Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Picture-Book Biographer Sets the Record Straight

I thoroughly enjoyed the AASL meetings last week in Hartford.  I went to several author panels.  It’s always fun to put a face and voice to an author’s name, and to hear their thoughts about the craft.  Among the highlights was a panel on picture book biography, skillfully moderated by Mary Ann.  I was dazzled by how much effort goes into a top-notch picture book biography, as shown in an anecdote that Matt Tavares related about his research.  He was working on Hank Aaron’s Dream, and had decided to feature a well-known story about Ted Williams and Aaron.  Here’s how Tavares tells it on his website (www.matttavares.com/hadmaking.html):

He was a 20-year-old minor leaguer, traveling with the big-league Braves during spring training in 1954, playing the last few innings of each game. Then on March 13, the Braves' starting left-fielder, Bobby Thomson, broke his ankle during a spring training game. The very next day, on March 14, the Braves played the Boston Red Sox in Sarasota, and Henry Aaron was the new starting left-fielder for the Braves. He hit a home run that day, and the sound of his bat hitting the ball was so spectacular that the great Red Sox superstar Ted Williams came running out from the clubhouse to see who had hit that ball.

It’s a terrific story, verified in Aaron’s autobiography and an article by Williams.  But when Tavares wanted the illustration to include the line-up for the game, he tracked it down in digital newspaper archives.  That’s when the whole story started to unravel: the date was wrong and Ted Williams was in a hospital in Boston during that game.  Tavares’s detective work, as he calls it, changed how he told the story in the book, of course. 

What a tribute to the attention to detail in today’s best nonfiction.  And to cap it off, Tavares explains his research process and includes images of the newspapers on his website, so teachers and librarians can share it with students.  

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