biography · giveaway · interview · picture book

Paint a Portrait with Words

Leave a comment on this blog post for a chance to win a copy of this book.

I remember being forced to read dry, boring biographies during elementary school. (Yes, forced. I remember being told to borrow biographies from the school library repeatedly throughout second and third grades.) I reborrowed the same Helen Keller biography upwards of 20 times from the school library because {a} I was fascinated by Helen Keller, {b} there wasn’t anyone matching me with biographies that would resonate with me, and {c} the librarian never caught onto me. (Click here if you want to learn more about my early reading life, where I spent a full year of elementary school fake reading.) When I became a classroom teacher, I made it my business to undo the damage done to my young reading life by working with my students to overcome the fake reading by helping to match kids with books that held meaning and value to them as readers.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve noticed an abundance high-quality picture book biographies being published. My favorites picture book biographies are often written about folks who aren’t household names. Several of my favorite picture book biographies have been written by Jen Bryant. Soon after she published A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, I had the opportunity to hear her speak with with fourth and fifth graders at our local elementary school. The kids asked her excellent questions and she responded in ways that inspired them to become researchers about the lives of people they found fascinating so they could tell the stories of other people’s lives in meaningful ways.

Jen’s newest biography, Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball, which is illustrated by Frank Morrison, is about someone whose name Elgin Baylor who is an underrecognized athlete who stood spoke out about racial injustice by sitting in.

Like all biographies, Above the Rim tells about the major events and miletsones in Baylor’s life. Jen doesn’t start at the beginning of Baylor’s life, but rather begins Above The Rim with an 11-year-old Baylor playing stickball in the street, rather than playing a sport in one of Washington, DC’s many parks? Why? Baylor is Black, but at the time, DC parks were for “whites only.” Starting here helps readers understand how Baylor’s early life influenced his later life.

Of course, Above the Rim has many other important elements of biography, which include everything from facts about the history and culture at the time Baylor lived to back matter like a detailed timelines, source lists, and an author’s note. Like Bryant’s other books, Above the Rim is filled with Jen Bryant’s hallmark poetic prose. Like all of Jen’s biographies, Above the Rim is the story of a person whose story is recounted in a way that’s worthy of not only knowing, but of borrowing from the library 20+ times so one can read it like a writer since writing biographies like Jen Bryant is something all of us can aspire to as writers.

In these times when many school budgets are being used more for PPE than for author visits, I wanted to bring Jen Bryant to you and your students so you can learn about her newest biography and about the way she paints portraits of people with her words.

Jen Bryant, Author of Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball, chats with Stacey Shubitz about her new book and biography writing.

Here’s a peek inside Above the Rim:

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball by Jen Bryant and Frank Morrison. Many thanks to Abrams Books for Young Readers for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Above the Rim, please leave a comment about this post by Sunday, October 25th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Tuesday, October 27th. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway.
  • 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 if you win. From there, my contact at Abrams will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – ABOVE THE RIM. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment. Kate Peterson’s commenter number was drawn so she wins a copy of this book.

21 thoughts on “Paint a Portrait with Words

  1. I would love to share this book with my 4th graders! I also like to have many types of biographies for kids to read. Biographies have always been one of my favorite genres. The things we learn about the grit of others!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like a great library addition! I’ll look forward to checking it out during our upcoming unit of study. Thanks for sharing.


  3. Jen Bryant is fantastic! My 4th and 5th-grade students were reading her verse novel, The Trial, when Ms. Bryant graciously agreed to fit us into her busy schedule and held a virtual chat. They were enthralled!


  4. As a literacy trainer, I am always looking for great new reads to share with the districts I work with! Can’t wait to check it out.


  5. My classroom library is definitely lacking good biographies — I also, was turned off by them in elementary school, but the illustrations in this one along with the topic has totally caught my attention! Time to start paying attention to this genre. 🙂


  6. This will be a great addition to my collection of picture book biographies. They made biographies so accessible to my fourth graders! They were inspired by the “heroes” in the books.


  7. Love this as it aligns with our efforts to engage readers in text that is culturally responsive, engaging, and thought-provoking.


  8. What a wonderful book. I would also add “Wilma Unlimited” by Kathleen Krull about Olympic runner Wilma Rudolph. Wilma was a sickly child and had polio and scarlet fever. Her mother had to drive her 50 miles away to the only hospital that would treat black patients. She went on to become the first American woman to win 3 gold medals at an Olympics.


  9. Jen Bryant is an amazing author and I love to share her books with the teachers that I work with! I look forward to adding this book to my list of Jen Bryant books.


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