Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Curly Lambeau: Building the Green Bay Packers
By Stuart Stotts
96 pages, 53 photos and illus., 1 map, 7 x 9"Buy
When Earl "Curly" Lambeau was a young boy growing up in Green Bay in the early 1900s, he and his friends didn't have money for a football. Instead, they kicked around a salt sack filled with sand, leaves, and pebbles. That humble beginning produced a single-minded drive for the figure whose name now graces the Green Bay Packers' stadium.
This title in the Badger Biographies series charts the course of Curly Lambeau's career as a flamboyant player and coach, which paralleled the rise of professional football in this country. Lambeau revolutionized the way football is played by legitimizing passing in a game that had previously centered on running. His dedication to popularizing football in Green Bay and in the state helped build the Packer organization into the institution it has become. Yet, he was not without flaws, and this biography presents a full picture of a man whose ambitions complicated his legacy.
Fountas and Pinnell Level R
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Interview with Stuart Stotts
Wisconsin Historical Society Press: What motivated you to tell Curly's story? What about him intrigued you?
To be honest, I got motivated because I was asked to do the book by the Wisconsin Historical Society. But once I was asked to consider it, I became very interested in him and in particular, the early history of football. He was a controversial character, incredibly charismatic and driven, and yet also, ultimately a man who probably overreached his grasp. It was fascinating to learn about him in the context of the early development of the game, as well. Plus, I've always been a Packer fan since the days of Bart Starr.
WHS Press: Did you know anything about Curly before you began this project?
Very little. I had vague impressions of him as the founder of the Packers, I had maybe seen some photographs of him as a young player.
WHS Press: Why is Curly's story important for young readers?
I think Curly provides a great view of a very successful sports figure, while also giving readers some awareness of the pitfalls that come with success and fame. Readers will also learn a lot about a game that is central to both Wisconsin and America. Curly's story teaches us something about drive, dedication and the fire to play and win.
WHS Press: How did you go about doing your research? Was it difficult to tell this story to young readers?
I read books about Curly and the Packers, as well as about football as a young developing sport. I spent some time in Green Bay at Curly's high school, and speaking with Packer historians and sports writers who knew Curly. The only real hard part about telling the story to young readers was separating out the more "adult" aspects of Curly's life, which, in the end, aren't essential to understanding the rise of the Packers.
WHS Press: What about his story did you find most surprising?
Curly's incredible success as a winning coach at a very young age. He won the league championship three times in a row when he was in his thirties. It's like winning the Super Bowl three times in a row. I didn't realize how good of a coach he had been.
WHS Press: What do you hope readers take away from this book?
A sense of the development of football: how it moved from local teams playing in parks to this huge thing we call the NFL. Also, I hope readers see how being good at something requires huge dedication, but also, in the end, a humility about who you are and your own limitations.
WHS Press: How does Curly's story help us understand more about Wisconsin? About football?
Curly's story gives you a sense of the less developed and yet more intimate nature of football in a place like Green Bay. It was an industrial, working-class town filled with immigrants and factories, and yet it spawned this world-renowned team, the Packers. The Packers are one of the first things many people think of when thinking of Wisconsin.
The book has a whole section on the development of football, which I found fascinating to research. For example, in the early 1900s, people were often killed playing football because players were so unprotected and the game was so physical.
Moonbeam Children's Book Awards, Best Book Series Non-Fiction
Silver Medal Winner
Praise for Badger Biography Series
This feature article by Karyn Saemann appeared in "The Capital Times" in 2008:
BIG LIFE STORIES FOR LITTLE READERS
BIOS FOR KIDS HONOR PEOPLE WHO MADE WISCONSIN SPECIAL
They changed the face of Wisconsin. Now, their faces are becoming familiar to children around the state.
Since 2005, the Wisconsin Historical Society Press has tapped a diverse well of authors to write children's biographies of notable state figures.
Notable doesn't have to mean famous. Some "Badger Biographies Series" subjects, like Green Bay Packers founder Curly Lambeau, are household names. But others, like immigrant Swiss cheese maker Casper Jaggi, are little known yet accomplished extraordinary things.
"We want to have a balance of well-known and not," said Bobbie Malone, director of the society's Office of School Services, whose job is to cultivate potential titles and authors. So far, eight books are out, and more are coming.
"I do love what I do," said Malone, a former first-grade teacher who, when not editing the latest biography or some other society publication, travels around the state showing teachers how to bring Wisconsin history alive.
SO MANY STORIES
"What's not to fall in love with? There are so many interesting stories," mused Malone from her tiny office overlooking UW-Madison's Library Mall.
The authors, too, say they've found inspiration in the stories that, in addition to Lambeau and Jaggi, have so far included Hmong refugee Mai Ya Xiong; escaped African-American slave and Underground Railroad user Caroline Quarlls; the founders of Harley-Davidson motorcycles; Mountain Wolf Woman, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation; the Ringling Brothers of circus fame; and Milwaukee Jew Lizzie Kander, whose "Settlement Cook Book" taught American homemaking to immigrant women and raised money for social causes.
"I think it's fascinating to see how people lived their lives," said Diane Young Holliday, an archaeologist who authored "Mountain Wolf Woman: A Ho-Chunk Girlhood."
Ultimately, "we want people to fall in love with the past so they value it and connect it to their own lives," Malone said.
Bob Kann, who inked Lizzie Kander's story and is himself a Jew whose mother owned a "Settlement Cook Book," said readers will relate to the tales of hard work and determination.
"It's important to expose kids to people who are exemplary, to show how people accomplished what they accomplished, how they dealt with defeat and to show their resilience in how they bounced back," Kann said.
Of Milwaukee's Jewish immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th Century, Kann said he hoped to show "how difficult their lives were, and how courageous it was for them to come to this country with very few resources."
"There weren't any social service agencies," Kann said. "They were very fortunate to have people like Lizzie Kander who were filling that gap."
FOR YOUNG READERS
Writing for children isn't easy.
Jerry Apps, a veteran writer who with the exception of two titles has spent 35 years crafting adult books, called writing for children "extremely difficult."
Apps adapted both of his Badger Biographies titles, on the Ringling family and Jaggi, from adult books he previously wrote on the same subjects.
"It's boiling down the material in such a way that you get to the essence of it, in a way that communicates to young readers yet doesn't compromise the history," Apps said.
"I wasn't sure if I could explain things at a fourth-grade level," admitted Young Holliday, recalling reservations she had when collaborating with Malone on a publication previous to "Mountain Wolf Woman."
In some cases, it's weighing how to appropriately present the tainted personal lives of memorable people to a target audience of fourth- through eighth-graders, without whitewashing too much truth.
For all his legendary professional success, Curly Lambeau treated people badly and had serious character flaws that included infidelity, said Stuart Stotts, a lifelong Green Bay Packers fan and author of "Curly Lambeau: Building the Green Bay Packers."
"Curly was a philanderer, but that is not really dealt with in the book," Stotts said. "We didn't feel that was appropriate for 10-year-olds. You say a little bit about how he was divorced three times, and something about his inability to get along with people, but don't go into the details of extramarital affairs."
However, "I think 7- to 10-year-olds are quite capable of understanding that people are complex," Stotts said. "I think at this age they are quite able to recognize that people may have good qualities and bad qualities at the same time. The subtleties of behavior are not at all beyond what they are dealing with in their own social situations."
"I think as a biographer it's our job to make people's character flaws clear if we are aware of them, but not to dwell on them. The purpose of the book is not to bring down Curly Lambeau, but we have to be realistic about who he was."
Similarly tricky adult situations led to Mountain Wolf Woman's story focusing not on her grown-up years, but on her childhood, Malone said.
"You want to make it real but you can't overwhelm young readers with details or information they can't handle," Malone said.
MORE TO COME
The series is not done. In fact, it's just getting started.
In the pipeline are potential books on "Fighting Bob" and Belle Case La Follette, Govs. Lucius Fairchild and Gaylord Nelson, rural doctor Kate Newcomb, architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Cindy Bentley, a disabled Special Olympics athlete.
In addition to representing subjects of divergent backgrounds, Malone said she hopes to focus on people from various geographical corners of the state.
All of the books include an abundance of illustrations and break-out boxes that help readers further explore the topic and historical era. All also have a glossary, supplemental reading list and group discussion questions.
If she could find an interested author, Malone said she would love to produce a biography on naturalist and engineer Increase Lapham. Fur trader Soloman Juneau is also on her list.
And she would like to do a bilingual biography about migrant workers from Mexico. "We haven't gotten there yet, but that's definitely a direction I would like to go. There definitely are stories" about such workers and the people who brought them here, Malone said.
Malone said going back beyond the 19th century, to those who first populated the state, would be challenging in a biography format.
In historical fiction you can set a made-up person in a chosen era. But with biography you need factual details about an actual being. The difficulty, Malone said, is unearthing the documents that chronicle a particular life.