UpClose: Oprah Winfrey

Oprah WinfreyAges 12 and up.
Oprah Winfrey has been called the Queen of All Media for good reason—during her more than thirty-year career, she has left an indelible mark on radio, television, film, theater, magazines, and books. Oprah is also a committed humanitarian. This book, illustrated with black and white photographs, takes readers through her troubled childhood and explains how she became one of the most influencial women in the world.

Interview Booklist Magazine

Books by Booklist Authors: Ilene Cooper’s Golden Rule and Oprah Winfrey.

by Stephanie Zvirin
FEATURE. First published January 1, 2007 (Booklist).

Doing Good
Ilene Cooper, Booklist’s Children’s Books Editor, is looking forward to some big events this spring. She has not one but two new books coming out, and in March she will receive the Prairie State Award for Excellence in Writing for Children from the Illinois Reading Council.

Ilene will receive the award on March 15 in Springfield, Illinois, and along with giving an acceptance speech, she will be teaching two workshops, one on incorporating biography into the classroom and another featuring books about values. Not coincidently, those subjects tie into Ilene’s two new works: a biography of OprahWinfrey,which is part of Viking’s Up Close series, and a beautifully illustrated picture book, The Golden Rule (Abrams).

Was it difficult working on two such different books? “Fortunately,” Ilene says, “they didn’t overlap much. By the time I was getting into the meat of the Oprah Winfrey biography, I had finished the text of The Golden Rule, which was then in the hands of its very talented illustrator, Gabi Swiatkowska. Authors hand over their work to illustrators knowing they won’t have much say about the art, but I needn’t have worried. Gabi made a more beautiful book than I could have hoped.”

The text of Rule is simple yet profound. A boy and his grandfather are out walking when the child sees the words of the Golden Rule written on a wall. The two talk about what the words mean. As Ilene notes, “The boy comes to see how every religion and culture has a version of the Golden Rule and how much better the world would be if only the rule was practiced by individuals––and by nations.”

Matching and extending the text is the lovely artwork, a lush outpouring of images associated with the different spiritual traditions. “The art brings a universality to the words that transforms the book into something for everyone,” Ilene says.

In terms of her celebrity, there is also something universal about Oprah Winfrey. When Viking approached Ilene about doing a book in their Up Close series and suggested Oprah Winfrey as a subject, Ilene, a lifelong Chicagoan and an Oprah fan, knew it was a perfect fit: “Writing the book was easy in a way because I watched the history unfold.” With surprisingly few recent books about Oprah’s life, Ilene looked elsewhere to do her research. “Oprah has been involved in so many public activities through her various media venues that there is no shortage of personal commentary from her available in various forms.” So, even without direct access to Oprah, Ilene was able to make frequent use of the star’s own words.

Everyone has heard of Oprah, but not everyone is familiar with the facts of her life. “The woman’s personal story,” Ilene says, “is so compelling. Here’s a person who completely turned her life around with the help of a concerned father. She’s been very outspoken about her struggles and also about her belief in herself. Young people who find themselves in less-than-ideal circumstances can take heart from her story.”

Although Ilene’s new books differ in form and content, there is one thing they have in common. Even as a young girl, Winfrey was drawn to the Golden Rule. Ilene explains, “She wrote it on her book bag, she talked about it with her friends, and her devotion to it shows up clearly in the charity work she does. One Christmas when she was a girl, her family was broke. They had nothing until two nuns came to the door with food and small gifts. That memory was the impetus for Christmas Kindness, Oprah’s outreach effort to the children of South Africa. Now that’s practicing the Golden Rule!”