John Briggs Books

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Making the Leap from Picture Book to Middle-Grade Biography

How the Judy Garland biography came to be.

Judy Garland Teen HeadshotLast January, I was hired to write picture book text for three books on Judy Garland. The largest of the three would be 1,000 words and be written at a fifth or sixth-grade level. But like most non-fiction writers, I over researched the topic and had way more information than I could possibly squeeze into 1,000 words.

So what to do with all that extra information?

I really didn’t know, until Atombank Books agreed to let me write the biography on Mary Dyer (Mary Dyer, Friend of Freedom). Seeing that as the first book in a potential series, I began tossing around historical figures I wanted to write about. From a commercial standpoint, I didn’t want them all to be as obscure as Mary Dyer, and then I remembered how I got the Judy Garland contract – kids today still know her name thanks to the magical endurance of The Wizard of Oz.

But knowing who Judy Garland was isn’t the same as knowing a lot about her. And that’s when I came up with the idea of writing the second book in Atombank’s Big Biography series. It turns out, Judy Garland as a middle-grade biography is a great fit!

So, now I’m busy putting some old facts and plenty of new ones into a 9,000-10,000-word biography on one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century. The vocabulary hasn’t had to shift much since it’s still a middle-grade biography for 3rd-7th graders, but I can include so much more information, with sidebars, breakouts, captions, pictures, a timeline, etc. I’m also free to explore the abuse of child stars, the studio system, the Golden Age of Hollywood and other topics little seen in kidlit.

Of course, making a picture book biography a middle-grade book isn’t as simple as adding more words – I have to add more facts and hold a reader’s attention for a much longer period of time. I also have to be careful about not adding too much so that it becomes boring, or, in Judy’s case, a bit too “mature.” Still, she had a fascinating life and that makes it easier to convert a tiny picture book biography into a full-blown story of an immensely talented woman.

Look for Judy Garland: Little Woman, Big Talent in November (expected release date is November 11)!


One comment on “Making the Leap from Picture Book to Middle-Grade Biography

  1. Carolyn Huston
    June 16, 2014

    Congrats! Sounds like another great book of interest.

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