Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Awesome Biographies

To be honest, biographies aren't the first choice of many children for pleasure reading material; they may only encounter them due to a reading assignment. Thankfully, children's biographies are more engaging, entertaining, and diverse than what many adults remember from their own biography assignment days. When parents and kids ask for biographies, here are the ones I'm likely to recommend:

Books by Candace Fleming

I've mentioned many times my awe of Candace Fleming. She's written excellent picture books and chapter books, but her forte is children's biography. I usually recommend The Great and Only Barnum and I will recommend Amelia Lost: The Life and Disapperance of Amelia Earhart at the very next opportunity. Her biographies in scrapbook format are fabulous and creative, but can be overwhelming.

Books by Kathleen Krull

Kathleen Krull's picture book biographies are ideal for elementary school students. I'm particularly fond of The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss, The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth, and Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman.

Books by Jean Fritz

Parents may remember reading a Jean Fritz biography when they were in school; happily, she's still very much active, having recently published Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider. My favorites are And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? and Can't You Make Them Behave, King George?. Her fictionalized memoir, Homesick, is a riveting read of an American girl living in 1920s China.

Books by David Adler

David Adler's A Picture Book Of books are great biographies for young elementary school children. His Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man (not part of the A Picture Book Of collection) is an outstanding and lovely picture book biography.

Who Was? series

The Who Was--? books are great for children ready to tackle short chapter-length biographies.

Books by Sid Fleischman

Sid Fleischman was primarily known for children's fiction, but his Houdini and Mark Twain biographies are funny, smart, and terrific multichapter reads.

Books by Joseph Bruchac

My favorite Bruchac books are his novels and Native American folklore picture books, but his biographies are also worthwhile reading. Bruchac is an Abenaki Indian, which informs his storytelling and provides a needed perspective in children's/YA fiction and biography. His biographies include A Boy Called Slow: The True Story of Sitting Bull (a picture book) and Jim Thorpe: Original All-American, which is a multichapter biography.

National Geographic photobiographies

National Geographic's children's nonfiction books are awesome. Case in point: their photobiographies. My favorites are Bylines: A Photobiography of Nellie Bly, Helen's Eyes: A Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller's Teacher, and Bull's Eye: A Photobiography of Annie Oakley.

Individual titles:

Bad News For Outlaws

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's picture book biography of the first African-American U.S. Deputy Marshall west of the Mississippi is a fantastic and entertaining look at this inspiring man.

Honda: The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars

It makes me so happy that, according to the book's record that I just pulled up, one copy was "recently returned" and the other is checked out. This biography has enjoyed a healthy circulation, and that's not a common thing with many biographies. This is a terrific biography for lower grade elementary school children.

Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive

This is a moving and inspiring picture book biography of the great athlete.

The Journey That Saved Curious George

Getting a child to read an author biography is much easier when he/she is familiar with the author's work. This is the story of Margret and H.A. Rey, creators of the Curious George book. The two Jewish French citizens fled Paris just before it fell to the Nazis; one of the few possessions they were able to take with them (while escaping on bicycles) was the Curious George manuscript. Although it's a picture book, it's a little more than twice as long as the average picture book; along with the more mature subject matter of Nazism, this is a sublime biography for older elementary school children as well.

She Touched the World: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer

Before there was Helen Keller, there was Laura Bridgman. Bridgman, who lost her sight and hearing at the age of two, learned to communicate, read, and write. For those wanting to know more about Bridgman other than the scant information usually found in Helen Keller biographies, this is a must read.

Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium

This is an engrossing read about the brilliant scientist. One of the best biographies I've ever read.

Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz

This biography has also been popular among our patrons, and no wonder: Peanuts still remains popular after all these years. Schulz was a complicated man, and this is an honest (yet still remaining child-friendly) look at his life. Each chapter opens with a Peanuts cartoon, illustrating that Schulz deeply personalized the cartoons.

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?

I get a real kick out of this book. First of all, the cover is 3-D. Secondly, it's a terrific read aloud; Jonah Winter directly addresses the reader. Thirdly, it's such a *great* story about following your convictions.

In upcoming posts, I'll tackle the other common reading assignment (that's not always welcomed joyfully): historical fiction.

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