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 - Patricia C. McKissack
Since in our February Bulletin Dozen we feature strong black girls and women, I’ll take the occasion to celebrate an author who fits in that category herself and who has, on her own and in collaboration, created and chronicled some other memorable examples. A polished craftswoman with a long literary career, McKissack has been writing for over a quarter of a century, and she is the author or co-author (she often works with her husband, Fredrick L. McKissack, and, lately, with her son, Fredrick Jr.) of well over 100 books and the winner of multiple awards, including a Newbery Honor and several Coretta Scott King awards.
In these days of increasing specialization, it’s a pleasure to applaud someone whose writing skill spans many genres and who clearly appreciates audiences of a variety of tastes and reading levels. McKissack is diverse even within genres: her work in history covers subjects ranging from Pullman porters to the history of African Americans in basketball, early African kingdoms (The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, BCCB 02/94) to African-American whalers (Black Hands, White Sails, BCCB 11/99). Accessibility is a clear goal of McKissack’s, whether she’s writing for middle-schoolers or taking history down to a younger audience, as in the compact 64-page easy reader Hard Labor (BCCB 03/04). Another McKissack specialty is biography, whether in single-title format, treating subjects such as Madam C. J. Walker (BCCB, 1992) and Langston Hughes (BCCB, 1992), or in collective accounts such as African American Inventors (BCCB, 1994).
She’s also a dab hand at fiction. While her enticing and tellable collections of folkloric short stories, The Dark-Thirty (a Newbery Honor book, BCCB 12/92) and Porch Lies (BCCB, 10/06), are probably her best known fictional works, she’s got a clutch of novels to her credit as well. In Run Away Home (BCCB, 1997), she takes a fictional approach to a piece of family history; her historical-fiction talents are also on display in her entries in the Dear America and Royal Diaries series. She’s also produced beginning readers (the folklore-based Monkey-Monkey’s Trick, BCCB 01/89) and solid easy-reading novels such as Tippy Lemmey (BCCB 03/03), an energetic little book that, with its inviting cast and unintimidating storytelling about a very intimidating dog, deserves wider recognition.
But really, it’s McKissack’s picture books that brought me back to her work this month. She has created well-spun tales of reality, such as The Honest-to-Goodness Truth (BCCB 02/00) and Ma Dear’s Aprons (BCCB 06/97), but she’s at her best when she flirts with the folkloric. There’s where my favorite McKissack heroines make their mark, whether we’re talking unflappable Flossie who outsmarts the traditional trickster in Flossie and the Fox (BCCB 09/86), determined Mirandy who seeks Brother Wind for her partner in her first cakewalk (Mirandy and Brother Wind, BCCB 12/88), or wise Precious, who can’t be coaxed into letting in the scary Boo Hag (Precious and the Boo Hag, BCCB 01/05). Girls with enough down-to-earth solidity to feel like friends but enough grit to make them legend, they’re worth celebrating this month and every month, and their creator is well and truly True Blue.
—Deborah Stevenson, Editor