Picture Book Biographies:
98 Years in 32 Pages?
II of III
noun ( pl. -phies)
an account of someone’s life written by someone else.
• writing of such a type as a branch of literature.
• a human life in its course : although their individual biographies are different, both are motivated by a similar ambition.
By definition a biography is not required to stretch from cradle to grave. A biographer might elect to focus on only a portion of “a human life in its course.” Such is the case with our third and fourth picture biographies of Georgia O’Keeffe.
In GEORGIA’S BONES Jen Bryant focuses on her subject’s early years: childhood through her initial experiences and paintings in New York and New Mexico. Kathryn Lasky’s GEORGIA RISES: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF GEORGIA O’KEEFFE describes a typical day in O’Keeffe’s life at an advanced age in New Mexico. While they focus on opposite ends of a life, both texts are reflective in tone. They also both attempt to slip inside O’Keeffe’s mind and thoughts, a style that is as much historical fiction as biography.
Lasky’s “Author’s Note” actually identifies her manuscript as “historical fiction” because it blends events and chronology. Bryant’s narrative voice blends comments by O’Keeffe herself with her own ponderings as to what O’Keeffe might have thought.
“She didn’t know why they [bones] pleased her so.
Perhaps it was the quiet way
they did their work – the years of being invisible,
and then, when everything fell away,
they appeared, pure and beautiful.”
“The sky is purple now, and a slice of silver moon still sails over the desert. She looks down at the path. A bone gleaming white sits as pretty as angle wings just ahead. Georgia likes bones. She picks up the bone and holds it high and closes one eye. The moon skins its top. She tilts the bone and captures the moon for one brief instant.”
Each of these four picture books is as interested in how O’Keeffe lived her life as much or more than the chronology of her life. A chronology is merely a list of facts. The “who we are” and “how we live” creates the story.
“People read biography for the same reason they read fiction; not to find out, simply, what happens next, but to figure out how people live their lives, how they solve their problems,”
Marnie Jones. THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR. Winter 1984-85
Next: Finding the primary chords in a life stretching 98 years.
Picture Book Biographies Discussed
GEORGIA RISES: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF GEORGIA O’KEEFFE by Kathryn Lasky. Illus. by Ora Eitan. Farrar, 2009.
GEORGIA’S BONES by Jen Bryant. Illus. by Bethanne Andersen. Eerdmans, 2005.
MY NAME IS GEORGIA by Jeannette Winter. Harcourt, 1998.
THROUGH GEORGIA’S EYES by Rachel Rodriguez. Illus. by Julie Paschkis. Holt, 2006.