Tuesday, March 12, 2019

ReFoReMo Day 8: Author/Diversity Advocate Mia Wenjen Highlights Biography Arcs


These books showed me how to find the arc of a picture book biography by focusing on a defining moment, following this thread throughout the narrative, and noticing how this led to their ultimate goal. This also gives the illustrations a focal point.

The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon by Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee, illustrated by Susanna Chapman

Bobbi is a girl whose legs can't be still. Colorful energy lines cascade from her in the illustrations when she's pursuing her goal. 








Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life by Joan Schoettler, illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner

The wavy lines and hourglass shapes she created as a child would define Ruth Asawa's art. 














Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz

Feeding the poor as a means towards world peace drove Momofuku to create instant noodles.













A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by Xia Gordon

The motif for her life is a flower blooming without sunlight.














Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell

A wild vine in a too-small pot is an apt metaphor for Isabella Bird's adventurous life that guides the story through related descriptive words and the color palette of the illustrations. 








Mia is offering a signed copy of her book, HOW TO COACH GIRLS and a Grab Bag of Picture BooksTo be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must be registered by March 4, comment on each post, consistently read mentor texts, and enter the Rafflecopter drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo. 

Mia Wenjen is a parenting blogger turned author. She writes obsessively about diversity children's books at PragmaticMom.com and is a co-creator of Multicultural Children's Book Day. Her debut picture book, Sumo Joe, is out May  2019. She is also the co-author of How To Coach Girls.

166 comments:

  1. Thanks Mia for these great examples of biography and the defining moment that holds the story together :-). Very important in NF biographies as it focuses the reader.

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    1. Oh and I look forward to reading your debut picture book :-).

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  2. I love how Duncan ties the story of Gwendolyn Brooks together using a flower as a metaphor. Thanks for this list of mentor texts. Congratulations on your debut picture book!

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  3. Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll check them out.

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  4. Congratulations and thanks for some inspiring mentor texts!

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  5. Congratulations on your debut, Sumo Joe! I will be watching for it! Unfortunately our tri-county library system only has one of these mentor texts. I have a couple biography manuscripts I'm working on so your advice to find a defining moment, focusing on a defining moment, following the thread throughout the narrative, and noticing how the moment led to their goal is great advice. Thank you!

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  6. Congratulations on the debut PB!
    Great mentor texts. I have a biography in mind, so this post was perfect timing.

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  7. Interesting how the illustrations help define the focus. Some of these are new to me and I love picture book biographies. Congratulations on Sumo Joe!

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  8. Thanks for the wonderful suggestions. I'm looking forward to reading them when I can get my hands on them as none were available through my library. Time to hit the bookstore!

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  9. Thank you for this excellent list. Sometimes I find it difficult to structure my story and I like the idea of finding that defining moment to build the story around. And congrats on Sumo Joe. I cannot wait to pick up a copy!

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  10. I am always on the lookout for new pb biographies to help with my own writing! Thanks, Mia!

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  11. Thanks for the suggestions.

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  12. Thanks for the post!

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  13. A great list of books for studying how to focus in on a key part of a lifetime. Thanks!

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  14. Great to finally see the face behind Pragmatic Mom. I love your blog. I am just now working on the arch and through line of 2 PB bios. Thank you, Mia.

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  15. What a great list, thanks for sharing. Narrowing the focus to a defining moment really helps to focus the story and makes it more approachable for kids. And congrats on the coming book.

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  16. It always amazes me how adversity makes us more determined to succeed. Bobbi and Ruth are no exception. Both books do a great job of highlighting their accomplishments. I'm still hoping to see Magic Ramen. Thanks for your post!

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  17. I love these types of books because I learn something new too!

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  18. Thanks Mia for sharing these biographies. I've read some, but not all of them...yet!

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  19. Defining moment, follow thread, great advice!

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  20. Thanks for sharing these titles and highlighting what makes them so special, Mia. I can't wait to check out your debut PB. Congrats!

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  21. Thanks for these biography recommendations!

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  22. Some people do so many amazing things, choosing the defining moment must be a challenge!
    Thanks, Mia, for these titles.

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  23. Congratulations on your debut! Thanks also for the enlightening post.

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  24. Thank you. I'm not familiar with these books.

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  25. Thank you for examples or how to create an arc in biographies!

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  26. Congratulations on your debut, Mia! Deciding on which moment to focus when writing a biography is a challenge I'm facing right now, but reading this post gave me a nice A-ha moment. Thank you!

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  27. Mia, Your post comes at exactly the right time as I fine tune a PB biography I have been working on for two years. I look forward to your book's debut!

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  28. Thanks for bringing these books into the conversation. In addition to the defining moment, I also loved how the structure and language of some of these books echoed their subject.

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  29. I love your phrase "defining moment" and the PB biographies you share that carry that forward in the arc. Thanks, Mia.

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  30. Well, I haven't read any of these books! Thanks for mentioning them.

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  31. Thank you for this list of bios focusing on a defining moment and then threading it throughout! Congrats on your debut!

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  32. Thanks for bringing these titles to my attention.

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  33. Thank you for sharing. I was not familiar with several of these biographies.

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  34. Mia, thank you for introducing me to some new picture book biographies and for encouraging me to find the arc in each book.
    Also, I am very interested in hearing your story about how you went from a blogger to a picture book writer. Congratulations on the debut of your picture book coming this May and on your book about coaching girls. Best regards in your writing journey.

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  35. I am always amazed at how many great picture book bios have come out in the last few years. I would rather read a PB bio than a traditional one. The PBs get to the essence of the person, as Mia pointed out with these examples.

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  36. Can't wait to read your book. And thanks for all these NF suggested reads.

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  37. Thanks for sharing this great list of titles. Great mentor texts for PB bios sure to provide insights into how to focus a story of someone's life.

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  38. Thanks, Mia, for this list of biographies, all great mentor texts. I'm looking forward to reading them and finding their defining moment.

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  39. What a beautiful collection of books. Thank you and congratulations on your debut!

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  40. I love all these biographies!! Magic Ramen is especially popular at my house, the book and the food!

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  41. Great post, Mia! Thank you for sharing with us how to find the arc of a picture book biography. This couldn’t have happened at a better time as I am working on 3 picture book biographies and a biography series that is screaming that they want to be chapter books.

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  42. Thank you for this great list of mentor texts focusing on excellent NF bios!

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  43. Interesting titles but hard to find books in library or B&N to read.

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  44. Thanks for the recommendations! Focus is certainly something to look for in PB biographies as it is used to shape and build the story.

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  45. Thank you for this great list--looking forward to checking out more of them! The Girl Who Ran was so beautifully done.

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  46. Thank you for this great list. I can't wait to read Magic Ramen, especially.

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  47. Thanks for this great list. I haven't had the opportunity to read any of these, but they're on my to-do list now!

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  48. Mia, thank you so much! PB biographies are my favorite type of book to write and to share with my students, and you've chosen some beautiful ones.

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  49. Such wonderful books to read and use as mentor books. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  50. Thank you for this informative post!

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  51. Thank you Mia, for this list of biographies. I look forward to reading these and hopefully finding more.

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  52. Thank you for this list of biographies. I plan to look them up!

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  53. Story Arc is something I regularly struggle with in PB writing. Looking forward to reading these mentor texts.

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  54. It's good to read these mentor texts. Thanks, Mia, for suggesting these as a way to find the story arc.

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  55. Mia,
    Thanks for the bio list. I like reading PB bio's and I think they interest a lot of young readers. I've not read any of these yet, but they are surely on my list now.

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  56. Thank you for pointing out the motifs that led to the illustrations. I was also struck by the lyrical nature of the text in THE GIRL WHO RAN and A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS.

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  57. So far, I have only been able to secure one of these, but am hoping I can find copies of the others. A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS was the one I found on youtube reader. Full of language that draws you in and the cadence of the lines is infectious.

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  58. Thank you for this wonderful list of picture book biographies. I love learning about their lives and their impact in the world. Inspiring!

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  59. I love to see how authors share the lives of people for our youngest readers. These were inspirational for me.

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  60. Thank you, Mia, for these titles and lines. Great mentor texts to study!

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  61. I read a lot of picture book biographies but these are ones I haven’t read. Thank you for suggesting them.

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  62. Beautiful ways to find the spark of someones life.

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  63. Yes ,that narrative thread is key, and often the hardest part to define and pare down. I often try to do too much in a single picture book bio. Thank you for sharing your analysis of these mentor texts.

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  64. I haven't been able to get my hands on all the books (yet!), but I did find another pb about Bobbi Gibbs, called "Girl Running" (by Annette B Pimentel, illo by Micha Archer, 2018). This book was beautiful, both visually and lyrically. And boy was I steamed to learn of how the officials treated women! I'd no idea that women were not officially allowed to run the Boston Marathon until 1972! Incredible. And throughout this book, the mantra of "changing the rules" was embedded beautifully. Looking fwd to reading the other texts!

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  65. Wow - I've never heard of these titles. I'm excited to dig in!

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  66. Some new great books to find! Thank you for sharing your insight.

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  67. Narrative arc is one thing I struggle with, and it is one vital layer to crafting a nonfiction PB. Thank you for these titles and particularly how you succinctly outlined that formula for noticing effective biography narratives.

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  68. I love learning more about biographies. Thanks for these great examples. The Ramen Noodle one intrigues me!

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  69. Thanks so much for recommending these books! :)

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  70. Thanks for sharing how to look for the defining moment and follow that through the story. Great tip! Thanks for sharing!

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  71. Thanks for the guidance about how to analyze these books and apply it to our own writing. Your post comes at an opportune time for me, since I am revising a PB biography manuscript. Congratulations on your debut book!

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  72. I look forward to familiarizing myself with these books! Magic Ramen is fantastic--but it makes me super hungry! Thanks for your post!

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  73. I am partial to biographies and was dismayed that our library had only two selections of the five. Two approaches, yet both quite informative.

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  74. Thank you for these great examples!

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  75. Thank you for sharing these outstanding biographies!

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  76. Wow, I feel completely out of the loop as I have not heard of a couple of these books. Thanks for sharing. Plan on re-reading some of them to look for the story arcs and the illustrations.

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  77. Great post. I love picture book biographies!

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  78. I love learning about these great and powerful people! I love how in A song for Gwendolyn Brooks it has a beautiful circular ending with the flower and she has found her light.

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  79. Great biography examples. Thank you for the post!

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  80. I'm interested in writing bios ~ thanks for the titles!

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  81. This is a great list of books. Since I was only able to get the first amazing one through my library I am going to request they purchase the others. Thank you­.

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  82. I love biographies! Thanks for the list and your post.

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  83. As a writer, I prefer to focus on a defining moment instead of a birth to death bio.

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  84. I'm really enjoying all these biography suggestions. They're engaging with active illustrations. I feel older children could enjoy them as well.

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  85. Wonderful examples of the story arc for bios. I especially liked "The Girl Who Ran." A great parallel to a writer's mission.

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  86. Thank you for your post. I love picture book biographies.

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  87. These are inspiring, thank you for giving us such great mentor texts. The two I have read so far, 'The Girl Who Ran' and 'Ruth Asawa' show so clearly how a defining moment in childhood can shape a life.

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  88. Thank you so much for the mentor text. I love reading books I would normally not pick out.

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  89. Such great observations about defining moments. Thanks for introducing these amazing and inspiring biographies.

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  90. Thank you for this wonderful list of mentor text and a perceptive way to study them.

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  91. I love your website, Mia. Thanks for the great tips!

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  92. The defining moments here were really great aspects to hone in on. The struggle, the suspense, the "fight", the victory. All in a story arc :)

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  93. I am so impressed with all the ways to make nonfiction biographies tell a story! Thanks for pointing out this way, and congratulations on Sumo Joe!

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  94. Thanks Mia, I plan to read these biographies.

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  95. I've had a great idea for a PB bio percolating on my back burner for some time. I've been aching to try it, but it'd be my first bio. These mentors will help so much, as I start to chip away at a very worthy project!

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  96. Mia, you've helped writers of PB nonfiction with their focus. Research is a "jungle" of information and where to start a story is crucial. By remembering to determine the "defining moment," we'll be able to build our story arc. Thank you! I wish you continued success in your writing journey!

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  97. Finding a defining moment. This helps narrow and focus a story. Thanks for these examples.

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  98. Looking forward to reading your debut picture book. Thanks for a rich list of biographies showing character arcs!

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  99. Mia: Thank you for this excellent list of book titles. I enjoy reading your blog and look forward to reading HOW TO COACH GIRLS. Thank you for sharing the love of literacy.

    Suzy Leopold

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  100. Love this post and the examples you gave. I can't wait to read all of them to "see" the defining moments. Thank you.

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  101. Can't wait to study some of these! Thanks, Mia!

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  102. I just ordered Away with Words, and more. Thanks Mia.

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  103. Thank you for these wonderful examples! Looking forward to studying these to learn how to write a biography. :) Congratulations on your upcoming book, too! :)

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  104. Thanks for sharing these excellent examples and reminding us to look for the "defining moment" and following that thread to find the arc.

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  105. Excited to see you here, Mia! My library still hasn't come up with two of these titles but I'm loving the others.

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  106. Mia, a post well done. I am learning a lot about so many different people.

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  107. I am not familiar with these. Excited to find and read them!

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  108. These books are mostly new to me. I'm excited to read them through the lens of the defining moment.
    Darcee Freier

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  109. I have a few biography ideas floating in my brain. These will be very helpful!

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  110. Great list! I think the hardest part about writing a bio is to figure out how to make sure the narrative is aligned with the "defining moment" as it is easy to get bogged down in interesting tidbits that are irrelevant to the story. A lot of guidance in these mentor texts...

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  111. Still waiting for most of these from the library

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  112. I was really interested in the relationship between the art and the words in these books once you pointed it out.

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  113. Thanks for the selections! Picture book biographies have become so accessible over the past few years, as they have moved more into storytelling. My little girl adored Girl Who Ran

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  114. I found the Ruth Asawa story tender and moving. I got a sense of the power of the community to support each individual through adversity and how that power shaped her life. Looking forward to studying the Gwendolyn Brooks and Magic Ramen books when they arrive.

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  115. Thanks for the reminder that a biography still needs a story arc. These are all new books to me. Thanks for the examples.

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  116. Thank you for these diverse mentor texts! Great and varied examples of biography, and it's helpful to think about a defining moment that anchors the story.

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  117. Thanks so much for your post!

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  118. Excellent mentor texts focusing on that important defining moment. Thank you!

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  119. Wow - a flower blooming without sunlight is so powerful. I can't wait to check these books out. They all sound powerful and important.

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  120. Sadly my library system only had one of these mentor texts, THE GIRL WHO RAN. But that one book was still a great read! I didn’t expect the inclusion of poetry in the biography of a non-literary or musical figure, but the stanzas acted as a great mantra for each spread, like the rallying cry of the citizens who cheered Bobbi to the finish line. Chapman’s depiction of those wavy red and gold lines gave a palpable sense of locomotion to the pages and acted as a nice manifestation of the “wind through the fire” lines.

    One of the things that intrigues me about PB bios is that authors are basically given free rein to either take the traditional cradle-to-the-grave approach or hone in on that one defining moment from the subject’s life. How refreshing and exciting that is for both writer and reader! I look forward to tracking down these other titles and seeing how they play the game.

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  121. Thank you, these are great examples!

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  122. Finding the thread is one thing but weaving it into the whole story is quite a challenge .

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  123. What a great topic. I used to coach softball. Barb

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  124. These titles have been added to the doc: Biographical PBs: Mentor Texts. As always, please feel free to add to the list here: https://www.facebook.com/editdoc.php?note_id=1729806460597034

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  125. Thank you for these diverse range of NF PBs and the reminder to look for the "defining" moment.

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  126. Congratulations and thank you for the inspiring mentor texts.

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  127. These books were published very recently. I didn't find any of them, but enjoyed seeing the great trailers of some of them. Want to study the arc of the picture book so I look forward to reading these and others that can teach me about arc.

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  128. The Girl Who Ran is a favorite of mine. I'm excited about these other inclusions, as I hadn't heard of them before! I like this approach to finding your arc, as I find it the most difficult part of writing a PB Bio. Thank you for sharing.

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  129. Thank you for your advice on how to create an interesting story arc in a biography. As someone who has run marathons, I loved The Girl Who Ran. Thank you for including it!

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  130. I just wrote a PB Bio so these will be a great resource! Thanks!

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  131. This is such a great list! Thank you for writing about ARC.

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  132. The Girl who Ran is such an inspiring story!

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  133. I don't have experience writing biographies but aspire to write one. These mentor texts are fantastic to start the research.

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  134. The defining moment! I'll be looking for it from now on in the bios I read.

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  135. Looking forward to really studying how they pull that line through the whole story. Thanks for the great list to get us started.

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  136. Mia, thanks for this list. Looking forward to reading your picture book, too.

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  137. I am working a NF PB Bio so this post was really helpful. Thank you!

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  138. Great analysis of biography arcs which makes the anticipation to read SUMO JOE all the more.

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  139. Thank you Mia for helping me see the threads in both the text and the illustrations that help demonstrate the important message.

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  140. Thanks for the post and how illustrations can help.

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  141. Excellent list! I'm writing to Pete Steeger today. :-)

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  142. I've been intimidated by the idea of writing nonfiction, but these mentor texts and your post are making me want to give it a real shot. Thank you!

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  143. Astghik (Astrid) KamalyanMarch 23, 2019 at 12:53 AM

    What a great list and post for NF books! I find that every day and every post has a book that is particularly suitable as a mentor text for manuscripts I am working on. The Girl Who Ran was the one for these list :).

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  144. The Girl Who Ran was the only book on the list that our library had. But it's a great mentor text for its arc and how it follows the thread throughout. An exciting read even for adults! Thank you, Mia!

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  145. Still on the hunt for Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando. Really enjoyed this selection, esp Away with Words. Thank you.

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  146. Thanks for the post - and I appreciated the nod to illustration.

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  147. I confess I'm not an avid reader of PB Bios but I will definitely look for these titles! I realize how important Bios are and I am interested in learning more about what makes a good PB Bio, so thank you for this very important post!

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  148. I love PB bios - thanks for this list, Mia. Several of these were new to me and I especially enjoyed the Ruth Asawa book.

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  149. I may have commented twice so I apologize but these are great texts. I had not read any of these before now. Thank you.

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  150. Frank Wilson McCollMarch 28, 2019 at 7:36 PM

    None of these are in my local library so I have ordered them all!

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  151. I have so enjoyed starting to read PB bios, thank you! Especially affecting was the tale of Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life (loved the illustrations by Traci Van Wagoner!)

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  152. One of the things that I love about diverse books, is that I learn more about a culture, community, personality, place, etc, and I see how we are different and how we are the same. I can appreciate the differences as special, and connect with the places where we are the same and have had similar life experiences.

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  153. Thank you for sharing these biographies which highlight the defining moments of a story arc.

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  154. Thank you for these wonderful examples!

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  155. I love how you pointed out what makes the story arc work in these biographies. Much has been said about narrative arcs in fiction, but nonfiction needs an arc as well to keep the reader turning the pages. These were fantastic examples. I was especially fascinated by Magic Ramen. Thank you for sharing!

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  156. Excellent advice. I had a hard time getting some of these texts from the library - had to put in acquisition requests. Grateful that my library will acquire books from my wish list for their collection.

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