Indelible Ann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards

Image of Indelible Ann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards
Release Date: 
June 22, 2021
Lake Union Publishing
Reviewed by: 

“This is a picture book meant for adults . . .”

The title is a hint of what’s problematic about this picture book about Ann Richards, the governor of Texas. What does “indelible” mean? How can a person be “indelible”? The first meaning any dictionary will give is “uneraseable,” as in an ink. The second meaning, which is surely what this title refers to, is “unforgettable” or making a deep impression. Then why not use the more common word? Throughout this picture book, the language reads like an adult magazine story about the governor, not like a story with a strong narrative drive, written for young readers. The opening paragraph is a good example:

“In a tiny wooden farmhouse outside a lonely Texas prairie town, a brand-new mother paused.”

What she paused from is never described, unless she’s pausing from giving birth, which sounds awkward indeed. Because pausing suggests that you continue the action. Does the woman start to give birth, pause, do something in that pause, and then continue to give birth? Instead, the next paragraph sets the tone for all that Anne Richards, born a girl, is up against:

“Weary from labor pains that felt like barbed wire and anchor chains, she wrung a chicken’s neck from her birthing bed. After all, dinner needed fixing, and that was women’s work, too.”

In picture books, every word matters. They should impel the narrative forward or convey character. In this book, far too many words are carelessly strewn about, with little attention paid to their impact. Even picture books meant for older readers need to engage the reader by using the picture book format so that the illustrations can deepen and enhance the story. This is a text that would be a challenge for any illustrator since events are told rather than shown. Carlynn Whitt gamely tries to enliven the flat-footed text, but she’s not given much to work with. Another example:

“The program’s director saw the spark of Ann’s passion and talent igniting and put her on a train to Washington, DC, to represent Texas at Girls Nation. Young delegates hailing from gleaming cities and far-flung towns across America learned the business of Congress and the importance of civic duty. Their time together ended int the Rose Garden under pop-crackling flashbulbs with a presidential handshake.”

What, the reader may wonder, is the business of Congress? What is civic duty and how is it important? How do passion and talent “ignite”? This is a picture book meant for adults, a strange choice of format. Anyone with a young reader, even a middle-school reader, won’t find much to encourage turning the pages to discover more. There have been picture books about women politicians that successfully convey the challenges they faced and the important contributions they made. This, however, is not one of them.