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Reviews of three biographies for children

Real stories about interesting lives are colorfully narrated for young readers.

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Question: What do William Carlos Williams, L. Frank Baum, and the women of the American Revolution have in common? If you answered, “Their lives make good stories,” you’d be right. Three children’s authors thought so, too.

A word up front to book-buying adults: Don’t be put off by these stories’ picture-book format. There’s nothing babyish about any of these three new biographies aimed at young readers. Instead, the format allows for a multiple-level reading experience. Which means younger readers will enjoy the vibrant, detailed illustrations, while older readers (or history buffs) will delight in the little-known facts and literary allusions.

In A River of Words, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, allusions abound both in text and pictures. Sweet’s collage-style illustrations are especially rich, combining period paraphernalia with elements of the natural world that inspired Williams’s poetry.

But Williams-the-poet isn’t the man that readers first meet. The story opens in Rutherford, N.J., where little Willie is playing baseball and running races with friends. His long ambles in the wilds of Rutherford give us a hint of what’s to come.

“Poetry suited Willie,” writes Bryant of the teenage Williams. But financially, being a poet was an impractical career choice. In college, Williams pursued medicine, and later, he returned to his hometown where he became a busy family physician.


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