrow this particular list to the picture book form only.

Without futher ado, here are the standouts from my personal readings of 2012 releases:
(Note, they are in alphabetical order by publisher because that’s the way I record them in my reading log-more on that later.)

 MINETTE’S FEAST; THE DELLICIOUS STORY OF JULIA CHILD AND HER CAT by Susanna Reich. Illustrated by Amy Bates (Abrams, 2012)

BILL THE BOY WONDER: THE SECRET CO-CREATOR OF BATMAN by Marc Tyler Nobleman. Illustrated by Ty Templeton (Charlesbridge 2012)

BAMBINO AND MR. TWAIN by P.I. Maltbie. Illustrated by Daniel Miyares (Charlesbridge, 2012)

EMILY AND CARLO by Marty Rhodes Figley. Illustrated by Catherine Stock (Charlesbridge, 2012)

BROTHERS AT BAT: THE TRUE STORY OF AN AMAZING ALL-BROTHER BASEBALL TEAM by Audrey Vernick. Illustrated by Steven Salerno (Clarion, 2012)

THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA by Barb Rosenstock. Illustrated by Mordecai Gerstein (Dial, 2012)

ELECTRIC BEN: THE AMAZING LIFE AND TIMES OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN written and illustrated by Robert Byrd (Dial, 2012)

THE FANTASTIC JUNGLES OF HENRI ROUSSEAU by Michelle Markel. Illustrated by Amanda Hall (Eerdman’s, 2012)


NOAH WEBSTER AND HIS WORDS  by Jeri Chase Ferris. Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)

JUST BEHAVE, PABLO PICASSO by Jonah Winter. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Arthur Levine Books, 2012)

IT JES’ HAPPENED: WHEN BILL TRAYLOR STARTED TO DRAW by Don Tate. Illustrated by Gregory Christie (Lee & Low, 2012)

ISLAND: A STORY OF THE GALAPAGOS written and illustrated by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook, 2012)

MONSIEUR MARCEAU by Leda Schubert. Illustrated by Gerard DuBois  (Roaring Brook, 2012)

ANNIE AND HELEN by Deborah Hopkinson. Illustrated by Raul Colon (Schwartz & Wade, 2012

BON APPETIT! THE DELICIOUS LIFE OF JULIA CHILD  written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland (Schwartz & Wade, 2012)

A BOY CALLED DICKENS by Deborah Hopkinson. Illustrated by John Hendrix (Schwartz & Wade, 2012)


LOOKING AT LINCOLN written and illustrated by Maira Kalman. (Penguin (Nancy Paulsen) 2012)

TOUCH THE SKY: ALICE COACHMAN, OLYMPIC HIGH JUMPER by Ann Malaspina. Illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Albert Whitman, 2012)

Interview with Marc Tyler Nobleman – BOYS OF STEEL and the Nonfiction Picture Book Genre

Marc Tyler Nobleman is the author of 70 books for children, both for educational and trade publishers. His recent picture book, BOYS OF STEEL: THE CREATORS OF SUPERMAN has been widely applauded, with starred reviews by Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly, and named a Kirkus “Best Children’s Book” of 2008.
Marc, thank you for letting me pick your brain about the challenging genre of nonfiction picture books. And, for sharing your writing process with BOYS OF STEEL.
Why did you choose to write BOYS OF STEEL as a nonfiction picture book as opposed to historical fiction, or chaptered book for older readers?
The story had never been the focus of its own book, in any format. In my opinion, it had enough meat to stand alone, without being fictionalized. Because of the visual nature of the story, and the “storyography” (i.e. biography focusing on a defining incident rather than an entire life) approach I wanted to do, I felt picture book was the only way to go.
Nonfiction has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. How would you define the term “narrative nonfiction” today?
Narrative nonfiction is telling a true story as it unfolds—meaning that the reader learns about the events as the characters do, not with any writer intervention such as “An amazing thing was about to happen.” But it’s more than that. It’s telling a story with flair. With muscular rather than straightforward prose. With mini-cliffhangers whenever possible.
Recent news about the picture book market has been gloomy. How do you think the market for nonfiction picture books is faring?
I don’t know statistics but I stand by the form. Now more than ever, nonfiction picture books are shining. Authors are covering topics that have never been the focus of any book, let alone picture books, and they’re doing original research in creating them. Plus some, like me, promote them as picture books for all ages, widening the market potential. There will always be a need for strong nonfiction, and, generally speaking, I feel strong nonfiction may have more staying power than strong fiction, especially if it’s an unconventional topic.
It is said that there is a piece of the author in every successful book. Was there something about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, their struggles, and persistence that resonated with you personally?
My school presentation focuses on the need for persistence. Every writer—most every person, on some level—can relate to that idea. When I was younger, yes, there were times I felt marginalized as Jerry and Joe did, though that was not the main reason I chose to write this book.
You are also a talented cartoonist. Did you consider illustrating the book yourself?
Not even for a moment! My art style is fairly limited. I wouldn’t be capable of creating anything near as vibrant as what Ross MacDonald did. I was lucky to work with him.
You received twenty-two rejections before your manuscript was picked up by Knopf in 2008? How many revisions did you tackle before it was finally acquired?
At least 18, and then more afterward.
BOYS OF STEEL is unique in its biographical introduction to two individuals. Where would we find it shelved in most libraries?
I would like it to be shelved with picture book biography. However, some libraries are shelving it in cartooning. I’ve talked with some librarians about this. I feel the book has greater effect if a young reader can discover it when browsing biographies. If it’s in cartooning, it will be mostly a destination book—in other words, a book that kids find when searching the catalog and then go to specifically. But in cartooning, kids will not be able to stumble across it when assigned a biography project.
Read Marc’s blog post on the library quandry here.
Your research for BOYS OF STEEL was exhaustive. When did you know it was time to stop digging and start the actual writing?
I am still researching it! I occasionally post new tidbits on my blog. I had known the main beats of the story for years, and I knew early on what the framework of my telling of the story would be, so I began writing relatively quickly.
Do you prefer to write from an outline?
Not exactly. I write down what incidents I want to include and work from that, but it’s not a traditional outline.
BOYS OF STEEL opens with Joe and Jerry as teenagers, and covers only about ten years. Did you struggle at all with choosing where to begin and end the story?
As mentioned above, I knew all along that I wanted to start just before they met and end just after Superman took off, so to speak. In comics circles, their story always ends on a sad note. For once I wanted their story to end on a high note—after all, their big accomplishment was culturally seismic. (I do get into the heartbreaking portion of their lives in the author’s note, but the story proper can stand alone without being inaccurate.)
Choosing which quotes, anecdotes, and details to leave out is often the hardest part of nonfiction picture book writing. What advice do you have for writers working in this genre?
Every detail must move the story along in some way. It may be necessary for plot, or it may reveal character in a way that no other nugget does. My books are pretty tightly constructed. I am always looking for fat to trim. My advice, generally, is to make every sentence count.
Do you think story theme comes organically or intentionally to an author? What do you think is the prevailing theme in BOYS OF STEEL?
I think the theme is persistence, which incorporates believing in yourself. I don’t think the theme always reveals itself to an author immediately. It may take some experimentation, at least for me.
Your Author’s Note is almost as long as the book text, and offers the riveting “story behind the story.”  Who do you think is drawn to the author’s note more, young readers or adults? 
I think the author’s note may be longer than the text. It addresses some rather sophisticated subjects (copyright, the Holocaust) so it skews a bit older than the main text, but plenty of teachers and librarians do read it to kids (most suited for grades 4 and up). I share anecdotes that didn’t make it into the book as well as research stories on my blog http://noblemania.blogspot.com.
I would imagine students, especially boys, love BOYS OF STEEL. Tell us what your school visits are like. With a nod to my home state, have you brought your presentation to Texas schools?
I have been thrilled that BOYS OF STEEL does seem to appeal to boys, especially boys at the critical age (typically 4th grade) when they begin to lag girls in reading interest. However, I did not write it as a “boy book.” And I am, of course, equally thrilled when it resonates with girls for any reason. I have been to Texas twice now since BOYS OF STEEL came out. Once I was in the Houston school district and more recently I spent two weeks in another Houston district, Cy-Fair. Sixteen schools (40 talks!) in two weeks! I needed some Superman stamina for that one! It proved easier than one might assume because the response was wonderfully enthusiastic. The book was nominated for a Horned Toad Tales Award and teachers and librarians prepped the kids well.
Speaking of school visits, take a peek at some of Marc’s school visit recaps and his Ten Most Memorable School Visits 
What can we expect from you next?
My picture book on the story behind Batman—focusing on the uncredited co-creator and original writer, Bill Finger—comes out in July 2012. In the meantime, I’m working on several other nonfiction picture books—none superhero related! I’m also speaking quite a bit and working on some writing-intensive but non-book projects including a possible documentary and a possible TV show based on one of my books. Stay tuned to my blog for details when they become available!
Readers, while you’re perusing Marc’s blog, be sure to jump over to his post on picture book biographies for older readers.   
To learn more about Marc’s writing, research, and well-documented journey through the publishing world, pop over to his insightful and content-rich blog, Noblemania. Then take a peak at his wonderful cartoon work.