I was already inclined to be impressed with author Jonah Winter’s picture-book biography output this spring, after reading his new Sandy Koufax book and hearing about his new Gertrude Stein book. And then I saw his new one about Gilbert & Sullivan.
As a writer, what I like best about Winter’s trio of new books is what it says about other not-yet-tackled biographical subjects — that there’s an essentially endless supply of them, and that the right creative team can find a way to make those stories resonate with today’s readers. That’s inspiring.
You’ve written about Dizzy Gillespie, Gertrude Stein, Muhammad Ali, and many other exceptional people. How do you distill a complex person’s life into a 32-page children’s picture book?
Some friends of mine look at the length of the books I write and they just think, ‘Wow, what a racket!’ But truthfully, what you just said is the main challenge. The first thing you know when you’re setting out to write a picture book is that you can’t possibly tell the whole life story in 32 pages. My goal is to find one story that has both meaning for me emotionally and is something kids can really relate toâ€”and then almost willfully scrape away everything that’s not essential to the story.