Lately I’ve been thinking about biographies and why it’s important to select quality children’s biographies, and I had a horrifying thought: What if a children’s biography were written about me? What kinds of details would be included? How about my “loose” housekeeping style, or my inability to get dinner on the table before 7 o’clock? I’m positive I remember sitting down to dinner at 6:39 p.m. one evening in early June!
On the other hand, what if the author only portrayed me as a goody-two-shoes Mormon miracle mother and wannabe schoolteacher who selflessly put her children’s needs above her own all the days of her life? Yuck! That’s not the kind of drivel I’d want written about me either. You see where I’m going with this, right? In a way, a biography is someone’s Permanent Record.
I’m reflecting back on a simpler time in my life–the 1980’s–when my loving and well-meaning parents subscribed to a series of pseudo-biographical books called ValueTales. The one I’m looking at right now is entitled “The Value of Compassion: The Story of Florence Nightingale.” Here’s a direct quote for your reading enjoyment: “Florence knew this was not going to be easy, but she welcomed the challenge” (p. 41, for anyone who wants to see it with their own eyes).
I have a few questions for the author of this book. Were you there with Florence during the Crimean War? Did you hear her say, “This isn’t going to be easy, but I welcome the challenge, by gum!” Are you actually her trusty oil lamp Lucy, who fanned the flames of Florence’s desire to alleviate suffering and save lives? (Note: Lucy is actually a fictitious talking oil lamp, a character invented by the author in an effort to “simplify” difficult concepts for children’s immature minds.)
Fortunately for us, it’s a new century: We now know that children don’t need simplified information. In fact, their minds crave the retelling of complex, genuine experiences. Furthermore, they engage and understand much more readily when the information is presented in a fair, unbiased manner; when the historical figure is presented as a whole person, rather than a caricature of evil or a paragon of virtue; and when the illustrations that accompany the text complement the book’s theme.
As luck would have it, a Florence Nightingale biography was published for children earlier this year, written and lovingly illustrated by Demi. I’ve perused it online, and I look forward to reading it in person sometime soon. Curiously, the book’s Amazon preview fails to show any images of Florence talking to an oil lamp.
Posted by Karen Rapier, an elementary education major at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT