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Oprah, Pint-Sized

Ilene Cooper pens an unauthorized bio for tweens.

Ilene Cooper has been an Oprah fan from day one. “There was something about her-that warmth, that ‘I’m your friend’ feeling,” says Cooper, who has written an unauthorized biography of the talk show host for young adults. “She tries to use what she has-not just her money, but her presence. She lives by the golden rule.”

To Cooper, a 58-year-old who lives in Highland Park, Oprah seemed like a natural subject. As part of Viking’s new biography series for tweens, Oprah Winfrey: Media Queen, which comes out in March, tackles Winfrey’s turn-lemons-into-lemonade approach to life. “She took her trials and turned them into something good,” says Cooper, whose book doesn’t shy away from acknowledging Oprah’s sexual abuse, her pregnancy at 14, or her weight battles. “That was what I wanted the message to be.”

As the children’s book editor at Booklist, the American Library Association’s influential journal, Cooper assigns some 2,000 critiques of children’s books a year-and reviews 500 herself. Meanwhile, she has written 30 books of her own on subjects like Susan B. Anthony and John F. Kennedy.

In this case, plenty of material existed-including Winfrey’s 20th-anniversary DVD-but, through a spokeswoman, the talk show host declined to be interviewed or provide photographs. “Harpo respects the rights of authors to publish biographies; however, we prefer not to supply photographs . . . unless given the opportunity to verify the accuracy of a book’s biographical content,” a Harpo spokeswoman told Chicago.

Cooper’s editor at Viking, Joy Peskin, notes that the publisher is “extremely careful in [its] fact checking” and did not want to give the book to Winfrey before publication. “There are things the subject of a biography might not want in a biography even though they are true,” says Peskin, who calls the finished product “inspiring.”

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