Even the nonliving can have a life of their own! So why not a biography of Wonder Woman?! I can’t wait to explore Kirsten Larson’s A TRUE WONDER! Thanks for sharing your process, Kirsten!
Kirsten is offering a GIVEAWAY, too! A copy of A TRUE WONDER! Just leave a comment below to enter.
“Beyond Biographies of People” by Kirsten W. Larson
When people ask me to describe A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything (illus. Katy Wu, Clarion Books, 9/28/21), I tell them it’s a biography of the comic book character, Wonder Woman. It’s the story of how Bill Marston created her as a symbol of female power and strength; her ups and downs through the years as ideas of womanhood changed; and how she achieved her true purpose to become a model of strong, courageous womanhood.
You see I don’t think biographies have to be about people. And sometimes the best way to tell a story isn’t through a person at all, but through an object.
For example, Marcie Colleen’s SURVIVOR TREE (illus. Aaron Becker, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), is a biography of a pear tree nearly killed in the September 11th tragedy. September 11th is a tough topic for all of us, especially young readers. But by focusing on the Survivor Tree and its narrative journey from near-death to full health, Colleen helps readers shift focus from senseless tragedy to the idea that we have the power to survive terrible events, heal, and grow stronger.
Similarly, when the 2017 Wonder Woman movie inspired me to look into the comic book character’s creation, I quickly realized there was no way I could write a biography of her creator, William “Bill” Moulton Marston, for children. He was a deeply complicated man who lived and had children with two women — at the same time. Not exactly the stuff children’s books are made of. Plus I was more interested in the idea of Wonder Woman and what she’s meant to women and girls throughout the years.
As I read and reread the comic books and dug into primary sources, I realized the comic book character herself had a narrative arc. From her birth, Marston had a goal and purpose for her. As he said in 1942, “‘Wonder Woman’ was conceived . . . to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; to combat the idea that women are inferior to men; and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations, and professions monopolized by men.”
Through the years, there were ups and downs as the character tried and failed to fulfill the goal her creator set for her. All narratives have to have those struggles, right? Without them, the story falls flat.
And of course, the “all is lost moment” is a pivotal one. For me, it was when her writers stripped her of her costume and powers in the 1960s, making her more of a Charlie’s Angels-type character (yes, I loved that show too!) But that’s when women really came to her rescue (Act 3!), making Wonder Woman their own: feminists like Gloria Steinem lobbied DC Comics to restore Wonder Woman to her full glory, plus Wonder Woman got her own TV show and eventually a woman-led movie.
I see narrative arcs and biographies everywhere I look — even in the stars. My next book, THE FIRE OF STARS, illus. Katherine Roy (Chronicle Books, 2022) is a parallel biography of star formation and astrophysicist Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who discovered what stars were made of.
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Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020, an NSTA Best STEM Book), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion Books, 2021), and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle Books, 2022), as well as 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Learn more at kirsten-w-larson.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.