Storybooks for children don't have to be just pages and pages of pretty pictures


Diane Stanley has watched with delight the evolution in children's nonfiction.

"During the last 10 years, nonfiction has changed from library books to bookstore books, books that parents will buy for their children to enjoy," she said. "A number of people have been creating engaging nonfiction books for kids."

Among them is Ms. Stanley, whose award-winning works include "Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare," "Good Queen Bess: The Story of Elizabeth I of England," "Shaka: King of the Zulus" and "Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations," all written with Peter Vennema.

She will be in Baltimore March 26 to talk about her writing and illustrating at the seventh annual Celebration of Children's Literature at Loyola College. She and Ann Grifalconi ("Osa's Pride," "The Village of Round and Square Houses") are the featured speakers at the conference, which will include a session on historical fiction and biography.

Ms. Stanley, a Texas native who lives in Houston, was in Baltimore when she took one of her first steps toward becoming an author. She was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University College of Medicine, where she earned her master's degree in medical and biological illustration in 1970.

She found out about a local printing company -- she can't recall the name -- that had a hand press, and she talked the owner into letting her use it at night. With handmade paper and her own type, she created a book, complete with pen-and-ink illustrations.

"I had long had an interest in book design," she said. "I loved the way a story could be encapsulated within the covers of a book." After she had children and began taking them to the library, she decided to try her hand at writing and illustrating children's books.

Her first book, "The Farmer in the Dell," was published in 1977, and 27 books have followed. Her 28th, a picture-book biography of Cleopatra, will be published by William Morrow in the fall.

As she did before writing her books on Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth I and others, Ms. Stanley immersed herself in research for the Cleopatra book. "I found it remarkable how someone could be so well-known, yet no one knows who she is," she said. "When I went into it, I really thought she looked like Elizabeth Taylor, too."

It turns out that Cleopatra was not beautiful, said Ms. Stanley, who went to Egypt to study the art and architecture of Cleopatra's time, only to find "not one building was left from the Greco-Roman period."

Ms. Stanley's biographies are notable not only for the painstaking detail of the research and illustrations but also because they make history come alive for kids as young as 7. Thanks to the success of such books as "Good Queen Bess," more publishers are taking a chance on sophisticated picture books for older elementary and middle school readers.

Ms. Stanley will be in town March 25 to sign books from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Children's Book Store, 737 Deepdene Road, in Roland Park.

After their presentations at the Loyola conference March 26, Ms. Stanley and Ms. Grifalconi will autograph books, which will be for sale. The conference will run from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and it costs $75, including lunch. For more information, call (410) 617-5095.

Signing sightings

* Laura Krauss Melmed ("The Rainbabies," "I Love You As Much," and "First Song Ever Sung") will be at Stepping Stones bookstore in Bel Air from 1 p.m.-3 p.m. tomorrow. Her appearance last month was canceled because of bad weather.

* In conjunction with Towsontown Center's "Storybook Weekend," the Waldenbooks there is bringing in several authors for autograph sessions.

On March 26, the lineup is:

11 a.m.-1 p.m.: Linda Lowe Morris and Dave Deran ("Morning Milking"); 1 p.m.-3 p.m. -- Sally Bowen ("Down by the Enchanted Stream"); 3 p.m.-5 p.m. -- Mary Alice Baumgardner ("Alexandra, Keeper of Dreams"); 5 p.m.-7 p.m. -- Margaret Meacham ("The Secret of Heron Creek," "The Boys on the Beach").

On March 27:

noon-2 p.m. -- Kevin O'Malley ("Froggy Went A-Courtin'," "The Box," "Bruno, You're Late for School!" and "Who Killed Cock Robin?"); 2 p.m.-4 p.m. -- Richard Stack and Josh, The Wonder Dog ("Doggonest Puppy Love," "Doggonest Vacation," "Doggonest Christmas," "Josh: The Story of Wonder Dog").

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