The other day I went to a tapas restaurant with friends. (I know, I know. I should have been home getting my blog post in on time). One of the offerings was Brussels sprouts with crunchy garbanzo beans. This was the winner, the first thing we agreed on as a menu choice and the dish we enjoyed most. Later the extreme weirdness of this hit me. Who could ever have expected the revival of the Brussels sprout? In my childhood the sprout (by which we meant the Brussels sprout and not the alfalfa sprout) was associated with British dreariness, with chilblains and boiled wool and The Two Ronnies. It was the last vegetable I would ever have expected to make a come-back.
So what’s next? Blancmange? Steamed puddings? Vegetable marrow?
More to the point, what is the Brussels sprout of children’s books? What was once a staple and then fell out of favor and disappeared? I think it’s the full-length biography. Back in the days before the Dewey Decimal System abandoned the number 921 the biography section of a children’s library was chock-full of booklength, cradle-to- grave biographies for the middle grade reader. Some of them were in series (I was particularly fond of those orange ones when I was a kid) but many were one-offs, written by somebody who did rigorous biographical research and crafted a version of a life that was likely to resonate with young readers.
What happened? My impression is that we now consign biography almost entirely to picture books or easy reads. I checked this out in the latest Hornbook Guide. There are 58 biographies. Only five of them are longer than 150 pages.
One of the things that was wrong with the Brussels sprouts of my youth was that they were presented as good for you. Maybe that’s what happened to biography. It became good for you. Inspiring. Aspirational. Soaked in adult approval.
What was the secret of the recent Brussels sprout revival? Reviewing current recipes I have come up with the answer. Bacon. It’s time for a full-length biography renaissance. What’s the literary equivalent of bacon? I leave this question with you.


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3 responses to “Sprouts

  1. martineleavitt

    Oh to be able to think, even if just for a few minutes, with the mind of Sarah Ellis. Today this post was the bacon on my Brussels sprout brain.

  2. Julie Larios

    This sounds like a fill-in-the-blank question on the Graduate Record Exam: Sprouts are to full-lemgth biography as bacon is to……….? Possibilities: 1) poetry 2) true crime 3) everything ever written 4) eggs. I did miserably on the GRE, by the way.

  3. kmquimby2014

    I was with you in loving those old orange-bound biographies, suspect though they have turned out to be.

    While bacon certainly improves Brussels sprouts, so does shredding and sauteeing with chopped apples and onions. Which is to say, it’s all about presentation, and varied types of presentation, including how some of these now-famous people weren’t necessary the best boys and girls of their times. Perhaps the bacon (or the apples or onions) could be a bit more honesty.

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