Recently I talked with a writer friend about a new project, her first attempt at a picture book biography. She started telling me all sorts of fascinating details about her subject’s life, and then stopped and asked, “How do you decide what to keep in?”
Carole Boston Weatherford’s new picture book biography, Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression, answers my friend’s question. The book covers much of Lange’s life, from childhood to professional success, but everything in the book connects to the idea that Lange felt empathy for the poor and the powerless. The book centers on one theme in Lange’s life and gives example after example of her laser focus on seeing people and situations that were invisible to others.
In fact, the opening spread is about Lange’s ability to empathize:
“Because childhood polio left her with a limp and a rolling gait, Dorothea knew how those les fortunate felt without ever waling in their shoes. Kids called her “Limpy.””
We see Lange struggling with fear as she walksEm the dangerous streets of her childhood, see her struggling to regroup after being the victim of a robbery, and see her turning away from rich clients to snap photos of unemployed men in a bread line. I don’t know all the details Weatherford had to leave out of her book, but she consistently makes sure every detail she does include ties back to this theme of empathy in Lange’s life.
I loved the simple, clear writing in this book, and the illustrations had completely won me over by the end. Sarah Green, the illustrator, has the unenviable task of recreating some of Lange’s photos in illustration form, but Lange’s famous Migrant Mother photo is reproduced in the back matter.
This is a lovely, easy-to-read biography that shows how empathy can change the world.
Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sarah Green. Whitman: 2017.
I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.