I’ve encountered some engaging new picture book biographies in the past few months. I’ve blogged about I’ve Seen the Promised Land by Walter Dean Myers and Leonard Jenkins, Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson and A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet. I’m back with great new biography, in time for Women’s History Month, today.
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone and Marjorie Priceman hooked me in with the title immediately. You see, I couldn’t find a doctor costume in my daughter’s size this past Halloween. The closest one to her size was a larger boy’s medical coat, which frustrated me immensely. Therefore, I knew this book was probably going to be a good fit for our family because of its content. What impressed me, as I read through it the first time, was that it wasn’t just the story of how Elizabeth Blackwell bucked the odds to become the first female medical doctor. It was an expertly written biography I could foresee using in writing workshop when teaching all students how to lift the level of their writing.
I had a few questions for Tanya Lee Stone after reading the biography. I hope you find her answers something you can use with your students when you use this as a mentor text in biography writing units going-forward.
Stacey: What intrigued you about Dr. Blackwell?
Tanya: I love her story of perseverance and thought a picture book about her would encourage younger readers to discover her story.
Stacey: Elizabeth felt like a character in a book to me. How did the research you did about her influence the way you developed her into the main character, so-to-speak, of this biography?
Tanya: I always look for specific details that I find incredibly interesting, and there were great ones for Elizabeth! I knew they would be intriguing to kids.
Stacey: I LOVED the introduction to the book. It has such voice and is something that can surely lift the level of introductions many kids write when they craft biographies. Would you talk more about why you crafted the introductory page this way.
Tanya: My goal for any beginning is to grab the readers’ attention right away and make them want to turn the page. Starting at the “beginning” of a biography; i.e. when someone was born, etc.., is not always the most engaging way to start. I tend to focus on what I think is the most interesting concept to me and hope other readers agree!
Tanya: I hope it keeps them engaged and makes the reading experience lively. I am always striving to present history as storytelling so that it doesn’t come across as dry for young readers.
Stacey: Often the illustrations in the book highlight some of the text. Did you decide to do that or was it Marjorie Priceman’s decision?
Tanya: There were some joint decisions made about highlighting certain parts of the text in an illustrated way (such as all of the twenty-eight Nos), and that process is generally done between the illustrator, author, and editor. Marjorie’s work is incredible, isn’t it? I absolutely love the illustrations.
Stacey: The book concludes with Elizabeth’s graduation from medical school. As readers learn in the author’s note, there was so much more to her life as a doctor. How did you decide what part of Elizabeth’s life to focus on in the book?
Tanya: Any time I write a picture book biography, I have to decide what piece of a person’s life story I’m going to tell. For Blackwell, I wanted to capture her spirit and tenacity, and the journey of deciding to apply to medical school. Then it seemed right to be able to include that piece of the story through graduation, and paving the way for the women who continue to come after her. But I like to include an Author’s Note so I can provide some additional important information, and I hope interested readers will go on to learn more about her through other sources.
Stacey: You’ve written other fantastic biographies about great women. Can you share the process you use when you write biographies?
Tanya: Once I have chosen my subject, I start by reading everything I can get my hands on. Then, when I feel as though I have a good understanding of the subject and have found enough information to work with, I think about what part of the story I found most interesting or exciting. Then I start experimenting with how to write it. I often try several different approaches before I settle on what I feel is the best one. So, lots of research, writing, and revision!
Stacey: What are you working on next?
Tanya: Next up is a picture book about Jane Addams called The House that Jane Built, which will be out next year.
Take a look at some interior spreads from Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?:
This giveaway is for a copy of Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell for one of our readers who resides in USA and Canada only. (If you live elsewhere, but have a US or Canada mailing address, then you may enter to win a copy of this book.) Many for thanks to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for sponsoring this giveaway. To enter for a chance to win a copy Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? of each reader should leave one comment about this post in the comments section of this post. Feel free to share your thoughts about the Q&A, ways you might use this book in your classroom, or thoughts about biographies in general. All comments left on or before Sunday, March 17th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator. I will announce the winner’s name at the bottom of this post by Tuesday, March 19th. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address and have my contact at Macmillan send the book out to you. Please note: Your e-mail address will not be published online.
Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. Chris H.’s commenter number was selected. Congrats! Here’s what Chris said:
I feel like we need books like this for the large population of society’s children that feel college is out of reach entirely. Even as a “middle class” citizen, I am puzzled by the way the government tells me that I should be able to afford a minimum of $20,000 per year for my child’s education at a state college. I can only imagine how other even less fortunate families feel.
As a second grader in the 1970s, I remember dreaming of being a teacher. Because my oldest sister was thinking of being the first in our family to go to college, I knew that this “entity” existed and was required for various careers. I asked my teacher, “Do you have to go to college to be a teacher?” When she responded, I felt my heart sink, believing that there was no way to make this dream come true. I held those feelings deep within me for years. Obviously, I overcame the odds, earning my master’s in education.
But I wonder what happens when kids don’t overcome the odds. Books like this could show them the way..
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).