My focus recently has been picking up narrative nonfiction or photobiographies that focus solely on an individual that had some impact on the world whether it be in conservation, championing women, or entertaining. So I’d like to share the last few books that I’ve read that showcase these individuals and the book’s strengths.
- Bull’s-Eye: A Photobiography of Annie Oakley by Sue Macy
- This National Geographic creation is in part a dedication to a woman who preserved her reputation even when it became distorted with misinformation (about a presumed death or being jailed when in fact both were other women with similar names) she successfully sued newspapers for this and won numerous settlements, so it is befitting that her present family wanted to showcase all of the good deeds that she did over her lifetime but what struck me, aside from the lovely pictures of her throughout the course of her life, was that she remained entertained at every turn. When her husband and her went on the road for shows both in the United States and abroad, there was the public spectacle, but there were also opportunities to teach. She even offered her services to the United States military to train women on the homefront to defend us. This was also around the time that she was quoted as saying that women should be just as comfortable holding a gun as a baby. This book’s strength is in it’s ability to show Oakley as the woman she was, not who we think she was based on her public persona. She overcame adversity as a child using her sharpshooting skills and spent her life doing something she loved. And that is powerful.
- Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey
- This is also a National Geographic production and as with Oakley’s photobiography, champions another woman who pursued her passion. She is by far the most well-known primate specialist who then advocated for conservation and peace in war-torn countries that were decimating the primate population. And perhaps the most endearing quality was her ability to wait and be patient, literally. She is best known as a scientist of observation- staying stills for hours on end being bitten and stung just to be able to watch chimps in their natural habitat and understand just how similar humans are to them.
- This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain
- I didn’t know much about Audubon but perhaps similar to Goodall, he stayed the course. He loved the outdoors and nature and sought to preserve it with his drawings even if that meant being away from his family for years and doing odd jobs to keep some financial stability until the publication of The Birds of America for which he became synonymous with birds. He stuck to his guns and was the penultimate outdoorsmen who met everyone from presidents to Native Americans on his travels. The incorporation of his sketches along with this biography are seamless.
- Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh
- The illustrations of Posada and the calaveras make this entertaining as well as instructional. I did not know much about calaveras nor the Day of the Dead, so to understand the cultural significance of this event as well as how Posada has made his mark on Mexican culture showcases that every achievement, especially in art, sometimes comes after the artist has lived. Posada used his drawings to poke fun, to entertain, and to enlighten that was not necessarily appreciated until others took note. It’s a picture book with instructional purpose.
The narrative nonfiction coming out for middle grade and young adult is by far the best it has ever been, especially when they are focused (like the Wicked History series or a photobiography), so writers keep researching people who have made an impact and delivering high-quality and thoughtful nonfiction to inspire others by providing examples of how others pushed their limits, society’s boundaries, and came out on top.