A few weeks ago I saw I and I: Bob Marley, a biography for young readers written in verse by and thought that it was a novel idea to write a biography as a collection of first person poems. Now, looking at the new books shelf in the children's section of my library, I find Diego: Bigger Than Life by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by David Diaz. Again, a biographer has used poetry written as though it was written by the subject himself. I wonder how many other books like this there are?
That Mexican mural artist Diego Rivera can be the subject of a children's book is a curious thing to me. When I was a kid, all of the biographies were innocent, admiring, and sanitized. In the stories, the subjects were all well-behaved men and women whose lives were good examples for youth. Times and books have changed. While Bernier-Grand generally seems to admire Rivera's work and intentions, she profiles him as somewhat obsessive, self-centered, neglectful of family, and unfaithful to his lovers. He starts art projects knowing that his sponsors will later reject them. Obviously, young readers are not intended to follow Rivera's lead. So, what's up? Why tell children about Diego Rivera?
At this point it would be helpful to be a trained educator with a well-practiced answer. I'm not. I am a librarian and a parent (with a daughter who is 21 but who once was little), and I like the book for several reasons. 1) It is honest. No child who reads this book can grow up thinking that Rivera was a wonderful person, only to have the truth revealed later. I think my era has a lot of distrust of our parents' generation because they read us books that proved not to be true. 2) It shows that someone with many faults can rise above them to accomplish much good along with the bad. 3) A book like Diego gives parents and educators a lot to discuss with children. There is lots of bad behavior in our society, which children see on television, in the movies, and in the neighborhoods around them. You can not shield children from what is going on all around them. This book can be a starting point for conversation. 4) The story is well told, and Diego is an interesting character. Read a good book and you want to find another.
Bernier-Grand, Carmen T. Diego: Bigger Than Life. Marshall Cavendish, 2009. ISBN 9780761453833