Monday, August 10, 2015


Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures (DuoPress, 2015) brings culinary pioneer Julia Child to fascinating life. Author Erin Hagar and illustrator Joanna Gorham create an innovative biography that combines vivid, informative prose with wordless double-page spreads that dramatize key moments in Julia’s life.

Below are a few writing prompts for the classroom or for individual writers ages 8 and up.  (The biography’s engaging form is similar to that of Brian Selznick’s Caldecott-winning novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.)

Writing About Professional Hopes:  Many young people seem to have only a vague idea of what a specific profession involves, or they are starstruck and seem to think that being a professional singer or athlete means doing so only at the top.  This biography takes a close look at someone with an expertise—cooking, food writing—that may intrigue young people.

Classroom Discussion:  Ask students to read this or the biography of another noteworthy figure from the 20th or 21st centuries.  Have them jot down answers to the following:  Why does this person intrigue you?  How did the person become involved in his/her life’s work?  What were setbacks?  How were they handled?

Research:  Have students do some Internet research on professions/jobs they may be interested in.  Why does this work interest them? What does training involve?  What are some tasks/activities involved on a regular basis?

Classroom Writing:  Brainstorm questions to ask someone who does this type of work.  (How did you get started?  When did you know this job/profession is what you wanted to do?  What’s the funniest/most surprising thing that ever happened to you on the job?  The most challenging?  Have students ask these questions of someone (preferably not in their immediate family).  In addition to adults in the neighborhood or extended family, youngsters might look at websites for organizations or professional associations.  Many have public relations departments or do educational outreach, and the websites can be helpful sources when students are doing research or trying to identify possible interviewees.  Ask students to write what they discovered in a few paragraphs.

Sharing:  Mount the writing on a bulletin board, and give youngsters a chance to share more information or ask questions of one another.  What was the most surprising or favorite thing they learned about this job or person?

For More Information:  To learn more about the professions of chef, author, and illustrator, check the official website for Julia Child Erin Hagar, and Joanna Gorham,

Erin Hagar 
Related Projects/Reading: This biography of Julia Child makes a wonderful book for a classroom library.  Or educators might check this one and other biographies of recent figures out of the library and display them in the classroom.  Even a kid picking up and briefly leafing through a biography can learn a lot.  It’s hard for kids to imagine possible life paths unless they “see” them, whether on TV, in the neighborhood, in their family or those of their friends, or in books.

Too often, biographies for youngsters highlight worthy artists, writers, activists, athletes, and politicians.  They’re all important to the historical landscape, of course, but where are the biographies of those with recent accomplishments in the fields of science, agriculture, the culinary arts, business, and engineering?  Where are the life stories that might guide and inspire youngsters with an interest in professions beyond those usually featured?

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