Something I’m still trying to figure out with my nonfiction is how far to go with the “warts and all” approach.

Obviously, it’s important to me that young readers know about the people that I’m interested in writing about, or else I wouldn’t be writing about them. And with one notable exception, I can’t think of any children’s biographies that were written about horrible people precisely because they were horrible people. We tend to write about people we admire, or at least about those whose stories are meaningful to us.

But people aren’t perfect, and what I struggle with is how much to dwell on those imperfections. Is it dishonest to frame a story so that it avoids having to deal directly with those flaws? Is it lazy to save up those shortcomings for the author’s note so that they don’t disrupt the flow of the narrative? Would a children’s biography in which the author goes out of his way to poke holes in the subject be any fun to read?

I wish I had better answers than “maybe,” “maybe,” and “probably not,” but at the moment I don’t. I sure hope I do by the time I finish new drafts of Smith and James.