I know some are familiar with the Who Are/Who Was series? And, I have written abut them before, so saying they are books about a subject (person for the Who Are/Was, place or thing for the What Is/What Was), and they have realistic, black and white illustrations that are not necessarily “fantastic” but get the point across and there is a double timeline at the end (for the subject, in this case three authors, and the world timeline) is redundant. But needed as an intro to three author biographies. The first, Who Is R. L. Stine, the second Who Was Maurice Sendak, and finally Who Was Ernest Hemingway.
Each one of these books is aimed at about ages eight to ten, but as an adult, I enjoy the fact they are good introductions about the people. One of the things I came away with was each of these authors have been an influence on the world of writing. They did a lot of firsts when it came to writing. Stine was one of the first to write YA Horror and middle-reader horror, but with humor. He would take his influences as a child and work them into his style. The same with Sendak. He knew the world was dark, and kids should not be protected from it. In fact, they probably knew that better than adults did. And he too, would take the world about him and put them into his work. Now Hemingway might have influenced things differently, as he “invited” the novel writing style of the shorter format, that was taken from his news reporter reporting days. Yet, he also would be shaped by his environment and that came across in the work.
M.D. Payne wrote R. L. Stine’s biography and Jake Murray illustrated it. R. L. Stine is a well-known author, but maybe not on everyone’s radar. A lot of fun facts about Stine and quirky illustrations allowed even this adult to learn a thing or two. As it was published in 2019 it is possible it needs a few updates, but the main goodies are there. My favorite part are the timelines: at least two monumental events happened the same year as historical events: Stine got married the same year as man walked on the moon, and his first YA horror novel happened the same year as the Challenger explosion, but I’m sure they are just coincidences. And this book, out of the three reported on her, this is my favorite. I liked Stine’s Fear Street while not liking horror reads. I now want to find some of his more traditional humor stories.
The “joke” I have heard recently: wouldn’t the right wingers really freak out if they knew some of their classic books were written by a gay, Jewish man? Well, they would really freak if they realized how much Sendak wanted to corrupt children. Okay, maybe not corrupt, but he did want to tell the truth about the darker side of things. Janet B. Pascal, Stephen Marchesi, and illustrator Nancy Harrison show that. As a man of his time, having family killed in the Holocaust, the Lindberg baby’s kidnapping, he knew the world was not all sunshine and flowers, therefore, he wrote what he knew. Also, his way of writing would shape children’s books. From then on, people would start to have themes that were not always “happy.” Perhaps my favorite part of his life is how much he wrote for himself. He wanted it out there, but he did not seem to care about the reviews, it was the children’s opinions he valued the most. The story of the young boy eating the drawing Sendak gave him is included.
Finally, I will talk about Ernest Hemingway. I am sure he would have loved the fact we still read and talk about him today. Jim Gigliotti does an age-appropriate telling of the ego that was Hemingway. I never liked Hemingway as an author, but this book showed me how his style of writing would influence the book world for decades to come. I still do not like him (in fact, if possible, dislike him more), but I always find it interesting how the time shape the man/author and how the man/author shapes the times. The interesting part was it brings up the fact some/many of Hemingway’s hobbies (bullfighting, hunting) are controversial today, they are shown appropriately. I like they did not gloss over that, same with the sexuality of Sendak in his book. While that aged 8 to 10 might not appreciate some of his lesser qualities, it is still a good book. And a shout out to Gregory Copeland on the illustrations.