Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Beethoven-Justin Bieber duet

In between my presentations at a Georgia school, the librarians were admitting frustration when kids ask for books about famous entertainers or sports stars of the moment. Some school and library market publishers produce such lightweight biographies because those books might attract a student who is otherwise not a motivated reader. And most anyone in education would rather a young person read a celeb bio than nothing.

However, I understand their frustration when, in the very same room, there is so much actual literature—including biographies of people whose accomplishments are more significant, not to mention time-tested—to choose from.

I was struck with an idea. What about creating two-in-one biographies, one on a contemporary figure and one historic—perhaps both from a similar field? In a music-themed title, one half of the book could be about Beethoven and the other Justin Bieber. Kids who pick up the book for Bieber may stick around for Beethoven.

But it may be even more effective to avoid themes; in some cases, themes would be too limiting. Who from pop culture, for example, could be paired with Joan of Arc?

Completely random pairings might seem bizarre at first, but would likely have the biggest payoff:

  • Rosa Parks and Ryan Seacrest
  • Clara Barton and Taylor Swift
  • Harriet Tubman and Chris Colfer
  • Matthew Henson and Suzanne Collins
  • Thomas Jefferson and Shaun White
  • Jackie Robinson and Chlöe Grace Moretz
  • Alexander the Great and Jennifer Hudson
  • Nelson Mandela and Eric Stonestreet

Creating profoundly unlikely team-ups is huge fun. Try it!

This proposal echoes a strategy some parents employ when trying to expand kids’ food repertoires: sticking both a noodle and, say, a piece of broccoli on the fork at the same time—noodle first. To get to the noodle, the young person has to go through the broccoli—and hopefully s/he will find that s/he enjoyed doing it.

4/20/12 addendum: See first two comments below for an elaboration on this last paragraph; in short, I am not equating the “serious” figure with broccoli in a negative way; rather I am trying to show that both the serious figure and the broccoli are worth getting to, even if by a bit of trickery! I’m trying to break their respective stigmas.


Sandy Brehl said...

I like everything about this inspired concept, except for treating the "serious" celeb as the broccoli. Of course, you're right about that, but it frustrates me seriously.

Another way to snag 'em on the "good guys"- Share a superb PB about the person (More Than Anything Else- subject young Booker T. anecdote) then show them what's available as full bios. I had 8 yo's signing up on wait-lists for a B/W photo bio with uninspired fonts to take turns to learn more about him.
Also clamored to do internet and other research.

My wacky-pair suggestion: Booker T and Will I Am.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Sandy - great input. And I heartily agree that it is misguided and damaging to equate the "serious" celeb with broccoli. But I mean that only as a pitch device, for adults - not on the books themselves! In our house, veggies are portrayed as treats. And when reading PINKALICIOUS to my kids, I skip the unflattering descriptions of green food...we should not perpetuate this stigma/perception even before kids learn of it!