Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fictitious surprise

I have a rather large collection of picture books — 500-plus and growing. Many of them are biographies, so I had assumed. A biography is not too hard to figure out. Right? Wrong, not until you read the fine print. Many of the biographies in my collection are not biographies at all, but fictionalized accounts. Geez, I never knew. Is that ok? Must be 'cause many of those books also have those little golden awards stickers attached, a ringing endorsement of the fictionalized biography, as far as I can tell. I'm throwing out this manuscript I've been slaving over — this step-by-step, ho-hum retelling of events, and telling the story I'd really like to tell: The fun one where I’ve filled in the holes with a handful of creative license.


No, I know it's not Thursday like this post states. But, for some reason, Blogger won't let me post more than one post per day with out making it a new day. So, don't feel silly pretending it's Wednesday — 'cause it is.


Kim said...

I thought of you at critique group the other night (before I spotted your book, even!) when one of our members brought a book she purchased on vacation. It was a book about the Titanic--told from the perspective of a MOUSE on board the ship! Hmmmm....maybe you could use a device like this???

rindambyers said...

My college training in history and (my intense research into quilting history) steps in here:

I think what happens in children's picturebooks is that everyone, including the authors and award givers, get carried away wtih a good story. Then teachers desperate for curriculum start using the books as nonfiction. I think the problem is a serious one. The awards are givin as measures of the quality of literary fiction. They forget that, when it comes to historical/biographical things the INTERPRETATION of facts is JUST as important as getting the facts correct. It's called "bias." And when you do a biography, you need to very clear, somewhere, in teh front or back of that book, about your bias as the teller of the story. Is it a fictionalized account? How fictionalized? Or is it a serious attempt at a nonfiction biography and please list your sources, whatever the case.

I can think of several examples of very seriously misinterpreted historical/biographical subjects in picturebooks, and serious it is, because teachers teach these heavily fictionized subjects like nonfcitional facts to children; the genre seems particularly vulnerable to this sort of thing. We need to TELL THE TRUTH to children when it comes to history/biography. Tell them what is fictionalized. Tell them what the facts are. Let them decided how they will react to your facts.

An excellent example of poor quality history in a picturebook ? "Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt." The story has no basis, whatsoever, in written/oral/anthropologic/historic fact. None. There is no historical evidence at all that quilts were ever used in the way described in the book during slavery times--particularly if you research the facts wtih respected African-American quilt historians. Even the name "Sweet Clara" is insulting. You would NEVER call a white American child "sweet" in front of his or her name. Yet the "myth" of the Underground Railroad Quilt Code is now taught in large nunmbers of gradeschool curriculums as fact, in large part due to this one book. A very pathetic example of how truth so often gets covered up and twisted in history picturebooks. In truth, the storye is a totally fiction, a complete fabrication, a myth, a story. This is an excellent example of a well told picture book story, lovely pictures, that still is seriously flawed. It portrays a "reality" that never existed at all.

That being said, remember too, the line between fact and fiction in history is always a debatable one. All history involved bias, involves a certain degree of creative license, has bias. The need is just be honest to some extent somewhere in the book about what the degree of that license, that bias is so the reader knows where you, the teller, are coming from.

Don Tate II said...

Rinda, I have some issues with that book myself, but won't get into publically. I'm going to post some thoughts on this topic (slavery) next week.

rindawriter said...

Forgot to add that I have also read/watched documentaries, etc., a great deal about slavery in America, including records of the oral narratives from folks who used to be slaves. Also, about the slave situation in South America, treatment of Indians, etc. Again, the upsetness on the quilt issue is not coming from me as from respected African-American quilt historians and white ones as well, people who really know what they are doing and know so much more than I do. So, it's not my issue as much as theirs, but I did, of course, reasearch intensely to answer my own questions about it and am satisfied with their research.