Just Being Audrey
by Margaret Cardillo,
illustrated by Julia Denos
2011. Balzer + Bray.
Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) was a British actress and humanitarian.
This book provides a very sketchy outline of Audrey Hepburn's life beginning in young adolescence, continuing through her years as an actress, and finishing with her humanitarian work. The book takes a long view on her life, with equal weight given to each phase, and no broad exploration of any particular event or experience. Overall, the book is mostly about her personality and sense of style, not about her contributions to either the film industry or to society as a whole.
About the Illustrations
I wanted to read this book because of how much I enjoy Julia Denos's artwork. In that sense, it was not disappointing, because the pictures really are enjoyable to look at. Denos includes lots of Hepburn's different outfits, which would appeal to kids who are interested in fashion design, and she also does a nice job of slowly aging Hepburn from page to page without making her look like a cartoon.
The author's note from Margaret Cardillo is a personal anecdote explaining her interest in Hepburn as a subject for a book. Like the rest of the text, it assumes that the reader already knows who Audrey Hepburn is. While some kids may have seen one of her films, I imagine that most would not be familiar with her at all, so it's disappointing not to be given any context even in the back matter. There is also an illustrator's note which reveals that Julia Denos was unfamiliar with Hepburn prior to this book, and does talk some about working with this specific manuscript. Also included are a timeline and a bibliography.
I questioned right away whether there is truly an audience for this book among picture book readers, and my guess is that there really isn't. Kids who aspire to become actors might choose to read the book for an assignment based on the fact that the subject is an actress, but it is unlikely that a child would be looking to read about Audrey Hepburn specifically. This book is also not a great way to learn about Hepburn, as the details are much too vague. For example, there is no explanation given as to why the Nazi invasion requires Hepburn's family to go into hiding, and any hardship they endured is quickly glossed over. In reality, there were some sordid details - her parents were fascists, and her father was having an affair with the family's nanny - but surely there was a way to work in some more of the truth while still keeping the text age appropriate. It is disingenuous to avoid talking about conflict to the point that a Nazi invasion comes across as little more than an inconvenience. The fact that everything is smoothed over with chocolate from the UN also feels false, and gives kids a very skewed and dishonest picture of World War II. As lovely as it is to look at, I just cannot recommend this book.