of the Center for Children's Books:
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
True Blue - Kathleen Krull
Kathleen Krull is a fixture in the children's literature world, a reliable contributor who in her over twenty years of publishing has produced over fifty titles. She's worked in a multitude of genres, authoring picture-book texts, novels, histories, collections, music books, photoessays of contemporary life, and biographies both collective and singular.
It's probably that last genre for which she's best currently known. She began her effervescent Lives of . . . series of collective biographies in 1993, with Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought), which received a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor; since then she's treated writers, artists, athletes, presidents, and extraordinary women with her signature blend of spicy gossip and intriguing information. The books' comradely, chatty approach makes these appealing to easily daunted readers, yet they're sophisticated and uncondescending enough to draw subject experts. Her individual biographies bring the same accessible enthusiasm to their subjects: Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman (1996) is a stellar and enduringly popular title for the middle grades, and her new Giants of Science biographies offer absorbing introductions to great thinkers—if not always great people—such as Freud and Newton.
When one looks at Krull's oeuvre from a certain angle, she's developed an interesting specialty: children's literature's staunchest contributor to the literature of ideas and intellectual inquiry. Her Giants of Science biographies applaud those who question, who've taken risks and made huge and public errors, while at the same time these books explore how human beliefs have changed as a result of individual intellectual labors. Her They Saw the Future: Psychics, Scientists, Great Thinkers, and Pretty Good Guessers tackles the myths and science of prognostication, tactfully assessing human tendencies to believe for reasons other than the sound and the supportable. She moves to more explicit debunking in The Night the Martians Landed: Just the Facts (Plus the Rumors) about Invaders from Mars and its companion What Really Happened in Roswell?: Just the Facts (Plus the Rumors) about UFOs and aliens, which essentially treat two popular stories as mysteries to be solved. This kind of debunking is rare enough in children's literature, but to be able to make the questioning as appealing as the initial storytelling is a rare feat, a refreshing contrast to stern killjoy overviews that perversely enhance the allure of the story they're trying to debunk.
Amid an oeuvre of generally high achievement, this is her most singular accomplishment: to bring her unpatronizing enthusiasm and effective storytelling to critical thinking itself.
—Deborah Stevenson, Editor