Author says biographies of athletes help children with life's lessons


Children's author Lois Nicholson has written biographies of Cal Ripken Jr., Babe Ruth and Nolan Ryan. But she's never considered herself a big sports fan.

The Baltimore author chose to write about sports figures after fielding numerous requests for books about Mr. Ripken when she was a librarian at Rock Hall Elementary School in Kent County.

"It didn't matter if they were in the first grade or the eighth grade; they kept asking me for a biography of Cal Ripken," said Ms. Nicholson, who will discuss her sports biographies today at Winfield Elementary School.

"I kept thinking someone in Baltimore should write a children's biography of him."

Ms. Nicholson didn't wait for someone else to do it. Her book, "Cal Ripken Jr., Quiet Hero," was published in September 1993. Another sports biography followed, "Babe Ruth, Sultan of Swat," and Ms. Nicholson's biography of Nolan Ryan will be released this summer.

"Biography is a fascinating way of teaching. Instead of lecturing you can take Michael Jordan and Cal Ripken and use their lives as examples," she said. "Kids learn they have to work hard and sacrifice."

In her work as a librarian, Ms. Nicholson said she has noticed a shortage of quality reading material for young boys. Her sports ,, biographies are an effort to entice these sports fans to the library shelves.

"There's an abundance of reading material for girls, but I would see middle school-age boys looking so hard for something to read."

Ms. Nicholson, a librarian at Cape St. Claire Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, travels to schools throughout the state, speaking to students about her work. In her talks, she explains the different stages of the writing process, including research, interviewing, editing, revising and fact-checking.

To illustrate the importance of accurate reporting, Ms. Nicholson uses an example from her own work when she speaks to students.

She shows the students a page from a draft of her Cal Ripken book, corrected by the baseball player himself. Using information from newspaper articles, Ms. Nicholson originally wrote that Mr. Ripken had been knocked unconscious when a ball hit his batting helmet.

In the draft, Mr. Ripken circled the sentence and wrote, "I wasn't unconscious."

"The boys just have their mouths hanging open, because the ball opened up a hole in his batting helmet the size of a lemon," Ms. Nicholson said.

Through her talks in schools, Ms. Nicholson said she hopes to encourage students to think about writing as a possible career.

"They [the students] think authors make a lot of money," she said. "I have to quickly dispel that notion."

Over the past 2 1/2 years, Ms. Nicholson has written 10 biographies for children. Her subjects include Helen Keller, Georgia O'Keeffe and Dr. George Washington Carver.

"Sometimes in this modern age it's hard to have heroes, because everything is known about a person's life," Ms. Nicholson said. "But I do think children are looking for people to admire."

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