Books Early Readers Features Genre It's Monday What Are You Reading Lifespan of a Reader Memoirs, Biographies, and Constructed Narratives Middle Grade Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] World of Words: Picturebook Biographies of Beloved Children’s Writers

Have you ever wondered how Dr. Seuss came up with the story of The Cat in the Hat?

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It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

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Did you know that E.B. White wrote much of Charlotte’s Web in the boathouse of his farm in Maine? Have you ever wondered how Dr. Seuss came up with the story of The Cat in the Hat? Did you know that L. Frank Baum worked different jobs and wrote other stories before his success with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Read more as I share the fascinating stories of these dearly loved writers who made such a great impact on children’s literature.


mr0430aA Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider

The Story of E.B. White

Words by Barbara Herkert
Pictures by Lauren Castillo
Published by Henry Holt and Company (2017)
ISBN: 9781627792455
Copy provided by Wayne County Public Library.
Book photos taken by me.

From the dust jacket: When Elwyn White lay in bed as a sickly child, a bold house mouse befriended him. The pair conducted many expeditions to the attic and horse barn together. When the time came for kindergarten, an anxious Elwyn longed for home, where animal friends of all sorts awaited him at the end of each day. Propelled by his fascination with the outside world, he began to jot down his reflections in a journal. Years later, E.B. White left his city life and journeyed to the farm of his dreams, where he filled his stories with one-of-a-kind animals.

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Through short lyrical verses, Barbara Herkert tells the story of E.B. White and the inspiration for his beloved classics, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. E.B. was the youngest of six children and he was small and sickly. He found a companion in a mouse and refuge in a stable filled with animals. School was not E.B.’s favorite thing. He was too anxious and suffered from too many fears. At the end of the day, he found solace being in their barn. Later in life, E.B. White found his calling through writing.

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Barbara Herkert and Lauren Castillo perfectly captured how E.B. White’s experiences shaped his personality and influenced the stories he would later tell. This book is great to read with younger kids because of its length and scarce use of words. The Author’s Note provides additional information about E.B. White’s life.

E.B. White
celebrated life through
a mouse's journey.
the pact between a pig and a spider,
and the power of words.
He basked in the seasons,
the peace of the barn,
the beauty of the world.
His stories capture
the glory of nature
and the comfort of hope.

mr0430dImagine That!

How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat

Words by Judy Sierra
Pictures by Kevin Hawkes
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers (2017)
ISBN: 9780553510973
Copy provided by Wayne County Public Library.
Book photos by me.

From the dust jacket: Have you ever wondered how the great Dr. Seuss wrote his most famous book? Did you know that for The Cat in the Hat, he wasn’t allowed to make up the fun words he was known for? He could only use words from a very strict list! This bouncy account of Ted Geisel’s fascinating creative process and early career proves that sometimes limitations can be the best inspiration of all!

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Judy Sierra’s picturebook biography focused on a particular time in Dr. Seuss’s life: how he came to write The Cat in the Hat. In 1954, it was discovered that first graders could not read a whole book because they were bored out of their mind. Upon the recommendation of another writer named John Hersey, Dr. Seuss was asked to write a book that was suited for first readers. Although his earlier books were intended for the little ones, Dr. Seuss thought that writing a book for a first-grade reader would be easy-peasy lemon-squeezy. Alas, it was not the case. Dr. Seuss was only allowed to use the words in the “official” list, the No-Nonsense list.

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I loved how Dr. Seuss managed to write The Cat in the Hat with limited words. I also enjoyed reading about Dr. Seuss’s friend, Bennett Cerf, who challenged the great writer to write a beginning reader using only fifty different words! (That’s Green Eggs and Ham, for y’all.) Imagine That is a fantastic addition to any Dr. Seuss fan. It was fun to read about a great children’s writer at work. A must-have in any home or library!

Ted glared at the list. He spied the
word cat, and he spied the word hat.
"Cat rhymes with hat, so I'll just start
with that!"

mr0430gThe Road to Oz

Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum

Words by Kathleen Krull
Pictures by Kevin Hawkes
Published by Alfred A. Knopf (2008)
ISBN: 9780375832161
Copy provided by Wayne County Public Library.
Book photos taken by me.

From the dust jacket: Dorothy followed the yellow brick road to Oz. Her creator, L. Frank Baum, took a much more roundabout route, with detours and dead ends galore. The Road to Oz tells the fascinating and little-known story of his life. After many fizzled enthusiasms, failed vocations, and just plain dreary jobs, Baum, at age forty-four, found his way to Oz by doing what he always loved best: storytelling.

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Lyman Frank Baum grew up in a rich family. (He hated the name Lyman, by the way.) He was pampered and some might even describe him as spoiled. His parents sent him to military school but that didn’t really work out. Growing up, he did a lot of fun things with his brother Harry. By the time he was eighteen, L. Frank Baum could not decide which career to focus on. Growing up, luck never seemed to favor L. Frank Baum. He did so many odd jobs and went through so detours before becoming a writer. I have listed them below. (You have to read the book, though, because Kathleen Krull’s narrative was very entertaining.)

  • He joined a theater company and was allowed to join if he brought them five trunks of wigs and costumes. (He never got a role.)
  • He founded his own traveling theater troupe. He wrote and starred in an Irish melodrama—The Maid of Arran. (His earnings were stolen by his bookkeeper and all his props were destroyed in a fire.)
  • He bred chickens for poultry shows. He was inspired to write a book called The Book of Hamburgs. (It’s about a breed of chickens; it was not a bestseller.)
  • He became a traveling salesman, selling oil for lubrication and kerosene lamps. (His head clerk shot himself after gambling away all of Frank’s earnings.)
  • After he got married and had children, he opened a store in South Dakota—Baum’s Bazaar—where he sold games, china, and crafts and toys from around the world. (Business did not boom; the drought did not help.)
  • He worked as a visual merchandiser—known as “window dressing” in Frank’s time—and wrote another book, The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors. (Needless to say, it was not a bestseller.)

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Of the three books featured in this post, The Road to Oz is perhaps the longest and contains the most words. This book also provided the most in-depth narrative in the life of a famous writer. You can never go wrong with a book written by Kathleen Krull. This book is a rare gem. How often do you come across a picturebook biography about L. Frank Baum? I loved the writing and enjoyed the parenthetical remarks. In addition, I admired Frank’s resilience and determination. Despite the many failures and detours he encountered in his life, he never gave up. It’s definitely a lesson we can all learn from.

For a while, Frank had been pouring his powers of imagination into one big story. It was called “The Emerald City”—a sort of green version of Chicago’s White City. One evening a girl asked him where these creatures lived. Baum liked to say that his glance happened to fall on his file cabinet: two drawers labeled A-N and O-Z.

“Oz!” was his reply.


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9 comments on “[Monday Reading] World of Words: Picturebook Biographies of Beloved Children’s Writers

  1. Darn and heck! Not even one of these books are available at my local library. Having recently listened to EB White narrate Charlotte’s Web, I especially want to read A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider.

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  2. I love the illustrations. Have a great reading week.

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  3. Gosh! They all look lovely, Fats! I don’t think we have these three titles in our library either. 😦

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  4. lindabaie

    I’ve read the E.B. White book & it is wonderful, but don’t know the other two at all, Fats. Thank you for telling about them. I know I will enjoy them. I did know about Geisel’s challenges, what a great end result!

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  5. The only one I’ve read so far is the E. B. White title – need to take a look at the others!

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  6. I am so thrilled with all of the new picture book biography books available to today’s children. Thank you for sharing these. I have not yet read any of them, but I certainly plan to. Have a wonderful reading week!

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  7. I love adding picture book biography to my read aloud collection. I adored A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider so definitely need to check out the others too!

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  8. Sarah Sammis

    The EB White book looks good. I’ve read the Baum book. Happy end of the month. Come see what I’m reading.

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  9. 2 of 3 of these authors are from Portland!

    Like

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